Today, Orenda and crew are traveling NNE along the Florida Keys to Florida’s east coast, then north to somewhere near the Georgia border. Our insurance requires we be north of Cumberland Island by June 1 because of hurricane season. So, reluctantly, we untied our lines, hoisted the fenders onto the boat and began our journey. It feels like the end of summer. I know it is the middle of May. We zoom and talk with our family and friends, all who have remarked about the cold and snow and wind during the last six months and that finally, the weather is warming up and the red buds are blooming and yard work has begun! But leaving Key West feels like summer is over.
Perhaps this confusion is associated with being retired, full-time boaters. We take our home where ever we go (or our home takes us where ever we go?) We travel, not really knowing where we will wake up in the morning a week from now. Since we began our adventures on Orenda in Gloucester Point, VA last August, we have not experienced any change. Flowers continue to be in bloom, temperature stays the same, trees are green, Scott continues to wear shorts and sunglasses all the time. No change of season, no change of wardrobe, no change. So now that we are changing direction, it feels like summer is done. But.. I know it is May.
We arrived in Key West on April 6 after a 26-hour over-night run, (weather dictated) from North Palm Beach. Since we were traveling during the night, we chose a route that took us outside of Hawk Channel into open ocean.
We reserved a slip in Stock Island Marine Village for the month of April. First thing we noticed was the color and clarity of the water. Turquoise, a beautiful shade of turquoise and so clear you could see the bottom!
Key West struck us a fun-loving, free spirited community. Maybe a little quirky even! The southernmost city in the Continental US, Key West comes with a colorful history, or a ‘farce’ to be reckoned with, (he he.) This is how I understand it all went down: In 1982, the U.S. Border Patrol set up a roadblock and inspection point on US1, the Overseas Highway that connects the Florida Keys with the mainland. Vehicles were stopped and searched for drugs and illegal immigrants. This created a major inconvenience for travelers to and from Key West. Well, legal stuff happened with no results. Frustrated, since the U.S. federal government had set up the equivalent of a border station as if they were a foreign nation, the Key West citizens thought they might as well become one. So, they seceded from the USA on April 23, 1982, becoming a ‘micro-nation’ and took the name Conch Republic. Reasonably silly?
Shortly after we arrived in Key West, my sisters, Robin and Julie flew in for a visit! Being fully vaccinated, they felt comfortable shedding their sweat pants to go someplace! The day they arrived, Scott and I were scheduled to get our first vaccine at the CVS pharmacy about a mile from the marina. So we unfolded our ebikes and rode to the pharmacy.
We were so happy to have Robin and Julie on-board again and the four of us began exploring Historic Key West! We toured Ernest Hemingway’s home on Whitehead Street. During a 30-minute guided tour we learned that Hemingway was an intriguing individual having been married 4 times, the second marriage to his first wife’s best friend! In addition to being a famous writer, he was a boxer, a very enthusiastic drinker and an avid marlin fisherman. Throughout the grounds and the two-story house are cats, Polydactyl cats which have six toes on their front paws. We were told there are about 50 cats that live there today, all descendants from Hemingway’s first cat, gifted to him by a sea-captain. All the cats bear the names of celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe or Humphrey Bogart! My sisters and I agreed that having a beer and chat with Hemingway would have been very entertaining!
We walked to the southernmost point in Key West had a beer at the Southernmost Point Bar, aptly named.
During the few days they were with us, we explored and found a few gems!
Well, the plan was devised and agreed upon before Robin and Julie arrived. While in Key West, we would all get Tattoos! Yep, tats or inked! We are all 60 years + so it was time. Scott lead us to a Tattoo shop, the Groovy Rooster and we inquired. Of course they can ink us, how about tomorrow? We sent our “designs” to them late that evening and the following day, after a quick glass of courage, we arrived at the Groovy Rooster.
Scott went first as he was the most motive source to get a tat. He chose the compass rose, believed by sailors that it would bring them good luck and ensure they would find their way home.
