Christmas in Key West

We’ve enjoyed being here for the holidays, and the sights and events that go with it. The lighted boat parade was clearly visible from our flybridge. Since the harbor here is a tight space, we watched 25 boats go in and at a time, making for a long parade.

We also went on a trolley tour of lights around the island, while Karen was visiting. Many houses were decked in lights, and the various inns in town did a great job as well. Overall though, Baltimore’s tacky lights win… hands down!

As we stopped in front of one of the houses, the residents came on board to pass out treats…Jello shots! Ho ho ho!

We are enjoying a quiet Christmas here, in between visitors. The weather is beautiful, 85 for a high today, with sun and clouds (although we see that our Baltimore friends are also enjoying balmy temperatures!). This afternoon, we’ll wander over to the Schooner Wharf Bar, and hear one of our favorite musicians play, then round out the night with a dinner of stone crabs and spiny lobster!

Here are more holiday photos. There are many many more lights that I loved, but it’s hard to snap a photo as you’re passing on a scooter!

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas!!!

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Tuman’s Little White House

Karen and I did an impromptu tour of Truman’s Little White House, while riding bikes around the island. The tour was great, and we learned many interesting details. I didn’t have my camera with me, so I “borrowed” some pics from the internet.

In November 1946, President Truman had finished 19 months in office, but was physically exhausted. His doctor ordered a warm vacation, so he flew to Key West and stayed in a house built for the base commandant of the Navy (there was no commandant at the time, so he displaced no one).

His second vacation came in March 1947, and this set the pattern for additional visits every November–December and every February–March. Changing technology allowed the President to communicate with multiple political or world leaders at one time and he could summon staff to Key West for a meeting in a three hour flight from Washington. Truman realized that where the President was, the White House was (convenient!). Consequently, documents issued from the Little White House read: The White House, US Naval Station, Key West, Florida. Truman spent 175 days of his presidency at the Little White House in Key West, FL.

Official desk and living room.

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Truman’s bedroom and personal desk. Mrs. Truman had a separate bedroom, so that she wouldn’t be present if they had to wake the president for something official during the night. They did have a connecting bathroom!

During the Truman visits, Cabinet members and foreign officials were regular visitors for fishing trips and poker games. He regularly had more visitors and staff than bedrooms, so the presidential yacht traveled with him, bringing along his piano and poker table! The yacht also offered more communications that the one phone line Key West had at the time.

Eventually, Mrs. Truman had a poker table made for the Little White House, that had a table-like cover. She thought that it was in bad taste for people to see a poker table in the president’s house. It has inlaid holders for poker chips, and the ashtray are formed from old shell casings.

Truman visited Key West shortly after his 1948 re-election, and Division Street was renamed Truman Avenue in his honor. After Truman left office, he returned to Key West several times and stayed at various other places.

In 1948-49 General Eisenhower held a series of meetings here that resulted in the creation of the Department of Defense. He returned in December 1955 and January 1956 as President to recuperate from a heart attack.

President Kennedy and the British Prime Minister held a one day summit here in March of 1961. President Kennedy made a second visit in 1962, immediately following the Cuban Missle Crisis. During this time, Key West was entirely surrounded with barbed wire fencing, and guns were stationed all along the perimeter.

The house served as the Naval Station commandant’s house until 1974, when the base was closed due to the Navy’s conversion from diesel to nuclear submarines.  On February 12 of that year, it was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, and in 1991, the house opened as a state historic site & museum.

Former President Jimmy Carter and family had a reunion here in 1996. In April, 2001, Secretary of State Colin Powell opened a week of OSCE peace talks, and in January 2005, the Clintons spent a weekend here.

Located on a quiet street, away from the flurry of activity on Duval Street, The Little White House is easy to  miss. Karen and I were glad to have stumbled upon it.

Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

The Hemmingway House

While Karen was visiting, we toured the Key West home of Ernest Hemmingway.

