Return To Boot Key Harbor, Marathon Florida

It was June of 2008 when we last visited Marathon, Florida and Boot Key Harbor. We wrote about our feelings of returning to one of our former home harbors in our Sea Trek Blog, and here we are again over 4 years later. Our observations are still pretty much the same. We are impressed with how clean the harbor has become and we applaud the efforts by the City and County to make it happen. But we're still reminded that Marathon is not interested in cruising boats that would prefer not to take advantage of one of the expensive marinas or pay for a mooring. The attitudes, although friendly, are pretty much, "this is how we do things and if it is not to your liking, see ya later."

There is one new free shore access in the harbor that does not require you to buy something or use their services and that is the new dinghy dock at Sombrero Resort and Lighthouse Marina (the finger pier at the corner of the canal). How long this remains available, time will tell. The other options are the dinghy docks at either City Marina or Sombrero Dockside. If you are fortunate enough to find a small space to anchor, tying up your dinghy will cost you $13.00 per day at City Marina or $5.00 per day at Dockside. Yet the cars parked in the parking lots in town pay nothing to park. Why is there a distinction? Because boaters will pay it and auto owners will take their tourist dollars elsewhere if that ever happened. If you happen to need water and are not tied up at a dock, it will cost you 5 cents per gallon. If you're not at a mooring or dock, it will cost you $5.00 for a pump out by the city pump-out boat. Now that's not a lot, but other than the Bahamas, we have never had to pay for water in any of our travels in over 20 years, except here. I can understand it in the Bahamas since most water is made through reverse osmosis and those systems costs money to maintain. But in Marathon, it comes down the pipe from Miami. The city marina controls all aspects of the harbor including anchoring. The sign on the bridge as you enter the harbor instructs you to call the city marina for mooring, docking or anchoring instructions. I'm not sure how I would feel about one marina essentially trying to control the entire harbor if I were the owner of one of the other marinas in the harbor.

The pump-out boats in the harbor and the pump-out facilities at the marinas are a big reason the waters are so much cleaner. We have always been advocates of the clean wake philosophy and the use of holding tanks and pump outs are the right thing to do no matter where you boat. But the pump outs are pushed at you after the first five minutes of arrival. You aren't asked if you need a pump out, you are told when the pump-out boat will arrive to pump you out. The objection is not the requirement to pump out. It's the right thing to do in this harbor or any other. It's the feeling that I can't be trusted to arrange a pump out on my own and the marina again must control when I pump out rather than leaving the decision to me. We have had the pump-out boat pull alongside the second day we were there and wanted to pump us out. That would have been fine, had we asked or had we needed it. But the fact is our tanks were almost empty at that time. We were told they automatically come to pump you out the second day you're in the harbor. It's the constant pushing that I find a little unsettling. The entire process is, in my opinion, designed to discourage anyone from spending any time in Marathon at anchor. It just feels like, "bring your dollars or go elsewhere." But we often anchor at many towns we visit and spend our dollars at restaurants, grocery stores, gift shops, etc. We have spent a few thousand dollars for other than dockage during our current visit, not all expected. In the past, we measured our time here in months, but now, we limit it to days, or weeks unless the weather pins us down. There are still many boaters that are quite happy to come down and park their boats at a marina or on a mooring for the winter months. But not so many as we remember when the harbor was open to all.

While the cruisers are very carefully controlled, many of the long-term liveaboards that have been in the harbor, some since we came down in the early- to mid-90's, continue to live on boats that are barely afloat and piled high with all sorts of miscellaneous materials. I just can't help feeling that there must be a way to accommodate everyone without compromising the positive changes that have been made. I think maybe it may be too late and the current pattern has been established for the foreseeable future. I know this has been a lot of negativity and for that I apologize. The cruising community is still strong here, in a very controlled manner. We have met some great folks and had many fun get-togethers. The recent holiday boat parade was small, but still fun to watch with a group of boaters on the stern of their boat with drinks and snacks. The VHF Cruisers Net is held every morning at 9 AM and at least once a week, if not more, there is some activity at the Tiki Hut at the City Marina or at the City Park. Many of the local establishments have specials and discounts for the boaters. But we also know from living here for many years that in December the prices go up at the restaurants and shops because the tourists are coming and not because things cost more here. Even the morning VHF net is rife with bickering amongst the long-term liveaboards.

We've met some great people on this visit and the one-on-one with other cruisers is always pleasant and fun. But the overall atmosphere, in my opinion, is not a welcoming one and I don't feel like a guest, but rather a cash cow that needs to be lead around by a bridle. I'm sure others will disagree and I would very much like to hear those thoughts if you have been a recent visitor.

Businesses we highly recommend for their friendly and professional service includes Marathon Boat Yard (Not to be confused with Marathon Marina and Boatyard or Marathon City Marina) for any major repairs or haul-outs and Shoreline Inflatable Boat and Outboard repairs. Also Keys Welding for the reasonably priced and fast service on our new tank. All did a fabulous job in the various repairs we needed and we feel are priced fairly by normal Keys standards. Marathon Boat Yard is inside the harbor on the canal that runs next to the old Boot Key Bridge and Shoreline is right next to the West Marine store (we don't recommend West Marine) on Overseas Highway. Our favorite restaurants are Burdines, The Island Fish Co., and both ice cream shops in town (Kandios or Sweet Savannahs).

Our stay here has been way too long due to unexpected repairs and lousy weather patterns so we look forward to heading up to Key Biscayne within the next few days to wait again for weather and stage for the Bahamas crossing.

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