From the Southernmost Point to the Western Peaks

Travelogue - May 18, 2008

We made the most of our remaining time in Key West, stepping ashore to explore and visit and browse the island at will.

Key West Bight

Our slip at Key West Bight Marina has been the perfect base of operations. It is close to downtown and surrounded by restaurants and etc.

Rick & Sea Gator Here we see Rick, leaning on the railing of the nearby Turtle Kraal restaurant's upstairs bar. There's Sea Gator behind him in mid-photo, sporting her blue canvas. Seriously, that's a good looking couple.

F.Y.I, there are the dinghy docks in the lower right. It's a tad crowded. Those docks are available to those anchored out who want to pay the fee for dockage.

There are more fun photos of the marina and Key West Historic Seaport at its website - check it out!

The Turtle Kraals is one of a number of surrounding nightspots. We were exactly the right distance away from it and the others - every band sounded good to us. And we were still able to get some sleep.

More Night Life!

Key West In support of live theater we checked out the schedule at the Red Barn Theater. It is a fun venue. The theater is an intimate space - the stage takes up as much space as the audience. The theater is a restored barn behind one of the oldest grand homes on Duval. On Thursday, April 24, we attended the "world premier" of Mavis and the Three Bears. This was a fun little musical.

On another evening we ascended to the top floor of downtown's La Concha hotel. From here we watched the sun set upon one of the most beautiful views of the entire island: the Episcopal Church on Duval Street, right. This is the Church that has the old cemetery out back, where we saw spooky orbs during our Ghost Tour in the last travelogue.

On this evening the whole island was aglow.

And more important by this time - from way up here - it was quiet.

Fort Zachary Taylor

Fort Zachary Taylor Historic State Park is America's southernmost State Park. It will appeal to those with a love of history and/or masonry. We fit both categories.

Ft. Zachary TaylorThe National Park's ranger, who reluctantly disseminated information on our guided tour, would be horrified to hear me say that Fort Zachary Taylor was a miniature Fort Jefferson. I say that only because it is smaller!

In fact, Fort Zachary Taylor is huge in terms of its historical significance: it was manned and armed continually from its construction in 1845 until it was finally decommissioned in 1947.

It was one of only three Florida forts which remained under federal control during the Civil War (due to quick and independent action on the part of its commander) and served as the headquarters for the Federal Navy's East Gulf Coast Blockading Squadron - the actions of which are said to have shortened the War by many months.

But the truly amazing and astonishing thing is that in the late 1800s, in an effort to bring the Fort up to snuff relative to contemporary armament, they lopped off the top two stories of arched corridors. And they dumped the whole mess - bricks, cement, grout, weapons, ammunition, canonballs, tools, wagons, crockery - into the remaining first floor corridors (like the corridor shown in the photo, above) on the seaward wings of the Fort. This was all to provide a thick shield against potential attack by a naval force employing the newfangled rifling cannons - which never did happen.

Chapel arches But because of that, today the Fort is an archeaologist's gold mine. It contains the largest cache of Civil War-era seacost cannons in the United States - all intact and most of it still interred in the sealed corridors, perfectly preserved and waiting to be rediscovered when technology and funds permit.

Cannonballs The Ranger seemed to be most happy while telling us about his role as a Civil War Reenactor. In fact, we were to see him days later with other men all wearing red wool shirts and white suspenders, firing antique cannon at ships taking part in the Great Naval Battle during the Conch Republic's Independence Celebration. But that's a story for a future subheading.

Back to the Fort. It IS stunning - we can't get enough of the vaulted corridors. And the thought that all that historic material is sleeping underfoot awaiting resurrection is thrilling. It's a very interesting Fort, and much more accessible than the enormous Fort Jefferson in the middle of the Gulf.

Like Ships Passing on the Beach

After our Sunday afternoon roasting at the Fort we high-tailed it to the adjacent beach for a swim in the ocean. It was a perfect swim day and the water was calm and cool.

