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Coconut Grove

Travelogue - March 15, 2011
I think Jamaican in the moonlight.
Sandy beaches, drinking rum every night.
We got no money, mama, but we can go;
We'll split the difference, go to Coconut Grove.

American Dream - Nitty Gritty Dirt Band

I always wondered: which coconut grove? Those who "got no money" ought not go to Coconut Grove, Florida...

Marine Stadium

Tuesday, March 1, 2011. Our last morning waking up to the Miami skyline.

Marine Stadium, aerial We had tea over a leisurely breakfast, noticing that all the cruise ships had departed in the night. Time for us to leave, too. A little before 10:00 we raised the anchor from his snug bed in the muddy grey sand and motored on out.

Southbound. As soon as we re-entered the ICW we passed Government Cut with its wide fairway and cruise ship terminals, and the Port of Miami on Dodge Island with its cranes and warehouses.

Soon we were cruising past Virginia Key and its landmark Marine Stadium. The Stadium's performance basin is now a popular anchorage, above right, and we would have gone there but for the impending winds from an unfortunate quarter.

The Stadium building itself, it almost goes without saying by now, is an architectural masterpiece in danger of demolition by the City.

Marine Stadium The structure, left, was completed in 1963; it's been listed by Miami's Historic Preservation and Environmental Board; recognized as an architectural masterpiece by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the World Monuments Fund. Preservation efforts by the Friends of the Marine Stadium may be successful:

In July of 2010, the City Commission of Miami approved a new Master Plan for Virginia Key which makes the Stadium centerpiece. The plan is a road map only as there is no direct funding attached to it - but for the first time in 17 years, it clearly states that public policy is the restoration - not demolition of Miami Marine Stadium...

You will find some interesting information about the project at the National Trust for Historic Preservation, including a proposal by architecture students to revamp the site and the building.

We continued our ramble past the varied and interesting waterfront of downtown Miami, below right.

Downtown Miami There seemed to be a shortage of waterfront plazas; maybe we just couldn't see them from sea level. We also could see no humans among the concrete caverns early on a Tuesday morning, and we encountered very little boat traffic.

It was kind of eerie... although my recent reading of "World War Z", which a thoughtful family member gifted me for Christmas, may have colored my early morning impressions.

Biscayne Bay

Looking back north at the Rickenbacker Causeway, below right, we waved goodbye to the City. Now the ICW opens out into the broad expanse of Biscayne Bay proper, and the water instantly cleared to a crystal blue-green.

Looking back (north) to Miami from Biscayne Bay The name "Biscayne Bay" has a ring to it. We've heard of it for so long we were thrilled to be IN it at last. Here's how cruising guidebook author Claiborne Young recounts its recent history:

By the early 1960s, the heretofore untouched barrier islands lining the easterly shores of lower Biscayne Bay were rapidly on their way to development. An "on paper" community of "Islandia" had been formed... plans were drawn up to connect [the keys] by way of a huge causeway...

After many, many years of effort, and after enlisting the aid of several Florida congresspersons, the bill creating Biscayne Bay National Monument was finally signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1968, over the heated objections of a whole army of developers...

Since Biscayne Bay came under federal protection, there has been tremendous progress in cleaning up the bay's waters and curbing future sources of pollution...

The national monument was upgraded to Biscayne Bay National Park in 1980.

The Bay is big: it extends 22 nautical miles from Rickenbacker Causeway on the north to the Card Sound on the south, and 8.2 nautical miles east-to-west at its widest point.

Our route was down the middle of the Bay, though it would take us a week to make the trek.

Dinner Key

After a quick 90 minute cruise from our Miami anchorage we turned to the west, heading for Dinner Key.

Dinner Key mooring field at Coconut Grove, aerial We hove up to our assigned mooring at the Dinner Key Marina mooring field, and what a chore was presented to us there! The mooring balls all have pennants, but they are about 4' long. Our bow is 6' off the water. You do the math.

Before too much time had passed I found myself dangling off the side of the boat with one of Sea Gator's dock lines in one hand and the boathook wedged into the pennant's thimble in the other, suddenly realizing that the line was with me between two midship stanchions rather than through the forward chock as it should be.

I needed to set aside the boathook to maneuver the line and in doing so would necessarily drop the pennant, but I had to first drop my line to detach the boathook. Like a monkey unwilling to release the banana to get its fist out of the bottle trap, I could not let go.

