For the last two weeks (and almost a month for Joel) Marathon Key (and more specifically, Boot Key Harbor) has been our home base. Marathon lies near the middle of the chain that is the Florida Keys, and it has proven to be a pretty good spot for cruising newbies like us. At an area of 9.6 miles, the long, skinny island is about the size of the lake we sailed on in the Midwest. There are tons of mom-and-pop restaurants. We recommend Burdine’s: a burger joint that is a short dinghy ride from the marina. They offer a large menu, larger, delicious burgers, and truly massive baskets of seasoned french fries. When you think you can’t fit any more, order their signature dessert: fried key lime pie.
The island also has a Publix grocery store, a K-mart, and a West Marine. The Key West Transit system has a shuttle that goes from Marathon down through the lower keys to Key West; for 4 dollars, you can jump aboard and enjoy the air-conditioned ride down, but you will be on island time as the length of your trip from Marathon to Key West is 2 hours. If you have a few days to spend just in Marathon, here are our top 2 things to do.
#1: The Turtle Hospital: Half a mile down from the City Marina is the largest of the 12 sea turtle hospitals in the US. They offer tours/presentations on the hour, every hour and are well worth every penny. The Marathon Turtle Hospital is a working facility that has treated and released over 1,000 sea turtles in the last 30 years. Most of the turtles that are treated suffer from boat strikes, effects of polluted waters (namely a specific virus that causes tumor growths and often blindness), or predator-related injuries (namely sharks). All admission proceeds go towards the care and upkeep of this nonprofit facility.
#2: Walk the old 7 Mile Bridge
Originally constructed in 1912 as a railroad bridge, the Old 7 Mile Bridge was what originally connected Marathon to the lower keys, ending in Key West. Though much of it has fallen into disrepair, there is still a section that is open for pedestrians.
Unfortunately, Marathon also has some of the same blemishes as many “old-Florida” sites: there’s a fair amount of litter along US1 (the road that connects all the keys), trash bins near bus stops are overflowing, and there is a surprising number of homeless people for such a small island.
The City Marina (which oversees the Boot Key mooring field) has a large mooring field and large shed that is sectioned off into workshops, the main office, a large common room of sorts compete with lending library, tables, and TVs. They have laundry machines, but they charge 6 bucks per load (3 to wash, 3 to dry). Additionally, they offer pump-out services, free WiFi (only during marina hours and only in the vicinity of the common room), and access to fresh water (at 5 cents a gallon). There are two dinghy docks, and one is adjacent to the bath-house. Joel and I both agree that the bath-house is the least amenable aspect of the marina: it houses the laundry room and around 12 individual RR/shower rooms that not ventilated AT ALL (there are fans in the roof that never run); while the white and blue painted cinder-block rooms do seem pretty clean, the sauna-thick air is not inviting. Thankfully, the mooring field makes up for the marina’s letdowns. At this time in the year, there are plenty of open balls along the surface of the teal water. The field is surrounded at length by mangroves that block excessive winds but are far enough out that we still get a sea breeze almost every night. We haven’t had any problems with mosquitoes or no-see-ums yet. And last but not least, we do get some pretty great sunsets.