Back on the mainland side and just south of the Dodge Island Bridge is Miamarina. A protected harbor that's on downtown Miami's front doorstep, it's also in the midst of Bayside Marketplace, an interesting collection of shops and restaurants. In addition to overnights and extended stay dockage, group cruises are welcome at Miamarina, and short-term landings to visit Bayside are available (for a nominal fee) on first-come, first-served basis.
Miamarina is also right next door to American Airlines Arena, home of the Miami Heat and an important entertainment venue. Marina reservations are a must if you're planning to attend an event at the Arena via boat.
Dodge Island is home to the many cruise ships sailing from Miami via Government Cut, a wide, deep, but nonetheless often rough (though usually more scary than unsafe) passage that is classified as all-weather. On an outgoing tide facing an easterly wind, your best bet is to leave the marked ship channel as soon as you clear the stone breakwaters. The buoyage is for ships; there's plenty of depth for boats — and usually a lot smoother conditions — outside of the channel and its current. Of course, you need to keep a watch for ships — not only in the Cut and its approaches, but also near the junction where Fisherman's Channel (the port's south channel), Government Cut, the western strip of the Main Ship Channel, and Meloy Channel all come together.
Also: as you approach this area, remember Fisher Island ferries cross it in both directions as they run between the MacArthur Causeway Terminal and the Island Terminal (and vice versa) every fifteen minutes (or so) 24/7. Whether we like it or not, we pleasureboaters are supposed to keep out of their way!
The main ship channel between the Coast Guard base and the ICW (which is the very heart of the Port of Miami's Cruise Ship activity) will be closed at times for security reasons — generally when cruise ships are PRESENT. (Government Cut is closed to pleasure boats only when two or more cruise ships are in there.) Most of the time Fisherman's Channel, ON THE SOUTH SIDE OF DODGE ISLAND, will remain open to provide an alternate, albeit somewhat longer, route from Miami to Miami Beach or the ocean. We need to be ready to change or revise plans, wait, or go ahead, to comply with the schedule of the security people.
On the beach side of the Bay, just off Government Cut, and distinguished by its signature lighthouse/office structure, is the big Miami Beach Marina, a multi-service facility that bills itself as The Gateway to the Caribbean. Amenities include restaurants, bars, a gourmet market/deli, ship's store, dive shop and more, and proximity to the upscale South Beach district with all its trendy restaurants, shops and clubs. This area is Miami Beach Nightlife at its glamorous and all-night-long best. It is sure to be easier to dock your boat at the Miami Beach Marina than it would be to park your car anywhere in South Beach.
And along those lines, Metro Bus has a South Beach Local which will get you around the area from the southern tip of the island up to and a little beyond the fascinating Lincoln Road Mall — a closed-to-vehicles thoroughfare that features an interesting variety of restaurants (many with outdoor dining), shops and galleries. It's great for strolling and people-watching day or night and there's a theatre there too, nice to know in case one gets tired of watching people!
The Miami River is across the bay on the mainland side, just south of Bayside. The Epic Hotel & Residences stands at its mouth on the north side and there are more than a dozen marinas, restaurants and boatyards stretching four miles inland.
It is narrow but deep, crisscrossed by a dozen bridges, and bears heavy commercial traffic including small freighters. With its recent revitalization it is now a much safer and more pleasant route for those visiting its facilities. For a complete look, see Chart 12-A. As we suggested for cruising up the New River, it's also wise to monitor VHF Channel 9 on the Miami River. And always stand clear of tugs towing ships — especially near bridges. It's obviously a busy place. So, be careful!
As you go upstream, watch for dredging and bridge construction activity and carefully heed any instructions you may be given by dredge crews or associated patrols.
Heading south from the river mouth, the bay opens up and the interesting towers of Brickell Avenue rise on the mainland shore, then subside as you pass under the Rickenbacker Causeway. Soon they give way to the elegant estates of Coconut Grove and Coral Gables.
