8-Day Miami To The Florida Keys
Day 1: Biscayne Bay
Biscayne Bay is protected by a shoal offshore which makes for smooth sailing and well-protected anchorages.
Cast off your lines, leave the marina via Dinner Key Channel and motor in a easterly direction passing the mooring field. Once you pass the mooring field you will be in the main part of Biscayne Bay.
Most of the channel markers you encounter along the way are ICW markers. Heading south in the Intracoastal Waterway, the red ICW markers are always between the mainland and the green ICW markers are between you and the sea. (REMEMBER RED DIRT, GREEN SEA).
As you are sailing south, you will pass an odd assortment of houses built on stilts, called “Stiltsville”. You will also pass yellow markers “B” and “C” which indicate the boundaries of Biscayne National Park. Have a nice, easy sail south through beautiful Biscayne Bay, which carries an average depth of 10-12 feet, sometimes less, which takes a bit of getting used to.
All FYC charter boats are shallow-draft, but if you stray outside the channel markers, you may run aground on a sand bar. If the tide is falling, you’d best contact a towing service. If the tide is rising, sit tight and you’ll probably float off soon. What you don’t want to do, is try to use the engine to motor off, which can damage the boat (sand gets sucked into the raw water intake) and damage the fragile sea grass beds, resulting in possible park fines.
Your destination this evening is either ELLIOT KEY or if you are making good time, continue on to round, little PUMPKIN KEY, which always has a lee side. This is an easy first day out, even if our “winter” winds are blowing; (but don’t worry, the temperature rarely drop below 70 degrees F).
They are several good reference points for sailing south through the bay to Featherbed Bank’s ICW “3” and “4”. (The more westerly of the two channels through Featherbed Banks). You can anchor along Elliott Key or continue south to red “8”, run through the channel and anchor on either side of Pumpkin Key, depending on the wind. Here and throughout the Keys, you are often in national and state parks and preserves.
Day 2: Hawk Channel – Key Largo 28 NM
narrow at the western end of Angelfish Creek, so it is important that you stay in the middle of the channel, close to Red “14” and “12”. Remember “RED LEFT LEAVING” Angelfish. As you are exiting the eastern end of the channel, stay centered in the channel and as you pass Marker “1” and “2”, set a safe course for Hawk Channel. Hawk Channel is considered an inbound channel from the entrance (outside Biscayne Bay) all the way to Key West, so remember “red right returning” heading south. Go on a rising tide, never low tide, go out into at least 12 feet of water before making your turn down Hawks Channel.
Once out in Hawk Channel, you can plot a course out to a protected reef for an afternoon of snorkeling or diving. Be aware of the approximate bearing to your next Hawk Channel marker, so you don’t confuse other channel entrance markers, and verify the numbers as you pass the markers. (It’s the “sail by numbers” game!)
There are several reefs that have permanent mooring buoys you tie onto without anchoring. CARYSFORT REEF, THE ELBOW, AND GRECIAN ROCKS are just a few of your choices, and bunched close together, so why not visit them all?
Please Note: Each major reef has a tower marking it. Around the tower will be white diamond markers on stakes showing the outer edge of the reef. DO NOT SAIL BETWEEN THE TOWER AND THE DIAMOND MARKERS. Outside the diamond markers are the white mooring buoys which you can pick up for snorkeling and diving. Never, ever anchor on a reef, and even casually touching coral or brushing it with a flipper can kill it.
Head into port this evening at the south end of KEY LARGO where there are a few different marinas to choose from. After passing Hawk Channel marker green “35” on Mosquito Bank, you will see a red “2” for Key Largo channel (not Largo Sound Channel), leave it to starboard as you turn almost due north toward the rock sea wall. This channel is silting in from the north, so leave red “2” about 200 feet to your starboard side and put the northeast corner of Rodriguez Key on your port stern. As you approach the sea wall move at slow speed, you may be reading the grass bottom on the depth sounder. DO NOT TRY TO ENTER THIS CHANNEL ON LOW TIDE! If you are going in on a full moon, you may have to wait until half tide to get in. You will enter behind the sea wall and precede to the last channel to port. The corner is a right turn with a big mirror on the last piling to see down the opposite channel. Check the mirror with your binoculars for traffic. Also listen to channel 16 for “Securite” warnings which all the tour boats use to announce their arrivals and departures. If a tour boat is approaching this corner at the same time, you are to tell them you will stand by and wait for your turn. The marinas are at the end of this channel, Marina Del Mar to port and Key Largo Harbor to starboard. There is a grocery store and drug store right next door and an ice cream shop right down the street. It’s worth the short tax ride to “THE FISH HOUSE” for one of the best seafood meals in the Keys.
