Sunday, September 17, 2017

Decisions to Make

Blairsville, Ga (high 80, low 58)

Things are a mess in the Keys.

Fortunately, Key West was spared the brunt of the storm, thank goodness.  Key West is such a beautiful and special town, full of history, large old trees and beautiful architecture and although there is damage, it could have been worse.  My cousins house is fine.  No flooding.  A tree or two and some fencing down.  They still do not have consistent power, water, or flushable toilets so they have no urgent need to rush back down.


Information is trickling in, little by little.  Things are not good.  Electricity and cell service is very very limited.   There is limited or no sewer service.  Running water is limited and needs to be boiled but with no electricity, that's an issue.  We did find out that our neighbor Randy who rode out the hurricane, was unharmed and had made his way to the mainland for much needed supplies.

Up until yesterday, most residents were  still being kept out to make room for first responders to remove downed power lines, trees across the roads, washed out roads and to make sure the 46 bridges were safe.  Residents were getting angry.   Many people have damaged property that needs to be secured from the elements and they are very anxious to return home. People are worried about looting. Some people have run out of money and have no food or gas.  Food, water and fuel is still very limited in the Keys.   The powers that be finally relented and as of today have opened up the Keys to residents only and a curfew is strictly enforced.   I have even heard that they are now allowing open carry,  which means you can carry a weapon and not conceal it.

We have two Aircraft carries offshore in Key West proving help, along with the National Guard.   I've seen pictures of Chinook helicopters landing in the grocery store parking lots.  Military is out in force cleaning up.  They are sleeping on cots wherever they can find a place.  God bless them all for helping.  The temperatures are stifling.  Much of the shade has been destroyed and of course there is no air conditioning.


We  already knew our RV had been destroyed from the aerial photos we had seen, but Friday we got some taken from the ground.

To say it was a shock was an understatement.

Most of us have seen news reports from different catastrophes where they paint the red "X"s on property after they check for bodies. These marks identify the agency that inspected, the date and time and on the bottom the number of fatalities. A big "0" means no fatalities.




Someone went around in a golf cart taking video of each street. It was pretty fast but we were able to identify our lot and rig.  Oh the video, you could hear them comment "oh my God" when they saw ours.

Sorry for the bad quality of these pictures.  They were screen shots from a video.  The white Wildwood that is still standing is not ours.   Ours is the pile of rubble to the right of it.



For some reason, seeing the orange marks on our RV hit me really hard. It's something you see on the news all the time, but man, it really hits home when it's on your home.  The furniture sitting outside got to Al more than me.  I never liked that furniture.  haha







The following picture shows it from another angle. This is the bottom of the RV.  More orange writing


We do not know why our RV came apart like it did, when others did ok.  We think it was mostly because ours was hit broadside with Cat 4 winds with nothing to buffer the wind.  Our lot is near the open water with a row of tall stilt houses as the only thing that is in front of us. The stilts allow all the open air to rush right onto ours broadside. The open air that always gave us such a nice afternoon breeze was our downfall.  We are guessing the broadside wind found an opening and tore it apart. Perhaps we buffered the Wildwood next door because it looks to be in pretty good shape.   The stilt houses did fine, but those stilts did not block any wind from hitting us.  Perhaps it was a small tornado, but whatever it was, it did a good job on our RV

We have filed a claim with Progressive. I am so thankful we have Progressive because as a former claim adjuster, I know them to be fair and professional.   We even got a call from USAA since they referred us to Progressive since they don't write full coverage on rv's in Florida. They offered their assistance if we had any issues with Progressive.   A team of CAT adjusters will be in the Keys as soon as they are allowed.   We have $15,000 in additional coverage for contents. We should be ok there but I don't think they won't cover anything outside the rv. Unfortunately the contents will be depreciated depending on the age.  Now, we need to start making a list of everything in the RV.

We have no more info on the boat other than a picture of the storage lot where it was located.  We do not know which is our boat.  Hopefully it is not a total loss.  Fortunately, it is also insured with Progressive.



So what do we do now?  Go down and try to salvage some of our things?  Deal with no power or air conditioning, no water, sewer, cell service?   We don't think much from inside the RV will be salvageable, but who knows. We are hoping to find our scuba tanks, bikes and stuff like that.

