For the next couple issues we are going to leave the Bahamas and hang out in the Florida Keys, starting at the Henry Flagler memorial in Miami. He first connected the Florida Keys in the 1910’s by building a railroad all the way to Key West.
Our first stop is the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park on Key Largo. This was the first underwater park in the US and plans for it go back as far as the 30’s. By the 50’s John Pennekamp, an editor with the Miami Herald, took up the cause to preserve the reefs and the park opened in 1963. The park has much to offer, but the highlight is the many reefs and wrecks about 3-5 miles offshore. The most popular reef in the park is the Christ of the Abyss statue located at Dry Rocks since 1965. The statue stands over 12 feet tall and sits in 25 feet of water.
Just to the south of the park is a great anchorage between the mainland and Rodriguez Key. The whole cove is only 4-8 feet deep and features a couple of small boat wrecks and a great place for a jump over to the Bahamas.
A little further down the chain is the Village of Islamorada which is a great place to hang out, but its the ghost town on Indian Key I really like. This tiny island was used since the mid 1700’s, but did not become a permanent settlement until the 1820’s. It grew in statue and became the county seat. Then in the early morning of August 7, 1840, during the Second Seminole War, the town was attacked. Luckily for the town, someone was up and spotted the Indians and raised an alarm. Of the 70ish people living on the island, 13 were killed that morning. Offshore is another reef called Little Conch Reef that offers nice snorkeling.
The next stop finds us half way down the keys at the city of Marathon with the Dolphin Research Center near by. This is a great place to visit as they have trained dolphins that perform regularly throughout the day. The center first opened in 1958 as Santini’s Porpoise School and Mitzi, the first dolphin he had, ended up staring in the movie and TV show Flipper. From Marathon you can reach what I think is the best reef of the keys, Sombrero Reef.
Bahia Honda State Park is another 15 miles down the chain. This park was established in 1961 and, just like all the other Florida parks I have been to, it is fantastic. In fact, some people claim the beach to be one of the best in the US. Besides swimming and lying on the beach you can walk to the top of the old bridge for a great view. The anchorage is between the old and new bridges.
Before we leave the area we need to go one island over to Big Pine Key and see the key deer. These deer are related to white tail deer, but are no more than three feet tall. They are protected and are only on 2-3 islands, but on those islands they seem to be everywhere.
Next issue we will explore Key West and after that the Dry Tortugas, so make sure to grab a copy as soon as it is available.
Visit www.svGuidingLight.com to read more from Captain Shane about the Bahamas, Caribbean, life aboard, world traveling, and more. You might also want to check out his travel video series.