The Many Wonders of the Middle Keys

Travelogue - March 29, 2008

Well, we motored out of John Pennekamp Park just after sunrise and headed south. That was Wednesday, March 12.

We toodled southwest down the Hawk Channel - the Atlantic-side passage off the Keys. Navigating the wide channel is a lot easier than tiptoeing among the shallows of the ICW side, though it's not as scenic. But it was a beautiful day, and the wind picked up gradually as we took in the sights: Rodruigez Key, Tavernier Key, Plantation Key, and Upper Matecumbe Key.

Before noon we drew abreast of Lower Matecumbe Key. We nosed our way to the southeasterly edge of the adjacent Indian Key, idled up to a mooring ball and tied on with no problems. But the rollers were coming in off the ocean and Sea Gator rolled side to side. Blech. We quickly packed some lunch provisions and dinghied in to Indian Key State Park.

But first...

A Brief History of the Florida Keys

Shipwreck A brief internet search reveals that the Keys were settled by the Calusa Indians in ancient times. Later the Spanish treasure/loot ships returning from South American would sail through the Straits of Florida (that is, between Key West and Cuba) and the Gulf Stream but this was a dangerous route for the cumbersome Spanish vessels, considering the many off-shore reefs and constant threat of seasonal storms.

Soon came an influx of Bahamian fishermen and turtlers who, predictably, turned to "wrecking" - salvaging goods from wrecked Spanish ships - and making huge profits. Which soon attracted pirates. Eventually American occupation of Florida in 1821 (see Jerry Wilkinson's History of Indian Key) put an end to the pirates' reign, and then the Americans began to monopolize the wrecking biz. Key West became the main wrecking station in south Florida and the city grew extraordinarily wealthy as a result (hence all the huge beautiful old houses there).

One American in particular, Jacob Housman, did so well in the business that he was accused of shady dealings by the Key West establishment (see Reefs, Wreckers and Rascals at the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum website). Housman searched for greener pastures.

Which brings us at last to Indian Key.

Indian Key

The strategic location of Indian Key, nearby fresh water on Matecumbe and proximity to the most dangerous reefs, made it ideal for Housman's plans. He bought the island in 1831 and began to build his own small empire. This included a thriving store, hotel and dwellings with cisterns, as well as warehouses and wharves. Houseman turned Indian Key into a busy port with 40 to 50 permanent inhabitants...

Indian Key town All this on an island of just over ten acres. Left is a sketch made by an individual who was a child on the island. See the two photos, below right, for the island's current condition.

Housman even imported soil to the rocky outpost and grew lush tropical plants. So did one of the island's residents, Doctor Henry Perrine, a skilled amateur botanist. Perrine brought many specimens to Indian Key for experiments, while biding his time. He innocently believed that the island was a safe place to wait out the Indian Wars and when they were over he planned to start a yucca plantation for commercial production of the fiber found in its tough leaves.

Housman was continually embroiled in disputes with the Key Westers, who again accused him of illegal conduct as a wrecker. His attempt to become independent of Key West included having Indian Key made the seat of a new County. But despite his efforts, his fortune declined. He began to spend more and more of his time in court losing claims and eventually he lost his wreckers license. He mortgaged the island.

Stabilized foundations Meanwhile, hostilities between Florida settlers and the Seminole tribes were mounting. The well-stocked island became an endangered outpost. Housman managed to get military forces stationed on nearby Tea Table Key. Unbeknownst to the island's inhabitants, though, the forces were unavailable on the morning of August 7, 1840:

In the early morning a band of more than 100 Indians attacked the island. Most of the inhabitants, including Housman and his wife, managed to escape. However, some were killed in the attack and subsequent looting and burning of the buildings [including the unfortunate Dr. Perrine].

Except for one building and the stone foundations, all the structures on Indian Key were destroyed during the attack. As the survivors learned too late, the garrisons at Tea Table Key had been reduced to five able men a few days before.

Although some of the inhabitants returned to the island after the incident, Housman did not. Instead, he sold Indian Key and returned to Key West, where he served as a crew member on a wrecking vessel. In 1841, during salvage operations in rough seas, he was accidentally crushed between two ships.

