Tavernier offers a few more marinas in addition to a local grocery store or a night off for the chef at a shoreside restaurant. It’s always a fun adventure tasting fresh fish of the local cuisine.
As the channel opens to the unprotected bay, don’t fret! If the winds are not in your favor, you have an opportunity to cross over to the Outside Route just below Lower Matecumbe at Channel 5. Be cautious using any of the smaller creeks above Channel 5. The fixed bridges may not be tall enough for your boat, and the moving tide can create currents 5 knots or faster.
The Allure of the Outside Route: Ocean Adventures
If your draft is deeper than 4 feet or the weather forecast is spectacular, the Hawk Channel route might be a better option than the shallows of the Florida Bay. Leaving from Miami’s Government Cut, you can have an easy day that ends with choices: anchor, snag a mooring ball, or tie-up at a marina.
John Pennekamp State Park
Nestled on the oceanside of Key Largo is John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Reserve a slip with power or snag a mooring ball with a short run to the dinghy dock. Dive or snorkel near Dry Rocks to see reef fish and the famous underwater Christ of the Abyss statue. Be attentive to the Sanctuary Preservation Areas marked with buoys so boaters can visit without damaging the reef as good stewards of our environment.
Still eager to explore but aren’t a diver? Rent a kayak to skirt the mangroves and enjoy the sultry surroundings. Take a tour on their glass bottom boat to see the reef without even getting wet.
If you need to shore up your land legs, you will find tropical hammocks with native flora and fauna to discover while you hike or picnic. Then take in a natural history exhibit and an amazing 30,000-gallon saltwater aquarium in air-conditioned comfort.
Anchor Overnight in the Ocean
A few miles south, Rodriguez Key has an almost-360-degree anchoring option to provide a wind break. If you prefer to plug in, there are many marinas in Key Largo and Islamorada. Select a dock in a man-made canal, but be cautious making some of the 90-degree blind turns—one fondly referred to as Crash Corner. A preemptive security call on the VHF radio or a prolonged blast of your horn will alert other boaters before you proceed.
Ready to fish? The Florida Keys offer an abundance of species that will provide an adventure to remember. Be sure your fishing license is up-to-date and add a crawfish permit if you’re lobstering this season. Don’t forget the melted butter!
Final Destination: Marathon’s Coastal Charms
Nearing our final destination, remember the crossover option at Channel 5. If the southeast winds are creating a bumpy ocean ride, this wide channel allows you to hop back under the 65-foot bridge to the Inside ICW route. There are anchorages on each side of the bridge to wait out the weather from either direction. When the weather eases, mooring balls and marinas await. Boot Key Harbor, here we come!
New and legendary marinas with fabulous dining options are ready to sample. Walk, bike, or take the train to tour Pigeon Key on the Old 7-mile bridge. Peek over the historic railroad railings and see rays swimming below when tide is slack. Position yourself for an unobstructed view of sunset, and you might catch the elusive green flash.
Provisioning options for your return trip are plentiful in big-name grocery chains and locally owned small stores. Barracudas is our favorite fine-dining establishment that’s been around for decades, but your choices are endless here in paradise. Looking for Keys casual? Thatched roof waterside restaurants are a great place to sip chilled wine, cold beer, and umbrella drinks. Swim with the dolphins or visit the Turtle Hospital tomorrow.
Come enjoy all that pleasure boating has to offer because any time of year is terrific for cruising the Keys. Be sure to keep this Florida Keys boating itinerary handy for your next visit!
-by Chris Caldwell