Getting to Know You ...
30 January 2012 | Key West, FL
Beth / chilly lately, low 70's
We started Friday with breakfast at Pepe’s. The tables were mostly filled – leading us to believe their breakfasts were probably as good as promised and that proved to be true. With choices of eggs, bacon, sausage home fries and several kinds of bread including home made cranberry bread, we ate well – enough to stave off hunger till evening! The only glitch – and that was more humorous than upsetting – was that a bird over Jim’s chair seemed to have something against him – or else had random digestive issues. At any rate, he made little dumps on Jim no fewer than 3 times!
The others headed back to the boats but I took advantage of the opportunity to enjoy a day on my own. (I’ll just note here, that we cruisers must find a pattern that suits us. Some of us like solitude, some like company, some couples prefer to be together most of the time while others like spaces in the togetherness. Jim and I have found that we like a combination of all of it. I especially like to wander off on my own every now and then, and Jim likes to have his own space too. So – when we have the opportunity to create space, we do it – and then come back together with stories to share!)
My first stop was Truman’s Little White House. President Truman loved Key West and made many visits here, conferring with his advisors, enjoying morning walks and playing poker on the porch in the evenings (the table could be covered with a lovely wooden top for tea when Mrs. Truman was here.) The home was comfortable and unpretentious – just what a beach home in the 40’s and 50’s might be expected to be, and is located on a former naval base – now mostly privately owned homes in a gated community. I learned that former presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Clinton have also visited the Little White House for meetings but none came as often or stayed as long as Truman. His desk holds a replica of the famous “The buck stops here” slogan and they have an original page of the newspaper that erroneously reported an election loss.
I’ve been in search of the best key lime pie since I got here, and I found it at Blue Heaven. Theirs is topped with 4 inches of meringue and, along with a frosty glass of unsweet tea it made a great lunch. I perched at the bar in the sandy garden, watched the roosters and listened to Mary, the musician in residence that day. It was a perfectly glorious spot.
About those roosters … There is no corner of Key West without roosters and chickens cluck clucking, or more likely cockadoodledooing. They are beautiful birds with glossy feathers and long graceful tails, and they are not shy. They seem to have no idea that morning is the time to crow, and the rest of the day is for pecking around in the dirt. They crow all day long and are found everywhere. One theory is that they are descendants of the cock fighting birds of early Key West, and I read that when someone dared to suggest limiting their numbers a huge outcry put and end to the idea.
With the afternoon still ahead of me, I visited the oldest house in Key West (1829) and picked up a great little self guided map of the architecture of the town. Although you might think the place is all bars and restaurants from what I’ve been writing, there are many lovely shaded streets to stroll and a great variety of architectural details to see. It was once a big city, home to pirates and wreckers and rum smugglers, centre of the US cigar manufacturing industry, major naval base. It has grand old 2 and 3 storied houses with highly decorative gingerbread trim – many now inns and B&B’s. I saw eyebrow houses with their second story windows barely visible under the overhanging eaves that kept out the hot sun, and the kind of shutters hinged from the top and swinging outward that we frequently found in the Bahamas, and those lovely wide porches on all levels that are de riguer in hot climates. Two homes were built in Green Turtle Cay, Bahamas, dismantled and shipped here on barges after the hurricane of 1846, and several others show Bahamian influence. Along with the grand dames, there are cosy little cottages – some once the homes of cigar factory workers and others just simple houses, almost all with deep porches, bouganvillia, palms and comfy chairs. I’ve put a number of pictures in the gallery – titled Florida Keys.
The city lost its lustre for a few years, and it sounds as if it was quite the free-wheeling off the beaten track place in the Hemingway days, but it became a real destination again – this time for sun, water sports, fishing, snorkeling. It was home to Tennessee Williams, and where Jimmy Buffet got his start, and is still clearly a favourite locale for artists and writers. We shopped and admired at a craft festival on Sunday – with gorgeous and innovative work. I bought a tile mosaic plaque and a copper rooster to put in my garden, and Sandi and I both bought lovely silver rings, hers for a finger, and mine for a toe. I managed to stay out of shops on my exploring day, but we’ve been in many galleries and shops ranging from tasteful to gaudy during our week here.
That independence of spirit is central to the story of how the Keys became “The Conch Republic.” Apparently, in 1982, the border patrol set up a roadblock stopping all cars returning to the mainland from the keys. Citizens were outraged, voted to secede from the US, designed a flag, fired a loaf of stale bread in the air to symbolize war, surrendered, requested aid (in the form of a lifted road block) and partied for a week. The event is still celebrated every year.
And then of course there is the food! We returned to El Siboney for another Cuban lunch, and had tasty pastries and good coffee at Island Joe’s on Fleming. (We would have eaten real breakfasts but Island Joe hadn’t shown up that morning so the kitchen was closed – I guess island time exists here too!) I’ve mentioned the key lime pie, and variations can be found on every corner. We ate Irish nachos (fries with cheese, bacon bits and sour cream) at Finnegan’s Wake on Grinnell St (one of 3 Irish pubs we’ve spotted) and of course have enjoyed the seafood at Azur, Hogfish Grill and the Rusty Anchor. I did some final grocery shopping at Fausto’s on Fleming St and spent a lovely long time browsing among shelves of unusual condiments, good cheeses and packets of interesting edibles for enlivening our meals on board.
Back at the boat in the anchorage off Key West Bight, we endured a little exercise in frustration. We thought we might have dragged a bit on Saturday night because when I did a midnight check, we appeared closer to the boat behind us than we had ever been. We seemed set and we didn’t get any closer on other swings but the next day we decided to lift the anchor and reset. Good thing too. As Jim pulled it up on the windlass, he discovered that the chain was all wrapped and tangled in a long metal bar. Fortunately the fellow on the neighbouring boat hopped in his dinghy and came to help, saying he had done the same thing for a boat last week. We shifted around the area, trying 4 times before we finally got the anchor to catch. The winds have been high – averaging 20 knots the last 36 hours and with our anchor compromised by sea bottom debris, we’d have done some midnight shifting for sure. The old saying “If you think maybe you should do it, go ahead and do it” held true for us because we had been thinking, “Oh maybe it will be OK.” This time, the track feature on our chart plotter shows a lovely happy face as we swing from one angle to another on the anchor. There must be a huge current here because even with 20 knot winds, we still sit broadside to the wind when the tide turns.
So – Madcap is all prepped for a passage. Items are stowed away, easily heated food is prepared (chicken soup and chili) and peanut butter and crackers, trail mix and fruit are nearby in case we stay out of the galley. We’re hoping the seas settle enough Tuesday to allow us to head west toward the Dry Tortugas, south across the Florida Straits to the coast of Cuba and then west again across the Yucutan channel to Isla Mujeres, but we’ll check the weather again in the morning to make sure.
We’ll let you know how it goes and what route we take. We’ve studied all the different routes and read of other folks experiences and we’ll devise our own as we fit wind and wave state and currents and our boat’s abilities into the puzzle that makes up this passage. Fingers crossed for a safe landing in about 3 days time!