Key West

Travelogue - April 30, 2007

Key West Historic Waterfront

Dock D, Key West Bight Marina April 1st: an easy cruise from our mooring buoy at Garrison Bight brought us to the sheltered Key West Bight and the city marina therein. We tied up at our assigned berth alongside the dock with no problems. See Sea Gator with her blue canvas, centered in the photo, right.

This marina - this dock "D" and this very slip - are in the midst of Key West's historic waterfront.

There are three other marinas here with many private boats, some of them huge. There are also a lot of commercial boats: charter fishing boats for every type of fishing, for snorkeling, swimming, dolphin and sunset watching; ferries to Fort Myers Beach, to Miami, to Fort Jefferson on the Dry Tortugas; and the "tall ships" which give tourists a taste of cruising under sail.

Jen and Jen at Echo II Berthed directly in front of us is the catamaran Echo II, which takes passengers snorkeling and dolphin watching. Her captain and mate are both named Jen - they posed for the photo, left. We've been lucky to have them as neighbors - they maneuver the Echo II with great skill. One evening they took a young couple on a sunset cruise. Jen and Jen knew that the man planned to propose marriage to his girlfriend and so they stocked up on champagne. It must have been a lovely cruise because we heard that the answer was "Yes". Hire the Echo II with confidence for your next life-altering event.

There are official vessels nearby as well. See the huge Coast Guard cruiser in the background (upper right corner) of the first photo above. On a calm evening we can hear the national anthem wafting across the water.

Historic District home This island is about five square miles in area, and much is packed into it. Joe, who introduced us to the island in 2002, calls it "Urban Tropical". It has a very compact and busy downtown surrounded by residential neighborhoods. The neighborhoods are my favorite element: beautiful homes with tiny yards and delis and shops and diners tucked in here and there.

Hemingway House An historic revival gained momentum in the 70s and huge numbers of wonderful old homes have been salvaged. A classic example is seen, above left. You may recognize the Hemingway House, right, about which more will be revealed below. Of course real estate prices have skyrocketed into the millions for a "single family home" in the Historic District. Sound familiar? Well, aren't they fun to look at!

Duval Street runs through downtown and across the island, straight from the Gulf on the northwest to the Atlantic on the southeast. The narrow sidewalks are always packed. Duval is a good place to see "zany antics", as Rick says, and it is part of the reason Steve and Diane call this place "Key Weird". We speedwalk the side streets whenever we need to move fast. We stroll Duval when we want to be amazed.

Blond Elvis For example: here is a blond Elvis impersonator, left. He had a feathered boa on his guitar, which I don't recall of Elvis, but what do I know? Pseudoelvis was loitering on Duval - see the storefronts in the background. When we passed him I said "Excellent outfit," and he replied, "Thank you, thank you very much." You never know whom you'll meet.

Nun costume Speaking of which, this might be Sister Mary Margaret from my alma mater, St. Timothy's parochial school. Which, I recently learned from a cruiser who hails from our old Minnesota neighborhood, is still an active parish and elementary school - what a small world! Anyway, Terry, the Minnesota sailor, claimed not to recognize Sister Mary Margaret and he didn't venture a guess as to why she was loitering around outside the 801 Bourbon Street drag bar on south Duval. You be the judge.

The Reef

Well, after we settled in at the Marina our first jaunt took us to the new offices of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS), now located at the new Truman Waterfront at end of Southard St. We sought information about using the buoys provided for boats visiting the reef. Well, who should arrive to assist us but Robert Keeley ("Team OCEAN, Lower Keys Region"), the officer who had been so helpful to us when we visited FKNMS's info booth at the Seafood Festival in Marathon last month.

Fish Robert assured us that everyone is welcome to use the buoys - because no one is welcome to drop anchor on the fragile reefs. He assured us the buoys are carefully maintained, so that was good news, and he even took us to their workshop to demonstrate the methods by which the buoys are anchored in the seabed.

Later he walked us over to the adjacent and unfortunately-named "Eco Discovery Center". The facility was created in cooperation with the Mote Marine Laboratory (we visited their aquarium in Sarasota last year). When the displays are finished there will be aquariums and exhibits about the reef, seagrass beds and other flora and fauna. There were already small aquariums with miniature coral communities, live coral polyps and minuscule fishies and crustaceans. I peppered the docent with questions until he escaped by saying "There is much we do not know about the lives of corals."

