Well, we finally made it to Key West! What an awful crossing from Marco Island. We left Marco at 6pm on Monday, April 6, for the 14-18 hour trip to Key West. The overnight trip was necessary to insure that we arrived with plenty of daylight to settle into our new anchorage. After checking NOAA, weather.com, and windfinder.com, we expected to have winds from the north-northwest at 20-25 knots and wave heights of 8 feet overnight. Unfortunately the winds were still from the southwest as we left Marco, so we motored against the strong winds and increasing waves for the first few hours. Once the winds shifted, the waves began hitting us from the west as we traveled south. We spent the rest of the night rocking from left to right in 8-10 ft seas - bad for us and the kitties! Tux hid under the couch, but Tawny wanted to stay with Mom and Dad in the cockpit. We took turns holding her on our lap during our 2-hour watches, and she was okay until the 4am shift change. She had moved to the cockpit cushion to sit alongside Rene when a huge wave slammed into the side of the boat. Rene lost his balance and Tawny got washed to the cockpit floor. Rene was able to grab a handrail with one hand and Tawny with the other, but it was pretty scary for everyone. Stacy was just coming topside for her shift and was sent down below for a towel. Stace held Tawny for a few minutes as Rene tried to relax below, but Tawny started struggling to go to her "safe spot", which is at the back of the boat under the corner rail seat. That's a good spot for her when we're anchored or aren't getting splashed by waves, but it would be too easy for a wave to get her there under these conditions. Much to her frustration, Tawny was sent down below for the rest of the trip.
The sun finally came up around 7am, and we estimated our arrival time in Key West at about 10am. You'd think it would be scarier to deal with big waves in the dark, but we soon found out that it was preferable to NOT see what's coming at you! Thanks to the weather guys, we'd expected 8-ft waves, but really weren't ready for the 10-footers that we saw. There's nothing like seeing a wall of water coming at you to get the blood pumping! The water had taken on the lighter turquoise of the Keys, but it looked like it was boiling all around us. We finally made it to the Key West jetties around 9:30am. Once we were past the jetties, the waters were more protected and the waves decreased to 1-2 feet. After making only 4+ knots of boat speed overnight, we were suddenly doing 7+ kts the last few miles to our anchorage. We're so ready for this crossing to be over!
We spend the next couple of days recovering from the crossing and doing boat clean-up. We have a friend from Kemah coming down for a 4-day visit on Easter Sunday, and Pipe definitely needs a good scrub-down. We also need to replace the boat batteries in the next few days; Rene ordered them before we left Marco Island, and they should be arriving at the Key West West Marine store on Thursday. Stacy's really excited about getting the new batteries - she's tired of everything defrosting in the freezer!
Our First "Sea Tow" Call
It's official...35 days after leaving Kemah, we've had to call in Sea Tow to rescue us. For those of you who aren't familiar with Sea Tow and Tow Boat US, these are both organizations that have speed boats around US waters. If you're ever in a jam - say your motor won't start and your anchor is dragging - you just call Sea Tow or Tow Boat on VHF 16 and they'll come rescue you. And exactly how did we get into this predicament, you ask? Interesting story...
West Marine, the keeper of our replacement batteries, is 2-3 blocks from our dinghy dock in the Historic Key West Seaport (aka Key West Bight). It's an easy walk...unless you're carrying three 130-lb marine batteries back and forth. Rene borrowed the marina's dock cart, which resembles a little wooden wagon that has seen better days. He and the dock cart headed to West Marine, who laughed at the idea of him bringing all three batteries back in the cart at once. "Take one at a time or that thing will break." Okay... So Rene hauled battery #1 into the cart, then pulled the cart back to the dinghy dock, then hauled the battery onto the dock next to our dinghy. Then he and the dock cart went back for battery #2...you can see where this goes. After getting all three batteries to the dinghy dock, Rene managed to get the batteries into the dinghy, and back to Pipe Muh Bligh we went. Next trick...get the three batteries aboard Pipe Muh Bligh, or at least in the cockpit where they'd be safe overnight. It didn't take Rene long to decide the battery installation would be a multi-day process!