The thought of going down with no AC is not something we want to do. We would prefer power was restored so that our one night we have to spend there will not be miserable. Will it be worth the trouble for the amount  we are able to salvage?  We just don't know.

 There will be no hotels available but fortunately my cousin offered us the use of their home in Key West. I think they are inclined to wait for the AC to be restored before they go back.  They were nice enough to offer us the use of their home even before they get back, but I doubt we will do that.

To add another problem, there is a new potential hurricane heading along the same path as Irma. The models are showing it as a Cat 3 and heading towards the same islands that were decimated the last time.  No one knows where she will go, but we sure do not want to be in the Keys trying to evacuate for another storm.

So, that is our dilemma.  Since people are heading back today, I'm sure a lot more information will be coming out.  We will give it a few days and make a decision.

We have been watching videos of the destruction in the Keys. It's heartbreaking.

Here are a few pictures of our beloved Florida Keys from the past. The Keys will recover and be the beautiful place we love again.  Many people assume we won't be going back to the Keys anymore.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  It is our winter home, we love it there and we will be back.



Would you believe, this tiki hut survived?  A little windblown I'm sure.


Happier days on our patio.




Some the decorations we had that we hope we can find.


I really want to find my wonderful bike.




Thursday, September 14, 2017

It's Not the Outcome We Wanted - Hurricane Irma

Blairsville, Ga (high 72, low 58)

We have been enjoying the very fall like temperatures here in north Georgia with a cooler than normal September.  We have had several mornings with temps as low as 42 degrees!  That is about to change soon, as we get ready to head to they Keys and the heat and humidity.

As I posted on the past few blogs, we have been trying to figure the status of the Fifth Wheel.  Last winter we  had it towed down as a permanent winter home in the Florida Keys. Irma made landfall (ground zero) as a Cat 4 hurricane with winds of 140 mph, right on our little island paradise of Cudjoe Key.

Most everyone in the Keys heeded the mandatory evacuation.  A few people stayed, some even rode it out on boats.    I can't imagine why anyone would want to ride out a Cat 4 or 5 hurricane on a small island in the Keys, but some surely did.

The hurricane knocked out all the power, cell service, sewer, water and of course communications.  For days we have all been forming Facebook groups for each area with the goal of locating "missing" people who stayed, finding out how our property fared, and when we can go back. It has been a frantic search for information.

I was asked why we can't just call the owners of our community for the status.  We are the "owners" and none of us know anything except the few people who stayed and they have no way to communicate.  Most of the police and first responders even evacuated. This was a BIG deal for the Keys and people took it very, very seriously, as they should have.  No one that knows anything has any way to notify anyone about damages or missing people.   People are frantically trying to check on missing friends and family who stayed for the hurricane.

Something I didn't know but now assume it is available for any disaster like this, is that NOAA flies planes overhead filming the area of the disaster afterwards, giving people and governments information about damages.  They filmed the entire 100 + miles of the Florida Keys,  starting in  Key West and all the way up to Key Largo.  It took three days and of course, our section was last for some reason.    There were many news teams coming in and filming areas.  Cudjoe Key (the island) and Venture Out (our resort community) was filmed many times, but they never quite got to our house, so we really didn't know  the status or our boat and fifth wheel.

Not knowing turned out to be very stressful.  We spent hours each day perusing all the FB groups, news organizations looking for video, tv channels and word of mouth.  I found a lot of info and pictures of Venture Out, just nothing definitive on our property.

Last night while on our nightly golf cart ride searching for bears, we found our answer and it wasn't good.


We initially had been sure the fifth wheel was completely destroyed,  but then we started seeing pictures of rv's that were still standing and looked to be fine.  It allowed us to get a bit of hope.

Here is the link for the NOAA after hurricane pictures. It really is kind of interesting

NOAA Florida Keys after Irma  You click on the area in black, zoom and make sure it's set to Map Box Street under layers.


