For many of us who work the 9-to-5 grind, the weekend is the great release. We take to activities and hobbies armed like a Byzantine knights, soaking up every last minute of daylight in the too-short weekend. The problem is there are way too many like-minded weekend warriors, making for crowded competition or a dreaded wait as the early risers careen around on the kayaks you wanted to rent.
There is only one way to beat the crowds: call in sick and get your jollies off during the workweek. You would be surprised how wide open the tee times are on a Wednesday morning, or how sparse the go-kart track is when school is in session. You only live once folks; rarely do you hear deathbed confessions lamenting I wish I worked more, or had less fun. In our newest series, “Call in Sick for…” I, your intrepid online editor look for interesting and exciting activities to do around South Florida that are worthy of using a sick day, all in the name of research.
As summer approaches and the kids embark on 10 weeks of unfettered fun, calling in sick for a family day out at sea is definitely worth the hall pass. While simply heading to the beach in search of near shore reefs can be entertaining, this pales in comparison to climbing aboard a 50-foot catamaran and sailing (or powering) to the reef, listening to music and enjoying a boisterous crew, who are not only apt sailors, but pretty fun to hang out with too.
Visit Palm Beach is just the ticket for a fun-filled morning or afternoon of sailing and diving. The 50-foot vessel, Hakuna Matata, is a like a floating party patio, wide and spacious for ease to move around, and the twin-hulls make for a steady and smooth ride—no seasickness here. The Catamaran Snorkel Excursions are three-hour deals, embarking Tuesday, Wednesday and Fridays at 10 a.m. or 2 p.m., depending on tides and conditions.
The crew caters the excursion to the clientele and the weather, with a handful of snorkel spots in their bag of tricks. On our particular day of snorkeling, the weather was a bit foul, so instead of heading out of the inlet, Hakuna and crew, led by Captain John Allen, took us to Peanut Island to explore the man-made lagoon and artificial reefs along the eastern edge of the island.
For such a busy inlet, with the domestic Port of Palm Beach running Tropical freight and Celebration Cruise Lines in and out, not to mention the armada of private fishing and pleasure craft cruising the Intracoastal, Peanut Island is an excellent snorkel spot, especially for beginners. Depths are shallow, barely reaching 10 feet, and man-made outcroppings of rock help dampen boat wakes and strong incoming currents, helping ease water conditions for snorkelers and swimmers. Visibility is best on incoming and high tides, so plan accordingly. Sea life on this small island, mostly known for its notorious Sunday afternoon parties and JFK’s Cold War bunker, is quite astounding, with lots to see swimming about and hiding in nooks and crannies. Tropical and reef fish were bountiful on our trip, with parrotfish patrolling for algae, blue tangs schooling in electric formations, and schoolmasters, grunts and sergeant majors swarming in all directions, nibbling on seaweed and staking out territory. Even southern stingrays glided through the aquamarine waters with little more than a passing concern for snorkelers.
With weather a concern, the Hakuna Matata crew encouraged a little exploration of the island, with the old Coast Guard station and the Kennedy Bunker being the main attractions. The island’s $15-million facelift, completed in 2005, dramatically changed the 79-acre Peanut Island for the better, clear cutting the Australian pine forest while adding snorkel reefs and a lagoon, boardwalks, docks and a boat basin, restored the maritime and mangrove hammocks, and added a camp site with facilities, as well as hiking trails throughout.
When the weather is fair, Captain Johnny (right) points the twin-hulled Hakuna Matata out of the inlet, raises sail and sets out for snorkel spots around Palm Beach and Singer Island. Depending on the group of snorkelers and conditions, there are a few spots the boat sets site for. For younger groups with lots of children, the south side of the inlet and the artificial reef offshore of the Tiara condominium are likely spots to anchor. But if the conditions are right and the crowd is more virile and up for a challenge, the crew will also do some drift snorkeling, dropping a group off at either the mouth of the inlet on the incoming tide and drift toward the boat, or along Singer Island, where the current can be quite swift, but the reefs are shallow and full of life.
Half of the draw of hopping aboard one of these charters is for the leisurely cruise. Captain Johnny and crew will either chart north along the Intracoastal up towards Munyon Island if the weather is sour, or raise sail in the Atlantic and silently cruise along PBC’s barrier islands. And as an added bonus, passengers can opt for an all-you-can-drink beer and wine wristband to keep the party going (21 and up of course).
Exploring the waters around South Florida is not only a fun activity but also eye opening in terms of education about the importance of our seas and how our actions have a direct impact on the fragile ecosystems. Snorkel tours are a great way to get kids interested not only in preserving our oceans, but in science as well. Each plunge below the surface is an opportunity to teach a child about the natural world we live in, all while getting them active and moving—snorkeling is a mix of exercise, education and fun, all wrapped up into one afternoon. So call in sick, grab your trunks and take the plunge! And the snorkeling in the Lake Worth Lagoon is world-class, with a wide variety of marine life cruising through and calling the man made structures of Peanut Island and the Blue Heron Bridge home.
If snorkeling is not your thing, or you are looking for something a little more adult oriented, Hakuna Matata has a wide array of cruises, day and night, aimed toward exploring our waterways with a little fun thrown into the mix. From family sailing cruises, to happy hour booze cruises, excursions are planned around the clock. For the more active shallow sea explorers, guided kayaking and snorkel tours are also available. Docked at Singer Island’s Sailfish Marina, a trip aboard Visit Palm Beach’s catamaran should start and end at the marina’s restaurant; great seafood with even better boat drinks.
The three-hour Catamaran Snorkel Excursions cost $45 for adults, $25 for kids. For an added $10, passengers can belly up to the bar for unlimited beer and wine while cruising the Seven Seas. To book a cruise or see Visit Palm Beach’s complete list of activities, please visit their website: visitpalmbeach.com