Falling in Love With Key West
Have you ever been somewhere for the first time and wondered why it took you so very long to discover a little gem of a place? It could be a restaurant on the Erie Canal that serves the best calzone you’ve ever had (for us it’s Bosco’s – we’ll compare all future calzones to theirs for the balance of our lives) or, it could be a secluded anchorage on the St. Johns River, which provides great wind protection and an unobstructed sunset view. For Lisa and me one of the places that has recently wowed us is Key West, Florida.
|As you can see, boats comes in all sizes in Key West Harbor, our view as we cruise through the Harbor.|
Our first visit to Key West, in 1999, was by car when we added two days onto a business trip to Marco Island, Florida. The two-day visit was just a teaser. It was really only enough time for us to become infatuated with the Key’s eclectic lifestyle, history, architecture, tropical vegetation and wonderful weather. We knew we would be back again to explore more of the treasures we had so newly discovered, but little did we know back then it would take another ten years to continue the romance. During those ten years our summers were filled with boating in northern Michigan and all of our vacation time was used to maximize our growing summer habit of boating in our homeport waters. By the time fall arrived we’d used up our vacation time and were spending the off season planning more local boating vacations – the thought of returning to Key West seemed like a far away dream.
At the time of our first Key West visit we knew little of the Great Loop and the possibility of circumnavigating the waterways of the eastern United States. We never gave any thought to visiting Key West by boat then because we were basically in the dark about the ability to navigate from Lake Michigan, down the Mississippi, Ohio and Tennessee Rivers into the Gulf of Mexico and on to Florida. So a few years later when we discovered this route, little known to us, you can imagine how excited we were about the prospect of being able to visit Key West in our very own boat. However, we ended up having to wait until 2009 for our second visit, and stayed on Stock Island (just a few miles from downtown Key West) for a full month.
|Rick (that’s him on the left) had us all over for dinner on his Fathom, Wishing Star. His friend Jeff, from down the dock, is next to Rick along with our Michigan buds Denise and Jeff sitting next to me (Lisa, as always, is taking the photo).|
It’s said that absence makes the heart grow fonder – this was certainly true for us. Deep down inside we knew that a particular tropical experience was missing from our lives. Our second visit more than satisfied our longing. We enjoyed our 2009 one-month visit so much we’ve returned this year, 2010, for a two-month stay. This time we were able to meet more of the local residents. We got to know a lot of salty fishermen and dive boat captains who were docked next to us at our marina, Key West Harbour. We had friends from home come stay with us and met up with other boater friends who are enjoying their own romance with the Keys for the winter.
|Fresh shrimp and lobster getting ready to go on the barbie!|
Our dock mates at Key West Harbour are a commercial dive boat on one side and a small commercial fishing boat on the other. The good part about this situation is we don’t have new dock neighbors all the time; it’s only busy when they’re coming and going and it’s quiet at night. Steve and Wayne take turns taking groups out to dive on the reef (the second largest coral reef in the world) usually making two trips a day. Wayne has spent some time with us telling us of his boating adventures in the keys. He went over charts with us and told us where to anchor and what to be aware of. On one of their recent return trips I jokingly made a comment to Steve that we’d be glad to trade him a ride on our boat, probably the last thing he wanted, for some freshly caught lobster he was cleaning. We were joking around but he took us seriously and handed the four freshly caught lobsters over to us as we were pulling out of our slip for a cruise with friends. Fresh, free lobster, it doesn’t get much better then that. Thanks again Steve.
