Thursday, February 21, 2013

Key West

Joe listening to the morning net on VHF 68
      During the recent morning help section of the Boot Key Harbor cruiser's net a question was asked by one of the residents of the harbor inquiring about recommendations for the best anchorage in Key West. The unanimous consensus was...Boot Key Harbor! Others offered practical advice to take a left out of the marina onto the Overseas Highway and cross the road at the light to catch the local bus for $4.00. The reason being that the anchorage in Key West is less than desirable. It offers minimal protection, it's exposed, choppy and the dinghy dock onshore is a long ride. It seemed that everyone was in agreement that taking the bus to and from Key West was the best practical solution.

      Originally, we'd planned to sail down to Key West, but armed with this bit of local advice changed our minds and decided to hop on the bus and make it a day trip. We located the bus schedule for The Lower Keys Shuttle online for departures from our location in Marathon. The trip would take nearly an hour and a half with so many local pick ups along the way, but it would also give us the opportunity to see the lower keys without the hassle of renting a car and finding parking in Key West.

     We boarded the bus around 10:15 AM and made numerous stops along the lower keys picking up passengers who were on their way to jobs and those who were just coming off a night of drinking and debauchery. The bus reeked of stale cigarettes and booze. It was a colorful crew of individuals in various states of incoherency to say the least. We arrived in Key West just in time for lunch. Surprisingly, Key West wasn't crowded, but we were told that we'd chosen a day when no cruise ships were in town. Apparently, the tourist area around Duval Street and Mallory Square can become packed with passengers when
the ships are in port.

     Key West certainly has its tourist traps along the main esplanade of Duval Street. However, we prefer to stroll along some of its residential side streets without an agenda. The architecture is distinctly Key West and when it's time for a beverage it's easy to find a local hangout like the Green Parrot Bar. The brightly-colored folk art murals on the exterior and interior are one of the highlights and of course the clientele always add some spice to the ambience.
Mural at the Green Parrot Bar

Bahama Village Mural
     During our afternoon stroll we meandered into Bahama Village on Petronia Street or I should clarify what used to be Bahama Village. A mural depicted what life in the village was like in the past. However, it seemed that the descendants of the original Bahamian settlers to Key West must have sold out during the real estate boom because we didn't see one Bahamian in the Village. Even the former resident roosters and chickens have moved nearer the bars on Duval Street.

Mallory Square musician

      One tradition that you can set your watch to is the carnival atmosphere of the nightly sunset celebration at Mallory Square. Street performers begin their acts well before sunset while the afternoon pilgrimage of tourists are drawn like lemmings toward the oceanside square from their day-long soirees at the bars and beaches. We joined others in the march toward the west to bear witness the the last of the sun's rays and the plethora of entertainers on the square.

      Jugglers, fire eaters, sword swallowers, smart aleck magicians, musicians and acrobats vied for attention from the crowd. It was a sluggish night gratuitously for street performers since it was a sparse crowd, but the cruise ships were scheduled for the following day and things were certain to pick up.

     At sunset all eyes turned toward the west. It was as though it was a spiritual experience for some. We cruisers take our sunsets in stride. Somehow if we miss today's fiery ball sinking into the horizon, God willing they'll always be another one tomorrow.

Fire eater at sunset

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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Blizzard of 2013 (still) A Day at Sombrero Beach

Photo by Jane Lewis
     The news of the blizzard in New England last weekend evoked flashbacks of the Blizzard of 78'. I was very young back then and that event imprinted a certain survival quality toward my outlook on life. "Stock up on bread and milk" became the mantra for anyone who chose to live through storms in a cold new England winter after 1978. That idiom also applied to hurricane season in summer. Although this current storm happened hundreds of miles away from where we are now, images of the blizzard of 2013 brought the remembrance of being without heat or power for days and being chilled to the bone.

Photo by Christine Lyonnais

     We're fortunate now to be away from New England's frigid temperatures and enjoying the mild weather in Boot Key Harbor. My friend Christine sent photos of her husband Donald shoveling after last weekend's blizzard. It was peculiar how quickly we'd forgotten about cold, ice and snow. It almost seemed unimaginable. We don't have a TV so we rely upon emails and Internet to get most of our information and unlike the news media on television we're not bombarded with stories of weather unless it affects us.

     This morning we awoke feeling pretty weather to deal with, a cloudless blue sky, warm balmy breezes, sunshine, and a planned outing at the beach with a free concert at the Tiki tonight! That was until...I opened the fridge. I sensed something was awry when the freezer that I'd been planning to defrost all week was frost free and all of the meat had defrosted! Oh, I forgot to mention, it's not always halcyon days in paradise. My mind went into trouble shooting mode. I checked the outside lazarette where the refrigeration breaker is located. It was off. After uttering a few expletives under my breath, Joe sensed my exasperation. "What's wrong?" he asked. "Looks like that day at the beach won't happen today! I"ll be cooking all of the defrosted food!" I replied.

