Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Fun in Key West, Florida

Kermit's Key West LimeThe thing you really need to know about key lime pie is that it is yellow and that when wrapped in dark chocolate and frozen becomes a treat that is beyond compare. There are many places to get key lime pie in Key West, but my favorite pointed out by Jack and Billie from Billie Dancer is on the corner of Elizabeth and Green streets named Kermit's Key (West) Lime Pie.

Key West, the southernmost part of the continental United States, is literally and figuratively the end of the line. Sure, you could journey out to the Dry Tortugas and the Marquesas, but you can't stay there. The contrast between the huge cruise ships along the sea wall at Key West Bight and the twenty foot live aboard boats anchored in or near mangroves is blinding, yet somehow they're all a part of the whole scene.

Duval Street, Key WestBy day, Key West is the prototypical tourist town with all the cruise ship people wandering around at extreme low speed and purchasing chotskies for all their friends at home. When night falls, however, it's a whole different scene - all the bars on Duval Street have their doors open and are packed with people listening to loud music and drinking like there's no tomorrow. It's Party Central and I've been told it lasts until near dawn.

So Key West is a town of contrasts.

Friday February 19th a new friend, Teri, arrived to spend the week with me. The theory was we'd go sailing, snorkeling, see the town, swim and kayak, and generally mess about. Of course, the weather didn't cooperate very well. This February has been, on average, 15 degrees colder than normal and has had near record setting lows. Worse, the series of lows continued to march across the Gulf of Mexico resulting in some frighteningly windy days that managed to kick up some fair seas even in the mooring field outside Garrison Bight.

So we explored town a lot, ate (a lot), spent one day sailing to Sand Key and back, and one day on the beach. Fortunately, we've met some very special people here (the aforementioned Billie and Jack), Dan and Susan from Gypsy who are waiting for a weather window to head towards the Yucatan.

Almost every night we've had a cocktail hour that was so well provisioned that dinner never got made or eaten. Lunch when in town has been almost universally good - Jack and Billie have eaten in a lot of places and know where to go for the best stuffed shrimp or good Mexican food. While in town my first day I found DJ's Clam Shack on Duval where they had fried Ipswich clams. I couldn't resist. They definitely hit my clam buttons!

Old Town Mexican CafeAlso, Teri and I had lunch at a small Mexican restaurant, Old Town Mexican Cafe, on Duval where the quesadillas are excellent and they make a black been chimichanga that is superb. I may have to have another before I leave!

Mile Marker 0 and A&B Lobster HouseWe've also eaten at the ground floor restaurant at A&B Marina (under the A&B Lobster House) called Alonzo's on Front Street or near by it. Conch Republic next door has amazing stuffed shrimp, but the drinks are outrageously expensive. Drink iced tea.

We've come to the conclusion that no matter where you eat in the main part of town you'll get a good meal - the competition is too great for a crappy restaurant to remain. Well, maybe the Hard Rock Cafe, Sloppy Joes, and Hogsbreath Saloon could get away with it (I don't know because we didn't go there) because they're tourist icons. I can't say. But any of the other restaurants and all we went to were good, if some more expensive than they need to be.

Once out of town, say east of Garrison Bight, Key West becomes much more Florida like with malls and hotels and so forth. Unless you want to provision there isn't really a reason to see that part. If you're staying in the Garrison Bight City Marina or on one of their moorings you'll be able to walk to Winn Dixie and a large liquor store.

Everywhere you can rent bicycles, scooters, or electric cars. They can be very reasonable, sometimes as low as $25/day for a scooter. When you rent them, you're not allowed off Key West. However, even without those means of transport, it's easy to get around just by walking.

Stock Island, just to the east, has a really good restaurant, Hurricane Joe's in the Hurricane Hole Marina. Teri and I went there the day she arrived, as traveling with American Airlines where they sent her baggage to Bermuda, required good food and strong drink.

Apparently, American has decided that for your $20 for a checked bag it should get more miles than you do. American has shown such extraordinary incompetence that I, personally, will not fly them unless there's no other choice. Teri told me the flight had snacks - $3.50 for a bag of potato chips (you know the ones that are $.50 everywhere else?) But I digress. Also, I prepare you for another American Airlines story towards the end of this.

Anyway, we had the two specials and both were great. It was a bit too chilly to eat outside.

Jack, Billie, Teri, and I had decided to go to the No Name Pub on Big Pine Key, but U.S. 1 was backed up with no movement just past Boca Chica. So we turned around and went to the Hogfish Bar and Grill on Stock Island for the Hogfish Sandwich. It was excellent! The day was warm and comfortable and the company great!