Friday morning Rene prepped a diagram of all the battery connections and their paths. He also discovered that the old batteries had connection points on them that the new batteries didn't have. A call to West Marine confirmed that this wasn't really unusual, and that yes, they did sell the connectors for a nominal fee. So back in the dinghy went Rene, followed by a walk to West Marine for the parts. That done, Rene was back on board and spent about 20 minutes disconnecting all of the cables from the old batteries as Stacy read from his diagram. As Rene heaved the 130-lb battery from under the floor boards and he and Stacy battled it up the stairs to the cockpit, Rene let out a bloody $*^&!!!! 20 minutes ago we had been anchored in a nice little spot with plenty of room on all sides; suddenly we were 20 feet from another boat on one side and 20 feet from the beach behind us. Apparently our anchor had let go and we had dragged about 300 yards during the past 20 minutes. Under normal circumstances, you'd start your engine, turn on your anchor windlass, haul the anchor up while motoring forward, and reset your anchor. Easy, right? Ahem... Remember the part about disconnecting all of the old batteries and hauling one up to the cockpit? Well, we hadn't quite made it to the "replace them with the new batteries and reconnect the cables" part yet. We had absolutely NO power! We couldn't start the engine or the windlass, and we were still moving backwards. "What do we do???" "Call Sea Tow!!" Unfortunately Sea Tow was on another call and was about 15 minutes away from us. All we could do was try to get everything put back together and see if we could save ourselves in the meantime. Rene manhandled the two remaining batteries out of the floor and got them up the stairs and into the cockpit, banging himself up pretty well in the process. We then got the three new batteries into the cabin and under the floorboards, and reconnected the cables. Deep breath, fingers crossed, Rene turned the key to the engine...we have power! Idle forward, windlass on, let's get this baby outta here! Not so fast... After getting all but 15-20 feet of our anchor chain onto the boat, we realized that our anchor had snagged the other boat's anchor line. (This is probably what kept us from continuing backwards onto the beach.) We really can't make this stuff up. The captain of the other boat had been watching us and offering help, and upon seeing us snagged in his line, jumped into his own dinghy and motored to the fouled anchor and line. Our anchor weighs at least 40 lbs, not including the chain. With Rene driving Pipe, Stacy working the windlass, and our neighbor trying to free our anchor, we finally got free after what seemed like forever. At about this time, Sea Tow showed up. (And yes, it had really only been 15 minutes even if it seemed like an hour.) Rene told Sea Tow to go on standby, meaning that we thought we wouldn't need their help after all. They had to charge us for coming out anyway, but at this point we weren't begrudging them a thing! "Just give us a minute while we re-anchor, and then we'll pay you." Here's where that old saying about things coming in three's proved to be true. As Stacy was pulling the anchor back onto the boat, she realized that the support roller that the chain passes over had lost a nut, the bolt had bent, and the roller was barely in place. If we continued to put any pressure on it, the roller would come off the boat and be lost in the water - not to mention the anchor and chain would have nothing separating it from the bow of the boat. After a few more choice words, we traded places so that Stacy could drive the boat in circles while Rene went forward to take the anchor and chain apart to put it on the opposite side which still had a working support roller. We finally re-anchored and Sea Tow tied up along side us to get our info. Now for the icing on the cake. We have insurance with Tow Boat US through West Marine, but not with Sea Tow. The guy was wonderful, and told us that they did a lot of business with Tow Boat and would try to bill them directly. We're assuming it worked, because we haven't had a call back yet!
Our First Boat Guest
Hopefully you all remember that we have a guest room on the boat, and we're pretty sure we've sent out an open invitation to our friends and family to come stay with us. Thank goodness one of our friends actually took us seriously! We've known Christy for a few years now thanks to our rum races on Rowdy, the Veracruz regatta, and other great times in general. We were thrilled when she came to visit us in Key West for 4 days starting on Easter Sunday. We managed to do a cursory walk-around of Key West before she arrived, but we were pretty much all tourists together. We met Christy at the KW airport and taxied back to the Seaport. Where else do you take someone who's fresh off the plane and staying on a sailboat in Key West? The Schooner Wharf Bar, of course! We actually learned about Schooner Wharf from one of our cruising "bibles", Dozier's Waterway Guide, Southern Edition. The guide has been invaluable in our route planning and things to look for ashore, and it said the Schooner Wharf was a great place to meet other boaters. We managed to stop by during one of our first days in KW, and discovered Key West Sunset Ale on tap (we highly recommend it). It seemed like the perfect way to welcome Christy to Key West: KW Sunset Ale, conch fritters with key lime mustard sauce, and live music from a local band. Later that afternoon we spent some time on the boat, followed by dinner at the Conch Republic seafood restaurant at the Seaport. Yummy! (By the way - if you want a few dining recommendations or just like to salivate over the menu, we've included a few comments and pictures of our favorites below.)
