Florida Keys in a small boat - SailNet Community
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post #1 of 9 Old 08-23-2009 Thread Starter
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Florida Keys in a small boat

My gf and I are thinking of taking a 2 week trip to the keys in early December and I was looking for some info. I hit google but all I get is a bunch of charter ads (maybe I'm just not using the right keywords?).

Also, I have a san juan 23 that is in great shape that I just bought early this summer. I feel confident in my abilities as we have (or I have) sailed pretty much every single day this summer.... from having no wind right up to 35 mph winds in thunderstorms on the lake. I am NOT sure however what the conditions are like around the keys or how fast they change so..... just looking for advice. We would trailer the boat down there (miami?? or somewhere else I don't know yet?) and launch where ever is most convenient.

I have made some mods to the companion way to keep water out cause I like sailing in rough weather....... it's fun but other than that the boat is stock

so in summary......
I'm looking for info on cruising the keys (websites, guidebooks, weather, personal exp.)


Would an SJ23 be halfway appropriate? I say halfway cause I don't mind a rough ride (I come from kayaking running 50 ft waterfalls and multi-day class 5 runs.... I like challenge) but I'd rather not sink my boat or drown my gf (she wouldn't like that much and besides, I kind of like her ). Laid back is good too though and we hope to be doing a lot of snorkelling and just hanging out. Seems to me that the boat would be great for the keys from what I've read so far but just trying to make sure. The centerboard and shallow draft would be nice. I just kind of worry about only having a 9 hp outboard and if it would be capable of motoring us in heavy sea's (well, heavy for a 23 ft boat..... I wouldn't be out in a hurricane or anything).

Dallas from Georgia (not texas and yup, that's my real name )
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post #2 of 9 Old 08-23-2009
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Dallas, Try googling SJ23 to find users groups. You might find out if folks have cruised them in the Keys and elsewhere. I know that people who sail the Catalina 22 have cruised the Keys, over to the Bahamas and in all the inland and coastal waters of the USA. I don't know the SJ23, but the C22 is probably similar with 500# swing keel, displacement of about 2300# dry. I think the biggest problem, since you already know how to handle winds up to 35 knots, would be big waves. And the 9 hp o/b should be okay except in a strong contrary current. Pick your weather windows and time your transits thru channels according to the tides and you should be okay.

Sailing isn't a matter of life and death. It's much more important than that!
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post #3 of 9 Old 08-23-2009 Thread Starter
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Thanks and I'm looking into that. For googlers I found a good bit of info here.... SJ23 Review
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post #4 of 9 Old 08-24-2009
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There's nothing to prevent you from enjoying the Keys in December in your SJ23, other than the weather.

During the winter months strong E and NE winds are apt to blow hard and long. Unfortunately, there aren't a lot of good, sheltered anchorages to choose from on the Atlantic side and marina space will be at a premium.

When you arrive in Miami, if the weather forecast calls for strong E winds for some length of time, launch your boat, but do not head out into the Atlantic to the Hawk Channel. Rather, follow the ICW down Biscayne Bay, under the Card Sound Bridge, through the drawbridge, and into some of the most protected waters in the Keys.

On the Florida Bay side you will enjoy the shelter of the land, lots of quiet places to anchor out, and you can follow this route all the way to Key West.

I followed this route north from Marathon in May, 2004 and had a nice quiet trip up to Biscayne Bay, while a strong E wind stirred thing up on the Atlantic side. Once things quieted down I made my crossing to the Bahamas.

If you want to want to start your trip in the Keys, there are boat launching ramps in Key Largo, on both sides.

I hope the weather cooperates for you and that you have a great trip!

Last edited by AlanBrown; 08-24-2009 at 02:28 PM. Reason: spelling error
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post #5 of 9 Old 08-24-2009
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That time of year

While I have very little experience on the east coast of Fl. I do recognize the normal weather patterns. Miami is not where you want to go. Instead, as someone else mentioned, launch on the west side. Lots of places to go and visit. You can put the boat in down in the keys, or put is at Ft.Meyers or similar, and hop down to the keys. There are places to stop and hide if the need arises. Nice anchorages and not far from the keys and Fl. Bay. Would make a much nicer trip than going to the east coast in Dec.

