On October 23, 2017, about six weeks after the monster Hurricane Irma made landfall in the Florida Keys, artists put the final touches on the 4-ton monument that stands in Key West, marking the “southernmost point in the continental USA.” The monument, shaped like a marine buoy, is one of the most-photographed icons in all of the Florida Keys. Its restoration after the storm was symbolic, but the unveiling was right in line with the decision to reopen the region to tourism as of October 1.
Debris may still be strewn everywhere on land, and some sunken boats have yet to be raised as salvagers and insurers continue to clean up the waterways and marinas, but cruising boaters are once again welcome to visit the Florida Keys. In fact, officials are encouraging boaters to come as the island chain rebuilds. Take a closer look at our Florida Keys Boating Guide, which includes an update of some of the marinas that were up and running as of late October.
Boating in the Florida Keys: Upper Keys
The northern Florida Keys, from Key Largo to north of Marathon, fared pretty well despite Irma’s size and intensity. Just as with southeast Florida’s mainland, most of the upper Keys marinas and businesses were up and running within a few weeks of the storm. Some were damaged, but most were not destroyed.
Popular attractions for cruising boaters, like the Islamorada open-air market, had to shut down for a spell, but those traditional finds are in full swing again.
Bud N’ Mary’s: This iconic marina on Islamorada had welcomed fishing boats back to its slips as of October 7, and the phones were back on. Some docks and the tackle shop were still being rebuilt. “The marina is a little rough looking, as all of our landscaping got washed out, but its charm and history is still there and we can’t wait to see what the future brings as we continue to recover and rebuild,” the owners said in late October.
Robbie’s Restaurant and Marina: This Islamorada mainstay had its docks destroyed in Hurricane Irma. Rebuilding is underway, as is the effort to lure back the giant tarpon that boaters used to be able to feed from the docks. The fish ran to deep water during the storm, only to find their usual hangout destroyed when they tried to return.
Tavernier Creek Marina: This facility took a hit, but not a fatal punch. All boats that were stored here prior to Irma’s landing were okay, and crews were working on repairs to structures ahead of the winter season.
Mangrove Marina: Located in Tavernier, this marina had its fuel dock, boat ramp, electricity and water service restored a few weeks after the storm. Repairing cosmetic damage was expected to take longer.
Islamorada Marina: Located on the bay side, this facility lucked out and saw no storm surge or major wreckage. Some cosmetic repairs were underway in early October.
The middle Florida Keys suffered the worst of Irma’s wrath. The storm came ashore at Cudjoe Key, between Sugarloaf Key and Big Pine Key. Homes, businesses and boats were decimated. Seen from helicopters above, they looked like piles of matchsticks after the hurricane.
Most marinas on the Atlantic Ocean side of the Keys in this region were wrecked. Boats that survived—including commercial fishing boats—moved over to marinas on the bay side, where slips were still standing. That migration jammed up slip availability for snowbirds, but the hope is that availability everywhere will go back to normal as ocean-facing marinas rebuild and reopen.
Boot Key Harbor City Marina: This marina in Marathon saw about two-thirds of the boats docked there get destroyed in the storm. The damaged and sunken boats still looked like a giant pile of debris as of late October, with multiple agencies working to salvage and remove the hulls.
Sea Bird Marina: Located on Long Key, this marina worked to restore major operational needs by mid-October. Additional repairs were expected to continue into the winter season.
Key West is of course the best known of the southern Florida Keys, and while it did sustain damage—water was hip-high during the surge in Mallory Square—a lot of its marinas and businesses were operational within a few weeks of Irma’s landfall to the north.
Boaters arriving this winter will find most of their favorite Duval Street bars, restaurants and shops still in business—with a few exceptions, depending on the level of flood damage still needing repair. Those businesses that are open, in a lot of cases, are running specials to welcome tourists back. As of late October, they were reporting big reductions in tourist traffic; the hopes were for a general return to normal tourism inflow by December or January.
Galleon Marina: Located on Key West, this marina was back in business within about a week of the storm. Damage was minimal, and full access was expected to be available in time for snowbird boaters to arrive.
Key West Bight Marina: This facility was back in business fairly soon after Irma, too, with some cruisers posting photos on Facebook from an E-Dock party in late September. It is the Keys, after all—and it’s 5 o’clock somewhere...