Regrets? I've had a few.

I mulled the obvious parallels between this particular situation and other periods in my life...

Frank Meanwhile Rick was getting anxious up on the flybridge. Sea Gator began to drift away from the mooring, leaving the captive boathook and my left arm behind.

Suddenly, a powerful skiff zipped out from behind Sea Gator! Her skipper was a friendly man wearing a khaki shirt emblazoned "Dinner Key Marina, City of Miami: Frank". Frank offered a kind smile and a helping hand, and I had only to bring my line through the forward chock and hand it over. This I was able to do. I tossed the line to Frank.

Soon we were secure.

Captain Frank told us he was out and about in the launch when he heard our mooring assignment on the VHF so he just thought he'd meander on over and see if we needed anything. We thanked him profusely and he motored away with a wave.

We later learned that (with only one minor exception) every employee there at the Dinner Key Marina was hard working, friendly and helpful way beyond the call of duty. Those individuals proved to be the best things about this town for several days.

Dinner Key: statute mile 1094.5.

Coconut Grove

Coco Walk After checking in at the marina we toured the town. Or, as much as we could see without being pancaked by traffic. "Sidewalk ends..."

That's probably not the only reason there were so few pedestrians about. I had never seen so many crippling high heels in one place at one time than in the 30 minutes we rested for a snack at the Coco Walk (right, a multi-story open air mall boasting, among other things, three GAPS and two Victoria's Secret storefronts). Later, we saw women walking off boats in stilettos. They looked great, but Ouch! cried the teak.

I also noticed that this town has very few easy interactions with the Bay. There was a Park but you had to know where the fishing pier was to see the water. The rest of the Bay frontage was occupied by marinas, private institutions or homes. Such a wasted opportunity.

I was SO disgusted with the whole "no sidewalk - no waterfront - no planning" travesty, in fact, that I intended to send this scathing travelogue to the City's Planning Department and invite them to comment for the record.

Instead, we set ourselves the task of finding something good to say about Coconut Grove.

Weather

No, this isn't the good part yet.

We came here to ride out a big winter front. Rick wanted to be "secure on a mooring". Unfortunately boats of Sea Gator's size are assigned the boondocks (mooring fields are laid out as a series of abutting circles, the radii equating to various boat lengths; a mooring field chart looks like a sheet of dough with all the biscuits cut and ready to lift out). Our biscuit was the one that always gets its edges burned.

Pat and Frank aboard the shuttle, leaving Sea Gator To be fair, in this case it didn't really matter which ball we were assigned: the entire field is completely exposed to all weather in Biscayne Bay and we got the stuffing kicked out of us from Tuesday evening through Sunday.

Poor Bump Head's 18" pontoons were no match for the rough chop and whitecaps in the Bay. Rick and I got soaked running in to seek solid ground. Fortunately for us, Dinner Key Marina provides commuter services!

The Shuttle

Frank's launch is about 20' long, powered with two 75 HP outboards, and festooned with lots and lots of fenders. You radio in and at the top of each hour Frank or James will fly out in the launch and gather up all the moored or marooned boaters who want a lift, shuttling folks to and from the dock. WOW!

Every time the launch pulled away from Sea Gator, above right, I made Frank promise on whatever god he chose that, if we got pancaked by traffic or something happened to Sea Gator while we were gone, he would rescue Goldie. He laughed, but I felt better.

Sailors aboard the shuttle The skiff is very fast; it's reasonably steady, it's reasonably dry; it's free. When the weather is like this it's the only way to go.

It's also the best way to meet your neighbors, right. People pile aboard with their laundry, their suitcases, their towels and shower paraphernalia, their jerry cans to fill with water, their trash and recycling, their books to return to the library, their fabric grocery bags.

On the shuttle we met Fred and Berneice of S/V Quadrille from Montana, imagine that, and Chris and Joan of S/V Outward Bound from Colorado! What are the odds? The six of us kept bumping into each other; it was a pleasure.

Inquiring Minds

My dad asked us whether we'd seen the "Coral Castle" - he'd read an article about it in The Skeptical Inquirer. Now was our chance so we studied up. Live Science provides a summary:

About 30 miles south of Miami, Florida, in a town called Homestead, lies an unusual - some would say impossible - structure, composed of coral rock...