Dream like you will live forever. Live like you will die tomorrow. ( James Dean )
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post #6 of 9 Old 08-24-2009
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Your boat is fine for sailing the lower keys, i would trailer down to key west & splash at the city marina ramp $5... free if after 5pm or go to stock island, ocean side marina (easier) but ramp fee is $20... if you don't have a dingy your gonna need a slip, big bucks... check out hogfish marina on stock island might get a cheap slip.... lots of cool stuff to do on the island bring bikes(locks are a must!) rentals are exspensive... check out little sambo, dry rock, & sand key for snorkling its an easy sail to all, bout 5 miles out & they have free moorings during the day.... BUY & STUDY CHARTS!!! water is shallow everywhere and you will run aground if your not paying attention, that may piss off GF & make you look stupid... WATCH WEATHER!!! if from the north forget about going out its real choppy inside the reef and not fun, go for a bike ride instead... check out green parot & schooners for live music.... a friend of mine Roz works at West Marine on stock island go in there and she will give you all the inside scoop on safety & maybe hook you up with a free slip..... just do it man, your gonna have a ball....
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post #7 of 9 Old 08-25-2009
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I think alot of what has been said is right on...the only thing I would really add is some words of caution about tides...both high and low. If you don't have much experience with tides then just try to gain some familiarity with them...in unfamiliar waters you stand a good chance of running aground...especially if you like to explore waterways that are out of the marked channels... don't be too alarmed if that happens...everyone in here that has sailed has run aground more times than they would care to re-visit... and anyhow...the g/f should know you are not Joshua Slocum just yet....try to avoid hard groundings like coral heads and oyster bars... aground on a sand bar is way more fun... One last bit of advice...check the NOAA.com marine weather forecasts for mariners in your area every day of the trip...this is pretty important in the winter...even in Florida...between now and December...READ as much as you can about sailing the Florida Keys..there's a million books......and have a great time!

Last edited by souljour2000; 08-27-2009 at 01:44 AM.
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post #8 of 9 Old 08-27-2009
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Go with it!

A friend of mine sailed from Ft Myers to the keys for a 3 week voyage on an Oday 22. Had a blast.

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post #9 of 9 Old 08-28-2009
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Since this is my sailing area, I would agree with all that is said. Starting out on the Miami area is a good start as well as Key West if you want to drive another 4-5 hours. Launch out of Coconut Grove Marine Ramp in the Miami area. Key Biscayne Bay is nothing more than a large swimming pool and a good introduction to sailing in the keys. I would use the ICW down to Islamorada. Reason is not much to see on the ocean side down to this point and not many places to tuck into. Head down to Elliot Key for the first overnight. Anchoring in the keys. Most of the bottom is hard limestone with about 2 inches of soft sand or muck. Not good holding. I use a Danforth/Fortress anchor tied to my Ronca trip line hole with 8 feet of chain in series. This is the best set-up for the keys. Drop the Danforth/Fortress first, easy the boat back a bit than release your primary anchor. I have never dragged with this combination.
The ICW down to Islamorada is a pretty sail however it is very shallow. I have a 5' keel and constant attention and good navigation is a must. Staying in the channel most of the way down is the only way to make this journey. If your draft is less than 4' you will have a few more options than I do. The only other caution on both the west and east side of the islands is all the lobster/crap traps. The trappers have no ethics down here and mine the channels; ICW and Hawk Channel. So a careful look out is a must.
Once down to Islamorada and the weather is nice, I would go out to Hawk channel down to Key West. Great places to gunkhole, snorkel and dive. Also the fishing is good here too. At a somewhat leisure pace, it would take 4-5 days to get to Key West on this route.
You if care to read about one of my trips to Islamorada here is my log: Rickenbacker Marina to Elliot Key | The Revolution

Melissa Renee
Catalina 445, Hull #90

Last edited by Melrna; 08-28-2009 at 10:36 AM.
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