Here is what our lot and Rv looked like pre Irma







Here is what it looks like after Irma
The fifth wheel is in the middle, sitting at an angle.  The problem with the location of our lot is that the only thing between us and the open water is a single row of high rises houses (on stilts) and an empty rv lot on the water.  There was absolutely NO wind block.  It was nice on those hot afternoons because we almost always had a wonderful breeze.




We store our boat at the Venture Out lot.  We aren't even sure where the boat is from this photo.  It looks like the storm surge moved them all around. There were some large boats here.




Last winter, we discovered the coolest place from the past. It was called Perky's Bat tower.  We had no idea how old or what it was when we found it.  After researching it, we discovered it was built in 1929 and was to house bats for mosquito control. The only problem is once released, the bats flew off never to be seen again.

Here is what it used to look like


You can see here how large it is




This is what is looks like now.  You can see it toppled down. It's a shame.




So, now that we know for certain our Rv is a total loss, we need to decide what to do next.  I reported the claim a few days ago and I'm sure the Catastrophe insurance adjusters are going to be arriving as soon as it's safe for them to enter the Keys.

They had to make sure the 46 or so bridges are safe, remove power lines, repair washed out roads (remember, these are a string of islands connected by roads so you want to make sure the roads are good) and attempt to restore water, sewage, electricity and cell service.

They are making progress but only allowing property owners and renters back into the upper Keys right now and curfews are being strictly enforced.

We think we should head to the Keys once we are allowed back in. There will be things from the Fifth Wheel and trailer, that hopefully we can salvage.  It will not be a pleasant trip.  It will be hot, we won't have a place to stay, hotels will be scarce, and supplies will be limited to what you can bring.


The good news is that at least some of the endangered Key Deer survived.  Their food sources have been ravaged though and I saw a video in which they were definitely freaked out.  This guy seems to be doing fine though, don't you think?




Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Hurricane Irma Aftermath

Blairsville, Ga (high 66, low 55)

We survived Hurricane Irma and all of our close family and friends are safe and sound.  We have a neighbor in the Keys who stayed  to ride out the hurricane, and we haven't heard anything about him, which is not particularly unusual right now.  There is no electricity, the cell towers are down, and info is scarce.  We are hoping he and his friends are fine.

The Tampa area dodged a big bullet when the storm shifted a little at the last minute, sparing a direct hit over Tampa.  Our motorhome appears to be fine, but I'll feel better when our friend Stephanie checks it out inside.

Mom and my brother are fine with no damage or flooding.  They were without power for about 18 hours.  Our rental house is fine, but 24 hours afterwards, power still had not been restored.  That is miserable for them because unlike the cool temps here, it is very hot in Florida.

The media has finally realized that the big story regarding Irma, was down in the Keys. Unfortunately, Irma made landfall on Cudjoe Key.   If that sounds familiar to any of you, it may be because  our property is on Cudjoe, at Venture Out Resort, and you've seen many posts from there. You will be hearing a lot about the area in the days to come.

We bought an older and inexpensive (thank goodness) fifth wheel last year and had it towed down there as our winter home.  Al nearly killed himself drilling down into the very, very hard rock in order to install anchors to secure the RV. We never kidded ourselves that the anchors would stop a Cat 4 or 5 hurricane, but we thought just maybe it would help during a minimal storm.

Once we knew the Keys were going to be hit with a Cat 4 hurricane, we wrote off our RV and boat,  knowing they could not survive 140 mile an hour winds and 5-10 feet of storm surge.  However, when the weather reports confirmed Cudjoe Key to be ground zero, it was a little emotional and very sad.

Information coming in and out of the Keys has been almost nonexistent.  There is no cell service or power. No one is has been allowed in or out.  Land lines seem to work, but very few people have them.  Finally, the media has recognized this to be a big story and they are flocking down there filming the areas and interviewing survivors.   There are survivors down there in the brutal heat with limited food, water or shelter.

There are Facebook groups forming for the different areas and everyone shares every bit of info they get. It comes in pieces. We have seen a few photos and videos of Venture Out and Cudjoe Key, but so far, not specifically our house.

NOAA, is doing a fly over filming the area so people can get a close up look at their property.  My cousin Anne was able to see a picture of their house, showing them that it's still standing and has an intact roof. Such a relief for them, but they are still now allowed reentry into the Keys.  They are hoping early next week.

