Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas!

It's finally here...that long anticipated, over commercialized, tear-jerk advertising/movie inspiring, sappy song performing, emotionally charged, food laden, family and friend gathering time of year.
And despite all the craziness - the cooking and shopping and wrapping and worrying and traveling and stressing with a side of guilt... the day arrives.
It arrived quietly and, if you allow it, the day arrives with a sense of wonder and freshness and hope.

As a child, Christmas was nothing but catalogue lists, school and church programs and one long sleepless night.
As a young adult the excitement shifted to gifts given and received, the thrill of hosting for the first time.
When our own children arrived Christmas took in an entirely new glow, enhanced by their discovery of lights left burning all night, surprises beyond their wildest dreams; shaped by stories told and read through the generations.
Times are different now. The celebration is full of adults. The excitement is slow building, blocked by work and worries for the health of family and friends, tempered by the weight of all that is wrong with our world.
Yet here it is. Christmas Day.
I have been up since before those first rays of sun, tempered today by overcast skies and ridiculous 50 degree weather. (I have a strict - 28 degrees with gentle snow from December 3 through January 2 at which point the temps may once again hover around 70. So far, no one else has subscribed to this philosophy. At least no one who has control over the weather...)
We had our traditional breakfast of sugar bacon, cream cheese eggs and fruit. 

Because, healthy! 
Gifts have been opened, cat puke cleaned up and appetizers ready for the next round of family and I find myself with a few minutes to send out this holiday greeting.
Thank you all for supporting this little blog. Updates have been a little sketchy of late but fear not - the coming new year has several ideas already on the calendar. In fact, later this week I will be posting my first actual sponsored post!!
I hope this finds each of you warm and content, surrounded by family and friends and non-vomitus pets. Whether you celebrate Christmas or Hanukah or just enjoy a nice afternoon, I want to share with you  a favorite quote from a favorite holiday movie - Scrooged:
I get it now! Then if you GIVE, then it can happen, then the miracle can happen to you! It's not just the poor and the hungry, it's everybody's who's GOT to have this miracle! And it can happen tonight for all of you. If you believe in this spirit thing, the miracle will happen and then you'll want it to happen again tomorrow. You won't be one of these bastards who says 'Christmas is once a year and it's a fraud', it's NOT! It can happen every day, you've just got to want that feeling. And if you like it and you want it, you'll get greedy for it! You'll want it every day of your life and it can happen to you. I believe in it now! I believe it's going to happen to me now! I'm ready for it! And it's great! It's a good feeling, it's really better than I've felt in a long time. I, I, I'm ready. Have a Merry Christmas, everybody.

Merry Christmas from my coast to yours!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Bloodline! Giant Lobster! And SO MUCH MORE!

Hope everyone has survived the Turkey Coma!
We had a lovely Thanksgiving here on the Coast of Illinois.Thanks to all the merriment, I have once again fallen behind with my blogging duties.

So now, it's time to return to the road trip that was our visit to the Florida Keys!

When I told people we were heading to the Keys, the assumption was Key West. Yes. Our plan was to visit that iconic town, but the Florida Keys are so much more than the Southernmost Party town.

 Rob and I were on the Bogart/Hemingway tour. Key Largo is a treasure trove of stops along that route. Just drive down US 1:

The inspiration for the movie Key Largo.

Meeting Bogie. He was a little...aloof...   

 We stopped at the Caribbean Club one evening for dinner and were greeted by a rockin' live band and a whole lot of people drinking bottled beer. Not a surprise, but still not sure they actually serve food there. There are a few tables, a large bar and plenty of room for dancing or fighting. Out back are some great picnic tables with a beautiful view of Buttonwood Sound. We posed with Bogie, wandered around a bit then switched dinner plans to the Fish House where I had a glorious plate of Stone Crab Claws. Possibly the best crab I have ever eaten. Sorry, no pics. I was too hungry and delirious to take one.
A little farther down Overseas Highway sits a Holiday Inn and this marvel:

Yup. This is the REAL boat from the movie African Queen. We weren't sure our travel buddies were interested in visiting the boat so we stopped by one afternoon. When we returned to Key Lime Sailing Club and checked in the movie African Queen was showing on the television. The four of us flopped on the couch and watched Katherine Hepburn and Bogie fight off leeches and Nazis, I pulled out my Kate impersonation (one of three I can do...sort of...) and the next morning we returned to check out the boat again.

