Call For a Tow

What Do You Do All Day?


When Lisa and I are not traveling on the water and we’ve gotten caught up on our chores (this really never happens completely) our days are freed up to do as we like. This becomes especially rewarding when we’re docked, like we were in Key West for the month of January. People who don’t know about boats, but who are interested in what this Loop trip is about, or maybe boaters who have not done any long-distance cruising but are interested in doing so in the future, always seem to ask: “What do you do all day?” When they ask this question it’s more a statement of what can you possibly do to keep busy all day long, every day. Well I’ve got to say that there’s never a dull moment, and the days are full from the time we get up to the time our heads hit the pillow at night.

Our son Skyler, Lisa and I taking a lunch break in downtown Key West at Hog’s Breath Saloon

With Key West as a model for what we do with our days I’ll start with our first full day after arriving on New Year’s Eve day. We never even made it out of the marina as we busied ourselves getting settled in, and readied ourselves for another much-anticipated week, this time with our son Skyler Nelles. We’d made arrangements for our three sons to join us at different times during our trip. Bart had already joined us in Sarasota during the Christmas holiday, and our other son Ross will join us in the spring, in Florida, on the ICW.

The Fosters, who immediately made us feel at home in Key West, sitting with their four young boys on the deck of their Gulfstar.

Our first night at the marina, Dave and Vickie Foster greeted us with a big plate of homemade cookies and a warm welcome to the marina. We had the pleasure of getting to know them and their four young boys over our four-week stay. They live on their 53-foot Gulfstar motorsailor, and have done extensive traveling with plans to go cruising to South America next year. Dave and Vickie were helpful to us by lending us their bike, taking us into town, and sharing with us some of their local knowledge.

Skyler flew into Key West on January 1st, our first full day at Sunset Marina on Stock Island. After Skyler’s late day arrival we just stayed on the boat to catch up with each other. It didn’t take Skyler long to appreciate the warm, sunny climate, especially when compared to the big freeze he left back in Michigan.

This was our view from Mallory Square at sunset.

The next several days were spent getting the lay of the land and the surrounding waters. In our travels we’ve become accustomed to using alternative means of transportation. From Stock Island we took the green bus route into downtown Key West and the blue route brought us back to the marina. By the time we figured out the color system, waited for the bus and finally took the 30-minute ride into town we’d already invested a couple of hours. We’re used to this scenario. I’m sure Skyler would have preferred a cab. Once in Old Town we had lunch at the infamous Hog’s Breath Saloon, saw Ernest Hemingway’s home, and visited the southernmost point in the U.S. before catching a bus back to the marina. A visit to the pool helped cool us down, and before we knew it, happy hour arrived. Where did all the time go?

Sometimes it was easier to make a grocery run in our dinghy, parking being the only obstacle. Here we hid our dinghy in a mangrove tunnel next to the highway.

Sometimes exploring and executing errands can take a little longer than they do when you have a car handy. Figuring out bus schedules, finding taxis, or borrowing vehicles from other boaters to go to and from a destination can sometimes be complicated and time consuming. But we actually enjoy the challenge of getting around town by public transportation as we are also amazed at the eagerness of people willing to share a bike a car or simply give us a ride. We procured our groceries several ways, by bus, dinghy, and borrowed car or bike.

Waiting for the bus and riding into town and back was always an adventure, here we’re waiting to take the green route.

The next day with Skyler was spent circumnavigating the island of Key West with him manning our 10-foot dinghy. This was a great way to get an overview of the island by exploring all the nooks and crannies, harbors, marinas, and beaches. It must’ve been a 20-mile ride all around the island. We’re lucky we made it back before running out of gas, just in time for a splash in the pool and a soak in the hot tub.

Mallory Square is definitely the place to be for a Key West Sunset. It’s more than a sunset, really, it’s an event, a daily occurrence, and for some an excuse to drink. For others it’s a celebration of life, and for yet others it’s just a way of life. Every day, a couple of hours before sunset, people start to migrate to the square to watch the jugglers, fire eaters, musicians, magicians, and hopefully the western sky will provide a grand sun drenched setting. If you’re in Key West you don’t want to miss it.

When you stand at the southern most point in the U.S., marked here by this monument, you’re only 90 miles from Cuba.

