After twenty years of marriage, my husband and I finally did it – we took our first vacation – just the two of us, without any other agenda, event to attend or person in tow.
We choose to go somewhere we have never been and have wanted to check out – the Florida Keys. Marathon, to be exact, a few miles past Vaca Key, and before the 7-mile bridge. The exact location was solely based on finding a place that would accommodate our large dog, and we were happy with the outcome.
The Banana Bay Resort & Marina came up in my search on the internet for pet-friendly lodging and looked like the best deal. After booking a room for 2 adults and 1 canine and a marina slip for our new boat, we read some unflattering reviews of the place but figured, what do you expect for under a hundred bucks a night in the Keys? And besides, we weren’t planning on spending a whole lot of time in our room.
What we did plan on doing was exactly what we did, and it included being out on the boat from dawn to dusk. A few nights we were out after dusk and one morning before dawn. It was the best week ever. And I have some funny (and not so funny) stories to tell you!
In a nutshell… the first night of our 7-night stay, we tried our hand at “bully-netting” for lobster. We also tried our hand at snorkeling for them during the day using a tickle stick and net. We purchased a navigational chart and made our way to numerous sites while I learned how to read the darn thing. We cruised around in the boat for miles and miles. There were times I was fearful and Dave would remind me of the safety of this boat. Mostly though, our boating consisted of drifting and fishing.
There’s lots of other stuff to write about, like going to Key West or losing our dive flag, but there’s absolutely no question about it, our last day there definitely tops the vacation story chart.
The first night of our 7-night stay, we tried our hand at “bully-netting” for lobster. Apparently, lobsters come out at night and roam around on the shoals (shallow patches of land in the Gulf), and with good lights, you can see them from your boat when idling over the shoals. Using a long pole with a net attached on one end and a string attached to the net, you can catch them.
The bully-net was easy to use, as I caught plenty of seaweed, the difficult part lied in spotting the darn lobster. We were told over and over that they were out there, but we couldn’t find them. After visiting the local fishery and seeing them there, we realized how perfectly they camouflaged with the grass on the ocean’s floor where they are said to be found. Who knows if they were under our noses the whole time, and I can’t tell you if they’re as easy to catch as seaweed.
We also tried our hand at diving for lobster during the day using a tickle stick and net, and again, had no luck spotting the shellfish. I attribute this to low visibility in the cloudy water as well as our inability to dive very deep. Nevertheless, we had fun exploring the sea.
There are two things – no, make that three, but the tarpon story is with fishing – so two things besides a big butt tarpon I’m glad we didn’t encounter under the sea are stingrays and jellyfish. We saw plenty of them from the boat, jellyfish that is, and 3 or 4 stingrays. One of the stingrays was beautiful, with black and white specks all over, and it was one of those moments when we saw it that we couldn’t believe what we were seeing – right there! However, we donned our diving gear and jumped in numerous times before it dawned on us (me) that I could encounter something I didn’t care to come close to. Thankfully, this particular fearful thinking didn’t happen until the last day, and by this point I was fried anyway, clothed in long sleeves and staying in the shade.
Upon arriving, we saw some boat wrecks and I asked my husband, “How do boats wreck out there, for no apparent reason?” He replied, “Probably by not using a navigational map.” “What?” I didn’t know what he was talking about. He explained that there is a map showing how deep the water is and where obstructions you have to look out for are, such as rocks or wrecks, and that we have to go to a bait store and buy one before we go out exploring. So we did. And I was really surprised!
I had no idea that such a map existed, much less that we’d need one to get around safely. I guess I had never thought about it, but I suppose I just assumed that the ocean was deep and wide open to cruise, wherever. Not the case, as you can see below. There are several areas you have to look out for shallow land, especially in low tide, and for wrecks and rocks, especially in high tide. By the end of the week, we knew the map very well. It’s funny how it seemed so daunting that first day, and the fear I had going all the way down to the 7-mile bridge, then the fifth day, going down to the bridge and all the way around Marathon was nothing!
It was pretty cool to see the bridge, old and new, up close.
A peculiar site exhibiting signs to keep out of this government property is nestled along Sister Creek. Dave read about it in a book from the library – apparently, U.S. radio is broadcast to Cuba 24-hours a day from this location.
I wasn’t exactly thrilled about this boat a couple of months ago, when my husband told me he bought it. I thought it was going to be something that came between us, not something we would enjoy together. Instead of being happy for him for finally having something he’s always wanted and worked hard to get, all I thought about was how it was going to affect me. Thankfully, I have friends who helped me see this rather quickly, and I don’t even think they know this. Once again, I saw how things change when I change the way I look at them.
