Key West - A Repeat Performance


When a reporter asks a professional sports figure, who has repeatedly won in their respective sport, what their favorite championship moment was they almost always state that it was their first big level of achievement. Their first World Series, Wimbledon, Daytona 500 or whatever the sport title was, and not their second or third. An analogy of this can certainly be used when compared to cruising. I say this because, from my own personal experiences, I’ve found it’s hard to recapture the excitement and awe of a first time visit to a cruising destination we’ve enjoyed previously. Our mission, and yes both Lisa and I have accepted the challenge, is to make our second visit to Key West our favorite as we go for a repeat performance.

As the sign states “Welcome”, and it’s great to be.

If you’ve never been to Key West you need to first understand it’s a little laid back down here, things move at a much slower pace. People seem to put a priority on living their lives to the fullest in the Keys. We’ve been on the move since we left our summer dockage on the Chesapeake Bay. We traveled down the Atlantic Coast, mostly on the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), from Maryland to Florida and after exploring Florida’s St Johns River and touring the West Coast of Florida, we are now looking forward to relaxing. The question to ourselves was how do we make this visit as good as or even better than the first one? How do we make our repeat performance our favorite in this, the southern-most city, in the United States?

For Lisa and me it’s not going to happen by visiting the bars and T-shirt shops on Duval Street, we’ve been there and done that a few times. If this second trip is to become our favorite it’s going to happen by going to where the locals spend their time, walking the quaint old town side streets, taking in all the unique architecture, meeting new and interesting people, taking note of unfamiliar exotic vegetation and wildlife or learning about the rich and colorful history of Key West.

For me, immersing myself into the Key West atmosphere is kind of like falling in love and I like to think of our first visit as the opening chapter of that romance. (With only a short month spent here a year ago, I guess you could say it was really more of a tease.) With that said I guess it would mean we are attempting to prolong the romance in this, our second visit. We’re doing this by revisiting our favorite places from the first visit, and then adding new experiences to stoke the fire, thereby trying to make this repeat visit deeper and more meaningful.

Riviera Canal was a nice exploration find.

Lisa and I decided to start out fresh by docking at Key West Harbour Marina, a brand new resort-style marina on the south side of Stock Island (the first island north of Key West) for a two-month stay. Key West Harbour is located just off of Hawk Channel, the third largest coral reef in the world, at 160 miles long. This location gives us great access to explore the area in our dinghy, snorkel or fish. We decided to stay on Stock Island rather then downtown Key West for several reasons, all personal preferences. If we were only going to be in Key West a couple of days we would have stayed downtown, making our stop convenient to the most popular sights and sounds. However, it seems to us that docking downtown is expensive, noisy and a little too crowded for our liking and that’s why we choose Key West Harbour. We pay two-thirds less for dockage, we have peace and quiet and it’s only a half-hour bus or taxicab ride into town.

This little piece of paradise is within 2 miles of old town Key West.

After settling into our new surroundings and getting caught up on long overdue boat chores we headed out by dinghy one afternoon to explore new territory. Lisa and I like to find routes we’ve never traveled before and see where they lead, sometimes getting so involved in our adventure we’ll sometimes get lost.

While riding into town on the bus one day shortly after our arrival I noticed a canal that seemed to offer a shortcut straight into the shopping mall area of Key West, so it was here we headed to on our inaugural dinghy adventure. After exiting the marina and heading out and around the southern side of Stock Island and back into the channel between the two islands, we turned left (west) and entered the Riviera Canal. We found the beginning of the canal lined by very nice waterfront homes on one side and mangroves on the other, later it narrowed and there were mangroves on both sides. The canal trip was a quiet retreat from the busy streets of Key West with clear water, and lots of fish. Although we did not go all the way to the end, because we encountered a very low bridge (we would have to lie down in the dinghy to get under), I did find out that the canal is a protected short cut to Garrison Bight just east of downtown Key West. It wasn’t exactly a Lewis and Clark expedition but it was a fun trip for the afternoon.

Once you get to Fishbusterz you sure cannot miss it with this large mural.