Susan Joe Pat Rick Afterwards we walked the beach toward the showers to rinse off the salt. A man intercepted our path as he made for the water. Rick paused. "Joe?"

Amazing. It WAS Joe. I searched for Susan and there she was, too, wading in to shore to greet us.

Joe and Susan are the reason we are in Key West, really. Our boating friends didn't have much good to say about the Lower Keys (very few anchorages, it's true), but we had come to enjoy the island when we stayed at Joe and Susan's place here in 2002.

So we owe them our gratitude. We tried to make good one evening on Sea Gator when they and Susan's sister Sarah came to join us for drinks aboard. And on our last night in Key West the four of us rallied for an excellent Cuban dinner at El Meson de Pepe near the Pier. We sent a photo of the evening to Joe's partner at work to taunt him - it was a fine evening.

The Last Slave Ships

Mel Fisher spent decades researching, locating and excavating the wreck of the Atoche, a Spanish treasure galleon, and then battling the State and Feds in court to keep the treasure.

Today, much of the treasure is housed in the Mel Fisher Museum, a huge old stone building near the harbor. There is a nice courtyard out front. That's where we heard the bard David Novak, reported in our last travelogue.

Underwater archeology On April 26, another lovely balmy evening, we returned to the courtyard. The evening's lecture was entitled "The Last Slave Ships", one of the series "Key West and the Slave Trade: Lectures in Recognition of the 200th Anniversary of the US Abolition of the Slave Trade." The presenter was the Museum's staff researcher and underwater archeologist Corey Malcom.

Two hundred years ago, the United States made it illegal to carry people into its territories as slaves. At last, the cruel, unforgivable nature of the trade in human beings and its accompanying slave ships was formally recognized as immoral and unsupportable. But what was the slave trade? How did slave ships operate? What affect did abolition really have?

Though Key West was never a slave trading port, it was affected in many ways by the trade and is the home to many important resources relating to the subject. In a series of four lectures inspired by this anniversary, Corey Malcom, Director of Archaeology at the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, will present highlights from his research into the history and archaeology of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, especially those with connections to Key West...

The first thing Malcom did is explain the confusing dates. Thus we learned that, although Congress was quick to outlaw the transportation of slaves, decades would pass before the institution of slavery was outlawed. Also, we learned that during that time Cuba's enormous sugar cane industry still relied heavily on slave labor. Thus the illegal transport of humans through the region continued for many years.

African Cemetary under construction In Saturday's lecture we learned about three American-owned slave ships, the Wildfire, the William and the Bogota, all captured near Cuba during the summer of 1860 by the American Navy. The ships were brought to the nearest port, Key West, and the 1,432 Africans were housed in temporary quarters on the island (population 3,000) for several months before being transported to Liberia.

Malcom told us that most of the people were under 20 years of age and that nearly 300 individuals died of the trauma and were buried on Key West. Malcolm described the search for the lost graveyard, and the discovery of 16 of the remaining graves on Higgs Beach. And he told us about the new African Cemetary there - part interpretive site and part public art project - which is being constructed (left) in an effort to preserve the remaining gravesites from hurricanes, erosion or vandalism.

We appreciated Mr. Malcom's archaeological talents and professionalism, but we were particularly moved by his profound compassion for the human beings in the tale.

More on this carefully documented and detailed topic is available on their website at "The Last Slave Ships", and it is definitely worth a look.

It was an enjoyable evening. and we sat next to a nice couple who had just made plans to hold their upcoming wedding in the gardens at the West Martello Tower (see its wedding-worthy garden in last month's travelogue). We were all glad we went.

Great Naval Battle for the Conch Republic

The Conch Republic takes its armed forces seriously. Sort of.

Civil War cannoneers Immediately following the formation of the Conch Republic, the Conch Navy was set up and Wilhemina Harvey was appointed Admiral and First Sea Lord of the Conch Republic. She in turn appointed Captain Finbar Gittelman to serve as Fleet Commander, Rear Admiral and Second Sea Lord.

