We almost skipped Key West on our way home to St Petersburg from the Bahamas. But we had a line on a new dinghy outboard, and our two buddy boats were anchored there, and…well… Key West is a lot of fun!
We arrived just in time for the Minimal Regatta. Teams build their own boats out of a short list of ingredients:
1. One sheet of 4′ x 8′ x 1/4″ plywood
2. Two 2″x 4″ 8′
3. One pound of fasteners
4. One roll of 2″ x 60 yard duct tape
5. No caulking or adhesives – Epoxy paint is permitted
6. Painting of boats is optional
7. Oars/Paddles must be made out of these materials
Teams dress up in costumes and cheer their paddlers on. Some slice through the water like dolphins, some drag slowly, others sink all together. Prizes are awarded for best costumes, themes, best paint job….The crowd, fueled by adult beverages, has a great time regardless.
Celia and Todd from SV Eileen live in Key West. They’re “fresh water conch” which means they’ve live there over 7 years. (You’re not a full-fledged conch unless you were born there!) The last time we saw them, in Boot Key Harbor, they wrote me out a detailed guide to everything fun to do in Key West. So, we stayed an entire week and checked as many things off the list as possible.
- The Customs House Museum – has an excellent exhibit on the history of Key West (did you know, it was once the biggest city in a Florida?) and Guy Harvey’s Old Man and the Sea illustrations.
- Lighthouse Museum – Tells the story of the men and women who kept the lights shining and kept the ship’s off the rocks for hundreds of years. Also has photos and history of all the other lighthouses on the Florida reef that we’ve been sailing past for a week. Cool to finally learn about them.
- Tropic Cinema – Amazing Art Deco Theater (and great place to escape the heat) with full bar and homemade popcorn and art movies. We saw a wonderful movie about “Notorious RBG”
Yoga Sanctuary – This lovely and peaceful studio is a fabulous place to practice. I made it there three times, and always felt welcome although I hadn’t been to my mat in ages and felt a bit rusty.
Swimming: So remember… it’s June. In Key West. Which means it’s darn hot. Every day, I left the boat with a bag of everything I’d need for the day. Including a swimsuit. And every afternoon, we sought out a pool. Some, like Dante’s are completely open to the public. Others just might have been intended for hotel guests only. But, as long as we bought a couple of drinks from the bar, no one ever complained!
Eating and Drinking:
I have to admit…we did a lot more of this than we did exercising. Key West is a bargain hunter’s delight at happy hour time. Even at the historic waterfront district, you can find cheap drinks and delicious eats. Heck, at the White Tarpon you can not only get oysters for $1 each, you can get a whole rotisserie chicken for $6. Why would a thrifty cruiser ever heat up the galley with deals like that? And the happy hour at Mary Ellen’s, just off Duval St, starts at 11:30 and offers gluten free pizza!
Once again, we made good use of Todd and Celia’s Key West knowledge and noshed our way across the island, sampling tapas at Santiago’s Bodega, tacos at Mellow Cafe, breakfast at Harpoon Harry’s, shrimp at the Half Shell Raw Bar, and oysters at Alonzo’s. And we became regulars at the Sunset Tiki Bar, where Todd used to work. We introduced ourselves as sailing friends of Toddo’s and were immediately welcomed with open arms. And with the best margaritas I’d tasted since Colorado! Most evenings found us on a bar stool at the Tiki Bar appreciating the gorgeous Key West Sunsets.
Our last day in Key West was spent celebrating Pride. I love the fact that so many different types of people – Navy enlisted men, members of the LGBTQ community, sailors, artists, tourists, and families – all get along in Key West. We had a great time joining the festivities at the Pride Parade where everyone we met was happy, welcoming and ….. Proud!
Our first days back in Florida were a bit of a let down. Here we were back “home” in the US after almost four months, but we were still far from friends and family. The endless rain brought by Alberto that left us trapped on the boat didn’t help either. And we suddenly had a mold problem. All the rain and humidity of the past few weeks triggered a full blown mold bloom on every wooden surface inside Sanitas. Since it smelled a bit funny and drove our allergies crazy, the first couple of days in Boot Key Harbor were spent moving every thing we owned from one part of the boat to another, and dousing all wooden surfaces with vinegar and hydrogen peroxide. Fun!
We also watched on social media as all of our friends back In Colorado celebrated Memorial Day at the Bolder Boulder 10k without us, and as my fellow Skirt Sports ambassadors had a wonderful and inspiring time at the annual retreat. So we consoled ourselves… with food! We’d devolved into eating cold soup right out of the can on our Gulf Stream crossing. Plus, after the cost of groceries and eating out in The Bahamas, Florida seemed dirt cheap. And varied! So we made good use of the free cruiser bikes at the marina to make long, luxurious shopping trips to Publix, hit the early bird steakhouse special, the Mexican restaurant, and several visits to the Overseas Pub.
Suddenly… everything changed. The storm passed and the sun came out, and all of the friends we met during the last cruising season started passing through Boot Key Harbor on their way back to wherever they planned to spend hurricane season! Suddenly, our social calendar was full. And we had more excuses to eat out. We spent one fun evening with Todd and Celia of SV Eileen, sharing pizza, seared tuna, and a bottle of wine in the cockpit at sunset. We met Pat and Melana of Tapati for happy hour at Keys Fisheries – the same place we sat and discussed our plans for the cruising season back in February. We met Robert and Rhonda of Eagle Too for the first time since the Georgetown Regatta. And we helped Colin and Dawn Marie of Wavelength prepare for their summer season in Cuba and Guatemala; trading currency, guidebooks, music, movies, and gluten free food back and forth between our boats. Pretty amazing when you think about it that we knew no one when we bought a boat and moved to Florida in the fall of 2017, and here we were less than a year later finding so many friends in port! I guess that’s the proof of a successful cruising season, right?