Fishbusterz is a seafood market just off of the commercial fishing boat docks and only a short walk from our marina. It’s a great experience to watch the offloading of the fresh catch through the windows of the processing room and we enjoyed being able to buy hours-old fresh seafood. However, an even better benefit is the ability to buy snapper, grouper and lobster at close to wholesale prices. The lobsters were still alive and snapping when the processor cleaned and prepared them for us. When we got back to the boat to prepare the lobster for grilling the tails still had movement in them just moments prior to cooking. That’s what I’d call the freshest seafood we’ve ever consumed.

This fleet of vessels are used to harvest shrimp and lobster off the Key West coast.

Our boat is a 40-foot Fathom expedition style fast trawler and because the company is relatively young there are not a lot of Fathom’s plying the waterway. So when we got to Key West we were excited to meet up with Ron and Bev Copeland, owners of a dark blue flybridge Fathom very similar to ours (we actually saw their boat in its infancy at the factory in Bow, Washington while we were waiting for ours to be built). As luck would have it they were also staying at Key West Harbour and were the first to greet us as we arrived in the marina.

Fresh shrimp and lobster getting ready to go on the grille!

It’s easy to make friends with other boaters since right off the bat we share a similar passion. This is doubly true of the Copelands and ourselves since we are not only boaters but we both own Fathoms. A few days after our arrival we all went to dinner at a place we’d never been to before called Salute. Salute is a beach side, open-air restaurant located on Higgs Beach on the south side of Key West. We shared cruising stories, discussed our different Fathoms (we’ve had our boat for two years and Jim was able to help Ron and Bev, who just bought their boat, with some maintenance tips) and had a wonderful time with new friends as the ocean waters lapped up onto the beach only a few feet away. The Copeland’s have a car down here and offered to stop at the local Publix grocery store on our return drive to the marina. We had not yet had an opportunity to visit the grocery store let alone stock up on items that would have been hard to carry on the bus. It’s experiences like these; time spent exploring new places with new acquaintances and sharing a helpful hand that will ensure that our second visit will be the most memorable.

Ron and Bev’s Fathom, SeaVenture, is docked near us at Key West Harbour and ready for their travels north.

On one of my bus trips I ran into two guys I know from our hometown of Traverse City, Michigan. In the course of our short conversation I found out that my friend Dan keeps his sailboat at the same marina as Lisa and me. Upon returning to the marina I walked over to the big basin to take a look at Dan’s sailboat. Nothing unusual about doing this except when I was walking up the dock a woman asked me “is everything alright out there?” I said yes and that I was just checking out a friends boat. We had a short conversation and Lois said, “We have a sunset happy hour on our boat every Wednesday shortly before sunset so if you’d like please come over and join us.”

Terry and Lois on the bow of Coconuts getting ready to take in a spectacular Key West sunset.

At that time Lisa and I only knew Ron and Bev at our marina so, being the social types that we are, we decided to attend so we could meet more boaters at the marina. I guess what intrigued me was that in one social event we’d get to meet most of the other boaters in the marina, hear their personal stories of adventure and get a tour of Coconuts, Lois and Terry’s 60-foot Florida Bay Coaster Boat. These impressive boats are made on the St Johns River in Florida. Coconuts was a 19-year-old unfinished metal hull when they bought it several years ago and completed it themselves. The uniqueness of the boat is evident from its dockside appearance but once inside we were able to appreciate the open floor plan, large rooms, full-size refrigerator, stove, washer and dryer and a stand up engine and work room. It’s a very roomy boat and it’s not very often we get to tour such a unique vessel like Coconuts.

The sunset that night was nothing to write home about but the opportunity to meet the 20 revelers was well worth the time. We met two cartoonists, one a Pulitzer Prize winner, a novelist, a couple who just bought a 60-ft. Jefferson, another couple who just got married, bought a sailboat and are cruising with little or no experience on the water and a very experienced cruising couple who’ve made numerous trips to the Eluetheras, Exuma’s and lower Bahamas. We’ll be sitting down with Doug and Tammy to get their input on those cruising grounds, as this could be our 2011 cruising destination.

In the short time we’ve been in Key West we’ve done a pretty good job at experiencing new things, going to new places and meeting new and interesting people. This is the stuff that makes memories intense. However, I’d have to say it’s too early to determine if this will be our best trip to the Keys. We’re working on letting the romance build, so stay tuned!