"The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in
its net of wonder forever."—Jacques Cousteau

January 31, 2015

Jan. 31 - Marathon, FL

Sombrero Resort & Marina

“The only impossible journey, is the one you never begin.” —Anthony Robbins

Wow...we've been in the Keys a month. The time seems to have flown by especially the last few weeks. We've met so many people and it feels like we're living in a small town, yes I know it is a small town, but that's not exactly the way I meant it. When we go out to the store, a restaurant, or for a bike ride we see people we know. That's a lot of fun. I'm use to that happening in the little town we're from, we've lived there most of our lives. But we don't usually get to experience that when we're cruising. I'm really enjoying it.

This week has been a very busy social week. After our trip to Key West we've been busy catching up with cruising friends we've met through the years. We've enjoyed the busy week and had some great food along the way. Between evening get togethers I’ve spent time at the pool, played mahjong and gone to the basket weaving group. Stan has been walking every morning and has begun a little bright work on the boat. We're looking forward to the wind laying down a little so we can enjoy getting out on the water again...fishing, going to the beach and kayaking.

Happy hour at Sparkies - Jim, Stan, Belinda, Susie, Charlotte, Elizabeth, Diebra, Bob, Shay and Magnus
Celebrating Donny's birthday at Barracuda's
Our dinners at Barracuda's - Piglet Shanks and Hogfish. I had an amazing lobster mac & cheese at the Key Fisheries on Thursday night.  

January 30, 2015

Key West Vacation Part II

Our second day in Key West was as enjoyable as the first. We sat on the back porch and had coffee as breakfast was being prepared. It was another beautiful day and we had a leisurely morning at the inn before heading back out to explore the island. We didn't spend much time yesterday going through the boutiques and galleries, so that was one of the things I wanted to do today.

Two large Carnival Cruise ships were in port today so it was more congested on the streets and in the stores, but they definitely added to the people watching entertainment. We don't envy their means of travel at all. Arriving in a port with 4000 other people is not our idea of a vacation...although I know people who love it. We wandered through the shops along the seaport and harbor area and then strolled down some of the side streets and enjoyed looking at the old homes and gardens. I enjoy the architecture here as much as I do in Charleston. I found lots of pretty things in the shops and even a few paintings that would look nice on the Hatteras, but nothing I really needed or wanted to pay for.

We stopped at Forgarty's for lunch...we sat outside enjoying the weather and watching the people. People aren't the only things to watch in Key West. The town is full of "Gypsy" chickens and feral cats. Some say the chickens have been in Key West for over 175 years, but their numbers grew in the 1950s, when thousands of Cubans fled the Revolution and came to Key West to support a booming cigar industry. The feral cats are said to be descendants of the cats Hemingway had and many still have six toes like the ones he owned. We've seen lots of chickens during our visits to Key West, but have never seen any of the cats.

The buses that run between Marathon and Key West only arrive every 1 1/2 to 2 hours, so we decided we needed to catch an early afternoon bus if we wanted to get home at a decent time. So after lunch we headed back towards the waterfront so we could slowly make our way back to the inn to pick up our bag by the time our bus arrived. But to our surprise we ran into a couple we know from our marina. They came down for the day in their car and offered us a ride home...wonderful, we got to stay a little longer and got home about the same time, plus we had a chance to get to know Charlotte and Magnus a little better. It was a nice ending to a great little trip.

Two of the beautiful homes in Key West
Key West
Key Weset
A little cigar store on one of the side streets
Key West Florida
Two of Key West "Gypsy" chickens
Key West Florida
Duval Street looking towards the Atlantic
Key West
Duval Street looking towards the Gulf
Tourist fun in Key West
This building on Duval Street houses three bars...the one on top is clothing optional.
Bars in Key West
Carnival Dream...just one of the ships in port today
Some of the boats at the seaport
Key West Florida 
Old Seaport in Key West
The dinghy dock at Key West Bight

January 29, 2015

Key West Vacation Part I

We enjoyed our mini vacation to Key West. The bus ride down was painless and quicker than our last experience when we went to the flea market on Big Pine Key a few weeks ago. We spent most of our time visiting with another couple and getting a little information from a local woman. The bus stop was only a few blocks from the Knowles House and it was a beautiful day.

The B&B was very quaint and eclectic with every space available filled with something interesting. The house was built in the 1860s and is conveniently located close to the waterfront and historic section of Key West.  Christina, who runs the inn, was wonderful and very accommodating. She went out of her way to make our stay amazing. We stayed in the English Cottage room that opened up onto the pool patio. The room was large and very comfortable and we had a small private patio that opened onto the front of the house. The whole experience was amazing and sitting on the patio around the pool was very relaxing. I could have spent the whole day sitting on the patio.