Indian Key aerial view His wife had his body brought back to Indian Key for burial. He was 41 years old.

A few days after the attack Housman had signed over the Island to the United States. The army moved ashore and began reconstructing the buildings, most of which were framed over the existing foundations of cemented limestone rock (see the excavated foundations, above). The army also added a hospital and larger cisterns. As we know, the Union had control of much of Florida during the Civil War and with its water stores and hospital Indian Key would have been a useful outpost.

Eventually, of course, the Army departed and the island was visited only by looters and vandals who destroyed the remaining buildings with dynamite. Then the tropical plants, which Housman and Perrine had cultivated, began to take over. That happens quickly around here.

Our Visit

Well, sure enough we had learned much about the Island's history, but we still didn't quite know what to expect from the Park. From the deck of Sea Gator we had seen the Park dock all mangled and roped off - still awaiting repairs after the hurricanes of 2005 (although the devastated moorings had been repaired, for which we were grateful). Abandoning our rolling ship we motored Bump Head around to the lee of the island and drew him ashore.

Crushed shell paths There was a faint trail through the woods, so I followed it north - which of course proved to be a dead end. Rick went south and soon came upon a crushed-shell sidewalk! He hollered and I eventually located him. The walks the Park has constructed turned out to be built upon the faint traces of the old settlement roads - you can see the street grid in the aerial photo, above right. We followed them to the Park dock - see it protruding at the lower left corner of the aerial photo. Then we retraced our steps to learn the layout of town.

The sidewalks/roads form a nice walkable grid, with the Town Square in the center. The Square is kept open and free of encroaching plants, probably with considerable difficulty.

View from the tower With the help of state universities the Park has been conducting archeological excavations on the island. They are assisted by the written memoirs of some of Dr. Perrine's children who survived the final attack (see the sketch of town prepared by one of them, above) and are piecing together which buildings existed where.

Interpretive signs pointed out faint clearings in the brush, or bits of foundation and rubble where homes or businesses used to be. The ruins of Housman's large warehouse has been excavated so you can see its prominent location overlooking the sea, to the right of the town square in the aerial photo.

We climbed the Park's look-out tower - from there we could see the ruins of cisterns through the brush (above right) and the Alligator Reef light on the horizon. Presumably, the wreckers on watch could see the lights of ships in distress upon the reef and know when a rescue and salvage were at hand.

The Park has not resumed its guided tours of Indian Key, since the boatloads of tourists can't be trucked to the damaged dock. Rick and I had to ask each other lots of questions, which we couldn't answer. We'd like to return someday to relentlessly grill an unsuspecting knowledgeable person when one becomes available.

Rick snoozing We finally located at a nice shaded bench overlooking the Reef. We ate a late lunch and I had some Bonine for dessert (it's similar to Dramamine but doesn't cause quite the drowsiness) in anticipation of returning to a rolling Sea Gator. We each managed a little nap (left), and the awake person's job was to say hello to the few other island visitors. There were more people kayaking along the shore than walking the trails.

Eventually we headed back to Bump Head and not a moment too soon. The tide had been going out, as expected. To avoid damaging sea grass and Bump Head's prop, Rick rowed us nearly all the way to Sea Gator. Later that evening the route we followed was nearly a beach.

The Bonine helped but (just in case) I spent the rest of the afternoon sitting on Sea Gator's bow with my back against the windshield, feeling the sun on my legs and the wind in my face. Rick worked at his laptop. Goldie stretched out in the sunshine pouring in on her glossy fur as she lie inside, pressed against the windshield just behind me. It was a nice afternoon for everyone.

Calmer Waters - Islamorada

The next morning we cast off our mooring bright and early, and headed in to the protected waters of the ICW. We crossed beneath the Indian Key Bridge, passed Lignumvitae Key and Shell Key, and found anchorage in the lee of Islamorada.

Sunset We had anchored here last year, and we learned a lot about the place then. This day, in keeping with our policy, we stayed aboard for the rest of the day and night after setting the anchor, just to be sure all was well as the wind and tide changed. It was calm and quiet here except for the wake from passing fishing boats, and we worked on Work and accomplished a lot.

