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The Florida Series: Chapter 4

There are many reasons why boating in Florida is better than most other places in the U.S. As I mentioned, the number and quality of boating facilities, from dockage to repair, is outstanding. One is rarely far from whatever it is you may need to purchase, equip, maintain, operate, and dock your vessel, regardless of size.

Another big plus is the fact that Florida offers year-round boating, with never a need to winterize and store your boat during the "off season," which is a fact of life up north.

Owning a boat can range from being moderately to outrageously expensive, depending on one's choices, so I always found it ridiculous to be spending money all year to maintain a boat that I was using for only five months. The costs do not stop simply because you are not using the boat! If you have financed your boat, the monthly payments continue whether you are cruising in the Keys, or your boat is shrink wrapped in some northeast marina. Unless you spend big bucks for heated indoor storage, your boat will sit up on blocks outdoors, subject to all sorts of bad weather and temperature extremes. Does anyone think that sitting in below zero weather is doing their engines any good? I had a friend who stored his big diesel sportfisherman outdoors, but he kept the engine block heaters running all winter. Great for the engines, not so much for the boating budget, with the resulting electric bill! Not in Florida, though.

Another often overlooked advantage is the clarity of the Florida coastal waters. Due to microorganisms that thrive in colder northeast temperatures, the coastal waters there are often green colored and much less transparent. Result? You often can't see the bottom when you really need to navigate in close quarters. The clarity of the Florida coastal waters is outstanding. When I first started boating there, I often thought I was in danger of running aground, due to the bottom being so clearly visible at much greater depths. A side benefit to Florida's clear waters is the ability to see the wonderful marine life that exists below you. It would take a long time to relate all the interesting- and often spectacular- creatures that I have seen over the years in these waters, but here a few great examples. I had taken my 23' Mako out to Carysfort Reef off North Key Largo, to tie up to one of the Marine Sanctuary buoys for some snorkeling, in about 15' of water. Anchoring there is strictly prohibited, to avoid the likelihood of damaging the coral reef. The sun was directly overhead, and the visibility so perfect that it appeared you could stick your hand in the water and touch the bottom. Eventually, a huge school of Spotted Eagle Rays began cruising by, and their numbers seemed endless. They glide along effortlessly, using an undulating motion of their bodies to propel them in a winglike manner.

During a boat trip to Marathon, in the Keys, we were walking along a dock towards shore in a very shallow reef area on the bay side. Illuminated by the bright dockside lights, I spotted a small octopus moving through the coral. With the exceptions of aquariums, I had never seen one before. This guy (or gal) was probing around, evidently looking for a meal. It was fascinating to watch, and the octopus soon found a small crab, which it snatched with a lightning-fast movement of its tentacle. I suppose "octopus watching" is like bird watching, in that the observer is more interested in the animal's behavior than in merely adding the name of the species to a list.

Above your boat will be the seabirds. Some of them have proven themselves to be great assets for fishermen, such as the aptly named Magnificent Frigatebird. These huge birds soar constantly on their seven-foot wingspans, rarely flapping a feather, searching for food. When they spot large predatory fish, like say, tuna, they will drop altitude and hover over the fish. They are not interested in the tuna itself, which are much too big for the Frigatebirds, but in the baitfish the tuna drive to the surface. The bird will then drop to the surface, nabbing whatever fish the tuna has scared up. Flying fish, which jump out of the water and glide for long distances to avoid predators, are a favorite prey for the Frigatebird. Once, while trolling for Mahi Mahi (Dolphinfish, or Dorado), I saw a large one chasing flying fish out of the water. In an instant, a Frigatebird dropped down and effortlessly picked off the airborne flyer. It was almost like watching a tag team effort, with the big fish chasing the baitfish out of the water, into the waiting bill of the Frigatebird. Nature show, indeed!

The more boating one does, the more of such spectacles one will eventually experience. Like fishing, you must put in your time, and eventually you will catch your fish, and see it all. When I go on a fishing trip, of course I want to catch fish; however, to me, it is the entire experience of being out on the water that is the big attraction. I have heard lots of people complain bitterly that they paid for an expensive full day private charter, but caught no fish. They are missing the point.

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