“We went sailing not to escape from life but to keep life from escaping us.”
These opening words in Frank Papy’s latest edition of his Cruising Guide to the Florida Keys, with an accompanying photo of his wife at the wheel, capture perfectly the essence of sailing the marvelous blue-green waters of the Florida Keys.
This comprehensive 11th edition builds solidly upon the accumulated rich experience of Capt. Papy’s 24 years of cruising the Keys from Miami to the Dry Tortugas, and up the west coast of Florida.
We have lived and sailed in the Keys for many years. On our passages, we have relied on a salt-soaked 5th edition of the guide. So we are intimately familiar with the waters and the book. Why indulge in this revised 11th edition? Well, because in the Keys, the beauty and the waters are eternal; but civilization, like the sandy channels, is ephemeral.
In addition to the usual detailed charts and information on anchorages, currents, bridge heights, and compass bearings, we find that we now should ask for Kay Carter instead of Lynda Gargano at the Holiday Isle Marina on Windley Key when calling ahead to the dockmaster for reservations. Other useful additions include a table of GPS waypoints for the Keys, a listing of where one can swim with the dolphins, instructions on how to anchor Bahamian style (useful when one needs to limit swinging in a crowded anchorage) and tide tables for Miami and Key West harbors, with a separate table for corrections for the upper Keys, Flamingo and Everglades National Park, and the Lower Keys.
The guide is a stunning collection of aerial photographs of the Keys. The photos of watercolors by Islamorada artist Millard Wells provide as good a rendering of the colors of wildlife and waters as can be had without actually seeing them yourself. Details that would take mariners years to discover for themselves are presented clearly: courses and passages for 4-foot- and 6-foot-draft vessels; possible one-, three-, and multi-day cruises, and numerous tips from other helpful sailors.
We’re glad the guide has little to say about the skinny waters and mudbanks out in the far reaches of Florida Bay. Happily, these remain the province of a very small band of self-guided cruisers and a very large band of waterfowl and sea creatures.
Like the rest of life in the Keys, there are a few funky aspects to the guide. It is evident that part of the updated text includes material that has been either cut-and-pasted or scanned in from another source. This can be somewhat jarring visually, or even confusing when the text seems not to fit the rest of the content. We found the ads in the volume distracting and unfortunate. However, these are minor considerations in an otherwise excellent guide.
If the reader takes away nothing else from this guide, the captain’s three rules for sailing are enough: Never be in a hurry. Don’t spit into the wind. Don’t sail where the trees grow.
Roland wrote Cruising Rules, a collection of short tales for those in a relationship, in a boat, or both.
Cruising Guide to the Florida Keys, With Florida West Coast Supplement by Capt. Frank Papy (Papy Publisher, Revised 11th Edition, 2001; 260 pages)