Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Mangrove Views

I read a comment recently by sailor Webb Chiles riding into Key West from Marathon. He loved the turquoise waters but didn't think much of the scrubby land in between bays...Its a common reaction but I love these spaces! 
It's like so much else in Florida, not startling or overwhelming but it's unique across the entire continent and for me it feels like my space. Of course it's Rusty the dingo who loves running through these impenetrable bushes. 
For me these stubby little bushes represent the last remaining space where I can be alone. It's not always silent as the hum of endless traffic on US One travels across the mangroves for miles. 
It looks impenetrable because it is. Clearly. 
It's like walking through the desert. The wind blows over your ears creating that whistling blowing sound and your footsteps sound like drumbeats against the silence all around you. Coming from my job answering 911 calls all night a morning stroll through the mangroves with my dog is the place your mind can cast off the night stresses. 
I have walked Sequoia forests and eucalyptus groves. I've hiked the Highlands of Scotland and I've stood by myself in the silence of the Sahara. Great experiences all. I don't know how you grade these wildernesses and maybe I could use a bit more variety but like most things in the Keys where land is scarce you make do. I might not choose mangroves over a pine forest but this is what I've got. 
There are limited sight lines because the open space is flat naturally. And perhaps I make my own sense of being alone by walking when the rest of the world is only getting ready to wake up. I see signs others show up here from time to time. 
It's the end of the road so it has nice red diamonds to mark where the asphalt ends. I'm good. Rusty's panting. Time to go home. 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Boating From The Archives

From 2010 when we lived on Ramrod Key with Cheyenne...We used the boat to go out into Newfound Harbor to swim as our canal was busy and not terribly clean for swimming. Nowadays on Cudjoe Key we have no such destinations and I miss Picnic Island.

Picnic Island

It has been a delightful winter so far, a mixture of low humidity and bright sunshine, evolving into warm summery days with scattered rain, winds coming and winds dying down. And in the end one has no choice but to untie the boat and cast off. So we did.The canal was empty of traffic for the most part but even when one meets the occasional boat it's wide enough to pass easily enough in our little 14 foot long skiff.Flat waters, bright sunshine and a picnic with our goal in sight across Newfound Harbor from the entrance to our canal.It's a five minute ride across the protected waters of what is in fact not strictly speaking a harbor but a large basin protected from almost all directions by land. In the middle of this boating pleasantness lies a small sandy island, the result of dredging to clear a deep water channel up the south side of Newfound Harbor.The early hours of a Sunday morning are the perfect time to tie up at Picnic Island for the rest of the world is either on it's knees invoking God's favor or on it's knees trying to recover from last night's over indulgence. By the afternoon a few dozen boats, perhaps many more will be out here splashing anchors and playing loud disjointed music.
It's a popular spot, deservedly so with a fire pit,...and a grill and lots of shady sand to set up a picnic table and a couple of chairs and spread out with a thermos of something hot to drink and a newspaper to read.
Some enterprising people have planted palms on the island and by dint of careful watering they have taken root.
They are actually part of an elaborate monument to a former visitor.Every dog is a bestest dog so the sentiments strike a universal chord.Picnic island is a delightful spot, more so in summer when the waters are warm enough to swim. Right now they won't see 80 degrees again till late April, so we prefer to look at them rather than submerse ourselves in them.Cheyenne's picnic is a dollar smoked ham hock from Winn Dixie. These things keep her occupied for a few minutes, time enough to eat the sandwich my wife prepared, Canadian bacon and egg for us humans.This is my idea of heaven, no noise no obligations and the gratitude of a wife who had forgotten how pleasant this short boat ride is from our house.
Cheyenne needs a walk and she doesn't much like to go alone. I get to watch her cool off at the north end of the island, 25 paces from my tea cup.The island can be made to look huge with a small angle on the camera.There's not much going on at Picnic Island at the best of times but the waters around it are teeming with life even early on a Sunday.
It's winter so sailboats are moving around more with the diminished threat of hurricanes and the cooler temperatures. Fishing is always a fashionable activity.
This hovel craft has been hanging out by picnic island for a long time. Noise is a trade mark with a loud radio at every opportunity. It is possible to live on the waters of the Florida Keys and not be bothered by anyone. It is a rather aimless existence I should note, having done it myself.I prefer traveling to vegetating when I am living on a boat. Highway One is visible in the distance, the northern perimeter of Newfound Harbor.The southern tip of Ramrod Key is covered by a small island known to it's owners as Coupon Key. The Spottswoods have listed their slice of Paradise at 18 million dollars if interested. Power and water are piped to the island across the mangrove swamps but human access is by boat. The nice thing is we who live on their side of the canal get our power restored first on Ramrod after an outage. The Keys are nothing if not subservient to the moneyed class.The residents on Ramrod on this side of the island, the eastern side of the main canal, get to run their generators a little longer than those of us on the western side. I had no idea when we bought our little tree house in 2005. Power outages define who we are I suppose. Mind you, this lot have pretty nice views out across Newfound Harbor.Little Palm Island marks the entrance at the south side of Newfound Harbor.And back around to the southeast we have another small mangrove island. Of the three island blobs in the water in the middle of Newfound Harbor only picnic island has sand. The others are just a mass of mangrove roots.When my wife and I sailed back to Key West after our final cruise to the Bahamas in 2002 we stopped here for our last night before going home to Key West. We often remark we had no idea we would end up living in a house here. It was Emma's last sail before she sank into old age and illness forcing us off the boat and into a house. I had that SPCA yellow Lab for 12 years and together we crossed the country four times visiting 23 states and we sailed the length of Central America visiting every country between California and Florida from Colombia to Cuba. Her last night at anchor she spent here. Three years later she was dead, and I still miss her.I have to confess I am not a great fan of black and white photography, not for the kind of pictures I take, but I was playing with the camera as Cheyenne sniffed around. It's not exactly Clyde Butcher.Time to go; people to see, things to do. The water is quite shallow off the beach itself.
Back to our channel.

