Saturday, September 19, 2009


Times are not as tough in Key West as they appear to be elsewhere in the continental United States, yet signs of struggle are evident here too. There is a house with a for sale sign on Highway One garnished with the words "Default-Bank Owned" and the Beachside Hotel, which was to have been the centerpiece of a huge new hotel development at the entrance to Key West was sold to the Mormons and has become one more Marriott property in Key West.
This area used to be a rough and tumble marina known as Peninsular Marine on Stock Island. I don't know if the original sign writers messed up the spelling of "peninsula" but this is in fact Pensinsular Avenue and is now known as Yacht Clubs of America. And very plush it is too, especially when compared to the old pea rock working marina and boatyard that used to exist here.
The place is fresh and new and brimming with facilities, and if you don't want to use the the gym or the sauna or the pool you can just lounge in one of the many seating facilities scattered liberally around the premises.

The place was designed to a sort of country club for the boating set, so there are dry slips with ample covered storage in these sheds, which also coincidentally block the club off from any errant views of hoi-polloi out on Pensinsular Avenue:
People do keep boats in the water here and I'm pretty sure this is a liveaboard boat. Who would have thunk of people living on their boats in this place? It seemed quite humanizing to me, that bicycle on the dock!
There was no dedicated motorcycle parking but I followed some other dude's exmaple and made do nudging my Bonneville up to the motorcycle already there:Across the water to the east of the club is Boca Chica channel with it's share of anchored out boats between Stock Island and the Navy Base on Boca Chica Key visible across the water:
In the main building there is a dining room upstairs with a balcony offering spectacular views to the south across the Straits of Florida:
The outer arm of the marina has been developed too with ramadas offering the possibility of cook outs in splendid isolation at the head of the docks.
My wife and I were guests of a friend with a membership and she invited a group of us to spend Labor Day afternoon by the pool for a cook out. We didn't need to be asked twice. It was an idyllic way to spend the afternoon. The club has a rule that no children are allowed in the club on weekends which makes membership especially alluring to me, and at $100 a month my wife and I were contemplating the value of joining especially as the owner is offering deals apparently.We joked that we would be the only Democrats in the place but this would be an excellent spot for us to meet weekday afternoons, me on the way to work, and my wife leaving her place of work on the north side of Stock Island. She has eaten in the dining room and she describes the food as excellent and reasonably priced and I can just imagine how pleasant a seat in the sauna would be prior to a night in the salt mines.I was having trouble thinking my wife was serious about joining and I was wondering if I am going soft in my old age but the showers in this building are quite a bit plusher than those at work, it goes without saying:The fact that Clyde Butcher pictures decorate the walls led me to think this place has more going for it than just superb facilities and decent grub. I like Butcher's art:
I suppose most people join these places for the social aspect and I grant you I'd rather buy a beer here than on Lower Duval, but my wife is a gym fiend and we both love to swim, in the pool or in the saltwater of the almost empty marina (much to the scandalized amazement of a an established member of the club- not a good start I suppose to draw attention to ourselves when we visitors swam happily in the peace and quiet off the little beach). And therein lies the problem. This is a club that would gladly have me for a member, not least because it was built at the end of the crazy money boom and the facilities are sadly under used. The food was eaten, the staff closed up shop, it was time for me to get dressed for work:We lazed under the umbrellas and watched the comings and goings of the club members on a holiday afternoon:
And this really is a splendid place to laze around:
As one member of our party put it, it doesn't feel like Key West at all. I think that was meant as a compliment. The owner has made a rule that no children are allowed in the club on weekends, which tends to surprise people when they first hear of it, and it did us too. But it makes sense if you want to preserve the atmosphere of an oasis and it's a rule I rather like.
There was a time when this place would have been packed, but times are tough and for the first time in a long time there are boat slips to spare all over Key West, even as the city plans to build a new luxury marina on the Truman Waterfront. I am told there were five facilities operated by Yacht Clubs of America but there are now only two survivors, one on Sanibel Island and this one. There are rumors this one might be opened to the public at some point.Times have changed in America, even as our leaders tell us we are pulling out of the Great Recession of 2008. I feel privileged that we can even think of joining such a plush facility.