I wake up to another beautiful Key West morning with picture perfect blue skies and tropical sunshine. What a great day for a catamaran sail and snorkel of the Florida Keys Reef! My husband and I head over to the Harborwalk at the Historic Key West Seaport and check-in with Sebago Watersports for our 3½ hour Key West snorkeling tour. As we wait to board the Marquesa, Sebago’s 69’ sail catamaran, we are greeted by our crew, Captain Sweeney, Carol and Zoe.
Once on board, everyone picks out their snorkel, mask, fins and buoyancy vest then spreads out over the expansive deck space. We enjoy the view as we navigate out past the Historic Harbor, Mallory Square - home of Key West’s nightly Sunset Celebration, Sunset Key island and the Civil War era Fort Zachary Taylor. Soon we are on the open water heading to the living reef.
As we near our destination, Carol provides us with our safety instructions. Snorkeling is a blast and easy to do in the calm tropical waters of the Florida Keys. A half day Key West snorkeling and sailing tour is one of our island’s top attractions and really shouldn’t be missed, whether you are one day in Key West or many. Snorkel conditions vary from day to day depending upon weather and seasonal conditions. Sebago’s captains are known for their ability to find the ideal location on any given day to provide their guests with the best experience possible.
Did you know that only 0.5% of the world’s oceans provide suitable habitat for reefs? North America’s sole living coral barrier reef system is located right here, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, and it is the 3rd largest system in the world. Over 100 kinds of coral and over 500 species of fish are found in the sanctuary. For our snorkel tour, the Marquesa is sailing to an area of the reef conveniently located about 7 miles from Key West. Water temperatures average in the 70s in the winter and in the 80s in the summer, perfect for snorkeling. Many of the reefs are located in shallow water, just 5’ to 20’ deep, making it easy viewing while snorkeling on the water’s surface, or if something on the ocean floor catches your attention, swimming down for a closer look.
Arriving at the reef, the crew lets us choose whether we want to jump from the side exit on the catamaran for a splash entry or take the easy access stairs into the inviting blue water. Its been several months since I last snorkeled and it feels great to be back in the ocean. Looking around, I approve of Captain Sweeney’s snorkel location. There are no other tour boats here and our group is alone in the water. The reef is a short distance from the Marquesa and we are soon surrounded by fish. A parrot fish is quite curious about my photographer/husband’s GoPro™ and swims closer for a better look. I swear he smiles for the camera!
Spotting an area of the coral reef with outcrops, we swim to it, knowing that marine life often takes cover in such areas and fish congregate there. Our patience is rewarded when a green moray eel peers out from his hiding spot. Moray eels are shy and secretive, spending most of their time in holes and crevices of coral and rocks on the ocean floor so we don’t expect to see much more of him. He surprises us by swimming completely exposed, about 6’ long, across the bottom of the reef to his next hiding hole. What a gorgeous sight!
After snorkeling a while longer, we work up a thirst, and head back to the Marquesa where Zoe takes our fins from us. This sure beats going out in our boat where we do all the work ourselves! Included with the tour is chilled water, soda, beer and wine. We re-hydrate with some thirst-quenching water, then move on to icy cold beers, which Zoe cheerfully pours for us. A couple visiting Key West from Germany join us and raise their cold beers in a toast to their reef snorkel adventure.
As we begin our sail back to Key West, passengers share their favorite reef moments. Lots of fish were sighted and some snorkelers spotted turtles in the water around them. We were the only ones to view a moray eel although a few lucky people spotted a nurse shark. Wish I had seen him, nurse sharks are cool to look at. No need to worry about them - they aren’t interested in humans - they rest during the day and are usually seen relaxing on shallow ocean floors.
On the return trip we look for turtles and dolphins in the water. I don’t see any today but some passengers at the stern (rear) spot a pod of dolphins swimming near an island, off in the distance. Its common to see frigates, pelicans and ospreys soaring overhead. Carol and Zoe walk around with refreshing refills for all of us. Key West’s shore line is coming into view, letting us know that our amazing time on the water is coming to a close. I shut my eyes, soak in the warm sunshine, wishing this moment wouldn’t end. But it does, so its time to gather up our stuff and say thanks to the crew for a great Key West snorkel tour.
Here's a Local’s tip: Wear a very lightweight lycra “skin” and hood to protect you from our tropical sun. If you are like me and burn easily, you can stay in the water longer. It also helps protect our reefs from more sunscreen being deposited on delicate coral. So its a win-win! You’ll find these “skins” in most Key West dive shops and they’re reasonably priced.
You can enjoy a Sebago Key West half-day reef sail and snorkel and go 2-for-1 with a 2013 Key West Vacation Pass. Or you can choose Sebago’s Champagne Sunset Sail and savor Key West’s famous sunsets the locals way, on the water. To experience more of the best of Key West’s water sports, use your Vacation Pass to save on great activities and tours with Barefoot Billy’s Water Sports, Classic Harbor Line, Danger Charters, Fury Water Adventures, Key West Eco Tours and the Schooner Appledore.
Sebago Key West Watersports
205 Elizabeth Street
Unit 1 at the Historic Key West Seaport
Key West, FL 33040
Phone: 800-507-9955 or 305-294-5687
Sebago Key West Watersports offers a full range of water sport tours as well as private charters. For more information, visit their website: Key West Sailing, Cruises & Snorkeling - Sebago Key West Watersports