We are almost done with our trip! In this edition, we finish our travels in the Keys with a stop in Islamorada. While there, we took a dinghy ride through “Toilet Seat Cut!” Then, we travel through the chaos of Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Palm Beach before making a weekend stop in Vero Beach. Along the way, we visit the Swimming Hall of Fame in Fort Lauderdale and find a hidden gem among the highrises and hotels.

Day 293 – Wednesday, 03/13 – From Marathon, FL to Islamorada, FL – 39 miles, Travel Time: 4hrs 35min

Marathon, FL to Islamorada, FL
Marathon, FL to Islamorada, FL

We left Marlin Bay at 8:00 a.m. Tim and Katie from Pangur Ban came over to say goodbye and help us cast off. As we pulled out of the marina, Katie took photos and videos, and a little while after we had left, we got a text message with a video montage of our departure!

Thanks, Katie! And thanks to Tim for helping us with the lines!

There are two routes heading north from Marathon. You can go up the keys on the Ocean Side, which has excellent depth but is more susceptible to wind and waves. Or, you can take the inside route between the Keys and the mainland. This route is shallow (less than 5 feet in some places) but is very protected. We took the inside route on our first Loop and decided to do the same again.

As we turned on the ICW path, we noticed on AIS that our friends Charlie and Robin on The Lower Place were just coming under the 7-mile Bridge heading our way. They had been staying on the other side of Marathon, and it looked like they were also taking the inside route.

The ICW channel is fairly narrow, and the depth decreases quickly on either side. If you look down, you can see the bottom and the occasional crab trap as you pass by. It’s a bit disconcerting! Because it is relatively shallow, the propellers kick up the sand, so if you look behind you, you can see a trail of sand suspended in the water.

We took it slow and got into Plantation Key Marina in Islamorada at 1:30. Our slip was on a face dock, so it was pretty easy to get in. We chatted with Charlie and Robin, and they planned to anchor out in the bay just outside the marina. The winds were forecast to be strong for the next two days, and we planned to stay in Islamorada until Monday. Our next leg would bring us into Miami, and we didn’t want to be anywhere near Miami on a weekend to avoid all the weekend warriors on their boats!

Once settled, I washed the boat to remove all the dust and bird droppings from its two-week stay in Marathon. At 3:00, we went out onto the dock to watch the solar eclipse. We were not in the “Path of Totality,” but we got about 50% coverage, which dimmed it down a bit. (I hate even typing the word “Totality.” The media beat it to death so badly during the eclipse I’m sick of hearing it!)

That evening, we took the bikes down the street to Puerto Vallarta Mexican Bar & Grill for dinner.

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Day 294 – Thursday, 03/14 – In Islamorada, FL

Thursday, we spent the morning doing route planning for the rest of our trip home and making reservations at the marinas. Brenda did some laundry, and while waiting for the laundry, she went looking for a Geocache at the marina. She noticed that there were hard nut shells all over the pathways. They were coming from some trees that were shedding their seed pods. She asked one of the park maintenance people what they were and found out that they were Mahogany trees. The seed pods are hard nut-like pods that open up when they dry out, shed the hard case, and expose a cluster of seeds with a “propeller” that flutters down to spread them.

Once we planned our itinerary for our trip home, I ordered the replacement appliances for our kitchen. While we were away, our oven started to beep and throw error codes. Our neighbor, who had been watching the house for us, turned it off at the breaker. When we went home in November I checked it out, and the logic board had blown. A new logic board was more than half the cost of a new stove, so we decided just to replace it. While we were at it, the microwave/range hood and dishwasher were all installed at the same time, and our dishwasher had been acting up from time to time before we left, so we decided to replace all three. We had already picked the new appliances out at Home Depot, so I placed the order now that we knew when we would be back home.

We took the FreeBee ride service to Publix in the afternoon to get some milk. Our refrigerator set cannot be kept very cold, or half of its contents freeze. I’ve installed a small circulator fan, which helps, but it’s still a balancing act. As a result, once it’s opened, milk doesn’t last more than a day or two.

