30/01/2012/10:00 pm, Key West, FL
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!
26/01/2012/7:15 am, Key West, FL
We're doing our best to fill our days while we wait for our weather window. It's a tough job but we're working at it. If you have ever been to Key West, you'll know my tongue is firmly in cheek. If not, let me tell you about Key West - aka the Conch Republic.
I had always dismissed Key West as a place that might be interesting to visit some day but was probably pretty much like the rest of southern Florida. Not so. While we are somewhat disappointed that we have not been able to move on yet toward this year's "destination", we are once again reminded that both the story and the joy are in the "journey".
We moved around to the anchorage on Monday, filled up with fuel at Key West Bight Marina (and are thankful we travel on a sailboat) and found ourselves a nice little spot in 16 feet of water. On Tuesday, we decided to return to Azur to see if they do breakfast as well as they do dinner, and the answer is Yes! Although the beef hash looked awfully tempting, 3 of the 4 of us opted for frittata with various choices of cheese and flavourings and all were good. Steve's eggs, fennel sausage and home fries also passed the taste test. Hmmm ... will we manage to check out lunch there as well before we leave? Time will tell.
Jim and I visited Hemingway House on Whitehead St, and our guide, Lorne, was full of anecdotes about the famous resident. We laughed with him about Pauline's decision to replace the fans with chandeliers, and the stories about the pool, hand carved out of rock in the back yard. We imagined the stormy scene when Ernest arrived home with a urinal to install as a watering trough for the cats and viewed his "last penny" embedded in the pool deck. We loved seeing his writing room over the garage and we could picture the man writing with intense concentration each morning before he headed off to the local bars. We admired a few of the many 6-toed cats who live on the premises, and came away shaking our heads in wonderment at the larger than life author, fisherman, ladies' man who spent several productive years here. It is so sad to think of the way depression brought about an early end to this man's life. I'm currently reading "The Paris Wife" about Ernest's years in Paris with Hadley, his first wife, and so far, he is still relatively happy so it seemed strange to be visiting this house where he lived with Pauline, Wife #2.
After visits to several galleries and shops, and a stop at a well situated coffee shop on Duval St where we perched on stools and watched the passers by, we rejoined Steve and Sandi for $1.50 beers at Pepe's followed by another visit to the Schooner Wharf bar (Richard - we did it for you!) to check out the local colour again. I think it is a toss up as to which bar has more locals and accompanying character. We're headed for Pepe's for breakfast Friday so perhaps that will tell the tale.
One tragic story to report is the death of a crewmember on the Appledore - a tall ship here in the harbour. The young man was aloft when the person holding the line (his girlfriend) was unable to manage a shift in weight and he fell to the deck. It is so terribly sad and our hearts ached every time we walked past the ship with its sails at half mast and the crew clustered around, supporting each other.
Jim and I visited the historical museum at the Customs House, learning more about Flagler's railway that was finished in 1912 after delays from hurricanes, and washed out in the hurricane of 1935. What an event it must have been when the first train, with Flagler aboard, arrived in town. It was truly an enormous feat of engineering to build all the necessary bridges and connect the many keys between here and Miami. After the railway was washed away, the road was finished and the era of car travel to the Keys began. Portraits of many significant individuals in Key West history lined the staircase, and we spent lots of time examining artist Mario Sanchez's wood cuts depicting life here.
We all went for a good walk to El Siboney, a Cuban restaurant on Catherine St, with great dishes - chicken fricassee and lima bean soup were the specials - both delicious. Sandi and Steve came for dinner in the evening - Spicy Coconut Pork with Rice and Broccoli Salad, followed by a game of Mexican Train Dominoes where Sandi cleaned house by winning all three rounds!
We spent a good part of Thursday on board. We had planned to go ashore around noon, but as we sat in the cockpit chatting on the phone, we noticed that, with the wind and current combining to pull our anchor chain straight, a nearby buoy was too close for comfort. We upanchored and circled around a bit, finding that the only available space was in areas of 26-28 ft depth and we would much prefer to be in shallower water. We located an empty spot and we're dug in but will likely move again when the opportunity arises. These dolphins spent several minutes playing around our dinghy. They rolled and dove and popped their heads up to have a look at the grey creature that declined to play with them. Jim even got a splash from one of them as he blew air before he dove under again.
Our bar of choice today was Captain Tony's - the original location of Sloppy Joe's where Ernest Hemingway spent many hours and where Jimmy Buffet started performing for tips. In need of food, we crossed the street to Amigo's where we happily downed platters of nachos loaded with black beans, chilies, tomatoes and sour cream, and drank water from cups that said "Once you've ruined your reputation, you can live quite freely." What fun.
Madcap was still where we left her when we returned just after sunset and we spent a quiet evening aboard - resting up for another full day of experiencing Key West. It looks like we'll be here until next week - Tuesday? Maybe Monday?
p.s. I added a blog about Stock Island back one or two days - scroll back. More coming on Key West.
23/01/2012/6:40 am, Key West
We moved off the dock today, around Key West to anchor in the bight. While it is lovely here, the window wasn't long enough for us to head off to Isla Mujeres, so we'll stay here to be tourists until the end of the week probably. Having so much fun - no time to write. Details coming soon!
This is our evening view!