He lived extensively in Paris, Key West and Cuba throughout his adult life, and had four wives along the way. There is much to know about this house and Hemmingway’s life, but I’ll just touch on a few things that interested us.

The pool on the grounds is huge: 60 feet long, 24 feet wide, 10 feet wide at one end and 5 at the other.

It was built at a cost of 20,000.00, which was astronomical in 1938! The pool holds 80,784 gallons, and at the time it was built there was no fresh running water in Key West. Consequently, the pool construction involved drilling down to the salt-water table and installing a water pump to retrieve salt water to fill the pool.

The pool was very high maintenance until the 1940s, when Key West first had fresh water piped in and it was converted to a fresh water system. Using the salt-water pump, it took two to three days to completely fill the pool. During the summer months, the salt water would remain fresh for only about two to three days. The pool would them need to be completely drained, and another day or two would be required to scrub down and remove the algae and debris, then the cycle would start again. Maybe this was when pool boys got their start!

Hemmingway spent most of his time in Key West in his late 20s  and early 30s. He was known around town more for his extensive boxing and fishing than for his writing. There was a boxing ring in the yard of his home, on the site where the pool was built. After construction of the pool, it was moved to the location in town which is now known as the restaurant Blue Heaven.

In 1935, a ship captain visiting Hemingway gifted him a six-toed cat named Snowball, and soon Snowball had populated the Hemingway estate with litters of six-toed cats. Cats normally have five front toes and four back toes. About half of the cats at the museum have the physical polydactyl trait, that give them six toes. They all carry the polydactyl gene in their DNA, which means that the ones that have 4 and 5 toes can still mother or father six-toed kittens. Most of the cats have extra toes on their front feet and can also have extras on their back feet as well. Sometimes it looks as if they are wearing mittens because they appear to have a thumb on their paw.

Hemingway named them after famous people of his time: Billie Holiday, Hunter S. Thompson, Rudolph Valentino, and Betty Grable. Decades later, there are 55 cats on the grounds; some of are descendants of the original cat, Snowball. Key West is a small island and it is possible that many of the cats on the island are related! The polydactyl cats are not a particular breed. The trait can appear in Calicos, Tabbies, Tortoise Shell, White, Black, etc. They vary in shapes, sizes, colors and personalities.

A stop at the Hemmingway House is a must-do while in Key West. Here is a link to the home and museum, and more of our photos of the home… and the cats!

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”


Busy Days In Key West

We have been busy with visitors over the past few weeks! After the Baltimore group left, our friends Mick and Sue drove down from Indiantown, Florida to stay with us. We met them almost seven years ago, on our last cruise south, and became fast friends. They live in Wales, and purchased a boat here in the states that they enjoy in the winter months. When I reserved our slip here, a year ago, we made a plan for them to come and see us and our crazy project!

They drove six hours to see us, and we spent a few great days with them. None of us had been to Mallory Square for sunset in ages, so we made sure to go. The waterfront area there is full of vendors and performers each night, and it’s something to see!

We stopped in for lunch at a great taco truck, and of course took them for a beer at the bait and tackle shop!

Other than that, we just spent time catching up, as it’s been almost three years since we’ve seen each other! It meant so much to us that they flew over from the UK, dropped their boat in the water and then drove down to see us before they spent time preparing for their winter cruising.

My friend Karen, who I’ve known since middle school (yikes!) came down for a visit, on the heels of Mick and Sue. She flew into Fort Lauderdale, and I drove up to surprise her at the airport, so she wouldn’t have to do the drive to Key West alone. Scott said that I should tell her my plan, but I kept mum, and my surprise was successful! We had a great time chatting in the car (Karen upgraded to a convertible!), and made a few fun stops along the way.

