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
Although the ocean gave it it's best
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
(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
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
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
(More on all of these thing in later
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
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
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
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
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
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
Mike and Angie earned their very own
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!!
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
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'.
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.
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
Turns out this was
actually really true advice.
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.
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.
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
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.
survived the mangrove swamp.
like a Hemingway novel...
Again, pardon the raindrops on the lens, it was raining...
back on WednesdaySaturday...for He's Singing My Song! Open Ocean
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.
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
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
Sloppy Joe's Bar
Hemingway's Fishing Boat
Card Sound Road
Mile Marker 0
The list covered an entire page of
Front and Back.
I was afraid that the trip would pale
in comparison to the build up our years of imagining and months of
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
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
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
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
Yes. It will kill you.
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
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.
Key Lime Sailing Clubis 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.
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?