Windsurfing in Key West, Windsurfing in South Florida, places to go and things to do in Key West
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 Hello from Key West. I've been down here in the Keys windsurfing and making jewelry ( including, naturally, a windsurfer pendant) since the days when a 12-foot 45-pound long board was as high-tech as it got. I've had the pleasure of being wiped out in all the best places and thought you might like to know the curiosities of windsurfing down in Margaritaville. Whitfield Jack


Windsurfing in Key West
Key West Weather Report Tides South Side of Key West


Where to go? You can sail from almost anywhere on the island in beautiful shallow water, but guessing when is another question. While we have good wind in Key West, it is totally unpredictable. The best winds are in the winter, the next best in the fall and spring, the lightest in the summer. You really shouldn't plan on Key West specifically for a windsurfing vacation. You might get lots of wind. You might not get any. Just come for the terrific place Key West is, and bring your boards just in case. The odds are you'll get to sail.

NOTE: Although beginner boards and a few intermediate boards are available in Key West at Smathers Beach, Higgs Beach, and most of the hotels; there are no board shops in Key West and nowhere to rent high tech equipment. so bring your own ... or:

GOOD NEWS! If you're driving down or are renting a car in Key West, you can rent excellent equipment in Islamorada (at the top of the Keys). It's a colorful drive with stops on the way to sail. Contact: Gilles at bumpandjump@aol.com or through their website at www.KeysWindsurfing.Com. They have all nice fresh equipment -- all level boards from plastic to high end. Bump and Jump works from a warehouse in Islamorada and delivers locally (Marathon to Key Largo -- not to Key West) to people's houses or hotels or to a beach, 1 day minimum. They also rent small sailboats and will later be doing back country sail tours in Islamorada.

W~E~E~D~S: You need a weed fin in the Florida Keys. Weeds range from no weeds (almost never any weeds on the North side of the island) to occasional mats of weeds as big as helicopter pads on the South side after an offshore storm. Trying to get through one of these snarls with a standard pointer fin can be like trying to part the hair of a woolly mammoth with a toothpick. There are almost always a few little weeds here and there, just enough to make your life miserable. However, if you don't mind screaming in to the shore and initiating the jibe of a lifetime and snagging a weed patch the size of a tiger hairball and going through the sail in front of a mob of howling tourists, don't bring a weed fin.

Windsurfing map of Key West

Special note on Due E Winds:
When the wind blows due east, you can either sail at Boca Chica Bay on the north side of the island or at the end of Smather's Beach closest to the airport. If the wind is just slightly northeast, Boca Chica Bay will be best. You may have to sail out toward the distant power lines to get a clean wind. If the wind is just slightly southeast, Smather's might be better.

NW, N, NE, ENE, Due E Winds:
BOCA CHICA BAY:

From Miami:
As you approach Key West you will pass through a small town called Boca Chica and, shortly afterwards, cross over the Boca Chica bridge, a fairly long span over Boca Chica Bay (There's a green sign on the right of the bridge that says "Boca Chica Channel"). As you exit the bridge you will see a small mangrove island just offshore about 1/10 of a mile ahead on the right. Just before you get opposite the island there is an opening in the rock breakwater where you can launch. Look for a short aluminum pole with a small yellow reflector, and a few yards beyond, a US 1 sign. The opening is between them.

From Key West: Go up US 1 past Stock Island (the neighboring key adjacent to Key West) about a mile. In the distance you'll see the Boca Chica Channel Bridge, a fairly long span over Boca Chica Bay. The sailing site is on the left on the near side of the bridge, but warning: keep going past the sailing site and cross over the bridge and turn around and come back. Don't even think of making a U-turn across the median. The highway has more highway patrol cars than a pig has bristles; and they're always watching; and besides, its dangerous; and furthermore there's a dip in the middle of the meridian that is often full of concealed squashy turf that can snag your tires, and there you'll sit like a fly on a piece of fly paper just waiting for the big black spider with blue and white lights. Shortly after you cross the bridge there are several places where you can turn around and head back toward Key West. Watch the traffic, especially what's coming up behind you!

Go back over the bridge, and as you exit, you will see a small mangrove island just offshore about 1/10 of a mile ahead on the right. Just before you get opposite the island there is an opening in the rock breakwater where you can launch. Look for a short aluminum pole with a small yellow reflector, and a few yards beyond, a US 1 sign. The opening is between them.

When the wind blows north or northeast, Boca Chica is very likely cranking. These are the cold fronts that bring the strongest winds -- 20 to 35 knots. "Cold front" is a relative word down here. It usually means that the temperature has plummeted from 72 to 68. A shorty is usually fine, though we occasionally get a really bad winter day when the temperature hovers near 60. Oh what a miserable life. On an east or northeast wind you can sail all the way up the bay, past the power lines, and out to the mangrove islands in shallow clear water. No varmints out there that I've ever seen other than jet skis. On a lucky day a pod of dolphins may join you.

