Conch Life in the Florida Keys
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Diana on DriftwoodRe Metau - Conch Life in the Florida KeysThe Coolest Tropicality

While still living in the somewhat middle latitudes of Florida’s west coast, Don and I took a long weekend jaunt down to the southernmost island via the Key West Express. “Why not take your boat there?” one unfamiliar with our pace might enquire. Because Key West was very, very, very far away.

To fully appreciate the geography, Key West to Miami, the closest metropolitan city in which most people are familiar, is 160 miles. The entire length of the Florida Keys  is over 100 miles long, excluding Dry Tortugas at a further 66 miles out to sea. From Clearwater, where we were living at the time, it was a 500 mile road trip; though a much shorter 260 miles away as the pelican flies.  Basically, Cuba was closer than we were.

Under sail, we averaged around 4.5 knots, which was equivalent to just over 5 miles per hour. That translated to roughly 57 hours at the helm - one way; not doable for a 3 day get-away. But once we engaged with that quirky little paradise that punctuates the continental U.S. we immediately knew that someday we would make that journey.

The winter of 2008 brought record low temperatures to the Tampa Bay area, just the migration catalyst we needed to commit to that long voyage south. Our initial intention was to leisurely pass through the archipelago while I responded to job offers on Florida's east coast. Before January elapsed, we'd dropped the hook outside of Key West Bight and immediately fell in with the ‘Anything Goes’ ethos of the islanders.

Soon, our old life back on the mainland seemed artificial, limited, dull, and distant. Then one fine vernal morning, I realized we’d anchored for the week – Two Months Ago!  In the blur of an eye, Key West had put us into a delirious coma. That brief moment of clarity prodded us to pull anchor before an entire decade imperceptibly slipped away.

We made it as far as the Middle Keys before succumbing to another bout of hypnotic immobility. For nearly two years, we lived in Marathon under the influence of the Vortex, otherwise known as a merry band of mates who pulled us into some of the most memorable escapades (and many more that I can’t recall) of our lives.

Vortex Playing Music There was an ‘end-of-the-road’ remoteness to the Florida Keys that made life upon them so vastly unique from any other area in the U.S. Having lived and played there long enough to be counted as a Conch, the best description I could apply to that tropicality would be ‘Cool’. In fact, the establishment of The Conch Republic was effected with, in my opinion, unprecedented audacity and composure – the very definition of coolness.

In 1982, a Border Patrol blockade was setup on the only land artery to and from the mainland whereupon every northbound vehicle was stopped and searched. The hardships caused to island-side residents and tourist-centric businesses were soundly ignored when a Federal injunction was dismissed, pushing the plaintiffs to protest. But they did so with a great deal of aplomb.

To the citizens of the Keys, that checkpoint essentially insinuated that the government had drawn a border between U.S. soil and foreign territory, so the mayor of Key West made it official. He declared secession from the Union and proclaimed The Conch Republic a sovereign nation!

Of course the laid-back inclinations of the new republic’s inhabitants resulted in only one minute of civil rebellion before a surrender was offered. Though their plea for 1 billion dollars in War Relief went unanswered, the publicity succeeded in getting the roadblock removed.

This sort of rakish independence from the expected, along with a live-and-let-live attitude permeated the very behavior of most Conchs.  Don and I settled in easy Keysie. For us, life in the Keys was ‘cool’ because it was a place where, at any time, the most unique, offbeat, inimitable, and amazing things happened – and everyone was included in the merriment.

Sandbar PicnicFor us, Keysie was dining on the luscious delicacies of stone crab and spiny lobster – the claws from a gallon-sized Ziploc, the tails from off the barbie – our feet dangling from the dock.

It was skimming over 20’ of water so clear we could see all the way to the bottom of the reef – in moonlight – going 35 knots.

It was deep deliberation over the best location to have our picnic – on the back deck of the boat or on the sandbar – in February.

It was sitting at the tiki bar of a waterfront restaurant chatting with a friend – who’s only wearing swim trunks – and has a spear gun strapped to his back.

It was 7 mates and one big dog making a surprise appearance at a holiday party – and stealing the host’s lit-up Christmas tree – to decorate the bow of our Boat Parade participant.

It was riding down US1 to the gas station – 7 mates and one big dog on the tailgate of a pickup – to get the best fried chicken in town.

For us, Keysie was diving from a ketch – crabbing from a power cat – fishing from a center-console – lobstering from a runabout – snorkeling from a sloop – stargazing from a dinghy – gunkholing from a kayak – partying on a yacht – parading in a trawler – wading from a trimaran – soaking on a sandbar – and lots and lots of sailing!

Keysie was flying fish, swimming birds, wild chickens, dog-sized deer, 6-toed cats, feral iguanas, and a turtle ambulance. It was copper clad gumbo-limbo trees, sea grapes and sea oats, saltwater-loving mangroves, mighty little limes, fuel dock pineapples, coral gardens, seashell lawns, and a random tree growing on the old 7 Mile Bridge. It was sandominiums, shruburbs, conchitecture, chiki-huts, miles of bridges, bugged blimps, and one unoccupied bat tower.