The boiler, complete with the broken valve.
Rob and the Captain - who just happened to be from my hometown area!-  in a serious discussion of our life choices.

while standing on the dock we spotted this nurse shark swimming among the brightly colored tropical fish

he had a couple of buddies with him...
We were lucky enough on our first visit to catch the current Captain of the Queen. He gave us some history of the boat and filled us in on the actual technical workings. The boat was not just a movie set - it was an actual boat in Africa. She still has her steam engine, which is fired up on excursions, although the engine at present doesn't completely power her. There are always certain sites that touch a person more than others. I had no idea how much seeing this boat meant to my husband, as it turns out, it was one of his Mom's favorite movies. We learned that the Captain's Mom was most proud of him when she found out he was captain of this boat!

Angie, one of our travel buddies, had done a little research of her own and turns out that the Netflix series Bloodline has used numerous spots throughout the Keys in the filming of the show. (If you haven't seen the show - it is a MUST.) Our trip actually started as we left Alabama Jack's with a search for Danny's bus stop. The bus stop eluded us for our entire trip, although it did become a running joke with Rob threatening to stop and photograph EVERY bus stop we passed.
One of the things we noticed most about all the sites along the Keys - there was very little hoopla about the various businesses being used in the show.
The Caribbean Club has been used in a few of the bar scenes.
Our favorite breakfast spot - Mrs. Mac's - is in several scenes.
We stopped at Robbie's Marina in Islamorada - used as Kevin's boatyard - only to find a tiny sign stating such. Of course, Robbie's offers some cool views of the sound, a chance to feed giant tarpons and a fun flea market.
I caught this guy chilling off the boat dock.

This guy was catching some rays...and some bugs...and a small child or two...

Pelicans just fascinate me.

We were surprised to see a couple of bald eagles. Seems they too appreciate a visit to the Keys.

We finally hit the Bloodline Motherlode with The Moorings.
This exclusive, luxury resort is the inspiration for the Rayburn House. It took a little adventuring to find the location, even with GPS. The Moorings likes its privacy, to the tune of a private drive on approach. But this was vacation, so we parked on the street and walked down the drive, trying our best to look like we belonged.
Even their Banyon tree was beautiful!

We were rewarded with a stunning view of the beach - I swear, the sun shone brighter, the sand and water glimmered more shimmery and everything had a pinkish glow. There may have even been a heavenly choir as we broke through the trees and the security guard's grasp to see this: 
She's not a bad person, she just did a slightly tresspassy thing...

Actually, the security folks could not have been nicer. Visitors are allowed to walk a tiny slice of the beach, but no pictures of the main house or other lodgings are allowed. It is now a dream to actually stay for a night in one of these beautiful spots.

Islamorada is only about a twenty minute drive from Key Largo. A very scenic twenty minutes - beautiful views of both the Gulf side and the Atlantic side of the islands and this:
you should see the pot of melted butter....
The world's largest lobster...artist rendering...This magnificent creature - Betsy- signals a fantastic flea market The Rain Barrel Sculpture Gallery. We spent an easy afternoon shopping at the various artists shops and I had my first cafe con leche from a very politically minded-all inclusive coffee stand.
Who knew political consciousness was so sweet!!

On our way back to Key Largo we made a stop at the Hurricane Memorial. A sobering stop, but if you want to experience a location, sometimes you must see the bad as well as the good.
A huge portion of Keys history revolves around the 1930's railroad built to connect the mainland with all of the Keys. In 1935, one of the worst hurricane's in Keys history hit killing hundreds of railway workers - many WW1 veterans. The memorial was built in 1937, commemorating the devastation. It is an eloquent, thoughtful tribute to those who perished. Many of whom are interred in the crypt covered with beautiful tiles in the front of the memorial.
the monument

the crypt

a tiny alter on the main structure.

