Friday, November 22, 2013

The Dust Settles

  A week ago yesterday the last of our Key West visiting friends got together at a local Cuban restaurant, El Siboney's, for one last time before they all left. In the photo above, there is Bob, Papa John, Pat, Rosie, Me, Carrie, Dave, Maureen, Darryll, and Joe.
  We're not sure if everyone liked their dining experience, but Rosie and I like El Siboney's. Their prices are reasonable, and the place isn't fancy. It's located off the beaten path on Catherine Street, a few blocks north of Simonton.
  We had another dinner with half of the group on Friday night. (Bob, Carrie, and Dave left to drive back to Missouri on Friday morning.) It was supposed to be a pot luck affair to get rid of leftovers from the refrigerator, but we wound up being treated to fresh strip steaks, baked potatoes, pork and beans, peas, and carrots. The only thing missing was string beans. Thankfully.
  John and Pat drove by A&B Marina on Saturday morning on their way out of town and dropped off a case of Bud Light. As they drove away, Rosie was in tears, and I was itchin' to get the beer on ice.
  It was a whirlwind month and a great time with great people. There's a good chance we'll do it again next year.
  The downside was that Rosie and I ran ourselves down and both got sick. We spent the next few days taking cold medicine and laying low. We hadn't been sick at all since leaving St. Louis 18 months ago, but we also haven't been staying out so late or around so many people. It was bound to catch up with us.
  We had recently gone to the local library and was able to get a membership for only $30. Our official Florida residence is in Clay County, so we couldn't use the Monroe County library for free. We have no problem paying an annual fee to join our local library because they have not only a great selection of books, they also have a pretty good inventory of DVD movies. We spent the next several nights staying in to watch movies and turn in early with our books.
   I finally read "To Have and To Have Not" by Ernest Hemingway and it was fun to recognize some of the places around Key West that Hemingway had written about so long ago. I wouldn't name the story as his best, but it just seems appropriate to read this book while living on a boat here.
  Speaking of the boat, on Monday we took Swing Set out for a cruise. We had very little wind, so we went over to Stock Island to see how things were coming along over there. There was a big sign on the new office announcing that they were open.
  We backed Swing Set into the slip that we picked out to stay in come December 1st, and we were glad we did. I decided that the slip next to it would be better suited for us due to the finger pier being on our port side instead our starboard side. I have better visibility from the helm on the port stern quarter, so having the finger pier on that side will make backing in easier. I always say it's the little things that you need to pay attention to.
  I contacted the harbormaster and requested to be placed in the slip we picked and he said that there shouldn't be a problem with it. As time goes on, I'll probably want to move again for some reason or another. That's the beauty of living on a boat.
  Because we had some calm days, we decided to take the dinghy out for some exploring on Wednesday morning.

  We took the dinghy out of Key West Bight, heading south around the cruise ship docks and Mallory Square, past Fort Zachary State Park to the Southernmost Point. You can see the famous landmark behind Rosie in the photo. Holly seemed very interested in it.
  Then we ran east toward Boca Chica Key, with intentions of running to Geiger Key for lunch at Geiger Key Marina, a place recommended to us by some of our friends who went there twice for lunch.
  I kept going around bends along the coast of Boca Chica, promising to only go around one more, when I told Rosie that I was getting uncomfortable going so far in the dinghy when we could visit Geiger Key once we move to Stock Island in a few days. I sometimes listen to my instincts. I should do it more often.
  We motored back to a gathering spot of sorts for local boaters, just off of Boca Chica, on a shallow spot with nice soft sand, that, at low tide, there is a beach. There wasn't much activity on a Wednesday, but we did talk to some folks on a Jet Ski tour who said that there is usually many more boaters at this spot on the weekends. It's just a little distance from our future location at Stock Island Marina Village, and we intend to make it a hangout. We have heard that clothing may be optional on this beach. We won't let that stop us.
  We had a couple beers and enjoyed the scenery for a bit, and then went into Safe Harbor past the new marina where we'll be staying, and then over to The Hogfish Bar. We wanted to visit The Hogfish with our friends when we took a ride in Swing Set a couple of weeks ago, but they don't have docking for transients, but we can always find a spot to dock the dinghy.
  Holly is welcome at the seating "outside", which really isn't outside because it's under roof. The have these barstools wide enough for three people to sit at, which we like because we can sit Holly between us while we eat. We spent last New Years Eve at The Hogfish and we like the atmosphere. I think we'll be visiting there a lot.
  Just West of Safe Harbor is a channel that takes you over to the bay side of Key West, but along that channel is a canal that, on the charts, looks like it would go over to the bayside too, only to a better spot, which is on the West side of Sigsbee Key, closer to Garrison Bight.