Rick diving Several days later the winds had calmed so we took Sea Gator out to Western Sambo reef and tied to a buoy. Even though the winds were calm, the sea was not. Large rollers rocked Sea Gator back and forth, back and forth. The lateral motion was such that either side of her swim platform dipped into the water in turn. Ugh. We suited up and disembarked as quickly as possible, and swam over to the reef.

This is the first reef I've seen, and I understand that healthier reefs are much more colorful. Still, it was really interesting and look at all the fish we saw!

Rick dove down to visit the bottom, and saw great schools of indigo-blue fish swimming through pockets in the reef. I saw a HUGE lobster twitch under his rock, but he didn't come back out for photos.

More fish Afterwards, we climbed back aboard and took off as quickly as possible. Forward motion was much more comfortable. We passed a large sailing ship rocking in the rollers - her gunwales nearly touched the water on each side as she rolled, it made me queasy anew just to watch. People were hurling themselves off the bowsprit into the water. Was the situation that hopeless?

Soon we realized she was the Boy Scout ship Heritage of Miami - see her photo in the Marathon travelogue. The kids didn't care about the ship's motion - they were climbing and diving with loud whoops and cheers. They were having a great time.

Visitors from the Frozen North

The evening of our friends' arrival was marked by crashing thunder and two boats were struck by lightning. Meanwhile, the plane carrying our friends circled behind the thunderstorm until, fortunately, her pilot chose discretion over valor and everybody spent the night in Fort Myers. Undaunted, the planeload of tourists - including our friends Anne and Peggy - arrived safely the next morning. Anne and Peggy had a list of sights and activities they wanted to pursue, so after breakfast and despite chilly weather off we went.

Butterfly We took an introductory stroll down Duval to arrive at the Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory. The enclosed glass house was all a-flutter with hundreds and hundreds of brilliant butterflies! This fellow was a discrete brown on his exterior, but his topsides were bright blue. They are so beautiful, and so short-lived. We learned that the pupa is formed of the caterpillar's own skin, and inside the caterpillar parts turn into soup for several days then the soup becomes a butterfly. We also learned that the marathon migrations actually span many generations of individuals, so it's even more amazing that the flock knows the route time after time.

Bathroom tiles Next we visited Ernest Hemingway's home and gardens. The house is beautiful, and very tropical with its deep shaded porches and high ceilings. A photo of the south facade appears, above - it's the one with the green shutters. The easiest rooms to photograph were the boys' bathroom, as you see, left, and Hemingway's studio in a quiet room above the garage, below right. The grounds were beautiful as well.

Hemingway's desk If you didn't already know it, Hemingway loved cats. His personal favorites happened to be six-toed; their descendants are cherished and cared for on-site to this day. Feline population growth is managed, all cats are named, and signs warn visitors to respect their feline privacy ("Don't try to pick up the cats!"). That's good advice. The creatures have confidence in their safety and will loll casually in the middle of walkways, on antique chairs, on "Papa's" historic bed, on his writing table, and beneath almost every shrub you come across in the garden.

Feral rooster Because Key West is only 90 miles from Cuba (much closer than it is to Miami) the Cuban influence is strong. Hemingway's home is in the midst of the predominantly Cuban neighborhood. In addition to cigar making, cock fighting was a popular past time. Finally the law demanded that all fights cease and all roosters be set free. It was not exactly a return to the wild. Descendants of those critters pace the streets enjoying privileged status.

There are opposing opinions about the roosters among locals. One bumper sticker pleads "Help a local sleep - steal a rooster!" Another urges "Support Rooster Rescue!" You can see the fowl all over town, leading their chicks, crossing roads and scratching for snacks.

Annie and Peggy in the Lighthouse A block away from Hemingway's home is the Key West Lighthouse, built in 1847. The lighthouse was de-commissioned by the U.S. Coast Guard in 1969 and restored in 1989. The Light Keeper's Quarters now houses the museum's collection of lighthouse artifacts and the maritime history of the Keys. You can also see very cool scale models and renderings of all the Reef's historic lighthouses - most of which remain active as navigational aids today.

Here Peggy and Annie descend the 98 steps inside the lighthouse.

Next adventure: Nancy's Secret Garden. Tucked at the end of an alley and under tremendous pressure for development, Nancy Forrester's home and garden is:

Annie and Peggy compare flower photos
"...the last undeveloped wooded acre of land in old town... The garden's function is not to be seen merely as a beautiful construct but of more importance, it is to serve as a model for our twenty-first century, a preview of a society based on a deeper understanding of our close ties to nature and each other, to serve as a "soul spark" to inspire a moral code, a global bio-ethic, that human beings are obliged to act as steward of nature."