While Scott did some boat work, Karen and I biked the island, visiting some of the local beaches, and also managed to do some “cultural things,” touring the Hemmingway House and the Little White House here. We all went to the 2 Cent Pub, where you roll dice at happy hour to determine your drink price (Scott made out the best on that one). They also have free, endless bacon at happy hour…woohoo!

Aside from that, we just ran around town, showing her the sights. Scott and I had “boat” stickers made, and Sea Life is starting to leave her mark on Key West!

In between visits, we are trying to squeeze in boat work and preparations for heading to Mexico in a few weeks. Scott is making changes to the Aluminum Princess, to make her lighter and improve her performance. There is also a lot of required maintenance to do, as well as fixing small things that came up while we were in the Bahamas.

We will enjoy Christmas here, and then welcome two more rounds of visitors to end out the year! A few more photos here.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”



A Holiday Reminder

The holidays are just around the corner! As you finish (or start) your shopping, please remember our blog address! When you go through us, to access and order on Amazon, they throw us a crumb. It’s literally a crumb’s worth of a percentage, but we appreciate every little bit!

Just scroll down the right side of any page on the blog and click on the words Shop Now, in blue. Happy shopping, and Happy Holidays!!

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”



Our First Days In Key West

After arriving in Key West, we went right to work giving the boat a thorough cleaning inside and out (taking advantage of easy water!) and stocking up on some food and drink, in preparation for our first wave of visitors. Howard did his part, helping to defrost the freezer.


We took time out to go see the Christmas parade, which happens in the evening here. There were some very festive float ideas.



Of course, we took time to light up our boat as well! In addition to outlining the boat, Scott used the paravanes to make a big Christmas tree.





Sea Life is now officially ready for the holidays!


Everything was ready, just in time to welcome our friends, Christine, Chris and Ted! We had a great time catching up with them, and running around town like idoits.


Scott discovered that the bait and tackle shop just behind the marina has a small bar both inside and out. They sell beer out of big coolers for $2.50. Of course, we had to make a stop…the sign says it all!


We also discovered a familiar “face” at our stop into the Green Parrot…my beloved Natty Boh beer! The sticker below is from Union Craft Brewing Company, also in Baltimore!


Chris had traveled down with some stickers from Berthas, a local institution in the Fells Point neighborhood of Baltimore. He thought that this place definitely deserved one. You can never have enough Baltimore representation!


And, where else but in Key West can you hang out with roosters and a banjo playin’ Darth Vadar?!?


For an additional treat, our brother-in-law was visiting friends in Ft. Lauderdale, and drove down to join us all for an afternoon. So we had lots of love from home this week!

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”




Captain’s Corner: Equipment Review And Other Thoughts

So far So good….

There is not much to report on equipment failure etc.  All the replaced systems are doing well. There are a few things which were not replaced that are having issues,  but all have been easily identified ahead of time and repaired or monitored, not causing any real problems.

Some people have asked about anchor selection and performance after Caroline’s post.  The anchor is an 88# Rocna attached to 400′ of 3/8″ chain without a swivel.  This might seem like overkill, but I wouldn’t change it at all.  I like the weight of the heavier chain, up to about 15 knots the anchor doesn’t do much.  After sustained 30 knots for days and gust to 46 knots:

The solar array has been fantastic, even on cloudy days.  660 watts takes up our entire pilothouse roof.  It averages around 170 Ahrs. Good days are over 200 Ahrs, and an average cloudy day is around 60 Ahrs.  It does not eliminate generator run time, but significantly reduces it and gives a lot of flexibility as to when I want to run the generator.  We do laundry etc. on the sunny days when we have excess energy.  The other benefit is if we run the generator in the morning, the batteries only take bulk charge to 80% (after that we shut down the genny to eliminate light loading), the solar then brings them up to full by days end.  This greatly improves battery longevity.

Our watermaker from CruiseRO has been great.  Model# SM30 regularly has been producing 36gph of product.  We run it at anchor and underway, using the inverter when needed.  Our only complaint is that the water is noticeably soft when showering, but that means it is working!  Our water consumption is higher then expected, I contribute it to using all residential fixtures instead of marine fixtures during the refit.

