This write up from our past guests is already 9 years old, but most of the experiences they shared can still apply even today. We are just republishing their work, the original article is posted on their blog Traveling Twosome with all the pictures. If you love traveling and adventure we encourage you to check out Emily and Barry’s blog as it is filled with wonderful stories of their journeys.
November 28 – Arrival at Key Lime Sailing Club
It was a busy drive down to Key Largo with plenty of traffic on I-95 and the Florida Turnpike, but every time we stopped, the temperature was warmer than the time before, so we weren’t complaining. Key Largo was busy when we arrived, and we had to really watch carefully to find the hidden right-turn entrance to the Key Lime Sailing Club (KLSC). After turning down the narrow, sandy drive, and arriving at the gate, we looked in vain for the buzzer that we were supposed to press, but there simply wasn’t one. We waited a few minutes wondering what we should do, when finally Patria, a very nice woman who works here, came out of a house nearby apologizing and greeting us. She showed us our cottage, the Manatee, which was decorated in a tropical “Key West style”, plenty large, comfortable, and clean, but simple rather than luxurious. We brought in all our luggage and started getting settled.
After we unpacked a bit, we headed down to the docks and started checking out the sailboats. Before too long, we met David, who maintains the boats and other watersports equipment, and chatted with him for quite awhile before heading out to dinner. Before we left the beach, he used a machete to chop the top off a fresh coconut from a palm on the property and gave it to us to drink the delicious milk — just like on Survivor!
Afterwards, we had a delicious dinner of fresh fish, cole slaw, and black beans and rice at The Fish House.
November 29 – First sail
Today we sailed for 6 hours including rigging and docking the Catalina 22, Slider. Our longest sail ever! Winds were pretty high today; 15-20 knots for most of the afternoon, so after starting with the jib and realizing that I had rigged it incorrectly on one side so that we couldn’t use it on the port side of the boat, we ended up taking it down since the wind was a little much for us. We hadn’t sailed in a year (last time was at the Bitter End Yacht Club, BVI, this time last year), so it was time to remember our basic sailing skills and not try to test our limits. Once we were sailing with only the mainsail, we went slower and thus were in control and had a blast performing numerous tacks to return to the dock. A distance that took us maybe 30-45 minutes to do on a straight downwind path took us hours to tack back, but that was okay; we had fun and both got to take turns at the helm. Barry had added new marine charting software to his GPS before this trip, and it was interesting and helpful to see our progression and the water depth during our sail.
Docking was a bit tricky as we had to motor in and turn around to back into the slip, which we’d never done, but managed it with a little help from Patria, who ran out to the dock when she saw us attempting our approach. Here I am onSlider, back safely at the dock.
After we cleaned up a bit, Patria gave us a tour of the other cottages she was cleaning, since the other guests checked out today. She also recommended a Cuban restaurant within easy walking distance, Su Casa, so we took her up on it and had a wonderful meal. Only one local was there besides us, which was a shame, since the food (and homemade Sangria!) was amazing, and the prices very reasonable. We had black beans and plaintains to accompany roasted pork (Barry) and Flank Steak (Emily), and we split a coconut caramel flan for dessert, which Patria said we had to try. It was wonderful, and we rolled out of the restaurant completely stuffed.
November 30 – Another Great Sail
We had another good sail today in fairly similar conditions to the day before. Before sailing we watched a Great White Heron (resident of extreme south Florida only; white birds similar to this seen elsewhere are typically Egrets) on the dock retrieve a small fish that David, who was fishing, threw him. Another bird for our life lists!
It was actually a bit windier and choppier today once we got out a ways, so again we decided not to use the jib. Winds are supposed to get lighter in coming days, so we hope to so soon practice our jib trimming skills. We have had a lot of practice rigging it up, only to put it away! With slightly higher winds than yesterday, our GPS told us that we did a slightly longer distance today in an hour less time than we did yesterday. We are both gaining confidence and having so much fun, despite being showered upon briefly today (gave us our one and only chance to wear the jackets we took with us every day in our boat bag!)
