Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Abandoned Boats In The Keys

Driving out of Key West I saw this beached lump of fiberglass resting comfortably on the grass. It appears to be a wreck that has been hauled to shore at vast taxpayer expense, hopefully to be removed, sawn up into little pieces and buried forever in a mainland landfill. The problem of derelict boats is huge in  the Keys, where people come and dream of a cheap life in the tropics and find themselves living an unnatural life in a fiberglass bleach bottle in one of the many anchorages around these islands. They laughingly call themselves sailors, but they aren't; they are liveaboards, people who can no more travel by boat than  by magic carpet.
This sad wreck could have looked like this perhaps, a home for a while, then abandoned by an owner who went to the hospital, to jail, or back North to relatives willing to give them a second chance:
Life at anchor is a romantic possibility but the tedium of maintaining the boat, dragging drinking water out to the boat and then taking your trash back to shore, plus finding a way to commute to a job and sitting out hot weather and wet rainy weather in a space the size of a broom closet can wear on the most well intentioned boater. So, slowly slowly the boats get abandoned.

And, once abandoned their fittings below the waterline inevitably corrode or the hulls fill with rainwater and slip beneath the waves. Only, the waters around here are shallow enough that the sunken former homes present less the appearance of the Titanic and more the appearance of a random iceberg. And they can be just as lethal, unlit at night and not easily seen even by day. So the particularly egregious ones get hauled to shore, cut into pieces and hauled away at vast public expense. Monroe County estimates  it spends north of $150,000 a year  clearing these boats.
The problem is the boats are someone's property and as much as they need to be removed the county has to go through complex reporting requirements to establish they are abandoned. No one wants the government taking private property willy-nilly, I guess! Then there is the problem of fiberglass which is completely indestructible and doesn't deteriorate in sun, saltwater, or under the effects of radioactive  fallout. It is the world's least biodegradable product ever. A boat built in 1970 will be as solid and sailable, all other things being equal, as the day it was built. Amazing stuff, but really hard to get rid of; a permanent mixture of resin glue and glass fiber strands hardened and never again to decompose!
Monroe County has an  office dedicated to the removal of these boats, but they can't keep up. The blight it seems will never quite go away.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Southernmost Point, Key West

 I think every couple of years I take a trip to the southernmost knob and record it for posterity.
I suppose one should as after all it is said to be the Southernmost Point in the continental United States. 
 And to be the Southernmost is something to be bragged about, an accident of geography...
 The sea buoy that has been built out of cement to mark the spot has to be refreshed from time to time with sparkling paint and just now its looking pretty good in the September sun.
When storms blow up from the south seawater flops over this low seawall and tends to scrape the buoy clean but so far so good this year.  These guys arrived for their picture kicking a soccer ball.
The line for the picture can get monstrous long in winter. The antenna beyond the fence is actually parked on the actual southernmost point. But as the fence marks the extent of the Southernmost Navy Base our little buoy can be considered the (possibly) southernmost civilian point.
Which is 90 miles from Cuba hey say...actually wait a  minute, according to the Southernmost Historic Tours it's only  87.6  miles to Cuba  from here. 
Everyone is fascinated by that mysterious forbidden island, just over the horizon. I sometimes wonder if Key West would not lose half its luster were Cuba to vanish. I do wish it weren't forbidden though. I am still waiting for the hydrofoil high speed car ferry from Stock Island to Mariel crossing in three hours so I can go riding in the Sierra Maestra of a weekend. 
 They come on foot and on wheels, pause a second and go home with proof they were here. 
That's all they need a few pixels of proof and that  spot is off the list. I'll tell you mys secret though, its best on a moonlit windy night when the sea occasionally tries to climb over the seawall in a burst of spume and spray. 
So on a hot afternoon I breezed up Whitehead Street and paused in front of the Hemingway House for no better reason than to check it was still there. Another fine monument Key West sells mercilessly. His preferred place, Finca Vigia is preserved in aspic perhaps a hundred miles away in the heights overlooking Havana in distant Cuba. Might as well be on the dark side of the moon I am fond of saying.
 Southernmost memorabilia, all present and correct. Check.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Florida's Big Election

I really like the Eye On Miami Blog and this essay on why Charlie Crist the former Republican governor turned Democrat should be re-elected makes for worthwhile reading. Because I am a Democrat it's easy for me to like Crist even though I am leery of ever hoping for much from our politicians whose campaign expenses feed television budgets and are bought by the oligarchs that really run the country. However one wonders what South Florida might look like were Big Sugar and the Fanjul family ever to get a bloody nose. Could Crist be the man to deliver it? Incumbent Rick Scott presided over the worst case of medicare fraud in US corporate history with his company fined $1.7 billion, but the bright sparks we call Florida voters thought he was a good choice to lead the state. He has been working hard to ingratiate himself with the voters offering money like an old time feudal lord buying off the peasantry but I still prefer Crist. Hmm...a glimmer of optimism, what a strange sensation for me.

Charlie Crist  versus Rick Scott

Why voting for Charlie Crist is good for Florida … by gimleteye

US Senator Marco Rubio really doesn't like Charlie Crist. That much is clear in a hostile letter mailed to Florida Republican voters.

Where's the sugar, Marco?

Remember when Charlie Crist was governor, he tried to fix Everglades restoration with a dramatic purchase of more than 150,000 crucial acres south of Lake Okeechobee to restore the dying River of Grass. The Fanjul billionaires were "outraged" (no one crosses the Fanjuls!) and were biggest supporters of Rubio in his campaign for US Senate against Crist.

Hating on Charlie Crist is what Big Sugar does.

Rick Scott fits squarely into Big Sugar's long plans for developing sugarcane lands into suburban sprawl.

Recently, US Sugar ratcheted up the stakes for taxpayers funding Everglades restoration, easily pushing past the Hendry County Commission a plan to develop 67 square miles of its sugarcane into more Florida sprawl.

That's land Charlie Crist wanted to purchase for the Everglades and was criticized by Republicans for saying it would cost too much. Well what, dear readers, what do you imagine the cost will be, now that industrial, commercial, and residential zoning is attached to it? And when US Sugar paid for Republican legislators to hunt in luxury at the King Ranch in Texas, Gov. Rick Scott was right there -- but he wasn't talking business, he says.

Florida's Republican leaders don't like Charlie Crist, but they are not telling you how they are lining their pockets by wrecking so much of what Floridians value. For instance, everything to do with restoration of America's Everglades is a work-around of Big Sugar.

Republican leaders believe that if government can put a monetary value for corporations on any action, then government can afford to pay for protecting what is harmed by that action. The problem with the formula is that it depends on mis-pricing. Put a higher value than a government regulation is worth and underspend what is necessary to protect the public.

That's exactly what Republicans lead by Gov. Rick Scott did by destroying the agency charged with growth management in Florida. They claimed that the Florida DCA was a "jobs killer" but that was vastly over-stating the case, and cost, against growth management. Instead, after years of under-cutting regulations -- "government-designed-to-fail" is the best description of what Florida Republican leadership believes in -- Gov. Rick Scott simply delivered the final blow, destroying what took decades of bipartisan consensus to build.

It's sweet for them and sour for us. Do once, and, repeat. It's gaming the system, and no governor has been better at gaming Florida than Gov. Rick Scott.

For Republicans, the problem with Charlie Crist is that he can never be one of their cronies, helping to mis-price government action in order to fatten their net worth. These days, that's a very low bar and a very good reason to vote for Charlie Crist.


Anonymous said...
Thank you for sharing that with us. I'm a republican and a law enforcement with the FDLE and I couldn't in good, conscience vote for this current guy. My vote, and that of my family and friends are voting for Charlie Crist
Anonymous said...
How ca you be so naive? Or expect readers to be so naive?
Charlie Crist was elected with tons of sugar money!
Now, he is again running, with thousands of sugar dollars! Look at his campaign contributions, for goodness sake!
Charlie Crist is a weathervane who will swing in whatever direction the wind blows!
Geniusofdespair said...
Charlie Crist was a good governor.

