We spent the month of April in the city of Marathon, Florida where local taxi fares are $5 no matter the destination, the restaurants are all dog-friendly, and everyone, it seems, lives on a boat. Though we’d planned to pick up a mooring ball at the city marina like most cruisers do, when we arrived there in late-march, the mooring field was full.
With little hope of securing a ball that night, we scrambled to find a place to land our boat. The skies behind us were darkening, a storm threatening 40 knots of wind and sheets of rain was just on our tail. We needed to drop anchor or tie lines somewhere and we needed to do it fast. I clicked each and every little sailboat icon that showed on our marina map app (ActiveCaptain) and was told repeatedly when I called, “Sorry, no transient slips available.” Sometimes the person on the other end just laughed at me, and sometimes their laughter was followed by “Don’t you know it’s March here in Marathon? You should’ve gotten here in December, then maybe we could have squeezed you in.” The last icon on the marina map was on the Gulf of Mexico side of Marathon, a little marina called Harbour Cay Club. It didn’t have many reviews on the app, which either meant it was a hidden gem and we’d struck gold or it was a decrepit dock, the kind with bad water, loose rusty nails, and abandoned half-sunken boats.
We took the risk.
When we pulled into our slip, we tossed out lines to the dozen or so smiling liveaboards who were out waiting for our arrival. We learned quickly that staying in a marina where the majority of boaters are full-time liveaboards (and also owners of their slips) is a little bit different than most marinas that are transient-based. They’re friends already. They’ve got their routines, their way of doing things just so. At first, that part felt strange to us, like we were the new kids in a school where everyone else had known each other for years. But day-by-day, we slowly felt ourselves melting into their quirky little community.
For the month that we waited out strong northerly winds, we had happy hour with the marina members nightly at 5pm, sharp, under a gazebo they’d nicknamed “The Cone of Knowledge”. On Easter, we drank mimosas while searching out colorful plastic eggs filled with quarters, like crazed children running all around the marina in search of candy. Only we were a group of slightly buzzed-on-bubbly adults in search of enough plastic eggs to do a load of laundry. On one of our final nights in Marathon, when we saw the wind finally settling down, finally clocking around from north to south, meaning our weather window to cross the infamous Gulf Stream had finally arrived, we had a pot luck with the Harbour Cay Club residents. I wanted to make my contribution something special for the group that had welcomed us in before the storm, literally, and who had since loaned us tools and shared recipes and become like a Marathon family in a sense.
I settled on enchiladas with the famed local stone crab.
Stone crab is definitely not something I grew up being familiar with. I knew the blue crab that grazed in Louisiana waters, the Dungeness that we crabbed for in Oregon, and the Alaskan snow crab with its long tubular pulls of meat. But stone crab? Never heard of it. “Oh you have to try stone crab…” our marina family members cooed in our first days at the Cone of Knowledge.
Stone crab is abundant in the Keys, they described, but somewhat of a delicacy, usually priced at $3 per claw because of the laborious process the fishermen go through to haul in the traps, break off the claws, and toss back the body of the crab into the sea to regenerate and grow new claws. And everyone had the same suggestion when we questioned them on where to try the claws-only cracked crab. “Go to Keys Fisheries but make sure you go for happy hour, they’re just $2 a claw then.” (Marina families are good like that. They’ll help you with tools too, but more importantly they’ll whisper where to get the best and cheapest seafood in town.)
I didn’t tell them this at that last potluck but the stone crab enchiladas were a way of saying thanks for all of that. For the shop vac Lanny and Jim loaned us to suck out black-as-night bilge goop, for the glass-bottomed bucket that Dennis and Debbie gifted us before we headed out to the Bahamas so we could confirm anchor set without having to dive on it, and, especially, for everyone at the Cone of Knowledge, who helped us troubleshoot boat repairs day in and day out and who, more importantly, made sure we didn’t go without a true taste of the Florida Stone Crab.
About the Recipe:
While stone crab definitely has a distinctly crabby flavor to it, it’s also got a rich sweetness to it, which I liken to Maine lobster. The price, however, can be exorbitant. If you don’t want to shell out for a full pound of stone crab meat here, or if stone crab isn’t available where you are, you can do a half and half mixture—half jumbo lump crab meat and half stone crab meat – or you could stuff them fully with jumbo lump crab meat. I also used a homemade enchilada sauce because at the time I happened to have two dozen tomatillos but in a pinch store-bought green enchilada sauce will do. Finally, I added a pickled vegetable topping, which brought the dish a distinct sour-sweet crunch and also added a pop of color to the final plate. But if you’re in a hurry, nix the pickled vegetables and just sprinkle with a handful or two of fresh cilantro.
Have you ever found a place like that, where you start to feel a little more like family with the people around you than a traveler, either while cruising or traveling via land? Tell me about it, I love a good travel family story…:)
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Last updated and verified on September 20th, 2022 by our editorial team.