Marina Del Mar-1-800-451-3483
Key Largo Harbor Marina 1-800-843-5397
Day 3: Key Largo 17 NM
Depart Key Largo today for Indian Key Anchorage, which is off the northeast end of LOWER MATECUMBE KEY. Along the way, you again have a choice of several beautiful reefs for snorkeling: CONCH REEF, DAVIS REEF AND PICKLES REEF. If you have never tried snorkeling on a tropical reef before, you will be amazed by the new world you find just a few feet below the surface of the water. (If you’re a beginner, tie a long line off the stern and hang onto it while you snorkel, as the current can sometimes be surprisingly swift. It is also a good idea to take turns, so that the boat is never left unattended.)
After passing Hens & Chickens, continue southwest approximately 6 miles to the north end of Lower Matecumbe Key where you will see Indian Key Anchorage. This would not be a comfortable anchorage in a strong east to southeast wind. Alternatively, you could continue on to LONG KEY BIGHT to anchor (an additional 12 miles) or simply stay in the Key Largo area. At Indian Key Anchorage, you can dinghy into the dock at Indian Key and walk around what used to be a thriving little community. Indian Key was the Dade County seat from 1836 until 1840 when the Indians burned it down. There is an observation platform on the island, so don’t forget your camera. This would be a perfect anchorage to barbecue off the stern of the boat, a cool and easy way to cook dinner.
Day 4: Windley Key or Duck Key
While you are still at Indian Key Anchorage, you may want to do a little more exploring. LIGNUMVITEA KEY, which is northwest through Indian Key Channel (accessible by dinghy or tour boat) has a virgin hammock including many native species and a coral rock house, cistern and windmill built in 1919. There are walking tours Thursday through Monday-call ahead for information.
Lignumvitea Key Botanical Site – 305.664.4815
Cellular – 305.451.8679
You have two choices today depending upon how much sailing you would like to do. We will start with the shorter route:
FIRST DESTINATION: After all your exploring today, you can head straight for port tonight or you can take a short side trip to ALLIGATOR REEF where you will find plenty of bright and colorful tropical fish on this shallow reef. When you have cleared your anchorage at Indian Key, you can set a safe course in a southeasterly direction to pick up one of the mooring buoys on Alligator Reef. If you have chosen the shorter route, you are now on your way back to Miami. Your port of call this evening is HOLIDAY ISLE BEACH RESORT ON WINDLEY KEY. This is one of the best resorts in the Keys. You will find something to please everyone here- five restaurants, arts and crafts shops, sport fishing, wind surfing, parasailing, jet skiing, swimming pools and white sand beaches…all Florida Key’s style!
Whale Harbor Channel, the entrance to Windley Key is northeast from Alligator Reef. Be sure to clear the shallow spots when setting a safe course for the Red “2” at Whale Harbor Channel. After passing Red “8” you will see a secondary channel to starboard taking you into Windley Key.
Holiday Isle Beach Resort and Marina – 1.800.327.7070
Distance – 10 Miles (including Alligator Reef);
Distance – 7 Miles (straight to Windley Key)
SECOND DESTINATION: Your second choice will take you further into the Keys.
DUCK KEY is your goal for this evening where you will find the first class resort, HAWK’S CAY MARINA. All the facilities of the resort are available to you as transient marina guests. Amenities include: fresh and salt water pools, poolside bar, tennis courts and workout room. There are a couple of nice restaurants and a morning buffet if you prefer to eat ashore. Dolphin shows are a daily event here and very popular! Hawk’s Cay Marina is definitely a wonderful place to kick back in luxury. On your way to Hawk’s Cay, stop off at Alligator Reef. As you leave Whale Harbor channel sail South to Alligator Reef and pick up a mooring buoy. From Alligator Reef, you can set an easy southwesterly course for Duck Key. As you are approaching Duck Key, you will be entering the channel, which is in the center of the upside down “Duck’s head” (not Duck Key Channel or Tom’s Harbor Cut). After passing Red “8” and the end of the sea wall you will make a quick turn to starboard and follow the channel all the way around the island staying to the right. As you enter the marina, it can get quite shallow, but it is a soft bottom if you should touch down.
