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Sailing Destination: Bahia Honda Key, Florida

A Perfect Marina for Trailer Sailboats and Powerboats

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Bahia Honda Key Bridge is one of the links through open waters in the Lower Keys on the way to Key West.
John Coletti/Photodisc/Getty Images

Bahia Honda marina in the Florida Keys is a great destination for trailerable sailboats and powerboats. Sailing, fishing, and all manner of boating are practically a religion in the Keys. Many of these islands, particularly the lower Keys approaching Key West, look and feel more like Bahamian out-islands than part of Florida. The climate is almost Caribbean both winter and summer, the sailing terrific, the attractions on the water or shore leaving little to be desired.

Best of all, for many North American owners of trailerable boats, you can drive to the Keys with your own boat and experience the cruising life of bigger boats for pennies on the dollar. The marina at Bahia Honda State Park is probably the finest small-boat marina in the lower Keys, an ideal starting point or temporary home for boaters from all over. Stay here long enough and you'll meet other boaters who trailered thousands of miles for the experience.

Bahia Honda State Park Marina

The entire island of Bahia Honda is a state park. While the marina basin holds less than two dozen boats, it almost never fills, although it's still a good idea to reserve ahead if you're driving a distance. You can reserve for 14 days and then continue on as long as it isn't full. For $2/foot/day (2013 rate) you get a spot to tie up on the basin perimeter, with 30-amp power and water at each site, and a short walk to restrooms and showers, trash disposal and holding tank pumpout. Many of the sites have picnic tables onshore, and you can leave gear here while out sailing or fishing. You can even put up a screen house at some sites, but you can't camp onshore - you have to sleep on your boat. Onshore, you need to spray with DEET to keep off the frequent no-see-ums and less common mosquitos.

The channel into the boat basin from the Atlantic is only 3 and a half feet in places, which keeps out the bigger cruisers who generally seek berths instead in Marathon or Key West. Pelicans, egrets, herons, and occasionally manatees inhabit the boat basin. Because it is a big, open oval rather than a system of docks and finger piers, it never feels crowded even with a few boats present.

No fuel is sold here, but there's a nice little store with ice and a snack bar.

Climate of the Keys

With the usual trade winds off the ocean to the east, even in winter the daytime highs are typically upper 70s and the lows in the lower 70s. A cold spell may drop into the high 60s. It's a little hotter in the summer, particularly if the wind dies or you're stuck inshore.

Sailing Attractions

While conditions may vary, especially when a front comes through and interrupts the steady trade wind, sailing conditions are often ideal.

The Wind. The trade wind is typically a steady 10-15 knots from the east. Because the lower Keys are situated mostly east to west, this means the wind often blows along shore. So if you're daysailing in and out of Bahia Honda, for example, you may find yourself alternating between downwind runs to the west and tacking back and forth trying to work up to the east. In the winter the wind may swing around more often to the north or northwest, often getting stronger.

The Water. The clear, warm water of the Keys is a primary attraction, where you can swim or snorkel in the winter. Except when a big blow or storm has roiled up the water, it is clear enough to see the bottom at 20 feet, making it easy to check the set of your anchor. With the sun out, you can navigate shallow areas by changes in water color.

Anchorages. The water is fairly shallow in most areas on both the Atlantic and Gulf sides of the Keys, offering lots of anchorages - especially for lunch or swimming breaks if you're returning to the marina at night. Cruisers in overnight anchorages must pay attention to the weather because there are few bridges and channels to let you move to the other side of an island if the wind turns your present anchorage into a dangerous lee shore.

Snorkeling. Along the south and east side of the lower and middle Keys is Hawk Channel, which runs between the island chain and the offshore barrier reef on the Atlantic side. This reef offers spectacular snorkeling in many areas. Less than a dozen miles in two directions from Bahia Honda are two protected underwater areas: Looe Key and Sombrero Key. Anchoring in these coral areas is prohibited, but mooring balls are available for boats with snorkelers.

Attractions Onshore

There is no end of things for boaters to do onshore as well. The long beach on Bahia Honda has twice been voted the best beach in America, with fine white sand and gently shelving shallows for swimming or just walking around in the water gathering shells. Take a nature walk or hike here or on Big Pine Key nextdoor, watching the birds, iguanas, and tiny Key deer. Bicycles and kayaks can be rented on almost all the Keys. Lots of great seafood can be found in many restaurants. From Bahia Honda make the short drive to the No Name Pub on Big Pine Key, with the apt slogan "A nice place... if you can find it." Just ask for directions.

From Bahia Honda it's about 30 miles to drive to Key West to spend a day or more. Food and drink are legendary on Duval St. But get off Duval to walk the streets of old town and take in the ambiance. The Hemingway House Museum is well worth the admission fee and will contribute to your feeling, at the end of your voyage, that you've really been somewhere special.

Other Sailing Destinations:

Cruising Destination: Downeast Maine
Cruising Destination: Key West
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