So not only did my husband hope I would enjoy the boat with him instead of nag about it (or how he drives it), he also did his homework on the boat’s safety then showed me all about it. The fourteen foot McKee Craft, similar to the Boston Whaler, does seem to be among the safest as far as not sinking goes, but it took me a while to not feel like I should have a seat belt on. Wearing the bright orange life jacket helped calm my fears a couple of crazy times though. One time in particular, the last day we were there, is a story I’ll have to tell all by itself. You’ll get to that at the end, or by clicking above on “The Story.”
Regarding my feeling safe when we’re out on the boat, I generally have. I recognized early on that I had an irrational fear going on to begin with – it’s the shallow water you gotta watch out for, yet the deeper the water got, the more anxious I felt. We were safer cruising the deeper water, but I felt safer where it was shallower. By the end of the second day though, I was able to change my perspective, which also changed how I addressed the fear that kept knocking at my door.
Our third or fourth day there, we went way out to Bethel’s Bank and I was driving back, heading toward the 7-mile bridge. All of a sudden, a storm came out of nowhere.
I picked up our speed a bit, hoping to outrace it. We got under the bridge, my destination for shelter, but the boat would not slow down. Dave kept hollering, “Slow down!” I kept saying, “I can’t!” He took my place behind the wheel and found that he had no better luck slowing the boat down. He told me I was going to have to drive the boat while he looked at the motor. I gave him a pleading look and winced, as if to say, please no, do I have to? He gave me the look back of you’re kidding.
Acknowledging that I didn’t have a better idea, I got behind the wheel and drove. And I prayed. I wondered how long it would take us to drive until we ran out of fuel. I prayed again. The boat suddenly slowed, and before I knew it, we were idling and Dave was smiling. Proud of himself for figuring it out, I imagine (which I was too!). Anyhow, a screw rattled loose causing a flap on something to stay open, hindering the idle mechanism thingy from moving like it’s supposed to. Something like that.
We looked back and the storm was gone.
The whole week, I had two very different verses running through my head – Oh wouldn’t ya, barracuda and If I keep my eyes on Jesus, I can walk on water. The first because I was either catching barracuda or they were breaking my line, and the second, well, some part of that song is about being a fisher of men, and it came to mind every time I thought of how I wanted to catch something other than barracuda. I wanted to catch more of those pretty snapper, which were also super yummy!
We took several pictures of us catching fish before there just didn’t seem to be a need to take more pictures. In other words, Dave caught so many fish, taking pictures of them became monotonous. A few we did take though are below. And not only did my honey catch most of our dinner, he cooked it too! There’s just nothing like fried fish on the grill. Of course, I had to take pictures of that as well.
He cleaned the fish, breaded the fillets and fried them in oil on the grill. Both the snapper and barracuda were good, but if I had to choose one I liked better, it would be snapper. When I told Dave that, he was like, “Duh!” Well I didn’t know.
It was one of many very nice evenings.
My husband is so resourceful. For lights on the boat, he used a pair of used headlights from a truck. Of course, we had the red and green lights on the bow as required by law, and a white one on the rear, what I am talking about are lights that shine down onto the ocean floor so you can see the lobsters roaming around.
His resourcefulness also came in handy when it came to preparing our meals. Grilling is a given, but frying fish on the grill takes some talent. Some nights we did not want to grill, so he heated up food we brought from home with a blow torch. We boiled water for hot dogs, heated cans of soup, and even cooked scallops in a skillet. We also consumed a lot of beef jerky, dried fruit and nuts that week. I believe we ate healthier and cheaper than we normally do at home.
An amazing event that took place right in front of me, over and over, was a bird diving into the water.
It really was very cool!
Friday night we drove down to Key West and visited the “Southern Most Point” where Dave pointed out that the “monument” was clearly not on the southern most point.
We split a banana split at the Southern Most Denny’s then walked it off by checking out all the art galleries on Duval Street. We did not realize that there are so many! We watched the town come alive at nine o’clock, almost at once, as we made our way up and down the main strip. We lingered in the Sperry store, marveling at the huge selection. The hammock store caught our attention for a while as well. We walked by Hemingway’s House and the Lighthouse Museum and watched the streets shut down like a light switch promptly at eleven. It was a little strange until we realized that the stores close at eleven, so there would be nothing to do unless you were hanging out in a bar, and that must be where everyone was. But it was like a ghost town out on Duval Street, so we headed back to our room, enjoying good conversation with each other on the hour-long drive back.
