Saturday, March 26, 2011

Garrison Bight Marina

This essay was first published three years ago and I figured perhaps while I am laid up I could give it another airing on my blog. Some people call this Houseboat Row, because this is where the houseboats of South Roosevelt Boulevard washed up, but to me its just part of Garrison Bight Marina. The City of Key West owns two marina properties, one is Key West Bight, near Schooner Wharf and the other is Garrison Bight in the middle of the island, with a narrow opening to the Gulf of Mexico to the north. (A bight in nautical lingo is an indentation in a coastline, or a loop in a length of rope).Garrison Bight is a well protected marina when the weather turns rough, and because it's city owned the dock rates are lower by a few hundred dollars month than those of the private marinas downtown or on Stock Island. However in a town like Key West where a one bedroom apartment can cost a thousand dollars month, a marina slip at less than $800 a month can seem like a bargain. But that's not all that goes on at Garrison Bight, people don't just live there:
Sport fishing is a big deal in the Keys, obviously, and there's a whole line of boats parked at charter boat row waiting for clumps of customers to show up for a day on the water. Humans aren't the only anglers, and hopefuls come in all shapes:For a lot of people the dream job is running a charter fishing boat. Its a dream everyone should fulfill, because speaking as a former Captain myself, the life has a bunch of drawbacks. It confirmed my opinion that the lucky man is the one who keeps his hobbies and his jobs separate. I enjoy writing my blog a lot more because I do it for fun, not a living. That was written as a former journalist, not a former boat captain. But youth is a great time to be sorting your equipment on your charter boat:But these are modern times so we have abandoned the old ways and no longer use roofs to collect rainwater, instead we suck water out of the ground and pump it 150 miles to our faucets with predictable results, not enough to go around:However this is the land of abundance so we still get to use plenty of it! It'll be a bad day in the Keys when boaters can't keep their vessels clean. Garrison Bight is a strangely shaped marina bisected by Palm Avenue and a low bridge, the bridge prevents sailboats getting into the inner sanctum but its a main artery out of Old Town and sees lots of use, especially in the evening rush hour:The top of the bridge, for all that its probably only twenty feet above the water gives a nice view to the pedestrian at the top. To the northwest the landmark Fly Navy building, properly known as the Bachelor Officers Quarters (or BOQ) a delightfully old fashioned 1950's style of architecture when viewed from the inside:To the left the cluster of buildings is the last boatyard in Key West, Spencer's, still a working boatyard with haul out facilities right on Palm Avenue- a minor miracle in this day and age. On the south side of Palm Avenue is the other working-class business a boat storage and sales facility owned by along time Key West family. They repair boats (and did a nice job of re-powering my skiff a couple of years ago):And directly due south of the bight lies the Police Station, coyly tucked away behind the mangroves. I get a nice view of the marina from our dispatch windows, especially during hurricanes when the winds reduce Garrison Bight to horizontal white spume:And finally to the north there lies that mysterious half hidden street, the only one of two in the city that offers back yard dockage to its residents. Its called Hilton Haven and it is the north east arm of garrison Bight, the civilian half opposite the Fly Navy Building.
And then the nitty-gritty, the docks themselves at the center of this geographical tour of the waters. The houseboats are frequently for sale, indeed I saw one, a thousand square footer claiming to be an original from Houseboat Row on South Roosevelt for sale for two hundred thousand dollars- described as affordable Keys living! Cramped Keys living if you like!

I suppose there is romance in life afloat, though after many years of doing it myself I'm happy enough to be living ashore. What I don't miss is marina living, and perhaps one needs to do it to be convinced of it. Living in a marina is like living in a cramped trailer park with the chance of drowning to paraphrase Doctor Johnson. Some people wouldn't live any other way. Of course living on a boat while traveling can be splendid, but to quote Admiral Nelson "Men and Ships rot in port," and Garrison Bight seems to see more than its share of rotting. Not forgetting that boaters themselves produce waste that needs to be kept out of the waters these days. There is a specially equipped pumping boat for the task that lives in the marina cheek by jowl as it were with its clients. The boat also serves the boats at anchor outside the marina:I used to pay fifteen dollars a week to get my boat pumped in Sunset Marina! Ah, living in paradise... To that end I like looking at the boats parked nearer North Roosevelt Boulevard, the main drag into town which is noisy as hell but from the roadway one gets to see the visiting boats, the vessels that tend to be more on the move, the smaller boats. Not all of them leave their slips but they look more like they could:Back on shore the parking lots, ample though they may be are choked with winter time drivers who will soon be heading back north, presumably leaving their boats behind to the tender mercies of storm season. This being Key West alternatives in transportation are catered to when it comes to parking areas:Motorized and not:Alternative living in a mild climate, and this is by no means the most alternative. Monroe County is now starting to eye liveaboards on their boats in Boca Chica Channel, between the Navy Base and Stock Island. That's where the free spirits are congregating that don't want to live within the confines of a marina. Monroe County is viewing the free anchorage with a jaundiced eye complaining of sunken wrecks, debris and anarchy afloat. Meanwhile in the Bight marina living is at least still possible for some in the heart of the city of Key West.