Thursday, May 1, 2008

Key West Independence Celebration and Andy's Visit

There's no place else quite like Key West.

It's only about 50 miles from Marathon, which we could have sailed in one long day, but we decided to take our time and make it a two-day trip. We anchored in Newfound Harbor, a little more than half the way. The next day (Tuesday, April 22nd), we sailed into Key West about two in the afternoon.

There were a couple of places to anchor right across the busy main channel near the "Old Town" area, which were already quite full of boats. There was also a mooring field, but it was located a long dinghy-ride away from the festivities.

I suggested we try to find some space in one of the anchorages closest to the festivities. The wind and current were both strong from the north, and the anchorage didn't provide a lot of protection, but we managed to get the anchor set well. We seemed to be far enough from the other boats.

We dinghied into the main Key West harbor (called Key West Bight) and walked around the bustling waterfront. We had an early dinner at the Turtle Kraal Restaurant overlooking the harbor, then returned to the boat around 7:00 for an early bedtime.

A loud air horn awakened us from a sound sleep around midnight. We rushed to the cockpit and discovered another boat precariously bobbing barely three feet in front of our bow.

I started the engines while Phil went forward to discuss the situation with the captain of the other boat. The other captain was determined that he should not be required to move, even though our boat was still in the same relative position as when we anchored and he had moved closer to us.

Since we were the last to anchor, and further negotiations with the other captain seemed fruitless, we upped the anchor. It was very dark and the wind was howling. We tried to re-anchor a little farther away, but couldn't get the anchor to set.

After two or three more tries, we gingerly made our way in the dark across the channel to a second anchorage with fewer boats. The first couple of tries didn't hold, and we discussed the possibility of just cruising around for the rest of the night in the dark, but a third try was successful and the anchor seemed well set.

Our anchoring faith had been tested, however, and we shared "anchor watches" the rest of the night, with one sleeping and the other awake to be sure the anchor didn't drag.

Daylight found us groggy, but safely anchored in the same place. We quickly decided that moving to the mooring balls was the best choice for guaranteeing a good night's sleep, even though the mooring balls were farther away from the festivities.

We spent Wednesday and Thursday nights safely attached to the mooring balls. Wednesday we rested and did projects on board. Thursday, we agreed we deserved to have some fun.

We dinghied to the nearest dock, about a mile away, and walked about a mile to the downtown area. We met friends for an early dinner and then headed down Duvall Street for the Conch Republic Independence Parade.

It was a most unusual parade, to say the least. Thousands of tourists lined Duvall Street. The parade featured the Conch Republic Hair Force (Key West locals wearing inflatable airplanes around their waists and big Marge Simpson hairdos): the Conch Republic CIA (Cuties in Action) consisting of women in bright costumes on roller skates; various Conch Republic dignitaries, lots of costumed pirates throwing candy and necklaces, and other floats that simply defy description. Everyone had a great time.

It was a total spoof of every kind of parade you have ever seen. The police presence was almost nonexistent, unlike parades we are accustomed to. The motorcycle officers we did see were wearing necklaces and leighs.

On Friday, we left the mooring field and moved to a marina on Stock Island, just east of Key West, to await the arrival of our younger son, Andy, who was flying in from Seattle to spend a few days with us.

Andy's plane arrived in Ft. Lauderdale after midnight Friday. He rented a car and drove the three and a half hours to Key West, arriving at the marina about 4:30 a.m. Saturday.

We welcomed him aboard, talked for a while, then everyone retired to our staterooms to finish our night's sleep.

The next few days, we enjoyed more Conch Republic festivities, including watching a "bed race" up Duvall Street. We ate lots of seafood, took Andy on a day sail in some pretty bumpy seas, and saw the sights of Key West. We also enjoyed just spending time with our younger son.

The visit ended too quickly. Andy headed back to Ft. Lauderdale around noon on Tuesday. We topped off the fuel tanks and headed out soon after, destined for an anchorage at Bahia Honda Key.

We had a nice sail to Bahia Honda, catching a large Black Grouper as we pulled into the anchorage around 5:00 p.m. We anchored with friends that night and shared dinner.

The next day, the winds picked up dramatically. Although we only had about eight miles to get back to Boot Key Harbor at Marathon, it was a rough eight miles. The winds increased to about 24 knots and they were right on the nose. We pounded our way through the waves, motoring and sailing, into Boot Key around noon, glad to be safely in the comfort of a harbor and secure on a mooring ball.

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