1. He did not cut the budget, firingmost of the scientists from the SFWMD.

2. He did not dismantle the Department of Community Affairs.

3. He did not bilk the Federal Government out of millions he used to buy his governor position.

4. He did not plead the 5th amendment
75 times to avoid jail.

On the environment I give Charlie Crist an A or B+. I give Rick Scott a D- or an F.
Grillo said...
For all that Charlie Crist may or may not be, he certainly is not a thief. He has not stolen the highest (largest??) amount of money in history from any government program.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

From The Archives: Boca Grande

Robert's Dad has since died, but I remember him fondly, a man with a twinkle in his eye and a sharp sense of history and humor. I like seeing him alive and perky again even if its just on this little page. It was a good  day on the water, now so long ago, five years, a reminder that time really does fly as you age. I'd like to do it again when my boat works! Tiresome boats!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Boca Grande Picnic

This is the best time of year to be in Key West in my opinion, because this is the time of year one goes swimming. Dolly and Robert invited us out for a picnic at Boca Grande Key, about seven miles west of key West. It was a massive organizational effort by Dolly as Boca Grande is entirely deserted, and we are Americans,, thus want for nothing even in Nature's most remote spots:

There are a few small scraps of land that are more than just mangroves scattered around Key West, places that are naturally sandy and superbly isolated. Boca Grande is on the way to the Marquesas Keys, and ultimately the Dry Tortugas. The beach at Boca Grande is the farthest west of the string of small mangrove islands known locally as "The Lakes" a broad basin of shallow water surrounded by islands. On this chart Key West is off the screen to the right and the Dry Tortugas to the left:

Because we all live in the Lower Keys it was easier to simply rent a boat off the docks behind the Half Shell Raw Bar (305-295-BOAT if you feel inspired) than to drive our own skiffs 25 miles just to get to Key West. The docks were looking good as we pulled away:

We also had an honored guest on board, Robert's 84 year old father, a man who loves to take cruise ships in retirement and who has been all over the world as a result. However he was rather apprehensive about a small boat trip to a deserted beach as he has several artificial joints which make him vulnerable to falls. The rental boat was a much more comfortable craft than our crude skiffs for him to make the journey:

Robert senior is also prone to getting melanoma, "My Norwegian skin!" he lamented, so he had to stay covered up and in the shade at all times. The logistics of this trip were remarkable, and Robert and Dolly pulled it off as we shall see...Robert enjoys sharing his knowledge of the water and the wildlife and we took a pause in the middle of The Lakes so his father, a massively curious man, could catch up:

The ride to Boca Grande took about forty minutes at the rental boat's relaxed pace, and soon enough we could see the thin sliver of sand, the full moon high tide was busy dropping even as we arrived and there was a tremendous current off the beach.

We had our choice of location and Robert beached the boat whereupon we unloaded a mound of gear that soon transformed itself into an awning, chairs, ice chests, a Weber grill and so on and so forth. The awning was superb as there was a light southwesterly wind and in the shade we found ourselves to be refrigerated to a perfect temperature, and the lack of fresh water meant there were no bugs either:
We weren't alone but there was lots of room for all:
And I have to say we had to be the best equipped group on the beach, with the grill turning out hot cheese sandwiches, with my wife's Greek salad for garnish:
And Robert is no slouch when it comes to enjoying the fruits of his own labor (he grills pretty much at the drop of a hat):
And when I said well equipped I meant it. Dolly and Robert have this excellent ice cream churn. They found it at a yard sale and they use it from time to time and it never ceases to amaze me. It consists of a double walled bucket that gets frozen ahead of time and then one adds a mixture of one's choosing, in this case cream and eggs and milk I believe with some Ghirardelli chocolate, and then hey presto! with just a little churning out comes delicious ice cream, a full quart of the stuff:
And there we sat, in the shade, fanned by the breeze, hogging homemade chocolate ice cream.
One has to pity the poor plebs who came less equipped...
Though they seemed to having fun too, I have to say. It really doesn't take much to luxuriate in this deserted places, all sun sand and sea, just like the travel brochures tell us. Robert senior got into too, he marveled at the ease of the picnic and his pleasure was obvious. We youngsters took to the water, drifting past our campsite in the rushing tidal waters, stepping onto the beach further down and walking back upstream to do it again:
It was like a water park. Even though it hardly resembles it at all, this is in fact real life and we found time's winged chariot rushing us along and soon enough we had to stop this sybaritic playfulness and pack the boat for the return trip:
We got Robert Senior safely ensconced in the shade and off we went:

