Bahia Honda Bound
When we began researching a trip to Key West, we were surprised that beaches were not prominently mentioned. Seems that the Keys are just coral dots in the water with very little in the way of wide swaths of sand.
There are, of course a couple of beaches on Key West, some say man-made, but still quite nice. Smather's Beach with its lovely palm trees and Higgs Beach (perhaps a little less glamorous) come to mind, along with a beach at Fort Zachary Taylor, which is both grass and sand. Nonetheless, we wanted to spend at least some time at the beach and launch the kayak in the Keys waters. But where?
A little more sleuthing and we discovered Bahia Honda State Park on Big Pine Key, about thirty minutes from the campground. Its name is Spanish for "Deep Bay" and that depth provides fuel for its swift currents during tidal changes in the channel at the end of the island. Henry Flagler, who built the first railroad through the Keys, noted Bahia Honda as the most difficult place to construct a bridge because of its depth and current.
We went there with the goal of getting the kayak in the water and wondered if that might prove difficult. Surprisingly, the waters were tranquil and shallow on the Atlantic side. The beaches, though heaped with seaweed and lined with some kind of yellow flowering shrub, were nice enough to enjoy the sunshine, swim or snorkel.
The whole park was quiet and uncrowded and we felt as if we had found our own private sanctuary. Lovely, narrow sand beaches and clear, shallow, turquoise waters. It was easy to launch the kayak, and the protected lagoon made for an easy paddle. We were surprised by a small school of silver and yellow fish jumping out of the water in front of the kayak. Perhaps they thought we were chasing them! Then saw a small Ray flying through the water just below the surface.
About fifty yards off the beach the water turned dark. Curious, we paddled out and found a massive underwater grass meadow. It was a bit too cool to snorkel, but I imagine if we slipped beneath the surface we would be surrounded by fish.
Bahia Honda had another surprise for us - RV campsites on the water! The larger, more developed sites were facing the U.S.1 bridge and the traffic noise was evident, but the Atlantic side was quiet and less developed. Perfect for a tent camper or a small RV. There were walking trails to stroll, a butterfly garden and a nature center to explore. We had lunch at the local concession and walked around the marina before heading back to camp.
This was "water day" and, besides kayaking, we had made reservations for a sunset cruise on a catamaran. I know it sounds touristy, but getting out on the water to watch a sunset is kind of a "must do" in the Keys and the kayak is not quite stable enough for the breezes that kick up at dusk.
We met up with our boat and crew at the marina in Key West and cast off at about 5 pm. There were 20 people aboard a 65 foot catamaran, and the captain asked for volunteers to help raise the sails. Jim and several others obliged and soon the canvas was unfurled overhead. I am not certain we needed the sails since there was the low hum of engines the whole trip! No matter, it all added to the romance of the scene.
The wind was cool, and many went below deck where a musician played the top 40 and the crew served refreshments. But Jim and I braced ourselves against the breeze and listened to the grumpy captain talk with one of the other passengers about sailing. The sun setting through gathering clouds shot streaks of purple and gold through the sky. A reminder that the forecast for the morning included a chance of rain. No matter, it was a lovely sight.
By nightfall we sailed back into harbor with the lights of the restaurants along the wharf to guide our way. A brief adieu to our crew and we were headed back over the bridge to the RV and our camp neighbors to talk about our adventure.