What’s upcoming

Made it into Skipjack Marina in Marathon.

Keys have been shut down to tourists and visitors; we aren’t tourists – we live here. At least for the next month.

Now to sit and wait to see what happens.

Back to Marathon

22 March 2020 – Circumstances at the marina aboard NAS-Key West had begun to get tenuous, as the military, understandably, began to prioritize mission-related functions. While the marina was not closed outright (yet…), there were some policies being enacted that convinced us that we’d best find an alternate situation if we wanted to ‘stay put’, as opposed to simply pressing on North as part of a vast maritime refugee flotilla.

We were fortunate to act quickly (ahead of a very stringent Monroe County edict that effectively shut down the Keys to visitors and tourists), and secured a month lease at Skipjack Marina back in Marathon. We elected to make the move on Sunday, rather than wait until Tuesday, when wind and sea conditions would have been better.

We pulled out at sunrise, and headed out the channel for the 45 mile ride back up to Marathon.

Headed out Boca Chica Channel at sunrise

Might not have been to perfect day to cruise, based on sea-state, but it was an undeniably beautiful day, mostly sunny with 10-15 knot winds.

We crossed water of a range of hues, along with many other north-bound boats (well, east-bound actually, here at the very end of the Keys).

Heading from greenish water to blue, with a darker streak of blue ahead to port. The break between water colors here was very well defined- just a short few feet from one to another. Probably mixing of Gulf and Atlantic waters, at the wide Bahia Honda channel.
Wide view of the Bahia Honda bridge – the color of the water was incredible
Close-up of the break in the old bridge, through which can be seen the current Highway 1 bridge. We took pictures from both ends of the bridge with Ric and Marie last month.

The crab-fishing industry hasn’t abated much – just as many crab-trap floats to dodge, as on the way down, and watermen in their boats out collecting from those traps.

We stopped for fuel on the way into Boot Key Harbor, to make sure that our tanks were topped off for whenever we pushed onward from here. As we pulled through the mooring field, it was not quite as imposing a sight as the first time – it kind of felt like coming home, in a way, even though we were headed past our Sombrero Marina slip to a different marina this time.

Friends on a number of boats waved and called out hello as we idled past, and we were quickly welcomed in by our new neighbors at Skipjack Marina, a few of which (San Souci, Short Vacation) we already knew from meeting previously on the Loop.

Now to settle into a new routine for the next month.

The pool at Skipjack was one of the reasons we chose it over Sombrero this time, but not sure it will be part of our ‘new routine’; it closed at 6pm on Sunday, as part of the County shutdown order. Maybe if they put the chaise lounges 6′ apart…?

Should I stay or should I go…?

Should I stay or should I go now?
Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go, there will be trouble
And if I stay it will be double
So come on and let me know

The Clash, 1982

Well, with it’s advisory of March 19, the State Department squelched our plan to conduct our social distancing amongst the remote cays of the Bahamas.

A good place to wait out the pandemic?…(Exumas Land and Sea Park)

We’d been provisioning for several weeks in Key West to sustain a 6-week trip to the beautiful and remote chain of islands.

The increasing concern about Coronavirus began as an annoyance as regular folks started buying up the same sort of food and supplies that we were stocking up.

Empty shelves at the commissary.

Crazy lines at Costco.

Then the governmental actions.

For a while, it seemed like heading out to the islands seemed like the prudent kind of ‘social distancing’ that could be undertaken with a touch of legitimacy.

That was then.

In the key of F……..F/A-18, that is

March 2020 – We settle in at Boca Chica Marina, and find great commonality with the community here, all of whom share a common professional bond as current and former military members. Surprisingly, a lot are Army veterans.

Naval Air Station Key West’s national security mission supports operational and readiness requirements for Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, National Guard units, federal agencies, and allied forces.

NAS Key West has perfect flying weather year round and unparalleled aerial ranges that offer aircrew training within minutes after takeoff.

The station is equipped with a sophisticated Tactical Combat Training System (TCTS), similar to the one depicted in the popular movie “Top Gun,” which tracks and records aerial maneuvers. In addition, NAS Key West is the host facility for numerous tenant activities, including Joint Interagency Task Force South, U.S. Coast Guard, and U.S. Army Special Forces Underwater Training School to name a few.

https://www.cnic.navy.mil/regions/cnrse/installations/nas_key_west.html

The marina is at the western remote end of Boca Chica Key, and to get there by car or bike, you have to cross under the flight path to one of the runways.