We experienced one of the most beautiful sunsets we'd seen, ever. Here is Rick's sunset photo.

And we had plenty of peace and quiet to ourselves, until...

One of the things that we had laughed about with our new acquaintances Bart and Karen, is how some people will snug up to you unnecessarily. Like, in a restroom with twenty available stalls, someone is bound to settle into the one right next to you. And in a wide open anchorage, it seems there is often someone who will anchor right up close. It must be human nature.

Well, sure enough a trawler came putting along and plopped right down next to us in this enormous anchorage. They ran their generator A LOT and we could hear it and smell the exhaust. And it was embarrassing because they were our exact same boat! Only they had green canvas and we have blue. We looked like twins, huddled together out there. And they didn't even say hello. Tsk tsk.

Bronze mangrove railings Friday morning we awoke bright and early and dinghied to shore. There is a corner of the bay there (at the foot of the big radio tower FYI) where a road deadends at the water and people use it as a boat ramp. We brought Bump Head there, splashed him ashore and tied him in the mangroves, nicely tucked out of the way.

Need I say that we walked straight to the World Wide Sportsman? We both bought new SPF sunshirts - my orange one is starting to fray so I bought a flamingo pink one.

And we noticed this amazing detail: among many architectural gems on the property, here were beautiful bronze railings, cast in the likeness of mangroves! See their arching roots and perfect leaves. It was uplifting to see such beautiful craftsmanship.

Back to Sea Gator for another afternoon of Work.

The next day - Saturday - we brought our bikes ashore and rode straight to Lor-E-Lei's resturant. For the first time ever, anywhere, I have to say it was not a perfect breakfast. I was stunned, and so was Rick. We're guessing it was an off-day and we'll try them again another time.

But we were fueled up for our big adventure: Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park.

Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park

Limestone Hurricane monument Ever since we encountered Florida's limestone monuments (Islamorada's Hurricane Monument, for example, right) and the limestone veneer on Key West's post office, we wanted to see the quarry. The Keys are actually an elevated ancient reef, you know, composed of fossilized corals with a little wind-blown dust to give plants a false start:

The chain of the Keys was formed of "Key Largo Limestone" over 125,000 years ago. Over the centuries the sea rose and fell. At times the water level was approximately 25 feet higher than at present while at other times the ocean levels dropped by as much as 300 feet, revealing the entire Florida Plateau.

About 5,000 years ago, the water level stabilized and the ancient coral reef crest that remained exposed created the islands we call the Florida Keys...

We looked around on Key Largo, in vain. No one seemed to know anything about it.

Windley Key visitors center Finally I chanced upon a reference to the Windley Key Fossil Reef Geological State Park. Hooray! This was our real purpose in returning to Islamorada. We rode our bikes up the Highway and across the bridge to Windley Key.

The Russell family farmed Windley Key until they sold the whole island to Henry Flagler (for, like, eight hundred bucks) in 1908 (we explored Flagler's "Railroad That Went to Sea" in last year's Marathon travelogue). Lying just north of Islamorada, Windley Key is the highest point on the chain of islands. At first, Flagler excavated materials with dynamite to use as fill on the railroad. Later enormous blocks of stone were harvested from three on-site quarries. The unique stone was sliced to size then buffed and polished for decorative purposes, monuments and architectural veneers.

Cutting machine The quarry was active into the 1960s and today stands as a reserved geological treasure. The clean cuts of the quarry machinery reveal the perfectly preserved fossilized specimens of a variety of ancient coral animals. The Park offers a rare opportunity to professional geologists and curious visitors to compare the living corals of today with their fossilized ancestors. The limestone cuts also reveal the thin layer of soil that supports the abundant variety of botanical life that thrives in the subtropical environment of the Keys.

The Visitor's Center, above, is named for the woman who spearheaded the effort to - guess what? - yes, save the quarries from a planned condominium development. Rick and I walked the trails and marveled at the opportunity to see such an amazing thing. And to think that the revealed fossils and cut limestone walls were this close to being covered with concrete for condo foundations. Another miracle brought about by one human being's determination to do the right thing.

