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:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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
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
map of Key West
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.
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.
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!
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.
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
map of Key West
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.
OF SMATHER'S BEACH NEAREST AIRPORT
WHITE STREET PIER
end of Smather's Beach past the main beach where the retaining
wall ends, has many possible launch sites -- wherever you can
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.
BACKYARD (DOG BEACH)
BOCA CHICA BAY
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.
a prayer for wind-blown hair
Jack, Key West.
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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.
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
on the Wind" Windsurfer Pendant
Windsurfing in Bonaire
Florida Board Sailing Association
to "Places I Like in Key West"
additions, subtractions, corrections, questions, or suggestions
about Windsurfing in Key West will be appreciated.