Orchid We toured the grounds respectfully, admiring the huge collection of tropical plants: palms, orchids, epiphytes, bromelaids. Many artistic photos were taken, left and right. Nancy also supports a parrot rescue center for birds who out-live their owners or prove to be too expensive. She has her hands full.

The Beach and the Bight and More

Cruise ship seen from the beach Always a popular destination, Fort Zachary Taylor Park has a civil war-era fort that people can tour, and it has a nicely shaded beach which was of much more interest to us on a hot day.

In the afternoons, large cruise ships depart Key West in the designated (i.e. deep) ship channel. They have to leave the berth at Mallory Square before the Sunset Celebration (described below), lest they block the view of the sunset and face severe financial penalties. The ships are an awesome sight, like a large town slowly easing past the beach.

Jolly Rover We had a nice beach day, marking Peggy's first swim in the Atlantic.

On another calm evening, Annie and Peggy went out on a sunset cruise. Sunset cruises are very popular here - several sailing ships take people out, as do power catamarans and smaller boats. Cost varies by the level of entertainment and alcohol provided.

Wisely, Annie and Peggy chose the sailing vessel Jolly Rover, left - it was slightly less expensive because passengers had to bring their own booze. Therefore, most voyagers returned relatively sober. That has to be easier on the crew and on the passengers' stomaches. Our sailors reported that there were only three crew members aboard, one of whom looked very pirate-like, and that passengers were welcome to help raise the sails. They enjoyed their trip, their ship, their pirate and their fellow passengers.

Sunset Celebration

Vendors Speaking of sunsets, Key West has a proprietary air about the sunset. I'm sure they are aware that the sun sets everywhere, but here it is acknowledged as a cause for celebration. At the ritual Sunset Celebration, watching the crowd is often as interesting as watching the street performers ply their trade.

Every evening, huge swarms of people converge on Mallory Square at the western edge of the island. People shop for jewelry and t-shirts and snacks and beer and trinkets, left, and mill around waiting for the sunset.

As the moment of truth approaches, all performances cease and everyone turns to face west.

Sunset Celebration crowd A hush descends.

The sky glows.

Cameras click.

The sun sets.

Everyone cheers ("Yay, God!").

And the festivities resume.

Gymnast Festivities include street performers - jugglers, magicians, musicians, sword swallowers, fire walkers, trainers of dogs and cats, escape artists, stunt bicyclists, and more.

This man is a gymnast. He performed many warm-up tricks including hand-stand pushups (he stopped at 18), diving flips where he retrieved objects while sailing past, and the finale, at left, where with a running start he dove through the hoop, landed in a summersault (on concrete) and leapt to his feet. Everybody cheered and whooped and put paper money in his collection box.

Sponteneous dancing Speaking of performances, Annie craved live music so we spent an evening listening to Scott Kirby at the Hog's Breath Saloon. He played many original tunes, some Jimmy Buffet and Bob Marley, and generally impressed us with his virtuosity. We bobbed around on our chairs, since there wasn't room to dance.

That didn't deter Annie. Later that evening while shopping for souvenir t-shirts and still in a dancing mood, she encountered this fellow prancing around his store to vintage rock-and-roll. He and his co-worker sold Peggy a t-shirt and shook their booty with the girls while Rick pretended not to know us.

"People Who Seceded Where Others Failed"

In April of 1982, the United States Border Patrol blockaded the Florida Keys in a purported attempt to stop illegal immigration.

"Since the United States government insisted on treating the Keys like a foreign country, Key West Mayor Dennis Wardlow seceded from the Union, declared war, surrendered and demanded foreign aid. During the intervening years the U.S. never reacted to the secession, thereby establishing sovereignty for the Conch Republic under International Law..."

Key West Books Read all about it in Gregory King's book, "The Conch That Roared" at or at Key West Books (window display, left).

Key West natives call themselves "conchs", pronounced konks.

The Republic's stated foreign policy is "The mitigation of world tension through the exercise of humor", and its official philosophy is "One Human Family", meaning "we believe all people everywhere are entitled to equal rights, dignity and respect." Why not?

Many fun events marked the Republic's 25th anniversary, including a reenactment of the secession on April 23.

Sushi Demonstrating the official policy of humor and tolerance, Drag Races were held on Duval Street on April 21:

"This monster event features drag racers powered by Jimmy Choo, Bruno Magli, Gucci and other fine builders of high-heeled shoes... That's right. We're not racing cars, we are racing the most beautiful drag queens in the known universe...This 30-yard dash for the Gold will handicap racers based on every half-inch of heel over the minimum three inches..."

