Monday, June 9, 2014

House Boat Living

Ric asked for my views on houseboat living, so here goes nothing: don't do it! You aren't the first! I spent last week collecting pictures from Key West and Marathon marinas to illustrate the life. There are tons of places you can live on a houseboat from the docks behind Five Sixes cabs not far from the relative opulence of the marinas on south Stock Island, to anchorages crowded and isolated up and down the Keys. These photos are simply illustrations, the way I do it, of a series of words broken up into paragraphs and separated by pictures.   

 The first thing is to dispel the romance of living in a marina on a houseboat that is in essence a floating structure, and is only a boat by virtue of the fact that it floats. To move these things you need a) a very calm day and b) almost of all of them require the services of a tug. To live here one is not in any sense a mariner, one is not sailing or cruising; one is living in a floating home. A lot of people mix up the romance of a life afloat with the need to find a relatively inexpensive place to call home. If you choose to live in a marina this is your life, below, and these are the views, in the top picture.
I have lived on boats for years, probably half my adult life, but I have always lived on sailboats and always kept them able to move. However the longer you live on a boat the more crap and detritus you accumulate and thus the harder it is to go sailing. There is a lot to be said for living ashore and keeping a boat to use to enjoy the water. On the other hand as seen below some people convert their cruisers into floating homes. And here's the thing, to stay cool all windows are covered very sensibly and there is a cover to help keep the whole boat cool. Its very trim and nicely done. However what you end up living in is a cave. I know I've done it and it's not for me. The alternative is to live your life on public display.
 I met a couple of liveaboards and asked how they were and the woman reaching for her drink glared at me and spat that she had no interest in answering any damn fool questions. Okay, I thought, there's some material to disabuse the good natured Ric of his idea that these charmers might need him for a neighbor. The man engaged me a bit pointing out it costs $25,000 by his estimate to get a slip with a further $5,000 to the city...though he did grant that the monthly fees to live in Key west are quite reasonable compared to a two thousand a month rental ashore. He pointed out a couple of houseboats for sale, apparently thinking I was interested. Thanks but no thanks!
 You live cheek by jowl in these places and once you get past the romance of the sea you can understand that this is low income housing, with flair, yes, but this is not romantic in my book.
My wife and I have been discussing our own post-Cheyenne future and she is pushing the boat idea quite strongly, which surprises me. This time though she wants a slow economical trawler with no sails, easy to move  and spend weekends on the water. It's an idea but marina living will take some getting used to again.
Parking is generally available, under the sun, security is as you find it and it varies between marinas. We used to live on Stock Island in a brand new place which started out well as it cost more than most, not by much, but enough to keep it uncrowded. I used to walk Emma at night and chat with the security guard in his golf cart, and it was low key.Then it got discovered and the crowds came and the parking lot filled, just like this one at Garrison Bight, making it look like a mall lot on a Saturday...
 If you aren't working its far better to live at anchor, assuming you have a spot where you can get ashore without annoying people. This boat below, showed up a  while back in Niles Channel 26 miles from Key West, and clearly the owner is over it. The boat is a disgrace with sails abandoned, equipment scattered and the outboard motor forgotten in the water accumulating growth and corrosion. Imagine what a hell hole the cabin is. The trick with boats is to buy them sensibly (good luck) and sell them before you lose interest in them (fat chance). 
 I got a much nicer reception in Boot Key harbor in Marathon. The weather was gray and damp which gave me a realistic feel for the less than perfect days that do happen in the Keys, and the cool weather encouraged Cheyenne to want to walk. We met an old dude on the docks stumping back to his home of 25 years, a sailboat, and we compared notes on the liveaboard life. He said he couldn't imagine another way of life and I think that is the salient point. You really need to want to do it because if it is just a way to find cheap housing you end up like the worn out angry trailer park denizen at Garrison Bight.
Check out the sailboat below, a home apparently if you believe the evidence of ice chests and belonging strewn under the awnings. When I was a boat captain we used to race paying passengers around Key West harbor on Stiletto catamarans exactly like  this one below. How anyone could live in the "cabins" which are more like coffins I couldn't say but youth and determination overcome a lot of obstacles. Plus the boat sails like a cat with its tail on fire, ie: fast and unpredictably if you put up plenty of sail. As a home forget it.
If a houseboat is interesting  there is plenty of online literature like this and pictures of interiors which to my mind look like rental apartments or early RVs for the most part. But I have my sailor's prejudices...sorry.
The romantic image of houseboat living is, as is usually the case a character in fiction, Travis McGee . If you haven't read any of the novels you will find them rather dated, sexist even in a 1920s kind of way and the technology is of course far behind the times. Yet they collectively tell a story of a Sunshine State that is still possibly available for us today if we could only find it. To start with you need to live on a boat of course! Then you can be Travis McGee.
I guess the reality is you can do anything if you want to. I spotted a guy on a kayak paddling patiently in from his boat anchored in Boot Key Harbor. The odd thing was he had two large dogs balanced on the back and they were enjoying the ride. I would have loved to stop and ask how he trained them but I was on land and he was busy and I could not spot where he landed them. Plus I don't have a telephoto on my phone which I miss quite a lot from time to time...
 The privacy of life at anchor or on a city provided mooring is quite lovely, until it rains or gets windy or you forgot your phone in the car...everything takes longer than it takes when you live away from the ease of life on land. Boot Key harbor in marathon is the best protected anchorage in the Keys, and for all that Key West has a maritime history has nowhere as snug and secure as this anchorage, a tidal lagoon surrounded by land. 
The basics of living in a  houseboat are actually fairly simple.  The marina provides electricity, piped water and cable TV service usually as well as a phone line all contained in the white boxes you see on the docks. The boater connects the services required and pays the meters. Monthly rent for a 40 foot boat in a suitable dock will probably be around $1200 a month including liveaboard fees. Showers and toilets are available on land like in campgrounds and as a working stiff you will get used to driving to the showers with your work clothes and emerging into your car for your commute looking like any suburban householder starting his/her day. From my experience successful boaters who try to live and work are organized people. 
The social aspects of marinas are something else.  Some places prefer not to cater to liveaboards, other marinas love them as residents give a  permanent presence and watchful eyes on the docks. Some marinas are extremely social with events and parties, while others aren't. 
 Sombrero Resort in Marathon is a private facility attached to a hotel and club I believe and they see lots of winter residents just as one does in condos ashore.

