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Sailing Key West

Article by David Thorson

It wasn’t that long ago that the Florida keys could only be reached by boat and were inhabited mainly by wildlife and pirates, and perhaps it’s the feeling of life lived on the wild side that gives the islands their appeal. With the Atlantic on one side and the Gulf of Mexico on the other, the keys have a tropical climate mitigated by the sea breeze. The over 1700 islands are the remains of an age old coral reef, but surprisingly the landscape is not that of the typical tropical island. Most of the keys are covered in pine and oak trees, and while you’ll see plenty of palms, colorful bougainvillea, hibiscus and papaya, none of these are native to the islands, Bougainvillea, for example is a native of South America, but almost anything will grow in the Key West climate.

While it is perfectly possible to rent a home in or around Key West with it’s own dock and spend your time pottering around with trips by boat to the local restaurants, there are many possible trips in and around the Florida keys. About 70 miles West of Key West you’ll find the Dry Tortugas National Park which is famous for its coral reefs, shipwrecks, and legends of abandoned treasure. You’ll also want to visit Fort Jefferson, said to be the largest stone structure in the Western Hemisphere, though it is unfinished.

Fort Jefferson was built as a result of the recommendation of Commodore John Rogers who visited the Dry Tortugas in 1829. He felt that the position of the islands was crucial the security of the USA and that if they were occupied by a foreign power, US shipping would be at risk. The fort was designed to be enormous, with 420 guns and living quarters for both soldiers and officers as well as a parade ground. At its peak, the Fort had around 2000 occupants, no mean feat on an island with no fresh water.

Dr Samuel Mudd, whose name gave us the saying ‘his name was Mudd’ was imprisoned at the fort after his conviction for conspiracy in the death of President Lincoln. He was later pardoned and released by President Andrew Johnson.

But if history isn’t your thing, you’ll still find plenty of reasons to visit the Florida Keys in a boat. Sport fishing is common, especially around the Marquesa Keys, 9 islands grouped close to one another in a rough circle around 30 miles to the west of Key West. Even small boats can run out from Key West along the ‘Lakes passage’ to Boca Grande Key with its wonderful white beach and then across the Boca Grande Channel to the Marquesas.

The Marquesa Keys are the only atoll in North America, a group of islands with a natural harbour in the center. The islands are covered with mangrove, though there is a sandy beach on the northern edge. Protected under marine sanctuary law, the seas around the Marquesa Keys are exceptional, and the flats fishing is second to none. Tarpon, shark, snook and barracuda are easy to find, and you can also see stingrays, sea turtles and a wide variety of birds.

The Florida Keys attract many fishermen and those on vacation, but no matter how friendly the people and the waters, the sea can be dangerous for the unprepared. Always be sure you know how to operate the equipment on your boat and test your radio before you set off. As long as you take adequate precautions, a trip around the Florida Keys will be something you talk about and remember for years to come.

About the Author

Whenever heading anywhere on a boat safety needs to be the first thing on your mind. A reliable form of communication can be a lifesaver in an emergency. You have several options, a traditional marine or cb radio, a Handheld CB Radio or a 10 Meter Radio. A 10 meter radio offers greater broadcasting power while a handheld model offers portability and no installation hassles.

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