Drilled wall What is so very cool about this particular Park is its juxtaposition of natural history and human history. The workers apparently picked up their lunch pails and walked away from the quarry on their last day, leaving the machinery and the cut blocks where they lay. Today, the big cutting machine (above right) sits atop the main quarry wall near the Visitor's Center, its chisels rusting in the groves they had cut decades ago.

Drilled quarry In the quarry that was worked first the blocks were excised by drilling rows of closely-spaced holes. Like cutting a bite of cake by jabbing down with your fork, only more difficult. I don't know how they drilled such consistent holes repeatedly, one after another after another after another. The walls that remain look corrugated (left) and are up to eight feet high. Because the drilling left a rough surface the detail of the fossils here is hard to make out.

Right, there's the "drilled" quarry with its pleated walls and its park-like open center (and the new pink sunshirt). The hollow of the quarry was huge - I'm about mid-point along the wall, and all four walls were just as high and long. Imagine the volume of stone that was removed from this space! Today there was a great sense of enclosure as a result of the textured stone walls and the living forest arching above. It was a lovely spot and there were picnic tables available in the shade.

Rick admiring cut wall In the more recent quarry they used the machine (above) to gouge parallel grooves in the stone by repeatedly banging a set of huge chisels, then they moved the machine sideways to create a parallel row of cuts, and so forth. Then they rotated it 90-degrees on its rails to make the perpendicular cuts. Then (somehow) they sliced the block free from beneath. Right, Rick stands amazed before a wall of cut stone with its series of parallel cuts.

The cut walls much more clearly display the fossilized corals than the drilled walls, so that's where these detail photos were taken. It was amazing. We wished we'd had a magnifying glass - be sure to bring one when you go.

Fossil coral Even with the naked eye there were places you could lean in close and actually see where each and every coral polyp that had lived there left its imprint in fine detail. A few gouges marked where geologists had taken slabs away to study; such brutal research techniques are no longer permitted.

Fossil coral polyps Now the quarry is closed and the machines are silent, and the forest has come back. Trees growing near the edge of the precipice have flung their roots down over the wounded walls like a living waterfall, to anchor with a joyful splash in the ground far below. Our visit brought us from the time of ancient life forms now fossilized to modern creatures very vigorously alive.

The numbered trail guide was useful, the Visitor's Center was air conditioned and had excellent displays and clean bathrooms. We could have spent the entire day examining fossils but we had made up our mind to move Sea Gator that afternoon. So we hopped on our bikes and entered the frenzied modern world back on Highway 1.

Getting Underway

A front was moving in and ferocious winds were predicted. We aimed to be safely attached to a mooring buoy in Boot Key Harbor by Sunday. But it was only Saturday and we were enjoying being out and about. We decided to check out yet another new anchorage as we meandered south.

We returned from our visit to Windley Key by early afternoon, and dinghied the bikes back aboard. Then began the process of getting Sea Gator underway: winching Bump Head aboard, stowing the bikes, lashing everything down, doing a pre-cruise engine room check, getting our charts and GPS ready on the bridge, stowing Goldie safely in her berth, etc. We have the system down to twenty minutes if we concentrate.

On this day we were underway in 30 minutes. We motored back to the ICW and headed south. We wound our way through two narrow "passes" in the shallow Bay, then turned toward Lower Matecumbe Key

Matecumbe Bight Anchorage

Matecumbe sunset What a pretty place! It is oriented about the same relative to winds as Islamorada anchorage, but it is much smaller and quieter. There was one sailboat in a far corner, and another came in to the opposite corner during the evening. Only a few fishing boats passed during the evening.

Rick followed his tradition of recording sunsets at each anchorage. This was a beauty, overlooking the expanse of Florida Bay.

We don't know of any place to dinghy to from this anchorage - if anyone out there does, please let us know. So it's not great for a long stay but we're glad to have it in our back pocket as another safe anchorage.


We arose before daylight and had completed our breakfast and our pre-cruise checklist by the time is was light enough to navigate. We weighed anchor at 7:30 a.m.