  The canal runs central through the heart of Key West. The airport was on our port side, and some modest homes were on our starboard side. But then we came what looked to be the end of the canal. Mangroves lined each side and their branches covered the 12 foot width. There was a couple of homes along the way, but soon there was nothing but trees and marsh. When we started seeing "campers" (in this case, means "homeless") and the approach of a low water bridge, I knew this canal wasn't going to be a route for us to take to the bay side of Key West.
  The bridge was only 18 inches off the water, much shorter than the air draft on our dinghy, so we turned around. It was an interesting trip, but we won't feel the need to do it again.
  Back out to the marked channel, we took it north under the A1A bridge and out to Florida Bay. We had to go past Sunset Marina and around Sigsbee Key over to the mooring field at Garrison Bight. Then we took the route under the bridge to Fleming Key and back to Key West Harbor and then to our harbor in Key West Bight. At least I knew we had an "inside route" from Stock Island over to Key West Bight if we wanted to visit downtown in the dinghy, avoiding the prevailing easterly winds.
  The Key West Film Festival had taken place over the weekend. Our feeling low prevented us from attending one of the films being shown at The Tropic Cinema, but we did go to The Tropic on Wednesday night for a movie. The Tropic is a real gem. If you're in Key West and want an evening out that doesn't consist of Sloppy Joe's and strip clubs, take in a movie at The Tropic, if for no other reason but the popcorn.
  We did a few chores on the boat on Thursday, but toward late afternoon we took the dinghy back out for a cruise. A friend had mentioned a sternwheeler that had found its way to Key West recently, and we wondered if it was still in the area, so we went over to the City Marina at Garrison Bight to see if the Barbara Ann was still docked there.

  We found the Barbara Ann just where she was docked last January, although with an addition of some new windows and another door or two. She still touts "Port of St. Louis" on her stern, but I would venture to stay she'll never see that part of the country again. Barbara Ann has more steel cables holding her in her slip than the S.S. Admiral.
  The City Marina at Garrison Bight is home to an eclectic mixture of floating homes and houseboats in various stages of repair. While we find it very interesting to look at, we wouldn't want to keep our boat in this marina. I would bet that there isn't a square foot of shiny fiberglass in the whole place, and nearly every "vessel" has a bilge pump going twenty-four seven. The Barbara Ann is not one of those. Yet.
  We exited Garrison Bight and took the long way around back to Key West Harbor along the shoreline of Fleming Key. It was a wet ride as the wind had picked up some, but it was fun.   The dinghy is our favorite way to have fun, and while Swing Set seems more and more like "home", the dinghy is our essential method of transportation, and something we don't think we could do without.
  We meandered our way through Key West Harbor. It too is an eclectic mixture of boats, but only the primary type of vessel is a sailing one. We saw our "Prairie Dog" friends from last December. Their boat was even loaded with more junk than it was back then. They weren't at home, not like we were going to stop for a chat anyway.
  Another fella out on his sailboat, albeit without sails, and a dinghy tied up to the stern that was defying all efforts to sink, was trying to wave us over. It wasn't an "I need assistance" type wave, but an "I see somebody to have a beer with and I have no beer wave", normally one I find hard to resist, but we have found reason to avoid people who live this way on a sailboat, or otherwise on any decrepit vessel, for the same way we avoid socializing with people who live, say, on a park bench. They may be nice folks, but their seeming succession of bad choices that may have wound them up in their predicaments were choices that we also choose not to become part of. While I'm sympathetic, you're not dealing with Mother Theresa here.
  It was getting close to sunset, so we cruised around Tank Island, now called Sunset Key because the owners of the multi-million dollar homes built on it didn't want to be living on such a commonly named place called Tank Island, and we drifted along the western shore of Key West and Mallory Square.

  We waited on the sunset and watched all the folks lined up along Mallory Square, and along the upper decks of the cruise ship "Majesty of the Seas", a Nassau registered ship that has seen better days. I post this photo for the followers of this blog who would rather see pictures than read my writing.
  Our day was a good one. We found out that our new bike will be arriving from California next week, and that our new generator is also on the way. We have a large deposit placed on the generator and I was beginning to get a little worried about it coming.

  This photo is not of the best sunset we have seen in our travels, it's just one more. But one more sunset hopefully means one more sunrise. String enough of them together and you wind up with a life. If you're lucky, you can eek out a good one.
  We burned our running lights on the dinghy and got back to A&B Marina after dark. The fellas in the beautiful Buddy Davis sportfishing boat near us appeared genuinely concerned that we had been out so late, saying that they were giving us another thirty minutes before calling the Coast Guard. My money says they were more concerned about Rosie than me. What do you think? Always have a pretty woman by your side and money in your pocket, and somebody will usually come looking for you.