Barry did a great job bringing Slider into dock today, backing into the slip under motor power, with no assistance from anyone on the dock. The only problem we had today was getting her turned into the wind for long enough to bring the mainsail up. She wanted to keep blowing away from the wind; I guess because there was quite a bit of breeze.
After our sail, we decided to take out a paddle boat. That was fun and good exercise too. We paddled (pedaled) for quite a ways relatively close to shore to look at the other cottages and resorts, and finally at the big boats docked at the Upper Keys Sailing Club. We saw one boat there from Oriental, NC; one of our favorite places!
After our paddleboat ride and cleaning up, we relaxed with a drink at the dock before heading out to the grocery store for a few more supplies, and then a wonderful dinner al fresco at Sundowner’s By The Bay. I’d read good reviews of this restaurant so wanted to make sure to try it. How amazing to sit outdoors and eat dinner in shorts and short sleeves while so much of the country is shivering in snowstorms! Barry had an onion-encrusted mahi and mixed steamed vegetables, and I had an Asian sesame-encrusted seared tuna on baby greens salad. Delicious! We were too full to indulge in dessert tonight.
December 1 – Longest sail ever!
Today was another wonderful day in paradise with a high in the low 80s and a mix of sun and clouds. The wind finally died down a bit, so we were able to use the jib for the first time and go faster even in the lighter wind than we’d gone on previous days. The jib ended up being hard to manage as it was very large and kept catching on the shrouds when we performed maneuvers, and it took a fair amount of strength to trim even with a winch, so Barry ended up handling it for most of the day, while I served as helmsman, a position I’ve really learned to like on this trip. We went farther out than the two previous sails, actually getting out of Buttonwood Sound into the Florida Bay, where we set our sights on circling a small uninhabited key, Porjoe, and with a few tacks, were able to do it, while avoiding too-shallow water in the area. We also practiced jibing (always a challenge) on the way there. We got out so far that it was a long trip back with many tacks, and we also tried heaving to for the first time, very successfully, I might add! We went twice as far as the previous day’s sail — 30 miles in just over 6 hours of sailing. (Yesterday we’d gone ~15 miles in 4 hours!)
On the way back we got to see a Hobie cat regatta. The many different colored Hobie sails were beautiful against the blue skies, so we took a few photos and concentrated on staying out of their way!
We had a bit of excitement at one point later in the sail when we were still approximately three miles offshore. We heard a loud “ping” that we knew wasn’t something we’d heard before. Nothing seemed amiss on first look, until I suddenly noticed that the forestay had snapped off at the boat deck. Yikes! Fortunately, we were still sailing fine at that point, but we realized that our next tack would be a problem. We initially thought we’d have to take the jib down and sail under main only, but Barry, being the MacGuyver that he is, thought for a minute and came up with an idea of using a small rope he had in his boat bag to jerry-rig the stay to the deck using a series of knots (he’s really good with knots; I am (k)not!) We didn’t know if his fix would work until our next tack, but work it did, very well indeed, and we never gave the forestay another thought until the end of our sail, when we reported it to David, who said he could have it fixed by tomorrow’s sail. So, I guess we’ve survived yet another initiation into the world of sailing by managing a broken part while at sail, though Barry gets all the credit for this one. His handiness is coming in just as handy on a boat as it always has around our house and yard.
