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Key Largo, Tarpon Basin

February 11, 2012

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While sitting in a restaurant in Marathon, we read an article in the local paper about boaters "being allowed" to anchor behind a municipal building in Key Largo's Tarpon Basin. While the tone of the article was a bit annoying (including the quote from some official or another saying that the boaters were being "allowed" to stay there, it was not a given right), it was nice to know that there was a place to get to shore, farther up the Keys.

We delayed our trip to Tarpon Basin, however, when we found a cove with 3' of water closer to the channel in Buttonwood Sound than most people anchor. We were looking for a secluded place to hang out, not needing to get to shore yet, so we were stalling going into Tarpon Basin. While we relaxed we researched the services available in Key Largo, trying to see if there was water available anywhere so that I could do laundry onboard. Online we found mention of several places to get to shore from Buttonwood Sound, but a few of those are no longer an option. There was a deadend street where boaters parked their dinghies, but it has been fenced off. We were told you can take your dinghy to shore behind Burger King, but that it is "sort of rough" and not many services available there. But for an answer to our water question (and many others, as well) we were pleased to find that a site of a faithful reader of Simply Sailing Online was our best source of information. Rhett has a blog www.simplyagoodidea.com and on it are, well, some very good ideas. His post on Tarpon Basin is well-written and informative, and made our decision to stop there much easier.


The best way to use Tarpon Basin is as a quick stop between places like the Swash Keys

When we were ready for civilization (or as ready as we ever are) we headed into Tarpon Basin. Since we only draw 13 inches, we tried to squeeze between the two shoals shown on the chart. However, nature changes more quickly than charts, and the two shoals have since become one, meaning there is no longer a "between" that even we could sneak through. We touched bottom about the same time I told Dave it was getting shallow. (The sun was in our eyes; we know, bad time to enter a new harbor). As we backed off the shoal we were talked into the anchorage by a boat that was leaving. There are several stakes marking the shoals. The outer-most one has a white cone, is slightly taller than the others and is currently leaning. (It reminds me of navigating in the Bahamas: "Turn at the tire on a stick.") Once we went on the south side of that "marker" we were in clear water into the anchorage.

Because of our shallow draft we were able to get in close enough to benefit from the lee of the island, though it doesn't seem to be a very large lee. We dropped our anchor in a patch of sand among all the grass (very important!) and rowed out a secondary to keep down our yaw. We soon discovered that the blue "pool" I thought was full of kids was actually a dolphin pen, one of those "swim with the dolphins" things.


Dry snorkeling in the Swash Keys

The dinghy dock is toward the tall rectangular "tower." There is room for dozens of dinghies at the dock and yes, there is water available. However, we heard from two different people that in order to not piss off the government officials, the boaters there have made a group decision to get water after 5:00 or on the weekends. There is a hose strategically placed (near the "no docking" sign) so that you can fill the jugs in your dinghy rather than having to carry them. There is also a dumpster near the building. Boaters are asked to use it rather than the trash cans in the waterfront park.

We walked past the building (which is, among other things, the sheriff's office) to US1. North about a quarter of a mile is a hardware store, ocean side. There we found alcohol for cheaper than we were paying at Home Depot. There are several restaurants along this strip, both north and south of the anchorage. South along US1 about a mile is a strip mall with K-Mart, Publix, a library, UPS Store and several other small stores. Turn left at the light (or the street before the light) to get to this area hidden in the trees. Further south, about two miles from the dinghy dock, is a Post Office bayside where we had mail sent general delivery. About a half mile south of the PO is a thrift store, Bank of America, Office Depot and several pharmacies. Since there is a bike path ocean side and the Keys are flat, the walk is not that bad. According to Rhett's post there is a place to get propane, but we don't use it on Walküre so we never looked. For fuel, your best option is to sail to Gilbert's Marina a few miles north.

Tarpon Basin was such a convenient stop for groceries and water that we found ourselves returning there several times. We sailed out to the Swash Keys and hung out for a week, then sailed back for provisions and water. When a blow came through we hid in one of our favorite Walkure anchorages--which I'll share later--and then back to Tarpon Basin. And even now that we have sailed away, we find ourselves looking for a similar spot: some place relatively comfortable in a variety of wind directions, close to shopping with water available. But I wouldn't want to "live" at Tarpon Basin. There is a definite "they don't want us here" vibe that would make it too uncomfortable. For a quick stop, or several quick stops in a row, it was the perfect last Keys anchorage for us before we headed back to the continent.

OK, OK, I'll do it. MONDAY we'll share a variety of ways to tie our least favorite (but still frequently used) knot. We've talked so much about when NOT to use this knot, that maybe it's time we shared the situations in which it is the right knot for the job.

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