Friday, November 15, 2013

We Get Company

  When we first started out on our adventure a year and a half ago, one of our goals was to be here in Key West during Fantasy Fest and the Powerboat races. We spent so much time on the inland rivers last summer, we began to readily see that making Key West in time for these events in 2012 would mean skipping by some really fun spots along Florida's West Coast, so we set our sights on being here this year. We're so happy that we did.
  In the last few weeks there has been over forty people down here visiting for some reason or another. Some of the folks we feel are close friends, and some we had a mild acquaintance with, but we feel like we became closer friends with most of them due to the fun times we had with everyone.

  Now before you start thinking how popular we must be to have all these people travel all the way from Missouri, Illinois, and Kentucky to see us, we can only claim that one couple actually made the trip just to see us, the rest came because of Fantasy Fest, the boat races, and because Key West is a fun place to visit.
  Having all these folks visiting was no ordeal for us because we didn't (and won't) arrange accommodations or transportation. Two sets of friends rented houses here in town for a month, and they had most of the people staying with them off and on. I commend them for the work they did in hosting so many of their friends. We were just able to reap the benefits.
  Since our blog is about boating and living aboard, I won't chronicle our activities here in Key West too much, but for anyone dreaming about casting off and living aboard their boat, I have some insight and want to share it.
  Many months ago I decided to gut our second state room and make an "office" out of it. Anyone who has read our blog from the beginning knows this. (The rest of you, please catch up.) Of course we wanted a nice place to use our desk top computer, and have room to store tools and extra parts, but the other thing was that we didn't want to have guests aboard to stay overnight. The reason is that we like to run a tidy ship. Anyone coming on our boat would have a hard time realizing that we have been living on our boat for so long. As they say, "there is a place for everything, and everything is in its place". This is impossible to do with more than two people living on this boat. OK, two people and a small dog.
  Sure, two people could sleep on the floor in the salon, but we've done that before and our schedule is usually different than that of others, and we don't like to be walking over anyone if they want to "sleep in".
  The other thing is that if we are on the hook, the systems on our boat are taxed as it is with just us, two or more people onboard just adds that more usage to the water, waste, and power systems, plus there never seems to be enough room in our small refrigerator either.
  But sure, we like friends to visit, right? But to have visitors, you have to commit to being in one place for an extended amount of time. Last year we were moving around a lot, and had we adhered to the travel schedule of friends wanting to see us while they were "in the area", we wouldn't have been able to adhere to our loosely knit travel plans, and while we were somewhat flexible in that regard, twice we had to draw the line and commit ourselves to set departure dates.
  The other criteria for having friends and family come to visit is to be in a place where people like to visit. Sounds simple, but after a day or two, your visitors may want to strike out on their own for a few hours, and you'll probably want them to, so you'll want to be in a place where there are things to do for them. We've had friends visit while we were at Kentucky Lake, Marathon, and Key West. No problem there.

  Another consideration about having friends visiting while you are on a boat is having room for them all if there is a large group. We took the photo above when we decided to have a dockside happy hour. Even with our generator out of the boat, at times the swim platform was submerged. With a group this size, going out on the water was out of the question.
  On the subject of running a tidy ship; we know that when guests first come aboard, if they are boaters, and most of these folks in the picture are, they want to remove their shoes, but everyone wants to remove them right inside the transom door, but our cockpit is small enough without everyone having to step over a dozen pair of shoes, so we asked everyone to line them up in the salon under our settee, so their shoes weren't a trip hazard. We also had to insist that everyone use the bathroom at the marina. Our holding tank would have lasted about an hour with this many. When it got dark the men used more convenient methods.
  Again, most, if not all, of our friends are boaters, so no one was severely disappointed that we never left the dock. The weather wasn't co-operating anyway as we had a good deal of wind.
  The week earlier, with another group of friends, we were able to go out on the water. We took eight guests, which made it ten with us. Ten people onboard Swing Set for a cruise is manageable, any more than that and it becomes a chore for Rosie and I. Know how many people you can safely cruise with on your boat, and stick with it. You and the Coast Guard will appreciate it.

  I told about our snorkeling trip with Ryan and Aimee in my last blog, but I didn't have this picture, so I wanted to include it this time. If I was going to have an advertisement for chartering guests on Swing Set, this would be a good picture for it. Rosie and I are always hopeful that when we have guests aboard our boat that they have a good time. People who have a bad boating experience never forget it.

  Holly just had her second birthday! We mark Halloween as Holly's birthday as we don't really know what day she was born, and Holly really doesn't care. We took her to breakfast with us to Pepe's and she was presented with a ceramic bowl filled with ice water for her enjoyment. She didn't get any special treats or birthday cake. We don't want to spoil her.
  We spent many nights out with our friends during that last few weeks, and had many late nights and lots of fun, but in every case, as we walked, or weaved, our way back to the boat, we always looked forward to seeing our pet and Holly never failed to make us feel like we were missed.
  We also look forward to seeing our friends again, whenever that may be. They also made us feel like we are missed, and they all made us feel like they wish they were doing this too.