Robert's Dad carries his 84 years very well, but his mind is extra sharp and he exemplifies the notion that a sense of curiosity will keep you youthful. He engaged me in extended conversations about politics the economy and religion in a way that was non confrontational and engaging but also open to other points of view. I felt more like I was in a Greek taverna a couple of thousand years ago engaged in Socratic dialogue than being a bum on a Key West beach. He spent his working years as a financial adviser in Manhattan, and he had some choice remarks to make about the modern ethics of the trade. A confirmed Republican he voted for President Obama and thinks he's doing the best he can in an impossible situation. A religious skeptic, or a pragmatist as he put it, he faces old age with equanimity and a twinkle in his eye. He made the picnic for me, and I was as apprehensive about meeting him as he was about riding the small boat. I've known his son for twenty years and the old man's approval seemed important. He called me a philosopher and slapped his knee with delight whether we found a point in common or in opposition.

The return trip was the usual sedated ride back to base, everyone filled with food and sun and exhausted by water exercises:

We stopped by Robert's workplace at the national Marine sanctuary offices on Truman Waterfront and I got to snap a picture of the USS Mohawk still decorated for the Fourth of July, a reminder of my tour aboard last winter:

And in closing the view of the Key West waterfront as one crosses the harbor:

So, remind me, why is it people flock to Key West in winter, when the waters are cold and the seas are rough? Long may they continue to do so, I'll take summer over winter any day.

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Answer To My Persistent Question

Robert said he wanted to see Calvary which surprised me as a movie about the effects of child abuse among the Irish of County Sligo, about which I know only what William Butler Yeats taught me in English Literature classes taught by monks who approved heartily of his Irish Catholic Romanticism. However the movie Calvary did not seem to impress Robert much, though I found it completely absorbing despite its decided lack of romantic underpinnings and the harshness of the subject. Robert and I then talk boat repairs which was much more up his street, and my boat, the object of our post movie conversation remains not totally functional. Grr.
 But I did get to wile away some time on Duval Street before the movie so I took a walk, as you do, waiting for Robert to show up and it was perfectly lovely downtown. September traditionally gets a bit tedious as one waits for summer's heat to break but this year we have been enjoying low humidity and strong breezes in between the total humidity of drenching downpours. That people complain of summer heat in Florida baffles me; what on Earth do you expect? Snowflakes?
 The four hundred block of Duval Street is in ferment presumably getting ready for winter tourism and the ever more closely impending chaos of Fantasy Fest set to culminate this year on October 25th, I think. I always have to work Fantasy Fest and this year it's my regularly scheduled weekend so I won't make much overtime but if I survive the week with mys ense of humor intact I will be happy. Life in Paradise:
 Fast Buck Freddie's is a blank canvas waiting for CVS to work it's magic. I wonder if they will keep the planters out front that serve as a work bench and display case for the palm weavers and their acolytes? 
 This is slow season for vendors, and its said in key West that to prove your worth as a shopkeeper or waitperson you have to be able to set aside enough in the fat months to see you through the no sales lean months. Like September.
Lots of standing around waiting to lure customers in from almost empty sidewalks. The various chambers of commerce report higher than expected visitor numbers this summer, up ten percent they say, whatever  that means exactly. I figured as much judging by the endless stream of traffic on Highway One all summer long...
 The city of Key West is back up to strength the newspaper tells us with the City Manager almost forgetting to tell the city commission he had hired a second assistant city manager, again.  As odd as it may seem Manager Scholl has started a tradition of needing two assistants to run this town of 23,000 people. He was recently reappointed to the top job after the city commission fired his predecessor, a survivor of two years in the top city manager's  job. Then, instead of initiating a search and using the city attorney to fill in temporarily, the commission adopted the Mayor's proposal and -no search needed - the old manager was quickly rehired. Very efficient, and now both assistant slots are full again so its full steam ahead. A search for the assitant city manager's job apparently was not necessary either.
I guess this is a good time of year to refresh the building that houses La Concha hotel because if you are going to close a sidewalk September is a good time of year to hope that pedestrian in the street won't get run down as they side step the construction.
I have been noticing the new twin trash/recycle bins downtown so one might hope that the concept of recycling will take root. However the whole garbage contract between the city and its haulers has been up in the air in the strangest possible way. The city, under the old city manager, put the expiring garbage contract out to bid in the usual way. City staff recommended the lowest bid but the city commission overrode them and voted to continue with the same company, at greater public cost. The cost estimates at first suggested a large rate increase coming up but that news didn't go over well. And here's the odd part. 
 Histrionically  Key West can't recycle for love nor money. Recycle rates as a percentage of the waste stream have hovered around 7%. Then suddenly last year the rate tripled to 21% after the city reduced garbage pick up to once a week. Amid dire predictions of health hazards and overflowing smelly garbage cans, the sky failed to fall and everyone apparently decided it was better to recycle. Weird huh? Well, never one to lose an opportunity to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory the city commission in a moment of inspired brilliance decided to restore the twice a week pick up. Thus increasing the contracted costs and hopefully reducing recycling all at once. Luckily the massively increased cost of the not-contracted twice weekly pick up may have scotched that plan for now, but what the point was of putting the waste contract out to bid in the first place is completely unclear. Perhaps just to fool those not paying attention into imaging the fix wasn't in? It worked, the election came and went with no change in the city's leadership. Meanwhile the idea that bars should recycle their millions of bottles and cans is laughably invisible to the Southernmost City.
Key West is a miracle town, made possible b y an impossibly gorgeous climate and a display of botanic artifice that proves Nature is better equipped to survive here than the human brain. No matter what grotesque choices humans make this town is protected by an unbeatable tourist oriented combination of  attractions: permanent sunshine, blue skies, turquoise waters and lush greenery. So the money keeps coming in and he commissions best efforts to waste it still leave the city in decent financial shape. Talk about a gift from the Gods! Petroleum reserves might be more lucrative but its hard to be sure.
Fashions trickle down to Key West slowly and the latest bicycle fad is inexplicable to me. I read a short article in Bicycling magazine about fat tired bicycles and they say they are only really effective in snow and peculiar frosty "groomed" trails. Key West is nowhere mentioned oddly enough because they are showing up all over town where people gather to chat in the shade:
 Just don’t get too excited about using a fat bike for everyday transportation. Explorer Mike Curiak has ridden thousands of miles on them and plans to use one on a 700-mile expedition to the Northwest Passage this summer. “Fat bikes take me places where people haven’t been, where normal bikes couldn’t go,” he says. But he’d never consider one for conventional trails. “An $800 hardtail with a suspension fork will ride a million times better,” he says. 

