Sunday, February 05, 2017

A Good Time Was Had By All (Except the Fish)

For me, the concept of gainful employment and living in the Florida Keys are mutually exclusive. On second thought, that holds true for me and any significant responsibility. Here it is, two weeks since my last post and this blog is about the only thing on my to do list other than making dinner and occasionally washing a load of clothes. Decadent slacker living and I'm loving it!

My brother Drew and his wife Cathie just finished up a visit. We made it to a craft show in Key West and to a restaurant a couple of times. Oh, and Drew and I got out on the double kayak. It was blast paddling along the canal and out into the open water and over to the closest mangrove hammock. Got back to the home dock without incident and then tipped over the kayak trying to get out of it. Turned out to be a fortuitous event as it got me into the canal and ever since I've been swimming daily. Before that, I'd stayed out of the water based on the neighbors telling me it was way too cold and Billy envisioning shark attacks. It isn't often I find myself grinning ear-to-ear, but swimming in the canal is one of those times.

Bill and Drew had an excellent fishing trip one morning just dropping a line off the closest bridge. Well, more than drop a line; it's important to acknowledge their mastery of the sport. The catch speaks for itself.

That night we had a feast. I cooked and served a pair of each species (grunt, snapper, sheepshead, pork fish, hog fish) so we could do a side by side comparison and finished the taste test with fillets of the hog fish that Drew caught. It is purported to be the best eating ever and we agreed.

The motto of the Keys Police Department

 YUUGE Cruise Ship

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

On the Water -- Finally

We caught a good day! First one without winds too high to allow boating. Billy's sailing kayak went in yesterday and today we took out the tandem kayak.

Tomorrow, if the weather holds, he'll be going out fishing with the neighbors on the "big boat." In the meantime, he's been getting his gear ready, building a bait trap, and doing some fishing from the dock.

Me, I'm being a slacker and I love it. Not enough time in the day to take pictures, paint, read, cook, eat, eat some more, and oh, yeah, have some snacks. . . and of course, get in some exercise like walking or bike riding.

I've taken up John Cipriani's slogan -- don't pinch me because I don't want to wake up!

Here's the sailing kayak. Next time I'll get a picture with the captain at the helm.

Rather than spend money on a "store bought" trap for bait fish, Billy made his own. If he'd had a mentor, he would definitely have been and Eagle Scout.

Here's the "first fish" worth keeping -- he got it fishing from the seawall behind the house. It is a blue striped grunt. Very good eating.

As noted, reading is a primary activity for me and I found the perfect outdoor place to do it -- a seat hammock partially hidden by some palms. The neighbor's house, to which it is close, are seldom here so it is a nice hide out for now.

Check out these iguanas sunning themselves on the seawalls.

Views from kayak while paddling the canals. The second one is approaching the house in which we are staying. You can see what a major boat they have hanging in the davit.

Until next post, all the best to everyone.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Exploring Bahia Honda

The three of us set off for a morning hike on the nature trail that runs through one end of Bahia Honda State Park. There's a detailed note at the end of this post that gives you the history of this place.

Information markers on the trail identify the various plants found there and then comes the beautiful beach, the longest natural sand beach in the Keys. I plan to spend the day here at least a couple of times before we leave -- it is never very crowded because high tide completely covers the beach and what is exposed by low tide is mostly given over to wrack. Still, I found a couple of little areas that seem to stay dry and would work as a reading nook.

We pretended not to see the "no dogs on beach" sign and off we went. Elvis hates the water. He can do an impressive vertical jump when the wave rolls in over his feet. Then there were his sideways jumps . . . One of those got him trouble when he landed in a patch of nasty sticker burrs.