Speaking of which, see the famous "Sushi" (right) posing in front of her establishment the evening before the race. Unfortunately we missed the big event itself, but I'm sure it was a record-breaker if not an ankle-breaker.

Vendor of palm crafts On April 26, we ventured downtown and were lucky to find seats on the balcony of The Whistle bar. Everyone eagerly awaited the start of the "World's Longest Parade" from the Atlantic to the Gulf along Duval.

Before the parade this man set up his woven palm-leaf wares on the corner, left. We recognize him from the marina dinghy dock, where folks whose boats are anchored come ashore.

Parade crowd The parade was fun: all the Republic's officers led the festivities in large open cars, their names and titles were officially proclaimed with magic-marker lettering on poster-board signs taped to the car doors.

The local Homeland Security was represented along with the fire department, Coast Guard and EMT's ; a float came by with the "Queen Conch" and her ladies-in-waiting waving politely; there were bands of roving pirates and a group of civil war reenactors with their cannon, and many unidentified merry-makers grouped throughout. It was fun. The photo is tough to make out because it was night and therefore dark, but here (right) the crowd mingles with the parade on Duval.

Great Battle for the Conch Republic

On April 27, we found a good vantage point and broiled in the sun for an hour awaiting the scheduled sea battle. As the heat intensified the crowd became restless for hostilities to commence. I suggested we just fight amongst ourselves, and a lady next to Rick offered to exchange trash talk. Unfortunately, none of us knew any good jokes at the expense of the others' home state, so we name-called lamely for a few minutes then declared a truce.

Fortunately, the "Conch Republic Naval Parade" and "Great Battle for the Conch Republic" soon began:

"The largest fleet of antique schooners this side of Mystic Seaport parade past the waterfront, and then fling themselves into pitched battle... There is a formal battle between the Conch Republic Navy's Flagship Schooner Wolf and the United States Coast Guard cutter Sawfish flying the colors of the United States Border Patrol, involving an exchange of cannon, pistol, shotgun, and rifle fire..."

Sawfish battles the Conch Navy, small craft Blanks, of course. But the water cannons deployed on the second pass were real.

The Republic's Navy consisted of four vintage sailing vessels and a dozen or so smaller boats. The published Rules of Engagement listed "Approved ammunition": stale Cuban bread, conch fritters, peeled or pickled hard boiled eggs, very ripe tomatoes (preferably canned), canned peach and pear halves - all ammo had to be launched by hand, no mechanical launching devices of any kind were permitted.

Air support was provided by nearly a dozen aircraft including a stunt-flying biplane, an ultralight, a helicopter, and several planes passing in formation. Aircraft tossed "bombs": rolls of toilet paper (single-ply biodegradable marine t.p., we figured) which fluttered into rigging or into the sea.

Sawfish battles Wolf and Appledore of the Conch Navy The sight of the powerful Coast Guard cutter steaming into the parade was rather intimidating. However,the cutter was eventually defeated, releasing an orange smoke bomb to signal surrender. Your tax dollars at work, folks!

All combatants retired to the dockside bar Schooner Wharf for a party that lasted well into the night, as we can attest since we are docked about 100 yards away from the restaurant. It was all in good fun.

Fellow Cruisers

Sally, Goldie, Pat We've mentioned before how fortunate we are to have met some fine folks while cruising. While in Key West we reconnected with Terry and Kitty from Cytherea - they were adjacent to us on the moorings at Ft. Myers Beach, and after an eventful cruise to the Tortugas they came to Key West and stayed out at the moorings at Garrison Bight for several days.

Also at Ft. Myers Beach we had met Sally and Ron. They preceded us to Key West by several months, and their catamaran Adventure was berthed right across the fairway. Between their visitors and our visitors we've managed to visit each other occasionally - sometimes in the laundry room or on the way to the Market, but it's always fun. Here Sally joins me and Goldie for a sunset view.

You never know who else you might meet around here. One evening I hurried back to Sea Gator and babbled to Rick, "I met the most interesting person in the laundry room..." Seriously, this was a once-in-a-lifetime encounter with a crew member of the replica of Christopher Columbus' flagship Niña.

Nina - see Rick and I had seen the replica Niña, a ship built and sailed by the Columbus Foundation, in Corpus Christi many years ago. My new acquaintance (didn't ask his name) had joined in Baytown, Texas, for the cruise to Niña's next scheduled appearance at Stuart, Florida. The ship had sailed/motored straight across the Gulf from Baytown; Key West was their first stop after VERY rough seas for multiple days.

