Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Key West in our rear view (actually side view)

Well we watched Key West disappear in our rear view mirror (actually side view since all we can see in the rear view is a large boat tailgating us). It's hard to believe 37 days went by so fast. We didn't actually leave all of Key West behind though. When we pulled the boat out we found a mini coral reef had started growing on the bottom. It's hard to understand how the coral reefs are dieing when they grow so easily on the bottom of a boat. We really had a good time and met some interesting people. Here's some pictures of the ones we haven't already blogged about. We'll start with our neighbors in the marina.

Dave and Joy drive down from Minnesota every winter and stay on their MacGregor, Summer Joy. They are experienced sailors and actually sailed their MacGregor to Cuba (with proper permits of course) a number of years ago. We've learned a lot from them and have some new ideas on making our boat easier to sail.

Ron is a Key West resident and helped drag me into our slip the first day we arrived. He has a 26X, Waterbear, like ours and has also provided us with lots of ideas as well as charts for the area. He is shown here installing turnbuckles on his sidestays to make them a lot easier and more precise to adjust.

Scott lives in North Carolina but lived in Key West for a long time. He still keeps his J-30, Night Nurse, in the marina and comes down for the Wrecker Races that Schooner Wharf sponsors monthly in the winter. The races are to simulate the the way locals tried to get to an offshore wreck first so they could claim salvage rights. It's a fun race, and for some just a prelude to the party at Schooner Wharf later. Scott has a lot of racing experience and his boat is built for racing so he virtually always wins the under 30 ft class. He told us about the race around the island they do on little sunfish sailboats. The bridge you come across just before Key West is too low even for the Sunfish so they had to race in the direction of the current and tip the boats over so the current would sweep them under the bridge.

Nick left Wisconsin in August on his two masted sailboat Pirate Witch. He completed the journey to Key West shortly after we arrived. Susan has joined him on several legs of the journey. They went to the Marquesas before turning back to Key West. They said the fishing there was unbelievable. Nick is a musician and has played different places on his way down. In March he's heading to Gulfport Mississippi to see his son who's coming back from his fourth tour of duty in Afghanistan.

One more neighbor was this 4 ½ ft tarpon that cruised the marina. He had a hook and line hanging from his right jaw and part of his jaw was ripped out.You have to have a $50 permit to take a tarpon out of the water in Florida so they have become a protected and very plentiful species. They are everywhere.

Los Van Van, the premier Cuban dance band of all time, scheduled their USA tour kickoff in Key West at Fort Zachery Taylor. We got tickets which said the show started at 7:30. Unfortunately it did not specify that it was Cuban time. Loooonnnngggg story short – it was 9:00 when they finally straggled onto the stage and started. They played recorded Latin music while we were waiting but it was so long that they ran out of Latin music and started playing Bon Jovi and soft rock – pretty sad. The music was good when they got going but could you believe it – here they are playing in America but all the words were in Spanish! Anyway we wound up sitting next to Connie, a parrothead we recognized from the Key West Parrothead meeting we went to. We had a good time talking to her (for an hour and a half). She's from Williamsport, PA and lives on a street where Jimmy Buffet has one of his many houses.

We met Al and Jan (1st and 2nd from right) at Schooner Wharf one night. They are originally from Virginia but live on their sailboat, Cavalier, in Key West and other Florida ports during hurricane season. In spite of being Redskin fans they are very nice. Al had a birthday the next day so we got him a present. We just knew he would love an autographed photo of Tony Romo. He was a good sport (as all Redskin fans have become). Brenda and Jan are good fiends with the Custom Cigar Craftsman in Residence at Schooner Wharf.

At Schooner Wharf we also met a nice family from South Carolina who just got off the Sunset Cruise. Their son thought it was awesome.

And this father - son duo were from the UK. They had met some naval officers earlier who took them on a tour of their boat. The bar wound up kind of soggy in front of us but our favorite bartender in Key West, John, rose to the occasion as usual with his own version of “money laundering”.

In the culinary department, La Creperie recently reopened on Petronia Street across from My Blue Heaven. It had been on Duval but burned last year. Very tasty with a wide assortment of crepes including a Red Velvet crepe. That's Yolande, one of the co owners with Brenda.

On our way to the 1st Annual Keys Music Fest in Marathon we couldn't resist stopping at Keys Fishery for their lobster reuben. We were smarter this time though and split one.

