Cuban Refugees At Fort Jefferson

The fort sees an average of 400 Cuban refugees a year. Since the nearest coast guard is some 70 miles away in Key West, and therefore unable to intercept them, many refugees head for the Dry Tortugas to make their landfall. Technically, it is illegal to enter the US this way, but under a policy established in 1995, having “one dry foot” on US soil allows a Cuban migrant to legally stay and seek citizenship. After talks with the Cuban government, the US agreed that it would stop admitting Cubans found at sea.

They arrive in makeshift boats, called balsa cubanas, or chugs.

Nice rudder!

Scott was amazed at what is used to build an hold them together. Some use cement for caulk..

And this one appears to have used large plastic tubes, filled with shit!!..

The boats carry up to 33 or more people!

 

The rangers here at the fort usually see the boats on the horizon, call the coast guard, and then keep an eye as to where the refugees land. Most often, the boats land on the nearby, small keys. Once they are brought to the fort, the refugees are given food, clothes and water, and a place to stay until the coast guard comes to collect them. On occasion, the coast guard is too busy to come right away, or sea conditions are too rough, so they arrive days later. Refugees from other countries who may have traveled with Cubans are sent back to their home country, as the US only extends this policy to Cuban refugees. It seems likely that in the near future, this whole procedure will be a thing of the past!

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

Our Last Days In Key West

Our last days in Key West were spent provisioning and watching weather, while we prepared to head toward Mexico. We rented a car and headed to Miami, for some serious provisioning.  After stopping at Total Wine liquor store, Target, Walmart, Petsmart, Whole Foods and Dicks Sporting Goods, the car was stuffed full. By the end of the day, we were lowering the back side windows to load things in. I regretted not upgrading to a larger car, as we drove home without being able to see out of the back side or rear windows!

The drive to Miami is 3.5 hours, and we spent the hole day shopping. By the time we arrived back in Key West and unloaded, it was almost midnight, and we were spent. The next day, I headed to the grocery store on Key West, and again filled the car. The boat is now filled to the brim with food and provisions.

We’ve made great use of the storage under our couch. It was originally a sleeper sofa, and Scott removed the “innards,” giving us a ton of space for all kinds of things!

With an evening left before returning the car, we decided to drive out to the theater on the other end of the island and catch the new Star Wars movie…woohoo!! We thought it was great, and it was a treat to take in a movie before leaving the country.

A big, BIG, treat for me, was receiving a cake from home!! I worked for Sugarbakers Cakes, in Catonsville, MD. They make the best cakes that you’ve ever put in your mouth! Since we left, I’ve been eating cake wherever I can, with no luck. So I asked the girls to make some of my favorites and freeze them. My friend Ted then stepped in to ship them overnight to me. Unfortunately, the size of the boxes made them pretty costly, so I chose to only have one sent (peanut butter truffle..yum!) and he kept the other (red velvet fudge..addictive!!).

The cake arrive in perfect condition, still cold and firm! I cut it into slices, shared only a few with friends at the marina, and froze the rest. I’m hoping to make them last as long as I can, as I fear an overnight to Central America will break the bank!

So we were stocked with provisions and cake, and the weather looked good to head as far as the Dry Tortugas. The only thing left to do was to head out for a farewell evening in town. We headed to some of our favorite spots, as well as some new locations. At a new happy hour spot, we met some retired firefighters from Baltimore County, Md…our neck of the woods! They are now living in Key West, and enjoying warmer winters. We learned that we have several friends in common! I have many good friends who are firefighters and paramedics, and started coming to Key West with a group of them 20 years ago, for the Conch Republic Celebration Week.

Here are some photos of our last days here. I have loved our time in Key West, as this island holds a special place in my heart. There are many, many good memories of time spent here with friends over the years. Every time I return, it warms me to wander the streets and visit familiar spots. As I find more great things to see and do, it makes me want to stay even longer the next time we visit! Thank you Key West, for another great time spent…long live the Conch Republic!