In 1990 Captain Finbar, owner and master of the topsail schooner Wolf (which serves as the Flagship of the Conch Republic) decided it was time to recreate the Great Sea Battle. With the support of the Coast Guard Group Key West, the Office of the Secretary General and Schooner Wharf Bar, the re-enactment of the colorful Great Sea Battle is held each April... The battle pits Tall Ships against Coast Guard Cutters for the biggest & baddest Sea Battle held annually anywhere in the world !

Conch Republic Naval band It's not Master and Commander but it is fun. We attended last year as well (photos appear in last year's Key West travelogue), but this year we had met the Park Ranger described above and had been infected with his Civil War fever. We enjoyed seeing him and his crew fire cannon (rather indiscriminately, we observed) during the sea battle, above right.

The Republic is small, so many individuals perform multiple duties. For example, many of the Naval officers also serve to entertain the troops.

Here, the band plays at the evening's official "surrender" party at the Schooner Wharf Bar, at which the captain of the Coast Guard cutter officially surrendered and his crew was celebrated in style. And volume.

Drizzle Drazzle Drozzle Drone

All in all, we had a great time in Key West. But, as we observed last year, after a month it's time to either get a job or move on.

We began to yearn for some real, deep quiet. Goldie was getting restless and she had taken to biting me - little nips delivered on the sly. I had taken to biting Rick, quite openly. It was time to go home.

Night Crossing and the Black Galactic Vacuum

Chart with courses plotted, Gulf of Mexico

We planned and prepared and plotted, and at 3:30 in the afternoon, Monday April 28, we cast off our lines. Adventure had sailed away on Saturday, and we followed in her wake: out the NorthWest Channel, then straight north into the Gulf.

Last year we experienced heavy beam seas for much of the late hours. You can read about it in last year's Northward Bound travelogue.

Although we followed last year's route - here is the chart, our course marked in yellow - this year's trip was much calmer. We had following seas and a tail wind for the first several hours, which pushed us up to 8.1 - 8.3 knots per hour! It was easy going and very comfortable compared to last year. Sea Gator corkscrewed around a bit as her stern was pushed from behind but she trundled onward.

Rick took the first post-sunset watch and when he woke me at 10:00 it was pitch black. I mean, BLACK. There was no moon. I groped my way to the captain's chair by the lights from the helm instruments. This is when I recalled how valuable last year's full moon had been, because it allowed one to visually reference the level horizon if nothing else. But in this total darkness, you couldn't see anything beyond a vague glow for a few yards off the side where our nav light could reach.

The Gulf at night Rick went below to bed down. I dimmed the helm instruments so as not to impair my night vision and, ever the prudent seaman, I stared diligently into the blackness. It was like being in an enclosed dark elevator, falling through space - while the elevator arbitrarily changed speed and orientation. The wind whistled in my ears and the waves hissed and churned against the hull.

Sea Gator's engine chugged reassuringly in the background and her deck rose and fell. We plowed into the blackness - imagine driving across the countryside in your car for hours with the headlights off. I wouldn't have seen a barn until we were inside it.

I stood before the helm during my two-hour watches, stablized with a wide stance and the back of my legs against the captain's chair. La la la la la... Lean ahead to try to see something... Watch crab pots ghost past in the glow from the starboard nav light... Hum a few bars, crank out a few arm calesthetics... Twist and bend... La la la.

It was so dark that I was startled when faint lights appeared in the water - they turned out to be reflections of wingtip lights from a highflying jet. The jet coursed onward and left us alone. We slid through black space, on and on.

Consider this: They should have filmed an episode of Star Trek where they all just sat there for hours and days and light-years just cruising through the black galactic vacuum with nothing to see. Occasionally making politically incorrect remarks about Mr. Spock's racial heritage and eating space bars.

