Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Hurricane Season

The line from Jimmy Buffett about the inability to reason with Hurricane Season is well worn, over used and true. And because today is the start of the Tropical Cyclone Season in the Atlantic basin I figure one has to say something in a blog about life in the Keys. If you check the link in my alphabetical list, called Hurricane Center you will get the picture below, or a variant thereof. As the season progresses I will probably check the link a couple of times a day and as speculation mounts about hurricane season I will visit it more often.

Hurricanes in the Atlantic basin and Caribbean most frequently form early and late in the season in the Western Caribbean where the waters warm up sooner in June and stay warmer later in November. In the middle of the season hurricanes are spawned off the coast of West Africa and take a week or so to reach the West Indies and another week to reach us, if they are coming. It's all just a matter of hoping for the best. Everyone is at risk on the Eastern seaboard and Gulf of Mexico so unless you choose to live in the Jacksonville area which historically is pretty safe from hits... for now. Considering the natural disasters we have going on across the country the future fears about hurricanes seem rather insignificant at the moment. There will be no doubt further opportunities to re-visit this subject before the season ends officially November 30th.

Getting Around

I headed to the city parking lot off Caroline and Margaret expecting to find the place half empty. I guess the lot has been discovered. It used to be a pain to use because there was a ticket booth and an entry gate but now it's all automated. You drive in, park, buy a ticket with metered time with a credit card or cash, leave the ticket on the car dashboard and off you go.

People lie to make a big fuss about Old Town parking and in winter or during events it can get crowded but the trick is to be a little bit flexible, allow a little time and expect to walk a few blocks. All of which is irritating fro residents but for visitors the situation really isn't bad. A scooter makes things a lot easier, but be careful about parking on sidewalks. It's not legal and is tolerated only for insiders. Or bar patrons like those at Don's Place:Key West has tons of free scooter and motorcycle parking and bike racks everywhere. Which is just as well as scooters are the quickest way around. Not everyone has the style of a Stella geared two stroke. My heart still goes pitter patter when I see one even though mine was a dog and utterly unreliable. Bicycles are the other mainstay and there is nothing quite like cycling round Old Town watching the world glide by. The nice thing I find about bicycles, as with all transportation in Key West, is that it is a matter of practicality not status.A bicycle is a bike and it's value is measured much more by it's ability to get the groceries home than by it's value or it's slick componentry. Who cares about on street parking when one's car is a bike?

Schooner Western Union

The Western Union schooner is back at her berth at the seawall at Key West Bight. And very pretty she is too after her refit. The boat I mean; the stranger just got in the way of the picture.The Western Union was first launched in 1939 and spent the next three decades as a working wooden schooner laying and maintaining telegraph cables between the Caribbean and Key West. The old cable hut that connected Key West to Havana is still visible today next to the Southernmost Point buoy.Things went downhill for the boat after being discharged by the Western Union company but Historic Tours owned the boat for a decade until a major refit was called for and the crew was summarily dismissed.After the abrupt shutdown in 2007 Historic Tours donated the boat to the not for profit Preservation Society created to restore the boat and return it to service. They did the work, raising one and a half million dollars and spending years on the restoration which appears to have paid off handsomely. I have never actually sailed on the Western Union though I have been out on other schooners and I figure I will have to give it a shot because I enjoy the view from the dock.
When I sued to work on the waterfront I knew youngsters who crewed on the Western Union and I remember envying them their youth. They didn't get paid much but they lived on board many of them and enjoyed being in the heart of the action on the waterfront in Key West. Theirs was as close to a piratical existence as one could imagine in the 20th century.And the work consisted of going sailing. A head for heights helps in these circumstances.
They have a website of course :

And this photo from their website of the ship under sail:
In lubberly terms the way the ship's sails point forwards and backwards, not across the decks, is what designates the vessel as a schooner.

Night At Rest

Rest Beach at night is a place I come back to again and again. There is a table by the parking lot where one can sit and watch the water. If, as happens sometimes the table is occupied one can walk the pathway to an opening on the sand and sit on a step and watch the water and the lights twinkling on the White Street Pier.This is the first place I think to come when I get a lunch break and I want to leave the police station instead of taking a nap. There aren't generally many waves around here thanks to the coral reefs that keep the Straits of Florida away but if there is any kind of south east breeze here is where you will feel it. When the wind is strong it makes the palms flap back and forth.Many many years ago Rest Beach (named for a once upon a time local notable) was the place where cows, raised on Stock Island (hence the name) were slaughtered for consumption in the city. I have read that one can still find pieces of bone from that gruesome time but I think that story is a canard for cheap thrills for visitors. That is to say the cows were slaughtered but their remains are all long gone.I don't come here at two in the morning to look for cow bones but to clear my head and enjoy some sea air in the middle of a shift. Oh and I get to ride my wife's Vespa this week while my Bonneville is getting it's annual check up.Then it's back too work with lungs full of bracing sea air.