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

Our Key West Favorites

During our stay in Key West, we called the Key West Bight Marina home. The historic harbor here is lined with restaurants and bars that offer great views of the many charter boats, catamarans and schooners and their constant comings and goings.

Just a few blocks off of the bustle of Duval Street, the harbor walk area feels completely different than being along the “main drag.” Sadly, most visitors don’t venture off of Duval. Don’t get me wrong, it offers plenty of fun bars and restaurants to spend time in, and there are days and days of stores for browsing and shopping. However, it’s definitely worth a turn to the right or left. If you have time and spare cash, rent a bike or scooter and explore the many quiet side streets and lanes. There are endless houses to catch your eye, and places to eat and drink in, or tour along the way.

We visited some of our regular spots, and found several new ones. I thought I’d share some of our favorites places to eat and visit.

Happy Hour:

2 Cents Pub:

2 Cents Restaurant & Pub - Key West, FL, United States

 

A relatively new place just off of Duval, and new for us as well. They offer endless bacon during happy hour!

2 Cents Restaurant & Pub - Key West, FL, United States. Free bacon at happy hour?! Yes please

We thoroughly tested this..we kept eating, and it kept coming! You roll dice to determine you drink price: 1 = 1.00. 2 = 2.00, 3 = half price and 4, 5 or 6 = full price. This is good toward any drink or cocktail in the place. We made out pretty well. Our 1.00s balanced out our 4s and such, averaging out to half price drinks and fun along the way. They also offer happy hour snacks.

Half Shell Raw Bar:

Half Shell Raw Bar - Key West, FL, United States. Outside & Eat It Raw Sign

Half Shell Raw Bar - Key West, FL, United States. From The Marina

Located at the far end of the harbor walk, they offer happy hour seven days a week, which is a plus! All types and brands of beer are half price, as are rail drinks, house wines and bar food. It’s a popular spot with locals, so go early for a seat at the bar.

Conch Republic Seafood Company:

Conch Republic Seafood Company - Key West, FL, United States

Along the harbor walk, they offer 2 for 1 beer and rail drinks. Meaning, if you buy one, you have a second one coming for free. You cannot share your free one with a friend, so you’re on your own for both. Outside of happy hour, they make great mojitos! Sadly, I have not been the happiest with their food, so we usually choose to stick to drinks here.

The Lazy Gecko:

Just down from Sloppy Joe’s, they have offer a longer happy hour, from 4-8pm. 2 for 1 beer and rail drinks. They also offer specials each day, and Scott and I are especially fond of Taco Tuesday…cheap tacos and 5.00 margaritas! The music during happy hour is always good, too.

The Smokin’ Tuna:

Another new one for us. Cocktails are 5.00, and they’re not limited to rail (which makes Scott happy!). They don’t skimp on alcohol in their drink.. and, they have COKE!! This is something that very important to Scott. He’s a not a Pepsi person, and we have discovered that Key West is a very, very Pepsi town (apparently, the Coke supplier isn’t reliable, which cannot be profitable for them here). Beer is half price. Happy hour munchies and music are pretty good.

The Boathouse:

Boathouse Bar & Grill - Key West, FL, United States. Love all the flags!

The Boathouse has been around for years, but we just heard of the great happy hour. It took some trying to find the darned place! Located under the Commodore Restaurant, along the harbor walk, it has no outside sign.  As you might imagine, it’s another locals favorite.  All beer and rail drinks half price. The half price food menu is great! We also met some new friends here. Locals by way of Baltimore!

Food and Drink:

Cuban Coffee Queen:

Cuban Coffee Queen - Key West, FL, United States. This place is small but packs a punch awesome pressed breakfast sandwichs on Cuban bread and of course amazing coffee!!!