After our sail, we met two other couples (both from Canada) who had checked in today; we had had the entire Key Lime Sailing Club to ourselves the two previous nights as folks who were here when we arrived had checked out. Everyone was nice, and we were able to provide restaurant recommendations and directions to the grocery store since we are now Key Largo “experts” (ha!) And speaking of restaurants, we had a wonderful dinner tonight at the Crack’d Conch, a Key’s style restaurant (i.e., VERY casual) I had read about online prior to our trip. Rachel Ray had gone there on her $40 a day show and had a delicious lunch, so I figured if it was good enough for Rachel, it was good enough for us. And wonderfully good it was! We were incredibly hungry after our long sail with only snacks for lunch, so we ordered a large assortment of absolutely delicious homestyle food, and ate way too much. We started with homemade coleslaw and honey biscuits that came with our meals, and Barry had a cup of conch chowder. Our side of curried bananas came out next, and they were simply scrumptious; buttery and sweet with brown sugar and cinnamon. We ate half of the huge plate and brought the rest home for breakfast tomorrow. Our entrees were blackened grouper (Barry), and combo seafood platter (grilled fish and shrimp, cracked conch, and conch fritters) for me. Delicious! I had to bring home about half for lunch tomorrow. We also brought home one piece of key lime pie for tomorrow, as we were way too full to touch dessert tonight but wanted to try the pie. We may have to do a little dieting when we get home!
A Christmas lighted Catamaran
December 2 – A busy Saturday’s sail
Today was a special day for me because for the first time in quite awhile, I got to sleep in until 7:45! With Pepper waking us up earlier and earlier lately, sleeping that late has become a thing of the past, so it felt good. Barry, who normally sleeps until 7:30 or 8 at home while I get up with Pepper, was up much earlier today and crept out of the cottage without waking me up, for an early-morning paddle in one of the kayaks here on the glassy water. He ran into David at the dock and reminded him about our broken forestay, which was promptly attended to. After breakfast, we finally got going on our sail at around 9:15.
We could definitely tell the weekend had arrived today with the increase of boats in Buttonwood Sound. The morning wasn’t too busy, but the afternoon included another Hobie cat regatta, several large catboats from the Upper Keys Sailing Club, numerous powerboats and loud, obnoxious jet-skis. We still managed to have a great sail. We started out by heading southwest down the Inter-Coastal Waterway channel into the next bay south, where there were many fancy condo buildings and not too many boats. However, we strayed a bit too close to mangroves, we ran aground in grass and muck. Fortunately, the Catalina we are sailing has a retractable keel, which proved invaluable in the shallow water. The deepest water we’ve encountered in Buttonwood Sound is 7′, so retractable keels are very handy! We were able to retract the keel, pull the rudder up slightly, and motor out of danger. Barry always keeps a level head in situations that might make me panic, so he is a wonderful asset on any boat! After that “excitement”, we headed back in the channel to the slightly deeper waters of Buttonwood Sound and proceeded to circle Porjoe Key again in the opposite direction from yesterday.
On our way back to the dock, the boat traffic resulted in a much longer approach than normal. We had to do a couple of quick maneuvers to stay out of the way of the regatta, and had to watch the catboats closely to make sure we would have no close encounters. We used the right-of-way rules learned in Basic Keelboat class, and all went well. We were finally able to approach the dock and finished our sail with about 24 miles total in 5 hours of sailing.
While we were having a drink on the dock and awaiting the sunset, we had one of the highlights of our vacation. I saw a pair of nostrils surface right at the waters by the dock and realized that unless a hippo was swimming around down there, it was a manatee! We jumped up to look and could see its large body underwater. I quickly snapped a photo, showing the shadowy body swimming away, but it didn’t stick around for long, unfortunately. All our new Canadian friends ran over to see it, but most were a bit too late. You’ll have to look closely at this photo, but you should be able to make out its slightly lighter-colored body underwater.
We watched the sunset (the only decent one we’ve had so far) and chatted with one of them, who lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia (north of Maine) and has a 30′ sailboat. He told us about the long winters and foggy conditions there for sailing. Their sailing season is very short as the fog is not gone for long enough in a given day for much of a sail until mid July. It’s hard to imagine living in such an inhospitable place if sailing is one’s passion.
We had a very good dinner at Ballyhoo’s, which Patria recommended. Our table was outside under a mellalucca tree, where we both ate Jamaican jerk-spiced mahi-mahi, steamed veggies, and salad. I brought home enough for lunch tomorrow, since the servings were huge. That seems to be a theme around here!
