Key West - the Travelogue

Travelogue - April 20, 2008

We left Boot Key Harbor in our wake on Saturday morning, March 29, one year to the day after we had commenced upon the same final southbound leg last year.

Like Ships Passing...

We set an angled course from the mouth of Boot Key Harbor toward Hawk Channel, enjoying the scenery and waving at other boaters. We admired a pair of beautiful Defever trawlers, northbound. As we passed in opposite directions the Defever captains waved mightily and we waved back, and a moment later our VHF radio crackled to life: "Sea Gator, Sea Gator, Sea Gator. Aurora."

Little Palm Island Of all the shortcuts of all the channels of all the oceans in all the world... There were Steve and Diane aboard Aurora, accompanied by their friend Blessing, on their way to Boot Key Harbor. We had a nice radio chat and email follow up the next day.

Aurora is on her way to New York - her first time "home" since 9/11/02. Steve and Diane sent us their best for a nice time in "Key Weird" and we wish them a safe journey and nice homecoming this summer.

Newfound Harbor

We spent the night at an anchorage we hadn't tried before. Newfound Harbor is a very pretty spot. On the way in you pass Little Palm Island, where slips (not even the beach-side cabanas, but slips) run upwards of $700 per night! Here is the beach, above right. Look but don't touch.

There was a lot of swing-room at the anchorage. Because of a nearby low-flying power line all masted craft are required to stay back a ways. So we had lots of room and we put out plenty of rode, anticipating a breezy night.

Rick dove on our anchor to check its set and found that all was well.

It's good to have experienced as many safe anchorages as we can find. Now, Newfound Harbor is one more safe place that we know we can get into when need be.

Garrison Bight Mooring Field

I'll skip over the details here. Short story: there are not nor will there ever be tethers on any of these buoys. They say that boaters are to anchor (illegally) in the nearby Navy channel and set a temporary pennant on the chosen buoy via dinghy. A long process indeed.

Garrison Bight We had a different plan. Which immediately failed, due to the simple but immutable laws of hydrodynamics which any two-year-old who has ever played with a plastic tugboat in the bathtub could have foretold. Before we could launch Plan B a very nice couple came over in their dinghy and they passed our lines for us. It was a dangerous maneuver for them, as they repeatedly placed themselves between our tether lines and our big boat. "Watch your necks," I kept admonishing. But we tied on OK and thanked them. And it was then our turn to help the next boat that came in.

Speaking of tethers, I was far beyond the end of mine. When we dinghied in to register I deliberately stayed outside while Rick did the talking. And so I did not spend our first Key West night in jail.

Here is a photo of the field, above left. We spent a couple windy weather days there, but got a fair amount of Work done and all was well.


Duval entrepreneur On April 1st we circumnavigated Fleming Key and entered Key West Bight. We tied up safe and snug at our slip at Key West Marina, where we'll be for the month of April.

Speaking of ships passing, we had missed Ron and Sally and Yuri of Adventure in Ft. Myers Beach last February, by mere hours. Apparently we also somehow missed them at the Marathon Seafood Festival a couple of weeks ago! So it was good to see them at the Key West Marina dock and doing so well.

Dock party On the evening of one of our first days in Key West, six of us ventured to Santiago's Bodega, a fun tapas restaurant in Bahama Village. We tried quite a number of interesting dishes and shared them around.

After dinner we strolled the nuttiness of Duval Street. It hasn't changed. We encountered this creative entrepreneur, above right. I told him, "OK, give me a buck and I'll tell you a dirty joke." He corrected me, of course, but he said, "I'm already drunk so I don't care. Go ahead." As it happened my joke was way too clean for him, and his joke wasn't even funny. AND he did not pay me a dollar! That's poor business practice, no wonder his office is on a curb.

Dock party A few days later our friends invited us to crash their "E" Dock Party (we are on "D" Dock, which is not quite so socially advanced obviously). It was a very pleasant evening.

There was some drama, too, when one gentleman's hat was blown into the water. All the men leapt into action! Bob went to fetch his boathook, Rick stretched out on the dock to fish with the boathook for the hat, and Ron raced down the dock to Adventure to fire up his dinghy and speed to the rescue! All the while, Hat Man was saying, "Really, it's not a big deal," and Sally was saying, "It's just a hat."

