Our Wait Is Over..Bahamas Here We Come!

As you may have guessed, we did not leave for the Bahamas this morning as planned. The winds in the ocean have finally changed direction, but haven’t died down to a comfortable or tolerable level (for me and Howard, that is).

Yesterday, we went to shore for a final (yes, final!) provisioning run. The shoreline on Key Biscayne is made up of private homes, condominium properties, and the local yacht club, so getting to shore with a dingy is limited. For 8.00, you can tie up to the wall at Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park (a mouthful) and enter into Key Biscayne from there.

So, we loaded up the Aluminum Princess with ourselves, our two bikes, two bike baskets, three huge bags of trash, two backpacks and a soft sided cooler for cold items (also a partridge in a pear tree and the kitchen sink), I am soo upset with myself, for not taking a picture of this spectacle. Seriously, we looked like a band of gypsies coming ashore. I’m sure that the patrons of the waterfront restaurant were concerned when we tied up and started off-loading all off of that stuff. And, I’m sure that eyebrows were raised when they saw us go from trash can to trash can along the wall, stuffing our bags in and jamming the lid closed (they were smaller cans, our bags filled them right up…oops).

Once aboard our bikes, baskets in place and backpacks at the ready, we pedaled our way through the park and into Key Biscayne. HA! It was quickly clear that we were definitely not locals! I didn’t see another fold-up bike all day, and there seemed to be one Chevrolet for every 10 Lexus or Mercedes. The medians are immaculately manicured, and lined with palm trees that are lit from below in the evenings. We shared the sidewalks with runners and nannys with strollers.

Our first stop was Ace Hardware. Scott came out wondering how the little bag in his hand had come up to 50.00. On our way to Island Sporting Goods (turns out that duct tape and zip ties can’t fix everything..the flippers are toast), we past 7-11. There must have been at least 20 people inside in line for food; cheap eats, I guess. Scott got himself a new pair of flippers, and a big straw hat. I had to beg him to cut the tag off of it. It was bad enough that we were the island gypsies without him looking like Minnie Pearl. He finally humored me and cut the stupid thing off.

We then went to Winn Dixie with our “Oops, I forgot….” grocery list. It’s always hard to gauge how much is gonna fit in our backpacks and baskets, and how much cold space you have. I always expect that we’ll have to leave some of our food behind on the sidewalk, but it hasn’t happened yet. I was getting pretty hungry, but the line for prepared food was insanely long. Obviously, the local workers know where to save a buck. My idea of having lunch in town quickly abated. My stomach would have to growl it’s way back to the boat, and a lunch meat sandwich!

When we came out to the bikes, I ditched as much of the packaging as I could, lightening the load a bit. As usual, we made it all fit and left with both baskets full, as well as the milk crate strapped to the back of Scott’s bike. Each of us was wearing a backpack full of food and Scott had an umbrella that he’d bought sticking up off the back of his bike. Our gypsy look was complete.

We’ll finally make our crossing to Bimini tomorrow, leaving at 4am! Scott spent the day looking at weather and pacing in and around the boat. He’s so excited to finally go, after two weeks of waiting, I don’t know how he’ll get any sleep tonight.

The trip should take 7-10 hours, landing us there mid-day. This is our target time, so that the coral in the shallow waters is most visible for navigation. We plan to clear customs, load up on Scott’s favorite rum and purchase a sim card for internet data usage while we’re here, when we can find a good signal. After a night at the pier we’ll continue on, visiting the Berry Islands and Eleuthera over the next few weeks.

I plan to upload posts whenever we have good internet, so stay tuned for updates. As of our next post, Sea Life will be international (and so will Howard)!

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

Stiltsville, A Quirky Part of Florida’s History

Stiltsville is a group of wood stilt houses located on the edge of Biscayne Bay. They sit on wood or reinforced concrete pilings, generally ten feet above the shallow water which varies from one to three feet deep at low tide.

Crawfish” Eddie Walker built a shack on stilts above the water in 1933, toward the end of prohibition, allegedly for gambling, which was legal at one mile offshore. He sold bait and beer from his shack and was known for his crawfish chowder (made from crawfish that he caught under the shack). Shipwrecking and channel dredging brought many people to the area and more shacks were constructed, some by boating and fishing clubs.

Social clubs were built at Stiltsville in the 1930’s and 1940’s. When The Quarterdeck Club opened, membership cost $150.00, and was by invitation only. The club became one of the most popular spots in Miami, and it’s popularity grew after an article appeared in Life magazine, describing it as: “An extraordinary American community dedicated solely to sunlight, salt water and the well-being of the human spirit”. The club was described as “a $100,000 play-palace equipped with bar, lounge, bridge deck, dining room and dock slips for yachts.”

In the 1940s and 1950s, it was the place where lawyers, bankers, politicians, and Miami’s wealthy came to drink, relax and kick back. At its peak in 1960, there were 27 buildings. A local magazine wrote: “Off Key Biscayne is a renegade village on stilts where weekend residents live by their own laws.” In September of 1965, Hurricane Betsy destroyed most of Stiltsville.

In 1985, the bottom land on which the stilt structures sit was deeded by the State of Florida to the Federal Government as part of Biscayne National Park. In 1992, Hurricane Andrew left only seven buildings standing, none of which existed during the area’s heyday.

A non-profit organization called the Stiltsville Trust was established in 2003 and included the seven remaining leaseholders, called caretakers, and eight members of the community. In addition to raising funds, their goal was to preserve and rehabilitate the structures. Possible proposed uses included community meeting space, a visitor center and research facilities.

The park service has added hurricane strapping to protect the structures from wind damage in major storms. Caretakers still perform basic maintenance on their former weekend retreats, but the Stiltsville buildings are owned by the National Park Service and have been secured and posted with no trespassing signs. You can only access the buildings with the permission of the park’s superintendent.

Our anchorage is right near Stiltsville. We passed by it on our way south in 2008, and I thought the buildings and the whole story were really interesting. Since it was so close now, we thought it would fun to take the Aluminum Princess over for another look-see.

Even thought they’ve seen better days, the houses are still really cool

And they are just a stone’s throw from the Miami skyline

Most of the houses are now surrounded by coral and waters too shallow for even the Aluminum Princess. It was neat to get as close as we did. After doing a several loops around the more accessible houses, we motored back to Sea Life in time for Scott to get some great sunset photos!

Check out more pictures of the cool Stiltsville houses, and of the beautiful sunset that evening.

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