Cheyenne was ready to get home too.Up the canal......past sunbathing neighbors...
...swimming iguanas...To home sweet home.The tide was high enough I could lift Cheyenne onto the dock. If the tide is out I nuzzle the boat into the mangroves alongside the dock and Cheyenne jumps out and runs up to the house under her own steam.One last look down the canal and its off to do some chores. Laundry anyone?

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Minimal Boating

From the archives this story on the Minimal Regatta which is still going strong at Schooner Wharf Bar every Memorial Weekend. Amazing really.

Minimal Regatta 2011

The Coasties were on hand, always ready to help out any boaters in this absurd race who might have bitten off more than they could chew.However they also had their own dog in this hunt, a spectacularly powerful and determined paddler flying the Semper Paratus flag to victory in the first heat.His boat was properly built and properly equipped with an anchor on the bow, ready to be deployed! The Minimal Regatta is in it's 20th year as a Veterans fund raiser on Memorial Day weekend. the rules are pretty simple: build you own boat from the same identical inadequate supplies, plywood, two by fours, duct tape and some screws... This was boat racing taken seriously. There are huge crowds traditionally at this event, ostensibly to watch people show up in silly costumes with silly boats and proceed to sink them. In reality it's an excuse to hang out and talk and drink.Schooner Wharf Bar hosts the fun event and supervises the entries. Results are reported in the paper, as all top flight sporting events should be. But the Minimal Regatta is a place to see and be seen.The crowds are thick and the heat is oppressive for some, in others it just brings out their peaches and cream complexion.For Cheyenne it was oppressive and she ducked between legs to find a shady spot away from the action.
Like so many charity fundraisers in Key West this one is a chance to find a really silly costume and pose for the camera. I had left my hard hat at home and was thus obliged to keep my distance.
Cheyenne did her bit for the camera attracting some healthy interest.

I found an available corner at the Shrimp Sound building overlooking the melee. The dock in front of Schooner Wharf was like hot sticky pudding, filled with sweaty bodies rubbing off each other and the air was like custard and just as hard to breathe.
There were actually plenty of free seats with decent views of the boating if you looked for them because the commentary of Evalena Worthington and the DJ Hoebee was broadcast far and wide across the waters...The pleasure of the racing and the sinkings will be paid for later by some incautious souls.And whenever I wonder why people discriminate against big dogs I see a pooch in a crate on the back of a scooter or in someone's arms...And don't let's forget the pirates keeping an eye on things.I just stood there in the sun pondering the slow start watching people rushing hither and yon on Lazy Way Lane looking for the best spot to watch or perhaps to meet a friend or perhaps, as I was thinking of, to go home.There was a lady passing through the crowd selling poppies for Memorial Day, a reminder of the purpose of the event.And the first boats got going to much acclaim.One sank, one didn't......and it was time to go home and get some rest before the all too imminent start of a holiday night shift for me.