Key West and the Glory Days of Wrecking

????????????????Another jaunt into Key West led us to the Shipwreck Museum where we learned more than our brains could hold about “wrecking”, or the business of salvaging ships.

When Florida officially became a U.S. Territory in 1821, Key West became the center of one of the most lucrative businesses in history; that of salvaging ships. Several events spurred this on. In 1822 John Simonton, the first land owner of Key West, helped convince the U. S. Congress to create a new district for customs collection for the south Florida coastline. Soon after, President James Monroe designated Key West as the Port of Entry, which meant that wrecked goods from foreign countries, with payment of duties, could now be handled locally. A booming business was born.

In 1825 Congress enacted a law prohibiting the carrying of wrecked goods on the Florida coast to any foreign place and required all such goods to be brought to a port of entry in the U.S. This drove out any foreign competition and now even more duties got paid through the customs house in Key West. The next important event was when Congress established a federal court in Key West, locally known as the “Wrecking Court”. The court licensed Wreckers and oversaw the business that was rapidly propelling Key West and her 800 or so inhabitants into a place of wealth.

So how many ships wrecked on the reefs fringing the coast of the Florida Keys? On average, about one per week! In the 1850s Key West was easily the richest city per capita in the United States; in the two years of 1855 & 1856, 151 ships required some sort of assistance from “Wreckers”. Talk about the boom years!

I'll drink to that!

I’ll drink to that!

The business was quite organized and the court judges punished infractions. The sloops and schooners that rushed to the aid of wrecked ships were owned by either the sloop’s captain or a separate individual. The crew, the captain and owner all shared in the profits derived when the salvaged goods sold in the huge markets and warehouses in Key West. Only the first sloop or schooner to reach the poor wrecked ship got the money but it was not uncommon to share a portion with others who assisted.

View from atop the tall watch tower

View from atop the tall watch tower

Ships carried a wide variety of goods: fabric, hard goods, silver bars, coins, marble, even pianos. The citizens of Key West lived well; perhaps that helped offset the mosquito laden oppressive heat of the summers. Even now I wouldn’t want to spend summer in Florida.

The lowest level of the museum was a former cistern and our noses detected that musty -salty-water odor right away. Among other items it housed a wide-screen TV that ran a 14 minute narrated story using old movie footage and a place we recognized immediately; Mystic Seaport with the Charles W Morgan in the background.

Annie Feels Pretty

Not our best work but it gets the job done

Not our best work but it gets the job done

Hi All, Annie here. You know I may not have been born in the south, but I got here as darn fast as I could. Born in 2007 in Forest City, Iowa I spent my formative years around North Carolina, but what happened during those years I will keep to myself!  Since September 2014, however; you can follow along with me, and Bonny and those two people who greatly prefer warm and sunny to cold and snow.
For Christmas Santa brought me a new hub cap to replace the one that went walkabout in Brunswick, GA. This one is an aftermarket one with no “Freightliner” wording but Captain Russ got two for the price of one and cheaper shipping than the OEM version so when another one falls off, I won’t be feeling a bit naked very long.

Shiny, new but lacking the OEM name

Shiny, new but lacking the OEM name

Santa also promised I’d get four tire skirts to make me feel like a proper southern belle. They are to protect the tires from sun damage (don’t we all need that?) when plopped somewhere for a long time. Whether they really help or not is debatable but since my owners already had the Textilene (used to make Ortolan’s sunshade) and snaps ringed the wheel wells, it was a no-brainer I guess. So the other day, after a 6-day illness delay (oh, not me), I finally got my snap-on skirts.
Some RVs have ones that sit directly on the tire while others are more like mine only they snap on above the wheel well and hang flat like a square cover.  I like mine; they make me feel like a lady.  So, how about a few “LIKES” or comments for me and my new look ? :-)