Coral Castle Under any circumstances the castle is a remarkable feat, though how exactly the man did it has puzzled many, for he supposedly worked without assistance or the use of modern machinery.

Many sources suggest that the castle is scientifically inexplicable... The castle has been featured in dozens of magazines and books on the unexplained, as well as on television shows such as "In Search Of," "That's Incredible" and "Ripley's Believe It Or Not."

Over the decades, many stories and wild theories have emerged about Leedskalnin and his castle. Some say he levitated the blocks with his mind, or by singing to the stones. Others suggest Leedskalnin had arcane knowledge of magnetism and so-called "earth energies." One author suggested that perhaps Leedskalnin found that "there's no such thing as gravity." Since science supposedly could not explain the feat, wild speculation took hold...

Rick Berneice Fred Cool.

We set our sights upon a scientific expedition to solve the mystery once and for all.

We spoke of the Castle aboard the launch, and just as I opened my mouth to issue an invitation Fred said, "My buddy told me we should see that but I hadn't figured out how to get there. Mind if we join you?" Awesome! A grand expedition was in the making, in the spirit of Ponce deLeon or Livingston. Or Mark Twain.

The pursuit of knowledge would require a foray into the wilds of southern Dade County. I'd prefer mules or porters, but instead our route would feature a ride on the town Trolley from City Hall to the elevated train station, then 12 miles on the Miami/Dade MetroTrain, then ten more miles on the MetroBus (route 38), and the final half-mile afoot.

Coral Castle

Saturday, March 5, 2011. 8:00 a.m. Rick and I swung aboard the launch, then Frank motored over to Quadrille to retrieve Fred and Berneice. We were off!

Above right, the intrepid explorers wait for the train. When it arrived we took seats near five college kids, who were obviously just now returning from a Friday night partying in Miami and were still completely wasted and would be sick as dogs the rest of the weekend. Ah, the good old days...

Pat and Rick 'You will be seeing unusual accompishment' The train was fast and we rode it to its last stop. Down on the street the bus proved to be a nifty articulated affair so we piled aboard. Rick and I sat near the back and far ahead in the distance near the front we could see Fred's red ball cap and blond hair proclaiming "Tourist!" among the dewrags.

We hiked the last half mile on broken sidewalks and, two hours after we left the marina, came in sight of our goal - the Coral Castle! Would it be a wonder of the world, or yet another South Florida tourist trap?

We were admitted in to the Garden where the first sign, left, did indeed smell fishily trap-like (FYI my hat had been folded into my handbag; the brim straightened itself out shortly. I knew you were wondering.) By now we were all secretly convinced this was going to be one goofy morning, but we each kept our cynicism to ourselves and forged ahead. And in fact, once we made it beyond the enticing enormous flashing arrows and other such lures, the place was very interesting.

The work was all done by one fellow. Working alone and often at night, he quarried, carved and stacked an estimated 1,100 tons of rock, working from 1923 when he bought the property until his death in 1951. He used only hand tools - many of which, along with the mechanisms for moving parts, were fabricated on-site from old car parts.

Throne Room One tiny man, obsessed with his [unrequited] love for a young girl, labored for 28 years to build a coral rock monument to her. Incredibly, he carved and moved over 1,100 tons of rock without human assistance...

The "castle" is Ed's fantasy realm in which he hoped to one day install his young bride and their children. Inside a turreted stone wall is a collection of carvings including thrones for himself and his family - right, occupied by four of our fellow inquiring minds. There was also an open-air bedroom with stone beds and stone pillows; a carved bathtub and shaving basin; reading chairs, rocking chairs, lounge chairs; Feast of Love Table shaped like a heart; fountains and a fresh water well.

Of questionable value is Repentance Corner where Ed planned to trap his children-to-be (and wife if she got "sassy") in a stone pillory and seat himself comfortably on a bench in the shade to lecture "for an hour" or so.

Nine Ton Gate Rick's favorite piece was the Nine Ton Gate, left. This massive hunk of stone, approximately 80" wide by 92" tall by 21" thick, is balanced on a single point. Originally it could be moved with the push of a finger. Since the original gears are shot it now takes quite a hefty shove to open and close, but it still pivots silently and fits perfectly into the wall.