I’ve talked about FreeBee in the past. It’s a free ride service sponsored by local cities and chambers of commerce. The drivers work mostly for tips. It’s a great service if it’s available in your area.

That evening, we rode the bikes up to M.E.A.T. Eatery and Taproom. It’s a small burger joint that has won many awards for its burgers and pork rinds! Guy Fieri of Diners, Drive-ins, & Dives visited them in an episode, and the chef has been featured by Rachel Ray and Andrew Zimmern.

When we went in, we didn’t know much about the place except that it had been on Triple-D and served burgers. We sat at the counter, and there was a guy next to us who started up a conversation, asking where we were from, recommending items on the menu, and telling us how great the place was. We thought he was just a talkative local. It turns out he was George Patti, the owner. The burgers were amazing. They truly lived up to the hype!

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Day 295 – Friday, 03/15 – In Islamorada, FL

Friday morning, Brenda went shelling while I tried out the metal detector in the sports fields near the marina. After about 90 minutes of hunting, I got 3­­ pennies, a bit of re-bar, a bottle cap, some pull tabs, a bit of an electrical connector, and some can slaw (bits of an aluminum can usually that’s been hit by a lawnmower). Most of what Brenda found along the beach were live critters, so she just took pictures and let them be.

Next to the marina is a group of souvenir shops, the Rain Barrell Village. If you’ve been through the area, you’ll know it as the one with the huge spiny lobster in front. We rode the bikes to it and explored for a while. Brenda found some bracelets for our Grandnieces; otherwise, it was the normal kitsch.

We haven’t had the dinghy off the boat the entire trip. I have pulled off the cover to get our mast stand in and out and to put air in the chambers when they get low, but the motor hasn’t been started in over a year. The area around Islamorada has lots of mangrove hammocks (little islands) and is a nice place to explore. When we got back from shopping, we unhooked the dinghy and winched it off the boat. It’s been covered, but dirt, mold, and mud-daubber nests get inside, and it was filthy. So I spent an hour washing it down and scrubbing the tubes to get as much of the discoloration from the mold off. I got it looking okay, but once the Hypalon (the rubber the inflatable tubes are made of) is stained, it’s almost impossible to get it looking new again.

I thought that the engine would be hard to start, having sat around for over a year, but it started up on the second pull! It ran rough for the first minute but then smoothed right out. I had been told to make sure that if I was not going to use the engine for a while, to turn off the gas feed and let the engine run dry. That seems to be great advice! I took it for a quick spin just outside of the marina, and it ran great!

When I came back in, I went to the fuel dock at the marina to get some gas. When I put it away after the last time we used it, the tank was nearly full, but I only had about a quarter of the tank left. It must be evaporation. Unfortunately, they had just run out of gas! The gas dock attendant said that they were expecting a truck overnight and to check back in the morning.

At dinner time, we rode the bikes to City Hall Cafe, a small restaurant about a mile up the highway. The main highway through the keys is US Route 1. It’s two lanes most of the way and the only way on and off of the Keys. It’s a really busy road with lots of cars, campers, and large trucks. Fortunately for us, the “Old Route 1,” a quiet country lane, parallels the main road in many places along the route, so we could bike on that rather than deal with the random sidewalk availability and the traffic noise.

The City Hall Cafe was nice. They have an extensive wine selection (which is lost on us), but the menu options were good. Mostly Italian dishes.

When we got back to the boat, Brenda said that it was almost time for a rocket launch. We weren’t sure how well we’d be able to see it, given how far south we were, but the view was great! After lift-off, it headed south toward us, so we were able to watch it streak across the sky and see the stage separation. The sky was just getting dark, so the stars were showing behind the rocket, making nice pictures.