When we inquired about a good snorkeling place, Dave recommended Boca Chica Key. A few days later Lisa and I threw some snorkeling gear into the dinghy and took off in search of local underwater marine life. During our four-mile dinghy ride to the snorkeling site we spotted turtles and nurse sharks, and we ran our dinghy aground trying to cut across a cove. Once in the protected Boca Chica nature area the water was crystal clear. We found the wreck Dave had told us about, sitting in five feet of water. We set the diving flag in the water next to the dinghy and I jumped in. I was excited to be up close and personal with all the colorful fish. Apparently I was a little too personal, because as I was heading back to the dinghy I had an intimate encounter with a jellyfish, and got stung. After struggling to get back into the dinghy, Lisa surveyed the sting on my ankle. It resembled a mark like Zoro used to leave on his victims, and the pain was getting worse. Lisa recalled seeing an episode on Survivor where they discussed urinating on a sting to relieve the pain. I did this and surprisingly it worked well enough to make it back to Kismet without to much discomfort. I then soaked my entire foot in a bucket of vinegar for half an hour. After a week, the sting was almost completely healed, but I’ll think twice and look carefully for signs of jellyfish the next time I jump into the water.

That’s me drinking a cold one and soaking my throbbing ankle sting in vinegar.

We’re staying the whole month in one spot, so I decided it would be a good opportunity to wax the boat from top to bottom. It took some time but I scheduled a small block of time each day until the job was finished. I’m glad to have that behind me now before we head to the Abacos. We like to plan chores for in the morning or at night so that we can use the middle of the day to explore or socialize.

Lisa and I like to take in the local sights as much as we can, and avoid the tourist traps. By going where the locals go we end up with a richer experience. With that in mind we ask locals what their favorite restaurant is, or if they had only a short time to visit their city what would they do or where would they go. Once you get past the tourism of Duval Street there’s a lot to take in --  a military base, snorkeling, fishing, and many local restaurants.

There is estimated to be upwards of 60,000 people buried in the Key West Cemetery, more people than live in Key West.

We went into town to visit our friends Charlie and Linda, who were staying on their boat, Freedom’s Turn, in Key West Bight. We’ve traveled with them several times since we first met them on the Illinois River back in September. We heard that Key West has a historical, 163-year-old cemetery in the heart of Old Town that’s worth a visit. So the four of us made the short walk through the quiet, tree lined, neighborhood streets of Key West to visit and learn more about the 19-acre cemetery, which also has the highest elevation on the island. Some of the notable gravestones are the USS Maine Monument, William Curry (Florida’s first millionaire), and “Sloppy” Joe Russell who was Key West’s best known barkeeper and fishing guide to Ernest Hemingway.

Jose’s Cantina was the first place we ate in Key West, one of many local Cuban restaurants.

The Cuban culture has a big presence in Key West and up until 1938 there was a ferry service to and from Cuba. This is one of the reasons you’ll find a large number of Cuban restaurants tucked away in the neighborhoods on the island. These family-owned restaurants are not ones that the typical Key West tourist would casually discover. While getting a haircut at Floyd’s Barber Shop, the barber suggested one such place to us, El Siboney. We had another authentic Cuban dinner at José’s Cantina downtown.

Key West is a small town. You can walk from the Gulf side to the Ocean side of the island in 30 minutes if you’re not sightseeing. Understanding that, it was still a surprise when we walked into a small wine bar and bumped into friends of ours from up north. Rick and Elene had just arrived in Key West from Fort Wayne, Indiana, for the winter. Last fall we’d planned to meet in Key West along with more friends from home, Gary and Jean, from Charlevoix, Michigan. Rick and Elene had us all over to their quant Old Town rental home for an old-fashioned cook out. The happy hour, barbequed ribs, and chicken were all wonderful. However, having the company of good friends to enjoy in sunny Florida was the best gift of all.

Getting together with friends from home in Key West was a special treat made possible by Rick and Elene (left). Gary and Jean (right), our slipmates in Charlevoix, Michigan.

Most of the things that keep us busy on a daily basis have been fun and new, so they don’t seem like chores yet. We still do all the normal things we’d be doing if we were land dwellers --  bill paying, boat chores, keeping our blog updated, shipping out our book out to those who ordered it, and writing for BoatU.S. and other magazines. So when we add everything up, our lives are full, our days are complete, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.


Editor’s Note: Learn more about the Favors new book, When the Water Calls… We Follow by linking to: