I have never met a person who has been banned from a restroom/shower facility before. Here is how the conversation went:
Marina official: Next please
Live-aboard boater lady: I need to get a new key for the bathroom
(Weekly and monthly rate for use of facility which includes showers. Often purchased by boaters who are anchored or live at anchor on their boats full-time. Marina guests are usually allowed free access to showers/restroom facilities)
Marina official: Name? Boat name?
Live-aboard boater lady: (information being withheld to protect the writer) 🙂
Marina official: Typing information into computer. OH! IT’S YOU! No you cannot purchase a key. You have been banned.
Marina guy: Yes. You were caught on video letting people into the facility who were not allowed to be there. The key is for you only. They need to buy their own key.
Lady: It was just that one time. They said they forgot their key (looking a bit sheepish).
Guy: (voice growing louder and more irritated) No, it was multiple times. We have you on video on multiple occasions. You are banned. Next please!
He then looks over her head toward me and again said, “Next please!!” Until then, the lady did not realize I was behind her. She looked very angry. I was not sure what to do or say. I just stood there wondering which is worse, being banned from a restroom or having to watch hours of video of people going in and out of them.
And that is how our short, less than 24 hour stop in Key West started.
Key West is an island that tries hard to straddle the past as it is slowly drug into the future. The Florida Keys are known as a place with an array of colorful characters and a way of life very different from the mainland it shuns. Whenever we visit I visualize how ports must have been back in the days of horse and buggy. I picture port towns as rowdy, rough and often finding inebriated sailors wandering about day and night. Key West is pretty much the same today except now it is sunburned tourists off cruise ships crowding the sidewalks looking for bargain trinkets in the shops by day and wandering the many bars at night. It is a lively place that offers much to see and do as long as you are a water sport enthusiast, enjoy souvenir shopping or eating and drinking.
This was our fifth visit to Key West. It was an unplanned stop as Mark wrote in his previous post. Many boaters choose to use the Moser Channel as a shortcut to bypass Key West when traversing from the Gulf of Mexico to the east coast of Florida or visa versa. They arrive in Marathon, Florida, a jumping off point for adventures south. Cream Puff cannot travel the channel as our mast is too high for the Seven Mile Bridge. For boats like ours, traveling the longer distance around Key West is the only option available.
I thought the novelty of the island would be familiar to us. After six months in quiet, easy going Bahamas we were overwhelmed by the noise, rudeness, brightness and crowds. As we walked through town, Key West was sensory overload. I think we are still struggling to adjust. We spoke to other cruisers and they all smile and say they have the same sensitivity when returning.
On past visits to Key West we stayed at marinas. Most of the marinas are in town near the activities. Since our visit to Key West would be short we decided to forgo the expense of a marina and anchor instead. Key West is always an expensive stop. They even charge to use the dinghy dock. We’ve never been charged to use a dinghy dock. Another first aboard Cream Puff.
Anchoring in Key West is different from any place we have anchored to date. The anchorages seemed to be divided into neighborhoods of varying degrees of deteriorating boats. Very few of the permanently anchored boats look seaworthy. This was the first time since we started cruising that we were warned to not just hoist the dinghy but put locks on the outboard and dinghy as well.
The dinghy dock was just as interesting. The over packed dock held dinghies of all sizes, shapes and ages. Some were rubber, some were fiberglass and some were of various materials that allowed it to float against all of the laws of physics. A boater walked down the dock to call over to us. He was instructing us to push over the line of dinghies and squeeze our dinghy between them. We did as we were instructed and wondered if another dinghy could possibly fit.
Once on land, it was time for a walk to the Customs and Immigration Office. There is a downtown office that is located in the courthouse. Once inside the courthouse, here is how the conversation went:
Security guard: ‘elp you? (looking rather grumpy)
Us: (looking a bit too cheerful because we were inside enjoying our first blast of air conditioning in months. What a treat! Most business in the Bahamas did not bother with AC). We replied, “We are here to check in with Customs”
Guard: They might be here later. They might not. Here is a number you can call to find out.
Us: We just arrived in the USA. We do not have a USA SIM card for our phone yet. We cannot call.
Guard: Here is the number you can call. I cannot tell you if they will be here today or not.
Us: Could we borrow your phone?
Him: Here is the number you can call. I cannot tell you if they will be here today or not.
Ok, this is not working. Lucky for us, another guard was standing to the side watching and listening. He motioned to Mark to step outside. The guard dialed the number for customs on his personal cell phone and handed the phone to me. Mark and the guard were having a friendly chat while I waited for Customs and Immigration to answer their phone. My faith in humanity is restored again—oh but wait—
Ring ring…ring ring…
Customs officer: US Customs.
Me: We are here to check-in. Will you be at the courthouse today?
Customs: Hard to say. We have a cruise ship coming in. I’m not sure. You need to call the 800# and they will tell you if you should come here (the airport office). But I don’t know if we’ll be here.
Me: We don’t have a SIM card for the USA yet. We cannot make 800# calls until we get a USA SIM card. We need to check in before we can move freely about town to buy one. I am borrowing a phone for this call. Can we take a cab to the airport since you are in the office right now?
Customs: you need to find a way to call the 800#. Then call us then we can tell you if we will be here or not.
Me: But we don’t have a phone that can call a USA 800#.
Customs: Not my problem. You are required to call the 800#. Then call us.
Us: Sheesh…..Welcome to home……
It took us a good portion of the day to find a store that sold USA SIM cards, contact the 800#, take a cab to check in with customs at the airport, take a cab back to town, pick up some milk and veggies and head back to the boat. We removed the outboard and took the dinghy apart and stored both. At 5pm we were on our way to get fuel. By 6pm we were leaving Key West in our wake.
There was little fan fare as we entered Tampa Bay at sunrise 30 hours later. We were pretty exhausted by the time we reached the marina. We dock and then set about the task of getting the boat settled and checking in with the marina. First thing on the list after securing the boat? Plug in the electrical cord and turn on the air conditioning. Ahhhhh……….
We are back in the land of 4G cellular service, fast wifi, air conditioning and fresh vegetables. We can have all of it or just some of it whenever we need it or want it. Big cleansing breath in….exhale….relax….sigh….It’s good to be home….