Monday we played mega-tourists, stopping first at the Hemingway House. Ernest Hemingway lived in Key West in the 1930s with wife #2 (out of 4). Visitors can tour the house and grounds, which include Hemingway's writing studio (To Have and Have Not and For Whom the Bell Tolls were both written here), as well as 46 descendants from Hemingway's polydactyl cat, Snowball. About half of the cats bear the poly trait of extra toes on their front and/or back paws, and they have full run of the place.
After stopping for lunch at Cheeseburger in Paradise on Duval Street, we headed to the Mel Fisher Museum to tour the artifacts from his shipwreck discoveries and read the stories of the people aboard. We also managed to find the Green Parrot, which is a local hangout that has been recommended by any sailor who's ever been to Key West. Having wandered around Key West for most of the day, we were ready for a quiet dinner on the boat. We bought the makings for homemade chicken quesadillas, but discovered that the tortillas were moldy once we were back on the boat. Oh, well...chicken nachos it is!
By Tuesday, we were ready for some beach time. We planned to grab some breakfast, rent Christy a bike, lay on the beach, and finish the afternoon with a bike tour around the island. We stopped in for breakfast at Pepe's, the oldest restaurant in Key West. While there, we had a chance to see the weather channel for the first time in weeks, and watched a line of tornado-producing thunderstorms cross through Tampa and head across Florida. Fortunately, the weather channel guys said they wouldn't make it as far south as the Keys. Whew! (Enter creepy foreshadowing music here...) Tummies full, we asked our waitress to recommend a good beach - always trust the locals. "Fort Zachary Taylor Beach - best beach in Key West." This turned out to be a gorgeous beach that involved a short bike ride from Duval Street. The beach has snorkeling, picnic tables, BBQs, a concession stand, restrooms, and outside showers. It was a little crowded at first with people from the visiting cruise ship, but they disappeared around lunchtime to make the ship's 2pm departure.
Once we'd had enough sun, we biked around the Atlantic side of Key West, stopping at one of KW's most famous spots. The Southernmost Point in the Continental USA is marked by a multi-colored barrel. From here you can gaze across the Atlantic and try to spot Cuba, which is only 90 miles away. The killjoys will tell you it should really be the southernmost point in the contiguous USA, since it's technically not part of the continental US (Key West is an island). Still, it's a fun stop for a photo op, and it's doubtful that they'll change the label on the barrel anytime soon.
So what do you do after a long beach day and bike ride? Stop for a cold beer, of course! We wanted to show Christy our favorite Irish pub, which just happened to be on the way home...sort of. After a slight detour, we made it to Finnegan's Wake. We had been there for dinner the night before Christy arrived, and couldn't wait to go back for their Tetley's cream ale on draught. Having cooled down with a frosty bevvie, we dropped off Christy's rental bike and headed back to the boat for naps and showers before going back to the Seaport for dinner.
Tuesday night we had dinner at Schooner Wharf. It's right next to the dinghy dock, and has good food and live music nightly. It's definitely a laid-back place, perfect for a relaxing night out. Our shared seafood samplers were great, and we managed to save room for dessert. Unfortunately, we didn't quite get to finish the cheesecake... Remember those thunderstorms we saw on the weather channel this morning? They managed to get to Key West after all. By sunset, we started seeing lightning flash across the sky. By 9pm, it started pouring and the waitresses warned us that the weather radar was purple (that's a level worse than red). We moved around the bar a few times looking for a dry spot to hang out, and figured we were in for a long night. When you have a 10-minute dinghy ride across the water to your boat, you really don't want to make the trip through lightning and a downpour! Sometime around 10pm the lights in the bar went out, along with the power throughout our area of the island. We managed to find a dry table in back with a few locals who work on the charter schooners. We really enjoyed talking to Ty and Sonny of the Adirondack crew, along with our waitress, Megan. When the power came back on at midnight, we were told that there was a break in the weather, but it was expected to get bad again in a couple of hours. The lightning wasn't completely gone and we still had light rain showers, but it was time to make a run for it. Rene managed to pump out 4 inches of water from the dinghy, and we headed home. All in all, it was quite the evening!
