Sunset on the Port Largo Canal
When we started exploring the possibilities for our “winter in the Keys”, one of our boating colleagues noted that the each Key has its own vibe, ambiance, and personality; thus, he advised we had to find which one/s fit us best. Not knowing exactly how to do that, we decided to drive from one end of the Keys chain to the other, visiting several communities and many more marinas. And that actually helped!! Our search found a marina that made Key Largo more appealing that it would have been by just driving through; conversely, we really liked Islamorada but could not find a marina there that would work for us. (As the quintessential key, Key West was a given as a destination and our only task there was to find a good marina!)
Key Largo was our first Key destination and thus, our first exposure to “the Keys” as an environment, atmosphere, lifestyle and culture. We stayed almost a month before heading on to Key West and then changed our post-Key West plans to return to Key Largo rather than to head on up the west coast of Florida. We’ve been here three weeks this visit, and we love it!! What’s not to like: warm temperatures and sunny skies every single day! A lush tropical setting along a quiet (mostly) canal well away from the Atlantic with its strong winter winds and heavy seas. Yet, it is still close enough to one of the world’s premier snorkeling and diving reefs when the winds give way for just a little while. In Marina Del Mar, we found a lush, low key, resort setting offering fresh towels and breakfast every day and access to several different swimming pools in addition to covered car parking and the usual marina amenities like power, water, cable TV, and internet! The local glass-bottom reef boat and innumerable fishing, diving and snorkeling vessels are Sojourner’s neighbors on the canal and offer endless entertainment in their comings and goings. Even the famous African Queen of the movie by the same name, calls “our” canal home! Because we’ve had the car, we could also enjoy an endless supply of very fresh seafood at a variety of different restaurants, several right on the water! Stone crab claws and hog fish are local delicacies and the conch chowder is to die for as well!!
Rare still day on Port Largo Canal
Key Largo offered us some quiet, relaxing time and provided a great setting for sharing our time in the Keys with others as well. Carol and Patti, our Sea Sense training captains and now good friends, were Sojourner’s first visitors. They came for Thanksgiving, and we all thought for snorkeling and generally hanging out on a mooring ball as well. Unfortunately, the weather was not at all cooperative! Beautiful sunny days but with winds way too strong and ocean swells way too big for snorkeling or even cruising out in the open water. Carol did test out her new snorkeling gear in the protected cove of nearby John Pennecamp State Park, but that was certainly not the water-based experience we had hoped for! Nonetheless, it was great to spend some time with two very special women, people without whom we’d not be doing what we are doing on the water!!
The Susan "triplets"prepare to go snorkeling!
As noted elsewhere, friend Maurie spent some time in Key Largo- an unplanned and very short visit, but fun: a hastily arranged glass-bottom boat ride out to the reef, in the Kentucky-built, Key Largo Princess II, no less, and a stone crab dinner topped off her short stay here. Soonly thereafter, friends Susan and Sue, also from Syracuse, stopped in for a visit. Originally planned as a quick overnight stop in their travels from Boca Raton to Tampa, the wiles of Key Largo worked their magic, and the “Susan’s” stayed for a couple days. The weather (wind) forecast seemed propitious, and so Susan of Sojourner joined Sue and Susan of Syracuse on an afternoon snorkeling adventure aboard one of the neighboring dive boats. The crew and other divers had great fun with the “Susan triplets”…. One only wishes we could say the same for the experience had by the three! They were the only snorkelers on a boat filled with divers and that fact determined the underwater locations visited on the excursion. The first was a wreck some 40 ft. down and the second, a well submerged reef with swim-through holes too deep for snorkelers to explore. The snorkeling adventure had other issues as well. Despite taking precautionary medication, Susan S. got terribly seasick; despite her wetsuit, Sue G. became so chilled in the wind on the open water that she stayed on the boat at the second dive location; and Susan H.’s faulty equipment precluded any sustained exploring of what might have been seen otherwise. Sound awful?? In some ways, it was! But we’ve no guarantee that every adventure will turn out fit for a storybook, At least, the Susan’s were able to get out on the reef and try their flippers! All-in-all, it gave us some very bizarre underwater pictures and many laughs once back on solid ground and in warm clothes, to say nothing of offering the makings for some great (horror) stories!!
Shirley & Wayne's "room of their own"
Soon after the Syracuse Susan’s departure, our last set of visitors provided Sojourner’s Susan an opportunity to replace her first Key Largo snorkeling memories with more positive ones! Shirley and Wayne from Tallahassee/FAMU/UK chose Key Largo as the place to try out their new camper and the timing of their trip worked perfectly for us! They biked and hiked and then joined us on the aft deck of Sojourner for sunset, drinks and gentle conversation before we all enjoyed seafood at a local restaurant. One day, we joined them for lunch at “their place”, i.e., the camper, really a covered bed on wheels, and a large, screened enclosure complete with refrigerator, gas stove/grill, picnic table, and two wonderful lounging chairs!! Before lunch, Wayne and Carolyn enjoyed the chairs while Shirley and Susan snorkeled in the same, protected cove Capt. Carol had explored at Thanksgiving, and everyone had a fine time!! For the snorkelers, the water wasn’t too cold, the breeze was gentle and there were no swells at all!! The day before Shirley and Wayne had to return home, we all enjoyed the sights, sounds, and stone crab claws of the annual Key Largo Stone Crab and Seafood Festival!! For more pix, check these out: Key Largo
School of fish leading Key Largo Princess II
As our long-fantasied “winter in the Keys” draws to a close, we look back on a simply incredible experience: the water, the weather, the lifestyle, the ambiance, the sights, the food, and the people! The Keys are a place like no other either of us has ever visited… Clearly, a world of extreme contrasts: the wildness of Duval Street and the historic seaport of Key West on one hand, the tranquility of life on the Key Largo canal on the other… Face in one direction and experience the cacophony of craziness created by Mallory Square street performers but turn 180 degrees, and revel in the languid silence of gorgeous sunsets… The stark juxtaposition of jewel colors is everywhere: the sapphire, aquamarine and turquoise of the water, the bright white of coral sand beaches, strikingly emerald palm fronds, deep amethyst ti plants and bright ruby bougainvillea blooms…. Or, the total change from perfectly placid to heavily roiling seas in a matter of minutes, tho’ the reverse always takes longer… As powerful as such contrasts are, the Keys also offer striking constancies, and the water is also one of these: always some shade of blue, always clear and virtually always clean. Nowhere else in all our cruising to-date have we been able to see the bottom in a marina, especially when the water is 12-15 feet deep, or enjoy tarpon, schools of sergeant majors and even the occasional blue parrot and angel fish swimming around Sojourner while she’s tied to a dock! All-in-all, the Keys more than met any expectation we might have had. We didn’t do all that we’d planned -Susan still wants to snorkel off Sojourner’s swim platform- but we experienced much and enjoyed it all!!
In a day or two we’ll begin our next adventure: we’ve decided to head north again and this time, to keep on going once we reach Canada! “Doing the Great Loop” was the original inspiration for our adoption of the cruising life, and we hope to cross our wake in St. Louis sometime after Labor Day this year!!