December 3 – Barry’s 53rd birthday!
After breakfast, we started another beautiful day with a sail on Slider, of course. We had decided to take a shorter sail today to have more time to kayak and relax later, since today was our last day (sniff). Today the boat traffic was not nearly as bad as Saturday, and we had a great time sailing in Buttonwood Bay yet again. We had another brief grounding in a shallow, sandy area near Porloe Key at low tide, but were able to motor out of it again. We saw the dorsal fin of either a shark or a dolphin in that area. We got an opportunity to practice our man overboard drill when we saw a grouping of half-deflated baloons floating way out in the bay. It took a couple of approaches, but finally Barry was able to grab them with our boat hook, giving him a fitting birthday souvenir, and possibly saving a fish from trying to eat them. On the way back as we were motoring to the dock, we saw a dolphin right off our bow, swimming next to the boat. Very cool!
After lunch in the cottage, we changed into swimsuits and took a couple of the kayaks out on the water. It is actually a lot warmer than I thought it would be, since we got rather wet while paddling these sit-on-top models. While paddling, we took the opportunity to take a few shots of the KLSC from the water side.
After our paddle, Barry tested out his survival skills by chopping the coconut David gave us on our first night here open with a machete, and we cut out the meat for a snack, and to save for the road. Really delicious!
We talked some more to our newfound Canadian friends, and spent some time just sitting on the dock and relaxing. We saw several more dolphins swimming not too far out in the bay.
We had another delicious dinner at Su Casa, the Cuban place in walking distance, and were their only customers, which was too bad (Patria says they are very busy on weekend nights). We had delicious roast pork, black beans, plantains, and homemade sangria again, and split another yummy coconut flan for dessert. Barry enjoyed his birthday dinner and said today was a wonderful way to spend a birthday. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end, and after dinner and a little more time sitting on the dock, soaking in the beauty of the peaceful anchorage (and the beautiful almost-full moon), we came back to the cottage and started packing for the first leg of our trip home tomorrow. Sigh…. It is going to be a rude awakening to go back to cold weather, holidays around the corner (so much to do!), work, and all the chores of home, but we surely have had an amazing time here, and I am so glad we came. We feel like real sailors now!
December 4/5 – Trip home
It was difficult to tear ourselves away from the KLSC on Monday morning. We took our time packing up the car, and then headed down to the dock for a last look around. It was 77 degrees and sunny, perfect weather once again, though the winds had shifted to the north, signaling the impending arrival of the cold front that had brought snow and ice to the midwest. It was going to be very mild in the Keys, only forecast to bring the highs down to the 70s the following day, and lows to 60s. We said our goodbyes to Paul, the property manager, who gave us each a KLSC 2007 datebook, and to Patria, who presented us with KLSC ballcaps and snapped our photo for their scrapbook. We took her a couple of Painkillers (tropical mixed drinks with rum) in a leftover water jug, along with the recipe, since she liked the taste we’d given her a few nights ago so much. We also chatted with our newfound Canadian friends for a few minutes before hitting the road. Patria had suggested we take a slightly different route departing Key Largo, up Card Sound Road and over the Card Sound Bridge, rather than taking US 1 all the way north, so we gave it a try, and it was indeed more scenic and had less traffic than the alternative.
We stopped for a lunch of peanut butter crackers, carrots, and coconut at a rest area on the way north in Florida and were accosted by aggressive squirrels. We’d never encountered aggressively begging squirrels except in the Grand Canyon, but these had obviously been fed before and had lost all fear of humans. Several of them kept approaching us, and they proved very difficult to scare off! Having to constantly watch our backs spoiled our peaceful picnic, so we quickly finished our food and got back on the road.