Scott and I aren’t coffee drinkers, but we found this little place behind the harbor walk, and went there often for their sandwiches and smoothies. However, all of our visitors LOVED their coffee! Our friend Ted even threw away a cup  that he’d purchased somewhere else, and headed back to the Queen for theirs. Go early, or be prepared to be patient. This place is popular, but worth it.

McConnell’s Irish Pub:

 

We watched the Christmas parade from their elevated patio, and loved the Irish nachos! A yummy plate of crispy, homemade potato chips, topped with either chicken or corned beef (who wouldn’t choose corned beef?!?!??) topped with cheese, tomatoes, etc. We dreamed of eating them again, but sadly never had time to go back.

Willy T’s:

Willie T's - Key West, FL, United States. Lotta dollar bills hanging on the ceiling, and other parts of the building.

Easy to spot along Duval, as it is covered in 1.00 bills..covered. We have never eaten here, but love their mojitos. The list of flavors is extensive, and all that we tried were good. Their music is always entertaining….not always the best, but definitely entertaining!

Key West Bait & Tackle:

Our beloved tackle shop! Tucked in near the Half Shell Raw Bar, they have a small indoor and outdoor bar, with friendly people and cheap, cold beer. We made many many stop-ins, on our way out for the night, after running errands or just because.

Onlywood:

Onlywood Pizzeria Trattoria - Key West, FL, United States

The owner was raised in Napoli, Italy. The atmosphere is great. It’s intimate both inside and on the outside patio, but still great for a group of friends to gather and eat. We had pizza all three times that we visited here, and it was great. The pasta dishes looked terrific, but we never had a chance to go back and try them. They only offer beer and wine.

Paradise Pizza:

Paradise Pizza - Key West, FL, United States. Best Pizzeria in the FL Keys !!!

Sadly, Scott and I discovered this place on our last night in town. Located just off of Duval Street, and on our way back to the boat, they have awesome New York-style pizza…and, they’re open daily until 4am!

Santiago’s Bodega:

Santiago's Bodega - Key West, FL, United States

This off-the-beaten-path place came very highly recommended from our slip neighbor, Alex, and it did not disappoint! We went for a holiday dinner, and had a great meal. Their menu is made up of tapas, or small plates that your share. A wonderful change from fish sandwiches and pizza!

B.O.s Fish Wagon:

B O's Fish Wagon - Key West, FL, United States

B O's Fish Wagon - Key West, FL, United States

Probably in the top five for atmosphere, B.O.s is terrific! It looks like a shell of a place, until you look closer and see that it’s a quirky, cool location for the freshest fish! It ain’t the cheapest, but it’s well worth the dollars! They have live music on Thursday evenings (I was surprised to see that they could fit three people and instruments in there!), and half price beer every day at happy hour….GO!

Schooner Wharf Bar:

This place wins hands down for old-school Key West character. It sits along the harbor walk and is somewhat hard to spot. The bar and surrounding tables are almost completely covered with umbrellas and canvass, shielding patrons from the hot keys sun. If you feel like some vitamin D, or want to get a better night view of the harbor area, they have a rooftop deck as well. There is live music everyday that usually starts around noon, and you can hear all types of musicians and bands. We have come to love Michael McCloud’s mellow sound and quick, dry whit. The happy hour isn’t great, and their food isn’t stellar, but the atmosphere more than makes up for it. YOu can’t walk by and not want to go in. Seriously, this place is great. If you don’t go, you can’t say you’ve been to Key West.

Places to visit:

Truman’s Little White House:

Harry S Truman Little White House Museum - Key West, FL, United States

Most people are familiar with, and visit the Hemmingway Museum, and it is definitely a must-see. However, far less know about the Little White House. It’s located in a neighborhood blocks off of Duval, where you would never expect to find such a place. I toured it for the first time with my friend, Karen. We would both highly recommend it! If you missed my post about it, you can read it here.

