The Joys of Boating in the Gables

On the Waterfront 

Growing up in South Florida, friends Susy Heiden and Annie Lackey each spent plenty of time on the water, sailing with family, on fishing trips with friends, or as guests on boats captained by others. But until they teamed up several months ago to buy a used 22-foot Seaswirl open fisherman, they had never owned a boat themselves. 

“We’ve learned a lot, especially about all the things that can go wrong,” says Heiden, who, like Lackey, works a high-stress job in corporate information technology. “Every month it seems there is always something that has happened. But to get on the boat, go out there where it is so peaceful and beautiful, see a sunset, sip a glass of champagne – so rewarding, so worth it.” 

Susy Heiden and Annie Lackey

Perched on Biscayne Bay, and ribboned with miles of the protected, navigable canals and the Coral Gables Waterway, the City Beautiful ranks as one of the most inviting places in the world to be a boater. During the past two years, with the nation in the grip of a global pandemic, many have come to appreciate the city’s 40 miles of waterfront even more. 

“With COVID, the boat has been our savior,” says Gillian Gaggero, referring to the 26-foot Chaparral docked behind her house on the Gables Waterway. “While others were stuck in lockdown, we could go out, to Elliott Key, Boca Chica, or just cruise in the waterway. Isn’t that why we live here?” 

In a time marked by isolation and social distancing, boating s booming. “It is part of a phenomenon I think hardly anyone saw coming,” says maritime attorney Michael Moore, Chairman Emeritas of the Gables-based International Seakeepers Society, which pairs yacht owners with scientists. “With COVID, people naturally look for sanctuaries and social distance, and there is no better way than boating with family, just getting out on the water.” 

The demand for boats has manufacturers and brokers scrambling to keep up. “The market is on fire with people looking to get out and get away,” says Bill Cordes, vice president of sales for Invincible Boat Co., a builder of high-end watercraft based in Opa-Locka. The company’s entry-level vessel, a 33-foot center console open fisherman, is priced at $350,000. “When COVID first appeared, I would have bet on a huge downturn [in sales],” says Cordes, a former competitive water skier and tournament fisherman. “It has turned out to be the opposite. Demand is as strong as we’ve ever seen it.” 

The variety of vessels that ply local waters range from paddleboards, canoes, and dinghies to the 140-foot, $18 million superyacht Majesty, that comes with teak decks and a hot tub. All will be on display Feb. 16 through Feb. 20 at the Discover Boating Miami International Boat Show, held at the Miami Beach Convention Center and Pride Park, and at five area marinas. 

Lifelong boater Larry Berryman, a vice president with Informa Markets, the producer of the boat show, says, “The pandemic has been terrible for health and safety, but the boating industry has benefitted tremendously from this re-energized opportunity. I have seen more boats out in the past two years than at any time in my life.” 

Heiden and Lackey are often among those boaters. After a particularly taxing day in the office, they might meet up at the Seababy, docked in the Gables Waterway near THesis Hotel, and head out into the bay. Lackey says they can be anchored at a favorite sandbar near Stiltsville in 20 minutes, in time for the sunset. 


While the pandemic may be a factor in boating’s surge in popularity, the reasons for taking to the water are as varied as the fish in the sea. Ishmael, the narrator of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, says, “Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul…then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.” 

It is not just whalers who respond to water’s allure. In “Blue Mind,” marine biologist Wallace J. Nichols suggests that being on or near water is restorative, an irresistible attraction that resides deep in our being. We are drawn to seafronts, riversides, beaches and lakes. We want to live near water, listen to it moving, be calmed by it. 

Richard Forero, who travels widely as an international medical equipment salesman, recognizes the allure. Born and raised in The Gables, Forero bought his first boat right out of college, spending all the time he could fishing, snorkeling, and venturing out into the bay and the ocean. “I always wanted to go further out in the water,” he says.  Now, with his three sons grown, he and his wife Lisi are more apt to use their 28-foot Pursuit to meet up with friends on a sandbar or cruise down to Elliott Key “just to get away from the crowd.” 

