Fun and Games in Marathon Florida

So Kellie had all her shots and blood drawn for her rabies test.  All we had to do was wait for the results which take 4-6 weeks.  For the wait we planned to go to Key West and then back to St. Augustine for Christmas.

When it was finally time to leave Key Largo for Key West we decided to make it an easy trip and break it up into two day sails.  We left early in the morning planning to stop in Marathon to sleep for the night before heading to Key West.We had perfect weather and nice calm sea state inside the Hawk Channel. The Hawk Channel runs along the east side of the Keys between the islands and a reef that is a few miles off shore. The reef attenuates the swells from the Atlantic Ocean and makes a nice smooth ride. The numerous crab/lobster traps were the only thing we had to watch out for. Here is a chartplotter view of the relative path we took.  I made this map later because I didn’t save the route on the Raymarine we actually used during the sail.

route from Key Largo to Marathon



We arrived at Marathon around 4:40 pm. We planned to arrive in daylight as we weren’t sure exactly where we would anchor and wanted be able to get the lay of the land. The first place we considered was outside Boot Key Harbor near the US-1 / Seven Mile Bridge.

anchoring marathon


It had a nice view and short ride to the Sunset Grill, but the DOT guys were grinding hurricane debris up on the bridge with a fleet of chippers and trash trucks. Kellie, who has an inordinate fear of garbage trucks, and trucks in general was not liking it….nor were we. It was a giant industrial set up with portable construction lights and generators adding to the “ambience.”

We puttered around outside to see if we could find a spot that was good, but in the end we decided to enter the harbor and try inside. Inner Boot Key Harbor is a nice well protected harbor, but not very deep. Our draft and mast height precluded us from entering all the way and taking a municipal mooring ball. However, on the chart there was a small patch of anchorage with sufficient draft and no height issues. We had eyeballed it on our car trip the week earlier and it seemed do-able, see the red X on the chart.

BKH anchorage

We entered the channel and followed the markers with no issues. As we had hoped we found a spot to the west of the bridge crossing the harbor. There were some small boats anchored there but there was a spot that was just barely big enough for us.  I lined up on the spot we wanted, checking depth and all looked good.

Just as we were ready to drop anchor I looked around and I felt I was a tad too close to a power boat on our port (west) side. Power boats don’t swing quite the way a sailboat does so I wanted to give it a little more room. I allowed the wind to drift us backwards planning to drive forward and line up a little further east. Unfortunately one of the boats behind us had laid out a web of anchors in all directions which was not obvious from looking at the boat. Adding to the fun was the fact that all his anchors used rope rode which doesn’t sink like a chain. This means that unbeknownst to us, just under the water was a literal net of rope going out in all directions from his boat.

Boat at anchor Boot Key

As we drifted backward we caught the line of the anchor that was dropped about 80 degrees to his stbd. Colleen only noticed it when the boat, named Firefly 4, suddenly started moving toward us. I powered forward to get off the line, but it was too late. The line had already gotten past the rudder and then got stuck in the prop. For a brief time it seems like the rope would untangle from the prop and be loose as I cycled between forward and reverse so I hoped we could pull it out.

I used the bow thruster to try to keep us lined up as best I could with the other boat, and dropped our anchor and hoping to drift in between, but his line was still attached to the prop pulling us sideways, beam to the wind. Our anchor caught a little bit and gave us time to try and free the prop. We did some forward and reverse, which seemed to free up some line but not completely. We did an “emergency launch” of the dinghy (my back feels it today) and I tied up to the starboard side of Annie and tried to pull us sideways to clear the line. That was no go. Colleen put fenders out on the side facing Firefly while we regrouped. The wind was picking up at 16 kts and with Firefly’s starboard anchor line apparently firmly wrapped up in the prop, we were left broadside to the wind being pushed into Firefly. Our anchor did not have much rode out and was not taking much bite. This wasn’t surprising considering the short distances involved. Not good, but we seemed to be stuck with the other boat and not drifting. I called SeaTow and explained the situation, they said they would get a diver out first thing in the morning to free us, but until then there was not much they could do. I then called the USCG to let them know what happened and to tell them that while we were not moving at the moment if we did start dragging we had no effective propulsion until SeaTow arrives in the morning. They logged it and said call back if anything changes for the worse.

