January 17-31, 2013... The Lower Keys

Ah yes.  Another cold front coming.  Winter in the southwest north Atlantic.  Had to leave Bahia Honda to find shelter from the storm.  By the time we woke up, the other boats in the anchorage had gone.  Close by is Newfound Harbor/Coupon Bight, a great big stretch of water in the Lower Keys formed by Big Pine, the Torch & Ramrod Keys, and the small oceanfront Newfound Keys.  We anchored south of the mangroves of Little Torch Key figuring the winds and fetch would be minimal here.  Indeed, the cold front came, bringing very cold winds.  Day one we stayed on the boat wearing long sleeves and pants (ugh), doing some boat chores.  Day two, the sun was out -- aaahhh.  Lowering the dinghy for the first time in weeks, zipped over to Big Pine.  First to the annual nautical flea market.  Second, Winn Dixie to restock the produce larder.  Third, Big Pine restaurant.  So full from that lunch, didn’t need dinner.

Next day, splashed the kayak to paddle through Coupon Bight Aquatic Preserve.  Lots of mangrove shorelines, some great white herons, turkey vultures, little blues, millions of cormorants, pelicans, a couple of ducks.  We were heading past one tiny island covered with cormorants when we heard a distinctly different noise -- a deep, very loud bellow.  Oh no!!  Not alligators!  We listened again and were sure this was a large reptile.  Upon further research we learned that the American crocodile lives around here, and since this was not a freshwater area, but saltwater, it was likelier to be a croc than a gator.  The good news is that they don’t attack people... usually.  The bad news is that January is mating season.  We paddled with haste but dignity away from the island, never having actually seen what was making the noise.

Monday morning.  No wind - a great day for snorkeling!  Dinghied out to sea to Newfound Harbor Key patch reef just a half mile from the channel.  Only ones there, picked up a sanctuary mooring.  Believe it or not, this was the first time snorkeling in almost a year and a half -- since leaving Bonaire in 2011.  We were spoiled by that fabulous experience and didn’t want to get in the water anywhere if it wasn’t pristine and with the promise of wonderful things to see.  Here in the Keys we have the clear water, but we didn’t get our hopes up after reading about the coral bleaching and how the reefs are deteriorating.  We were determined to try anyway.  But we went wearing full wetsuits  -- the water is still too cold in January.  Once in the water, it was like being with old friends.  Sergeant majors, blue tangs, French angelfish, damselfish, and more.  Sponges, corals, fans.  New friend -- the porkfish -- adult and juvenile!  Not so much diversity as we have come to expect, but pretty cool anyway.  Lots of barracuda (or cuda as they are known here...)  Lots.  Everywhere.  Little, big, and huge.  Good thing they thought we were pretty scary and swam away from us after trying to stare us down.  After about an hour we were getting cold (though John said he hadn’t been warm ever) so we swam back to the dinghy.  Felt great to swim on a reef again.  Looking forward to the next low wind day to do it again!

Still here after another week.  Stuff to do.  Had to stay for the Island Grass Music Fest hosted at Boondocks restaurant -- a wonderful fundraiser for Habitat for Humanity.  All the bands donated their time.  Of course we had a great time dancing -- thanks to Bill Blue’s band.  Met some great people -- thanks to Larry and Eusebio for making us feel welcome.

Did we mention the water gets very shallow here at low tide?  Another all-day paddle between Little Torch Key and Ramrod Key and we found that out the hard way.  Going to Ramrod, we were just fine.  On the way back... well someone had to get out of the boat and pull.  Just like Bogie in the African Queen, Johnson’s our man.  Thankfully, no leeches...

Little Torch Key:  24d38.817’N  81d23.080’W

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