We arrived at the Holiday Inn Express in Kingsland, Georgia, around 5 pm. We had stayed at this same hotel on the way down and had gotten delicious takeout pizza from an Italian place a short walk away, Angelo’s, which we ate in our room, so we did the same this time. Before dinner, we walked over to the Winn-Dixie for some water and apples for the next day, necessitating a run across four lanes of traffic, adding a little more exhilaration to our day.
We arrived home at 4 pm on Tuesday to much colder weather than we’d experienced in quite some time. It was in the 40s when we got home, and tonight is forecast to be in the mid 20s. Quite a shock to the system! Everything was fine here at home except that squirrels had dug in my plant pots on the front exterior staircase to bury nuts, apparently (they’d left acorn shells as evidence of their crime!), so I had sweep and return soil to the pots where they’d removed it from the roots of my pansies and small roses. They’d also eaten all the pansy flowers, the rascals. We pick Pepper up at the kennel tomorrow, as they are closed on Tuesdays.
Final thoughts from Barry….
This birthday trip ranks right up there with the two trips to the BVI. Although the location was not quite as exotic, and the accommodations didn’t compare to those we had in the BVI, the weather and the amount of fun we had (which counts the most) equaled what we had on our BVI trips. Two things were better than the trips to the BVI in my opinion: One was that it was much cheaper and didn’t require flying to get here; two, once we were checked out on our sailboat on the first day, it was ours the remainder of the stay, and no daily checkout was required. None of the other watersports equipment required any checkout of any kind. This was much nicer that what we had to go through in the BVI with the daily checkout of any equipment, and never knowing if it would be available when we wanted it.
The staff at KLSC were the friendliest I have ever experienced. I would characterize them as “Keys’ Characters” – unique individuals who seem to epitomize the Keys’ way of life. They made us feel welcome from the get-go, and were a valuable source of information on the Key Largo area. Patria’s dining recommendations were right on, and as a result, our dinners out were awesome – every one of them.
Although our “cottage” was not exactly what I had envisioned (it was actually part of a duplex, and the other half wasn’t even part of the KLSC), and it was further from the water than they had told me (about 85 YARDS instead of 50 FEET), it was clean, comfortable, quiet, which is what counts the most. It definitely had the funky Keys’ style to it. I was aware of the lack of locks on the doors before arriving, so that didn’t bother me. We just locked our valuables in our car whenever we were away from the cottage. All the other cottages were also nice, and closer to the water, so we would probably book one of those on a return visit, although I would be just as happy returning to the “Manatee”.
Highlights of the trip:
- Sailing every day – We gained valuable sailing experience on the trip, dealing with a different boat, and sailing in the very shallow waters of Florida Bay. The deepest waters we encountered were only 7 feet deep, and our boat had a draft of 3’6″. Most of the time we were in waters in the 4-6 foot range. We ran aground twice, but fortunately the Catalina 22 had a retractable keel, so we were never stuck for long. Emily’s sailing skills and confidence really took a great leap on thetrip. She used to fear any heeling of the boat, but by the 3rd day, she had us heeled over to the max on numerous occasions, with a big smile on her face! We had to deal with several problems during our time on the waters, and handled them well. We also got plenty of docking experience, of which we had very little up until then. On a side note, the new GPSmarine chart software I purchased right before this trip worked great, and provided excellent navigation information while on the water. Although the KLSC gave us charts, they did say on them “Not for navigational purposes”, so we trusted the GPS for all our major navigational decisions.
- The weather – with highs in the low 80s and lows in the low 70s, and steady breezes, it was a perfect week of weather. I was so glad I decided to find a warmer location than the Great Smoky Mountains for my birthday trip.
- The dinners – we had awesome dinners while there. The fresh fish was prepared in various ways at each of the restaurants we went to, so it was a no-brainer to get the catch of the day most nights.
- The wildlife – seeing the manatee and dolphins, along with numerous birds up close were thrills for us.
I would recommend the KLSC for anyone who loves to sail, doesn’t mind sailing older boats, wants to experience real Keys atmosphere, and doesn’t require upscale accommodations.