They filmed Key West first, and were supposedly working their way up to Cudjoe Key, but for some reason skipped it and went right up to Marathon.  There is speculation online that it was because Cudjoe was ground zero and the damage was so bad.  I don't really know.

If you would like to see some of the damage, here is a link

NOAA

You have to zoom in and then under layers, select "map box streets".   You can see cars in the driveways, boats, even my cousin's Tiki hut and pool.

After being glued to Facebook and the Tv for two days, we have finally gotten a little bit of good news.  Nothing specific for our property, but there are rv's that appear to have survived.  We have seen pictures of them in our park which are standing upright and even the AC covers are intact.

Unfortunately, we've also seen some completely obliterated and others laying on their sides.  We have no idea about the state of ours, but after thinking about where the hurricane made landfall and the direction of travel, we realize our would have been hit broadside with only one row of homes between it and the ocean.  Broadside is never good.

So, we wait.  We don't know if we should go down and see if we can salvage anything or not. We don't want to go down there for nothing, but it would be nice if we could salvage some of our stuff. It will be brutally hot.  We won't have a place to stay and hotels will be limited.  Will there be power, water, cell service, fuel?   All questions we can't answer right now.  We were hoping to see the aerial photos today to confirm one way of the other if our RV was in one piece or a thousand.  It looks like we have to wait another day or two.

This is a picture of the Southernmost point in the US. This buoy is famous and every tourist in Key West takes a picture of himself at this point.   It's symbolizes the rest of the Keys.  Battered, but not broken.








Sunday, September 10, 2017

Hurricane Irma Status Report

I had written a blog post a day or so ago, but hadn't gotten around to proof reading it yet and now it seems a little unimportant.  Maybe I'll post it in a few days.

For now, we are very closely watching The Weather Channel and Hurricane Irma.  It seems we've been watching it forever.  It's very stressful.

We are safe in our Fifth Wheel in Blairsville, Georgia, but are actually under a tropical storm watch even all the way up here.  Damn Irma!

My Mom and brother are in Tampa hunkered down in her concrete block house.  They have lost power, but hopefully they will be ok.

Our motorhome is north of Tampa in Wesley Chapel.  We are praying it is ok.

Our Fifth Wheel and boat in the Keys, sadly are gone.   Apparently Irma made landfall on Cudjoe Key, which is exactly where our lot is.  It's a tiny island, so we're certain it is destroyed as it came in as a Cat 4 with some 120+ mile an hour winds.  It's possible the boat is still hanging around but with reports of 8-10 foot surge, it will be ruined from the salt water.

There were a few brave souls that remained in the Keys and one was a neighbor.  He had posted a video right before the eye hit but had to scurry when the ocean started coming up.  Scary.  Of course, they have no power or cell service, so there is no way to know how he is.  We are praying everyone who stayed is safe, but sadly, probably many won't be.

We expected our RV and boat to be gone, but when we saw the reports of landfall on Cudjoe, it was very sad and brought a few tears.

So, that's where we are now.  We are here waiting to see what happens overnight and then decide how to proceed.  We just don't know.

This is a picture from a happier time on Cudjoe Key
My last blog post was of a much happier day, out on the boat diving.  




Friday, May 19, 2017

A Shocking Discovery at Looe Key Marine Sanctuary

 

Cudjoe Key, Florida (high 90, low 80)

We have been back in the Keys since early March.  I intended to update my blog regularly, but somehow fun got in the way and it never got done.

I will try to catch up, but not necessarily in chronological order.  In March, and early April we were busy setting up our new home.  Most of April, the wind blew hard every day which didn’t allow us to take the boat out.  We were getting pretty discouraged but finally the wind died down AND we got a waterfront canal spot to keep our boat.  Thanks to the generosity of a wonderful neighbor, our boat is in the water right behind our fifth wheel.  It’s just steps away from us, so it makes it so much nicer to use the boat.  All we have to do is grab our stuff, walk across the street, jump into the boat and go.

 

Our favorite place to snorkel and dive is Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary.  No fishing or spearfishing is allowed, and everything is protected.

