Everyone knows what Key West is all about. You’ve probably been there by car or even cruise ship. The town is truly a destination that everyone should see at least once. Getting there, and staying there on your own boat, is another story all-together.
It’s a good news / bad news situation.
The Good: The shore facilities are set-up quite nicely for liveaboard boaters and cruisers. There is an very busy dinghy dock in Key West Bight right in front of Turtle Kraal’s restaurant. It is administered by the Key West Bight Marina. The fee is $6 per day, or $26.50 for a week. It’s cheaper by the month but we didn’t stay that long. (this was our second visit to KW by boat). For you money you get a low-tech sticker to put on your outboard. This gives you permission to use the dock, but it does not guarantee you a spot! We always managaged to squeeze in somewhere.
As you step foot on land, there is a public restroom. Behind that is trash disposal, recycling bins and even waste oil disposal. Very cool. There is FREE water on the docks. You can dinghy your jugs right up to the faucet, pull the hose down and fill up without leaving the boat. Also very cool.
Key West Bight is part of the local scene. Many excellent restaurants/bars line the harbor here. Take your pick or choose a different one every day. Duval Street is also just a few blocks away. Take Caroline Street and you’ll hit Duvall at the Bull & Whistle right downtown. Also on Caroline are two small markets. Not good for real provisioning, but they are convenient if you need milk or bread or whatnot.
The Bad: There is NO decent anchorage in Key West. All of your options are less than ideal.
You will be wide open to winds from the north, which are predominant in the winter. The bottom holding can be suspect, and there is assorted debris in various locations throughout the area. By debris, I might mean crab pots, which we pulled up with our anchor, or I might mean a sunken vessel. True story. There are quite a few wrecks sunken among the anchored boats that still float. It can get very rough out there when the winds blow.
So where can you anchor? We chose the southwest corner of Fleming Key, just inside marker 31. It’s the closest spot to the dinghy dock, has protection from East or Northeast winds, and the bottom has enough mud you can get an anchor to stick. The cove in the middle of Fleming is off-limits, as designated by buoys that say “No Boats”. There is some shallower water (we were in 20 feet) to the north of the cove, but it was very crowded. I was told that the majority of full-timers live there, and some don’t take kindly to transients elbowing in. I can’t verify the truth of that statement.
There are over one hundred boats anchor on the north side of Christmas Tree Island, formerly known as Wisteria. I don’t know why! It looks like a horrible place to be and it’s a LONG dinghy ride to town. Another few dozen are anchored on the southeast side of Christmas Tree Island, which looks okay-ish.
Finally, you could choose to utilize the mooring field on the east side of Fleming. Guess what? It’s even more open to wind than the anchorages. It’s out there in the middle of nothing, which makes for a long dinghy ride into Garrison Bight. Then it’s a long walk to Duval and the attractions from Garrison. If you have bikes, this might be something to consider. We are cheap cruisers though, so we don’t even like to pay for mooring balls if we can anchor.
So there you have it. Key West has done a nice job of catering to boaters. It’s a huge part of the lifestyle in that town. You can get water, get rid of your trash, recycle, dispose of waste oil and filters, etc. They city planners can’t do anything about the geography of the island, or the wrath of the elements, so be prepared. Getting your anchor well set is imperative. The current is strong and the waves can grow large. The dinghy ride can be treacherous sometimes. Those that live out there full-time have to be hardcore to last.
For us, one week is enough.
One last point to make – There are an assortment of “characters” living on boats and frequenting the dinghy dock. Some are less than reputable. Some are less that sane, or less than sober. Most are friendly, but there exists a certain element that you should be aware of.
Now go uptown and enjoy!