Beach Access in Miami
Saturday, May 9, 2009, was a bellwether day for catamaran sailing in Miami. For the first time ever, some of the boat owners were unable to get to Hobie Beach to launch their boats. I have been sailing beach cats in Miami for thirty years. I have been launching from Hobie Beach all those years. Originally, Hobie Beach was just a hot, dusty wide spot on Virginia Key along the Rickenbacker Causeway which nobody else wanted to use. Catamaran owners started launching here sometime in the late 70s. I was told before I arrived in Miami, during the 60s and 70s that all the catamaran owners would launch from Hobie Island. Hobie Island is the first island on the causeway before you cross over the Powell Bridge. I am told it was not unusual to have 50 to 100 catamaran lined up on the island on a good weekend. There is even a sign designating it as Hobie Island. The Hobie Beach on Virginia Key was wider and there were no trees to interfere with access to the water. The sand was also better than on Hobie Island. So, Hobie Beach became "the place" for beach cats in Miami, and it has been that way for the past 35 years. Some years we called the beach Prindle Beach. We would hold a volleyball game each year between the Hobie Fleet and the Prindle Fleet. The winner of the volleyball game got naming rights to the beach for the following year. But the name Hobie Beach has endured. To many non-sailors, Hobie Cats have become synonymous with beach cats.
Over the years things have gone downhill for us on Hobie Beach. It all started sometime in the 90s when the county decided to "improve" the area. They first put in a frontage road and a bicycle path. That was not that big a deal. We still had plenty of room to launch our boats and not many other beach goers were using "our spot." Well, big problems started in the late 90s when the county saw fit to plant a bunch of palm tree on the beach. The trees were planted to beautify the causeway. This shade started attracting regular beach goers to Hobie Beach, and there were fewer spots to park because the palm trees blocked some parking spots. The shade attracted beer drinkers, music blasters, dog owners, domino players, sunbathers, bar-b-queers, and swimmers. That was okay. If you would get to the beach by 9AM there was room on the beach to back in and the other folks would come later and fill in around our boats and trailers. It was fun, it was lively, it was Miami, and it was a party every weekend down there. Everybody seemed to get along, we shared the beach. Hobie Beach had several things that attracted beach goers. It was free, and it was closer than driving further out to Crandon Beach or Bill Baggs State Park. It had a sand beach, and there was a rest room. You could park your car right on the beach. You could bring your dog. You can't park your car on the beach or bring your dog to Crandon Park. Plus if you went to Crandon Beach or Bill Baggs Beach you had to do the "Bataan Death March" from the parking lot down to the beach lugging all your beach paraphernalia. Not fun, I did it recently. It also costs you an additional $5 on top of the toll you had already paid to get into the parks. So, it was small wonder we were getting crowded out of Hobie Beach.
But despite all the competition for spots on Hobie Beach, we always managed to do our thing for all these years. All that started changing about two years ago. That is when the bicyclist discovered Hobie Beach. This has developed into a beach access disaster for us catamaran sailors. In the last few years, bicycling has become a huge sport. The bicyclist evidently needed a place to park their cars while they went for a bike ride out to the end of Key Biscayne or Virginia Key. So they now park on Hobie Beach. They arrive early, often before sunrise. There are hoards of them. On weekend days, they now take up every parking spot in the paved parking lot and every parking spot on the beach. For the most part they are not using the beach at all. They are just parking their cars on the beach. There are some of the bikers who are also triathletes. The triathletes do like to use the water just off the beach to practice their swimming. But I would estimate that the triathletes are only a small percentage of the total number of bikers parked on the beach. The end result is that we cannot back our boats down to the water on Hobie Beach. The bikers are not using the beach, but they are blocking access to the beach for us or anyone else who would like to use the beach for something besides a parking lot. This all came to a head, as I said earlier, on Saturday, May 9, 2009. When sailors showed up to launch their boats for the Chicken Key Race, it was pandemonium. The frontage road was jam packed with biker's cars. This is a dead-end road. Traffic was gridlocked. Many of the sailors left to find another place to launch. In this case they went back to Hobie Island where they found a place to launch. So after 30 some odd years of launching off Hobie Beach, we have finally been pushed out by the bicyclists. Who would have thought it would come to this?
That is the bad news, but there is some good news on the horizon. In the next few years the Rickenbacker Causeway will be undergoing a major revitalization. Last year I visited with James Martincak, who is the Rickenbacker Causeway Manager for Miami Dade County. He has showed me the voluminous plans for renewing the causeway. In that master plan, they have set aside a launching beach for catamaran and small sailboats. That area will be adjacent to the current catamaran rental concession on Hobie Beach. It will extend from the east side of the rental concession down to about where the posts are in the ground, about 200 feet it looks like to me. Directly across from this beach will be 9 extra long parking spots which will accommodate a car and trailer or a motor home. Yes, motor homes will be allowed to use these 9 spots, also on a first come first serve basis. This is a huge concern to me. I am afraid when motorhomers discover these spots; we could be beaten out of parking once again. I have expressed my concern to James Martincak about dual use for these parking spots. His thinking was that not many motor homes use the causeway now, and the spots should be available for cars with boat trailer parking. You will no longer be able to leave your car and trailer on the beach. The car and trailer will have to go in one of the 9 parking spots directly across the road from the sailboat beach. If we have more than 9 boats, which we seldom do, you will have to park your car in one of the other available parking spots, and, I guess, disconnect your trailer and put it in another spot, if you can find one. Many of the boats that participate in the CABB events sail over from the Miami Yacht Club or the US Sailing Center in Coconut Grove. Controlling the restricted parking and beach access could be a big problem. There will be signs designating the beach for sailboat launching, but it remains to be seen if these signs will be heeded or enforced. In the end, we could potentially have a fabulous place to launch. They are going to bring in large quantities of sand to widen the whole causeway. They are doing this primarily for hurricane erosion protection for the road bed, not for the beach goers. The extra sand could definitely work to our advantage for launching. I am hoping we will see a further resurgence in catamaran sailing when the beach is completed. I think our sport has been in decline, because sailors have become disheartened with the crowds and competition for a spot on Hobie Beach in recent years.
In the interim, I am recommending that we launch from Hobie Island to avoid the congestion at Hobie Beach. The congestion has become untenable. Several of the cat sailors have been using this spot on Hobie Island for a number of years with little problem. The beach there is narrower than Hobie Beach, and there is a bit of a drop off from the frontage road to the beach, but it is all manageable. You may have to angle your car and trailer a bit to fit on the beach. We will be trying this venue for our next event, Saturday, June 13. I will post this article on our CABB forum on Catsailor.com. If you would like to comment or add a suggestion on this situation, please do so. What do you think? The link directly to our CABB forum is in my signature block below.
Commodore, Catamaran Association of Biscayne Bay (CABB)
CABB Forum: http://www.catsailor.com/forums/postlist.php?Cat=&Board=CABB