The festival was great (and all four groups started right on time!). A guitar player/maker from a small town in western Virginia told the crowd he never sees this many people at one time since his town only has about six permanent residents. He said they have to take turns being the mayor, minister, town drunk, etc. He invited everyone to visit in the summer but quickly added – “not all at once though”. A bluegrass band, Springfield Exit from Winchester Virginia played as well as the Cajun band Beausoleil.

On the way back we stopped at No Name Pub on No Name Key. They do the money on the walls/ceiling thing. I guess it's better than putting your money in the stock market.

The Key West library puts on talks by authors/artists/musicians on Monday nights in the winter. We went to see Tom Corcoran ( ) who writes the Alex Rutledge, Key West detective series. He got out of the navy in Key West and was the bartender at the Chart Room in the Pier House. He became friends with Jerry Jeff Walker and when Jerry Jeff brought a struggling young singer named Jimmy Buffet to Key West, Tom offered Jimmy a free welcome drink at the Chart Room. Can you guess what Jimmy asked for? (see answer below) Well Tom and his wife had Jimmy over for dinner a lot and they became friends. It wasn't long before Margaritaville happened and Tom realized “This guy is going to be rich because of a few lines he wrote. I should be able to do that.” So he sat down and wrote

But now she lives down by the ocean
She's takin' care to look for sharks
They hang out in the local bars
And they feed right after dark

Sound familiar? Not the first verse, but a verse of the Buffet hit - Fins. Tom said at that point the phone rang, he got distracted and didn't write any more. Tom is also a photographer and had done some work for Jimmy so he was invited to Montserrat to do photography for the Volcano album. When packing he noticed the paper with the Fins verse on it and stuck it in his luggage. When he unpacked Jimmy noticed the paper and said “Hey, maybe I can use this”. When the album came out, Tom recognized his lyrics. He said it's one of the fatest royalty checks he gets each year. He also colaborated on Cuban Crime of Passion as well as doing a number of other album covers for Jimmy. He recently wrote most of the lyrics for John Frinzi's latest album in addition to his just released mystery Hawk's Channel Chase. Oh, the answer to the question – not Landshark, obviously, but also not Corona – it was a Heineken. I guess all the years plugging Corona are a sign that the beach scene in Holland isn't a very compelling marketing resource.

One more panorama before we leave Key West. This is the top of the waterfall at the pool at Dante's restaurant. It's open to Key West Bight Marina and Dante's customers.

Finally we've put together a video montage of our stay. We talked about all the scenes except Dominique and His Flying Housecats – he's the Key West/Mallory Square version of Siegfried and Roy, Knot's and Shots – a friendly competition among crew members of the serious yatch races we talked about, and the Doerfels – a family bluegrass (and rock) band from Buffalo, NY. The primary band members range from 12 to 19 but as you can see, one making a guest appearance is up way past his bed time. Just click on the start button below Dominique.

I just hope you understand I just have to go back to the Island......

Woody and Brenda

Friday, January 29, 2010

Finally Warm in Key West

We've gotten to the point where we can't quite keep up this tourist pace any more so we decided to finally take the boat out for her maiden sailing cruise. As we've told many of you, the person we bought the boat from had never taken the sails out of the sailbags and in the several years we've had it we only had parties on it in the driveway. A neighbor in the marina gave us some charts and we motored out of the marina. Admiral Brenda hoisted the sails but when she went to lower the rudders they wouldn't go down. Since the boat won't sail very well without rudders we motored back to the marina and discovered that Captain Woody had reversed the lowering and raising ropes when he replaced them back in the summer. The next day we headed out again but when Admiral Brenda raised the sail the knot connecting the halyard to the sail came untied, the halyard went over the top pulley and the sail came down. We were determined though so we motored back in, removed the boom, lowered the mast, reinstalled the halyard, restored the boom and mast and headed back out. This time everything went smoothly on our downwind trek by Fleming Key. When we turned to tack back we went to lower the swing keel but it wouldn't lower. We couldn't make any headway without the keel so we motored back. Since Admirals outrank captains, Captain Woody swam under the boat to free up the keel. The water was freezing but at least most of the dead fish were gone. The keel came free and seems to be okay now but high winds have kept us in port since then.

This week we went to the other really nice beach in Key West at Fort Zachary Taylor Park. It's at the west end of the island and is great for watching the sunsets. The picture shows the beach and the view looking out from the beach cafe in the woods. The cruise ships go right past it and very close.

