Sunday, November 22, 2015

Key West Dinghy Dock

First published April 10th 2009 I figured this isn't a bad time to put this essay back up as pretty soon winter  boaters will be by and this place will fill up behind Turtle Kraals...



Dinghy Dock

It's behind Turtle Kraals, the dinghy dock that serves the anchor-outs living on the hook off Fleming Key and around Christmas Tree Island (named for the Australian pines that flourished there), known to chart makers as Wisteria Island (named for a ship that foundered there years ago).
The one big issue that faces people who travel on boats is where to park their dinghies when they put down their anchors and want to go ashore. For those with money one of the attractions of stopping off in marinas is the ability to tie up to the dock and simply step off the boat. For those who don't want to spend, typically between $30 and $100 a night (for a typical 30-40 foot liveaboard boat), but a night at anchor is splendid. It's self sufficient, it's got more privacy, better scenery and it's FREE! Then there is the problem of how to get ashore if you want to go shopping or see the town or buy spare parts.Things are always breaking on cruising boats and finding parts is a constant issue. So it is that towns that have boating populations frequently offer dinghy docks. Key West has two official such docks, one at Garrison Bight and this one, more downtown behind Turtle Kraals restaurant and bar ($6 a night or $80 a month, no dinghies over 12 feet in length, trash, showers and water included).I wander along the waterfront from time to time and I watch the comings and goings of the water rats, many of them youngsters, some of them retirees and a very few in between, and I can't say I envy them, though I remember my previous life fondly.I still have opinions about which dinghies make the best vehicles to get ashore, and they fall into two main camps. The inflatable dinghy made of hypalon or some such material:Difficult to tip, easier to stow sometimes, surprisingly tough, though difficult to row. Or there is the hard dinghy camp which I think frequently ends up being the choice of the boater who lives firmly in one spot and rarely moves the "mother ship." Not generally what I call a "sailor" but more of a a liveaboard:One of the observations I have made over many years of living aboard and cruising is that a person's mobility is in inverse proportion to the size of the dinghy. If you see a small sailboat with a large well equipped hard dinghy hanging off the stern you can bet they haven't pulled up the anchor in a long while. There is a form of snobbery among boaters about these things and people are always being judgemental about each other in the way humans tend to be. My wife and I belonged in the inflatable dinghy camp and on our Gemini catamaran we had what we considered an excellent solution for transporting our dinghy:Some sailors think hanging the dinghy off the back of the boat in davits is dangerous at sea, but like I said everyone in the world of boating is a critic. This picture was taken while cruising the north coast of Cuba and we had hauled the dinghy from Santa Cruz California, off the back of our Gemini 105 without a problem. Some people with large boats have large dinghies. I remember being anchored in San Juan Del Sur in Nicaragua when a very large "gin palace" was visiting the town and we felt like peasants when the crew of the big motor boat stepped off a dinghy two thirds the size of our 34 foot (11 meter) catamaran. They had a steering console on their dinghy, but that's a rare feature for we the little people. I found on at the dinghy dock on a regular sized dinghy:Living on a boat at anchor appears glamorous to land lubbers a lot of the time, but when you look closer it takes effort and energy and organization to do it well. You don't want to forget anything on your shopping list because in that case you do without.And you may be anchored half an hour from the dinghy dock across cold choppy waters...On an afternoon when skies are gray and the temperature has dropped to 70 degrees (20C) you might miss the comfort of a commute by car:And while we are pointing out the most romantic parts of living at anchor let's not forget "dinghy
butt" which is the experience of getting your backside soaked while traveling to or from your boat. Going to the boat isn't so bad as you have (I hope) clean dry clothes on board. All you have to do is strip, rinse and hang your underwear on the lifelines right between you and the sunset you wanted to admire. Coming to town "dinghy butt" is a whole other world of hurt. Imagine walking all day, shopping, going to the movies, sitting on a bar stool, or even standing at work for eight hours, with a salt water rotted crotch. Yes, you can pump out your dinghy all you want but that one small, mild mannered wavelet will leap up three minutes from safety and dump salt water all across your nether regions.Then there is the problem of dinghy motors. Hardly anyone rows any more, and even though some still do almost all anchor outs rely on small, two and increasingly, four stroke motors. Which don't always start when they haven't been cared for properly:See, there I go being critical. Actually she sounded a little miffed too when she hissed: "Just get it started!" he was commendably restrained just pulling the rope in silence until finally he was rewarded with a grudging, choking cough. I'll tell you what though, if he doesn't get it sorted and reliable he will be single handing soon enough. This guy appeared to be single handing already and he was working on a recalcitrant old British Seagull, the original two stroke outboard motor developed in World War Two. And notoriously unreliable:Actually they are very dependable if serviced regularly and treated with the care a small engine deserves in a harsh environment. If they won't start they are horrid, as the starter rope has to be wound round the flywheel for each try:He too suffered in silence, pulling away and guiding his dinghy with his paddle between pulls:He was smart, though, or experienced because he carried alternative propulsion with him, even it was just a paddle. A dead motor is crippling especially in Key West harbor waters which have fierce currents and lots of assorted traffic. Eventually he buzzed off as can be seen further up this essay. There are rules about what you have to carry including lights, fixed in this case though an all-round white flashlight will do if your dinghy is slow, less than seven miles per hour (12km/h):You need life jackets and flares to be legal and registration if your boat has a motor in Florida. And if you don't you can expect to get stopped by the Marine Patrol, known these days as Florida Fish and Wildlife and get fined if you aren't in compliance. Occasionally Key West PD gets in on the act too, and because Key West is, effectively, a border town the feds are here in force, every letter of the alphabet soup, DEA, FBI, JIATF, and no doubt CIA though I'm sure they couldn't care less if your dinghy has lights or valid registration. Naturally anchor outs fancy themselves rebels so they make a point, many of them ,of flouting this or that. I always preferred to fly under the radar and not draw attention to myself. Which is why I still have factory mufflers on my motorcycle. I am a milquetoast rebel.
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Once you get used to the idea that many working people live on boats you can get to recognize them by certain signs they give off. Live aboard boats need electricity so some have wind generators like this:Others have solar panels like this, in Gun Cay, Bahamas, though they work fine in a marina too:Bicycles work well for people who live at or near the docks and boaters tend to prefer small wheeled fold up bicycles thinking they are easier to carry in the dinghy:Which they are but they are never easy to get back on the boat. Plus they are cumbersome to store in most boats and end up living on deck and rotting away...that's my opinion and I'm sticking to it! Liveaboards are identifiable too, certain clothing choices, a certain swagger perhaps because they think they live a cool "lifestyle" which I suppose they do:"Be safe!" she called out as though the dinghy ride to the boat is less safe than a roadway commute, a touch of the high seas adventure for people who's boating tends to be limited to the harbor waters. That became the problem for me. Living on the boat and working a job turned the boat into a parked vehicle, too cluttered to sail, too tired to clean up and take off. Now I live in my house I go out on my little boat far more than I ever did when I lived aboard, even in a marina, and held down a job. For youngsters and would-be adventurers the big back pack, the small boat and the envious stares of the land lubbers make it all worthwhile:

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Caraballo Lane

This essay first appeared June 9th, 2009 when I was wandering around the city looking for lanes to photograph. Time for it to reappear I think, because it's  still there. This is what Old Town looks like before the Historic Architecture Review Commission wrecks it:

Caraballo Lane

It still happens from time to time that I come across a lane or alley that I don't remember hearing about. Quite likely there aren't many calls for the emergency services on Caraballo Lane, but I was looking for a lane to photograph and this one fell to hand on my way out of town on Eaton Street.I must have cycled past it on my way to work on the waterfront in my previous life but why would I have noticed it? The entrance is marked by the two most common styles of homes seen nowdays in Old Town Key West. The old:And the old refurbished in grand style:The lane is half a block long, though unlike others it has somehow resisted the blandishments of tarmacadam:
And whether it is an alley or a lane I shall leave to someone else to arbitrate. If you do choose to drive down the lane (or alley) you'd better be ready and able to back out as turning room is limited, and backing onto Eaton Street, a main thoroughfare, takes more nerves than most drivers seem to possess. The speed limit on Eaton is 30 miles per hour for some joyous reason even though visitors will frequently be seen pootling along at 12. They are on "island time" and fondly believe everyone else is too.
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Old yes, but not out of date:Personally I'd rather throw my money at central air conditioning than at televised advertising, but there we are. While I am in a bitchy mood (and I can't think why, if it isn't a lack of motorbikes in my life) I should point out that I am a great fan of asphalt. I have lived on dirt and gravelled roads and they suck. They create mud when it's wet, dust when it's dry and they are impossible to ride with any sense of security, though these days even asphalt roads seem to be giving me trouble.I don't feel particularly indebted to the Scots for golf, haggis or Scotch eggs, but asphalt must rate high on the list of human achievements. I know it is fashionable to denigrate roads and cars but had their critics lived and traveled in communities where it is absent they might possibly change their minds. On the other hand Caraballo Lane's slightly dishevelled air is very picturesque:And this is the place where those preposterous safety measures called insecurity lights have been allowed to disintegrate:In a delightful backwater like this a stern finger wagging should be sufficient:Caraballo Lane is picturesque:The lane also provides two major food groups for hard economic times, papayas and coconuts and judging by the bountiful fruit on my own trees we may be having a bumper coconut crop this year. I need to plant papayas judging by this bounty:Looking back at Eaton Street:And across the street is the landmark Island City Hotel, circa 1889, with its splendid carriage entrance and gingerbread decorations:I should point out that it would be a very good idea not to mix this place up with the Island House for Men on nearby Fleming Street. One encourages a certain level of intimacy, the other doesn't. Up to you to find out which is which. Neither of which has much to do with lovely Caraballo Lane.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Margaret and Angela