After monitoring the situation, I felt like we might be drifting, closer to Firefly and our chain was still not tight, additionally it seemed like both boats were moving ever so slowly closer to a jagged metal abandoned pier. I had no idea what type of ground tackle Firefly had and now it was holding a 53ft boat as well as Firefly. I decided to use the dinghy to deploy our backup anchor which was an old monster grade fluke, that weighs 40-50 pounds. Of course this anchor is stored at the bottom of the forward line locker, so I had to empty everything out to get to it, and load it on the dinghy, remember my back…. Of course our dinghy engine decided at this moment to act up. While I was fighting my dinghy motor, Dave, the owner of Firefly showed up in his dinghy to find out what I was doing with his boat. Dave with in a few seconds of arriving, listening to me fight my dinghy engine, informed me the idle jets were clogged in the carburetor. (he was right)

Luckily Dave was here now with a better behaving dinghy. He towed our dinghy+anchor out while I paid out rope rode from the bow of Annie until all we had left was about twenty feet of chain on the back up anchor. We slowly ran that out and pushed the anchor over. Back on Annie, I tightened up on the new line and it seemed to help. It didn’t set immediately, but when it did it held. So now we were a couple of feet from Firefly and slowly bouncing in the wind. I stayed up all night monitoring. Oh and getting the 50 lb anchor deployed in a pitching dinghy finished my back for the next few days.

how not to anchor

The white line going to the bottom of the picture is our back up anchor, the chain is our primary.  Firefly’s tangled anchor is the slack line from it’s bow going under Annie.  That line is the one wrapped on the prop, and is tight on the other side going to the anchor, so it was holding Annie sideways.  Though the boats are close, about one foot apart, we never actually touched.  Lots of fender action on the nose.


SeaTow called us first thing in the morning and said they would be there around 11am with a diver and towboat. Shortly afterward at 8 am, a Florida FWC patrol boat(water police) came by the anchorage and asked the boat next to us to leave to make room for the salvage barges that were passing through. That boat had no motor… so the FWC said they would return with “more guys” and tow him out. They then came to us and rather gruffly ordered us to “leave the anchorage immediately.” This was one of those times that I just throw caution and prudence to the wind and have fun. In my most happy tone I told Officer Authoritative that I would love to depart his most beautiful anchorage except that I can’t. Officer Authoritative was apparently a genius as he reiterated that I did not have a choice.  I, gazing at our unorthodox anchoring arrangement told him I agree, I have no choice, I am stuck here. And proceeded to explain to him that I don’t normally anchor on top of 34ft day-sailers and were affixed to the adjacent boat until SeaTow arrived with a diver. I also pointed out that I already contacted the USCG and they were aware of the situation. Then Officer Authoritative finally looked at our odd anchoring arrangement and unhappily accepted my explanation of the situation, and left. What else could they do. Amusingly before he left he asked if I owned Firefly.  I told him the owner would return later when the diver was on site, he told me to tell that owner to get his boat out too.  Nice place this Marathon.

After the water police left the inoperative boat’s owner paddled his kayak over to us to talk. He was from Panama, and was preparing to return there…with his “new” boat. He said it was the biggest boat he ever owned, a 32 footer. He said he got it for a really good price because the motor didn’t work… but he didn’t care because he never had a boat with a motor before! He told us that he asked the police to tow him out of the harbor to open water so he could leave for Panama that afternoon…wow!

An hour or so later the patrol returned with a second bigger police boat for our neighbor and following shortly afterward our Sea Tow also arrived. I called Firefly’s owner Dave to come over and join the party.

The police tried to figure out the other inoperative boat’s anchors…and yes he also had multiple anchors which were stuck in the mucky bottom. They could not pull them up(no windlass of course)….and naturally one  of them was set under Annie and Firefly. What a mess.