 If you visit Islamorda, keep your eyes peeled for the historic marker and take the time to visit and reflect on some of the events which resulted in our ability to enjoy this wonderful part of the world.

I don't want to diminish the seriousness of that last site, but I also hate to end on such a somber note. So I will leave you with these last pictures of some of the more silly sites along US 1.
like the sharks and gators aren't enough. even some of the trees in Florida want to kill you...

recognize this gem? it sat out front of our home in Key Largo - the Key Lime Sailing Club. as it turns out, this mystery...thing was the actual spaceship/escape boat from the James Bond movie Octopussy! The guys are sincerely hoping it gets restored to its floating/flying/bond girl glory

brussel sprout chips. yes. you read that right. they were DELISH!

 And finally, this guy. Yes, that's a dog. Sitting at the bar. His name is Barnacle and he is a regular. We saw him sitting at the bar at Snooks in Key Largo. After dining on some amazing gourmet food, I can completely understand why.
"I don't know Madge. I don't think he is ever going to leave his wife for you..."

Come back next week as we head over the 7 Mile Bridge to one of my biggest adventures yet...

Friday, November 18, 2016

Gobble Gobble

I interrupt the previous plan of more Florida Keys Exploits to wish everyone- no matter where-a very Happy Thanksgiving!! 
Take a moment or two to reflect on those people you have in your life and keep them close. Enjoy what you have and help out someone who might need a boost! 
From the Coast of Illinois to your particular harbor: 
Happy Thanksgiving!!

Come back this weekend when Coast of Illinois returns to the Florida Keys: the Bloodline tour!!

Open Ocean Sailing...that's right. Open Ocean!

Today I present you with the Sailing portion of our Lost Shaker of Salt tour.
It should be noted that, while the ocean and I have a...gastronomically distressing...relationship, where as I love nearly every edible creature which comes from it's briny depths, the ocean loves to make me throw up.
There is NO throwing up in this installment.
Although the ocean gave it it's best shot.

You should also know a little bit about sailboats. The underside of a sailboat – which looks sort of like a fin – is the keel. The keel helps stabilize the boat and keeps the boat from sliding sideways in rough waves and heavy winds. There are several types of keels. Our little boat has an adjustable keel, which means we can pull it up or push it down as we need. Some boats have fixed keels, which means if you get into water that is too shallow you run the risk of ripping the keel right off the boat. This is not good. Our boat at Key Lime had a swing keel. This allows you to adjust how far down the keel is, either by using the crank or hitting the bottom causing the keel to make a terrible scratchy, sandy sound.
Not that this happened to us.
It's just something I heard.

Now we may continue with the good part of this story. But keep all this keel talk in the back of your head. It is very important.
Our boat - the Talofa, which in Samoan sort of means 'I give my love freely to you'...
Key Lime Sailing Club is situated on Buttonwood Sound which is on the west side of the Key Largo – the east side being the Atlantic Ocean. Several other islands, or Keys (Cay in Spanish), form a semi-circle surrounding the sound. This offers guests several options for nice, relaxing day sails.
Naturally, there was little relaxing when WE took to the ocean.

Tuesday dawned brightly with sunny skies dotted with billowing clouds. And a small craft warning as winds were 15-25mph. But the status board said, Have a Good Sail, just be careful.
Itching to take to the sea, we loaded up our bags with sunscreen and water and pretzels, setting our sites on Porjoe Key, a easily visible landmass about 3 nautical miles from shore.
(I do not know how a nautical mile corresponds to a highway mile except to say that there are no rest areas on a nautical mile. If you must 'rest' we were outfitted with a large bucket, plastic bags and a roll of paper towels. There was an unspoken understanding among the four of us that WHOEVER uses the bucket last must empty the bucket. No one used the bucket.)