One of my many favorites was the Sundial - which is accurate, photo below right. And the Polaris Telescope which allegedly points to the North Star - that we couldn't verify, since it was (exactly) 11:30 a.m.

Sun Dial

Conclusions

Berneice on the phone at the Table of Love In the giftshop a postcard inquired "Would your husband build a castle for YOU?" I told Berneice: it's a good thing young "Sweet Sixteen" never did emigrate from Latvia to marry Ed and live in the Castle. She'd never hear the end of it.

Whenever he forgot their anniversary he'd bluster "But I built you a castle, didn't I?" And every time they had an argument he'd throw it in her face, like "I labored for 28 years to build this coral rock monument to you, and this is the thanks I get..."

So:

Conclusion #1: Ed remained a bachelor for good reason, and all's well that ends well.

Conclusion #2: Despite the hoopla there were no mystical construction techniques. If the tour guide remains mystified about how Ed did it, she should refer to the handout in which Ed was quoted as saying that "he understood the laws of weight and leverage", and then she should go to the giftshop and look at the drawings of a person moving stone with levers and blocks and winches. Then she should step inside Ed's quarters and read the explanatory sign, below left.

Sign Conclusion #3: If we get too absorbed in the hoopla - did he move the rocks with his mind, etc. - we'll forget that the feat this fellow DID accomplish, according to the earthly laws of weight and leverage, is truly amazing. That's miraculous enough for me.

Conclusion #4: Ed's brand of single-minded devotion can only spring from untreated mental illness. The man must have been in great pain and it's that - not the "lost love" part - that breaks my heart.

Well, we all had a good visit to the garden, then we had pizza at a nearby shanty, then we took the sidewalk-bus-train back to Coconut Grove. When we departed the train we opted to walk the rest of the way, so we veered through town to the thrift store that Joan had told me about - and there Fred scored two 'Aubrey-Maturin' books by Patrick O'Brian which I had been raving to him about over lunch, so it was meant to be.

And on our way through the Park we stopped at the India-Hari Krishna festival which was all very lively and colorful. It was a good day and a fun trip. Thanks, Fred and Berneice for being such good sports! Thanks dad, for the tip! I'll snailmail the handouts and pamphlets to you...

The True Mystery of the Universe

Brownie Nut Pillow Cookie - section It was a nice walk down the seawall from the marina to the Fresh Market grocery store. And that's where we discovered the Brownie Nut Pillow Cookie.

Behold.

How do they do it?!?

Online recipes suggest that you cut up brownie squares and wrap them in cookie dough. Those results more resemble St. Exupery's Le Petit Prince drawing of an elephant inside a boa, than they do this elegant cookie-wrapped cookie-shaped brownie.

If I figure it out I'll let you know.

Better yet, if you figure it out let me know.

Good Things About Coconut Grove

All right. The cookie is one major positive element, obviously. There's also this:

1. They have a nice Library.

Fiberglass Peacock 2. The city's theme fiberglass animal is the Peacock, left.

3. Although the guy at the Chamber of Commerce was unaware of it, there IS a nice walking path through town. They call it a "trail", but it's the north-south sidewalk through downtown and which continues southward a mile or more. We were happy to find it.

4. Among the outrageously expensive designer shops there were two consignment stores. The ladies in one were very fun and willing to bargain (plus they plied me with chocolate) so I confess I bought three pair of jeans, one of which looks spray-painted on. Then I immediately laundered them and haven't tried them on since so who knows (see "brownie nut pillow cookie" above).

5. Scotty's Landing's menu included a notice regarding automatic gratuities for large parties. No, the cool thing is, this notice appeared in three languages: English, Spanish, and something 'google translate' later told us is Haitian Creole - the latter we now recognize as the musical language we heard occasionally on the docks.


Trans Am terminal 6. Coconut Grove hosts the Miami City Hall. This building is in fact the historic Pan American Seaplane Terminal:

Built in 1933, the Dinner Key Terminal and Airport was the most modern and largest marine air facility in the world, leading the way to Pan Am's future role as an international leader in aviation, transportation of people, property and mail.

Referred to as the "Air Gateway Between the Americas" the airport became a famous visiting attraction. Many people used to gather in front of the airport to watch the arrival and departure of the Pan Am "flying boats" or "clipper ships". It is from here that president Franklin Roosevelt departed on January 11, 1943 to Casablanca, Morocco in the Dixie Clipper to meet with Prime Minister Winston Churchill at the height of World War II.