One particular conversation was when we saw flashing lights from a police car that had someone pulled over. As we passed it by, my husband jokingly said, “No officer, I haven’t been drinking… I may not pass the field sobriety test, but give me a breathalyzer, really, I haven’t been drinking!” As the driver, I pondered my ability in a field sobriety test and we had a good laugh about it. Irony. You see, after four consecutive days of spending 10 hours each day on a small boat, drifting most of the time while we fished, we had what I call “the waves” going on. Sitting still, like at Denny’s, it felt like we were still on the boat. The room was wavy. It was weird. Driving, for me, was fine for me though, as long as we were moving. Bedtime was a different story. Lying there feeling the motion of the waves reminded me of having the spins back in the day, which made it difficult for me to sleep. But it was all good. And life is good!
After talking with one of my friends on our way home, Dave asked, “Did you tell her what happened yesterday?” When I replied that I did not, he was curious. “How could you not tell her what happened?” he asked with surprise. “How could I tell a story like that, in just a few minutes?” “Ya, I see what you mean,” and he also decided that it was too much of a story to tell to a friend in passing. It’s one of those featured headlines you tell at a get-together, with plenty of time to talk about it!
With no get-togethers on the horizon, and some particular people bound to ask questions soon about the boat, I’m telling the story here first. This way, each and every one of my friends can reap the full benefit of all the story has to offer.
Our last day there, Sunday, August 25th, we got up at 5:30 and were out on the boat at 6 ready to watch the sunrise (while we fished of course). It was beautiful, and I took a ton of pictures.
We started out by Rachel Key (pink star labeled s), just off the bay by where we were staying. We drifted in the boat, as we like to do, while we fished. We were heading toward the 7-mile bridge and our plan was to go under the bridge and around Boot Key, past Boot Harbor where the fishing’s been good.
So we were cruising right along drifting nicely when my line got tangled. I told Dave I could get it, but as far as he knew, this could have easily meant can’t you see I’m mad – help me! so he put his pole down, came to the front of the boat, and started helping me untangle the mess I had made. Then right there, right next to our boat in front of our very eyes, we saw about four feet of grey matter surface, followed by a fin, then a big round eye. It seemed like it was happening in slow motion but when it disappeared under the surface, then it seemed as if it happened much too fast. “Did you see that?” my husband said, sounding as if he wasn’t exactly sure of what he’d just seen. “Yes!” I exclaimed, followed by, “Grab the camera!” He couldn’t believe it. “The camera?” he exclaimed, “Grab the fishing pole!” He dropped my tangled line like a hot potato and grabbed his pole. I felt his frustration from bringing a girl on a fishing trip.
Not one to really let things get to him, our morning resumed it’s pleasantness in no time. We had made our way to the side of Boot Key, where all week, we had seen small boats go into a canal that seemed to go nowhere, so we checked it out. It looked like an old fish camp of some sort, one of them had some activity going on but the others were all abandoned. It appeared to serve as a boat graveyard as well. (labeled fc on map)
We made our way back to the ocean and started toward West Sister Rock. It was on that drift that it happened again – only this time, my line wasn’t tangled. No, this time I was having my husband put sunscreen on my back. It was the same exact scene as before, we saw about four feet of fish roll along the top of the water, but much quicker. Dave tossed the sunscreen onto my bag, and as he reached for his fishing pole he realized his hands were all greasy from the sunscreen. “Ugghh,” he grumbled, but didn’t give up. We didn’t catch that tarpon (that’s what we think it was anyway), or any others, it was barracuda, snapper and grunt fish for us all week. And more barracuda.
When we reached the point we could see that a dark storm was coming our way. I checked the radar and suggested we keep going around the bend and go where we had planned. The way it looked, we were just on the outskirts of it and would be traveling east parallel to it while it was traveling west. It soon however became a little scary.
We high-tailed it across the coast looking for shelter. We passed up the causeway, a familiar area to us, because of boat congestion and rough seas, and we pulled into a canal system up the way a bit. We wound up (after winding around a while) somewhere near the purple star. As we explored canal after canal, we verbally expressed our differing opinions of where we were. I became increasingly annoyed as Dave professed to know better than google maps on my smartphone. Finally deciding to stop giving away my peace of mind, I sat back and played Words with Friends.
We eventually wound up at the causeway, the familiar area we had passed up. But to get there, we had to maneuver through some thin areas, which according to our navigational maps, were not through areas. But we made it through.
We started heading back via the bay and were shocked at how rough the seas were. This was the calmest day we’ve had, and the bay is supposed to be calmer than the ocean side. Dave slowed down enough for us to hear each other so we could converse about what to do. It was a much closer ride via the bay, but the ocean seemed much calmer. I voted for closeness, as it was dreary and getting cold out. “Just go slow and I can handle it,” I said. We continued on, but immediately the engine started acting funny. For a few seconds Dave thought it might just be the roughness of the water, but he quickly changed his mind and headed back to the causeway.
