Friday, April 13, 2018

Houseboat Row

What you see here is a heavily laden man cycling along a seawall on South Roosevelt Boulevard, the eastern end of the rectangle that is Key West. The waters to his right are called Cow Key Channel. They separate Key West from Stock Island, the island where cows to feed Key West used to be kept.
Lean over the seawall and you see a neat row of small boats, dinghies, used to get boat owners out to the craft anchored in Cow Key Channel. These little boats are tied up where Houseboat Row used to exist.
As we shall see, Houseboat Row is long gone, almost two decades since people lived tied to the seawall. People still live on boats, what my friend Rick in California calls "hovel craft" but these days they are anchored in the channel: 
Not all the boats are inhabited but most of them look like fiberglass wrecks. Were they made of wood I doubt many would float, but fiberglass is indestructible.
I suppose one could argue they look picturesque, creating the island ambiance Key West is constantly striving for, but I am not a fan of flotsam on the water. 
One the other hand boats do offer refuge for working class stiffs in a town notoriously too expensive to house its workers.
These boats then are floating homes for poor people you could say, not sailors or boaters or maritime types.
Little wonder then they frequently resemble refugee camps afloat, or debris piles rather than trim sailing vessels:
You can tell when they are inhabited by the small boats dangling in the water alongside the mother ships.Not all are sailboats either. 

The houseboat above is, it turns out in the flight path from the airport under certain wind conditions. Here we see the seaplane returning from the Dry Tortugas:
 And now back to houseboat row a vibrant community of boats that were moved out and dispersed despite their value as a tourist attraction exemplifying the Key West zany spirit of the time:
They got their mail delivered and everything. Then the city agreed to allow developer Ed Knight to build some multi million dollar condos on the mangrove lands on the other side of the road and the rather chaotic nature of the houseboats was deemed detrimental to the likely success of the condos which were initially offered at near to two million dollars apiece. The houseboats were offered bargain spaces in the city marina at Garrison Bight and I still remember the procession of houseboats towed around the island to their new more regulated home. I was not unfortunately such an avid keeper of photographic memories in those pre-digital days. 
Nevertheless the signs of chaotic living still appear from time to time in the parking area alongside the Houseboat Row sea wall.
And the sidewalk winds around to the entrance to Key West in the direction the heavily loaded cyclist was pedaling from the first picture in this essay.
Cow Key Channel serves as  a waterway as well as an anchorage, and the channel runs on the Stock Island side of the water, where the jet ski was running:
 And to the south, the open waters of the Straits of Florida.
 The impressive bulk of Mount Trashmore dominates the skyline on the north end of the channel:
While South Roosevelt winds around the corner of the island toward the airport:
 And there is a street sign on the sidewalk:
 I wonder what it means?
Some small anarchic spirit may still lurk in the former Houseboat Row...