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Day 296 – Saturday, 03/16 – In Islamorada, FL

I checked with the marina on Saturday morning, and they had gotten their fuel delivery. I filled up our gas tank, and we headed out for a dinghy ride. The weather was great. Just a light breeze and a few puffy clouds. Our destination was “Toilet Seat Cut,” about 3 miles away. We zipped across the water, giving the dinghy motor a good workout. The water in the little bay near the marina is pretty shallow. There is a dredged channel for boats to enter the marina, but most of the area is less than 3 feet deep. I thought I saw markers for the channel, but suddenly, we stopped, having grounded on a shoal. I tried to back up, but the motor kept fouling in the sand. So I had to lift the motor out of the water and paddle back to deeper water. I pulled up the chart on my phone and saw I’d missed the channel by about 100 feet. We circled back around and got through just fine.

After going around a couple of small mangrove islands, we saw “Toilet Seat Cut” dead ahead. The story behind Toilet Seat Cut is that a local got sick of going a few miles around the mangrove islands to get to his favorite restaurant, so he dredged a channel between the islands as a shortcut. The channel was lined with poles stuck in the sand to mark the edges, and it became a popular cut-through. After Hurricane Donna in 1960, people saw that an old toilet seat had caught on one of the marker poles. Locals quickly took to the humor, using other toilet seats to adorn the rest of the channel markers. The seats are painted and decorated, with many being tributes to family, friends, or spring break remembrances. It’s quite a sight!

After passing through the Toilet Seat Cut, we turned around and skirted the shore back toward the marina. In the shallows along the mangroves, we saw a large sea turtle. They are slow on land but can move in the water! By the time we got the camera up, it was long gone! We were hoping to see a manatee, but there were none around.

We had been picking up gifts for our Grandnieces in Washington state. Brenda had put together a package to send to them. When we got back, I rode the bike to the closest post office, about 5 miles north. Most of the ride was on the quiet side road, so it wasn’t too bad. The properties along this road are on the ocean side and are mostly large estate-type homes hidden in the trees with gated drives. One of the gates was a fancy metal sculpture of Bird of Paradise leaves and flowers. It was really eye-catching! I still had a mile and a half to go when I noticed a mail truck delivering mail. I waited for it at the next mailbox and asked if they would take the package for me. It already had the postage, so the mail carrier took it and saved me from having to ride across a bridge to the next island. Thanks!

We had seen a local restaurant called Marker 88 while going to M.E.A.T. and Town Hall Cafe. We looked it up, and it had quite good reviews, so we made reservations. We rode the bikes and arrived a bit early, so we had to wait at the bar for our table. In good weather, all of the tables are outside and overlook the Gulf. Some are on the deck, while others are right on the beach. We got a table on the deck and could just see our marina to the south.

We had another great meal. The deck is shaded by a bunch of large “Gumbo Limbo Trees,” often referred to as “Tourist Trees” because they turn red and peel in the sun! Being spring, they were also producing seed pods. All during dinner, blackbirds were sitting in the trees, cracking open the seed pods and dropping them onto us. At the table next to us was a large group, and one of them got a bird poop bomb on her dress.

We were glad we had made reservations. When we arrived, the restaurant was busy and filled up even more. They have a boat dock for dining, and there were a number of boats hovering, waiting for a space to dock.

Aside from the bombing, the meal was excellent. We have been fortunate not to have many bad meals on the trip.

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Day 297 – Sunday, 03/17 – In Islamorada, FL

Sunday was St. Patrick’s Day. Brenda wanted to make corned beef and cabbage for dinner, so we took the FreeBee shuttle to Publix again to pick what she needed. While she was cooking, I loaded up the bikes onto the boat and hoisted the dinghy back onto the flybridge (after making sure to run all of the gas out of it!)

We had a nice traditional Corned Beef & Cabbage dinner with potatoes. We had to use cider vinegar because we didn’t have malt vinegar on the boat, but it was just fine anyway. After dinner, we watched our final sunset over the Gulf of Mexico for the trip.

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Day 298 – Monday, 03/18 – From Islamorada, FL to Miami, FL – 65 miles, Travel Time: 5hrs 9min

Islamorada, FL to Miami, FL
Islamorada, FL to Miami, FL

Monday started out as a nice day. We left Islamorada at 8:00 and headed back to the ICW. We went through a couple of the narrow cuts through the mangrove islands. While we were underway, several high-speed racing boats came past us. We think that there must have been a meet or race over the weekend, and they were headed home.