Eddie Snow, whose Snow’s Jewelers has been a Miracle Mile fixture for 48 years, is out with family and friends on his 53-ft Hatteras sport fisherman almost every weekend. “We cruise across the bay, drop anchor, swim, fish. We have a lot of fun,” says Snow. “I always say, we live in paradise; it rains and 15 minutes later sun’s out.” 

Frank Fernandez Alfert is a veteran paddler, whose boat is a 17-foot sea kayak that he uses to explore the mangrove coasts south of Matheson Hammock Park. He eschews motors. “I can get into areas where motorboats can never get to,” he says. “I see lots of birds – egrets, blue herons – as well as spotted rays and jumping mullet. It is just wonderful to be directly connected to the environment and the water. And paddling is great exercise.” 


Boating can, of course, be expensive. The maxim that a boat is a “hole in the water” to pour money into resonates with almost every boat owner. Registration fees, insurance, fuel, maintenance, and what can seem like endless repairs – all take a toll. 

Dock space – if you can find it – is increasingly pricey. Matheson Hammock Park and Marina has 242 wet slips and 71 dry storage spaces for boat trailers; Black Point Marina in Homestead has 185 wet slips and 37 dry storage spaces. But there is a waiting list of three to five years at both places, according to the county. The monthly fee for dock space at Matheson Hammock is $17 per foot, with a 30-foot minimum charge. That means the basic cost of keeping a boat there runs more than $6,000 a year. Private dock space typically costs more. 

Matheson Hammock Park and Marina

Many of those who live on the Gables Waterway have docks in their backyard. Juan Galan, Chico Goldsmith, and John Swain all have boats tied up behind their homes, and all serve on the Waterway Advisory Board, a nine-member volunteer city panel that makes recommendations on keeping the canals healthy and accessible. 

Swain recently urged the city to install a canoe and kayak launch in Ruth Bryan Owen Park, on Granada Boulevard just north of Bird Road. There is now only one designated canoe launch on the waterway, at Cocoplum Circle, although there is an oft-used unofficial site on county land under the Metrorail at Riviera Drive. 

Boating in the Gables
John Swain, a Gables resident who serves on the Waterway Advisory Board

“I’m not a canoer myself, but the Waterway is a great, peaceful place to take a canoe or a kayak,” says Swain. “Everybody loves to be out on the Bay, but one of the most interesting trips you can take by water in the Gables is to go slowly up the waterway in a boat. The homes are picture postcards of the city’s history. There’s even a little wildlife.” Galan and Goldsmith both expressed concerns about pollution from nutrients and faulty septic tanks that end up in the waterway and the bay, as well as the number of novice boaters, often at the helm of powerful speedboats. “I’m a former Coast Guard officer,” said Galan, who began boating in Havana at the age of six. “I see on the waterway overloaded boats, unsafe practices, paddle boarders and kayakers without life vests.” Goldsmith, who has a 32-foot Contender, also worries about bigger, faster boats with inexperienced captains at the helm. “You should at least know what some of the rules are,” he says. 

After buying their boat, Lackey and Heiden took an online safety course from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The course is required by law for all operators of a motorized boat born on or after Jan.1, 1988. “We didn’t have to take the course, but we took it out of a sense of responsibility,” said Lackey. “It gave us more confidence.” 

Boating in the Gables
Susy Heiden and Annie Lackey

For many, boating is a passion, a hobby that seeps into the blood. Forero says that when repair costs and other expenses mount, he has thoughts of getting rid of his boat. But those thoughts wash out with the tide. “Just to be on the water, anchor out, watch the sun go down, see the water meet the sky,” he says. “A good boating day is any day. I don’t care if it’s stormy, or if the sun is out. Nothing beats sitting on that boat. It’s fascinating. It’s relaxing. Mesmerizing.”