There is no such thing as "just a hat" so the rescue was effected. Above left, see the valiant crew: Ron, Bob, um... Hat Man, and Rick.

Right see the skeptical helpmates: Rhonda, Sally, Patty, Barbara and Pat.

All's well that ends well, and Rick and I had a lot of fun.

Night Life - Just Say YES

I have nothing against Night Life. Really. I just wish it happened... you know...

Earlier in the day.

Host, Key West Ghost Tour Nevertheless. In pursuit of fine live music to enjoy, Rick and I hiked Duval Street. In a single-block span there were over a dozen bars and eight had live music. We listened on the sidewalk, chatted up some fellow tourists, and moved to the next.

Some of our favorite music happened nearby, at Schooner Wharf right here at the Historic Seaport. We heard many interesting bands and learned unusual instruments. One fellow played a "wind synthesizer" which is just what it's called, but I don't know that I've ever heard one before.

Our other favorite proved to be The Green Parrot, which consistently had excellent blues and rock.

Meanwhile we established a new Sea Gator Adventure Policy: On this visit to Key West we will try anything that fate chooses to place in our path. We decided that we will say YES without preconceptions of the outcome. That's a tall order, but why not? Why limit ourselves to that which we already know? So we have enjoyed a number of new experiences during our stay here.

Starting our first week. Whereas last year we had scoffed and turned up our nose, this year we said "yes" to The Key West Ghost Tour.

Ghost Tour

Such a tourist trap, we had snickered. Well, we discovered that the Key West Ghost Tour was a heck of a show.

Meet Ray, above right, the showman himself. Yes, he is wearing a cape and top hat. He kept us in line and walked us first to the old cemetery behind the Episcopal Church downtown. He said the first town cemetery was located there until a hurricane flooded the town and - not only did the townsfolk have to pick up the shattered remains of their homes and lives - they had to re-bury their dead relatives who had been unearthed and lodged in trees and so forth. Oh dear.

Mysterious photo So, today few graves remain on this site. But spooooooky things have happened here, you bet. And Ray promised us that if we all took photographs, "energy will attract energy" and soon there would be souls and spirits floating nearby, which the camera would capture but the eye would not see.

Sure, Ray. Well, we all shot many photos and the latter shots began looking like this, left. Hmmm.

Sun flares? No sun. Pollen? The adjacent garden didn't have these. Water drops on the lens? It wasn't raining. Reflections from glass? No, the "orbs" moved by themselves.

Eventually I could see sparks in the air whenever anyone shot a flash, but no one else saw that.

The orbs appeared in photos at other "hot spots", but nowhere else in town. Woo-OOO-ooo!

Although we did not leap to any conclusions about unseen entities our arm hairs stood on end now and then, and that's the point of a Ghost Tour.

Florida Powerboat Club

How can I describe the arrival of a dozen hot-rod boats into our quiet little corner of Key West? Here we were all quietly minding our own business, when suddenly a herd of phallic speedboats blundered loudly into the marina. I was concerned about Goldie's sensative eardrums, but - for the most part - this year the boaters did not rev REV rev REV rev REV their turbocharged motors for hours after arrival as they did last year. Most of them simply cut their engines and tied up. We were grateful.

Cigarette Boats Here are some of the boats near us. The crew of young toughs all wore matching sunglasses. White ones, like my goddaughter Megan used to wear.

According to their web page, the Florida Powerboat Club's mission is "To promote safe, responsible powerboating in a group setting and assist performance boating enthusiasts in many ways to achieve the maximum enjoyment from their Florida powerboating lifestyles." A noble goal. Their home page shows one boat and ten breasts. Okaaaay.

Rick became acquainted with the fast-boater berthed behind us. That friendly gentleman shared with us that his boat has two 550 hp gasoline engines. He said both engines must be replaced every 200 hours, at an approximate cost of $50,000-$80,000. And that's not a FAST fast-boat. The FAST fast boats operate with two or more 800+ hp engines. No wonder they are noisy.

Just as when the Snow Machine Hill Climb descends upon Jackson, if one can get out of town, one gits. So we got. We went out to Rock Key to snorkel, and on our way out we saw history in the making.

Return of the Schooner Western Union

On April 12, the historic schooner and flagship of Key West's tall ship fleet Western Union returned home. Below, see Western Union on the left, escorted by Appledore.

