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.

Friday, January 06, 2017

Traveling on Shank's Mare

The need to pay a bill by mail and to get some exercise was the catalyst for a walk to the post office in Summerland Key, nearly four miles one way.

We can do this, we said. Elvis didn't object so off we went with some bottles of water, a camera, and the payment envelope.

Getting there was good; getting home, another story. With two miles left before we got back home, I was ready to hitchhike. The pain in shoulders, back and toes reminded me of the nun who told me to forego Novocain at the dentist's office and "offer up the pain to Jesus." Even at that young age, I though the idea nonsensical. Me, I like to avoid pain. My only choice in this event was to ignore it and think about how wonderful it  be to was going to be to get in the shower and then lay down. Billy and Elvis set the pace and we made it -- 3 1/2 hours round trip. Glad we did.

Today we hit the road again, this time heading south and for less than half of yesterday's distance. Less energy today.

All that exercise justified a restaurant dinner and it was a very good one. Just up the road, north, is the Square Grouper, so named for the square bales of marine life that used to be hauled up with regularity around here. Their lounge happy hour starts at 4:20 p.m. If Jeff Sessions, Trump's nominee for AG, gets his way, this place may be in trouble.

Below are some the sights from along the way.

Our neighbors across the way have a banana tree that is living up to its name. We've been told these will be excellent eating bananas, superior to those we buy at the market.

Note the flower on the long stalk.

Couldn't pass up this little guy. There are also large iguanas that lounge in the mangrove trees by the canal in the back of the house. No pictures yet, stay tuned.

Without the penguins, fish cleaning stations would have to find a new way to dispose of all the "trimmings" (to use a euphemism). They get into full combat mode during feeding times.

The tangled up stuff you see is fishing tackle that has been caught in the electric lines. Every year, all the lines are cleared and the tackle is donated to the Boy Scout troop in the area to be salvaged for resale. Fishing enthusiasts can lose a setup due to overenthusiastic casting (marks you as an amateur) or when a tarpon takes the bait and runs out all your line.

Here's a native Floridian we met while walking across the fishing bridge south of us. He had lots of stories and never stopped talking. Said he worked in film production for movies and television productions including "Breaking Bad" and "NCIS Miami." He shared lots of insider fishing tips, none of which I remember. Maybe Billy can recall some of them when we get the chance to wet a line.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Seafood the Easy Way

The fishing trip Billy was scheduled to take with the neighbors got cancelled so we decided to find a seafood market that did its own fishing or bought off the boats of local fishermen. We knew we had gotten great shrimp at a place north of Marathon so off we went. We took advantage of the great special they had posted on the cooler. : - )

We had shrimp broiled with garlic, olive oil, and pepper. Outstanding. The fresh seafood here is the best -- one of my favorite parts of these trips. Next trip we'll get the lobster claws. And, we hope to catch some fish ourselves. Maybe tomorrow we'll go out on the head boat up in Marathon.

Our neighbors are a very social group and gather at the home of one of them about every night. From what we've been told, the house we are renting is the usual gathering place so I guess we've put a spanner in the works. Bill has made one visit and declined another the following night. Me, I'm keeping my head down. Socializing with people I don't know is at the bottom of my list -- too nerve racking.

Monday, January 02, 2017

Back to the Keys -- 2017

Definitely a snowbird visit this time - we'll be here for two months. Our digs are on Cudjoe Key, about thirty miles south of Marathon, our location last year. The place is much more comfortable with the trade off being all the neighbors hang out at each others houses, including this one.  We've met a number of them and they all describe the place we are staying as the center of recreational activity. Top activities, maybe the only ones, are fishing and drinking, separately and simultaneously, as circumstances permit.

We took a walk this afternoon to see the area and the pictures show a couple of landscape items, the froot of our house, and some views of the canal side. The owner's boat is too big to capture with my point and shoot lens but will try to get it with the Nikon.