By Kris Hundley
For a sailor, the best part of Key West is near shore in Hawk Channel, protected by the reefs that stretch parallel to the island chain nearly all the way to Miami. The water runs spectacular shades of green blue, 20 feet deep and transparent to the bottom.
Beyond the reef, in the Straits of Florida, is the Gulfstream, hundreds of feet deep, with a powerful northerly current but sometimes formidable swells.
We sail under strong northwesterly winds up to Marathon, about mid-point in the island chain and pick up a mooring ball at the city-run field in Boot Key Harbor. There are 226 balls, chained to the sea bed and offering secure holds even in the heaviest storms. At $22 a night, they’re a bargain. Some sailors stay for years, waiting for a break in the weather that never seems to come.
Onshore, the marina’s community room is a high-ceilinged warehouse with wide-open garage doors to let the sea breezes blow through. Lounging in front of a TV tuned to CNBC are a couple of weather-beaten boaters. At one table, five barefoot kids play video games. Their school books are open, abandoned, at a table nearby. A whiteboard in the corner seeks “Boating buddies,” sailboats seeking to pair up to travel to the Bahamas, the Caribbean and beyond. One wall is filled with books free for the taking.
Renting bikes, we pedal along busy Highway 1, taking the path down the old Seven Mile Bridge toward Pigeon Key. It was here that workers lived in the early 1900s while building the spans connecting the Keys. Their legacy linked the islands for nearly 100 years.
We pedal down side roads, past a community of tattered trailers that look like they’ve weathered a hurricane. Roosters peck the gravel along a chain link fence. Wooden fish pots are stacked 15 feet high, still smelling of the sea.
An iguana the size of a baseball bat slithers across our path and up a gumbo limbo tree. We know he’s there but he’s camouflaged on its reddish branches. He’s taken up residence at a luxury condo complex called “Tranquility Bay Beach House Resort.”
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