Fortunately he missed stepping on any of the beached Portuguese Man 'O War. Here's the skinny on this being:
The Portuguese man o’ war, (Physalia physalis) is often called a jellyfish, but is actually a species of siphonophore, a group of animals that are closely related to jellyfish. A siphonophore is unusual in that it is comprised of a colony of specialized, genetically identical individuals called zooids — clones — with various forms and functions, all working together as one. Each of the four specialized parts of a man o’ war is responsible for a specific task, such as floating, capturing prey, feeding, and reproduction. Found mostly in tropical and subtropical seas, men o' war are propelled by winds and ocean currents alone, and sometimes float in legions of 1,000 or more! 
Resembling an 18th-century Portuguese warship under full sail, the man o’ war is recognized by its balloon-like float, which may be blue, violet, or pink and rises up to six inches above the waterline. Lurking below the float are long strands of tentacles and polyps that grow to an average of 30 feet and may extend by as much as 100 feet. The tentacles contain stinging nematocysts, microscopic capsules loaded with coiled, barbed tubes that deliver venom capable of paralyzing and killing small fish and crustaceans. While the man o’ war’s sting is rarely deadly to people, it packs a painful punch and causes welts on exposed skin.
Beachcombers be warned: The stalwart man o’ war may still sting you even weeks after having washed ashore. 
This guy got a mild dose -- OUCH!

On the other end of the key is a climb that takes you to the abandoned railroad bridge and the great views available from its elevation. Turns out the UV filter fell off my lens on the walk up and by happy chance was found by a couple who recognized what it was and went looking for someone with a long lens camera -- that would be me standing on the side of the bridge rail. Nice folks from Connecticut. They asked me to use their iPhone to get some pictures of the two of them. I kept pressing the wrong white button but finally figured it out.

A selection of photos from the day follows, as does a Park Service note detailing the history of Bahia Honda Key.

 Another plant to avoid. Lots of this on the island.

Then there's the Silver Palm -- it is an endangered palm and more of them are on Bahia Honda than anywhere else. I learned that a growth of palms is called a "hammock." Also learned that the coconut palm that is seen everywhere is the Keys and southern Florida is considered an invasive species, not indigenous to the area.

There are many stories of how the coconut palm arrived here. Here's one:
The wreck of the Spanish brigatine Providencia spilled 20,000 Coconuts harvested from Trinidad on the beach at present day Palm Beach on Jan. 9,1878. It was a 175 ton square rigged brig bound from Havana to Cadiz,Spain. Interestingly, all accounts suggest the weather was perfect and that the Captain and crew intentionally wrecked to collect insurance proceeds.
Beyond the Coconuts, legend has it that the ship was well provisioned with wine and other liquors. A beach party between the ragged settlers and the crew lasted two weeks.
After the party, the settlers planted these Coconuts throughout the island. The pioneers first decided to incorporate under the name of Palm City because of the incredible number of flourishing Coconuts. They found that name to already be taken so they went with their second choice, Palm Beach.
Sometime before 1893,Henry Flagler became enamored with the Island and it's multitude of Coconut palms. He began buying land and extending the railroad. But for the Coconuts, it is likely the Breaker's and other properties would not have been built by Flagler.
Is the Coconut native to Florida? When does anything become native to any place? It is certainly "naturalized".
Bill has been harvesting the coconuts on the trees in our front and back yard. He uses the coconut milk to reconstitute his orange juice and to mix with his lemonade. Then, if it is a young coconut, he eats the meat with a spoon.

We enjoyed our day and hope you enjoyed this post.

Here is the note from the Florida State Park Service that gives you an overview of the history of this park.