 The city marina across Boot Key harbor has a few docks but is mostly a dinghy landing with facilities in the converted warehouse. they have a workshop for rent, a lounge with a book swap, laundry showers and toilets designed to serve people who live on city moorings and at anchor in the harbor. It is a fabulous refuge for travelers through the Keys. 
 It is crowded too, especially in winter. Marathon is a great jumping off point for the Bahamas as the Gulf Stream will carry you straight to Bimini like an elevator. The last time I sailed across I left here at lunchtime and anchored at Gun Cay the next morning for breakfast.
In the end I don't give advice because I fully expect it to be ignored. If you have an itch you cannot ignore then you must follow through, but to live on a boat, especially a boat that is not self propelled requires passion. The reality of daily living on a boat when you are used to the conveniences of a house are hard to get used to, and if your spouse ain't happy, ain't nobody happy, especially in a  relatively small space.

Fortunately we aren't, most of us sensible people so we will make emotional choices and perhaps a boat is in your future- a houseboat! Good luck.

Garrison Bight Marina

Marina Village Stock Island

Harbor yacht Club Stock island

Sombrero Marina Marathon

Marathon City Marina

How To Be Sensible

Real Key West On Houseboats

Sunday, June 8, 2014

From The Archives: Cudjoe And The Fort

To mark our safe landing on Cudjoe I have dug up these old pictures of the blimp on Cudjoe Key.
The  blimp known as Fat Albert has always been a mysterious object hovering over the Lower Keys, run by the Air Force and supposedly seeking out air and sea traffic in the Florida Straits. Last year budget cuts threatened its future until the weather people at NOAA offered to pay for it. After that offer was made nothing more was heard and there it is still, checking for I-don't-know-what.
There is a surf shop in Key West which is odd as there is no surf thanks to the reef and shallow surrounding waters.
 On windy days there is windsurfing though.
 I found these pictures of the early days of what has become a familiar sight at key west Bight.

Big sandwiches and small prices. How could this not succeed? Except that there are more coffee shops than you can count...
I took this picture of these colorful houses on Big Coppitt alongside the highway because they were at the heart of a controversy reported in the paper. Habitat for Humanity organized the construction and the neighbors did a great job of trying to stop those people from getting a  foothold. Poverty makes no friends. However the homes are still there, looking fine and I wonder what the fuss was all about. Especially as Big Coppitt is hardly a manicured community. 
 The constant in my essays, here seen putting my wife's exercise mat to good use:
 Really good use:
These two Labradors worry people sometimes and they call the police to "do something." Oddly enough they are very happy and as far as I know they do return to earth when they feel like it. It is disconcerting though to look up and see them peering down.

