Month: February 2018

A History of the Conch Republic

The Conch Republic


When traveling, you inevitably come across historical accounts of places you have probably visited many times, yet haven’t given their actual histories a second thought.  The Conch Republic is a great example of this.  I have been coming to the keys since I was a child.  Over the years I have heard some Keys natives refer to themselves as “conchs” and have seen the Conch Republic flag, sporting a pink conch shell in the middle of a blazing sun, flying proudly on many boats.  I have even eaten at the restaurant that bears the name Conch Republic.  But I had never really given any thought to what the Conch Republic represented or why people embrace it, other than possibly being a fan of Keys’ laid-back lifestyle.

On this trip I learned that the Conch Republic was established in 1982.  Apparently, the U.S. Border Patrol set up a blockade on US 1 at Skeeter’s Last Chance Saloon, in Florida City, which is just north of the Florida Keys and on the only road into and out of the chain of islands.IMG_1916.JPG

Even though they were not crossing a national border, agents required everyone leaving the Keys to verify their U.S. citizenship and allow their vehicles to be searched, a practice reserved for national borders only.  The roadblock was ostensibly an effort to prevent undocumented immigrants from entering the U.S. through the Keys, the number of which had increased significantly following the Mariel Boatlift (approx. 125,000 Cubans/Haitians).  The agents also searched for illegal drugs, again a practice reserved only for those crossing of a national border.


Photo Credit:  U.S. Department of Homeland Security – Scheina, Robert L.. U. S. Coast Guard Operations During the 1980 Cuban Exodus. U.S. Department of Homeland Security., Public Domain,

Again, since US 1 is the only road into and out of the Keys, these roadblocks backed traffic up for miles.  While there was no doubt that drugs were coming in through the Keys and immigration was becoming a political and economic challenge it was really the impact on tourism that provoked a prompt and enthusiastic response from the Keys natives.  The roadblock was causing tourists to avoid the Keys altogether and the islanders were displeased, to say the least.

Key West’s mayor, Dennis Wardlow took immediate action, confronting the Sherriff of Monroe County, Florida Governor Bob Graham and even the U.S. Border Patrol where he was told that road block was “none of his business.”  When his attempt to seek an injunction against the roadblock failed, Mayor Wardlow, accompanied by pilot and attorney David Paul Horan and some fellow conchs assembled the press on the Federal Courthouse Steps in Miami and announced: “Tomorrow at noon the Florida Keys will secede from the Union.”  The first act of rebellion happened as they returned to Key West, and buzzed the roadblock in their plane.  Wardlow, indicating that he meant business, said that he would only negotiate with President Ronald Reagan or V.P. George Bush.


Mayor Dennis Wardlow with the Flag of Secession 1982

The next day in Mallory Square, Mayor Wardlow read the proclamation of secession, proclaiming that the Conch Republic was a separate and independent nation and began the civil rebellion by breaking a loaf of stale Cuban bread over the head of a man dressed in the U.S. Navy uniform.  The conchs lowered the Stars and Stripes and raised the royal blue Conch Republic flag.  Once Prime Minister Wardlow declared war, citizens of the new Republic lobbed Cuban bread and conch fritters at federal agents and Navy and Coast Guard officials who were keeping an eye on things.

One minute later, Wardlow surrendered to the nearby Admiral of the Navy Base at Key West, demanding “One billion dollars in foreign aid and war relief to rebuild our nation after the long Federal siege!”  No Federal aid was forthcoming but the micro-nation was successful twice over when the roadblock was removed and the attendant publicity succeeded in re-establishing the flow of tourists to the Keys.

Secretary General of the Conch Republic, Peter Anderson created an official passport which has reportedly been accepted by 13 Caribbean Nations as well as in Germany, Sweden, Havana, Mexico, France, Spain, Ireland and Russia.  Over 10,000 of these passports have been issued, with only one possible blemish, which has yet to be confirmed by the FBI.  The Miami Herald reported that the FBI was investigating the possibility that Mohammad Atta (one of the 9/11 hijackers) used a Conch Republic Passport to enter the country after gaining the passport in 2000.  Again, the names may be similar but the identities have yet to be established as identical.


The United States and the Conch Republic have enjoyed a mostly peaceful coexistence with only a few minor skirmishes over the ensuing years.  The flag continues to fly high over the Keys, drawing people from all over the world to celebrate its unique culture of grit, persistence in the face of adversity and a “party-till-you-drop” attitude toward life.

We have enjoyed being here and sharing the Conch Republic’s hospitality and hope to carry it forward with us as we move around the country.  Now I just gotta get a flag to bring with us and maybe a passport if I can find one!