The new sexton's  building at the cemetery is coming along in spanking style. Doric Columns support a roof projecting over an impressive entrance. Never did the cemetery known such elegance in years past.
Across the street Carolyn Gorton Fuller's house is still protected by her mirror wall.  The Citizen still has her particular obituary available for those who want to know more about that home on Angela:
Carolyn Gorton Fuller, aka "the Bottle Wall Lady," passed away peacefully in her home at 905 Angela St. on Saturday, Aug. 7, 2010. She was born on Dec. 31, 1921, in Utica, N.Y., and grew up in Miami, Fla. Carolyn traveled extensively as a child, spending six months traveling with her family in Europe when she was a teenager. As an adult, she led multiple group tours to Europe, lecturing on art history, and spent a year in India just before settling in 1967 in Key West, where she became a long-standing member of the arts community.
Carolyn graduated from Syracuse University in 1944 with a BFA in painting and earned her MFA in painting and sculpture from the University of Oregon in 1949. Her works are included in collections and museums across the country.

 Bottle wall made artist a Key West icon
Carolyn Fuller dismantled her legendary bottle wall on Angela Street more than 15 years ago, and replaced the colored jars with small mirrors, yet the "Bottle Wall Lady" moniker persisted until Fuller's death on Saturday at the age of 88.
The corner house at 905 Angela St., across from the Key West Cemetery, and the handmade wall that surrounds it is one of the most photographed properties in Key West, while the woman who lived inside the plain-looking structure remained somewhat of a mystery to peering passersby.
"She was a recluse, but she was a wonderfully creative person," said Wendy Coles, who spent a great deal of time with Fuller over the past five years.
Fuller, one of the first women to earn a master's degree from Syracuse University, bought her house in 1964 and spent summers in it until her daughter, Becca, graduated from high school in 1969. At that point, Fuller made Key West her permanent island home.
The home's location next to the cemetery was prone to flooding, and Fuller's property became an island itself after heavy rains, prompting pedestrians to trudge across her porch and peer inside her windows while trying to avoid the floodwaters.
"I planted a hedge that they knocked down, so I decided to build something they couldn't knock down," Fuller told The Citizen in 2005.
A painter and sculptor by trade and education, Fuller found inspiration in an old mustard jar.
"I thought I could clean the jars and seal them, and here was the making of a wall," she said, recalling how the neighborhood children became eager collectors of bottles they brought to an appreciative Fuller.
She used mortar mix to cement the colorful bottles together, creating a 5-foot-tall wall around the corner of her property.
The tight corner off Windsor Lane was tough on the bottle wall, and errant vehicles regularly damaged parts of it until 1992, when Fuller, tired of mending the fence and cleaning up broken glass, decided to dismantle it.
It did not take long for pedestrians to once again cross her porch, so Fuller found a use for the small, round mirrors that are scraps from Monroe Glass. The reflective circles are the result of holes cut in mirrors for bathroom fixtures.
She embedded the mirrors into the mortar and added delicate arches on top until the mirror wall was born.
Fuller, with a floppy sun hat, was a familiar sight in her neighborhood, and at the bar at Pepe's Cafe, where she enjoyed a frequent martini, her daughter said.
She was a regular at the Key West branch library on Fleming Street, and a skilled bridge player, Becca Fuller said.
"But everything was black and white with my mom, so she'd get mad at one bridge group and say she was never going back," Becca Fuller said. "But then she'd eventually go back."
There was no television in Fuller's house, and Becca remembers clearly when her mother dismissed it.
" 'I've never liked TV,' she'd say," Becca recalled. "'I've never liked it since they just kept showing that JFK assassination.' "
Nevertheless, world events fascinated Fuller, who realized after 9/11 that she knew nothing about Islam.
"So she read the whole Quran and then read the whole Bible, and then decided it was all poppycock," Becca Fuller said.
The family plans to keep the property -- and the wall -- intact, though they likely will move some of the sculptures that fill the hedge-shrouded yard, Becca Fuller said, thanking her mother's Key West friends, who became a life-support network in her final months.
Coles remembers swimming with Fuller every morning at 6 a.m., while local artist Rick Worth would play his guitar with Fuller, whose eyesight was failing.
She drove her white car around the island until a year ago, told her pastor when she hated his sermons, and filled her home with colorful works made from glass, paint or any other material.
"This woman was crazy, but in a really beautiful way," Coles said.
It's a lovely spot in the silence of the middle of the night.


The view north on Margaret Street, go far enough and you'd reach Key West Bight.

Thursday, November 19, 2015