 They may not be your mother but they have high expectations of you:
Here follow some pictures of Fort Jefferson, seventy miles west of Key West with a rather pleasant campground on the island.
 Millions of bricks...
...and during the day, people. Then the ferry takes them home and the island is occupied by campers and boaters.
 A good place to wake up and brew up.
And a fine spot to get a private sunset.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Rain Clouds

The weather has sucked lately, and when I say that, it would have been great for field crops or aquifers if we had any, but for people looking for fun in the sun it has been feeling like Seattle around here. That is to say, if it ever got much over eighty degrees in Seattle on an overcast day.
I enjoy the wild overhead sky sculptures created by summer thunder, but I am a fussy bastard and I like the rain and thunder and cloudiness to do their thing and then bugger off. As it is it feels like its been an endless week of mostly overcast skies with a brief sunny break on Thursday.
Traffic has continued intense on the highway at all hours and even on this walk three cycling old timers pedaled by with looks of grim determination. They more closely resembled the snowbirds we are used to seeing in winter. This time of year is when everybody is supposed to bugger off and instead it seems things have changed and year round crowds are the new norm.
I read a report issued by the Social Security Administration on the median wage which they calculate in some abstruse way, multiplying numbers and dividing them to come up with Half Of Americans Made Less Than $27,000 Last Year - Business Insider. Whether it's half or one third of people with jobs (never mind those who disappeared from the official unemployment numbers), it gets even more surprising to see how many people visit the Keys. My wife and I are planning a road trip next month, to visit friends perhaps to pick up my antique Vespa now almost restored, and I wonder at how lucky we are.
I love looking out at the flat water in these light conditions. I am hoping Robert will be ready to go boating soon. I feel we have been away from the water too long and he has very kindly offered to get the neglected Yamaha sea worthy. It's a great moving gift.
So much drama for an all too brief hour long walk.
Cheyenne enjoyed the gray drizzle-filled days even though it wasn't as cool as she might have liked. And even though she doesn't much like the rain we took advantage to get out in it.
I wonder how annoying it must be to vacation in the land of perpetual sunshine and then see this. Now that's unfortunate.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Art Imitates Life In Key West

One  day I will inventory  every single convenience store in the city of Key West. Until then I will marvel how many of them there are and how do they all stay in business? Which is something that could also be said of coffee shops. This one, pictured below, was where I used to get coffee when I was living on my boat and doing laundry in Habana Plaza at the only public, air conditioned laundry (they claimed.) in the city. Back then it was an old dude serving Cuban coffee; now according to Yelp reviewers its not:
It's exactly what you'd expect from a Conch coffee place. There is a window and a lady behind the window. You place your order. There are chairs provided for you to sit and wait. Maybe there's an old guy reading the paper, or a lady on her way to work. Everyone is happy, but quiet, as it is still morning, and not time for a lot of talking just yet.
I took a picture really early in the morning after work as I needed the photo for an online scooter tag effort.
 If you want a local "cuban" coffee shop, than this is the spot where you can find the locals. It is in the corner spot of the little strip mall, and you can see the local cuban men sitting outside of this spot every morning talking, and laughing about current events, the old ways, and etc... 

This spot is locally know for their "Cafe Con Leche" and a few other items.

A Key West coffee shop without con leche would be odd;  some of them call it a latte,.Why this reviewer puts inverted commas around the word "cuban" I couldn't say. It's Cuban and so is the food. Key West's ethnic food. And gossip.
Word of mouth was that Chef was a movie wiorth seeing. Held over they said at the Tropic Cinema, because apparently people wanted to see Jon Favreau's funky little movie about a food truck.
My wife told me later that one of her friends had warned us off saying it was most likely too sentimental for hard core movie goers like us (or me more likely). I liked the movie, even though the plot was as thin and translucent as rice paper, a shortcoming made up for by the brazen good will and charm of all concerned. The Chef in question gets into a Twitter war with a food critic, he loses his job and gets a food truck. On the way he builds a relationship with his unfortunately named son Percy and his ex-wife a  Cuban fire cracker with a heart of gold. Cuban sandwiches and fried plantains save his career, his family, his friendships in linear and predictable fashion. You really should go and check it out, because not every movie this year will feature a road trip in a Grumman bread truck.
Tropic Cinema is a beacon of light in Key West, not that the city is a cultural black hole or anything like that. But the Tropic, like the daily paper is a stand out physical survivor in a world gone digital. I mean if you wait a while Chef will appear on Netflix on disc or streaming so technically you could just stay home. But with a theater like this why would you?
So, how cool is it to live close by  real Cuban coffee and real Cuban sandwiches mixed in with real Cuban gossip, m'bubba, while at the same time  having a first rate actual live action movie theater thriving in town which allows you to go and see a movie about a Cuban food truck. Actually it turned out to be a pain in the ass as I had to sit through two hours of delicious food prep only to get up and go to work. I am quite proud of myself for not breaking down and ordering a Cuban and a con leche for a midnight meal from Sandy's that night. 
 I really like this picture of Cheyenne settling in to the new home while I'm at work. So I'm posting it again.