Crawling along with Chesapeake snowbirds

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Snowbirds plodding along the Intracoastal Waterway at tortoise speed in Krogen “Krawlers” on annual migratory flights to Florida often end their journey in Marathon, a tropical setting among coconut palms and shopping centers in the middle Keys.

In February at least a dozen of these Krogen trawlers were absorbing the good life at various marinas around Marathon’s famed Boot Key Harbor before heading north in March and April.

One “Krogenite” keeping track of other Krogenites was Chesapeake snowbird Al Sheetz, 71, publisher of the Krogen Newsletter, who cruises aboard Sherry Lynn, his Krogen 42. And just a few feet away were Dennis and Joyce Maud, his nautical neighbors from the Calvert Marina in Solomons. Joyden, their Krogen 48, is their only home.

Marathon’s inner harbor, the most popular and populous anchorage in all the Keys, is a protected oblong bay stretching more than 1.6 miles from its westerly entrance near the Boot Key Road Drawbridge to its extreme easterly reaches. This natural harbor “draws cruisers like a giant magnet. Some move on [while] others never do,” writes Morgan Stinemetz in Claiborne S. Young’s 565-page “Cruising the Florida Keys” (Pelican Publishing Company, February 2002).

The Mauds have docked for 11 consecutive winters at Sombrero Marina next to the legendary Dockside Lounge, a quirky Keys-gnarly bar and grill. Built out on an open deck over the water and open 16 hours a day, this tiki-style establishment is a center of musical entertainment and a social hangout for locals.

But Dockside also serves a couple hundred cruisers and stationary liveaboards who anchor out or rent a mooring. For a fee one may land at the dinghy dock, use the head and shower facilities, pick up mail, and even have access to the Internet.

Dennis and Joyce Maud, of course, already have all the comforts of home but they prefer this lively locale over other marinas because of its distinctive, dropout Keys flavor. Their aft deck practically snuggles up to the Dockside’s cramped, galley-like kitchen, which is undergoing a major overhaul.

“We obviously like it here,” says Joyce Maud. “That’s why we keep returning. The food specials are good and reasonably priced, but changes are coming fast. We each have a bicycle and we enjoy peddling the short distance to major shopping areas, which also gives us exercise. But mostly we stay put, lounging on our comfortable aft deck and watching the world go by.” Their monthly dockage fee of just under $1,000 includes power and an individual pumpout station.

Other attractions include a lovely public beach on the ocean a few miles away, and the Sombrero Country Club and golf course along Sombrero Boulevard.

But for many independents out in the anchorage, Boot Key Harbor is home, not a waypoint. They are part of Marathon’s labor pool and commute to work by dinghy and bicycle. They live in mostly older boats that provide affordable housing not available in Marathon.

The Mauds are dockside for the winter but they always anchor out while cruising, even when transiting the ICW, although they carry a Boston Whaler on their top deck ready for launching.

“There are just the two of us to run this 48-foot trawler, and dropping the hook is much, much easier than making a reservation at a marina, dealing with docking and departing maneuvers, and rigging fenders and lines,” says Dennis Maud. “Besides, we are self-sufficient and don’t need marinas for overnight docking. We have an all-chain rode and the power windlass does the heavy work.”

They have been cruising since Maud, 75, retired from his Long Island dental practice in 1994. They have always owned Krogens, including two 38-foot sailing cutters and other Krogen trawlers. They were awaiting delivery of a new production 58-footer from Taiwan when the deck of a container ship was swept clean during a typhoon in the Far East.

“I then decided I wasn’t getting any younger so we should stay with a 48-footer,” says Maud. “After we sold our home, Joyden became our permanent home. But now we are considering selling Joyden and moving to a condo, perhaps in the Solomons area to be near quality health care services.”

Joyce Maud is not sure about this major change in their lives, wondering what they will do for adventure. “Who will we talk to, other than each other? When cruising, we always see new places, meet new people, and old cruising friends. This has been our happy home for 11 years. We’ve gone everywhere in Joyden, up and down the East Coast, to Canada, the west coast of Florida, the Bahamas, the Great Circle Route.”

But change is also in the air at Sombrero Marina, the Dockside, and all of Boot Key Harbor, too.

Al Sheetz is looking at lifestyle changes after he leaves Marathon in late March to cruise the Bahamas before heading back to his covered slip at Calvert Marina in Solomons for the summer season.

This summer he is to marry Elaine Colen, a professional hospital administrator he met when he was commodore of the Northern Virginia Power Squadron. It will be his third marriage. He has no children.

He plans to sell his Alexandria, Va., condo and move into Colen’s townhouse in Springfield, Va., which will also be sold. They’ll buy a condo on Florida’s west coast and take the Krogen 42 south again next autumn, but by way of the Okeechobee Inland Waterway and cruise out of there.

Sherry Lynn (named after his second wife) is Sheetz’s first boat, which he bought new in 1995 and kept for three years on Florida’s west coast while it was being commissioned and exhibited in boat shows. In 1999-2000 he docked her at the Gangplank Marina in Washington before finding a covered slip in Solomons in 2001.

A retired electrical engineer, Sheetz is wintering for the first time at Sombrero, docked bow-in at a slip for which he pays $800 a month. “I prefer relaxing on my aft deck looking out at the water, not at people on the dock,” he says.

A gregarious sort, he has a Yamaha scooter for transportation and mingles with other Krogenites, including a liveaboard couple from Springfield, Ill., at the next slip. The couple is selling their 42-footer and planning to move to Australia or New Zealand.

“Needless to say, I have had many visitors, but it was an effort to get the boat here,” he says. “We left Solomons two days before Thanksgiving and didn’t arrive here until Dec. 20. It was a cold and windy voyage almost all the way.”

A latecomer to boating, he went through a sequence of recreational activities that included sports cars and rallies, piloting small airplanes and gliders, and flying all over the Bahamas. This led to scuba diving, fishing from runabouts, and observing other cruisers in the Bahamas. “I was getting older and doing less-risky things, so I bought this trawler.

“I wanted a sturdy, proven, full-

displacement seagoing trawler with one screw that could be handled by two, and cruised extensively in safety and comfort. I found that in this Krogen 42. I cruise all over the Chesapeake and especially like our Krogen rendezvous rallies,” he says.

By the end of March the Krogenites of Boot Key Harbor will be making their way north, going around Key West, and into the Gulf of Mexico and beyond. The Chesapeake contingent will travel up the Inland Waterway, hoping they time their return to the Bay with the arrival of spring.