Smather’s Beach:

Smathers Beach - Key West, FL, United States

Most everyone who comes to Key West is told about the beach at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park. In my humble opinion, Key West isn’t a “beach” town. Yes, it’s an island, but I feel that what makes the town special are it’s many neat restaurants, bars and houses. However, if I get the urge for beach time when I’m in town, I head for Smather’s Beach. The largest public beach in Key West, it’s sandy, versus Ft. Zachary’s rocky shoreline, and there is no admission fee. There are also several food trucks to grab a bite or a drink while you’re there, and chair, floats, kyaks and hobie cats are available for rent.

Turtle Races at Turtle Krawls Restaurant:

Turtle Kraals - Key West, FL, United States. Turtles!!

Turtle Kraals - Key West, FL, United States

Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Turtle Krawls holds turtle races. You get a ticket with a food or drink purchase, and those with the winning turtle ticket get a chance to open a chest full of cash. An original and fun idea. If you haven’t already, read my post about it here.

Sunset at Mallory Square:

Mallory Square - Key West, FL, United States

Mallory Square - Key West, FL, United States. Unadulterated sunset beauty

Although this is something that attracts many many people, it’s still a must do. Head to the water’s edge at Mallory Square and check out the many performers. They all have a crazy talent, and are very entertaining. There are also many food and craft vendors. The edge of the pier attracts quite a crowd as sunset nears, so go early if you want a front row seat. I suggest you go a second time, to just wander the scene.

There you have it, just some of our favorite haunts and sights!

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

Adios USA!

We are shoving off this morning, to make our way toward Mexico!

Last night we spent time in some of our favorite Key West places, and said goodbye to some friends that we’ve made here. We also met some new faces..Key West locals, by way of Maryland! Thanks for welcoming us Joe and Provie!

After a five hour run today, we’ll anchor for the night in the Marquesas Cays, and then head for the Dry Tortugas tomorrow. We’ll wait there for a good weather window, to Isla Mujeres, Mexico. It’s a two day run, and we’ll most likely be waiting close to two weeks in the Dry Tortugas for weather..ugh! Internet will be non existent until we get to Mexico, so I’ll upload posts in a few weeks, when we get settled.

Sea Life won’t see U.S. waters again for a few years!Adios!

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

Dog Walks And Turtle Races

While on our downtown walk with Mark and Maria, we happened to be at the right time and place to see the annual Key West Daschund Walk! The route is deliberately kept brief, to cater to the dachshunds’ short legs. Many of the dogs were in costumes…

Some even appeared to be  Star Wars fans…

Dogs from other breeds also take part, becoming honorary dachshunds for the day.

A supply wagon was along for the ride, to carry water for thirsty walkers and plastic bags for quick cleanup of any accidents — as well as providing transport for dogs that get tired along the way.

Donations were collected along the route , for the community pet-food pantry. The walk was an unexpected treat! More fun photos here.

Turtle Krawls Restaurant, located just off of our pier, advertises turtle races three times a week. Scott and I have been interested in this event, but have yet to make it. We finally managed to get there for Friday’s race, with Mark and Maria in tow.

Four turtles “compete” in the race, and when you make a purchase (food, drink, etc.)  you receive a ticket with a corresponding number on it (1-4, for one of the turtles). If you’re turtle wins, you turn in your ticket for a key, which may or may not open a chest that contains a cash prize. If no one wins, the prize amount grows for the next race.

We were game for this, so we ordered drinks and were given a handful of tickets, instead of one per person. The odds were now stacked in our favor, as both couples had a ticket for each turtle.

As we took our places along the race “track,” we met this great couple, who traveled from Alabama, and had gotten married that morning on the beach! Congratulations to Jeff and Meredith!

The  shelled athletes were taken out of their blue Igloo cooler (which I guess helps them get angry enough to race) and placed on the track.

Turtle number one flew out in front, and blew the others away. I’ve never seen a turtle move so fast, he was practically running! I think he was trying to get as far away from that cooler as possible.

Unfortunately, our keys didn’t open the box. Maybe Scott and I will try again, as the jackpot grows!

