An insider's guide to Biscayne Bay

General: Plan your cruise during the week. The Boca Chita boat basin and No Name Harbor can get crowded on weekends. No water or supplies are available in the islands of Biscayne National Park.

Best time: December to May are the best months for sailing. Easterly winds and dry weather prevail during this period, although lumpy seas can thwart offshore diving trips.

Navigation: N0AA Charts 11462 and 11465 cover the area. Boats drawing over five feet must watch the tides in most entrance channels and particularly around the Safety Valve, Featherbed Bank, and Angelfish Creek. A grounding in Biscayne National Park can carry a fine.

Cruising guides: Cruising Guide to the Florida Keys by Captain Frank Papy, Florida Keys and Everglades Cruising Guide by Captain Freya Rauscher, and Maptech Embassy Guide to the Florida Keys and Gold Coast are all available through Bluewater Books and Charts (800-942-2583).

Fishing: Fishing regulations (www.flsportsman.com/regs.html) are enforced, and seasons apply to many species, including lobster. Lobstering is prohibited in most of the bay. You'll need a saltwater license if you intend to fish from your boat or plan to go diving for lobster (in season). You can buy licenses online (www.eangler.com), at local bait shops, dive stores, and marinas, or by calling (888) 347-4356.

Diving: Fill your tanks at Divers Paradise (Crandon Marina, Key Biscayne; 305-361-3483). Moorings mark popular dive sites in Biscayne National Park (305-230-7275, www.nps.gov/bisc/home.htm). Dade County has several artificial reef sites (305-375-3376, diverlink.com/sites/mdc-reefs.htm).

Bareboat charters: Florida east-coast and Miami-area companies include: Fun in the Sun Yacht Charters (954-463-7911, www.funinthesunyachts.com), Cruzan Yacht Charters (www.cruzan.com, 305-858-2822), Florida Yacht Charters and Sales (305-532-8600, www.floridayacht.com), Go Native Yacht Charters (305-534-5522, www.gnyc.com), SailingCats.com (305-535-2209, www.sailingcats.com), and Sailing Charter Club (800-468-4440, www.floridasailing.com), from whose fleet we chartered the Hunter.

Historic tours: Aside from the Cape Florida Lighthouse (Cape Florida State Park, Key Biscayne; 305-361-8779), nautical-history buffs should visit the Commodore's former home, The Barnacle (3485 Main Highway, Coconut Grove; 305-448-9445), which hosts full-moon concerts every month. Tour the collection of botanist and sailor David Fairchild at Fairchild Tropical Gardens (10901 Old Cutler Road, South Miami; 305-667-1651). Explore Viscaya, the Renaissance-style winter home and gardens of industrialist James Deering (3251 Main Highway, Coconut Grove; 305-250-9133).

Food and drink: Most local marinas offer easy access to a wide variety of great restaurants. Cuban food (try the arroz con pollo) is a specialty. Here are two lesser known spots popular among local sailors: Run by amiable veteran shrimper Jimbo Luznar, Jimbo's Shrimp Docks (305-361-7026) preserves the last vestige of old Miami at the southeastern tip of Virginia Key. Essentially a bait shop, Jimbo's offers cold beer from an ice-filled barrel, smoked sailfish, and boccie competitions on Sundays. Share sea stories at the bar or dine by the water at Scotty's Landing in Dinner Key Marina (305-858-2626). It's set next to the old Pan Am flying-boat base in Coconut Grove. D.N.