As wonderful as the house was, we did come to see Key West, so we finally ventured out to find something to eat. We spent a few hours walking along the Historic Seaport and down Duval Street. Duval Street is the main street of Key West and it stretches from the Gulf of Mexico on the west to the Atlantic Ocean on the east, about one mile or so, and it is the life of Key West. It’s full of fine restaurants, not so fine restaurants, T-shirt shops, strip club, gay bars, art galleries, cigar shops, T-shirt shops, illegal street performers, T-shirt shops, palm trees, time-share booths (masquerading as information booths), panhandlers, henna tattoo booths, pulsing music venues, Pedi cabs, mopeds, pink taxis, and did I mention T-shirt shops? Every possible square inch, every nook and cranny, whether it’s a crack between two buildings or simply an unused doorway, is filled with some sort of business. It’s the best place in Key West to watch people…and you will definitely see it all on Duval Street.

After a few hours of taking in the sights of Key West we made our way back to the inn to relax and regroup for the evening. Then it was back to the waterfront for happy hour and sunset. Key West puts on a celebration every night at Mallory Square in honor of the sun setting into the beautiful waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Usually it has a circus atmosphere. With street performers that include jugglers, fire eaters, a tightrope walker, musicians, a cat show, a dog show, a pig show, a bird show, a sword swallower and Statue Man. There are also lots of arts and crafts booths and you can even have your future read by palm readers, Tarot card readers and psychics. But this evening’s celebration was a little small since the wind was blowing hard and by Key West standards it was a little cold. Although the human shows were lacking the sunset was very nice. We finished our day with dinner and a soak in the hot tub.

The B&B's parlor
Key West, FL
The pool deck
Key West, FL
The back porch
Key West, FL
Our room
Key West
Our private little porch
Sunset at Mallory Square
Key West
View from the hot tub...looking towards our room
The hot tub...very relaxing

January 28, 2015

Wordless Wednesday

January 27, 2015

Jan. 27 - Conch Republic

Key West and the Florida Keys are sometimes referred to as the Conch Republic…here is the reason why.

In 1982, the U.S. Border Patrol set up a blockade in Florida City, the last stop on the mainland before reaching Key Largo. Their plan was to block the never-ending flow of illegal drugs into America from the unenforceable archipelago that is the Florida Keys. If you lived in the Keys, but happened to travel to the mainland, you had to wait in a patience-testing line to suffer the indignity of showing your ID to get into the Keys and back home. This blockade created a terrible bottleneck and a feeling of frustration for both locals and tourists. But the tourists didn’t let it bother them for long, they just stopped coming. Not good for the Keys that relied on tourism. 

The mayor of Key West at the time was not amused by the Border Patrol treating the Florida Keys like a foreign country, so he and his allies came up with a plan: They went to the Federal Court in Miami to seek an injunction to stop the federal blockade, but things didn’t go well and they were turned away. In response the mayor of Key West went to his backup plan and stepped out on to the courthouse steps and announced to the assembled TV crews, reporters and the world: “Tomorrow at noon, the Florida Keys will secede from the Union!” The next day, at Mallory Square, the mayor of Key West read a proclamation of secession and proclaimed that Key West and the Florida Keys would now be known as the “Conch Republic” and that it was an independent nation separate from the U.S. Then the mayor symbolically began the Conch Republic’s civil rebellion by breaking a loaf of stale Cuban bread over the head of a man dressed in a U.S. Navy uniform. After one minute of rebellion, the now ‘Prime Minister’ turned to the Admiral in charge of the Navy Base at Key West, surrendered to the ‘Union Forces’ and demanded one-billion dollars in foreign aid and war relief to rebuild the new nation -- the Conch Republic! 

Embarrassed by the negative publicity, the U.S. Border Patrol immediately ceased and desisted. Key West and the Florida Keys still rejoice in the title of Conch Republic, and they have flags, hats, T-shirts, a fun spring/summer independence-day celebration, fairly authentic-looking passports and a motto: 'We seceded where others failed.'

January 26, 2015

Jan. 26 - Key West, FL

Knowles House Bed & Breakfast

We enjoy Key West, it's a funky little place where just about anything can happen. I found a saying somewhere...in a book or online that seems to describe it perfectly. Key West has character—and characters, lots of them. Key West close to perfect...far from normal. One of our favorite things to do in Key West is watch people and it never seems to let us down...it's always entertaining.