Most of the crew had immediately headed for beer, my new acquaintance sought out a shower and laundry first.

I asked many questions:
What about the making of the replica Niña? She was built in Valenca, Brazil, with traditional tools and methods;
Her sails? Niña is rigged with square sails on main and foremast and lanteen, or triangular, on the mizzens;
Any quirks of this particular ship? She is equipped with a tiller instead of a wheel, and has a tendency to pull to starboard;
What are the sounds in a wooden ship as opposed to those in a fiberglass boat? Lots of creaking as the boards rub together; and
What are the crew responsibilities? With the present company, three hours on watch, six off - he would be cautious of the beer, he said, since he had an anchor watch coming up at 4 a.m.

The ship was anchored out in the harbor for the night and she set sail early the next morning so we didn't get to see her. Still, I appreciated my little vicarious brush with history in the laundry room.

More Visitors and Visiting

Rhea and David David and Rhea arrived mid-month. They enjoyed many of the afore-mentioned sights, and we also went to a play at the Red Barn Theatre: Bat Boy, the Musical. It was a hoot, see it if you can! Here David and Rhea enjoy a quiet moment in the Theatre's garden during intermission.

David and Rhea also followed in Peggy and Annie's wake and took the super-sized catamaran Yankee Freedom out to Fort Jefferson at the Dry Tortugas for a day. It's a great place although a long day on the water if seas are rough. But there is a lot to do once one arrives: touring the historic fort, swimming, snorkeling, beach lounging.

We did not join our guests on their ventures to Fort Jefferson this year. However, during our first visit to Key West, Rick and I made an overnight trip to the island. If you didn't receive that travelogue in 2002, you can read a brief account of our trip here.

Rick, Pat, Rhea, David We rode our bikes to breakfast and the beach - here we stopped for a photo while admiring the beautiful banyon tree at Banyon Inn. We spent several evenings lounging aboard Sea Gator enjoying a light dinner and the cool evening breezes. The aft deck has been the perfect place to relax aboard, watch the marina, and enjoy the sunsets and evening skies. We can hear the music wafting from dock-side bars, and from this distance it's always a pleasure.

A nice surprise was provided by the Rebellion Anniversary: we had the best seats in the house from which to view the Independence Celebration fireworks. Great show! Goldie hated it and hid below, but aside from our concern for her peace of mind we all had a fine time.

Sandra, Rick, Gil Rick's Aunt Sandra and her husband Gil visited Key West. Their cruise ship was here for a one-day stopover before crossing the Atlantic bound for Europe, and we were happy to have a chance to meet them downtown and show them around Sea Gator. Sandra remembered that, as a youngster, Rick craved her delicious banana bread. So she baked bread the day before they left home and brought him a loaf. What a treat!

Later Sandra and Gil returned to their ship and the Legend of the Seas cast off that same afternoon. They are probably half-way across the Atlantic by now. We wish them a bon voyage!

I've met some fine folks with whom to share common solutions, sometimes mid-morning in a garden setting, sometimes in the evening with very nice women. Key West is quite a party town so those folks are a blessing.

Northward Bound

Goldie at rest It's been a fun-filled month. The weather has been great: only one night was it too hot to sleep, and we had a few days of rain but even then it wasn't more than a bit chilly.

Right, Goldie winds down for a leisurely afternoon aboard. All she needs is a cup of tea. We had fashioned a unique Feline Containment System ("F.C.S.", patent pending) - lightweight gates sewn of leftover no-see-um netting, dowels and sandbags - to hamper her access to the side decks. That, plus continuous noise and activity ashore, dogs on neighboring boats, and no vegetation within sight whatsoever, discouraged her from wandering beyond the sundeck for the month we have been here. What a relief.

But we have been here a month, and it's time to either get a job and look for property, or move on. We'll be moving on.

Adventure underway Sally and Ron began their passage north last week. They had been here for several months so lots of folks turned out to wave them off and bid a safe voyage. Left, Adventure backs out of her slip and into the fairway on her way out of the marina.

Our place at the Marina runs out the end of April, and we are plotting our route northward. We'll be following Adventure's wake in several days. There is a lot to do between now and then in preparation for our first overnight passage. We'll tell you all about it in the next Travelogue.

Thanks for listening -

Pat, Rick and Goldie

Back to top

Ship's Manifest