The Paravanes have performed as expected. The only downfall is deploying and retrieving.  Except for Charleston harbor, we always seem to have to bring them in before we reach sheltered water, due to depth.  However, at a total cost of under $10K, vs. $50K, compromises were to be expected.

The  Kadey Krogen hull has been good to us. The layout is great, I couldn’t imagine having the widebody.  The salon is plenty roomy, and walking around the boat on both sides for one reason or another is a daily activity.  The widebody would also not allow use of paravanes.  Head seas are not the best, following seas are wonderful.  It is also too easy to load up the cockpit and lazzerette, causing the stern to drop down because of its underwater shape aft, but that is what gives it the efficiency.

I am really happy with the engine room layout, after moving components around.  Do not skimp on lighting!  I have plenty of access and storage for everything that goes on down there.  Because it is so nice, I find myself not reluctant to go down there, which keeps everything in great shape.

The Raritan crown heads, even though a bit loud and primitive, are working very well.  They macerate right at the bowl, preventing clogs of any kind developing downstream.  They also save us freshwater.  As for the raw water flush smell complaint:  The secret is too flush vinegar through the inlet line right at thru hull on occasion.  I think people pour vinegar into head itself, thinking that the smell is at the discharge end of things.  Small amounts of living organisms get stuck and die on the intake side and under the rim. This is where the smell seems to originate, and is easily eliminated by the vinegar flush through the intake.

More to come, as we go along.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”







The Conch Republic

A brief history of the Conch Republic, for those who don’t know it..

In April of 1982, the US Border Patrol set up a blockade on US 1, just north of the Florida Keys; the only way in and out. Vehicles coming north out of the keys were searched for narcotics and illegal immigrants. The citizens of the keys were outraged that they had to prove their citizenship in order to drive onto the Florida mainland! The Key West City Council complained repeatedly about the blockade,claiming that the the government had established a new US border. It was an inconvenience for those traveling to and from the keys, and was also hurting the tourism industry in the area.

When the city council’s complaints went unanswered, Key West mayor Dennis Wardlow, with a few other “key” Conchs, went to Federal court in Miami to seek an injunction to stop the blockade; they had no luck. On the Federal courthouse steps, Mayor Wardlow announced, to the many tv cameras assembled, that the Florida Keys would secede from the union. In the eyes of the Key West Council, the federal government had set up the equivalent of a border station, as if the keys were a foreign nation. So it was decided that they may as well become one.

At noon on the day of the secession, Mayor Wardlow proclaimed that the Conch Republic was an independent nation, separate from the United States. Mayor Wardlow was named Prime Minister of the Conch Republic, and he then broke a loaf of Cuban bread over the head of a man dressed in a Navy uniform, beginning the Conch Republic’s Civil Rebellion. After one minute of rebellion, Prime Minister Wardlow surrendered to the Union Forces( the Admiral of the Navy base at Key West). He then declared one billion dollars in foreign aide and war relief, to rebuild their nation after the long siege!

This mock secession gained much publicity for the plight of the Keys, and the road block and inspection station were removed soon afterward. By act of Congress, the citizens of the Keys are both Conchs and Americans, and are proud of it. They celebrate their independence every year, with a week long celebration in April. I’ve attended “Conch Week” many, many times. It’s a week full of crazy activities…bed races, parades, “drag” (queen)races, dinners, and a food fight among boats in the harbor, the likes of which you’ve never seen!

Their “mission statement”:



“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Exumas To Key West

We have been in Key West, Florida for almost a week, and I finally have a chance to sit down and catch you up on our journey here.