The Symbolism of the Conch Republic Flag:

Designer: Claude D. Valdez

Blue Field: The blue of the Keys’ water and skies

Pink Conch – symbolizes the natives of the Keys

Blazing Corona – symbolizes the always present sunshine in the Keys.

1892, the year in which  the City of Key West and Monroe County (all of the Keys) were incorporated.

2 Constellations – 5 stars are the Northern Cross (a navigational guide) and the 4 stars are the Southern Cross ( can be seen at certain times of the year from Key West) –  these crosses as symbols of many faiths, acknowledge the gratitude to “our maker for the many blessing bestowed upon these islands.

Wisdom on the Water


As we have traveled, we have been entertained and exhorted by various people who have shared their experience and acumen with us.  Some words of wisdom have been meant to entertain, others to caution and still others to share knowledge of places we have yet to visit.  Some gems were not meant for us at all but were overheard in conversations of others but are valuable to us, just the same. I hope you enjoy them!

Nautical Optimism

A comment overheard as one shrimper captain talks with another,


Photo credit: Jean Coleman

“You know everything is going to come out just fine until amazingly it all does an about-face and rapidly goes to hell!” 

No comment from the other captain, he just stands with burly, sun-bronzed arms folded over a Santa-belly nodding a grizzled head in total agreement.

 Where Birds Are Walking

Upon leaving the dock to start on this adventure, a fellow live-aboard, who we have gotten to know over the past two years, encouraged us with these parting words, “Never drive where you see birds walking!”


Photo credit: Jean Coleman

It has been good advice which we have heeded so far and we’ve stayed out of trouble but we have been amazed to watch others ignore where the birds are obviously walking only to end up high and dry waiting for a rescuing tide or Tow Boat US to come to save them.

Potato Navigation

We stand at 3D Marine in Stock Island waiting for them to fix the sling lift.  Yes, it worked fine to lift our boat out of the water and into the yard, where the billing clock starts to tick but it dies as soon as our dripping hull casts her shadow on dry land.


Photo credit: Jean Coleman

A new battery and a lunch break later, the guys are able to get it fixed and block the boat up for a bottom paint and some repairs to our transom.  While we wait, Jack, a New Hampshire native, comes over and engages us.  He had hoped that they would splash his boat prior to pulling ours but obviously that timing didn’t quite work out the way he hoped.  No matter, he’s not in a real hurry and is happy to chat as we all wait.

He has been on the water since he was 7, is now 77 and has been everywhere from the upper Canadian Coast down to the Caribbean and probably even further.  We ask him about fog up in the northern coastal areas and he shares that whenever a warm, moist front moves anywhere into the vicinity of the coast, the result will be white-out fog where you cannot see the bow railing of your boat from the helm and sometimes can’t see it even if you are standing on the bow looking forward.  He cautions that these conditions necessitate the use of “Potato Navigation.”  We ask what potato navigation is and his reply has us in stitches. 51

Photo credit: Jean Coleman

“Well, it’s like this,” he says, “when the fog gets so thick you can’t see in front of the boat, you send your youngest crew member forward to the bow with a big bucket of potatoes.  Every once in a while, you have him chunk a potato out ahead of the boat.  If you hear it splash, you keep her going.  If you don’t, you’d better pull the throttle back real quick-like.  Fast as you can, have the kid pitch another one out to starboard and if you hear it splash, push her hard to starboard.  And that’s how potato navigation works in the fog!”

Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up!  We are looking forward to sharing more installations of wisdom with you as we move north at the end of the month.

Week Five and just a little Crabby!

Week five brings us to Key West and our month long stay at Stock Island Marina Village.  The cruise from Faro Blanco in Marathon to Key West was a wonderful day on the water. We had following seas of three to four-foot waves that gave us a boost

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Photo by Jerry Coleman

from our usual 8 miles per hour to 9 ½ miles per hour.  Our trip was pleasant, and we were able to share memories of the different keys and places we had previously visited.  While reminiscing, we were constantly changing course to miss the innumerable crab-pots strewn along the way.  Crabbing in Florida and the other seafood offerings as well as an economic mainstay for the state. In 2014 Florida ranked seventh among U.S. states for fresh seafood production with 99.2 million pounds harvested with a dockside value of $257.7 million.  Florida however, ranked first by value with grouper, pompano, mullet, stone crab, pink shrimp, spiny lobsters, and Spanish mackerel.  Florida fishermen caught 92% of the above species.  When we speak with other cruisers about the number of crab-traps, we have to avoid I now see why.  In 2015 Stone

Islamorada Pics53

Photo by Jean Coleman

Crabs and Blue Crabs brought in $36,498,363 million and $12,106,862 million respectively.  In pounds, the Blue Crabs outpaced the Stone Crabs 6.6 million pounds to 2.8 million pounds respectively. I thought we had a lot of crab-traps in Pinellas but was amazed at the number here in the Keys.  While Pinellas County caught 8.1 million pounds of combined crabs with a value of $23.6 million, Monroe County hauled in 12.6 million pounds with a value of $71.2 million dollars.  I have a love-hate relationship with crap-traps; I hate having to constantly course correct to miss the crab-traps but love the dinners they can provide in the evening.