We went through Jewfish Creek, under the Route 1 bridge, and into Biscayne Bay. As we cruised up the bay, the wind picked up, and it got a bit choppy. The clouds also started to build, and the weather showed some pop-up rain showers. Because the weather was starting to degrade, we pushed up the throttles and went up to 16 knots to get to Miami before the rain started.

The tall buildings in Miami appeared on the horizon and continued to get bigger as we approached. We passed two other looper boats, Encantada and Paradise Bound, that were plugging along at around 8 knots. As we neared Miami, we passed Key Biscayne, where we bought our boat and saw the stilt houses of “Stiltsville” in the bay. I’m still amazed that large concrete buildings get washed away by hurricanes, but these wooden buildings have been there since the 1940s.

We went under the Rickenbacker Causeway Bridge into Miami Harbor and turned off the ICW toward Vice City Marina, our stop for the night. We called in, and the dockmaster gave us our slip assignment, two slips away from a bridge. We had to back in because the finger piers were quite short, which was a bit challenging in the wind. We had just finished tying up when the rain started. We just made it!

I would not recommend Vice City Marina for boaters looking to stay in Miami. The marina itself is pretty rough. It is primarily for the residents of the highrise that towers above it, but the dockmaster rents out slips when boats are away. It was expensive! $8.85 a foot with electricity, and there were no amenities. There are no bathrooms, no security, and it’s right on the river walk, so there is a lot of foot and bike traffic. It is located in the Brickell section of Miami, which is mostly large residential buildings, and there are not a lot of low to mid-priced restaurants or activity choices nearby. There are plenty of fancy, high-priced restaurants if that’s what you are looking for. Finally, it’s in a cove, so the waves created by the traffic going past in the harbor tend to slosh in and reflect off the nearby bridge, making it bouncy. We would have given this marina a pass, but it was the only thing we could get for that day in Miami, and we were only staying one night.

We waited for the rain to stop, then walked along the Harborfront Walk to “Craft Brickell.” Craft is a yuppy pizza and burger place with locations around Miami. The staff was friendly, and the pizza was good. On our way back, we wanted to pick up some ice cream for dessert. On Google Maps, there was a convenience store on the first floor of one of the fancy high-rise apartment buildings. When we got there, we found that it was inside the lobby, which was behind security doors. We were about to give up when a woman walked up with her dog. We made a fuss over her dog, gave it a treat (we almost always carry dog cookies), and then followed her in when she opened the door. The convenience store was for the residents of the building. It was about the size of a small bodega, and the wire rack shelves were stocked with higher-end gourmet items. Caviar, martini olives, Vermont Common Crackers, and the like. There was a large wine and craft beer section. They had a freezer with Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, so we bought some and went back to the boat for dessert.

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Day 299 – Tuesday, 03/19 – From Miami, FL to Ft. Lauderdale, FL – 27 miles, Travel Time: 6hrs 55min, 4 Lift Bridges

Miami, FL to Ft Lauderdale, FL
Miami, FL to Ft Lauderdale, FL

Tuesday morning was bright and clear. There was a bit of wind, but not too bad, and it was coming from the south so on our stern. We left Vice City at our usual 8:00 departure time. I had been worried about the lack of security, but we had no issues overnight. Maybe the rain kept the troublemakers indoors.

We went through the port of Miami, past the cruise ship terminals and the downtown area. We had to have 4 bridges opened during our trip up to Fort Lauderdale, but we timed them right and didn’t have to wait very long for any of them.

Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale is a busy container port. As we neared the entrance channel, there was a container ship with an escort tug coming in from the ocean. At first, we were going to go to the west side of the channel to get out of their way, but there was a slower boat behind us that wasn’t going to make it across, so we changed course and stayed on the east side until they made the corner into the harbor and went past us.

