Saturday, March 1, 2008

Eight Bells For Bob Unanski

There are people who come into your life in the most unexpected way, Bob and Barb Unanski got together with us for Thanksgiving 1998. I don't know where anyone else was but my wife and I and our two dogs were sailing Baja California that November and Bob and Barb were nearby on a Taswell 43 called Freya. We ended up sailing all the way to the Panama Canal on and off with them. It was buddy boating of the best sort, hopscotching each other,meeting, parting and sharing card games and meals along thousands of miles. It was an enormous addition to our sailing life through Central America. Bob and Barb squeezed into a rental car with us for a five-hour drive to San Jose the capital of Costa Rica when one of our dogs needed to see a vet. We all slept in one room in the Best Western, Bob and I out snoring each other, they said. Barb and my wife that is. We helped each other through the Panama Canal and shared another amazing Thanksgiving in 1999 in the San Blas islands of Panama, under the coconut palms of a deserted island. Traveling alongside Bob and Barb was magical.

Bob, a man not given to being around dogs, seen here helping Debs, our husky mix , hunt for monos, monkeys in northern Costa Rica. The monkeys took great delight in tormenting Debs from the high branches of the trees hurling chattered insults at his fenzied ineffectual pawing.Bob was an electronics engineer tremendously proud of his employee number 22 with Tandem Corporation, a pioneer of the Silicon Valley revolution in California's Santa Clara Valley. He wa salso a keen Ham radio operator W4RFU, and spent hours at his desk onboard Freya with his electronics. I was fond of noting that cruising brought us together and made us firm friends despite our different social, political and career backgrounds. He was like a father for me when we were out sailing. In 2004, cruising the Bahamas he helped rebuild our water maker on our cabin table, his patience and perseverance a shining example to an impatient young wretch like me. Bob seen here in another picture from his website showing him with his wife Barb in the back alongside her sister Anita, celebrating his 70th birthday. He died in Arkansas February 27th 2008. He was 71 years old.

After they sold Freya they moved to Arkansas to be near family and I wished they could have come to the Keys to enjoy the cruising life ashore that we enjoy so much. Its hard to imagine he's dead, but he died quickly in an aerobics class of all things, here one minute and gone the next. It's all our fates, and we should all be so lucky to live as well and generously as he did.

Sailors used to mark time by ringing bells and when they changed watch they rang eight bells and it was also customary when they died to ring eight bells, and Bob was a sailor through and through, and I shall miss him every time I think of all our miles together. Go in peace good friend, and fair winds.

Toxic Triangle

There are some low income apartments for sale to qualified Monroe County residents, and they are close to the waterfront off Trumbo Road. If the developer were to tell people the apartments were at Key West's Toxic Triangle it might make for a hard sell, but luckily for Ed Swift there are only a few of us that remember that designation for the waters off Trumbo Road.They are nice enough units offering garage space underneath and a price tag I believe of around $180,000 for a one bedroom. They are part of a luxury deal because this isn't a charity operation. The larger development is called the Steam Plant, because that is what it was before they decided to build apartments:The low cost units look like quite a deal to me, but the Steam Plant luxury apartments are supposed to sell for several millions each and they have all the penthouse bells and whistles, including I'm told individual elevators from the garages. Its quite the lump, which isn't surprising when you know that this was actually a power plant supplying the city of Key West with life enhancing energy.And that, in the long version, is where the term Toxic Triangle comes from. The power plant had to spew its effluent somewhere and there is tidal water nearby, across the street actually.There was a time, not so long ago that people lived on pleasure boats tied up along this waterfront, and it didn't cost a thing. Of course there were no amenities but inasmuch as the basin is protected from wind and wave to the south by downtown Key West , and to the north by the Coastguard Base it was a good place to tie up out of the rougher waters of the main harbor. It still is for the few commercial boats that continue to tie up there. Behind them lies the US Coastguard Base where the coasties keep their cutters:
The base entrance is at the end of Trumbo Road:The Toxic Triangle isn't locked in everyone's memory as a foul blot on Key West's history, not at all. I spoke with Carol, a colleague of my wife's and she remembers coming down here for picnics and to go swimming. She thinks of this sylvan spot as a sort of public swimming pool, crystal clear waters and a good spot to relax.This is also the spot whence the Sunset Key landing craft takes off to haul moving vans and garbage trucks and delivery vehicles across to the luxury island. I actually took the trip over there a few years ago helping to deliver furniture. The development of Sunset Key generated its own controversy when the city took control of the Navy's old Tank Island, so called because of the (unused) fuel storage tanks on the deserted fill island, and sold the island and the mainland waterfront to the Hilton developer for all of eleven million dollars . When the landing craft was being serviced in the boat yard to take over haulage duties for the new and exclusive development the yard workers baptized the vessel and painted a new name on its bulky stern. "Tank Island Whore" was what they painted to express their disdain for the resort. Apparently the name was spotted by the new owner of the island and there was unhappiness all round. Nevertheless when I see the craft plowing across the harbor in a welter of foam, the unfortunate name keeps popping, unbidden, into my mind.

The Toxic Triangle is also home to the School Board headquarters, on the inland side of Trumbo Road:

And it seems likely that the School District may soon give up this land, with its bus yard and elderly ex-military buildings. The land is waterfront and valuable and could be sold for money enough for the district to design a purpose built headquarters somewhere less developmentally desirable. The buildings themselves have benefited from a lick of paint or two since their use by the military:

Its hard to imagine anything other than yet another development of expensive homes taking the School District's place and that will be something else for us to look forward to. Meanwhile the big yellow buses come and go. And across the way is a development that sprang up almost a decade ago, as far as I can remember. It was an Argentine company of all things that put in a bid to develop a ferry terminal in Key West and on the riverfront in downtown Fort Myers on Florida's West Coast. The company, called Buquebus collapsed inevitably in the great financial meltdown that wrecked Argentina. and its legacy is two ferry terminals that are still known to some people by that peculiar name (pronounced: boo-kay-bus). The one in Fort Myers isn't used anymore as it is more efficient for the ferry to dock at Fort Myers beach as the Caloosahatchee River is a slow speed zone for 20 miles to downtown Fort Myers. The Key West Ferry Terminal is a surprisingly modern facility, all steel and glass and light, though a bit of a hike to get to Duval Street if you are elderly and loaded with luggage, after your three hour ride from Fort Myers Beach. And across from the Ferry terminal is a monument to the man who first enabled easy mass tourism in Key West, Henry Flagler himself: In the background you can see the panels painted by local youngsters to mask the construction detritus along Trumbo Road. Of course they reflect local conditions to some extent, though where the notion arose that a shark might nab a cat dockside, I'm sure I don't know:Another day at the Toxic Triangle as it faces a fresh new incarnation, condos for all.