This last thought inspired me to bust into the bag of tortilla chips stashed on the helm after dinner.

The crew of the Dark Star resorted to target practice with lazers inside the ship to alleviate the boredom of deep space. Captain Kirk, when not dalying with a lower-ranking crewmember, would have just rubbed his chin and stared thoughtfully at the viewscreen...

Or, stared out the window. Because in his much younger days - you know, before he had his own spaceship - Kirk had to fly commercial. Coach, no less...

The Twilight Zone By this time my imagination was running loose around the dark neighborhood without adult supervision. The image of a youthful and alarmed William Shatner came to mind: "There's some one, some... thing... on the wing!"

And as surely as day follows night, at that moment I was certain I saw some one, some... thing, swinging from the davit just out of the corner of my eye. Sure was dark out here...

All alone. I'm so all alone...

Rick's two-hour watches were much the same, omitting the dangerous flights of imagination. He rested comfortably but authoritatively in the chair - rather Kirk-like, come to think of it - and entertained himself by trying to stay awake.

The moon rose on my watch at 3:30 a.m. A weary orange quarter, she drifted up over my shoulder from the east-southeast and so did not light our path at all. But she provided some welcome company.

(Whoa! How lucky am I that the song "Bad Moon Rising" - and inevitable mental images from the scary moor scene in An American Werewolf in London - did not come to mind until just this moment? Ha!)

Ron & Sally ADVENTURE Rick was fascinated when he began to notice the lights of Marco and Naples - over 40 miles distant - reflecting from low clouds. The glow gave him enough light to watch for any stray objects in the water. Eventually the sky brightened through grey clouds at dawn and the temperature dropped and the wind kicked up from the northwest.

At 7:30 a.m. we could discern the channel markers that would show us the way into Estero Bay. As we approached, a catamaran slid out of the channel. The moment that Rick, peering through the binoculars, observed "That looks like Adventure. Let's hail them and see..." we heard Ron on the radio and Sally on my cell phone. Sure enough it was our friends! We enjoyed a brief rendezvous out in the Bay, sharing the tales of our crossings and promising to see each other next year.

Adventure then headed northeast, bound for the Caloosahatchee River. We proceeded into the harbor for an uneventful mooring.

Our hours of preparation had paid off and nothing had moved out of place, broken, bashed, flooded or exploded. And we still had full water tanks! We took showers, praised Goldie for her courage, and all three of us took the first of many restorative naps.

Seeing Double

Were we seeing double again? No. Amazingly, there was the Laura Anne. We had met Richard and Laura when they docked behind us at Key West (the first photo in last year's travelogue) and sure enough, there they were at the Matanzas Inn dock. Regretfully, we only had a few minutes to visit with them as we dinghied home for more sleep.

Laura & Richard Laura Anne was bound for Marco Island, then northward to Gulfport and home. We'll keep an eye out for them next year, too.

The rest of our brief stay in Estero Bay at Ft. Myers Beach was uneventful. Rick and Goldie napped, then Goldie and I napped, then Goldie napped; meanwhile Rick and I Worked and made a run to the Ace Hardware.

We tried to have pizza at Dockside Pub but they are CLOSED, the building is now a leveled lot. WHAT?!

We had an excellent mooring ball though: #2. Too bad we weren't staying longer to take advantage of it.

Early Friday morning, May 2, we cast off. Northward!

Pelican Bay

Don & Pam We were back at our old stomping grounds in the neighborhood of Charlotte Harbor! We were very excited, and all three of us were happy to arrive at this quiet, lovely anchorage, surrounded by mangrove islands and anchored boats.

For the first time in nearly two months, Goldie hurried outside to peer into the water and loll in the sunshine. She knows a quiet, safe place when she smells one. Goldie was soon her old perky sweet self again.