Here is an interesting fact – the water surrounding the Keys is surprisingly shallow. Buttonwood Sound averages anywhere from 5 to 7 feet deep at its shallowest, with a couple of areas only 3-4 feet deep.
This explains why there were so many shipwrecks in days of yore.
It was requested numerous times that WE not become one of those wrecks.
Of course, the thought of a treasure hunter one hundred years from now salvaging our bounty of fizzy water cans and lip balm is still pretty hysterical.

But I digress.

In orientation we were instructed to crank the keel down as far as it would go, then give it one half crank back up to lock the chain. Once within the vicinity of Porjoe Key we were instructed to retract the keel 8 full revolutions, thus adjusting for the shallower water.

Also, about halfway toward Porjoe Key, there is a metal post with a sign notifying people that you are entering the Everglades National Park. Except the sign itself is gone. Leaving only a metal post protruding a couple feet about the water, assuming that ocean water remains smooth and waveless at all times. We were emphatically instructed to WATCH FOR THE METAL POST. The best way to avoid it was to sail towards either end of Porjoe, not directly at it.
Porjoe Key.  No deadly metal post here...
With all these instructions in mind, we happily set off, motoring through the mooring field, keel fully cranked. Once beyond the moored boats, we turned into the wind, shut down the motor and let loose the sails. Except that three of the hanks which hold the main sail into the channel on the mast had popped loose.
But our BVI instructor Toddy, had done a good job and Rob never gets into a boat without a pliers. Which miraculously worked to open the mast gate enough to re-thread the hanks.
We began to sing our sea shanties and hoist the sail again, only to have it reach halfway up the mast and stop. There was a reef point already set (this alters the size of the sail, making it more controllable in small craft advisory winds) but even taking this into account didn't allow for our new hitch.
It is here that I enjoyed my brief moment of saving the day.
As we all fumbled with various lines and rechecked for snags I pointed out that the 'boom vang' was still secured. I dramatically popped it loose and the main sail rose to its appropriate height on the mast.
(The Boom Vang is probably the most ridiculously named piece of equipment on a sailboat. However, it keeps the boom from bouncing around, thus decreasing the chance of knocking someone in the head while they are failing to pay attention to the boom while watching for an unmarked metal post in the middle of the ocean. Oh, it also helps maintain a nice sail shape allowing for better wind usage.)

While Rob manned the tiller and the main sail, we three crew members were constantly on watch for manatees, dolphins and the deadly metal post.
That first day was actually quite lovely, even with the threat of high winds. 
Captain and crew
We were out about two hours and made it back in time for lunch at the Fish House and then a rousing drive through Islamorada in search of landmarks from BLOODLINE.
(More on all of these thing in later posts.)

Wednesday looked to be an even better day for sailing, according to the status board.
The Small Craft Warning was replaced by Small Craft Advisory, with winds in the 12-22mph range.
Great Day to Sail, proclaimed the dry eraser board.
Our adventurous plans were to sail to North Nest Key, where we would anchor and have a picnic lunch and snorkel before returning triumphantly home. 
Me looking all adventurous in my #FindAdventure hat!
Of course, you have to find North Nest Key...
From a distance I simultaneously saw one extremely large key, then two separate, then one large again and finally something which resembled a plate of stone crab claws, but I was pretty hungry by then.
It was decided that we would figure it out, the closer we got to the island.
Great thought except that, due to that pesky keel thing and the shallow water depth, we were also instructed to crank the keel all the way up – so as not to RIP the bottom off the boat...or at least drag the keel in the sand making a terrible scraping sound.
So I have heard...

We were all feeling quite professional as our boat cut through the deep blue water, avoiding the mysterious metal pipe and the shallows near Porjoe Key. We ooo-ed and aaww-ed as we saw the water flow from deep blue to emerald to sea foam green. We laughed at inappropriate jokes regarding the grapes we ate as a snack. Our friend Angie took the tiller and did a spectacular job steering us towards the elusive end of North Nest Key.
See that green land mass? not North Nest Key. See that very faint suggestion of land further out? That's North Nest Key!
this does not do the water color justice

As we reached the point where we should either turn towards North Nest to anchor, the wind – being windy and all – took that Small Craft Advisory to heart and began to blow harder. Rob took over the tiller and as a group we decided to turn around and head home. Which at this point was the tallest radio tower on Key Largo.
Turning a sailboat is not the simple task one would think. You, know, with that wind and all. Because of the wind speed, we needed to turn into the wind and 'come about'. This requires gathering enough speed to keep the boat moving through the wind as the mainsail swings to the opposite side. At that point, and ONLY at that point do you pull the jib around.
I know this.
I do it often.