Lori chimes in:  right, one more thing to add to the “Departure Checklist”!! Occasional use only thank goodness. Thought I’d show you our view this morning; a very, very windy one and the most we’ve seen since Dec 1. The view looked better in real life; the shades added a surreptitious element that didn’t translate well when photographed.??????????????????????????
Now for a ladybug update: as of Thurs Jan 8 we are down to only two found wandering around inside. We like to think they are cleaning since ladybugs eat certain kinds of mold and mildew that we can’t see. :-)

Feeling Young Again

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Tracy, Chris and I

Some of you will remember s/v Sanuk and our (younger) friends Tracy and Chris who we first met in Vero Beach Nov 2010. They’d owned Sanuk, a Baba 30 (Hull #1) for only a short time so we thought they were joking when they talked about buying a catamaran and even borrowed one of our catamaran books. You may recall that we stopped to visit them in Crisfield, MD last October when we cruised down the Chesapeake on our way south. Yes, lovely Sanuk would be up for sale this winter. She’s spent the past few summers in the Keys, with her owners heading south to spend more time with her every winter. Ah, what a great life.
Marathon is roughly 27 miles up the chain from Cudjoe Key. No Name Pub wasn’t worth another visit so we met at Boondocks on Summerland Key for a catching-up dinner and a rousing game of mini golf- the only mini golf course in the Keys supposedly. We didn’t keep score but I’m sure the ladies ruled the night; me with the first (surprise) hole-in-one and Tracy with two. The guys, well they each managed to land a ball or two in the ponds. :-)

Russ goes fishing

Russ goes fishing

The moon was full and even with the iPhone we got a pretty decent shot.?????????

Chris won a snow cone (this place doesn’t give away free games) and grape was the fun flavor he chose.

I snuggle with Chris while Tracy cooled off in the ladies room!

I snuggle with Chris while Tracy cooled off in the ladies room!

Key West Jaunts: The fort and Legal Rum

?????Key West is well known for its nightlife, daylife, fantastic people watching, fishing, museums, crazy events, drinking and the many and varied famous and well-known people who have called it home. Two not-so-huge cruise ships seem to be in port much of the time, spilling their innards onto Duval Street (and the surrounding ones too) with regularity. At least those folk don’t need to fight for a parking spot; a simple walk, shop, eat, drink keeps them happy for hours. :-)
Our first foray into town, before Christmas, was as much a “get reacquainted” visit as anything else. Arrive by 10:30, find metered street parking (the kind where the meter is in the middle of the block and you pay with cash or credit card for the amount of time you want) and wander around. A close-by bakery was closed on Monday, but the sign indicated Cronuts so we vowed to return another day; early too!
Lunch found us over by the docks lined with seafood restaurants, various charter/tour boats (of a more subdued nature than the Fury fleet over by the cruise ship docks), small marinas and the public dinghy dock which we couldn’t see but knew it was there. Click here to read about our Key West stop Jan 2011.

Four years later, sv Pelican, a MaineCat 41 is still in charter

Four years later, sv Pelican, a MaineCat 41 is still in charter

The Monday after Christmas we ventured in again. The 23-mile drive often takes a solid 35 minutes, but more if you get caught in afternoon, evening and night traffic. Route 1 is one lane in each direction between Cudjoe Key and Key West, with an occasional center turning lane and well-placed right turn lanes. Traffic generally moves along, but it doesn’t take much to slow things down to a turtle crawl.
Russ needed a haircut and we got that done on our way into town. The day’s plan was to spend time at Fort Zachary Taylor, lunch in town then check out the rum distillery; Key West’s first (legal one). In our eagerness we neglected to appreciate that this was a HUGE vacation week and multitudes would be filling the streets and parking spaces around town. But first the fort, which is basically on the beach and where we found ample parking at 10:30. The fort is tucked pretty much out of sight and I don’t think most tourists know or care about it. Kinda down on the list after all those more exciting things I mentioned at the beginning. Since we haven’t been fort-ified since the summer, the time was ripe for a fort visit.DSC00842 (800x593)

Killed some time with a walk around the fort’s water-facing perimeter. Spied these Green Iguanas which are non-native, read more on them here. DSC00849 (800x600)

