Tuesday, March 18, 2008
The Most Organized Cruising Harbor in the US
The Marathon City Marina, which controls the 226 mooring balls in Boot Key Harbor and also provides services to another 50-75 boats that are anchored, may hold the record for having the most highly organized harbor for cruisers in the U.S.
A mooring ball is a floating plastic buoy that is attached with thick rope to some type of structure on the bottom. Municipalities and marinas are the usual providers of mooring balls that are available to the public.
Here in Boot Key Harbor, they likely drilled a hole in the bedrock, filled it with hydraulic cement and placed a 12" stainless steel rod with an eyebolt on the end directly down into the grout. A second, shorter rope with an eye-splice is attached to the top of the mooring ball. You secure your boat to the eye-splice with a dock line.
The mooring balls are lined up in rows and each buoy is identified with a letter and a number (we are in Row L, Number 10). There is enough "swing room" between each ball and each row that you won't hit another boat, even if the wind moves you 360 degrees around your mooring ball.
When the wind is strong, as it has been the last few days, the boats resemble a precision drill team, swinging together one way then another.
When we signed up for our mooring ball at the marina office, we received a "Cruisers' Guide to Boot Key Harbor," which included a welcome from the harbor master and pictures of the harbor staff, and a list of amenities included in the fee for the mooring ball (parking, if you have an automobile, shower facilities, pump-out, dinghy dockage, bicycle storage, garbage disposal, lounge, library, storage units, ice, water, laundry, battery charging, and project room).
The guide also included contact information for the hospital, fire department, taxi service, National Weather Service, Coast Guard, and the local sheriff, a map of the Middle Keys, information on hurricane preparedness, WiFi, tours, shopping, restaurants, and the weekly schedule for the "pump-out" boat, which comes to your boat to empty your holding tank.
Most everyone in the harbor tunes in to VHF Channel 68 every morning at 9:00 a.m. sharp for the "Cruisers Net." The first morning we tuned in, I walked out onto the back deck and could hear the Cruisers Net in stereo, echoing through the harbor, because so many of the 300 boats here were tuned in.
The Cruisers Net starts out by welcoming any newcomers and offering farewells to those leaving. Then there are announcements of interest to the cruising community, offers to buy, sell or trade items, requests from anyone needing help or assistance, questions about local services, and finally a trivia question for the day. The broadcast usually lasts about a half hour.
The first day we were here, there was much discussion about a boat that was dragging its anchor and bumping into other boats. No one was living aboard and the local officials were having trouble locating the owner. By the next day, the owner had been tracked down in another state and the boat had been re-anchored by a friend.
Every evening as the sun goes down, a symphony of conch shell horns from several boats salute the setting sun. There's something spiritual about it.
It's amazingly quiet and peaceful here, considering how many people are co-existing in this relatively small harbor. Everyone is friendly and eager to share information on local events, the best restaurants, groceries, boat stores, land transportation, doctors, and more.
There's even a "buddy boat list" on a dry-erase board in the marina office where people can locate others wishing to travel together to their next destination.
Most of the people here appear to be cruisers rather than live-aboards. Most are retired. However, there are also folks traveling with children, some even very young children. I was surprised at how many cruisers have dogs and/or cats on board.
We are enjoying our time here in Marathon. It's fun to meet so many other cruisers, the weather is delightful, and there's a lot to do here.
We'll be moving on next week as we begin our trip up the Gulf Coast. We are anticipating some beautiful Everglades scenery and wildlife and maybe some sea adventures.
For now, Boot Key Harbor is a lovely respite.