Our last ten days in the Exumas were frustrating. We had strong, sustained winds for seven straight days, out of nine. The noise of the wind was terribly unnerving, and the slapping of the waves against the Aluminum Princess tied behind us added to the madness. By day five or so, I resorted to blasting music to try and drown it all out. We’d hoped to get to one or to more cays during our stay, but time was getting short. The check in date for our slip in Key West was getting close, and the weather window for good gulf stream travel was very small. The weather in the Exumas was calming down, but there was a cold front predicted for the Florida area, bringing rain, storms and winds in the 30mph range.  We decided to do a 50 hour run straight through to Key West, and hopefully keep ahead of the front.

At 6am on Tuesday, we pulled up our anchor and started the long journey to the keys that would take us across the Bahama Bank, up the Tongue of the Ocean, back across the bank and then into the Atlantic, crossing the gulf and continuing on in the Atlantic to Key West.

The Bahama Banks is similar to the Chesapeake Bay, in that it is an overall shallow body of water, averaging less than 30 feet. Because it is shallow, waves are closer together, or have a “shorter wave period.” This is can quickly become unnerving and uncomfortable, which it did (for me). Unfortunately, we could not deploy our paravanes in less than 30 feet, to avoid them possibly hitting bottom as we roll. So, we rolled our way across the banks.

I was watching the depth finder like a hawk, and as soon as we approached the Tongue of the Ocean, and deep water, I shouted out for the paravanes. As Scott suspected, our trip up the tongue was “spirited.” The winds had finally calmed down after seven days, but it takes water longer to settle. Even with the paravanes deployed, we were really moving about. I worried that it would get worse, not better as we approached our second banks crossing. Scott predicted that it would settle by the time we hit the banks, and it did…in time for him to go off watch and to sleep, lucky dog!

Of course, as we approached the Atlantic things picked up again. We consistently rolled, As a result, I didn’t enjoy the calm-water sleep that Scott had. It wasn’t as bad as we’d had in the tongue, and I eventually got used to it, keeping in mind that the boat will take way more than I am comfortable with!

Howard bounced back to his old travel self, and again wanted to be in the pilot house with us, where he assumed is “trucker” pose on the bench.

As it got more rough, we made a “triangle of safety,” to keep him from sliding back and forth as he slept. He approved.

Since we were traveling in the deep waters of the Atlantic and the gulf stream, Scott decided to set the fishing rods out and see if he could get a bite. About an hour later, one of the reels started spinning, and he’d caught a mahi mahi (dolphin fish)! I was then berated with commands…”FISH ON!! FISH ON!! PUT IT IN NEUTRAL, BRING THE GAS DOWN, COME REEL IN THIS OTHER LINE, GET THE CAMERA, OPEN THE TRANSOM DOOR, MAKE SURE HOWARD STAYS INSIDE!!” I tried to do all of these things at once, running around like a chicken with it’s head cut off.  Scott reeled the mahi in toward the boat, and as he went to gaff it (a pole with a sharp hook on the end that is used to stab the fish and then lift it into the boat) the  fish slipped off of the lure. ARRGHH!! He reset the line, and it was back to the drawing board.

Not 30 minutes later….FISH ON!!

This time, I handled my ten jobs at once much better, and Scott decided to pull the mahi into the cockpit and then kill it. The fish was pretty sizable, and was still putting up a fight. I ran inside and closed the screen door, not wanting to entertain a mahi in the saloon! Scott quickly killed it…our first fish!!


At 7pm on night two, Scott came on watch. I stayed up until about 8:30, and then went down to try and catch a nap in the saloon (I have trouble sleeping in our bed when we’re underway, too much movement down there). An hour later, I woke up to a new noise in the cockpit. When I called up to Scott about it, he informed me that it was our flag, whipping in the increased winds, and that we were coming into a thunderstorm. Thunderstorm….in the dark. I rolled over, and prepared for terror, Howard ran up to the pilot house with Scott!