Tall ships The Western Union was built in the Cayman islands and Key West. She was the last tall ship built in the Keys, and was built expressly for the Western Union Telegraph Company whom she served as an auxiliary cable-laying schooner in the Gulf of Mexico from 1939 to 1974.

Her timbers, or frames, are of Cayman Mahogany; her planking is 2" Long Leaf Yellow Pine (a tree now rare and protected in the Keys). She has two engines to maintain her steadiness at sea while laying cable...

In 2002, our sunset cruise aboard the Schooner Western Union was one of the highlights of our trip. But last year, when we went to visit her at her slip at the wharf, we saw that she had a "For Sale" sign on her dusty decks. This, we thought, was not good.

Apparently many other folks agreed. A concerted effort was launched by Keys' citizens which resulted in the creation of the Schooner Western Union Preservation Society and the ship's salvation for the benefit of all. We didn't know this in advance, so when we arrived in Key West on the 1st and saw that she was gone we were desolate. Until we learned that in fact she was temporarily in Miami for some Coast Guard-required upgrades prior to carrying any more passengers. And that she was scheduled to come home on April 12.

Tall and taller ships Back to our snorkle trip: We were on our way to the Reef and we timed our trip to coincide with Western Union's triumphant return. The entire tall ship fleet had sailed out to meet her, along with a number of smaller private sailboats (including our neighbor Boomerang, almost invisible just this side of the last tall ship).

It was fun listening to the ships' captains on the VHF, and seeing the ships all sailing together escorting their flagship home was a stirring sight.

As the fleet came abeam of the Enchantment of the Seas (above left, and right there's little Boomerang ahead of Jolly Rover) they looked tiny by comparison. Weary Western Union, near the cruise ship's bow, has already lowered her sails. Several minutes later we heard her captain herald their arrival in the Bight - "Securité, securité, securité..." - a general heads-up to other boat traffic. He requested forebearance, explaining that they were on a single engine and maneuvering with some difficulty. Continuing conversation confirmed that other boats stayed respectfully clear until Western Union was safely tucked in her berth.

The dock party continued with hot dogs and beer, we are told, and everyone is happy to have the beautiful ship back where she belongs. Additional retrofitting, time consuming and pricey, is still to come. But we are buoyed with hope.

Strike a triumph for Beauty and History.

Rock Key

Fishies I should say, we were buoyed with hope then crushed with reality. Our snorkel trip that day was discouraging. Not just that it was pretty rough out there - the nearby catamaran on the reef mooring buoy was stable but Sea Gator rocked and rolled on her semi-displacement mono-hull.

No, it was that we were baffled at the condition of the reef: lots of dead coral in the vicinity where we were. We wished to stay down-current of the crashing waves atop the reef, so we don't know if conditions were better elsewhere.

Rick photographed these nice fishies. But it was too rough for me, like being in a washing machine, so we returned home after just a few hours.

Big Boats and Heavy Lines

Arrival of the cruise ship Those cruise ships simply dwarf the "tall ships" passing beneath, as you could see above. Sheesh. "It would be hard enough maneuvering Western Union on one engine, can you imagine bringing one of those beasts into port?" we asked each other. Nope; we'd watched a Disney ship cast off and that was cool enough. But arrival? We determined to find out how it was done by the pros.

We checked the newspaper for a listing of cruise ship arrivals and departures. Then we set our alarm for an early awaking and arrived at the end of the pier bright and early, with camera at the ready when the Majesty of the Seas eased into view from far out in the Atlantic.

Disgorging mooring lines We guessed that a harbor pilot was already aboard. Meanwhile, this flat boat and its twin delivered line handlers in orange vests to their posts. The concrete islands have several large cleats as you can see, and enormous fenders (bumpers) on the outside. Another team was stationed at a set of on-shore cleats far forward of the bow, and a final team was stationed at the cleats behind the stern. Everybody waited, Rick and I eagerly, the fellows in orange nonchalantly.

Once the ship was nearly abeam of her mooring she eased silently to a full stop. Then she slid sideways toward land - using "thrusters" (propellors set perpendicular to the main propellor). Sea Gator has one little cute stern thruster. Majesty of the Seas evidently has huge thrusters on bow and stern, and she approached her berth literally sliding sideways through the water.