     You're probably curious as to why the breaker was off. The previous day, Simple Life was in the process of having her new anchor windlass installed. Everything inside the boat had to be moved in order to access the battery bank to run cables to the bow where another battery and the new windlass were to be located. The breaker for the refrigeration must have been bumped in the chaos and the rest was history.

     I assessed the thawed meat situation and checked my recipes. Jambalaya seemed like a viable choice since it called for shrimp, chicken and andouille sausage, all of which had thawed. I determined that we could use the remainder of the chicken and steak for shish kabobs and the rest was Italian sausages. So with the problem resolved at least part of our beach day could be salvaged. The ordeal was an minor inconvenience and we felt fortunate to be in here in paradise.

     By 2:30 PM the day at the beach was on. With beer, beach chairs and umbrellas loaded into the dinghy, we were heading down Sister Creek for Sombrero Beach to our favorite spot under the palm trees in the sand. Not a bad timetable for a "stressful" day in paradise.

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Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Boot Key Harbor

The one and only time Joe and I had spent time in Boot Key Harbor was in 1986 when we sailed into the harbor via the mangrove lined labyrinth known as the Sister Creek entrance from Hawk Channel on the ocean side. We were much bolder then deciding to transit the channel in spite of shoaling. This time being older, less bolder and wiser we decided not to risk a grounding with Simple Life since depths in the channel are skinny at best.

There were no rental moorings in the harbor in the 80's, but over a hundred anchored boats, mostly live aboards were anchored in the harbor. I remember being enthralled at the thought of anchoring alongside all of the full time cruisers. At that time envisioning that someday we'd be part of that cruising community seemed a distant pipe dream. But, here we are and it appears that actively sought after dreams can prevail.

Our departure from Rodrigues Key off Key Largo had been at dawn. The sail south in Hawk Channel put us at the entrance to Boot Key Harbor at 3:30 in the afternoon. Simple Life motored into the harbor after rounding Boot Key through the channel near the Seven Mile Bridge. After passing the old bascule bridge we contacting the Marathon City Marina hoping for for a mooring assignment. There are no reservations. Ann, the administrative assistant at the office assigned our mooring, welcomed us and told us to come in to pick up our informational packet. It was time to become acquainted with our surroundings.

The following day our first order of business at 9:00 AM was to have a cup of coffee and tune in to the Boot Key Harbor Cruisers' Net. Each morning sailors in the harbor tune their VHF radios to the Cruiser's Net on channel 68. The Net is moderated by a few volunteers who facilitate discussions on harbor news, such as "things that go missing in the middle of the night." So far, two dinghies have managed to escape their owner's confines during the week. Last week after midnight, a parrot flew away from its owner's boat and caused quite a commotion in the harbor as it landed on numerous nearby boats before it was returned to its rightful owner. Occasionally, missing items require the involvement of our local sheriff who recently managed to capture a thief who'd been hiding an array of stolen outboards, generators and even a dinghy inside his boat in the harbor. He was arrested on felony stolen goods charges. Residents of the harbor felt relieved after learning of his capture.

Most mornings the chatter on the net is of a lighter nature, consisting of times and locations for yoga classes, tiki hut gatherings, seminars related to cruising as well as an "items from the bilge" section where cruisers buy, sell, trade and give away an assortment of merchandise to interested parties.

This is how we procured our two second-hand bicycles which were previously owned by departing cruisers. The net usually lasts until 9:30 when it's wrapped up with a few trivia questions. In addition, the Boot Key Harbor Cruisers' Net Facebook page is updated daily with information and topics pertaining to the community in the harbor as well as gossip and events taking place in nearby Keys.

Live music jams are organized under the tiki at the City Marina every Saturday evening. Musicians living in the harbor are encouraged to perform and all ages are welcomed.

Last Saturday in addition to the regular performers, the audience welcomed a couple of young new-comers from S/V Madison LynScot. To the delighted audience of about 65 cruisers, Colby and his eight year old sister Peyton sang and performed a couple of their original tunes. In addition numerous other cruising musicians performed a wide range of musical genres. The amount of talent in the harbor rivaled any professional musical performance.

So far it seems as though we're going to enjoy living in the harbor for awhile. How long is awhile? We never know! But, for now we'll be here enjoying whatever comes our way. We'll have a rest after the journey south. The city of Marathon has great amenities such as nearby grocery shopping, handy bars, restaurants and numerous marine related businesses. Even Simple Life will be getting a bottom cleaning and few well deserved upgrades, too.

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