The Cruising Adventures of Joan & Ben Schuetz aboard
Part 38: The last bit of open water
Wednesday, 21 June 2000
After resting up a full day at the Tortugas, we stayed another two days to enjoy the place. Since the Fort plays an important role in our novel, “No Langosta Rocas”, we had to make sure that all the information in the book matched reality. Most did, but some things were a little different. Those differences will actually help make it a better story.
The afternoon of the second day was kind of dragging by. The whole of the Tortugas is a wildlife preserve and there is no fishing. We had heard that diving was good there, but the water was stirred up and kind of murky. There wasn't anything else on the agenda though so we took the dink over to a nearby reef to see if it was diveable. It was just a little patch of reef, maybe two acres large and never more than 10 feet deep. It promised to be pretty boring. Still, we needed the exercise. Wow, what a surprise. The visibility wasn't very good, maybe 25 feet, but the sights were special. There were hundreds of thousands of fish. In places they were so thick that they masked the reef. The schools were mostly yellowtail snapper, gray snapper, schoolmasters, and surgeonfish. Then, just off the main reef structure, there were quite a few 5 to 20 lb. grouper, hogfish and an occasional red snapper. I don't think we have ever seen such a profusion of fish.
Joan and I circumnavigated the reef patch and were just poking around some lesser heads when a huge shark swam right by us, very, very close. At first I only saw it from behind its pectorals and couldn't immediately identify it. Joan and I looked at each other and both our eyes were as big as saucers. Then the big fellow made a slight turn and we could both see that it was a nurse shark. It was pretty obvious that it was used to snorkelers and the big guy paid little, if any, attention to us. A few minutes later, a five foot tarpon swam by within a few feet and allowed us to follow it closely for a while. What a nice plus for this visit.
The weather looked good for an early Monday morning, June 19th, departure from the Tortugas. So at about 5:30 AM we made the circuit from the northwest side of Garden Key back around to the south and then headed for Key West. The seas were calm. Really-, can you imagine, calm. Our stores of fish fillets were getting slim so when we got to deep water I put out a couple of fishing lines. In less than an hour we had a double hookup of 20 to 25 lb. Tuna. A little later a large Spanish mackerel and then a modest sized dolphin. We stopped fishing around 10:30 AM. Freezer's stocked again.
Arriving at Key West around 4:00 PM, we tied up at A&B Marina. Nice place, one of the lower priced spreads, but still $2.00 a foot. Check-in was a lead pipe cinch. Immigration and Agriculture Department officials came to the boat and we called in to Customs. All done by 5:00 PM and again it was nice to deal with professionals. That night, there was a dock party with the adjacent boats. Of course everyone loved Maggie and couldn't resist feeding her. Oh Maggie's stomach, Oh my head.
Yesterday, we made the 45 mile trip from Key West to Marathon's Boot Key Harbor. It was Tuesday and we remembered that it was special night at Upper Crust Pizza. So our early evening plans were set. On arrival, Boot Key Harbor looked drearier than we have ever seen it. Sunk boats all around. The new commission that has been formed to deal with the harbor issues has its hands full. We heard that they were going to put in moorings and charge an excessive fee, but the good folks at Upper Crust said not to worry, they didn't want to run off the cruisers, just clean up the derelicts. By the way, the best pizza in the world can still be found at Upper Crust.
Later in the evening, we went over to the cruisers haunt, Dockside Lounge. Joe Mama was there and we talked for a while. He's everyone's favorite entertainer and does mostly folk, oldies and blues on Thursdays there at Dockside. The man absolutely drips with talent and experience. He then surprised me twice. First, I said that I would really like to hear him play and sing a song written and sung years and years ago by a woman in Appalachia, I couldn't remember her name, but the song was “Freight Train”. I thought that he could put character into the song as few could. He said, “oh yeah, that was Alma May - - - and I knew her. She lived near the Seeger's and thought it would be fun to play and sing. She got a guitar, and not knowing any better, strung it up and tuned it backwards.” He said it was hard to make his picking sound like hers, but that he would do “Freight Train” for us Thursday night. I doubt there are 10 people in the Keys that ever heard “Freight Train”. Before we leave Boot Key, I've just got to know more about his Appalachian experiences.
The second surprise came when we were talking with Joe about our trip. We told him about the Sea Lion tragedy and he said that he had lost a friend in the Bahamas in a similar kind of incident years ago. He said that while it was of course a personal loss, he also got something positive from it. Kind of a gift to the heart. It was just the way I had been feeling, but couldn't describe it.
Today, we will do some shopping. Joan is eager to visit a real super market again, get a haircut and walk Maggie on real sidewalks. I need a few supplies myself.
Joan, Ben & Maggie