And this is where I lose my amazing BoomVang points.

By pulling the jib over too soon, the wind pushes the front of the boat back where it just came from and the boat loses all momentum requiring yet another run to gather speed and 'come about' again.
I will let you figure out what I did...

Anyway...after a successful second attempt we began our journey home. Angie, Mike and I acted as human ballast and moved forward and aft to help keep things in balance as the wind blew slightly harder, the waves rolled a little less gently, the water glittered a whole lot more spectacularly and those of us in the front of the boat were splashed consistently.
Rob swears he did not do it on purpose, that he was really just trying to not slide into the shallows around Nest Key. (This is when a keel is super helpful to keep the boat from sliding as the wind moves it along. Our keel was safely cranked to avoid the shallows. You know, after making that delightful, momentary, scraping noise I talked about earlier.)
'I'll get ya that shawk, head, tail, the whole damn fish....'

It was an exhilarating trip home. A trip that was rewarded as we prepared to dock between the pilings – Mike at the bow stood ready to maneuver the bow as Rob swung the boat around and essentially parallel parked at the dock – when he shouted 'MANATEE!'
Angie and I threw our ballast to the opposite side of the boat just in time to see the graceful rounded shape of a manatee glide from under our boat and out to the sound, lifting it's snout from the water to give us a welcome home snort.
Our 'we didn't die and Laura didn't puke' drinks!

We ate our picnic under the Tiki Hut.
There was much discussion of our days at sea.
Mike and Angie earned their very own sailing logs.
And Rob and I felt even more certain that we could disprove the old saying – "it is easier to make friends of sailors than sailors of friends". 

The following video is not mine. It is the 2012 video winner by WoodSong Duo for the Key Lime Sailing Club contest and features a song about the club. I heard this song and saw this video numerous times before our trip but the first time I heard it after coming home from our trip did I realize what a truly amazing place Key Lime is and what a truly wonderful time we had. It is absolutely a place we will be returning too.

Come back Wednesday for more of our adventures in the Florida Keys!!

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Orientation and Mangroves. In the Rain

I love being on vacation.
I do not love getting up early on my first day of actual vacation, but Key Lime Sailing Club really wants their sailboats to remain in one piece so on our first day in Key Largo I crawled out of bed to attend SAILBOAT ORIENTATION.

A bit of info here: Key Lime Sailing Club provides, with cabin rental and appropriate credentials-for me this included US Sailing 101 for my husband US Sailing 101 and ASA Sailing 103-104 as well as previous sailing trips on our log-, a 22 ft Catalina, swing keel sailboat. Having your own sailboat available the entire time you are staying somewhere is HUGE. Renting a sailboat can cost upwards of $300 a day and then there is no guarantee that the weather will be cooperative in the sailing of said boat. Which was dully noted as it rained our entire first day in Key Largo.

At 9am sharp, six of us met under the semi-leaking Tiki Hut. (As noted above, it was raining. Sometimes sideways...) CJ, manager of Key Lime, proceeded to go over navigational maps, keel operation, easy sails, longer sails, mangroves, a mysterious steel post somewhere in the middle of the Intercoastal Waterway, curfews, boundaries and the status board which proclaimed the weather conditions and encouraging words for each day.
The others all followed along, nodding their heads wisely. Asking questions about buoys and depths and motors. I, too, nodded along but in my head, this is what I heard:

Of course, you need to substitute 'sailing' and 'sailboat' for 'parachute' and 'airplane'.