We visited the East Martello Museum this week. It's the other part of the Civil War fortification the Yankees started but didn't finish on Key West. This museum has a lot of Key West history – the years of the lucrative sponge trade, the 29 cigar factories in 1876 which produced 62 million cigars per year as well as many bizarre events such as Count Von Cosel who fell in love with his patient Elena Hoyos. After she died in 1933 from tuberculosis, he dug up her body and for seven years attempted to bring her back to life in his laboratory. When he was finally caught, it was the national media event of the year. I'm surprised he kept at it because the picture of her after seven years didn't look too good. He only got a misdemeanor with his 15 minutes of fame. Another item from the early 1900's is Robert the Doll who was given to a young boy by his Haitian nanny. The boy claimed it was a voodoo doll and when he was accused of mischief he would say “Robert did it.” “Blame it on Robert “ is still a common expression here.

The turtle museum in front of Turtle Kraals restaurant tells the story of the big industry that turtles once were to Key West. A kraal is a corral where they kept the live turtles until they processed them. But it's the same old story – they pretty much wiped them out before the government put a stop to it.

Brenda decided she would have her picture taken with the snake this week. Strangely enough no margaritas were required before the snake event but several after.

On one of our walks through Key West Bight we were fortunate to run into Doug Bennet. He writes the blog “This Week on the Island” ( ).We, as well as many Parrotheads across the country, have lived the tropical life vicariously through his blog for years. We recognized him by his two lovely huskies. He says that's the way it always happens.

This is a collage of amusing sites we've seen on our walks around town. We looked in at the Southernmost Hockey Rink but the ice had melted. The beer dyed t-shirts were not selling at all. I think that's because most guys are do-it-yourselfers with that type of clothing.

A really nice place to get an overall view of Key West and also the sunset is the roof top deck of La Concha Hotel on Duval. It's open to all after 3:00PM, when coincidentally the roof top bar opens. Here's what you can see.

And the sun goes down again. Finally we are

Warm in Key West, Woody and Brenda High

Monday, January 18, 2010

We Survived the Key West Deep Freeze!

I'm surprised we haven't seen T-shirts with that on them yet. While people survived, the cold temperatures were lethal to many species. There are hundreds of dead fish in the marina with even larger numbers farther north. Iguanas were falling from the trees (it was bad enough having to watch out for falling coconuts) as they passed out from the cold. Sea turtles (170 plus) washed up in a dazed condition and were rushed to the Turtle Hospital in Marathon and put in warm kiddie pools. And several Pythons were captured in the Upper Keys when they wandered out of hiding trying to find warm spots (Brenda kept the cabin door and hatch secured at all times). But as you can see the Humans survived to feast on Cuban sandwiches (from Sandy's - White Street - best so far) on Smather's Beach once again.

Key West is a place with a variety of cultural activities. Last Thursday we went to a piano concert (Mozart and Schubert) at noon at St. Pauls Episcopal, spent the afternoon at Schooner Wharf listening to the "tell it like it is" song style of Michael McCloud and endured a portion of the "Pete and Wayne Show" at Sloppy Joes (the only part I can repeat -"She was so ugly even the tide wouldn't go out with her"). We really enjoy Michael McCloud. As a testament to his popularity he has been performing at Schooner Wharf 5 to 6 days a week for the last 16 years.
Another cultural event we attended was a presentation at the Key West Library by the Key West Maritime Historical Society on rum in the British Navy. The presenter was Admiral Edward Vernon who first made captain in 1706. He was a practical man and realized that the reason crew members sometimes fell out of the rigging was due to the daily ration of 8 oz of rum each sailor was given as part of his pay. The ration was originally one gallon of beer a day but once the West Indies started making rum from sugar cane, the switch was made - it took up less space and didn't go bad. Capt Vernon decreed that the rum would be mixed with 3 parts water and half a ration served in the morning and half in the afternoon. He liked to wear a coat called a Grogram and hence got the nickname "Old Grog" . And yes - you guessed it - the mixture became known as "Grog". When a key line on a ship called the main brace parted it took exceptional skill to splice it. And the seaman who did it got an extra ration. Well this led to much grumbling so they started giving every one an extra ration. After that "let's splice the main brace" became a call for drinks ashore. And Key West has got to be the only place where the library actually served "Grog" at one of it's lectures (purely for educational purposes - with free refills).
More history at the Mel Fisher treasure museum - this time Spanish. Treasure ships heading back to Spain hit a hurricane 2 days out and sank near the Marquesas. Part of the exhibit is a 16 carat 72 oz gold bar that you can reach in and touch/lift. Well Admiral Brenda tried every which a way to yank that bar out of the hole until a guard came and told her to stop. If we come again I'm bringing my portable Roto-Zip tool.
This Saturday was the Key West Commercial Fishermen Seafood Festival in Bayview Park near the marina. The picture says it all "see Woody hold the lobster - see Brenda eat the lobster". It is a nice festival with almost no tourists. The residents of Key West are very friendly and we enjoyed talking to many of them.