Al and I have been Scuba certified since 1983.  It’s kind of funny, but he lost his PADI certification card and we needed to get another one in order to fill our dive tanks.  We went on line and ordered an E-card.  I was a little worried they still had records or us because basically we were certified before the internet!   Funny huh?  

Looe Key Reef is 8 miles out from us,  on the Atlantic side.  If it’s calm you can get out there in just a few minutes.  They have anchor buoys that you hook onto instead of dropping an anchor.

 

0

LOOE KEY

 

Here are a few of the photos I took from our snorkel and dive trips. I hadn’t actually dove in many years, and it felt really good to actually put on a tank and go down and see the fish, eye to eye.  It took us a while to figure out what happened to our gear.  The damn weight belts must have shrunk since we last used them, and we had to make some adjustments.  Smile

 

These purple sea fans used to be everywhere in the Keys, but due to reef decline in the past 40 years, there have been fewer of them and the ones you see never looked very healthy.  I was pleasantly surprised to see these gorgeous deep purple sea fans.  Most didn’t look this good.

reef fish

 

These are yellowtail snapper.  They are very good to eat, and you can  literally reach out and touch them at Looe Key.  If you toss a piece of bread into the water hundreds immediately go for it.  Once you get one inch outside the sanctuary  boundary, you can’t find a yellowtail to save your life!   Darn fish!  They are too smart.  They like to hang out under the boats at Looe Key Reef.  I’m not sure if it’s for shade or handouts.

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This is a typical reef scene with some healthy looking coral and a school of Sergeant Major fish.  There is a lot of dead coral, so this was nice to see.

Diving at Looe Key Reef

 

This is one of the many types of Parrotfish.  They can get quite large.  This one was not nearly as large as I have seen.  They have huge teeth and they chomp on the rocks and excrete sand.  Remember that the next time you lay out on a nice white sandy beach.

 Smile

 

Diving at Looe Key Reef

 

If you look closely, you can see his front teeth. This is another of the many colors of parrotfish.

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His teeth were extremely yellow.

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Another parrotfish.  They often appear to be smiling.

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The advantage of scuba diving, verses snorkeling is that you get to point the camera toward the surface and get this type of shot.

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Diving at Looe Key Reef

 

This is another typical reef scene.  You can see sergeant majors, and in front, the red fish is another parrotfish.

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Parrotfish

Diving at Looe Key Reef

 

parrotfish

 

French Angel fish

French Angel

 

Butterfly fish, I think?

Diving at Looe Key Reef

 

Porkfish

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These two little things are called Christmas tree worms. They are about 1 inch high. They feed on plankton in the water and if you get too close then retreat back into their little hole.  I needed a good close up lens where I could have gotten  as close as a few inches away  so this is the best picture I could get. 

Christmas tree worms on coral

 

File fish

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Pretty large southern stingray

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Just hanging around the reef.

Diving at Looe Key Reef

 

Our very favorite type of fish is one that was hunted almost to extinction.  They were put on the endangered species list in the 1980’s or 90’s  sometime.  They were called Jewfish back then, but due to the ridiculous political correctness, they are now called Goliath Grouper.  I will always think of them as Jewfish.

They weigh in in the hundreds of pounds, and are as gentle as a big old cow.  They can get up to 800 pounds and 8 feet long. You can reach out and touch them if you wanted to.  However, since that would be considered harassment, it’s not something I would do, plus its thought they are the fish that swallowed Jonah.  They just open their mouth, and and suck in their prey.  No way am I putting my hand or camera too close to those big mouths.  They were killed to near extinction because macho spear fishermen thought it was fun to swim up to them and shoot them with a bang stick (bullet).  They are so gentle, you can swim right up and touch them if you like.  What kind of “hunting” or sport is this?  It takes less  skill than it would to shoot a cow in a pasture.

Looe Key Reef was known to have a large resident Jewfish/Goliath Grouper and we were lucky enough to snorkel with him two years ago.  It’s absolutely incredible to get into the water with a fish that weighs 300-500 pounds.

We named him BOB (big old boy)

We were lucky enough to run into BOB again.

Isn’t he handsome?