Jean and I are enjoying our month-long visit in Key West very much. We go exploring every day. The Key West Botanical Gardens was a great visit for example, where we learned about the local area environment and its ecological history.   Hurricane Irma made a complete mess of part of the site, but the staff has made many repairs and improvements.

Before we departed on the loop, Jean and I bought two compact and foldable bikes. I highly recommend to those considering the loop or any lengthy travel (RVer’s included) to bring bikes along.  The bikes increase our range over walking by a factor of four as well as the time you can spend at various locations.

Jean and I noticed an odor in the aft stateroom that we could not locate, so we begin to take apart the bunks and closets and found a persistent leak under Jean’s bunk that brought a few gallons of standing water in every six hours or so.  We decided to haul out and have the repairs done at Three D Boatyard a quarter mile from our

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Photo by Jerry Coleman

berth in Stock Island Marina Village.  I thought that I could repair the leak once the transom dried out but found that the port trim tab bolts had rusted out and burrowed a hole in four places.  Upon that discovery I had them remove all the trim tabs and glass over all the holes.  We have never used the tabs nor do we cruise at a speed that the tabs assist us.  When we took off the starboard tabs, we could push four of the attaching bolts through by hand.  It was only a matter of time before I had the identical leaking problem on the starboard side as I had on the port side. We found a marine contractor that knew what he was doing and set about making the repairs.  I have learned that fixing one problem will lead to many others that need correction also.  As we sat on the hard (mariner speak for “out of the water” and on blocks and stabilizers), we saw that Makin Memories bottom was in desperate need of a paint job.  The price quote was extremely reasonable, and we have at least 5000 miles to go yet, and we knew that at some point the bottom would need to be addressed but had delayed for the time being.  Makin Memories now has a beautiful blue bottom.


Our marine contractor said they would be done today and we should splash (mariner speak for “dropped back in the water”) tomorrow at 10:30. I am looking forward to being back at the dock and then can begin the clean-up.  Any time your boat is in the boatyard, she will become dirty, dusty, and just plain grimy.  We have friends coming to visit this weekend and would like to have Makin Memories ship shape.

Week Four on the Loop

As week three came to a close, we enjoyed our time exploring the North Miami Shores area as well as the visit to the Miami aquarium with an early dinner in Little Havana.   Saturday morning we departed Pelican Harbor Marina City Docks and began our cruise to Biscayne Bay to the Dinner Key mooring field in Coconut Grove.  It was a short trip of just over 14 statute miles but very scenic and exciting as we navigated through the Port of Miami area.  There was not the amount of traffic operating as compared to Port Everglades that day, and we quickly navigated through without delay.


Dinner Key has 225 mooring balls available at a reasonable rate which includes amenities such as a dinghy dock, showers, laundry, with wifi in the lobby area.  The field had a few cruisers moored on lines, but it was mostly sailboats, many of which were waiting for the wind to abate so they could cross over to the Bahamas.  As we approached we knew we were going to have our hands full of trying to hook the eyelet and thread our line through and safely moor.  The wind was a steady 20 mph gusting 30mph.  It took Jean and me five attempts to navigate the moored boats, cope with the wind gusts, and dodge a sailboat race and their support craft that were using the mooring field approach path as a shortcut.  The night on the mooring ball was one of the longest nights I have had while in the loop.  Wind and waves made this choice of overnight a sleepless one, not because of the fear of pulling loose and drifting, but of the noise and commotion of the waves pounding the stern, which of course consists of our new swim platform and dinghy! The boat was bathed and crusted in salt by morning. No more open mooring fields when high winds are forecasted, only marina tie-ups or snug little hidy holes from now on for us.


And at the crack of dawn when there was light to navigate by, we untethered ourselves and headed out of Biscayne Bay into Card Sound and found a great little hidy hole called Pumpkin Creek.  Just off of the sound entrance to Angelfish Creek, there is a small cut that has plenty of water and wind protection.  We threw out two anchors, dinghied around to see the local area and then slept like babies through the night.


The next morning we pulled our two anchors and began a slow cruise of 21 miles to the bay side of upper Key Largo.  The winds had not wound up yet, and with a few showers that helped clean the boat of salt, we made our way to our next anchorage in Tarpon Basin.