We decided we'd take the Lower Keys Bus to Key West and spend a few days away from the boat. Key West is full of quaint B&Bs and most stay very busy this time of year, but Stan found a little place a few blocks from the Historic Seaport and not too far from all the action on Duval Street, named Knowles House. It should be a fun little get away. I will fill you in on the details and pictures when we get back to The Pearl. In the meantime here are a few fun facts I found about Key West.

Key West is an island at the end of the chain of the Florida Keys. It’s connected to the mainland by US Highway 1 and a series of bridges. It’s a popular vacation destination, which gives you the feeling of being in the Caribbean without leaving the country.
  • 42 bridges connect Key West to the mainland of Florida.
  • The third largest coral reef in the world is off the coast of Key West. The reef is 160 miles long.
  • All of the sand on the beaches of Key West was shipped in on barges from the Caribbean.
  • Key West is the southernmost city in the United States. The city is closer to Cuba than it is to Miami.
  • The whole island is a bird sanctuary since there are many endangered species there.
  • Happy hour beings at 9AM at the Schooner Wharf Bar.
  • Three Civil War forts are located on Key West.
  • Even though Key West is the southernmost point in the United States, it was Yankee territory during the Civil War.
  • Duval Street in Key West is known as the longest street in the world, because it runs from coast to coast.
  • The nearest Wal-Mart is 126 miles away.
  • People born in Key West are called Conchs.
  • The temperature in Key West has never dropped below 41º.
  • There are about 25,000 people that live in Key West.
  • The highway that ends in Key West, U.S Highway 1, is 2,209 miles long and runs from Fort Kent in Maine.
  • Key West has more bars per capita than any other place in the country.
  • Key West has more churches per capita than any other place in the country.
  • Back in 1889, Key West was the biggest city in Florida.
  • Key West has the most inhabitants of any of the keys. Of the 800 keys, people inhabit only 30.
  • The first international flight left from Key West. In 1927, the Pan American airlines flew a plane from Key West to Havana Cuba.
  • Most of the 40 cats living at the Hemingway House have six or seven toes because they are all descendants from Hemingway's cat.
Knowles House
B&B in Key West

January 25, 2015

Silent Sunday

January 24, 2015

Jan. 23 - Marathon, FL

Sombrero Resort & Marina

“The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe, the less taste we shall have for destruction.” ― Rachel Carson

There isn't a lot of wildlife to see in Marathon (excluding the human kind) and it's definitely not a bird watcher's destination. We sit on our flybridge each morning and look over the mangrove; we enjoy our coffee and watch the world come alive. You'd think we might see a variety of birds, but all we've seen are a few seagulls and an occasional pelican. But Marathon makes up for the lack of birds watching with a few other unique creatures we don't see normally. I've already shared pictures of the Manatees, which we see daily along the dock. We've also seen dolphins swimming by, which are not that unusual, but fun to watch. We've also seen Spotted Eagle Rays with extremely long tails. Glad we were on the boat and not in the water.

On land Marathon is full of lizards...everywhere we go we see them scurrying around. We really don't pay much attention to them, but the iguanas do catch our eye...they can be huge. We spot them sunning on rocks, laying on the dock and swimming along the shore. I can't imagine walking out on my back porch and being greeted by one of these dragons...I'm used to raccoons and possums. Life in Marathon isn't your normal life, especially this time of year.

One of the Spotted Eagle Rays we've seen. I didn't even notice it's long tail till I looked at the picture
This little visitor swam past the boat one morning...of course I didn't have my good camera with me
A few of the iguanas we've seen lately
These American White Ibises are everywhere

January 23, 2015

Jan. 22 - Marathon, FL

Sombrero Resort & Marina

“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.” ―Ralph Waldo Emerson

It was a busy day in paradise...at least for me. We had a picnic with fellow MTOA members yesterday and I found out they play Mahjong on Friday by our pool...the problem with that is, I don't know how to play. No problem here at Camp Marathon, there's always some one around to help. There were several other ladies who also wanted to learn, so Nancy from Sea Angel gave us a lesson this morning. We all had a wonderful time and I look forward to playing again.

After a quick lunch break it was time to go to the City Marina to the pine needle basket weaver’s group. I'm definitely a beginner at this too. Some of these ladies have produced wonderful pieces of art. It's a very creative medium. The basket I'm working on now won't be my last.