Parasail Southward bound, again, we looped around Lower Matecumbe Key and returned to the Atlantic beneath the tall, wide Channel Five bridge. We waved at the ill-fated Long Key Bight anchorage as we passed - location of our first stay in the Keys last year and not a pleasant memory. Then we continued out into Hawk Channel and southward.

It was a beautiful day for a cruise. Right, a parasailor out of Duck Key drifts overhead.

I was anxious to get to Boot Key Harbor in Marathon and secure a mooring. The mooring field is quite new, as I described in last year's Marathon travelogue. This year there are 226 mooring balls available first-come-first-served. We've heard that even with all these buoys they fill up and often there is a waiting list. We really didn't want to ride out the front at an exposed anchorage.

We arrived in time and we were assigned to #U3. It is out in left field - very close to where the sailboat Heart's Desire was anchored last year. But it is quiet here, and away from the lights of the marina and adjacent ball field it's dark and peaceful. And we're not complaining.

We opened the windows to catch as much of the cool breeze as possible, gave Goldie her post-cruise Senior Feline Vitamin Snack and fresh cool water and a good ear rub. Then we launched Bump Head and motored in to the marina. It was a simple task to fill out the paperwork there, except I had to trudge through the heat back to the dinghy dock to get Bump Head's registration number. These folks are definitely detail oriented, which (as you would anticipate) I approve.

Then we hightailed it next door to the enormous and very nice Marathon Community Park and the annual Marathon Seafood Festival being held there that very weekend. Imagine!

Marathon Seafood Festival

It was hot. And I started to wonder if we'd ever make it. We'd made a false start, hiking around to the back of the Park where we'd entered and exited last year. No go: volunteers and vendors only. We plodded around to the Highway, then down to mid block and the entrance. Finally!

Key Lime Band We paid our entry fee and I asked for a map of vendors, since we were there to visit Karen and Bart at their son's booth. The lady said, "I don't have a map but they may have one at the entrance." WHAT!? This wasn't actually the entrance, apparently. We were required to descend several more layers into the inferno.

More circuitous plodding like dazed rats in a sweltering maze, until finally we entered the broad green lawn and shady tents of the Festival.

The Festival was rocking: there was a band playing Latin tunes, over here a row of food and beverage vendors, a row of tents with picnic tables, over there many rows of art and craft vendors, and more booths featuring service organizations. We were overwhelmed so making food the first item of business was just good sense. Rick went to the peel-and-eat-shrimp booth and I got us a burger and coke (I was too hungry to navigate the seafoods, sorry). We found adjacent seats at a long picnic table under a tent and dug in. The shrimp was PERFECT! The burger was filling.

Angel Flight

I looked up from my lunch long enough to notice that the two gentlemen seated across from us wore matching shirts embroidered Angel Flight Southeast. We exchanged greetings and then I said "So what is Angel Flight?"

Ted said "I'm glad you asked!" and he explained their mission with enthusiasm.

Angel Flight Southeast is a group of volunteers: licensed pilots who donate their own airplanes and their time and expenses to transport ill individuals from remote towns to distant hospitals for care. From their website, "Angel Flight arranges free air transportation in response to health care and other compelling human needs."

Mark and Ted Ted shared an example. "When someone from down in the Keys needs chemo they have to go to Miami. That 90 miles through traffic from Marathon to Miami is an excrutiating long drive when you've just gone through a treatment. We can fly it in 30 minutes, so people get to go home instead of staying overnight. And," he added, wiping the sweat from his brow, "My plane has air conditioning."

Mark, South Florida's Wing Leader, told us that "A group of our pilots also fly for transplants. The extra qualification is they have to have instrument rating." When an appropriate transplant becomes available, the organ and its recipient only have about four hours to unite in the operating room. Someone or something has to get somewhere fast. They can't necessarily wait around for morning light.

These guys were great to talk with and their enthusiasm was genuine. They described the satisfaction they gain from helping people, and how much they just love to fly.

Angel Flight is a national organization with regional divisions, including Angel Flight West. They are proud members of the Air Charity Network whose motto is "Giving Hope Wings."