We needed to get some fuel. Our marina for the night does not have fuel facilities, so we stopped at the marina next door on our way in to top off. The only open spot on the fuel dock was between two super yachts, and we had to fight some current and the wind getting into the space. I’m happy to say that no super yachts were damaged in the process! We took on 231 gallons of diesel, then called the Swimming Hall of Fame marina to let them know we were on our way. The dockhand met us at our slip, and we backed in.

We stayed at the Hall of Fame Marina on our last Loop trip in 2020. When we were here, they were just starting construction of the new high-diving platform. It is now complete, and we were docked just behind it!

The Swimming Hall of Fame is the training center for the US Olympic diving team and has an Olympic-regulation racing pool as well. Next to the pools is the Swimming Hall of Fame, a museum showcasing the history of competitive swimming and diving in the US. Construction is just starting on a new multi-million dollar building to house the museum on the other end of the pools.

We walked to the marina office and checked in, then stopped to chat with a few other boaters on the dock. The marina is right next to Fort Lauderdale Beach. Spring Break was in full swing, and the streets were crowded. We decided to go for an early dinner to avoid the evening rush of college kids. There was an outdoor burger place called Bo’s Beach, just a short walk from the marina with views of the beach, so we went there for dinner. The wind was still blowing, and the temps were only in the low 70s, so it was chilly, and we had to wear jackets. The food at Bo’s was okay. Typical beach burger fare.

After dinner, we walked to the beach. The cool temps and wind kept the crowds down, but there were still a fair number of kids braving the temps and sunning on the beach.

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Day 300 – Wednesday, 03/20 – In Ft. Lauderdale, FL

We had booked two days at the Hall of Fame Marina, and I looked online to see what there was to do in the area. I found the Bonnet House museum and gardens. The website said that the normal tour of the house only included the first floor. However, on Wednesdays, they offer a special early tour at 9:30 that also includes the upstairs bedrooms. I booked two tickets, and we got an Uber for the short ride to the museum.

The Bonnet House (also known as the Bartlett Estate) is a historic home in Fort Lauderdale. The property was originally acquired in 1895 by Hugh Taylor Birch, a Chicago lawyer, and given to his daughter Helen and her husband, artist Frederic Clay Bartlett, as a wedding gift in 1919. Bartlett built a plantation-style home on the property and wintered there with his wife Helen and child from a previous marriage until Helen died in 1925. As a memorial to his late wife, Bartlett donated his extensive art collection to the Art Institute of Chicago. Bartlett was a self-taught architect; the main house is based on his interpretation of Caribbean plantation-style architecture. Bartlett then married Evelyn Fortune Lilly, ex-wife of Eli Lilly, and they continued to use the home as a winter residence until his death in 1953 and hers in 1997. She deeded the property in 1983 to the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation, which maintains the property as a historic house museum called the Bonnet House Museum & Gardens. The estate was valued at $35 million, the largest single private donation in state history.

The house and grounds have been preserved pretty much as they were when the Bartlett’s lived there. A large collection of Frederic’s artwork is displayed in the home. Bartlett and his wife were avid collectors, and there is a large collection of unique objects that they acquired either on their travels to Europe and Asia or purchased from the antique dealers in Fort Lauderdale. There are a number of Carousel Animals, many unique lamps, and floral-like arrangements made entirely of shells. One of the unique aspects of the house is that Bartlett hand-painted faux stone finishes on much of the woodwork and furniture throughout the house. His last painting, just before he died, is a faux tile floor in the music room.

The house was designed with a large central courtyard. There are no interior hallways or stairways. To move from room to room you go outside either on porches or covered walkways. The courtyard features a central fountain, and an aviary and is full of lush vegetation.