Luckily for us, the wind direction had them using another runway most of the time

Our first few days were pretty quiet. Morning and evening bugle calls, a few helicopters and transport planes.

A US Navy Super Stallion Helicopter in flight (https://www.freeimageslive.co.uk/)
C-17 (stock image)
P-3 Orion (stock image)

But then came the weekend. The fighters started to spool up just after sunrise, and the roar of the F/A 18 hornets taking off, doing high-speed passes, and circling the pattern for touch and go landings made us really feel like we were at a Naval Air Station.

And it didn’t stop at sunset. To the contrary, it picked up speed, and for a while, there were at least a half dozen fighters in the air, probably not over 500 feet altitude, turning tight circles around the runway, at about 30 seconds separation. Around and around and around.

We stopped over at the Navigator bar, to listen to the band Ukeleles in Paradise, that we had heard up in Marathon the month before. The jet noise was so loud that half the time we couldn’t hear the music. At one point the musician’s were conferring, and one said ‘Let’s just call it the key of F/A-18.”

The weekend must have started a training rotation for one of the tenant units, and the fighter action was often intense (and loud!) One car alarm in the parking lot kept getting set off by the thundering vibrations of engine tests and takeoffs. ‘Come on, dude! Who’s going to steal your car here??’

One of the interesting tenant commands here is VFC-11 1, Sun Downers, a US Navy Reserve adversary squadron. Currently, it operates 18 Northrop F-5N/F Tiger-IIs, of which 17 are single-seater F-5Ns and the remainder being a twin-seater F-5F, which was dubbed “FrankenTiger” and is one of only three in service with the Navy, being a product of grafting the older front half fuselage of the F-5Fs into the back half fuselage of the newer low-hours F-5Es acquired from the Swiss Air Force.

File photo of adversary jets over Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas https://airshowkeywest.com/index.php/vfc-111/

The Sun Downers operate as part of the U.S. Navy Reserve’s fleet adversary program, providing dissimilar air combat training to fleet strike fighter and Marine fighter attack squadrons, as well as U.S. Air Force, Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard fighter squadrons.

Their sound is totally unlike that of the F-35s or F/A 18s, and when we hear them interspersed overhead, we know that there must be some serious head-to-head games going on.

We have enjoyed a lot of pretty sunsets here, with a good view to the west.

Cue the conch horns

Sounding a conch shell horn at sunset is a long standing tradition in the Keys and the surrounding Caribbean islands. Here in the marina, at sunset, we’d always hear several, sometimes as soon as the sun just touches the horizon, and other times it is a bit later when the last portion of the sun descends out of sight. We look forward to getting our own conch horn, and joining the chorus.

On to Key West

1 March 2020 – As our two-month reservation at Sombrero Marina came to a close at the end of February, we took on some fuel arranged by one of our dockmates, finished a few last projects and pulled out of Boot Key Harbor and headed down the Keys to the Navy marina at Boca Chica Key, home of Naval Air Station Key West.

Didn’t even have to go to the fuel dock – it came to us
New chain to measure, mark….
and splice to the nylon rode
Goodbye, Boot Key Harbor.
Chantale at the helm, keeping an eye on the engine room check
We had a pretty tame ride, but folks heading the other way were slamming through the waves
Sun going down over Key West – pretty good view from our new spot on the T-head

Guests Aboard (take 3)

February 2020 – After a short break from Ben’s family, we hosted our final visitors, friends Ric and Marie, for a long weekend. It was very windy, and not quite as warm as the previous week, but still nice weather for a couple of excursions.

Marie is an avid photographer, so she and Ben headed off to Sombrero Beach each morning to get some sunrise pictures. We also made day trips down to the ‘dirt mall’ (Big Pine Key Flea Market), No Name Key, Bahia Honda State Park, and the Crane Point Nature preserve.

We went out to a couple of our favorite spots, as well as finally made it to Burdine’s, and Ric and Marie even took over the galley one evening to prep a fantastic dinner. A great way to wrap up our 2020 visitor season!