Y'all, if you want to be a part of a worthy cause AND spend more time in the air, check out the websites above. Note that these websites allow browsers to request an angel flight, join the organization, or contribute in various ways.

We wish Ted and Mark safe flights and smooth landings.

Naked Buck and Other Sights

Well, back we went into the merciless rays of the broiling sun. I took every opportunity to step into the shade of craft booths. Funny how the jewelry artisans had the best shade.

We eventually followed our nose to Buck Naked's Reef Rub. Bart and Karen had told us they'd be there. We guessed they would be partially if not entirely naked or at least, well... rubbing things.

Buck Naked's booth But no. Come to find out, Karen's son is a trained chef and has spent years perfecting this low-sodium herbal blend of "33 unique gourmet ingredients." The whole family was there, whipping up demonstration samples on a tiny grill and consequently selling a lot of Buck Naked's Reef Rub.

It was delicious. Flavorful but delicate. We learned that each spice is ground to a different texture, thus releasing its flavor in an orchestrated sequence. Seriously, it does that.

Rick and I bought two 4.5 oz. containers, one to use on the boat and one to bring home. Karen assured us from her experience that "it won't cake up like other seasonings on the boat." This is good news, because the humidity plays havoc with some ingredients. She also said we could email "Buck" to order bagged refills, thus saving the shake-bottle from going into a landfill. We respect that.

The website is worth visiting to see the logo there - a former Disney illustrator created the artwork on website and bottle. There is no order page, but you'll have to come dine with us sometime and try it out yourself.

Here in the photo are Karen and her son, still smiling after two long days. They are almost sold out for the second day in a row. It was a successful weekend for them.

Meanwhile, Rick enticed Bart to come away for a few minutes and the two were immediately embroiled in sunshine and conversation. Neither one of them was any good at helping me choose earrings, I might add. Rick just grinned and shrugged. Bart said in all honesty, "I don't know these things. I could flip a coin and give you as good an answer." That's one of the things we like so well about Bart: he is absolutely sincere. He means what he says.

So you see why I had no choice but to buy both pairs of earrings.

Student displays Queen Conch In other news, we visited a booth where marine biology students introduced visitors to Keys wildlife. This young man asked loudly, "Ever eat a conch fritter? Well, this is what you ate." He was constantly surrounded by a group of thrilled and flamboyantly grossed-out kids. Plus Rick, Bart and I and several other fascinated grown ups.

At yet another shady booth Rick and Bart learned the latest from Robert Keeley of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Keeley was our font of knowledge last year as well. They learned more about utilizing the Sanctuary's reef mooring balls, so both men are looking forward to an opportunity to try those.

Rick revisited the beer booth and we listened to a fun band called The Key Lime Pie Band (photo, way above right), local folks from the islands. It was a very fun day.

We eventually made it back to Sea Gator for a half-hearted snack and early bed time.

Holed Up in the Harbor

The wind really kicked up hard, as predicted. Many folks were out and about in their dinghies, motoring past us, soaking wet from the waves and spray. We stayed aboard and Worked. It was very productive. But by Wednesday we were ready to brave the waves and go stretch our legs.

Dining terrace at the Stuffed Pig First order of business: breakfast. We scampered across the four screaming lanes of Highway 1 to arrive at the nearby Stuffed Pig. Their sheltered dining patio (right) looks as though it was formerly a garden center, what with the samples of different paving styles and so forth.

The setting was perfect, the food was excellent and the waitress was a delight. She talked about bike riding on the island and told us about her accident. She admitted she was not wearing her helmet at the time, and we all "tsk tsk"ed in unison. But her timely warning reminded us to be wary.

We walked as far south as the West Marine store to get a replacement horn. Rick has replaced the thing three times now - it must fry in the spray because we never use it. We only knew it was on the fritz again when we tried to respond to an overtaking vessel's signal and couldn't. Boy did we feel like a pair of greenhorns when we couldn't TOOT back and had to turn around and wave instead. Anyway, the horn was less than 30 days old so Rick was able to obtain a replacement. Let's hope it has more longevity.