I couldn't resist having my picture taken with this beautiful Burmese Python. Brenda only agreed to take the picture because the camera has a telephoto lens and she could stand far away. Jungle Greg has an exotic animal rescue organization and will bring snakes , iguanas and other reptiles to your birthday party.
We were very fortunate to run in to Coconut and Crew at Schooner Wharf one afternoon before they headed north. Jim, Sandy and Coconut (the dog) have been writing a blog about their adventures in Key West aboard their sailboat Morgan Glory. (Actually the blog is written by Coconut - no lie - click on ) We have been reading their blog for months and getting inspiration and ideas for our trip. It was fun to have their blog come to life. They have discovered  the way to assimilate into Key West society - have a dog. At Schooner Wharf the dogs sit on bar stools or on the bar. And the bartenders give them treats. We're thinking about renting one from the Humane Society on Stock Island or buying a stuffed one at Kmart and telling everyone he's just lazy.

Some serious sailboat racing will take place this week in Key West. Many of the boats have already arrived and it's clear that they are built for one purpose. My money is on Highland Fling - an 84 footer from Isle of Man.
Here are some panarama scenes we've put together. Some of you have asked how this is done. You just take overlapping pictures and open them in Serif Panorama Plus Se. It then stitches them together as a panorama. You will need to crop the final result- I use Picasa for that. The Serif Panorama Plus Se is a free program (download at ) and Picasa is a free download as well.

The top one is Smathers Beach. The next one is watching the sunset from the Sunset Pier at Ocean Key Resort and the bottom one is the Sunset Pier. Other activities this past week were visits to the Tropical Gardens on Stock Island, the courtyard gardens at Pelican Poop (Ernest Hemingway lived there when he wrote Farewell to Arms), the observation deck on the roof of La Concha Hotel and the Museum of Art and History in the old customs house. Finally we are.....

Thawing in Key West - Woody and Brenda

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

End of the road

Well we're here - 1125 miles south of Chesapeake. Arrived on December 30 and had 3 days of sunshine with highs in the 70's. It was actually hot. New Years Eve we went exploring on our bikes and wound up at the sunset festivities at Mallory Square with about a half a million other people. There are so many people here for New Years that some fear the island will sink. The sunset turned out nice, punching through some low clouds before sliding past the edge of the earth.

After that it was off to Schooners Wharf  for dinner and a carribean band. The "Lowering of the Winch" occured at midnight from the mast of a schooner in the harbor next door. New Years Day we went to Smathers Beach which is really nice because of all the palm trees you can lay under when it gets too hot. It started clouding up about 4 o'clock so we went back to the boat just before the cold front hit.
High winds rolled the boat all night making it difficult to sleep but no real problems. Since then we've been in the grip of the longest cold snap (50's and 60's) in south Florida in the past 20 years. It's supposed to be back in the high 70's by Monday.We've played tennis at the city complex a few blocks from the marina. They have round robin pickup matches morning and afternoon and the Key West residents are very friendly. We watched Dallas cream the Eagles at Guy Harvey's Sports Bar (6 different $1 drafts at all times). Hopefully we'll see the same thing again Saturday. Yesterday we went to the Eco-Discovery Center where they have exhibits about mangrove habitat and the Florida reefs. And we went to the Tropical Gardens at West Martello Tower on the south side of the island. This is an old Civil War Fort that the Key West Garden club has turned into a lush tropical setting. It's really something - overlooking the ocean. It struck us as somewhat strange that there were thousands of people walking up and down Duval Street looking in T-shirt shops and there were only 5 other people at the gardens when we were there.

As you can see Admiral Brenda enjoyed it so much she was beside herself.

Woody and Brenda High