Still, there’s plenty to love. Fatties have extended the riding season through winter in the northern half of the United States and, in towns with groomed snow trails, the bikes are becoming as popular as cross-country skis. In Minneapolis, where Surly is based, enthusiasts have created a race series. And shops everywhere are finding that the bikes’ unique ride entices novice riders, drawing new riders to the sport. 
 I'd rather be sitting on a towel waiting for Godot in 90 degrees than planning a bike trip on a  snowy "groomed trail" which sounds peculiar at best and uncomfortable most likely, in some polar region Up North.
I came out of the movie, chatted with Robert and crossed the street to find my Vespa ET4 had picked up a blue and white clone. Except it wasn't, it was a creditable attempt at a  Vespa-lookalike by Kymco, a well known Taiwanese ( thank you Dennis!) brand of scooter. Apparently the Like 50 also comes as a 200 which I think might be quite a decent scooter were the need to arise, as it were. Kymcos have a deservedly stellar reputation for quality and reliability.
 Sometimes the devil gets in me and I ask a stupid question in response to the rote questions asked at the point of sale. In a lot of establishments the question "Can I get you anything else?" is frequently offered, pro forma, by a bored sales person or an eager "up seller" hoping to do the company right by encouraging the punter to spend just a little more. These kinds of questions tend to aggravate me in a mild way because the pursuit of sales at all costs is such an omnipresent fact of life in our permanently connected world. So when I am at the Tropic Cinema which has a really pleasant space in which to hang out, even if not seeing a movie, I  enjoy dealing with the volunteers, many of them witty educatedAnswer to Life's Persistent Questions retirees, selling tickets or food and drink. You haven't really seen a movie until you've done it sharing a bottle of wine in public, in the dark in my opinion. Anyway I got a soda to wash down Calvary and the woman at the counter asked me is I wanted anything else. The devil got in me and I asked for a slice of happiness. Bless her, she smiled sweetly as she passed me my change. 
Best answer I ever got.