Captain Mike of SeaTow was the best. He took charge of the whole fiasco, directing the police to just “shut up and follow his instructions,” then telling the boat owners to calm down because “Captain Mike was here now and everything was going to be ok.”  He tied up to Annie and made it the “flagship” of his fleet, and commenced issuing orders like an Admiral.

To this process, “my” diver first helped the other “inoperable boat” get its two anchors free. People really like to put out multiple anchors in this harbor. The diver had to dislodge the anchors one at a time and walk them to the boat so the police could pull them up manually. And his were pretty big ones, bigger than Annie’s primary. Once that boat was out of the way, the diver tried to retrieve our emergency anchor, but couldn’t dislodge it from the ground so we released the line with a float to retrieve it later with the windlass. He then cut us free of Firefly’s starboard anchor with us still attached to Firefly by the other end of the line He again used a fender to mark the line so Dave could retrieve the anchor. This let our stern swing free to follow the wind and we sistered up to Firefly. Fenders were already staged.

Next the diver began chipping away at the knot of rope on the prop. After 15-20 minutes we were free and hanging on our own chain and emergency anchor. I tested the engine in forward and reverse SAT! We got clear of Firefly and pulled up the main anchor and tied it off with a shackle so we could remove the chain from the windlass. We had to do this to use the windlass to pull up the emergency anchor. Dave’s friend Skip and I hauled it up and over the rail and we were free! I offered Dave dinner and drinks anyplace where our dinghy can go. (Oh and Dave was right, our dinghy issue from the previous night was clogged carburetor jets. I rebuilt the carb while waiting for Seatow.)  We didn’t get any pictures of this process, I wish we did,but I didn’t think it was a good thing to be distracted with while everything was going on.

We re-anchored closer to a fishing boat marina about 100 yards away from Firefly and settled up with SeaTow. $185 for one hour of diver time was the only bill. What a relief. We ate pork chops and rice, last night’s dinner that we skipped, washed up and slept.



By 2:55 pm no one had hassled us about being in the way. Colleen still wanted to leave for Key West immediately, but I thought we should get a real night’s rest and leave early in the morning. The barges didn’t start moving until 8 am so we would be gone by then.

Marathon was hit hard by the hurricanes last year, in the picture of Dave’s boat without us alongside, you can see the wrecked docks in the background.  US1 was still piled with storm debris and lines of dump trucks hauling it out somewhere.  Dave said the inner harbor was like a bowling alley during the storm with 75% of the boats lost.  What we heard was that the moorings were too close to one another necessitating short mooring lines which broke during the storm.  Longer lines would have had more shock absorbing capacity.

Dave sent us a message that he would be at the Overseas Bar and Grill on US 1, and to join him and Skip and his wife. Not exactly a dinghy ride, but Dave offered to pick us up, but he had already been drinking, so I passed and we got an Uber. The Overseas is a nice place, the people seemed really cool. The action happens out back. From the front it looks like a seedy liquor store, but the back is an open air restaurant and bar. A good time was had by all.

Dave and Colleen at Overseas

The next morning we got up early and headed out following the channel markers out of Boot Key Harbor. We were almost finished with the channel, running a little closer to the red markers when I noticed the depth had become erratic, something I did not see on the way in so I slow down a bit. Good thing I did because we shortly came to a stop. Not jarring, but still a rather quick stop. I realized we obviously grounded and thought Oh no! I will have to call Capt Mike again!

I remembered from somewhere, maybe a Delos video, that the bow thruster can be used to help back out of a soft grounding. So that’s what I did. Rudder amidship heavy reverse and wiggled the bow with the thruster. After a few seconds we were moving again. I backed more to the center of the channel and we finally got free of the Boot Key Harbor bad dream. Next stop Key West! (we even have more fun there!)


A side note:   This is the first blog entry using an offline WYSWYG blog editor.  Way easier and fast.  Since I can now work on blog entries off line I think I can get caught up!  The editor is Open Live Writer.  I tried several editors but they either would not link properly with the WordPress blog site, wouldn’t save locally, wouldn’t operate without internet, or would lose the images.