I was very reluctant, and not really thinking tattoos are for me, I chose my right back shoulder where I couldn’t see the tat all the time. Again, Danielle did a great job, adding a little color. Julie decided her design needed more time to fully develop. As she said, its permanent, forever and it must be well thought out! Robin, well, her idea was hilarious (Kiss my…. on her bum) but also decided to wait. Next time sisters!
The wind waves on the ocean outside of our marina prevented us from comfortable dinghy exploring, but we did get out one day.
We cruised around some, took a dip in the turquoise water, spotted the “elusive”manatee sunning, and marveled at the clarity of the water.
All good things come to an end and Robin and Julie needed to get back to life. Robin kitchen re-fit. Julie, yard work and family. So sad to see them go.
Scott and I spent the rest of the month sightseeing, scuba diving, exploring, and visiting the “gems” we had found with my sisters in Key West. I was also reading Shadow Divers, a non-fiction book by Robert Kurson recounting the discovery in 1991 of a World War II German U-Boat 60 miles off the coast of New Jersey. Fascinating read, deep sea exploration dives and the eventual identification of U-869, lost in 1945. So, my diving desires were peaked! We packed the dinghy with all the dive gear; tanks, BCs, wet suits, fins, regulators, and cooler (apres-scuba?) and headed out to Sand Key, about 6 nautical miles southwest of Key West. The trip was a success, we blew some bubbles and figured out our weight needs. But…. dinghy diving proved difficult for me with space constraints and climbing into the dinghy from the water!
We visited the Key West Aquarium. The aquarium is an “open-air” aquarium and it only contains species of fish indigenous to Key West Florida.
The Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory was very cool. We were told it has 50 species of butterflies and 20 species of exotic birds. The butterflies flutter freely in the climate-controlled conservatory.
We discovered a sandbar just outside the marina channel where locals would toss out an anchor and the Tiki bar would hang. We took the dinghy there a few times to swim in the water and get cooled off.
Near the end of the month, we departed Stock Island Marina for the Dry Tortugas, about 70 nautical miles west of Key West accessible only by boat and sea plane. The Dry Tortugas is the most remote US National Park which actually covers 100 square miles of water, includes seven tiny keys and Fort Jefferson which sits on Garden Key. The area is known for bird and marine life and ship wrecks. I was thinking Shadow Divers, right? No, the water is really only deep enough to snorkel!
Fort Jefferson, the largest all-masonry fort in the US was built between 1846 and 1875 to protect the nation’s gateway to the Gulf of Mexico along one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. Fort Jefferson featured some of the largest and most advanced weapons of its age. But in 1862, while the fort was still under construction, advances in weapons technology, specifically the rifled cannon, which could blow through the masonry wall, made Fort Jefferson obsolete.
During the Civil War, the fort served as a Union military prison for captured deserters. It also held four men convicted of complicity in President Lincoln’s assassination in 1865.
During the day, the Yankee Freedom Ferry and sea plane bring passengers to the park. So we used the daytime to snorkel and swim in the warm clear water. We found the Bird Key Wreck or Brick Wreck on the Bird Key bank. I had fun snorkeling around the wreck until a barracuda, who seemed to be guarding the wreck made his presence. Was he guarding or expecting food? Whatever, he looked ferocious from the water and followed the dinghy around the whole time!
We returned to Stock Island Marina for two nights. We made plans to see Popa Chubby at the Green Parrot Bar in Key West. The additional day also allowed us to stock up on a few things for our cruise north.
As I write, we are cruising NNE on Hawk Channel, a channel which runs between the islands of the Florida Keys and a line of reefs. We can see the bottom! The water is absolutely turquoise and clear! Perhaps when we get north of the Florida border and decide to stay someplace for a few days, I’ll do some ‘Spring Cleaning.’ Maybe that will help straighten out my brain, that summer is actually just starting!