Mile 1180 on the bay side brings you to Duck Key, which has no anchorage but does have a well-protected marina at the end of a very narrow, circuitous channel limited to five feet of draft at MLW and plagued by strong currents. It’s worth the trouble, however, because the marina is part of Hawk’s Cay Resort, one of the finest in the Keys. If you want dockage with an extra touch of class, an opportunity for shoreside recreation, and some good food (in a variety of settings), you'll want to try it.
Next in the chain is Grassy Key, which is of only limited interest to boatmen but is home to the Dolphin Research Center, one of the few places where you can actually get in the water and swim with dolphins. (Hawk's Cay Resort has a similar "dolphin encounter.") You can get recorded information at 305-289-1121 or you can talk to them (no, not the dolphins, the research people) by calling the same number.
From Mile 1185 to 1188 you’ll find Fat Deer Key and the city of Key Colony Beach, which occupies much of the key. (This is one of the oldest of only five incorporated communities in the Keys, the others being Key West, the settlement of Layton, the Village of Islamorada and the City of Marathon.) Key Colony Beach is also home of one of the really outstanding sailfish tournaments in the area. Key Colony lies along the southern rim of the island and is connected to the rest of Fat Deer Key via causeway. Key Colony Beach Marina, a full-service deep-water facility, is inside the sheltered bay that lies between the causeway and the rest of Fat Deer Key.
Mile 1188 marks the beginning of Marathon, the second largest settlement in the Keys and the hub of the Middle Keys. In 1999 Marathon became a city, but is not a key. The main island is Vaca Key; the settlement is Marathon and the city now includes not only Vaca Key but also Boot, Knights, the parts of Fat Deer not occupied by Key Colony Beach, as well as Grassy and Crawl Keys.
The bay side of Marathon has resorts, marinas, boatyards and a Coast Guard station at Mile 1193.
Among Marathon's facilities open to transients is the remodeled Banana Bay Resort & Marina and The Boathouse Marina @ Coral Lagoon Resort. There’s also the Keys Fisheries Market & Marina where they'll fillet, pack and ship your catch to your designated recipients! Or you may just want to visit their restaurant for lunch or dinner and maybe stay overnight at their dock.
Seaward from the western end of Vaca Key lies Boot Key, and the space between the two is the best, and perhaps the only, fully protected harbor anywhere in the Keys. Boot Key Harbor has two entrances, which makes access pretty easy, and the harbor offers everything from good haulout facilities to close proximity to the stores and services of downtown Marathon. There are mooring buoys in the harbor and anchoring is okay.
Because of the four foot depths in the Sister Creek entrance, Boot Key Harbor is most often entered from its western end which offers seven feet or more. However, for the sake of consistency, we will continue listing facilities as we have in this section so far, that is, progressing down the Keys, which in this case means going from east to west.
The Sombrero Marina is at the eastern end, near the stores that line the Overseas Highway and next to the Sombrero Country Club's golf course. The city's marina (which handles the moorings) is next. Then, Marathon Boat Yard Marine Center followed by Burdine's Waterfront, with a full range of services near the bridge. Next is Pancho's Fuel Dock and farther west at the harbor entrance is the full-service Marathon Marina & Boatyard with the Lazy Days Restaurant and RV park on site.
Naturally, if you approach Boot Key Harbor from the western end you'll encounter these latter facilities first.
Directly offshore from Boot Key lies Sombrero Key Light, one of the most important on the reefs and one of the better diving and snorkeling sites. Directly inshore from Sombrero Key is Knights Key, at the extreme western end of the Marathon complex. (Continue...)
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