Thirty minutes later I had a moderate understanding of how to read the fuzzy map with multiple lines and numbers and triangles on it. We left the meeting with a solid plan to kayak the mangrove swamp as the status board proclaimed RAIN-NO SAIL today.
Because somehow kayaking in a swamp in the rain was OKAY.

Two of the volunteers from Key Lime and CJ loaded our double kayaks into a monster truck and escorted three couples to a good launch point. We are pretty sure they all had bets on who would back out first and who would actually come back alive and/or still happily married.
I should note here that I have never kayaked. I have canoed, the last time in the rain, so I feel this trip was really no big deal.
Getting into the kayaks proved the most challenging task. And while providing a whole lot of laughs, no one actually fell into the water. Which was a moot point as now it was once again raining sideways. Raining so hard, in fact, that our friends kayak filled nearly to the top with water...

Anyway, single file we set off across Tarpon Basin, approximately a mile but in the rain at times endless, towards what we hoped was the mangrove swamp with the solid direction to 'cruise along the shoreline and keep a close eye for the opening. It looks just like a dead end until you get inside...' 

Turns out this was actually really true advice.
We attempted several dead ends before finally, to a chorus of heavenly soaking wet angels, found the entrance.
Mangroves are an interesting species of plant. Growing half in water and half in soil, their intricate root pattern stabilizes coastlines from erosion and provide a home to multiple species of bird, amphibians and fishes.
And gators.

While we never saw any gators, we did hear a SLAP on the water which was way too big to be a frog and way more chompy as though a large wide open mouth and smacked flatly on the surface of the water leaving a very large concentric circle looping outwards towards my fingers which were dangling over the edge of the boat.
That stopped immediately.

the dangling pieces are growing downward and anchor the mangrove plant under the water's surface

we were escorted through the swamp by these two guys

I kind of like how the raindrops add to the mysterious qualities of the landscape

Around two hours later with the rain finally giving way, all six people – still married- and three double kayaks returned to the designated spot. We dined on slightly soggy pretzels and waited for some slightly surprised guys to pick us up.

We had survived the mangrove swamp.
In the rain.

Just like a Hemingway novel...
Again, pardon the raindrops on the lens, it was raining...

Come back on Wednesday Saturday...for He's Singing My Song! Open Ocean Sailing!!

If you go:
 The kayak across Tarpon Basin is not difficult. You do need to be mindful of power boats when you cross the Intercoastal, which is marked with red triangle numbered signs. It is possible to sail to the entrance area and anchor your boat, cutting down on the distance you kayak. 
Be mindful that mangroves are protected - it is a pack in-pack out area.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Salt Shakers and Explanations

So. Here we are.
Another wild adventure behind me and a blank page before me. So many things to tell about this trip. Guess I will start at the beginning...

I don't know exactly when Bogart, Bacall, Hemingway or Buffett entered into my personal fabric. I do know – for fact or fiction – they are people whom I admire.
I suppose Peter Brady's infamous "pork chops and applesauce...that's schwell...." started the longing to see what all the Casablanca fuss was about. Truth be told, I saw Play It Again Sam long before I saw Casablanca.
Didn't matter. Loved them both. Factor in Lauren Bacall's biography, read as a teenager; the movies To Have and Have Not and Key Largo; my hopeless romanticism...

Which sort of rolls into Hemingway.
I had a passing acquaintance with him in Sophomore lit class, Ernie in a turtleneck, glaring down at us from a mass produced poster, the back cover shot from The Old Man and The Sea. I didn't actually read Hemingway until Junior year American Lit. For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Sun Also Rises, all the Nick Adams stories...I fell hard.
Not for the author, but for the image and lifestyle.
I read The Sun Also Rises every summer until I discovered The Garden Of Eden. And then I read them both, imagining myself traveling through Spain, eating fresh caught trout and drinking wine from a short stubby glass in a cool, dark bar...

Over the years, my husband and I have read and discussed nearly everything Hemingway has written. Our favorites have shifted here and there as our knowledge of his actual life has increased. But in the end it is still about living. Truly living an adventurous life.
Soundtrack by Jimmy Buffett.