We were in the storm for almost 45 minutes. The winds quickly kicked up to 60mph, and the waves grew so much that Scott had to bring the motor speed down. At almost idle speed, the boat slammed up and down less. It was a challenge for Scott, not being able to see the waves, and it was also the strongest winds we’ve ever been in, but eventually the storm passed. Scott increased our speed, and we continued on. Howard weathered the storm out in the triangle of safety.

At approximately 2:30 am on Thursday, we were off the coast of Key Largo, and made our turn to continue another six or so hours to Key West. I was on watch, and noticing lightening off to our port side. Scott was sleeping on the bench behind me, and said that it was most likely in the gulf and would stay there. However, by the time my watch ended, just before 6am,  rain  was again appearing on our radar and the lightening was now visible in front of us as well as to our port side.

We were back in range for cell service, so Scott pulled up radar on the internet. A MASSIVE front was moving toward us, full of red and yellow precipitation. I immediately felt nauseous. The thought of going through this thing terrified me. After viewing it for some time, Scott was fairly confident that we could beat the worst of it to Key West, and get tied up in time to ride out the rest. So the race was on! He chose a quicker route that required us to maneuver through some crab pots, but we’re very experienced with that, having cruised the Chesapeake for so long!

We were now moving against the current, so our speed was  down. It felt like we would never get there! After 52  hours and another, bigger pending storm, I was done. Finally, we turned into slip A-7 at the Key West Bight Marina, and tied Sea Life to the pier. Thankfully, the worst of the front stayed to the west of us, and we just had some light off and on rain until evening.

So, we’d traveled 52 hours straight..our longest leg yet! We arrived at 8:30am on Thursday, and by the time we tied up and got the systems running on shore power and such, it was 10:30; we were zombies. There was debate as to whether to sleep until the afternoon, but we decided to go into town for lunch, have a few celebratory beers and try and stay up until late afternoon. We made it until 6pm, and then collapsed for 12 hours of straight sleep.

We are here in Key West for the month, and look forward to holiday events and visitors from home!

Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”




Howard And The Remoras

November 30th

We again have acquired a school (?) of remoras under our boat. One is yellow…wait for it…ICK!! These things really creep me out, with their flat, suction heads and upside down-like mouths. Howard has somehow caught sight of them, and is now incredibly intrigued. He sits out on the swim platform gazing down off of the side and through the slats, hoping to catch a glimpse.

I insist on Howard being supervised when on these viewing missions. I’m terrified he’ll try and jump in after one if they are spotted. You may think that there’s no way a cat would willingly jump into the water, but you would be wrong here.

At our slip in Baltimore, Howard jumped from our bow…onto a duck…that was in the water! He landed squarely onto the duck, which would have been a victory had the attack happened on dry land. In this case, the duck rolled and Howard followed…into the harbor! I wasn’t so terrified that he’d gone into the water, but that he may grow a second tail from being in that “icky” water. Unfortunately, the Baltimore harbor, as you may expect, is far from clean.

Scott put his arm into the water, and Howard “climbed” it to get out (not pleasant for Scott). He careened into the boat, looking like a cartoon character, soaking wet with legs flying in all directions. He then proceeded to lick the ick off of him, and thankfully still only has one tail! He has fallen in twice since then, more by accident, but it the last has been almost a year ago. I’m worried that he has forgotten that we sit on water.

Back to the remoras. What scares me about Howard falling into the water here is the remoras sucking onto him. I don’t know their preferences..would they suck onto fur? I have visions of fishing Howard out of the water with a big bald spot on him. Yeesh.

Scott spends his supervising time educating Howard about the remoras, as they watch the water together.

Scott points out the remoras when they surface.

Scott then explains to Howard that they are in the water, and are “sucky.”

Howard seems to get it, although he hangs over the edge of the swim platform way to far for my comfort. I’m happier when he just hangs out in the cockpit, waiting for a glimpse.

His boat skills continue to develop!

Don’t forget to check the link to Howard’s photos here. We’re always updating it!

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”