Wednesday we decided it was time to enjoy a famous (infamous?) Key West pub crawl down "party central" Duval Street, otherwise known as the "Duval Crawl". We had a lazy morning on the boat, and then started our crawl at Pepper's of Key West. Just so you don't all think we're a bunch of drunkards, Pepper's is NOT a bar! They're a fantastic little shop that sells just about every type of hot sauce you can imagine. Best yet, they offer free tastings! And since things can get a little warm during the tastings, you can always run next door to the Sports Page bar for a take-out beer. (Did we mention that Key West reminds us a little bit of New Orleans?) You can see Pepper's full lineup of sauces on their website at http://www.peppersofkeywest.com/. We can't remember every single sauce we tried, but these are a few that deserve special mention:
- "Goin' Bananas", a mild chile sauce with a a banana/honey/raisin/tamarind/garlic base
- "Key West Conch Cruiser Asian Marinade", with soy sauce, ginger, & garlic
- "Key West Chicken Wing Sauce", which contains blue cheese & garlic
- "Peppers of Key West Hot Sauce #1", a Louisiana-style Cayenne sauce with a hint of garlic
- "Palo Alto Fire Fighter Pepper Sauce", whose proceeds go to charity
- "Fighting Cock Kentucky Bourbon BBQ Sauce" - you can guess this one
- Chipotle raspberry sauce, which most of you have probably had over cream cheese with crackers
- Blackberry chipotle sauce - a similar concept to its raspberry cousin
- Key lime tangerine sauce - need we say more?
- Habanero Mango Sauce
- Jalapeno Tequila Sauce
- Wasabi Green Tea Sauce
- Orange Krush, which contains 20 orange Habanero peppers in each bottle
After our hot sauce tasting, we were ready to cool off our burning tongues with the rest of the pub crawl. The proximity award led us to the Sports Page next to Pepper's, and from there we headed to Duval Street. After stops at Sloppy Joe's, Irish Kevin's, and Kelly's Caribbean Bar-Grill-Brewpub, we finished off the evening with an early dinner at the Old Town Mexican Cafe.
Thursday we had a goodbye lunch with Christy at Schooner Wharf before she left for the airport. Her visit was too short, but we had a fantastic time with her. We can't wait for our next boat visitors. (Hint, hint!)
Our Last Days in Key West
We finally decided to leave Key West on Tuesday, April 21. Before we left, we had a chance to enjoy a Key West tradition: the Conch Republic Independence Celebration, which celebrates Key West's 1982 tongue-in-cheek secession from the USA. You can get the full scoop from the Conch Republic's website (http://www.conchrepublic.com/history.htm), but short version is that in 1982, the US Border Patrol set up a roadblock and inspection point at the mainland entrance to the main Keys thoroughfare to search vehicles for drugs and illegal immigrants. Key West lawmakers complained about the inconvenience to tourists and locals, but were unable to convince the US CBP to take down the roadblock. In protest, the KW mayor declared Key West's "independence" on April 23, 1982. The newly-formed Republic immediately declared war against the U.S., quickly surrendered after one minute, and applied for one billion dollars in foreign aid and war relief to rebuild the nation after the "long Federal siege". Nowadays, Key West celebrates the anniversary with a week-long festival, and the "Key West Drag Races" were held on Duval Street on Saturday. Trust us - there are no fast cars involved here! For the races, lovely "ladies" do relays, lip syncing, etc. We've only included one photo here, but there are plenty in the photo album if you want to see the real entertainment (link at bottom of page). What a riot!
After attending the races, we went on a mini pub crawl to visit a few spots we missed during Christy's visit. We stopped in at the Hog's Breath Saloon, but didn't stay (there was no place to sit and funky smell). Then we stopped in at Margaritaville (Jimmy didn't show up), went back to Sloppy Joe's, and finally ended up at Kelly's Caribbean Bar-Grill-Brewpub for happy hour and dinner. We had a fantastic meal: Stacy had Hawaiian Escolar with pineapple salsa & rice, and Rene had diver scallops seared with port wine pear glaze - yummy!