Beware the Boca Chica bridge -- affectionately called Jaws. At outgoing tide there's a mean current going underneath. If you're too close and you fall, or if the wind slacks off, the current can take you under the bridge to totally dead air on the other side, and you'll have to trudge through a lot of muddy flats and get jeered at when your friends see you slinking back across the highway in disgrace. I know. I've been a member of the bridge club several times. So, after launching make a series of short tacks and get upwind a bit before your start making your runs. Another caution: the ocean bottom near the tip of the little mangrove island just offshore is hard and at low tide can snap off a fin in a millisecond. Watch the depth.

Windsurfing map of Key West

Special note on Due S Winds:
When the wind is due South (it doesn't happen often, unfortunately) the direction is directly onshore and you can sail from any of the locations listed below. Best of all, you can sail the entire length of the island just three or four hundred feet off the beach. As you roar past Smather's Beach just imagine all the guys and gals there wishing that they were as brilliant, and talented, and brave as you.

S, SE, SW Winds:
EAST END OF SMATHER'S BEACH NEAREST AIRPORT
THE COVE
WHITE STREET PIER

The east end of Smather's Beach past the main beach where the retaining wall ends, has many possible launch sites -- wherever you can put in.

At the other end of Smather's Beach, where the road makes a sharp turn is a launch site known as the Cove. There is a concrete boat ramp where you can park briefly while you unload your equipment on the beach.

On the east side of the White Street Pier toward the airport there is a little beach at the end of which is a small condominium building. Next to the condo a short access road leads to the water where you can unload then park elsewhere. The water off the White Street pier area is deeper than the other launch sites and has more waves, such as they are. This is laid-back sailing, though often with good chop. Go to Hawaii for the big ones.

W Winds:
LOUIE'S BACKYARD (DOG BEACH)
BOCA CHICA BAY

When the wind blows due west, this is about the most reasonable place you can launch to catch it, and you might have to go a bit of a ways out. You can also try the Boca Chica Bay site, but you will have to sail out toward the power lines to catch the wind. Louie's Backyard is a very nice restaurant on the water next to which is a small public beach known as "Dog Beach". Here locals take their dogs swimming, and there's just enough room to carry a board and sail down to the water. The swimming here is terrific with a great sand bottom. And Louie's Backyard has a beautiful waterfront terrace where you can have a drink. When the winds blow west, I personally just don't sail. The few potential launching sites on the west side of the island open onto the deep shipping channel which, in addition to a ferocious current, offers such unappealing hazards as cruise ships, power boats, jet skis, and I think maybe ... just maybe ...if there was one anywhere... that's where it would be... a GREAT BIG MULTI-TOOTHED YOU-KNOW-WHAT. I've got buddies that go there, and they're still in one piece. But Izeachicken.

When does the wind blow?: There's no telling. In the summer it doesn't much. But if you've got a long board and a big sail, you might get 10 knots and be able to cruise out through the marine sanctuary and see a turtle or a dolphin or a ray or something mysterious a wave washed up. In the spring and fall you may have five days of great trade-winds in a row, then six without, or two without, and three with -- and so on. In the winter the cold fronts come and go fairly frequently, so if you're here then, you're very likely to get lucky.

When the wind doesn't blow:
Key West has all kinds of unique things to do. It's one of the most interesting big little cities in the world. There's snorkeling on the reef, kayaking, margarita lifting, traipsing (walking real slow with a mindless shuffle) around Old Town smelling flowers, fly fishing for sailfish (we release our catches), terrific live local music, looking at other funny-looking people, watching sunset at Mallory Square, rollerblading along the ocean and jumping over big cracks, having a coconut land on your head, having a seagull drop a bomb in your mouth while you're sleeping on the beach, bicycling with about a million other people all going in different directions on one way streets, hopping out of the way of mopeds, getting pecked by a rooster while you're having lunch, watching a raccoon walk down Duval Street and wondering what kind of worm that was in your drink last night, finding a crab in your shoe. You know. You'll find something to do. Just swinging in a hammock and scratching fleas is pleasure enough for some.

Where do I go for a windsurfing vacation in the good old summertime when the wind don't blow so fine? I head South to Bonaire. See below.

Say a prayer for wind-blown hair

Whitfield Jack, Key West.

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Pick 'n Click:
"Rider on the Wind" Windsurfer Pendant

Jewelry Catalog Index
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South Florida Board Sailing Association
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Go to "Places I Like in Key West"

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