Florida Keys Business
Sunday, September 15, 2013
Weathering time and tide

The Dodgers were still in New York and Sputnik was orbiting the Earth when the first boats idled into Sugarloaf Marina in the late 1950s. And although much of the Lower Keys would be unrecognizable to the boaters of 60 years ago, time seems to have slowed its march around Mile Marker 17, where owners Jimmy and Jeannie Johnson pride themselves on the nostalgic personality and hospitality that still characterizes the "mom-and-pop marina."

"Someone once called Sugarloaf Marina 'the littlest big marina in the world," Jimmy Johnson said, pleased with the description and happy with the differences that set Sugarloaf Marina apart from the big, new marina facilities that have grown up throughout the island chain.

The Johnsons bought Sugarloaf Marina five years ago, but have been fixtures at the location for more than two decades, as Jimmy Johnson has been and an officer with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) since moving to the Keys 26 years ago.

Jeannie Johnson traded Wisconsin winters for endless summer 34 years ago and is an avid angler, diver and boater. She also is an artist specializing in fish rubbings.

"I think the coolest thing about this marina is the fact that it's still a mom-and-pop place," Jimmy said. "We're still a local, hometown 'Keys-y' marina instead of a big yacht harbor type of facility - and that's how we plan to keep it."

Sugarloaf Marina features eight boat slips, most of them occupied full-time by world-class fishing guides and six-pack charter boats.

Capt. Andrea Paulson of REElax Charters loads her charter boat with kayaks and offers guided tours around offshore mangrove islands and sun-drenched afternoons on the beaches at Marvin Key and Snipes Point.

"Andrea takes kayaks out on her charters for guided tours, and we also rent kayaks at the marina for hourly, daily, weekly and monthly rentals," said Jimmy. "We pick up and deliver kayaks to people staying in the Lower Keys. We're surrounded by some of the best backcountry kayaking areas in the Keys."

Sugarloaf Marina also features the cheapest boat ramp in the island chain for locals and visitors with their own boats, Jimmy said.

"Our ramp is just $10 in and out," Jeannie said, adding that some marinas charge $10 to launch a boat and $10 to take it out of the water.

Sugarloaf Marina also houses a fuel dock and tackle shop with live and frozen bait, along with a convenience store offering snacks, beer, water and cigarettes.

The business is also home to the world-famous "Sugarloaf bench," where clusters of fishermen are constantly gathered telling fish tales and comparing notes while enjoying an ice cold beer.

"Our license allows customers to buy beer at the shop and pop it open to enjoy it here on the bench," Jimmy Johnson said. "And every day between 5 and 6, there's always local guys trading tales. We love the tourists, but it's the locals who keep us in business."

mmiles@keysnews.com

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