Billie Dancer under sailThe next day was warm with east winds so nothing would do but Billie Dancer and we went sailing to Sand Key with the idea that we'd pick up a mooring and snorkel. NOAA promised warm breezes and sunny weather and a perfect day on the water. We had planned to go to Boca Grande to anchor for the evening in the little channel/anchorage there.

Pelican under full sailAfter sailing off the mooring, we headed up around Fleming Key for a southerly course to Sand Key. Going past the historic seaport of Key West turned into a photo op for both boats. We got loads of pictures under sail. Very nice.

Sand Key LightSo, we got to Sand Key (see picture of light) and the weather turned nasty - cloudy, colder, with wind increasing and the beach at Sand Key totally under water so we decided to go back to the moorings. It turned out to be a very prudent decision as unforecast thunderstorms passed by. So much for NOAA.

I include this little video for your viewing satisfaction...

That evening we had cocktail hour aboard Billie Dancer and generally had a great time.

As I mentioned before, cocktail hour almost every evening was quite entertaining. Billie and Jack taught us a card game called 'Shithead' which is great fun. We've spent several evenings playing it. With wine, it gets even better.

One day we all went to the beach at Fort Zachary Taylor. Billie, Me, Teri, Billie and Jack at Ft. Zachary Taylor BeachJack, and Teri rode bicycles and I took my scooter (kick type, a Xootr - which I highly recommend. On flat terrain like sidewalks and streets it's an amazing way to get around and almost always garners smiles from other adults. Not so much in Key West because strange is expected. But I digress.)

The beach is sort of rough coral - there's sand for laying about but you need foot protection to go in the water. The beach is the last piece of land on Key West. You go south from there and you're in Cuba 90 miles later. Go southwest and you're in the Yucatan 300 or so miles later. Go west and you hit the Dry Tortugas, and after that you're headed for the Texas/Mexico border.

Teri and Bob at the southernmost point, Key West, FLAs Teri's time here grew shorter we decided to take a nice day and tour Key West to get some prototypical tourist pictures. Also, to eat something somewhere that we hadn't eaten yet. I mean, there's just so many places to eat! We ended up at Alonzo's again because of the mojitos and then did our picture thing - mostly to get the monument at the end of Whitehead, the southernmost point on the continental United States.

Susan, Dan, Teri, Billie and Jack at dinnerOne evening the whole group of us (Billie Dancer, Gypsy, and Pelican) went to dinner in town and then to the Red Barn Theater to see a one woman show, "Shirley Valentine" performed by Joan O'Dowd as Shirley. It was amazing (I think anyone who can memorize 90 minutes of monologue is astounding. I think anyone who can remember two minutes incredible, though, so for me the bar is set really low. But I digress again.) The theater is small but comfortable and I highly recommend a trip there if you're here in Key West for any length of time.

Sadly, Teri's time here came to an end. Fortunately American Airlines couldn't get themselves together to get an airplane here on the day they were supposed to (Sunday) and didn't fly out on Monday at all, so Teri got to stay here for an extra day. Woohoo! But even then, she had to go home so we bid farewell on Tuesday morning and that was that. She'll be rejoining me in Tampa later this month.

The weather has turned colder but will start warming up Sunday. I plan to leave for Little Shark River on Monday morning. I may anchor out overnight near the East Jetty on the Northwest Channel out of Key West so that I have a bright and early start Tuesday morning. The winds are supposed to be out of the east then southeast making the trip a close to beam reach with relatively little fetch. I'm excited about taking a couple of days anchored in Little Shark River in the Everglades...

So that's about that. Key West is a great place to visit and it can be a great place to live, too, if you anchor somewhere. Real estate is out of this world expensive and food tends to be a little more expensive than the mainland.

See you on the water!


Bob said...

Hi Bob,
Don't forget to go to Cabbage Key now that you are close to there. It is the experience of a lifetime.

Glad to see you are moving along!

john/paula said...

bob, billie and i are now followers. we think of you often and hope we can reconnect next year. we're planning to cross to the west coast this january and trace your steps back to key west. i'm reading your post on your trip to indiantown. we're starting later so we can have xmas here and extend our sailing soon...scratchy jack and billie.....

Cap't Bob said...

Hi Scratchy Jack and Billie! Good to hear from you - if you've any questions at all, don't hesitate to ask! I'm there for ya! With north winds this winter you'll have a spectacular sail south to Key West - lots of fun!