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

Happy New Year!

Our friends Mark and Maria came to visit, and spend New Year’s Eve with us. We did a short walk with them around the downtown area in the morning, admiring the New Year’s Eve decorations. They then they headed off for some beach time (not a bad way to spend the afternoon of New Year’s Eve)!

 

There are several midnight celebrations here in town. We decided to go out of the box, and watch a drag queen descend in a giant red shoe at midnight! The building across the street hosted a party, and despite some trees, it gave us a decent view of the festivities on the street below, and of the shoe.

It was a hot and sticky night, but we persevered. As promised, “Sushi” descended in her shoe at midnight!

Happy 2016!!

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

 

Key West Wreckers

We spent a relaxing Christmas day at the Schooner Wharf Bar, listening to one of our favorite local musicians, Michael McCloud. Quite a change from the norm!

That evening, we visited with our slip neighbors, Jeff and Belinda. They left Texas, and are headed for the Bahamas and Eastern Caribbean from here. We talked boats and travel, and had a great evening.

Our friends Stephanie and Paul came down the next morning on the ferry from Ft. Meyers, for an overnight visit. We spend time walking around a bit, and watched our Ravens actually win a game (we’re having a terrible season)… against the dreaded Steelers no less!

We also visited the Shipwreck Museum. Sponging, fishing, turtling and cigar making were all lucrative industries in Key West in the 1800s, but wrecking far out-passed them. During that time, over 100 ships per day passed by Key West. The waters in the area were well known as some of the most treacherous in the world.

Precise navigation equipment and accurate charts were still centuries away. What information there was didn’t indicate the dangerous reefs below the surface. Little was known of weather conditions in the area (aka hurricane season), and there were no lighthouses. As a result, at least one ship per week would wreck off shore on the reefs!

 Wreckers would watch the reefs night and day from observation towers, some over 90 feet high.

They would also patrol the reef in their own small vessels. When a wreck was spotted,  “wreck ashore!” would echo all over the island and men would scramble to the docks to join the race to the reef. The first man to reach the wreck became the “wrecking master” who controlled the salvage operation and got a larger share of the prize.

Larger goods (cotton, and such) were auctioned off on the piers. While smaller and most times more valuable things were taken into one of the numerous warehouses for general sale (coffee beans, spices, ivory, silks, clothing, silver, etc.).  People came from all over to bid on the valuable salvaged items. Between 1828 and the 1850s, Key West was considered the richest city, per capita, in the United States!

But by the turn of the century, transportation of goods was veering away from the sea, as railroads and highways carried increasing freight. Better trained navigators used new technology, and lighthouses began to dot the coastline, resulting in far fewer wrecks. Wrecking died off, and by 1921 the wrecking registry was closed.

We climbed the tower and enjoyed some neat views of the area. Check them out, along with some other photos.

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

 

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 out..one at a time! It made for a long parade. Our camera is awesome at zoom and daylight, but is sadly not great a long distance evening photos, so this is all we could get.

We also went on a trolley tour of lights around the island, while Karen was visiting. A few houses were pretty good, and the inns also do a great job. Overall though, the Baltimore area has it beat, 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 enjoying some balmy temperatures!). This afternoon, we’ll wander over to the Schooner Wharf Bar, and hear one of our favorite musicians play. We’ll round out the night with a dinner of stone crabs and spiny lobster!

I’d hoped to make a short video, including some of the lights and decorations in town, but we’re having trouble editing at the moment, so here are the photos. There are many many more lights that I love, but it’s hard to snap a photo as you’re passing on a scooter!

Wishing all of you a Merry Christmas!!!

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

Tuman’s Little White House

Karen and I stopped at the Little White House on our bike ride, and did an impromptu tour. We learned some neat stuff! 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.

Image result for photos of trumans little white house

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.

The house is tucked back in a neighborhood off of Duval Street. Who would’ve thought that all this went on in Key West!

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