Retriving lines in the skiff As she maneuvered, huge lines snaked out from multiple housings near the bow (and stern, presumably). Above, see them emerging from multiple orifices of different configurations - as directed by the officer leaning over the rail with his hand-held radio - and as observed by a few early-rising passengers. Each line was several inches thick, ending at an eye splice (loop) and fitted with smaller lines for handling.

F.Y.I., the huge port below the ship's name houses her anchor (holy cow!). And by putting our heads together we deduced that the encircled "x" symbol indicates the presence of thrusters, and the truncated "b" symbol warns of the presence of a "bulbous bow". That means that the bow doesn't simply continue angling inward below water line. Instead a significant nose is attached just below water line, for stability in head seas. Boats passing beneath Majesty of the Seas' bow will do well to leave plenty of clearance, or else risk smashing into an enormous and solid mass of steel just below water line. The results would be predictable, because big boat wins.

Bow lines Meanwhile, the skiff handler caught a line as it was lowered into the water, and then they motored backward (to avoid getting the big line in their prop). The man in the boat tossed the handling line up over his head to the handlers on the platform. It took both of them to heave the soggy weight of the main line up and over a cleat.

The skiff returned to the bow to fetch another line, which they delivered to the handlers forward of the bow. In this manner, the "spring" lines heading aft from the bow and the bow lines heading forward, when tightened will prevent the bow from sliding forward or sliding backward, respectively. Presumably the same maneuver was occurring at the stern.

Lines on the forward cleats (Several days earlier we had observed this process in reverse. At that time I asked the on-shore handlers what it was like, were the lines heavy? They shrugged and said, "Not for two of us." The lines were dry by then, and once the eyesplice cleared the horns of the cleat they just had to shove the loop over the edge into the water. The rest was up to the crew aboard to request and winch in the lines in turn and prevent snarling. They said they believed the guys in the skiff had it harder, especially in heavy weather. There was no skiff involved in casting off lines except to deliver and retrieve the platform teams.)

They continued ferrying lines to the on-shore cleat teams as the ship eased into her berth. Eventually there were four large lines forward and four aft of the bow.

Coast Guard arrives Throughout the process an officer stood at the sally port and when the ship was snug against the fenders the door was in exactly the right place. Then they tightened all the lines in turn to hold her in place.

A ramp was lowered via a davit from above, and a Coast Guard team ambled aboard. The skiff retrieved her team from the platform. Which was more exciting than it sounds, because one of the guys got his PFD caught on the railing and almost tumbled backward when it let loose. This happened AFTER the hazardous work was done.

Well, we just thought this was the coolest thing we'd ever seen. But by now you already know we're quite the nerds.

We returned to our little Sea Gator with her four 3/4" inch lines, very pleased with the whole process.

Eventually hundreds of passengers would disembark the Majesty of the Seas and swarm over Mallory Square and Duval Street, all unaware of the precision and skill required by their arrival and departure.

A Night Under the Stars

In further pursuit of unique experiences - and beauty and history - one evening we took our seats in a semi-circle at the outdoor plaza of the Mel Fisher Museum for "A Night Under the Stars:"

David Novak "Chaste White & Blush Red": a romantic bedtime story by world-reknowned storyteller . In him, the Brothers Grim and Carl Jung meet Monty Python.

"Grab someone you love - romantically, platonically, whatever - and see this show! PJs optional... prizes awarded for best pajamas!"

We had never before heard a professional bard - it proved to be a wonderful experience. David Novak spun his magic and we were transfixed in our seats as though we were children. He told the fairly tale "Snow White & Rose Red", and he fairly sang the descriptions of the girls' innocent friendships with the denizens of the forest and the magical waterfalls and starry moonlit nights.

He described the western cultural meanings of some traditional fairy tale imagery. After the intermission he described the rhythm and meter of the typical limerick and theorized that that particular rhythm lends itself to off-color interpretations - this he illustrated by telling the entire tale of Snow White in iambic pentameter.

We were mezmerized by his energy, his voice, the worlds he created with his words. Not to mention his quite nice pajamas, which he cheerfully wore all evening and while sipping wine at intermission, right.

After the show a woman graciously invited us to meet the artist as her guest, but Rick thoughtfully declined. We knew that others in the audience had paid double the ticket price to attend the reception and Rick explained we didn't want to poach their time. And rightly so. I would definitely have grabbed the lapels of his 'jammies and monopolized his time if I'd had the chance.