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The little fish underneath him is a Remora.  They are also known as sucker fish.  They have a suction cup type thing on their back and they will anchor themselves to large fish or even scuba divers.  I’ve had more than a few of them try to attach themselves to my legs.  Normally they are at least a foot long. These were the tiniest ones I’ve ever seen.  They are the only fish I could gladly shoot!

 

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He hung out with us most of the day one day, staying underneath the boat most of the time.  I guess they like the shade.

That same day, we also had another visitor hanging out around our boat.  This one was less welcome and also not a bit afraid of us.

Al estimated this shark to be about 10 foot in length.  We weren’t sure what type it was but after some research we reluctantly decided that it was a bull shark.  Reluctantly, because they are one of the more aggressive types of sharks and I did not want it to be a bull.

Our neighbor Ron who is a boat captain and dive master at Looe Key Dive shop consulted with his coworkers and everyone felt it was a bull shark. He wasn’t aggressive, but sharks normally don’t hang around people much and will swim off when they see a human.  Tiger sharks, great whites, bulls and lemon sharks are the exception.  He wasn’t aggressive towards us and we figured he had plenty of fresh fish he could have eaten and didn’t need tough old people.

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Al got this nice shot of the Jewfish and didn’t notice the shark swimming right by.

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Goliath and Shark

 

That was a great day, but another day ended up being even better.

We were in the boat when we saw a Jewfish/Goliath swim under the boat.  Al got his snorkel gear on and jumped into the water.

Immediately, he tells me there are two Goliath’s.  A second later, he said no, there are three!   I look over the side and confirmed it, but then a second later, we saw four!   We had four Goliath Grouper right under our boat. 

I handed the camera to Al and quickly got my gear and jumped into the water.  We wanted evidence before they had a chance to swim away.

It was absolutely amazing to see four giants right under our boat.

It was difficult getting good pictures because:  1. the damn yellowtail were so thick I had to literally scoot them away.  2. The Goliath are so huge, it takes a wide angle lens (my camera has a wide 20mm lens) and you have to back off some to get them all.

Here are a few of the photos I took.  Keep in mind, they are right under our boat.  There are two here.  Note the boat propeller and ladder?

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You can see part of all four of them here.

 

Goliath Grouper/Jewfish

 

Goliath Grouper

 

Goliath Grouper

 

This is a good example of what I was dealing with trying to get the Goliath photos.  The yellow tail were so thick I couldn’t see through them.

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Goliath Grouper

 

The four Goliath were different sizes.  It looked like Daddy, Mama, a two babies from different years.  They ranged in weights from I’m guessing the largest 300-500 pounds down to the “baby” at maybe 75 pounds. 

It was an incredible experience.   We understand there are supposed to be 5 Goliaths residing on Looe Key Reef, and four of them spent time with us.  After  30 or 40 minutes one at a time swam away.  It was one of the most spectacular days we have ever had in the ocean (and we’ve had a LOT)

Goliath Grouper

 

Goliath Grouper/Jewfish

Remember the large bull shark?  He also swam under our boat a few times.  Notice the dive platform in the right side of the picture?

Bull shark under boat at Looe Key

 

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Right after the bullshark swam by, Al caught this barracuda passing by.

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Here are a few more random shots.

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Diving at Looe Key Reef

 

Grouper

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Diving at Looe Key Reef'

 

The next photos are coming back into Venture Out.  We sure wish we had a waterfront lot.  It is so NICE keeping your boat in the water.

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This is the canal where our boat is staying.  Isn’t it beautiful?

 

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We had about 2 weeks of good weather with low winds and calm seas before it started blowing again. We were hoping for a day or two of wind so we could rest, but what we got was so far, was a week of strong winds.  Sad smile

We are hoping for a few more nice days before we have to leave.   If it’s too rough on the Atlantic side, you can often get out on the bay/gulf side, but the past several days have been too windy and rough to even move the boat to dry land.  We have it tied up pretty well, but the east winds are coming right into the canal with some 30 mph gusts.

When it’s windy in the Keys, you got to Key West to party. 

I will try to update the blog again.  We have Conch Republic Independence days, sunset celebrations at Mallory Square, Drag queen shows, drag races, happy hours with my Key West family, and much more.  It’s always fun in the Keys.