As you can see I was gone most of the day, so I'm not sure what the Captain was doing all day, but the highlight of our day was the arrival of our friends on Gallivant. We look forward to spending time with them, but we are sad that our friends on Amici couldn't make it down this winter. We will definitely miss them, but when we’re all together again will be a special time and a great celebration.

Part of the MTOA group enjoying a fun picnic at Sombrero Beach
Examples of pine needle baskets
The beginning of my basket
At Dockside having fun with friends...Susie, Stan, Pam and Donny

January 22, 2015

Wordless Wednesday

January 21, 2015

Jan. 20 - Manatees

Sombrero Resort & Marina

“There’s nothing wrong with enjoying looking at the surface of the ocean itself, except that when you finally see what goes on underwater, you realize that you’ve been missing the whole point of the ocean. Staying on the surface all the time is like going to the circus and staring at the outside of the tent.” — Dave Barry

There are quite a few manatees hanging around in our marina. I've seen up to three at one time and other boaters have told me they've seen as many as five. Manatees love fresh water and they are drawn to the docks by leaking faucets. We watched one the other day when Stan was filleting our fish. The water hose had a very small leak, hardly spraying out any water at all, but the large manatee stayed by the pier for a very long time...drinking in all he could get. I especially like watching the mother and calf. The small calf stays right by his mother’s side as they gracefully glide between boats, next to his mother he looks very small, although in reality he is quite large.

I shared some facts about manatees back in April when we were on the St. John's River, but I thought I would share a few more since we are seeing them on a daily basis now. They’re not very pretty but they are graceful in the water and I enjoying watch them.

Manatee Facts:
Manatees rarely venture into waters below 68º.
The Florida manatee is a large aquatic relative of the elephant. Also known as underwater cows.
They are grayish brown in color and have thick, wrinkled skin, which is often covered with a growth of algae.
A manatee's lungs are 2/3 the length of its body.
They eat a large variety of submerged and floating plants and consume 10-15% of their body weight in vegetation daily. 
Manatees rest from 2 to 12 hours a day either suspended near the water's surface or lying on the bottom, usually for several hours at a time.
Manatees reach sexual maturity in 3-5 years (females) and 5-7 years (males) and may live over 60 years. 
Gestation is approximately 13 months and usually one calf is born. 
Calves are born weighing between 60 and 70 pounds and measuring about 3-4 feet long. 
The calf may stay with the cow for up to 2 years. 
Male manatees (bulls) are not part of the family unit.
Adult manatees are typically 9-10 feet long and weigh around 1000 pounds.   
They can swim upside down, roll, do somersaults or move vertically in the water.

This guy was watching Stan fillet fish and drinking up the fresh water
The mother and calf that has been hanging around our dock

January 20, 2015

Jan. 19 - Marathon, FL

Sombrero Resort and Marina

"I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples." —Mother Teresa

We woke up to a beautiful clear cool morning...63º the coolest morning we've had since we arrived in Marathon. I like it best when we can have the windows and doors open with the breeze coming through the boat. We decided today would be a good day to ride our bikes over part of the old Seven Mile Bridge to Pigeon Key.

Pigeon Key is a small island off of Marathon that was used to house 400 workers while the Overseas Railroad from Miami to Key West was being built in the early 1900s. It was used again to house workers in the mid 1930s when the Overseas Highway was constructed (for a complete history of Pigeon Key click here). When the road was completed the island became a popular rest stop on the way through the Keys. When the new bridge was completed in 1982 this beautiful little island was abandoned until the Pigeon Key Foundation took it over. It's now a museum and the bridge makes a great place for people to walk or ride their bikes. Unfortunately the only way to get to the island itself and visit the museum is through a tour that leaves from Marathon. They no longer let people use the old off ramp; you have to come over on a ferry. We opted to ride our bike over the bridge and enjoy the view of the beautiful water. Who knows, maybe later in the trip we'll take the tour. We still have plenty of time left in Marathon.

The round trip to Pigeon Key and back, with a few detours, was over 12 miles. Not our longest bike trip we've done, but still a pretty good workout for the day. We treated ourselves to a beer at Dockside as a reward.

Looking towards Pigeon Key from the park in Marathon
Looking at Pigeon Key from the bridge
The old off ramp to the island
More views of the island 
Looking towards Marathon...the new bridge is on the right
Coming back into Marathon. The water really rushes through here. This is were we came under the bridge when we arrived a few weeks ago.
Aerial view of Pigeon Key and Seven Mile Bridge (photo from the Internet)