In 1954, the Pan American seaplane terminal became the home to Miami's City Hall...

Council chamber The enormous world globe from the original terminal, above right, is now at a nearby Science museum which we didn't have a chance to visit.

The majority of the building has been carved into office spaces, so today the most impressive feature is the new Council chamber, left, which is the former terminal space with its walls, windows and hand-painted ceiling murals restored.

Some of the nearby marina dry-stack facilities are actually the former seaplane hangers, which are now land-locked so we got to walk past them every day.

Finally

There is a lot we didn't see: the science museum; the fancy Vizcaya mansion, museum and gardens; the Barnacle Historic State Park. Too bad we're leaving.

To the Keys

Monday, March 7, 2011. 6:30 a.m., anchors aweigh. As soon as it was light we slipped quietly into the expanse of Biscayne Bay.

Biscayne Bay What a perfect day for a cruise! We admired the shores off in the distance and the infrequent fishing boats we passed.

Within a few hours we sighted from afar the lighthouse on Boca Chita Key. We had desired to go there and tie to their seawall for a night or two, but the island is a National Park and pets - even the finest of pussycats and even those confined aboard - are explicitly prohibited.

We considered being scofflaws and we discussed it at length. But Rick finally cast the deciding vote against it: he thought it would be too embarrassing to be found out and made to leave with Goldie's tail tucked between our legs. I concurred because I felt that defying the rules would burn up good karma that we might need in the future. So we waved at the lighthouse as we went by.

Shortly thereafter we spotted the markers which highlighted the narrow pass through Featherbed Bank. Within an hour we navigated Cutter Bank and entered Card Sound. The Sound is narrower than Biscayne Bay, and here the ICW began to track southwestward, following the line of the Keys.

Goldie in her travel locker Goldie was such a trooper! She spent the long day snug in her locker. When we entered more sheltered waters I coo'ed and clucked at her, attempting to lure her out. Eventually she dragged herself to the opening and blearily blinked around. Apparently she saw nothing to recommend the outside world and she slipped back into her nest. Rick said, "Good, six more weeks of sunshine."

Rick is slightly confused. He can find clarity at Groundhog Day, the Official Website of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club.

Meanwhile, we navigated Little Card Sound, Barnes Sound, and Blackwater Sound. Each body was a bit smaller and more enclosed than the last, until we meandered through Dusenbury Creek and emerged in the sheltered Tarpon Basin. Here we set the anchor and at 1:30 settled in for a pleasant lunch and a nice afternoon of Work, punctuated by nearly a dozen other boats coming in to anchor for the evening. There was plenty of room for us all.

Tarpon Basin: statute mile 1140.

Middle Keys

Tuesday, March 8, 2011. It had been our intention to meander slowly through the Upper Keys, enjoying sites we hadn't visited previously and reaquainting ourselves with Islamorada and Lignumvitae. Unfortunately the next front had gained speed and we decided we would just tuck in. So we made a beeline for Marathon.

6:30 a.m., below right. Anchors aweigh again, and we headed south.

Sunrise over the Keys South of Tarpon Basin we entered Buttonwood Sound and then suddenly the waterway widened on our starboard side to reveal the vast expanse of Florida Bay to our northwest. The line of the Keys extended beyond the horizon on our port side. We tracked past isolated Keys and rookeries and waved as we entered waters we'd visited in years past.

Goldie was, surprisingly, awake for much of this cruise. Here she is when I checked on her near 9:00 a.m., above right.

The only excitement was anticipation of catastrophe as we tracked through the various shallow passes, but we had no problem finding the markers or making it through. It was as pleasant a cruise as could possibly be.

Our only anxiety came from not knowing whether there would be a mooring ball available once we arrived in Boot Key Harbor, but we made a series of alternate plans so we were satisfied.

And as it turned out, there was plenty of room in the Harbor, so we deftly tied on to mooring S8 and settled in for a month of Work and leisure.

Boot Key Harbor, sheltered in the islands of Marathon, Middle Keys: statute mile 1195.

Keys adventures to follow in the next travelogue.

Take care, everybody! Stay warm...

Pat, Rick and Goldie

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