No prodigal ever returned in such style as I did on my recent visit to Ocean Reef. Just a kid when I first visited the famed Florida Keys destination aboard a new Grebe motoryacht in the early 1960s, for this story my ride was a new Azimut 68S-roughly the same length as the Grebe but a world apart. As is today's Ocean Reef.
To further enrich my nostalgic fancy, my visit, as a guest of Allied Richard Bertram Marine Group, coincided with Ocean Reef's 11th Annual Vintage Weekend. I would be enjoying the futuristic touch and feel of the 68S surrounded by fleets of classic boats, cars and airplanes-heaven!
Ocean Reef resides at the north end of Key Largo on land that was originally farmed by a fellow named John Whalton. In addition to farming Whalton manned the lightships Caesar and Florida that were stationed in the area before the Carysfort lighthouse was built in 1852. After Indians killed Whalton, others followed, as the property was convenient to the mainland. The Card Sound road, added in 1927, further simplified the trip.
Minneapolis developer Morris Baker purchased the property in 1945 and dredged canals, built an inn and eventually added an airstrip. As interest in the club increased, homes were offered for sale in 1959 at a price of $25,000. If you had been fortunate to take advantage of the opportunity, today the same property, less the house, would be worth several million dollars. Ownership was transferred to Harper Sibley Jr., a prominent developer, and to Miami builder Morris Burk, in 1969, and then to Carl H. Lindner Jr., the investor, who sold the club to property-owning members in 1993. Over the years Ocean Reef has attracted a distinguished membership interested in outdoor activities and the seclusion the club offers.
Improvement of the property continues today and a maze of roads and golf cart paths wander through 2,000 acres of carefully groomed paradise. There are more than 1,600 residences, from town homes in the $700,000 range, to estate homes that have sold for as much as $11,000,000. Before you draft a check, please note that if you wish to be a regular, club membership is required. Sponsorship is necessary, as is an equity membership and the payment of an annual fee. When offered, positions in the marina are sold with the same conditions. Currently, a slip for a 90-foot yacht is available for $549,000. Nonresident members must pay an initiation fee and additional annual membership fees.
The trip to Ocean Reef from Miami aboard the Grebe took almost three hours in the 1960s. The Azimut 68S can cover the same distance in less than half the time. The Grebe's pair of 500 hp V12 Detroit Diesels yielded little more than 15 knots flat out. The 68S's pair of 1,300 hp MTUs return a maximum speed of more than 36 knots. This makes Ocean Reef an easy weekend target. Ken Reda, director and sales manager for Allied Richard Bertram Marine Group's Ocean Reef facility, estimates that 75 percent of the property owners are also boat owners and it is not uncommon for nonresident members to use their boats to commute to and from the mainland. In addition to the marina, there are 1,200 docks behind private residences and the club has dry storage for up to 500 boats. "Boating and fishing has driven the growth of Ocean Reef," says Reda.
Golf is also a primary focus and Reda also handles golf cart sales. The custom carts that swarm around Ocean Reef are miniature equivalents of the yachts and, like yachts, are not cheap. How not cheap? "If you have to ask...," says Reda, voice trailing off. (We hear they retail for as much as $17,000.)
In this setting the Azimut 68S is right at home. She's just your typical, over-the-top, drop-dead beautiful design that draws attention wherever she goes. Surprisingly, this was even the case at Vintage Weekend. While there were no Grebes present, Trumpy, a significant period player, was well represented. As the 68S glided past a fleet of fantastic Trumpys, the Concours d'Elegance was under way and vintage aircraft were on the wing. Still, I noticed dozens of heads turn in our direction.
While my taste in yachts is conservative, it is hard not to appreciate the postmodernist efforts of Azimut's design team. Start her engines and her stylish engineroom ventilation scoops automatically open. Extend her cockpit canopy and retract her bridge roof with a push of a button. This is the sort of creative play that distinguished automobile designs in the 1930s, and the resulting breeze at speed is what attracted young aviators to the open cockpit.
After a weekend aboard the 68S it was hard to give her up. There was also too little time to enjoy Ocean Reef and appreciate the incredible commitment of the vintage enthusiasts that attended. I will be certain to attend next year.
Nonmembers may enjoy Ocean Reef through special "club-sponsored visitations" which are limited to two visits, per person, in a five-year period. The Inn at Ocean Reef offers members and guests a choice of accommodations, including 142 attractive rooms and suites with ocean and lagoon views. Private town homes, condominiums and waterfront estates with pools and docks are also available for rental.
The Fishing Village at the marina has shops and boutiques and there are nine restaurants on the property. The Raw Bar, the Burgee Bar and the Galley Restaurant are centers of evening activity dockside. The Carysfort Grille offers formal fare; on Buccaneer Island you can enjoy lunch and cocktails poolside or dine casually at The Islander restaurant. A saltwater lagoon is ideal for kids and a fleet of water toys is at the ready. For the more ambitious, a dive center offers PADI certification-North America's only living coral reef is just a few miles offshore. Fishing charters can be arranged through the club's outfitter and full concierge services are available. In addition to the usual Florida Keys attractions, the club has two championship golf courses, a lawn and tennis center, a spa, a fitness center and a cultural center. Contact: Membership, (305) 367-5921; Dockmaster, Fito Castellanos, (305) 367-5908; Airport, (305) 367-3690.
AND THE WINNER IS... Vintage Weekend at Ocean Reef is billed as "a celebration of antique and classic conveyances of land, sea and air," but it's also a great time to take advantage of Ocean Reef's hospitality. This year the event attracted 22 yachts, 65 automobiles, 36 aircraft and hundreds of enthusiastic participants and spectators. The club extends a special invitation to nonmembers to attend the weekend as sponsored guests either as social participants or exhibitors. The club's amenities are available to the guests as are discounted room rates. A $275 fee per person included a cocktail reception, hosted by event organizers Vicki and Alan Goldstein, as well as a cocktail party and cabaret dinner. While everyone who attended was a winner, the judge's picks are as follows: Spectators' Choice Yacht: Matt & Tracy Howard-El Presidente, 1939 96-foot Mathis-Trumpy; Spectators' Choice Plane: Edward & Barbara Moore-1943 Howard DGA-15P; Spectators' Choice Car: William & Alice Chorkey-1932 Ford Model 18 Roadster; Vintage Weekend Award, Pre-WWII Cars: Andrew Edmonds-1940 Cadillac Convertible Sedan; Best in Class, Pre-WWII: Joe Teresi-1934 Duesenberg LeBaron SJ; Vintage Weekend Award, Post-WWII Cars: Tom Gerrard-1956 Mercury Montclair Convertible & 1957 Lincoln Premier Convertible; Best in Class, Post-WWII: Chuck Schwager-1959 Jaguar XK150S; Dave Holls Award: Dennis Liebert-1954 Cadillac Series 62 Convertible; Best in Show: James K. Adams-1911 Stevens-Duryea Tourer.