We pulled over, anchored, and Dave got out and checked the motor. “Everything looks fine,” he reported. This time I voted for returning via the ocean because of the way the land would protect us better, and it seemed to be a little smoother. The boat sounded bad, but there was one speed that didn’t sound as bad, and that was fast. So Dave drove fast. Oh, I was terrified! He kept turning around to make sure water was still coming out of the motor and that really freaked me out. I started scanning my brain for a solution for my intense fear.
No kidding – I was like paralyzed scared. I had to purposely breathe. I wanted to cry but was afraid if I did, I wouldn’t be able to breathe. Then I remember thinking, what if I get thrown off the boat? So I reached for an orange life jacket and pulled it over my head. Then I thought, would anyone see it happen? would anyone see me out there? how would I get someone’s attention? So I pulled an orange whistle from the outside pocket of my bag and put it around my neck. After some more thoughts, I tucked the whistle in the life jacket, tightened the straps and clipped them shut in front of me. I scooped up my bag from between my feet and clutched it close to me. If I was going, my bag was going with me.
I prayed and I prayed and I prayed. I thought of something I had recently heard – you can not have fear and faith at the same time. Not convinced that I’m convinced of that, I tested it out. I can say that I reached the perfection of faith that day and felt no fear, for a few minutes anyway. And God answered my prayer, we made it back safe, but we didn’t make it back without paddling.
We were near the purple star labeled finish, when the motor let out a strange sound and decided it was finished. Dave and I looked at each other with dropped mouths, reading each others mind, oh crap! He grabbed the paddle and started paddling for shore. Oh good, only one paddle, all I can do is sit here… except we were not getting anywhere fast enough and I had to pee. I retrieved my phone, only to find that the battery was dead. Great. Oh well, who would I call anyway? I thought. I grabbed one of my dive flippers, put my hand in it and started paddling too. About 45 minutes later, we pulled up to the public boat ramp a mile down the street from where we were staying.
Now I really had to pee, and I was in luck – there were public restrooms here. I walked into the one labeled “women”, locked the door behind me and proceeded to do my thing. I went to leave, and the door wouldn’t unlock. “What the…” I mumbled, to which Dave said, “What?!” “The door won’t unlock,” I informed him. “What do you mean, it won’t unlock?” “I MEAN IT WON’T UNLOCK!” By now, I’m feeling a little frantic, and the tiny row of ants marching in line up the wall were starting to close in on me. I asked God if there was some reason He was keeping me from going back to our hotel, then Dave tried joking about it. It worked, he made me laugh, then he seriously asked if I had a screwdriver with me.
It sounds funny that he would even ask me that – who goes around with a screwdriver on them? Well it just so happens that there’s this particular tool I’ve been bringing with us all week, just in case. When packing my bag the night before though, I thought of how I’ve been bringing this along, for what? We haven’t needed it, we probably won’t need it and I thought for sure I left it back in the room. I looked for it in my bag and didn’t see it. I dumped the contents out on the bathroom floor and I have never been so happy to see my little tool.
I unscrewed the lock and freed myself from the women’s bathroom at the boat ramp. My first words out were, “Never again will I let someone make fun of me for bringing too much stuff!” Dave said something about how he’ll always poke fun, so I revised my statement – “I will never again let someone make me feel bad for bringing too much stuff!” And my husband, who already affectionately calls me the bag lady, was most likely thinking, grreeeaaat.
As I went to retrieve my camera to take a picture of the door, a scenario came to mind that scared me out of taking that picture. Could you imagine hearing on the six o’clock news, woman arrested for defacing government property, proof of pictures were found on her phone. So, we walked a mile back to our room, got the truck and trailer and headed back to get the boat. It went well, and we were back in our room by five.
We showered and decided to go eat at a place we had passed on our walk – the Keys Fisheries. I was bull-headed about it at first because I wanted to go somewhere else – where I thought they had the world-famous lobster reuben. But then I decided that for me, it really wasn’t that important, and not the case for him, so I became fine with it. When we walked up, we realized that everyone who worked there probably watched us break down, paddle to shore and the whole nine yards. We literally broke down in their backyard, or their back bay.
And their food was the BEST – Dave had grilled lobster tails and I had their world-famous lobster reuben. Yes, this was actually the place that had what I wanted all week, and I would have been sadly disappointed if I had gotten my way with the other place. But I think my husband knew this all along, though he won’t rub it in my face, because that’s just the kind of guy he is.
Back at the Banana Bay, we took our baby for a sunset stroll, then called it a night.
The next morning we packed up in the rain and headed home. (And if you’re from the government, I made up that story about the bathroom, that was someone else!)
I hope you enjoyed my blog of our vacation. I enjoyed making it!