Tarpon Basin is a good place to anchor out and enjoy the scenery.  The dinghy allowed us to motor in and visit Key Largo and Uber down to Tavernier for a Rotary Lunch.  The Lunch was fun and was held at Craig’s restaurant.  Afterward the meeting, a man asked to speak with us and told us a story of when he was in college he captained the 72′ “Coastal Queen” around the loop.  She is an older ship with beautiful, graceful lines.  When we asked him how long it took, Jean and I smiled when he grinned and said that it took four years to complete. I could see where you might not want the adventure ever to end.


Islamorada Marker 84

Photo by Jean Coleman

From Tarpon Basin we cruised to Islamorada and tied up at Islamorada Yacht Basin alongside Lorelei’s bar and grill.  It was a small basin completely protected from the wind, and we spent a few quiet down days. When in a marina, the boating life is not that dissimilar to living in an apartment complex, of course, you are on a boat and floating, but your neighbors are very close, and curiosity, questions, and conversation are constant.  It is a tight community, and you make friends quickly with invitations to visit from all over the eastern seaboard.  Jean and I used our bikes to explore some of the local out of the way places and witnessed the destruction Irma caused this small community.  The rebuilding and starting over is everywhere you look. The scrapped empty lots are the worst.


As a side trip, Jean and I dinghied to Lignumvitae Key to explore the botanical gardens. Lignumvitae is Latin for “tree of life” and has a very interesting history. You can get to the key only by boat and once we arrived we could see that Irma once again had taken a toll.  The public dock was in disrepair and hazardous.  Jean and I tied up to the one remaining piling and took a quick stroll around the house and some outposts.  Rain approaching from the southeast threatened our ride home so we left before we could enjoy a tour by a ranger. Maybe next time.


Our cruise from Islamorada to Marathon was windy but beautiful. I use both paper and

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Photo by Jerry Coleman

electronic charts as we navigate from one place to another. The names of passes, channels and cuts, are always interesting to me.  As we navigated from Islamorada to Marathon we passed by, over, or around, places such as; Bowlegs Cut, Old Dan Bank, Old Sweat Bank, Rachel’s Bank, and Washerwoman Bank. I love the names and I am sure there are many interesting and colorful stories on how they came to be.  Once we arrived at Marathon, we stayed at Faro Blanco (The White Lighthouse) overnight. We fueled and visited the local West Marine for supplies.  Jean and I tied up in Marathon last year and we re-visited a small restaurant called Burdines.  We enjoyed a couple of sandwiches and a rainstorm as well as a beautiful rainbow afterward.  As we walked to dinner, we were able to witness some of the devastations that Irma brought to Marathon.  One of the boatyards in Boot Key was used as a boat graveyard. It was very sad to see the floating homes of people so damaged that their owners were left homeless.  One of the boats had a gaping hole in the aft cabin section, and you could see the clothes still hanging in the closet.


From Faro Blanco Marina in Marathon, we cruised to Mozer Channel and headed outside to the Atlantic, turned right and followed Hawk Channel down to Key West. Our destination is Stock Island Village Marina where we will winter until early March.


We have holed up in Islamorada for a few days at a fun marina/restaurant/fishing guide haven called Lorelei’s Marina and Cabana Bar . We have driven by this place for years and never knew it should be stopped at!!! It is right across from what used to be the Islander (which is being renovated and now is only inhabited by Iguanas who love the iconic old sign!)0201181228b
and a block north of Cheeca Lodge. They have a beach, great food and local Islamorada beer on tap! We have had great live music each night and even a surprisingly good magician. They shut all of this down by 9 PM so you all know that works for us! Our marina neighbors have lived here since May, evacuating for Irma but otherwise are happy to be here for the foreseeable future.
We are now far enough south to see the damage from Hurricane Irma. The people here are very optimistic about the rebuilding and growth that is going on and it is amazing to see many brand new homes and businesses that have sprung up since we were here in June of last year. Lots of new paint and upgrades have been made to existing structures as well. It looks clean and well maintained and we are so happy to see this resilience in our beloved Keys. 
The flora has not fared nearly as well. Many large trees were lost and new ones have been planted and staked to take their places. As we came south through mangrove areas, we could see that the leaves had been stripped from most of the bushes and trees (other than the palms) and were just starting to come back. The mangrove rookeries were desolate looking, just bare sticks and branches with a very few leaves that have managed to come back.
We will be here through tomorrow and then will head south.  Not sure if we will even see the Super Bowl – no real loss.
Plan to spend 3 weeks or so at Stock Island Marina Village, possibly a trip to Marquesas and Dry Tortuga if the wind will ever lay down and lots of walks and bicycle trips into Key West.  We are looking forward to seeing friends who will be down in our area during the month of February and catch up on what’s been happening at home.


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