Looking for the scene with sunrise at her back
Like this, perhaps
Looking for just the right angle to get waves lapping on the sand
On the first day, less than spectacular
But on Day 2, started out really nice…
Until this big cloud came across – still pretty, though
Part of the shoreline was hard, sharp coral…but little tiny plants found a foothold
We drove around on No Name Key, and had to slow for this tiny Key Deer (endangered)
The old Bahia Honda bridge, from the Key West end
This iguana was sunning himself before ducking back into an old rusty pipe
Getting a good angle on the Bahia Honda bridge from the East
A historic home at Crane Point (Adderly house)
A little background on the man who moved here in the late 1800s. (Click here to learn about hammocks)
Over at Crane Point, Chantale getting a fish pedicure – creepy at first, but it only tickled
Marie sitting down with a couple French tourists to feel the tiny fish nibble away the calluses
We had to give Ric the full Tiki treatment on his Painkiller
And yet another sunset

Guests Aboard (take 2)

February 2020 – Later in February, Ben’s brother Dave and his family were able to put together a trip during the kid’s winter break, and they came down when the weather was “77 degrees warmer than at home.”

At Ease was a ‘base of operations’ for these guests, and they took off on some excursions to the Crane Point Museum & Nature Center, Bahia Honda State Park, the National Key Deer Refuge, No Name Key, and even Key West.

While in Marathon, they made several trips to the beach, in addition to taking the dinghy to a small island off Sombrero beach, for some snorkeling.

A full dinghy load, heading for snorkeling, and the beach
Pretty happy after the first day at the beach
Somebody’s too tuckered out to watch the sunset?
End of another day
Hamming it up for the drone!

Guests aboard (take 1)

Jan/Feb 2020 – We were able to have several sets of visitors join us in Marathon, and share some bits of Keys life.

First up, Ben’s cousin Alec and fiancee Lena (who had joined us on the Tennesssee River for our Chattanooga side trip). The ladies spent some time at the beach, Alec and I took a dinghy expedition into the mangroves with friend Joe, to see a ‘Cuban drug sub’ (maybe), and we all dinghied across Boot Key Harbor for a great happy hour and dinner. And that was before we drove down to Key West to see some of the sights (Hemingway Rum Distillery, Mel Fisher Museum, Mile Zero, sunset at Mallory Square, Duval Street, Sloppy Joe’s) before returning to our Navy base accommodations in a torrential downpour.

Alec and Lena on the bow
Boot Key Harbor sunset (by Alec)
Catching a few rays at Sombrero Beach while the boys are exploring
Maybe it’s a Cuban drug sub…and maybe it’s not. We heard tales either way. (picture by Alec)
Lunch in Key West before a hard afternoon of sightseeing
Perusing art galleries in Key West…some fine stuff (picture by Alec)
Silver ingots at the Mel Fisher Maritime Heritage Museum
US 1 runs from here, Mile Zero, 2,369 miles (3,813 km), from Key West, Florida north to Fort Kent, Maine, at the Canadian border, making it the longest north–south road in the United States.
Well, yes, we had to get some souvenirs from the Hemingway distillery (picture by Alec)
The roosters (and their mates and progeny) are everywhere (picture by Alec)
Great band at Sloppy Joes, a Duval Street institution
On the way back from Key West, we stopped at Stock Island to visit friends on Patriot, who had just closed their Loop; this decorated truck was parked outside a local bar.

Alright, I suppose I could take the convertible

(Catch-up post, slightly out of sequence)

January 2019 – Since we knew we were going to be in Marathon for at least two months, we needed to go back to Cape Coral to pick up our car, where we’d staged it before Christmas with friends. Ben had to catch the early bus (5:30!) to Key West, to get a one-way rental back to Ft Myers, since they wouldn’t do one from Marathon. They didn’t have the small SUV he had reserved, but it turned out OK.

Enterprise must have needed this car in Ft Myers more than they needed it in Key West, so we delivered it for them

We had a fun dinner out with our hosts Greg and Nancy, and the crew of Here’s To Us (our New York Harbor buddy boat), finished up at the house with a Key Lime pie we had picked up in Key Largo on our way up from Marathon.