A guided tour sounded good and we were rewarded with a tour by a competent and knowledgeable Alabama woman who stays nearby in a motorhome with her husband. Before the tour we moseyed around and up to the top but I forgot to take pictures up there and later when we finished, it was pouring rain.????????????
Key West has a long and rich history beginning with Spanish explorers who first surveyed the island in 1513. After the Florida territory was transferred to the U.S., the Navy established a depot here in 1822 to rid the area of pirates! Arrgg! By the 1890s Key West had become Florida’s richest city thanks to fishing, salvaging wrecked ships (big business) and cigar manufacturing.
So the Army looked down the field and saw the puny depot the Navy had constructed and said, “We shall build a fort to protect Southernmost.” :-) Construction of Fort Taylor began in 1845. Then, along came talk of secession and the beginning of war in 1861, the fort was not yet complete. The quick thinking and decisiveness of Union Captain John Milton Brannan to defend and keep the fort under federal control when Florida seceded made Fort Taylor only one of three forts in Florida to remain that way. He had no orders, so of course, wrote to ask. When d-day came and no orders, he made the right decision (can you tell I am a northerner), defended the fort and probably breathed a sigh of relief, when, days later a ship arrived with the orders, “Seize the fort!”
Originally, the fort was surrounded by water on all sides, with a walkway linking it to the mainland. The fort was completed in 1866, although the upper level of one side was destroyed in 1889 to make way for more modern weapons, with the older cannons being buried within the new outer wall to save on materials. The fort was heavily used again during the 1898 Spanish-American War.
Unlike Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas (been there too!), Fort Taylor was not a prisoner fort and the two small holding cells we saw were to give the unruly a place to think about their behavior. The fort stayed active through 1947 when the army turned it over to the U.S. Navy, until eventually the inactive fort became a convenient place for storage of old machinery, cannons and a ton of Civil-war era artifacts. All this history got buried in sand, rubble and cement until Howard S. England asked why was Fort Jefferson was an historic site while Fort Zachary Taylor sat neglected and forgotten? Why indeed?????????????????
Talk about putting your money where your mouth is; Mr. England used his own resources to locate what came to be the largest cache of Civil War-era seacoast cannons in the U.S. Not until 1973 did Fort Taylor receive National Historic Landmark designation; a long time in the making. Not a very attractive fort, unlike Fort Jefferson and many others we’ve visited, but the tour is informative and the hour passes quickly. A rain shower ended things a bit prematurely but we still heard the full spiel.?????????????????????????????

Strategically placed latrines were meant to be aided by tidal flow, but it didn't work out that way

Strategically placed latrine were meant to be aided by tidal flow, but it didn’t work out that way

Throughout the year the Rangers lead a variety of programs. Annual events include reenactments, sculpture displays, concerts, a pirate festival, fort haunting, boat race and more. A few steps from the fort is Key West Beach with a shady picnic area, beach equipment rental hut, small café and a perfect view of the ocean.

Ominous rain clouds off the beach

Ominous rain clouds off the beach

Cruise ship makes her way in to the dock

Cruise ship makes her way in to the dock

We left the fort in the rain, making a mad dash for the car. Oh did I mention we got half drenched on a day with no rain forecasted?

Then we began the search for parking in town. Gee how about $20 for two hours, $30 for all day? Gee how about we need 3 hours and oh, you don’t have room anyway? OK. We found the rum distillery and only one driving oops that ended at the water with no good way out. Bonny is very handy in tight places, not like big Bertha Annie. Our goal was to park so we could walk to lunch and then to the distillery, and when we turned and found ourselves behind the neighborhood garbage collection truck I feared the worst. Two blocks later, he turned left and we went straight! Traffic stops a few blocks down off Duval and I spot a parking lot. I jump out and ask the totally disinterested attendant what the cost is to park. What?? $40!! Holy Margaritaville Mr. Hemmingway! As we’re about to head off, a woman who’d heard the rip-off price stopped and gave us the day’s best news- park at the Westin garage-only $4/hour and that’s not much more than metered street parking. A spot on the roof-top level was fine indeed and off we hustled to get lunch. See photo at the top :-)

?????????????????????The distillery is located at the top of Simonton Street at the former site of a Coca Cola bottler. In between times was a bar- naturally. Back in the day small in-town Coca Cola bottlers could be found everywhere. I remember we had one near us in Hamden. It was on School Street, so named because that’s the route I took to walk to grammar school. :-)

Tours were given at 3 and 3:30 and we showed up in time for a tasting before the tour. $5/pp to taste 5 rums; free tour.

