Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, Florida

Two years plus have passed since we were last in Boot Key Harbor and there have been many changes. We will leave it up to you as to whether or not those changes are positive. Upon entering the harbor from the west channel very little looks different until we reached the docks at Faro Blanco Oceanside. The marina has been closed for quite some time and the docks are all empty, the floating house boats that were hotel rooms are all gone as well as most of the buildings except the old dock office. It is sad to see our old home left in such a sad condition. As you pass under the Boot Key Bridge, just past Faro Blanco, the bridge tender will instruct you to check in with the harbor master at the City Marina, whether you plan to anchor or pick up a mooring. As we entered the inner harbor it became apparent we would not find a place to anchor. The city has installed over 220 moorings that pretty much cover the entire harbor. The rather large permanent live aboard fleet that covered much of the harbor in the past have taken almost all of the left over available anchoring space. These boats are tied together, with 2 to 3 anchors out in all directions with unknown lengths of rode. Anchoring in between them could be tricky and you might come up with one of their anchors upon leaving. Under those conditions, we decided to pick up a mooring since the field was pretty empty this time of year other than, again, the full time folks.
The Marina staff was courteous and professional in assigning us a mooring based on our size and draft. There are some shallow spots in the harbor to be avoided. We felt the moorings were a bit pricy at $21.50 per day for the off season with the mooring field being pretty empty. During the high season, from about November on, we are told the moorings are hard to come by since they are on a first come first served basis. There are only 2 places to land a dinghy in Marathon and the City Marina is one of them. They have a very large floating dinghy dock divided up between rigid and inflatable dinghies and if you do anchor out the charge is $12.50 per day or $40.50 per week. If you choose to pick up a mooring, with little choice now, the dinghy dockage is included, as is the use of the heads, showers and marina facilities, which is a large space inside a warehouse type building with tables, chairs and a couple of TV sets. The heads and showers are not air-conditioned and are a bit shabby. For some reason unknown to us you must have a plastic token to get water to the showers. I suppose this is so people other than those staying at the marina will not be able use them. At other marinas we usually have a key or a push button combo to get into the heads. While we were on the mooring, there was a crew checking the status of the moorings with a diver and underwater camera. Each morning at 9:00 AM there is a cruisers net on VHF channel 68 with announcements and information related to the harbor and information of interest to cruisers. Each new arriving cruiser is presented with a welcome package with brochures and information about the Marathon area by the Smorgasboat.
The charge to dock your boat in the marinas is $2.00 per foot for transients to park at a crumbling concrete wall or at a plastic floating dock along the other side of the canal. We had just come down the west coast of Florida and paid $13.00 per night for a mooring at Fort Myers Beach, with a great dinghy dock, very nice heads and laundry and the use of the hotel facilities there. We also paid $1.85 per foot for dockage at Factory Bay Marina in Marco Island and had first class, spotless resort quality facilities and some extremely friendly folks. We found the city marina in Marathon in pretty much the same shape it had been in for years with few improvements, but they were spending money to build picnic areas and a castle for kids to play in. We aren’t quite sure where the income from the mooring field has been spent. There is also a pump out boat that will come out to the anchorage and pump out your holding tank for $5.00, which is also included if you are on a mooring for at least a week. Water costs 5 cents per gallon! Here in Marathon is the ONLY place we have ever been charged for water, other than in the Bahamas. We are not sure why this is the case as the water is piped in from the Mainland and is not in any danger of being cut-off. At least in the Bahamas, it is understandable because the water is either from a cistern and dependent on rainfall or is reverse osmosis and requires energy to produce.
One little surprise is their pricing policy if you decide to stay longer. Our plan was to only stay a couple of days, visit a few friends and pick up a package. We should have known better since we have on more than one occasion been stuck here longer than planned because of strong easterly winds when we initially need to go east, then north. (The Keys at this point run east to west.) So after a couple of days we went to the office and stated we would like to pay a pro-rated weekly rate for a mooring instead of continuing to pay the daily rate. Now at every other facility we have stayed at in Florida, Texas, Alabama, the Carolinas and the Chesapeake Bay, heck even in Belize and Guatemala, if we decided to stay longer the marina just adjusted our dockage and credited us what we had already paid toward the weekly/monthly rate. This was just the case in Marco Island after we were weathered in there for longer than planned. But the City of Marathon Marina informed us that they do not do business that way and if we wanted to pay a weekly rate we could but would receive NO CREDIT for the days for which we already paid. We let them know we would leave under those circumstances, but apparently they preferred to have another empty mooring instead of charging us in the same fashion as every other marina at which we have stayed.
So we left, and thanks to the kindness of our friends, Darrell and Jennifer Brand, we moved to their empty slip at Bonefish Marina in Coco Plum, just out of town and about 7 miles from Boot Key Harbor. Had we been informed of the policy for payment when we arrived we might have made a different decision. We let the marina know on the first day we might be staying longer but no one said it would affect the weekly rate. The Marina at Bonefish put us at a dock with power and water in a very nice setting. Since this is off season there are not many folks around. These are condo slips but some are available to rent from owners that do not have boats. The docks ring a much protected basin complete with a club house, four heads with showers and laundry facilities on well manicured grounds. For 2 years in the mid 90’s when we first came to the Keys, we managed this marina and several of our friends bought slips here. Once again, it was like coming home.
There are other dockage options in Boot Key Harbor but they are few and during the high season these are usually full. Plan to have the limit increased on your credit card before you arrive. Marathon Marina at the west entry channel has a transient dockage rate of $2.50 per foot, including water, electric and cable. This is a working boat yard. Burdines, the fuel dock and restaurant, is also $2.50 per foot transient, and that includes water, cable and electric as well. I mention this because most marinas down here, and other places, charge extra for power and that extra expense can be hefty. Sombrero Lighthouse Resort has a transient rate of $2.50 per foot plus $5.00 per day for power with access to the entire resort facilities. The marina known as Sombrero Dockside at the east end of the harbor next to Sombrero Resort, is $2.00 per foot transient with a bar and restaurant on site and shopping nearby. Dockside also has a dinghy dock for the bar and restaurant and if you patronize them, they don’t mind if you go for groceries or whatever. No trash or laundry and don’t abuse it or you will lose it. Both Sombrero Resort and Marathon Marina were purchased by a company that changed them into Cay Clubs and raised rates substantially. That company went into bankruptcy so with changes in ownership and other influences prices, availability and services can change.
Free dinghy dockage in the Keys is very rare. Landing a dinghy anywhere else in Boot Key can get you in trouble. No Trespassing is strictly enforced and the landowners along the harbor in general don’t like the boaters and will call the sheriff. West Marine continues to have a dinghy dock, but it is solely for the use of store patrons and we would advise to use at your own risk. For all of the media push to show Boot Key as a boating destination we feel that the true push is toward bringing in tourist dollars from another source and if you are not here to spend money they would prefer you move on. One major positive aspect we noticed right off was the improvement in the water quality and clarity in the western section of the harbor. It is indeed clearer than we have ever seen it in the 15 years plus that we have either visited or lived here, so obviously some policies are good for the environment and inhabitants. As soon as the winds ease a bit so we can get around the corner and head north we will move up to Key Biscayne.

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