One of the nearby anchored boats was none other than Gallivant (we connected via cell phone: "I see some blue canvas. Is that you?" "It is; I think I see your mast over the mangroves...") We arranged to join our friends Don and Pam aboard Gallivant after work. But before we could lower Bump Head for the expedition, they arrived in their very fancy dinghy (right) to pick us up. What service!

On Saturday morning, once again Fancy Dinghy fetched us and we all motored to Boca Grand in search of a fabulous breakfast. It was a rough ride across the Pass, with easterly winds kicking up a fiesty chop in the incoming tide, but we all did fine. By the time we arrived I was soaked, but it wasn't the fault of our captain.

Cayo Costa beach We walked through the beautiful town and arrived at Two Loons On a Limb to find it - CLOSED! Sold to a new owner and unavailable for breakfast that day. Again I say, WHAT?! The situation was becoming serious. We hiked back to the docks and motored up-channel to berth outside the Outlet Restaurant at the Inlet Hotel. Not a moment too soon, and it was an excellent breakfast we all agreed.

Afterward we returned to town to introduce Pam to Boca Bargains, but they were - guess what? - yes, CLOSED! But only for the season, which was a nice change from the developing pattern.

We had a slightly less bumpy ride back to the anchorage, and after some quick changing and provisioning it was back in Fancy Dinghy and this time, heading south to the quiet reaches of Cayo Costa. Don and Pam showed us the secret entrance to a path through the woods and across the dunes, to the most beautiful beach we'd seen all year. The water was crystal blue, warm, and the waves were perfect for floating and talking in the sea.

And the beach was perfect for talking and walking on the sand. We had a great day.

Don and Pam dropped us safely home, and in the morning Gallivant steamed past us on her way north for a couple more weeks of cruising.

We stayed in our little paradise for another day, resting and lolling on the sundeck and Working, then on Monday, May 5, we weighed anchor for the last time.

Charlotte Harbor, la Marina, All American Boat Storage...

High tideWe headed east: across Charlotte Harbor, up the canals to the family's Marina where we worked to clean and condition Sea Gator.

Clambering on and off the boat became a bit tiresome by the end of each day - we had some very high tides! We had experienced the lowest of the low tides last December when poor Sea Gator was perched in the mud for the shakedown cruise that wasn't, and the other extreme happened last week when the tide was so high waves sloshed over the dock.

On Friday we re-crossed Charlotte Harbor westward to All American Boat Storage for an uneventful haulout. See some photos of the amazing process in our first year's Travelogue coverage.

Boarding challengeSince climbing aboard via a 12' ladder wasn't challenging enough, Rick removed Sea Gator's swim platform. It will be worth it, though: Rick sanded and refinished the swim platform and it will be beautiful when it is re-attached.

When we finished summer-izing the Gator we began the same process on the house, including installing the hurricane screens. No problems there, either!

Lu flew home - also with no problems.

Then on May 16 we flew home - WITH problems but what can you expect from a 16-hour travel day which involved two rental cars, three segments and two transfers?


Goldie harbors no bitterness about the long travel day she spent crammed into her carrier.

Goldie napping She dashed outside first thing Saturday morning, and located a patch of dry dirt to roll around on. Her lovely white belly and tights have been transformed into her summer camouflage color - dirt grey.

And she remembered everything about this house, including her bed and she hasn't tried to climb up on our bed even once since we arrived here. Such behavior is new and welcome this year.

She also wasted no time resuming her privileged position between my arms at the keyboard. Let this explain my typos.

We're all settling in. I located my keys and am trying to corral some of the winter's accumulation of dust.

Rick has the cars running smoothly and all utilities (except the kitchen sink, whose faucet is leaking and must be replaced) up and running.

Springtime in the Rockies That's more info than you need. Last word is, we're glad to be home safe and sound. The snow is retreating from the valley floor and little clutches of daffodils have begun to appear here and there.

We hope you are home safe and sound, too!

And that's it for this year's travelogues. Thanks for listening.

Pat, Rick and Goldie

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