What a Ship!
~Friday, March 17, 2023~
HAPPY ST. PATRICK’S DAY ☘️and Top O’ the Morning to ‘ya! Any of our readers out there Irish? If you’re not into the celebration, Happy Friday anyway and hope you’re wearing green to avoid being pinched.
Well, let’s try this again. Having made doggie care arrangements with our new friends, Cindy and Blair, we left for Key West mid-afternoon to get to our sunset tour. We’d still have plenty of time for a little sightseeing before boarding the boat at 5:30. Once again, we brought our bikes that would allow us to get around the busy northern end a little bit easier. The “parking” situation was surprisingly easier than yesterday. With St. Patty’s Day and all, we weren’t sure why that was. Are even bicyclists Ubering everywhere on this celebratory day? As we arrived at the Harborwalk to check in, I couldn’t help but wonder if our reservation debacle from yesterday would be a repeat performance. It turned out there were NO glitches after all. With about 30 minutes to spare,
we were able to tour around the harbor, completely entertained by the heavily decorated cars and people decked out in St. Patrick’s Day garb. The Conch Republic Seafood Restaurant and Bar offered us a celebratory beer before our departure. Being in prime fishing territory, this seafood restaurant has a history all its own. The property now sits on what was once home to the Singleton Fish House and Ice Plant, known to be the largest in the world. At the peak of shrimp season, this ice house provided a more efficient unloading of the day’s catch. The attraction to this area for many of these fishermen, was its natural recess in the coastline called a “bight”, serving as one of the island’s best seasonal fishing communities. When Key West grew as a settlement in the early 1800’s, the “bight” became a popular anchoring spot for many fishing vessels and to this day, is the heart of Key West’s Historic Seaport, supporting many industries that are vital to Key West’s economy.
By 5:30, we were on the ship for a 6:00 departure. Tonight we would be riding the Appledore II, a hand built 86-foot wooden
schooner that calls Key West and Camden, Maine, home. As we were welcomed aboard by 2 deckhands and the captain, we knew we were in good hands. But first, which seat to choose?
Common sense told us that sitting as close to the stern as possible would be best if you want to see the captain in action. It ended up being the perfect spot to not only watch him maneuver the boat, but ask questions as well.
After we were seated on the glossy wooden seat, we were asked what we would like in the way of beverages. Champagne sounded delicious and appropriate for our unique evening. After the 20 people on board were set with their cruise cocktails, we were ready to head out, that is once the boat traffic calmed down a little. Everyone was heading out for sunset all about the same time. The deckhands and captain were in constant communication with eachother as well as with other boats. Within about 10 minutes of getting out of harbor, the captain directed his crew to put up the main sail first (the one closest to the stern of the boat). They even asked for a few brave volunteers to help raise the sails which is no easy feat. It takes a lot of strength to pull those ropes. Looking up towards the 2 masts and all those ropes, I wouldn’t even know where to begin. Of course the best part was getting out to open ocean with the force of the gentle wind and the sails up. I couldn’t help but ask if tonight’s conditions were considered good. Sarah said that they were much better than last night.
Ha, I guess it’s good we didn’t get on the boat yesterday after all. What we liked best about this tour was that it wasn’t overcrowded (only 20 people), and that there were no distractions in the way of a dinner and loud music. It was simply about the ship, the wind and the waves.
About an hour after being pushed out to open ocean, we were by far the furthest out of any other boats. It was at this point the captain began tacking the ship, reversing our direction back toward our starting point. When this happens, the boom (the horizontal pole which extends from the bottom of the mast) adjusts its position from one side of the boat to the other. This is when you don’t want to be standing with the probability of getting knocked out, down or overboard. As soon as we picked up speed heading the other direction, little did we know we’d be witness to a wedding proposal. The gentleman, I’d say about 65, impressively got down on one knee (try doing this on a moving ship), and quietly proposed to his beautiful bride-to-be. Of course it was met with a resounding “yes”! Everyone on board gave a congratulatory applause. Talk about romantic!
Being on that ship was certainly something very special, and thanks to our proximity on the boat, we learned a lot. Launched in 1978, it is constructed in the finest tradition of New England shipbuilding and the largest of her sister ships. It is also the last schooner to be custom built by the Gamage Shipyard in South Bristol, Maine. We asked the captain if he owned the boat. With a slight chuckle, he said, “no, though I wish I were”. Originally owned by maritime explorers Herbert and Doris Smith for about 10 years, it was sold in 1988 to John and Jean McKean who have owned it ever since. The crew lives on the boat full-time and maintains it as well, with the exception of when it’s dry docked. That’s when a true artisan does his magic. The cost for the last dry dock maintenance/repair appointment…..$500,000! Hopefully they don’t have to do that too often. Their 7-member crew takes off for Camden, Maine in early June, running her 24 hours a day until her arrival. Once there, it will tour for about 4 or 5 months until it heads back to The Keys’ warmer waters.
With a smooth entry back to harbor, the captain’s announcement “welcoming us to Cuba” was met with a lot of laughter. Now THAT would have been something! Of course we were all sad that our beautiful evening had come to an end. But for Jeff and I, it would be one we would never forget. It was definitely in our top 5 of excursions.
Starved, we found a great dinner spot just steps from where we disembarked the ship. The Boat House at Turtle Kraals Bar & Grill looked like the perfect place to enjoy a great meal while watching other boats return from their sunset evening as we lucked out getting the last seat next to the water. I guess we know how to pick ‘em right as we found out that this restaurant was bestowed a major award by the Key West Chamber of Commerce for their extensive renovation efforts and contributions to Key West. And our meals did not disappoint. My Fish & Chips were amazing and Jeff’s Cobb Salad was in his words, “one of the best Cobb Salads I’ve ever had”. Just as we were leaving, we ran into the captain of our boat where he thanked us again for sailing with them. It was nice that he remembered us. After all, we were seated next to him the entire ride.
Since it was St. Patrick’s Day, we thought we’d head over to the party epicenter of Key West that is Duval Street. As expected, bars, pubs, cafes, shops and galleries were all hoppin’ . Even a few of the bars were playing Irish music which was an added treat. Now for the loooong drive home. We’ll be back soon Key West!