Wednesday, January 25, 2012
Key West and the "Conch Republic"
Monday’s cruise of 45 miles to Key West was a bit lumpy, but not too bad. The wind was again from the east, so behind us, which makes for a squirrely ride, but not a terrible one.
Let’s talk a minute about crab pots! From Marathon to Key West, we had an almost constant fight to keep from running over them. I have not mentioned them much, although there were certainly plenty of them to avoid on our cruise to Marathon. For those of you not familiar, the crab fishermen set long rows of traps, with a float attached to each. The float is about the size of a grapefruit and difficult to see in the waves, especially when some of them are painted black or blue. Five hours of squinting to see them and dodging them gets real frustrating. Worse, if you manage to run over one, the line can get caught in your propeller, wind up on the shaft, drag the crab trap up from the bottom and slam into your boat and damage your running gear. It can also stall your motor if enough rope gets around the shaft. Once Around has line cutters on the shaft, but I am told they are not 100% foolproof. I am not a 100% fool (OK, maybe close) so I do my best to avoid them in what sometimes feels like a minefield of crab pots. It is also very difficult to maintain a course when you are dodging these things. Here is a photo of my chart plotter. The purple line is my intended course, the dotted line is my actual track.
The crab pot cha-cha
Other than that, the cruise was gorgeous. The weather is in the high seventies this week with a 10-15 MPH breeze. Not sure it gets much better than that! We arrived at Conch (pronounced Conk) Marina in Key West at around 1:00 PM. We managed to “negotiate” our way into a 65’ slip, so we can launch our dinghy at will while in the slip. The Admiral likes to do harbor cocktail tours in the evening, and there are lots and lots of beautiful boats to see while doing so.
I just thought this was the coolest looking marina
One of our neighbors
Key West is the southernmost point in the continental United States. An average of one cruise ship a day stops here. The atmosphere is of one laid back party. The streets are lined with either shops and restaurants or island style homes. There are even some old Victorian homes from the city’s past. There is a Cuban section, a Bahamian section and even the Harry S. Truman “Little White House”.
On a tip from a fellow boater, the Admiral and I took a tour on the “Conch Train”. Yeah, I know, kinda dorky, but the guy was right, you get a great overview of the layout of the city and an idea of the colorful history of the place. We will be here for three weeks, so I’ll have plenty of time to bore you with that stuff, but I do have to tell you the story of the “Conch Republic”, which I found to be hilarious.
It seems back in 1982, the US Border Patrol suddenly and without warning set up a roadblock at the point where all road traffic from the Keys crosses into mainland Florida. They were apparently looking for illegals and contraband, but the consequence was a seventeen mile traffic jam. When word got out, tourism came to a complete stop.
Frustrated and a bit pissed off, the locals first tried to get an injunction in Federal Court, making the argument that since the Keys were part of Florida, you couldn’t have a “border crossing” between the two. When the court refused to grant the injunction they sought, they took their argument to the next logical step. If the Border Patrol was stopping people entering and leaving mainland Florida over at Florida City, then it follows that they were in effect saying that they Keys must be a foreign country! The mayor of Key West then signed a proclamation declaring the Conch Republic to be a free and independent country! Of course, all this was done with lots and lots of TV coverage. The Feds weren’t as amused as the TV reporters and the rest of the world, and carloads of suit and tie clad agents descended upon Key West (to quell the rebellion?). As the story goes, the citizens then attacked the conspicuous federal officials with loaves of stale Cuban bread. The attack lasted only minutes before the Conch Republic’s now Prime Minister (formerly mayor) surrendered to the US Naval commander at the base and requested “foreign aid” from the conquering US Government.
The resulting public relations nightmare brought an immediate end to the boarder blockade, and the matter simply faded away. The US Government never officially recognized the matter of the declaration of independence made by the Conch Republic, nor made one comment on record. However, I got to thinking that Ronald Reagan was President during the Conch rebellion. I can imagine the Gipper got quite a chuckle out of this one! Locals here are still awaiting the billions of foreign aid they requested.
Footnote: The Conch Republic did adopt its’ own flag. It is customary, when a boat visits a foreign country, to fly that country’s flag on the starboard halyard of the vessel. My sharp eyed Admiral found the proper flag in a shop yesterday, so it will fly on Once Around for the duration of our stay in the Keys of Florida…or…”The Conch Republic” if you will.
My First Mate displays the Conch Republic flag...
...which now flies on Once Around