Conch-ing Around at No Name Harbor

About a month ago we had nearly no wind at the club, so we decided to take our students out on a boat ride to Key Biscayne.  En route to the island we elected to make a short stopover at one of my favorite spots – No Name Harbor – to give the children some time to explore the island.  For those of you unfamiliar with No Name Harbor below is a short explanation of the locale courtesy of Wikipedia:

No Name Harbor is a natural harbor on Key Biscayne, Florida. It is located within the boundaries of Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park. In the 19th century, the site served as a food-rich rookery for herons, egrets, and other species of wildlife. Originally, the site was privately owned prior to the creation of the state park. Several development plans indicated the land was slated for the construction of condominiums and residential homes. The surrounding land was cleared for development in the 1950s, and charts identified the body of water as “No Name Harbor”. The plans failed, and the harbor’s name was retained.

While rafted up to the seawall, my eyes were immediately drawn to a very unique looking boat arriving into the harbor seeking out a spot to dock not too far from our present position.  Curiosity got the best of me and I walked over to take a few pictures of this pristine vessel named Pilar.  The boat seemed to be lovingly cared for and in near, as we say, ‘Bristol’ condition with all of her gleaming varnish work.


I did not know of this boat’s heritage, but a friend was quick to bring to my attention, that she was actually owned by Earnest Hemingway at one point, and makes appearances throughout the South Florida area with her proud owners and guests.


Below is a brief history courtesy of Wikipedia for those of you whom are interested in of this storied vessel:

Ernest Hemingway owned a 38-foot (12 m) fishing boat named Pilar. It was acquired in April 1934 from Wheeler Shipbuilding in Brooklyn, New York, for $7,495. “Pilar” was a nickname for Hemingway’s wife Pauline and also the name of the woman leader of the partisan band in his 1940 novel of the Spanish Civil War, For Whom the Bell Tolls. Hemingway regularly fished off the boat in the waters of Key West, Florida, Marquesas Keys, and the Gulf Stream off the Cuban coast. He made three trips with the boat to the Bimini islands wherein his fishing, drinking, and fighting exploits drew much attention and remain part of the history of the islands. In addition to fishing trips on Pilar, Hemingway contributed to scientific research which included collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution. Several of Hemingway’s books were influenced by time spent on the boat, most notably, The Old Man and the Sea and Islands in the Stream. The yacht also inspired the name of Playa Pilar (Pilar Beach) on Cayo Guillermo. A smaller replica of the boat is depicted in the opening and other scenes in the TV Movie Hemingway & Gellhorn.


This picture that I took of the bow really doesn’t do her justice, but the curious design of the boat will clearly keep her near top of her class of attention at any marina that she enters.

While at No Name Harbor, we actually bumped into some friends, who joined us for a short run out to Stiltsville.  Some of you may remember these houses, which are perched on stilts directly above the water, one mile south of Cape Florida, on the sand banks of the Safety Valve on the edge of Biscayne Bay, from the epic 1980s TV Series Miami Vice.  Well needless to say Don Johnson was not spotted that afternoon, however, if you find yourself in the area, this is a truly magic place for children to explore wildlife.  Starfish, conch shells, fish and all types of flora and fauna about in this area, and with relatively shallow waters, it makes discovery ideal for children and adults alike.  Just make sure to wear some shoes when walking about the shallow water sand bars.  Stepping on a sea urchin will leave you or your party with a very painful retreat back to land, and most likely for the week to come.


Above is one of the empty conch shells one of my students brought back to our boat that afternoon.  I don’t think the picture above does the colors of the water or the shell justice, but wanted to nevertheless share the beauty of the sea and this trip with you.  The starfish here are amazing, come in varying radiant colors, with contrasting spines, and often reach sizes larger than a dinner plate.  Unfortunately I didn’t snap any photos of those on this trip – perhaps some when I head out to visit the area again this summer.

Cape Florida Light House in my opinion is one of the most beautiful historical structures remaining on Key Biscayne.  Below is a picture that I took looking back upon it right before we made our departure back to the club that afternoon.  If you find yourself in South Florida, it is definitely one of the places you should consider visiting.  You can access the lighthouse easily by car for a nominal fee via the Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park.  


Some say that a day on the water is always better than a day on shore.  This afternoon of discovery for myself and my students didn’t fall short.  Have yourself a most pleasant day of discovery and I look forward to sharing something new and of interest again soon.



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