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Old 01-05-2017, 06:26   #1
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Need local knowledge, Marathon to Key Largo

We have a 42' boat that draws nearly 4' of draft with the tender on board. We will be staying a couple of nights in Marathon Key and then be moving up the keys to the Key Largo/Pennekamp area.

The choices are
  • Going on the bayside to an anchorage in 7' of water in a nicely protected are on the north side of Key Largo just east of Cowpens Cut. Looks like it would be a great anchorage, well-protected, and convenient to everything.
  • Going outside along the ocean side and dropping anchor on the south side of Key Largo. Also convenient but more exposed to the ocean.
I think the bayside is likely to be prettier but the chart plotters are throwing up warnings saying some of the passes along the marked channel are really shallow... like 3 feet or so... even when staying between the markers. I also tried to plot a course outside and then cutting back in around Planation Key but the cut-through channels were really shallow on the north end.

We can't go through the Key Largo channel because the bridge has a height of 15' and we're a bit more than a foot taller.

Local knowledge and advice would be welcome.

Thanks.

John
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Old 01-05-2017, 07:18   #2
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Re: Need local knowledge, Marathon to Key Largo

My $0.02, for what it is worth.

Going up the bayside with a 4 foot draft is possible all the way to Biscayne Bay (and Canada, for that matter). As you zoom in on those charts, you will see narrow channels that are well marked with dayboards that connect together the navigable areas.

This will be a matter of preference, and I have done both, but I much prefer taking the ocean route. The Bayside has a lot of shallow water and you will be paying close attention to navigation at frequent intervals. The water is less choppy under most wind conditions, but there are a lot of times that it is tough to sail in the narrow constraints of the navigable water in the Bay. Kinda felt to me like a big, shallow lake. There are tons of places to drop a hook and the whole environment is protected from ocean chop. When in a hurry and intending to use motor, it is my preferred route.

I have slept on the hook at Cowpens, and my only advice on that in summer is that bugs abound, so drop hundreds of yards away from mangroves, particularly down wind. No-see-ums are not fun.

Something else to note, is that you have two more points along the way that you can change your mind. There is a bascule bridge at Snake Creek that affords easy transit to/from Bay/Ocean and has a marina that affords an opportunity to tie up, restaurants and a $5.00 UBER ride to a Winn Dixie. The channel there, and adjacent bay provides some really nice anchorages that give protection in any winds.

From there north to Pennekamp you will have to stay outside. (in order to get to the park) Assume that you are headed there to dive/snorkel? If so, many of the reefs and patch reefs along the Hawk Channel have balls installed to tie up to and the smaller ones are skipped by the big dive boats with 100 or more divers sometimes.

No need to go all the way to Pennekamp, the reefs are all good. One real nice one for snorkeling is at Alligator Reef. It is about 6 nm from the bridge at Snake Creek and you can go out and back in an easy day. Water is only about 5' deep on the reef and a whole lot of sealife comes to spend the hot part of the day in the shadow of the lighthouse.
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Old 01-05-2017, 08:50   #3
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Re: Need local knowledge, Marathon to Key Largo

Thanks for the details, Rocinante. Sounds like it is doable in our boat if we strictly stay between the markers and take it slow in the cuts. Not so sure about the buggy part, though. Not really interested in being chewed alive. Might give it a try and see how bad it is.
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