Monday was our last full day in Key West, and we spent it running errands. We did some last-minute laundry, bought a dive flag at Divers Direct in preparation for our Looe Key visit, went to the book exchange at the Schooner Wharf Bar, replenished our ice, and filled our spare water jugs to save time on Tuesday. We finished the day with an incredible pasta dinner at Mangia Mangia. We'd heard great things about this place, and they certainly lived up to their reputation. We sat outside in the garden; Stacy had Fettucine con Salmone Affumicato (smoked salmon Alfredo with peas & basil), and Rene had the Bollito Misto di Mare or mixed seafood with pasta (scallops, shrimp, conch, salmon, mussels, and mahi-mahi in a pesto, white wine, and clam broth base). After a final Tetley's at Finnegan's Wake, we were back home on Pipe Muh Bligh for an early bedtime.
Tuesday we woke up early to get to the fuel/water dock, but a storm came in and forced us to wait til 10am to raise anchor. The winds picked up on the way to the dock, and another sailboat docked at the spot we wanted just before we arrived. We had prepped the lines and fenders for a starboard dock, but the winds changed direction at the last minute pushed us away from the dock. Stacy was able to give a bow line to the dockmaster and a few helpers and they held the bow while the boat pivoted. We were close enough to the dock that the anchors nearly hit the pilings, but we finally got alongside the dock and tied Pipe up. We refueled the boat, filled up the water tanks (all 200 gallons), and were just about to leave (it was noon by this time), when a big fishing cruiser docked in front of us. He was too close for us to get away from the dock and pass, so it was 12:45 before we left. We expected the 30-mile trip to Newfound Harbor to take 6 hrs, and leaving at 1pm meant a 7pm arrival (sunset was at 7:50pm; so this was cutting it close). We motor-sailed the first hour and made 7kts of boat speed. Eventually the winds picked up to 15kts and were on our beam, so we were able to turn off the motor and sail the rest of the way. We had mostly good winds for the rest of the trip, and typically maintained 5-6 knots of boat speed. It was a nice sail to Newfound Harbor, and we had the anchorage to ourselves when we arrived. By 6pm we had two anchors out and were settled in for the night. Woo hoo!
Dining & Drinking in Key West
Oh, where to begin? How do you do justice to all of the great restaurants and hang-out spots in a place with so many of them? This section covers the places we visited...be it the places we loved, the places we hated, and the places we walked out of before ordering a thing. The list is in alphabetical order...we're honest enough with our reviews, and figuring out our favorite place would just be too difficult! (The worst place would be pretty easy...)
- Cheeseburger in Paradise - yes, guacamole on a juicy cheeseburger really is that fantastic!
- Conch Republic Restaurant (pictured here): Stuffed Shrimp (bacon wrapped jumbo shrimp w/blue crab stuffing; w/mango salsa & sweet chili glaze); St. Kitts (crab stuffed ravioli tossed w/seared shrimp, spinach, & sun dried tomatoes & lemon/garlic scampi butter); night's special (scallops - blackened? - in sun dried tomato cream sauce?)
- El Siboney - cuban food (shredded beef, pulled pork)
- Finnegan's Wake - great pizza & pub food
- Green Parrot
- Hog's Breath Saloon
- Irish Kevin's - HORRIBLE beer! Needed to clean taps. Unless you want to relive your forgotten college spring break, don't bother. For a real Irish pub feel, stick with Finnegan's.
- Kelly's - see above; BEST happy hour prices & margarita (found out during Christy's visit; sorry we missed the wine dinner, but we didn't stay til the 23rd)
- Kermit's - key lime pie (also good for breakfast!)
- Old Town Mexican Cafe for chicken fajitas & beef quesadillas; good pitcher of margies
- Pepe's - this is the oldest restaurant in Key West, and they're famous for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We wanted a big breakfast before our beach day and understood what all the fuss was about when we dug into our omelets & eggs Benedict
- Schooner Wharf Bar - what can we say? This was probably our favorite spot as an overall hangout. We loved this place! conch fritters, seafood sampler
- Sloppy Joe's - the place made famous by Papa (aka Ernest Hemingway); apparently he spent some quality time here, although we think it was at the original location - not the one now on Duval Street