Tuesday, December 30, 2008

To 10 things caught on a fishing line (so far)

Boy, fishing here sure is different than fishing in Alaska! Robin and I went out fishing for the first real fishing expedition yesterday. What a day! We caught way more variety than just halibut ... and caught way more sunshine and warmth, too!

See the pictures.
  1. Red grouper
  2. Striped grunt
  3. Mangrove snapper
  4. Mutton snapper
  5. Yellowtail snapper
  6. Spanish sardine
  7. Seagull (stupid bird!)
  8. Barracuda
  9. Ray
  10. Blue runner

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A study in contrasts

Christmas in the Keys vs. Christmas in Southeast

This holiday season is certainly different than last year's! Although I spent both on a windy island accessible by only boat or plane, that's about where the similarity ends. It sure doesn't seem like Christmas when it's sunny and 75+ degrees.

This year we celebrated with a holiday potluck, attended by all seven people who live here plus two volunteers who visited from Loggerhead (more on that later). We had Loggerhead key lime pie, which was very, very good. (I've been enjoying the leftovers!) We also had special German sausage and sauerkraut, prepared by the Loggerhead volunteer, who carted it all the way from a special butcher in Boston.

Now, everyone has left and the only people on the island are me, Robin and one other Park Service employee -- law enforcement, of course!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Excitement at the fort

You wouldn't think much would happen at a remote island 70 miles offshore. Let me assure you, there is a surprising amount of activity. For Robin, running the fort is a lot like running things at Glacier Bay. Water, power, sanitation. My work however, is, well, not work at all ... unless you consider snorkeling, taking pictures and catching sharks work.

See some pictures now of the construction project, the first lemon shark I caught, Robin working and more -- or keep reading this exciting blog entry.

There is a big reconstruction/preservation project going on here. The brick keeps falling off the fort and they keep putting them back on. More than 16 million bricks were used to build this place so that's a lot of work. They barge in bricks, offload and the masons go to work. Of course, offloading can have some glitches -- like the forklift drivers getting stuck in the sand -- which caused some delay. (That entertained me for about 45 minutes one day!)

Much of the maintenance has been sorely neglected and kept barely running. Fortunately, Robin, the man who can fix anything and works like crazy, is here. He has plenty to do. For example, he makes fresh water by using the reverse osmosis machine, which pulls salt water in from the moat and filters out the salt. Pretty cool! The moat water has to be less than 500 ppm of salt to do this, which again, isn't every day. Needless to say, water is at a premium and conservation is strictly encouraged.

He keeps the diesel generators, the power suppliers, running. He maintains the santec/sanitation. He fixes boats. He does it all!

Other exciting events have been the US Customs and Border Patrol paying a visit, the medivac helicopter doing a test run and going fishing.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Top 10 tips for surviving (and enjoying) Key West

  1. Jail: To avoid jail, do not urinate in public, fight (in public) or speed in a school zone. Anything else, have at it!
  2. Jail: To avoid jail, do not get caught killing the local, weirdly aggressive chickens. They are protected in Key West (similar to cows in India). I need further proof that this is true and plan to research the city ordinance. (Chickens, cats and rats all run rampant in the area.)
  3. Restaurants: Do not eat at Chico's Mexican Restaurant, a.k.a. "Cheapos". Avoid Wendy's. McDonald's is great (if you like McDonald's). You can spend $16 for lunch for two at Wendy's or spend $4.58 for the same stuff at McDonald's. The Commodore is an awesome, albeit spendy, place to eat but at least the food is good. Half Shell Raw Bar is also really good.
  4. Bars: The Green Parrot is a local hangout with lots of music and lots of crowds! If you're into bull riding (first floor) or clothing optional places (third floor), visit The Bull, one of the last open air bars in town. Aqua is one of the places that puts on a great drag queen show (and boy do they know how to single out Robin -- I laughed soooo hard I almost pee'd my shorts)!
  5. Shopping: Sunday is a horrible time to run errands or shop. Either everyone is hungover and driving/walking/biking/scooting stupid or the stores are not open or no one is paying attention to anything. KMart is even scarier than almost any other WalMart I've ever been in (and the prices on everything are always wrong). Don't expect to find any beach sandals anywhere, either.
  6. Traffic: Arghhh! Unbelievably awful. Again, reminds me of a street scene in India, only there aren't any elephants (so far). Scary, drunk, hungover, high, disoriented, confused drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists, scooter riders, you name it! Worse than downtown Chicago during Taste of Chicago. Not easy to navigate through this mess with a crew cab Toyota Tundra.
  7. Weather: Humid. Holy cow ... I mean Holy Chicken! It was so humid and the store A/C was so cold my glasses steamed up when I went from inside to outside! Windy. Whew -- hasn't let up at all and seems to constantly be howling through.
  8. Neighborhood: When the Park Service says you'll be living in a "gated community", what they really mean is revamped military housing surrounded by a chain link fence with a gate at one end preventing traffic from driving through the complex. As usual, there is one person in the neighborhood who has gone all-out for the Christmas holiday. The lawn decorations are even accompanied by Christmas music ... oh joy!
  9. Library: The internet queen who lords over everything internet/computer related takes his job waaaay too seriously. OMG, he needs help. But, as it's about the only game in town to access the internet, maybe I'll bring him some cookies.
  10. Sunset: Yeah, yeah, Mallory Square and all the entertainers, people watching, etc. is something to see once but if you go down to the Truman Annex where the Coast Guard Museum boat is, you don't have crowds, hassle and you can still enjoy a beautiful sun set with just as good as (or better) view. Another fun thing is see sunset from the rooftop of the town's highest hotel (you can see it ... I don't know the name of it ... find Starbucks on Duval and go in through there). And, bring your own drink instead of spending way too much money on a way too small drink.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Freakin' fighters

Of all the uninhabited keys around here, it is curious to me why the U.S. military would choose to perform F15 fighter training maneuvers right over this inhabited one frequented by visitors from all over!

They are unbelievably loud, even drowning out the air hammers from the fort restoration project ( a project sure to be longer lasting and more costly than Boston's Big Dig).

It even shakes the fort's walls! Not an easy thing as some of them are 17' thick at the base.

On the good side, if there's an incursion by Cuba, at least the military knows how to get here.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Fabulous fort fotos

Here are a few photos (that took a very long time to upload with my contraption) of our move to Garden Key/Fort Jefferson/Dry Tortugas.

View slideshow.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Ferry to the fort

Length of M/V Fort Jefferson: 110 feet
Date of travel: 12/2/08
Height of seas: 8-12 ft. (sustained)
Strength of wind: 25 knots
Length of journey: 5 hours (painful)
Number of people on board: 11
Number of people who got seasick: 5
Number of times yours truly chummed the fish: 4 (repeatedly; violently)

Cost of being on solid, unmoving land: Priceless