Our friends Mike and Lynne, former neighbors from Traverse City, flew down to stay with us for about a week shortly after we arrived in Key West; it was their first visit to the Conch Republic. We had looked forward to their visit, not only because we had not seen them since last summer, but also because they’re such good friends and they get along well on a boat. I say this because not everyone understands that being on a boat is not the same as staying at someone’s house. Mike and Lynn do recognize this, therefore it made our reunion and time together on Kismet enjoyable for all.
|Mike and me – having drinks and watching over the grilling or was it the other way around?|
Lisa and I wanted to share our love of Key West with our friends so we made sure they experienced a sunset from Mallory Square, a tour of Duval Street and a visit to the historic Key West Cemetery. Mike and I went to Fishbusterz several times to purchase fresh lobster, shrimp and tuna for cookouts. We went kayaking, attended youth baseball games and all the other things we would have done at home except we were doing it Key West style, warm, laid-back and relaxed.
|We always see something new when we tour Key West Cemetery (note the above ground tombs).|
When we were neighbors (for 15 years) Mike and I would help each other with our various house projects, so it was no big deal for Mike to help with a boat problem we were having. Our Fathom has a fold down mast – I had put too much silicone around the joint the last time I raised it to its upright position in an effort to solve a small leak problem we were having. The mast’s interior had developed a water leak into a cabin locker and every time it rained, I’d have to clear out the locker and dry it out. My first effort to fix the leak did not work and actually was made worse by an overload of silicone. In order to stop the continuing leak the mast had to be lowered to determine where the leak was coming from but I couldn’t break the silicone seal because of its superior adhesion abilities. I had been trying for over four months to solve this problem by myself without success. This is one of those cases where too much of a good thing actually made more of a problem!
|Good friends Mike and Lynne looking happy at one of the great happy hours in Key West, Kelly’s.|
While Mike and I tackled the mast problem Lisa and Lynne went to the pool, played games and enjoyed each other’s company. We figured out the only way to break the seal was to use wood shims to create a wedge in the seam between the mast and the base. After working on it for the better part of two days we finally broke the seal, lowered the mast, cleaned up the mess and used rubber O washers on the bolt shafts to create a new seal and keep water from the interior locker once the mast was put back up into place. It’s been two months with no leaks. Success! Thanks Mike.
|We had to prove we were in Key West, even Lisa got into a photo!|
Shortly after Mike and Lynne’s visit (we miss them already) we met up with other friends from home who were vacationing here in downtown Key West. Jean and Gary, our long time dock mates from Charlevoix, Michigan were here for six weeks staying in a condo a block off Mallory Square. Jeff and Denise, also boating friends from Michigan, were here for a week, as well as Rick and Elene who were docked at the A&B Marina, staying on their Fathom, Wishing Star. Happy hours, a dinner on Rick’s boat, dinners out and lunch at the pier were all enjoyable but the best part for Lisa and I was to be with our friends in our home away from home sharing our mutual love of Key West.
While Jeff and Denise were visiting, and because they’d only experienced the Conch Republic by land, we invited them for a day-cruise around the islands on Kismet. It was one of those picture perfect days with violet blue skies, a slight breeze and calm, iridescent turquoise waters. From Stock Island we headed out into Hawk Channel to the southern most point in the United States. Along the way we had the pleasure of the company of a few schools of dolphin, as they darted through the water seemingly playing hide and seek with us as we made our way into Key West Channel.
|Jeff and Denise watching the dolphins as we head to the southern most point in the U.S. (that’s it off in the distance).|
Leaving Fort Taylor to our starboard we headed past Key West proper and into Key West Bight for a tour of the harbor and marinas. Lisa and I never tire of touring marinas to see the large variety of boats and it was no different for Jeff and Denise. From the comfort of our pilothouse we had time to get caught up on their Michigan summer plans (they just bought a boat) as well as our recent travels while we all shared the marvels of Key West from the vantage point of the water.
Maybe one of the reasons Key West is so special is because it’s not on the way to anywhere, it is the destination! You just cannot get off the freeway for a visit or make a small detour to get to Key West. Getting here is a journey and once you’re here you’re at the end of the line – the line of islands called the Keys and what a place to be. So much to do and so much to see, we always wish we had more time. I guess we’ll have to come back. Like the calzone from Bosco’s on the Erie Canal – we’ll continue to compare our newest cruising destinations to our now familiar love… Key West!