Taste first, tour next!

Taste first, tour next!

I don’t know that much about the process but these rums are distilled five times which means a much reduced chance of a hangover headache; so we were told.

It all happens in this one room

It all happens in this one room

Russ came away with the Key Lime Rum which tasted remarkably like the real thing with a touch of pucker and no sweetness. He also ran off with the day’s bottling, but got hunted down and returned to me sans loot.

Rum Runner Russ, aka Captain Rusty Nail

Rum Runner Russ, aka Captain Rusty Nail

A Cudjoe Key Christmas

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Gator Park- ummm an airboat ride might be fun

Our five-hour 161 mile drive took us through miles of Cypress and Everglades National Park natural beauty. Russ lamented (not the first time) that with all the winter booked ahead we had no flexibility to change where we spent time. The drive along Rte 41 showed us several RV parks that look inviting, so perhaps next season or on the way north if we could cut our month stay short in Florida City. The upside to reserving ahead in this tremendously popular snowbird state is that you will have a place to be versus not having one!
I however, rejoiced more at the positive climate change that five-hour drive provided. Sanibel’s daytime temps hit comfortable low to mid 70s by early afternoon but at night would drop into the chilly 50s. At Cudjoe Key, 23 miles north of Key West, daytime temps hover around 80F (and yes, humid) and only dip to 74 overnight. We went from using electric heaters at night to setting the AC to 79F day and night!

Fishing is big in the Keys

Fishing is big in the Keys

Driving down Rte 1 through the Keys tugged at our hearts (one in particular) as the aqua blue water on both sides of the road called out. We miss seeing dolphins, turtles, rays and colorful fishies; an aquarium is not a suitable substitute!

Old bridges make perfect fishing spots

Old bridges make perfect fishing spots

Today’s driving oops occurred right at our destination; turning in one driveway past the entrance. I checked in while Russ unhooked Bonny so that he could back up and make a proper entry. In our defense, the way the buildings are set up it looks like the entrance was where we tried to make it and in fact we saw it shown as such on the resort map.

Our home is site 474 at Venture Out RV Resort. Built in the early 1970s by the Gulf Oil Corp, the resort has 659 sites, several laundry bldgs., a rec hall with borrowing library, mail room and wi-fi, tennis and shuffleboard, pool, hot tub, a pavilion that serves as the community church, small essential supplies store, adult lounge, a gated entrance and six canals that offer space for your boat. Only less than 20% of the sites are for RVs, the rest are mobile home units; many looking their age and others quite attractive and raised up.DSC00793 (800x592)
The park is a gated condominium association community with a Board of Directors and a dozen committees. Most owners use their sites exclusively while others rent out their site(s) entirely or for part of the year. I received a December activities calendar that on the back listed over 30 clubs and activities (more suitable for the older crowd) along with the trash/recycling schedule.

Garbage gets collected Tues and Friday

Garbage gets collected Tues and Friday

Wow- just like real CLODs ! We quickly met our neighbors across the street who provided us with good intel and a great pub to visit. They are canal site owners from Michigan who purchased here a few years ago, spending five months here every winter. Umm, do ya think the captain’s interest was piqued at the future possibilities for us? Just gotta get Ms Ortolan sold soon! She seems to be enjoying her spa treatment in Maine and very soon will be ready to receive potential buyers.
No sooner did we get settled on Saturday…. Ants!! Teeny Ghost ants- congregating in two places mostly. A quick Google search for the solution and Home Depot in Key West gets added to our outing on Sunday. Given the timing we are reasonably certain they joined the caravan in Sanibel- phew.????????????????????????????
??????????????????????????????????Been a few years since we last ventured into Key West so we got a good chuckle out of the free-range fowl in Publix parking lot. :-), and everywhere else in town!

