July 25, 2018

KEVIN WADLOW/Free Press
Paul Keever of the Key Lime Sailing Club and Key Largo Cottages looks over sailboats still stranded on the docks of the South Dade Marina, which his company acquired a few months before Hurricane Irma struck. The marina remains open to sailboats and paddlers.

KEVIN WADLOW/Free Press Paul Keever of the Key Lime Sailing Club and Key Largo Cottages looks over sailboats still stranded on the docks of the South Dade Marina, which his company acquired a few months before Hurricane Irma struck. The marina remains open to sailboats and paddlers.

SOUTH DADE — The timing to expand his sailing and guest-cottage business to just north of the county line could have been better, Paul Keever acknowledges.

About six months after acquiring the South Dade Marina, near mile marker 114 on the 18-Mile Stretch of U.S. 1, Hurricane Irma sent more than three feet of water across the property.

Two sailboats, a catamaran and a Catalina sloop, wound up on the highway and were later removed by a crane.

The surge deposited three other sailboats onto the South Dade Marina docks where they remain, blocking access to several of the usable dock slips.

“We’ve reached out to the owners, but nothing so far,” Keever said.

Older docks in the five-acre marina resemble corkscrews.

A Small Business Administration adjuster estimated the marina’s facility damages at $500,000, but securing a loan remains a work in progress, Keever said.

Still, the South Dade Marina Eco-Tours Inc. owner envisions turning the property into a destination for sailors, kayakers and paddle boarders.

“We’ve got 27 wet slips and 25 boat-trailer sites,” he said.

Keever recently acquired four lifeguard stands that once watched over Miami Beach sands for conversion into business kiosks or spartan fish-camp facilities.

“Who wouldn’t want to say they slept in a lifeguard tower?” he laughed.

A Florida Keys visitor center is planned.

While plans for repairs and upgrades are drawn, the longtime marina is open for sailors and paddlers.

“It really is beautiful here, a serene piece of the Everglades,” Keever said. “There’s nothing around for miles.”

“People can go birding, find remote beaches, see manatees and come across alligators and crocodiles,” he described. “The waters are full of fish.”

The South Dade Marina also is planned to serve as a destination or waypoint for vacationers at Keever’s Key Lime Sailing Club and Key Largo Cottages, located on a Buttonwood Sound beach off mile marker 99.3, bayside.

Keever came to Key Largo in 2000 from Long Beach, Calif.

“The whole idea was to get a small property, retire and go sailing,” he said. “NowI have 56 boats titled in my name.”

Those include a fleet of sailboats used for American Sailing Association training with instructor C.J. Drake, along with day rentals or boats available to guests at the cottages.

“Sixty-five percent of our guests are repeat customers,” Keever said.

Keever recently acquired the 52-foot ketch Pirate’s Choice, berthed in the Port Largo Canal, for day and sunset cruises.

The well-known Morning Star snorkel and cruising sailboat currently is down for repairs.

“At some point, I’d like to get the right management team in place so I can spend my time sailing,” Keever said. “For now, this is all a lot of work— but a lot of fun, too.”

For more information, call 305-451-3438, or email:keylargocottages@keylimesailingclub.com or call 305-451-3438.

kwadlow@keysnews.com