If you ever have a chance to witness a revival of the lost art of storytelling, we urge you: DO NOT miss it.

Out and About and Friendly Visits

Goldie, Ann and Pat I was thrilled when Ann E. called from Marathon to say she was coming to Key West for the day. Excellent! She and I have become acquainted during Sea Gator's stays at her home island. We rendezvoused in front of the Turtle Kraals restaurant and strolled to Sea Gator where we showed her around and I introduced her to Goldie and Rick (they all hit it off). We had lunch outdoors and talked non-stop for two-and-a-half hours. Thank you, Ann!

Another day, as we were heading out to snorkel, we passed Tranquility, a nice sailboat berthed at the dock and - very unusual - flying Colorado's state flag! And so we met Captain Steve, Carleen and young Ginger (Ginger is a labradoodle not snickerdoodle, one of which is a cross between a lab and a poodle and one is a sugar-coated cookie). Two out of the three are long-time residents of Steamboat Springs and winter residents of Anna Marie Island. One is still just a pup.

Sculpture in the garden We spent a very nice evening with them. They suggested we attend the noon concerts at the Episcopal Church and we showed them the doorway into Nancy's Secret Garden. Then they sailed away, north across the Gulf and then (weather permitting) keeping to the outside route all the way to Tampa Bay and home.

One morning I went to the West Martello Tower. It's an historic Civil War-era fort now housing the Key West Garden Club. Several years ago the recently-hurricaned gardens were sadly out of shape. They have improved dramatically year by year and this year are lovely. I arrived for the last day of an exhibit of outdoor sculptures, and enjoyed it very much. The photo, left, depicts one of my favorites: two towers of blown glass and steel.

Later, Rick and I biked to the East Martello Tower - the twin to the first - which now houses the Key West Historic Museum. We learned about the island's history in chronological order, which was very useful. We have learned a lot but in bits and pieces here and there.

The museum is also home to "Robert", the doll which inspired the movie "Chucky". We had learned about him on the Ghost Tour, and we were admonished to treat him with respect because his fully-enclosed glass display case does not hinder his powers. So I told him that I hoped he enjoyed his home at the museum and was having a nice day... and the lights suddenly all blinked off. And stayed off.

Rick and museum cat Ummm...

Rick calmly continued to read the displays, but we finished our tour alone and in the gloom. The only light seeped in through rotting casements of the ancient brick fortress. When we finally circled back around to the docent I told her the story. We peeked down the hall and the lights were on and all was normal. "Not unusual," she laughed and shrugged. "He does things to people all the time."

Well, Robert is said to dislike his photo being taken so you can betcha we have no photos of him.

But we do have photos of Rick describing the occurrence to the museum's cat. The cat thoughtfully considers his response. After all, he has to live with Robert.

Drag racers In honor of the upcoming anniversary of the founding of the Conch Republic, "drag" races were held downtown on Duval Street. We arrived in time for the pit showings and some of the heats.

Contestants are handicapped on height of heel above 4". There was dancing in the street, and then the actual race. These two contenders, left, are tackling the agility portion of the course. When they finish the tires they will dive into carts pushed by scantily-clad male strippers, which carts are then slalomed more or less through a course marked by orange cones. Then it's a straightaway to the next intersection, whip a 180 and come back. Some shoving and the occasional broken heel occurred.

If the prizes include banners for gutsy courage and a sense of humor, all these men will be winners.

Cats on the Island

GOldie In addition to the Museum cat, we saw the black cat Oscar perform in Cat Man's show at the Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square.

Of course, we have our own lovely feline. Right, Goldie reclines on the stern stairs in a rare moment outdoors. There are no living plants in sight from our slip, so she has demonstrated no interest in exploring. Thank goodness. I think she's about ready to go home and roll in some dust and eat some mice of her own.

Finally, in Key West there is a group of fine folks who meet in a shady garden to share common problems and common solutions. It's just a 25 minute walk through town to get there and it's a great way to start the day. A herd of Key West's free range chickens and their progeny wander around underfoot throughout.

We hope you all are keeping warm and dry, and enjoying SPRING as it creeps slowly into view. Thanks for listening.

Pat, Rick and Goldie

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