It was with much literary description, cinematic glamour and trop-rock soundtrack that we decided to do our own tour of the Florida Keys. We were armed with a list of 'must see' sites:
Sloppy Joe's Bar
Hemingway's Fishing Boat
US 1
Alabama Jack's
Captain Tony's
Hemingway's House
Mallory Square
Card Sound Road
Mile Marker 0
The list covered an entire page of notepaper.
Front and Back.

I was afraid that the trip would pale in comparison to the build up our years of imagining and months of planning.

As we made the slightly illegal U-turn in our rented Honda, to catch the turn off for Card Sound Road – don't trust the I-phone GPS – my heart began to pound. And there it was:
Alabama Jack's

Described in professional travel guides as a honest to goodness dive bar, the outside did not disappoint. We walked in to a laughing, rum punch fueled welcome by the friend's who decided to meet us on this odyssey. 
Angie and Rob discuss the merits of cole slaw and conch.
They had been warned.
This was not going to be a 5-star, butler in the hallway, dressing for dinner sort of vacation.

What none of us expected was such a delicious meal. 
from the Landshark, clockwise - crab cakes, fish fingers, conch fritters, fried shrimp, boiled shrimp
A couple more rum punches and a Landshark beer later we headed out, down Card Sound Road to Key Largo and the Key Lime Sailing Club. Our home for the next five days.

Of course it is never that simple. We had heard a rumor that the bus stop from Bloodline – the one Danny leaves and returns and doesn't show up from was just down the road from Alabama Jack's.
We never found it. Although we were tempted to take a photo of every other bus stop we passed, just in case.

Driving down US 1 through Key Largo was like flipping through our list. The Caribbean Club on the right. The African Queen on the left. We watched diligently for the mailbox with the white picket fence, just after Mrs. Mac's Kitchen near mile marker 99. (After checking in at MM 108 – everything is measured by mile marker.)
The driveway was interesting. As was our welcome – by several men raptly watching another guy sitting on the ground cleaning a cannon.
Yes. Just a guy, cleaning a cannon. A pretty brass one destined to be attached to a sailboat on the other side of the island. Sadly, I didn't get a picture. I was a little distracted.
By this: 
Yes. It will kill you.    
And this: 
cue the singing angel hula girls
CJ, the right hand man to owner Paul, gave us our tour, some helpful hints for groceries and dinner and the heads up that Sailboat Orientation would begin in the morning at 9am sharp.

Still a little overwhelmed by the flight, the history, the cannon...we unpacked, swung by Winn-Dixie for supplies and concluded Day One at the Fish House where I learned just how delicious those Stone Crabs really are. 

For your viewing pleasure, a very unprofessional tour of our cabin:

Come back on Saturday for Day Two: Sailboat Orientation and Mangroves. In the Rain

If you decide to re-create any or all of this trip:
Alabama Jack's is located at 58000 Card Sound Road. It is an open air bar specializing in local seafood. While described as a 'dive bar', the place was clean and the food delish. No need to dress up. Trust me. The line of gas cans by the bathrooms pretty much sums it up.
Not kidding!
Key Lime Sailing Club is this interesting little cluster of cottages. In its previous life it was a fish camp. The ten cabins have been converted to cozy, eclectic rentals, each with BBQ grill, patio table and access to your personally assigned sailboat.
Yes. Sailboat.
No worries if you don't sail. The Club is affiliated with the American Sailing Association which means you could actually learn while you vacation.
If sailing isn't your thing your rental also includes access to kayaks, paddle boards, snorkel equipment, a hobie-cat and a sunfish sailboat.
You can find the club at 101425 Overseas Highway #922 Key Largo, Florida 33037
Call for reservations: 305-451-3438

The Fish House (10241 Overseas Highway Key Largo, Florida) and The Fish House Encore – owned by the ex of the Fish House owner – sit side by side. No reservations needed, although they are pretty busy in season. Again, no need to dress up. As stated, they serve fresh caught, local fish as well as offering chicken and beef options. But really? Why?