On our way back to Marathon the next day, we took a side trip to visit Everglades City. Some cruisers do venture up through the Ten Thousand Islands area on the edge of the Everglades, to dock at the very upscale Everglades Isle RV park, or the famous Rod and Gun Lodge.

Ben talked Chantale into going on an airboat ride through the mangroves, which wound up being very different from what we imagined; this area of the Everglades is not the wide-open grassy marshland – totally different geography and ecology.

Our airboat awaits; across the river is the very up-scale Everglades Isle RV resort
‘Oh, OK, I am having a good time after all…’
Yes, we did see an alligator, but surprisingly, only one
White egret
Curious little fellows – some airboats must feed them, as they were looking for a handout
Not quite the wide-open Everglades we were expecting; keep your hands and arms inside the boat!

After our tour, we headed over to the Rod and Gun Lodge for lunch; history from their website-

Historical Everglades City dates back over 1,000 years. The Rod and Gun Club is built on the original structure of the first permanent white settler who founded Everglades City in 1864. In 1922 Barron G. Collier, a banker and railroad man, bought almost all of Southwest Florida including the Rod and Gun Club which he operated as a private club. He hosted international dignitaries and several United States presidents here.

In 1972, the Bowen family, from Michigan, bought the Club and is still operating it today. Celebrity guest, past and present include Presidents Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Hoover and Nixon. John Wayne and Ernest Hemingway visited in 1942. In 1945, while on location filming “Winds Across the Everglades” Burl Ives and Gypsy Rose Lee visited. In 1983, during filming of “Cannonball Run,” Kate Jackson, Burt Reynolds and Sally Field were visitors here. Other guests included David Carradine, Roy Clark, Mel Tillis, Eddie Arnold and Jack Nicklaus. Location filming of “ Just Cause” brought Sean Connery and the shooting of Walt Disney’s “Gone Fishing” brought Danny Glover and Joe Pesci. Peter Jennings, Phi Donahue, Marlo Thomas, and the list goes on…

https://rodandguneverglades.com/
Lots of dark wood and trophies
Decorated by a man, perhaps?

We saw a Looper boat, Shoreline Traveler, docked in Everglades City; they later came to Sombrero Marina, and it turns out that Pierre and Renee are from Sabrevois, Quebec, just above Lake Champlain on the Richelieu River. We had a good time getting to know them, and hope to cruise together in the North Country this summer.

We have continued to get a lot of use out of our bikes, even though we now have the luxury of a car parked right behind the boat, but we’ve been able to explore a little further – perhaps more on that later.

SEALs and a turtle

February 9, 2020 – We had the opportunity in early February to observe the release of a rehabilitated green sea turtle at Sombrero Beach in the Keys, along with the crews of Valentine and Shoreline Traveler (and a few hundred other onlookers!)

According to the press release by the Turtle Hospital –

Picture from Turtle Hospital website

Terri, a juvenile green sea turtle is returning to her ocean home!  Join Turtle Hospital staff, Force Blue, scientists from Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute, InWater Research Group and a very special guest, Terri (the turtle’s namesake and the donor that made the in water scientific study that rescued “Terri” happen) for a Public Sea Turtle Release this Sunday, February 9th on Sombrero Beach in Marathon.  Terri was rescued last June during the in water Florida Keys Sea Turtle Health Study off the lower Keys.  Terri was treated at the Turtle Hospital for fibropapillomatosis and anemia.  Treatment at the Turtle Hospital included a blood transfusion, tumor removal surgeries, broad spectrum antibiotics, fluids, vitamins and a healthy diet of greens and seafood.  Terri is back in good health and looking fabulous! 

After arriving in the Turtle Ambulance, and being staged under a sunshade where children were invited to get a closer look, Terri is carried down to the water’s edge.
Being lifted out of the pan
Turtle paparazzi all wanting a good shot
Making sure that she doesn’t turn sideways into the crowd
In the water and about to swim out of view

Assisting the Turtle Hospital staff (Marathon, FL – https://www.turtlehospital.org/) was a very unique veterans organization, Force Blue ( https://forceblueteam.org/ ); this non-profit retrains and redeploys former Special Operations veterans and military-trained combat divers to assist in marine conservation efforts.

A documentary (here- https://vimeo.com/357079869 ) describes how the collaboration works, and actually features Terri, the same turtle that we saw released.