For us, the coolness quotient of the Keys was huge, because in that fleeting moment of our lives, we’d made so many lifelong memories and so many lifelong friends.

Mood Swings
Mood Swings
~ January, 2009 ~
On the topic of sailing in a small cruising vessel, the three emotions most often referenced are extreme boredom, sheer terror, and pure exhilaration. We experienced all of these in the 24 hours it took us to ...
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Safely Insane or Insanely Safe
~ February, 2009 ~
“You’re kidding me. It’s a 10’ dinghy, and we’re supposed to have 3 flares on board?” Normally, we are as polite as can be when it comes to interacting with some authority who’s commanded our attention. But at this point we were ...
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Scope and Weight
Scope and Weight
~ February, 2009 ~
“Excuse me – but I think you may be anchored a little bit too close to us.”  Don and I were returning to Re Metau after a night on shore, when we found the distance between us and a newly arrived catamaran to be ...
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Where are You Headed
Where are You Headed?
~ February, 2009 ~
As one might have expected, Key West had a fluid population of vacationers, seasonal residents, itinerate service workers, and cruisers. Most every morning, mammoth passenger ships materialized on the seaport, and its travelers ...
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We're Officially a Ship
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~ March, 2009 ~
There was much debate on the differences between a boat and a ship among seafaring folk. Some claimed that a ship must have a certain number of masts, while others claimed tonnage to be the deciding factor. The best explanation ...
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Into the Ring
Into the Ring
~ March, 2009 ~
Based on all the cruisers who had gone before, Boot Key Harbor sounded like the greatest place on earth. We were on a quest to uncover this miraculous location for ourselves. In the morning light, we motored up the conspicuously heralded ...
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Anchoring Olympics
Anchoring Olympics
~ March, 2009 ~
Our quiet anchorage was disrupted by a horrible grinding roar that brought Don bounding out the companionway into the cockpit. “Diana, you've got to come see this!" With all manner of ramshackle tenders towed behind, a ...
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Reality Cooking
Reality Cooking
~ April, 2009 ~
It seems the television broadcasting executives have concluded that, ironically, people want to be entertained by reality. Maybe not their own reality, but that’s beside the point. Although TV has become ...
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The Best Mahi-Mahi Recipe
The Best Mahi-Mahi Recipe
~ May, 2009 ~
After an exceptionally robust struggle cranking in yards and yards of line, you finally see that iridescent body leap from the water, flashing indigo blue, emerald green and gold. You’ve got a Mahi-Mahi on the hook, a fish that ...
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A Harbor in Harmony
A Harbor in Harmony
~ June, 2009 ~
When the sun begins to sink into the horizon, the low bellowing of conch horns fill the air in honor of Triton calming the sea. Once the last spark of daylight is extinguished, the haunting resonance of ...
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Land of Oz
Land of Oz
~ July, 2009 ~
By focusing on the occasional hurricane that pops up and blows away some exclusive coastal property, most northerners tend to mollify their envious feelings for the year round tropical climate Florida resident’s get to enjoy. When you’re ...
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Revenge of the Jellyfish
Revenge of the Jellyfish
~ August, 2009 ~
“What is that purple thing floating over there? It looks like a balloon or one of those little foam footballs." On a sweltering midsummer day our kind and generous friend, Captain Curt (Crusty) with his fearless dog Tingum, had ...
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Labor Day at Looe Key
Labor Day at Looe Key - A Poem
~ September, 2009 ~
At the point in life when it becomes noticeable time is fleeting, our maturity tends to encumbered us with reluctance and caution, behaviors that can impede precious experiences like new friendships. Occasionally, some people enter ...
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Growing Young
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~ September, 2009 ~
In the year of 2001, I was to encounter two very depressing milestones in my life, an empty nest, and an age ending in zero. Being a progressive thinker, I began stressing about this prospect many months before. I coped by getting ...
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Christmas in Marathon
Preparing for a Christmas (in) Marathon
~ December, 2009 ~
For the first time since moving onto Re Metau, we decided to stay home (or afloat as the case may be) for Christmas. Having been raised with snowy northern winters meant memories of the season corresponded with ...
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Independence Day Icon
A July 5th Independence Day
~ July, 2010 ~
Beep……beep……beep……beep. The alarm was sounding in its muffled, diminutive tone – completely inaudible over the storm raging outside.  Having fallen into a deep, celebratory stupor, neither the whistling winds nor the whispering warning awoke us.  It took the ...
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Google Earth of Marathon Marina
We're Somebody Now!
~ March, 2011 ~
There was a scene in Steve Martin’s 1979 absurdly farcical film ‘The Jerk’ that has stuck with me all these years. Martin’s character Navin, an imbecilic innocent has moved out into the world and upon receiving the new phonebook, breaks out into euphoric ...
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Copyright © 2015 Diana E Reynolds - SV Re Metau.  All rights reserved.

Fully attuned to the patterns of the universe, the Re Metau voyaged hundreds of miles into the open ocean in sailing canoes.