Tiki hut construction Then we walked north to the post office to fetch an oversized and overweight package: our forwarded mail. In which was my new updated 2008 AutoCAD LT software and the accompanying 698-page "it's so easy a chimp can do it" introductory guide. Guess what I'll be doing in Key West?

Back at the Marina: Here is how you build a tiki hut. You hire a crew of Hispanic guys all nicely dressed in matching Tshirts. Then you saunter around in the shade talking on your cell phone while your crew, with amazing speed and agility, peel and strip massive quantities of palm fronds and nail them to a bamboo frame.

Tiki hut construction Maybe this will be the Marina's new "meet and greet" shelter? We don't know, since we haven't met nor greeted much of anyone yet.

On another day, we walked south to a used book store and went wild. Rick bought "The Complete Anthology of American Literature." I bought the collected writings of Rudyard Kipling and Carl Haissen's latest "Nature Girl" which is set at Everglades City and the Ten Thousand Islands. I admit I finished Haissen and haven't yet opened Kipling.

There is an extensive though disorganized book swap/library at the marina and I poured through that. Last year's choices were better but I picked up a fun little sword-and-sorcery tale for beach reading.

Buoy maintenance team That weekend we dinghied down Sister Creek to the Atlantic - a shortcut to the Sombrero Beach. Last year we rode our bikes to the beach which was great, but this was defintely quicker. We had a nice swim in the perfect water, then climbed out to rest on the sand and read our new books. But after an hour of hiding from the sun, we figured: what's the point of hanging on the beach when you have to hide from the sun? So we headed on home.

On another windy day, this man (left) came along to the buoys. There is a diver attached to the business end of that yellow hose. The diver was towed from buoy to buoy riding on the black float. I leaned over and called, "Whatchadoin' there?" Hat Man yelled, "Maintaining the buoys!" Wow - it's pretty nice that we all don't have to maintain our own buoys for a change. So I yelled back, "Thank you!" He laughed. The team visited all the buoys in this section before moving on.

On the moorings To our amazement, our next-door neighbor was a Pilgrim 40. We've only seen three so far and for a brief moment we thought it would be cool if it were Jazz with her new owners, but it was Christine. Here we all are on the buoys, Sea Gator left of center but holding her own. The Pilgrim 40 "horses" around on her tether exactly as reported by Don and Gillian W.

A common task here at the mooring field is fetching water: $.05 per gallon on the honor system. Fresh water is precious here in the Keys where it is brought in from the mainland. We paid in advance for 60 gallons. The water station is at the end of the canal which also houses the marina office and dinghy docks.

The pressurized water is delivered via a length of flexible hose with a ball valve at the end so you can turn the water on and off right at your jerrycans - no waste. There is a rigid horizontal white pipe at shoulder height to hold on to and to loop the hose through when you're done. That lattice panel is suspended there at the water line to protect soft-sided dinghies from barnacles and shells at low tide. In the foreground you see some "hard sided" dinghies lined up on their assigned section of docks.

Rick at the water station Left, Rick has just finished filling our two six-gallon jerrycans.

Filling the cans while they sit in the bottom of the dinghy is a wonderful convenience. Once we get home, though, it's the lifting of them up onto the swim platform - solely a job for Rick - then holding them steady while gradually pouring them into the tank. Whose access pipe is on a vertical surface, go figure. So a flexible long-necked funnel and a steady hand are also involved. Rick is an old pro by now.

On a side note, we hear that cruisers and sailors in the Bahamas pay over $.50 per gallon of fresh water. Ominously, water will soon be more precious than fuel in the islands.

Homecoming On alternate days Rick helped load my folded bike into Bump Head and I chauffeured myself to shore, reconstructed the bike, and rode to the north end of the island to meet with a group of wise women to discuss common problems and common solutions. It was nice to feel so welcome by strangers - I didn't have to introduce myself as a visitor after the first day either, as familiar faces recognized mine from last year.

And one day I stuffed my bike into the trunk of Sally's Volvo and we all caravaned to Ann's house overlooking the Bay, where we shared pot luck (cheeseburgers, pasta salad, mini creampuffs) and heartening conversation. I don't know what we talked about for those several hours but I know I felt great afterward.