We spent several hours touring the house and gardens. At one point, the family owned most of what is now Fort Lauderdale Beach. In 1893, Hugh Taylor Birch purchased 3.5 miles of land along Fort Lauderdale Beach for $1 an acre. The Bonnet House and Gardens, at 35 acres, and the Hugh Taylor Birch State Park next door, at 1,600 acres, are now the only undeveloped land in the area. Bartlett’s father-in-law, who gave him the Bonnett House property, donated the state park, which was his retirement estate, to the State of Florida in 1940. Today, a 1/5th acre (8,100 sq/ft) lot nearby is listed at $3 million. That works out to $15 million an acre, a net gain of $14,999,999 per acre, not bad!

After our visit, we walked to the beach side of the complex and had a Parrot Burger for lunch at the Parrot Lounge, a local landmark bar and grill.

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After lunch, we took the FreeBee shuttle service back to the marina. We stopped at the Swimming Hall of Fame Museum and walked around the exhibits. Not being swimmers, we only recognized a few of the honorees. Jonny Weissmuller (Tarzan), Esther Williams, Ronald Regan, Mark Spitz, and Michael Phelps are a few you might recognize. On the second floor, there is an observation lounge where you can watch the swimmers and divers. We were fortunate to be able to see a practice while we were there. The top platform of the new diving tower is 97 meters (9 stories) tall. It is tied for the tallest diving tower, with one in Bejing, China. Divers start on the springboards and gradually work their way up the tower. The Diving Coach must sign off each diver before they can progress up the tower. We saw one brave soul go to the edge of the 97-meter platform. He sat on the edge, looking down for a while, then stood up and took the pose with his toes over the edge. He stood like that for a while. Then he bravely backed away and walked back down two levels before making his plunge!

We watched the divers from the observation lounge for a while, then went back to the boat. We had made reservations at Coconuts, which is next to the Hall of Fame, for dinner. At 6:30 we walked over and had a good dinner. Coconuts is very popular and always crowded. The food was okay, and the service was rushed. That’s the problem with popular resturants. Of course, it was Spring Break, so they were probably busier than usual.

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Day 301 – Thursday, 03/21 – From Ft. Lauderdale, FL to Palm Beach Gardens, FL – 52 miles, Travel Time: 7hrs 30min, 11 Lift Bridges

Ft Lauderdale, FL to Palm Beach Gardens, FL
Ft Lauderdale, FL to Palm Beach Gardens, FL

We left the Swimming Hall of Fame Marina at 9:00, heading for Palm Beach Gardens. Our route today involved 52 miles and 11 lift bridges! Most of these bridges are timed, so we had to plan our timing accordingly. In general, if you go at around 8 knots (9 mph), you get to the bridges about when they are scheduled to open.

We made steady time along the way. There was not a lot of other boat traffic, so we had a pretty smooth ride. The homes along the route are impressive to look at. Most are 10s of million dollar homes with multi-million dollar yachts parked out front. We went past Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club and the Palm Beach Public Dock with many 100-million dollar yachts.

The Palm Beach Boat Show, one of the largest in the world, was going on, and we had to run the picket line of police boats, keeping the traffic passing at idle speed. It was amazing! I looked it up and they claim to have $1.2 BILLION dollars worth of boats on display. I can believe it!

After navigating the Palm Beach Boat Show, we went around Peanut Island. This is a little island in the middle of the entrance to Palm Beach Harbor and is popular with small boats who pull up on the beach to spend the day. Even on a weekday, there were 100’s of boats. I’m glad we didn’t come through on a weekend!

Our marina for the night was Old Port Cove Marina. Technically, I think it’s in North Palm Beach, but it’s right next to Palm Beach Gardens, where we had our boat refitted after we bought it, so we refer to it as Palm Beach Gardens. This is a pretty ritzy marina with several 100ft plus yachts. When we checked in, they gave us a bottle of wine for staying with them. How fancy!

The wind had come up, and it was threatening rain. There is a very nice restaurant at the marina, Belle’s Bar & Grill. I think it’s part of the local Yacht Club or Condo Community, as most of the patrons are local. Thursday is Prime Rib night, Brenda’s favorite! While we were checking in at the marina, we made a reservation (which was unnecessary) and reserved two Prime Rib dinners (which WAS necessary as they ran out shortly after we were served). It was another excellent meal!

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