Day 5: Rodriguez Key 26 NM
Why not waste away a day in Margaritaville? You have plenty of time to partake of all the activities at Holiday Isle Resort or you can head out for another day of snorkeling the reefs. You anchorage tonight is RODRIGUEZ KEY, just a short hop away. You also could choose to go back to one of the Key Largo marinas tonight if you would prefer not to anchor out.
Distance – 10 Miles (Rodriguez Key)
Distance – 12 Miles (Key Largo)
If you took the second option yesterday, you will be underway today for a long sail from Hawk’s Cay to Tavernier where you can anchor out for the evening. On your way back up Hawk’s Channel, don’t “bump into” the HENS AND CHICKENS, but do make a point of stopping at this small reef which is very accessible, just outside the channel.
Day 6: Heading North
Today will be your last day for reef snorkeling, so it’s time to “hit” (not literally) any reefs you missed on the way south. Don’t forget about John Pennekamp State Park, this park combined with the adjacent Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary encompass 178 nautical miles of mangroves, coral reefs and beds of sea grass. Identify that last bright blue and yellow fish and smile at your last friendly barracuda! You will be head back through Angel Fish Creek to anchor at Pumpkin Key tonight. I hope you have been watching the sunsets –they are some of the most spectacular to be seen in the world. An alternative destination tonight would be to stay out in Hawk Channel and anchor either north or south of Caesar’s Creek Channel. This is a great anchorage as long as there is not a strong wind out of the east.
Distance – 23 Miles from Rodriguez to Pumpkin Key
Distance – 30 Miles from Tavernier to Pumpkin Key
Distance – 25 Miles from Rodriguez to Cesar’s Creek
Distance – 29 Miles from Tavernier to Cesar’s Creek
Day 7: Coconut Grove
Today is an easy sail back through Biscayne Bay for an evening in your slip at COCONUT GROVE. Downtown Coconut Grove is within easy walking distance of the marina and is a fun party town for your last night out. CocoWalk is the center of town and is filled with shops, restaurants and clubs with all types of entertainment. If you stayed at Cesar’s Creek last night, continue north through Hawk Channel, exiting Hawk’s Channel at markers “2” and “3” close to FOWEY ROCK’S LIGHT. You can re-enter Biscayne Bay through BISCAYNE CHANNEL (south of Key Biscayne-look for the green and white diamond marker at the east end of Biscayne Channel). Then head for Dinner Key Marina; or duck into “No Name Harbor” at the south end of Key Biscayne, a peaceful little anchorage, with the Cape Florida Lighthouse in the background.
If you would prefer to come back to Miami Beach Marina, continue north, from Hawk Channel turn into Government Cut east of the jetty and green marker “11”. As you enter the channel Miami Beach Marina is to your starboard side.
Dinner Key Marina – 305.579.6980
Distance – 20 Miles from Pumpkin to Dinner Key
Distance – 25 Miles from Cesar’s Creek to Dinner Key Marina
Distance – 34 Miles from Cesar’s Creek to Miami Beach Marina
Day 8: Head For Home
You have the morning to organize your gear and depart FYC by 10:00 AM We hope you enjoyed cruising the beautiful Florida Keys.
Alternate return route: If you would like, you may return the “INSIDE” route (which is west of the Keys) by heading southeast from Indian Key Anchorage to CHANNEL FIVE which is just north of Long Key about five miles away. Channel Five has a fixed 65 ft bridge (check mast height) as you head back in a northeasterly direction. This is a much protected course but the first twenty-five miles is narrow and shallow channel. We suggest that you motor this section on a rising tide. You will then enter BLACKWATER SOUND, BARNES SOUND, and CARD SOUND as you head for Biscayne Bay. You may want to consider this option in the winter months if one of our “rare north easterlies” blows through.