This guy was cuter so he got chosen for the blog

This guy was cuter so he got chosen for the blog

We walked, biked and got the lay of the park/resort pretty quickly and were impressed by all the bulletin boards. The mail room is open 3-4pm for renters to pick up mail or packages. We’d had our mail sent down from CT and it was waiting for us on Saturday. Owners have a PO box like the ones at a Post Office.

UPS and FedEx deliver right to your “home”- what a job, especially right before Christmas. Anne got a new tow drop receiver from Santa (we’d discovered the one we got was 6″ and we only needed 4″). I think the truck came by around 9pm!???????????????????????????????
Gulf/Key West Pinks are abundant here; how about baked stuffed shrimp for Christmas dinner? A local market on Summerland Key (one key north) provided the real deal; shrimp still fully intact. Ok dear, you clean ’em and I’ll cook ‘em.

Before beheading!

Before beheading!

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Came across the snowmen lights at Home Depot- tacky uh?

 

Stockings hung by the generator with care ( the genset is in front, the engine in back)

Stockings hung by the generator with care ( the genset is in front, the engine in back)

Christmas was very subdued, even in contrast to our usual celebration aboard Ortolan with our son the past four years. The many years traditional babka baked wonderfully fragrant in my microwave/convection oven (which is working out way better than anticipated); we kept one out and froze the second loaf. Russ enjoyed Cranberry-Oatmeal bars while I pondered baking chocolate chip cookie bars for me after the big day. DSC00813 (800x600)Our mail included several Christmas cards which we cherish getting; they are like gifts and a joy to open. With personal mail representing an ever-decreasing percent of mail anyone gets, we nomads especially love receiving it.

Happy Holidays from us to you and a Fantastic New Year!

Happy Holidays from us to you and a Fantastic New Year!

Are we “home” ?

Fortunate ones found moisture on bottles and glasses

Fortunate ones found moisture on bottles and glasses

Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home. You’ve had too much to drink, Your children are alone!

Remember that cute rhyme from your childhood? Yes, I altered it a bit. But did you ever think about the underlying assumption in those first five words? That she knows where home is!! Proof that rhymes (and old wives tales too) have a modicum of truth is found in this nomad life we lead. All along the trip we have continued to find ladybugs inside; galley, front window, shower (they like the water?) bedroom; all their usual haunts and more. Carefully as washing fine crystal, I have scooped them up and deposited each lady outside.

Often I get two or three out at once

Often I get two or three out at once

Saturday Dec 13 we arrive to Sanibel for a week. Still, ladybugs. One warm day I counted five inside at once, two even required a rescue when they slipped in the wet shower, tumbled on their backs and well, they fell and couldn’t get up! Out they went, and still we’d find them back in. And we’d find them walking around outside the motorhome too. One night I placed our stowaways on a nearby bush in an attempt to create a new “home” and after doing that with a few more, it seemed to work. I feel bad leaving, but we need to go….the question is, “will any be with us in the Keys?”

These two were on the shower skylight in Cudjoe Key

These two were on the shower skylight in Cudjoe Key

Cudjoe Key- we arrive Sat Dec 20. Either we brought them and they multiplied, or we are being visited by local ladybugs! Our park neighbors on Doubloon Lane (Venture Out RV Resort, Cudjoe Key) say they have no ladybugs. Since the tiny beetles (but ladybug sounds better) can live up to a year, they sure could be the same ones coming and going. My daily routine now consists of careful removal, they even drop or crawl onto my hand fearlessly, as I whisper, “fly away and please don’t return.”

This will grow old soon and we are plotting all manner of humane ways to remove these gals (and I guess guys too!) permanently. So beware of mysterious packages arriving by mail :-)

In case you were wondering- she made it to the top.

In case you were wondering- she made it to the top.