Bahia Honda Key's deep natural bay has long been a harbor for passing sailors. The island's name, Spanish for "deep bay," began showing up on Spanish nautical charts hundreds of years ago.
Henry Flagler’s Key West Extension of the Florida East Coast Railway arrived on the island in 1908. Of the 43 bridges needed to link mainland Florida to Key West, the Bahia Honda Bridge was one of the most difficult to construct due to the island’s namesake, which becomes a swiftly rushing channel with each change of the tides. Because of the depth of the water, the pilings to support the bridge required a massive amount of material. It took an entire boat load of sand, gravel and cement to construct one of the pilings in the center of the bridge. The railroad officially opened on January 22, 1912 and often stopped on Bahia Honda to allow passengers to enjoy the white sand beaches and picturesque blue water.
Unfortunately, Henry Flagler’s dream came to an abrupt end on Labor Day, Monday, September 2, 1935. A Category 5 hurricane, simply called the Labor Day Hurricane (the National Hurricane Service did not start naming storms until 1953), struck the Upper Florida Keys, directly hitting Islamorada with 200 mile an hour winds and a 17-foot storm surge. Miles of train track were destroyed, and the current owners of the Overseas Railroad decided to sell the Railroad and its right-of-way to the state of Florida.
Instead of repairing the train tracks, the railroad bed was covered with asphalt and converted into the Overseas Highway. The bridges were widened to accommodate two lanes of automobile traffic, but because of the narrow opening between the steel beams of the Bahia Honda Bridge, the decision was made to lay the concrete slab for cars to drive on top of the bridge instead of through it. It is a common misconception that the Bahia Honda Bridge was used by trains and cars at the same time.
The Overseas Highway opened on March 29, 1938. Originally a toll road, the Overseas Road and Toll Bridge District maintained part of the island as a public park. A gas station stood in what is now the marina area today. The park was signed over to Monroe County sometime between 1953 and 1957 and in 1961, Monroe County gave the Florida Park Service control of the park on Bahia Honda. At this time, most of the island was still owned by Monroe County and private landowners and in 1963 the County deeded an additional 63 acres to the Florida Park Service. In 1966, the state purchased 200 additional acres on the island from Monroe County to bring the park size to 292 acres, and on March 17, 1984, a private landowner sold their property at the east end of Bahia Honda to the state, bringing the entire island of Bahia Honda under the ownership of the Florida Park Service.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Relaxing Hiatus

High winds have kept us on shore so no adventures to report. Some walks, some bike rides, harvesting coconuts for the water, reading, and fishing preparation so we are ready whenever the opportunity presents.

The bridge fishermen catch some interesting ones from time to time. Here's a parrot fish. Must be released.

Billy and Elvis on the Gulf side.

Mr. Pelican

Monday, January 09, 2017

Social Nexus of the Neighborhood.

Sound like us? NOT. Yet, that is how this house is viewed by the surrounding neighbors.

The rental agent, Jim, texted that the owner, Ray, was coming down and how about we "open the bar" for a party so we could meet him and the neighbors who all looked forward to gathering at their neighborhood watering hole. OK, we said, let us know when and what we need to get ready, thinking food, libations, whatever. Oh, nothing, he said. Just go about your day and it will all be taken of, you'll see, it will be real "Keys welcome."

People started showing up around 5:00. Jim just opened up the back door, came in, and announced people were here. The bar was already stocked with liquor and the guy next door makes a potent lemoncello with a grain alcohol base and he brought that. We ended up using the beer Billy bought for his canceled fishing trip and his box of wine to supplement.

Very nice people, all wise enough to stay away from political conversations if they sussed out you were on the opposite side of the spectrum from them. All the folks are used to coming and going among each others houses. I mentioned we pretty much keep to ourselves and was told oh, its different down here, you'll see.

As people took their leave, they assured us of frequent future gatherings around the neighborhood bar and impromptu visits. Oh boy...

Tough evening for a person who prefers a few people at a time and no surprise visits. I sure do miss my alcohol, although one guy told me I was all right for some one who didn't drink.

Here are some of the crew.


The weather changed over the weekend and it got cooler and very windy so still no fishing so we've continued to check out the area. We need a place to play frisbee with Elvis without risking traffic and were glad to find a road that dead ends into the Gulf and provides a view of the blimp, Fat Albert. He was grounded the day we were there due to the high winds but is usually high in the sky collecting data.