Notable among them is Vizcaya, the landmark former home of International Harvester founder James Deering which is now a museum open to the public. It is a Mediterranean palazzo that reportedly cost $5 million to build in the early 20th century while employing ten percent of the population of Miami in its construction.
Vizcaya is accessible by water (via the first marked channel southwest of the Rickenbacker Causeway) but landings are restricted, so it's best visited via land transportation. Call 305-860-8437 for more information.
A number of other attractions of nautical interest in the Coconut Grove area include The Barnacle, the home of Commodore Ralph Monroe who was one of the area's first settlers and a leading yachtsman of his time.
At the east end of Rickenbacker Causeway lie Virginia Key and Key Biscayne, which are — geologically speaking — the northernmost of the Florida Keys. (Though Keys residents would disagree; The Conch Republic border is most definitely at Key Largo.)
Virginia Key is home to the Rosensteil School of Oceanography and Miami Seaquarium on the south shore and two marinas in a sheltered cove and popular anchorage north of the causeway between the Rusty Pelican restaurant and the old Marine Stadium. Be aware that the stadium is now used heavily by waterskiers and PWC riders, so it is not exactly the quietest of anchorages. Also inside you'll find one of the City of Miami's Municipal Marinas — called, logically enough, Marine Stadium Marina. They have fuel and 300 dry-storage racks.
Across Bear Cut to the east, Key Biscayne is still a beauty spot divided about equally among parks, beaches and residential areas. The excellent Miami-Dade County's Crandon Marina lies at the northwest corner of the island with floating concrete docks anchored by concrete pilings.
On the southeast corner of Key Biscayne, the no longer active (but fully restored and open to the public) Cape Florida Lighthouse (built in 1825) still stands to mark the start of the outside route southward to the Keys via Hawk Channel. Call the Bill Baggs Cape Florida Park, 305-361-5811 for information on tours, times and costs. Also, there's a nice, casual restaurant in No Name Harbor — Boaters' Grill —accessible by boat or through the park. The phone is 305-361-0080 and dockage is available along the seawall. The large bight on western Key Biscayne is an excellent anchorage in settled weather with a great view of Miami's nighttime skyline.
South of Key Biscayne you'll see a number of vacation homes sitting on pilings along the shallow sandbars that line a natural passage charted as Biscayne Channel. Known locally as “Stiltsville,” this unique community's homes have been privately owned for years (often by the same families for generations). The land became part of Biscayne National Park in 1985 and the leases expired in 1999. There was talk of tearing the structures down. As you might expect, the homeowners fought the takeover, but unsuccessfully. In 2003 an agreement was reached to establish a nonprofit organization called the Stiltsville Trust. The agreement is intended to preserve the structures, so it appears that we will continue to have this "only in Miami" attraction for a number of years longer.
While planning is still under way for possible future uses through the Trust and others, the buildings, owned by the National Park Service, have been secured and no trespassing signs have been posted. The park's superintendent's phone is 305-230-1144 for more information.
The largest yachting center in the Miami area is west of Key Biscayne on the mainland, at Dinner Key (roughly at Mile 1094) with its own mooring field. Dinner Key was built as Pan Am’s flying boat base for the Clippers. When the airline turned to wheels instead of hulls, it sold the property to the City of Miami, which used the old terminal as city hall and built Dinner Key Marina on the surrounding property. Another of the City of Miami's Municipal Marinas, this is truly the biggest marina in Florida. Scotty's Landing restaurant is on the north side of the marina.
Half a dozen other marinas and yacht clubs are also clustered to the north. All are within walking distance of the pleasant facilities and many attractions of the upscale village of Coconut Grove. If you’d rather stay out, there’s an anchoring area just offshore that you can share with one of the area's most picturesque communities of bumboats.
South of Key Biscayne and Dinner Key, Biscayne Bay is a wide-open body that makes for great fishing and sailing, and is home to the annual Columbus Day Regatta, the largest such sailboat event in the world. At that point you officially leave The Gold Coast. The bay leads southward toward the Keys, and we will follow it.
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