That's when I found myself on the Bay side of the island, thus I discovered the backroads behind the airport on the ride home. It was an excellent day.

There's the crew returning home: me, Bump Head, my bike, two 6-gallon jerrycans full of fresh water and one grocery bag.

Last but not least, we met a woman named Betty who lives aboard her 46' trawler. Betty is sole proprietor and captain of Lili. She is constantly on the lookout for friends to serve as crew so she can travel about. Betty and I shared some stories back and forth about dealing with the effects of windy weather (high anxiety) and the subsequent calm nights at remote anchorages (great joy). Lili is heading north toward Miami this weekend and I wish the ship and her crew smooth cruising and a well-set anchor on the way.


The days leading up to Rick's birthday were windy - again. The storms from the north must have blown something new down from the Everglades, as Rick was hit hard with allergies. Sneezing and a runny nose laid him low the day before his birthday.

Dockside entertainer Several other folks we met, and Rick's mom way north in Punta Gorda, reported the same symptoms. It was a widespread dose of pollen for sure.

Fortunately, Rick rallied in time for a dinghy ride over to the Dockside Bar and Grill ("Smallest Kitchen in the Keys") for his favorite: Coconut Shrimp and beer. We also enjoyed the talented singer/guitarist who was there that evening (left). He played lots of fun oldies. Rick and I played name-that-tune and Rick won consistently, being very skilled at identifying a tune after only a few notes. Thus showing his age.

Rick says he learned the skill by going head-to-head with his brother Norm for years on end as they slaved over "diggies" in the shop. But that's another story.

Happy Birthday, Rick!

Travel Plans

We hope to be southbound and underway on Saturday. Our goal is an anchorage (new to us) called Newfound Harbor, where we plan to stay for several days of upcoming winds. From there we'll head into Key West and snuggle in to our dock for the month of April.

Unfortunately, we don't have any Wyoming friends scheduled to visit us in Key West this year, but we hope to see some other friends we know and meet new folks as we enjoy the southernmost island.

In Conclusion

Goldie attacks This travelogue did meander from Natural Wonders in the Parks to Heavy Traffic on Highway 1, but that's the story of our travels.

I had reminded readers of the Vulture Trawler we saw last year. So my mom did a little homework and filled me in on Turkey Vulture lore. Millie reported that the birds - although spooky looking - are innocuous and they are "always flocking, they never attack because they eat only carrion; a docile bird whose most annoying trait is too much curiosity. They don't seem to believe that you want them to go away. The only thing they might have done (likely did) was leave the guy needing his pooper scooper to clean up their calling cards."

She shoots So the malevolence I thought I saw in their glinting beady little eyes was actually in my imagination. That is good news.

On the mammalian front, Goldie's finely tuned ear knows the meaning of the word "snacks" although she hears it only now and then. Yet the phrase "No-godammit-get-your-furry-butt-off-my-desk" holds no meaning for her, though she's heard that one at least a hundred times.

Goldie sleeps much of the day, of course, but she gets her second wind in the evening and then it's showtime: She shadows around looking innocent until we spot her and pretend to give chase - then she charges through the boat, ricocheting off steps, beds and cabinets.

She scores Finally she aims for the settee and soars through the air, to land smack in the middle of the stash of crinkley paper, all four paws slapping and grappling and making a delicious racket.

If one is brave and VERY quick, one may taunt her by pulling on the papers or wrapping her in another layer. This is not a game for the timid: in all my life with cats I have never seen a creature move so swiftly and forcefully as Goldie hurtling herself from one side of the settee to the other. Her actions leave no doubt that she is dangerously single-minded as a predator.

When she's had enough she bursts off the settee and charges around some more. This is repeated over and over until one of us calls it a night.

She coughs Here Goldie rips the bejeebers out of a sheet of crispy butcher paper. Next to go was wrapping paper from Rick's birthday gift. All I know is, it's time to do some filing of my Work drawings before she casts her golden eye about the boat for a new plaything.

We hope you all are keeping warm and dry, and keeping all four tires/ four paws/ two feet securely on the road. Thanks for listening.

Pat, Rick and Goldie

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