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