ICW Cruise- Living Aboard in Key West

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Everyone enjoys the laid-back Keys lifestyle. People are friendly and relaxed, and everything moves at a slower pace.

Each morning, amid the fragrant aroma of Cuban coffee, healthily tanned boat skippers and their crew members arrive for work. Preferred transportation is a usually a skateboard or bicycle, but a few use motor scooters. While supplies are loaded and engines started, pale tourists eagerly await the day's snorkeling, fishing, or sailing adventure. As the boats depart, the sound of our national anthem drifts across the harbor while the flag is raised at the U.S. Coast Guard station.

At lunchtime, the harbor's bars and restaurants fill, and the smell of coffee is replaced by the odor of frying seafood, margaritas, and mojitos. At 1 p.m., the afternoon tourist flotilla leaves with more enthusiastic adventurers. When they return, it will be happy hour, with reduced-price drinks accompanied by live music.

In the late afternoon, fishing guides clean catches of dolphin, red snapper, and Spanish mackerel. The usual crowd gathers: a few cats linger on the dock, and some pelicans float nearby while 4-foot-long tarpon swim near the pier. As the guide fillets the fish, he feeds small pieces to the waiting cats-most prefer mackerel. Pelicans scramble for the fish skin, and tarpon roil the water for the remaining fish carcass.

Sometimes a guide hands a strip of fish to one of his customers who kneels on the pier and holds it just above the water. Several tarpon swim close to the treat and then turn away. Suddenly, one lunges up quickly and grabs the fish, surprising the holder, who leaps backward. Quite a show!

As daylight wanes, many people drift to Mallory Square, or other vantage points, to watch a beautiful sunset over the Gulf of Mexico. After supper, people stroll along the waterfront while the bars crank up the music. A few hours later, everything quiets, and the harbor sleeps.

A semi-tame egret walked along our pier daily, picking small crabs from the sea grass. In the late afternoon, it often stood on a fish-cleaning table waiting for handouts. The neighborhood cats waited patiently for their share, too. One day, a young manatee swam next to our boat, moving very slowly and staying with us for over a half hour. Magnificent creatures!

Each morning I strolled into town to buy a newspaper, sometimes continuing along the quay to the Waterfront Market, where there were fresh croissants or rolls for breakfast. In late afternoon, we often returned there to buy food for dinner. Our favorite meal was steamed Key West pink shrimp; a sliced avocado with pepper, salt, and lemon juice; and a loaf of crusty ciabatta bread.

Bringing our bicycles was a good idea. They are the perfect transportation in Key West, and there are bike racks everywhere. We rode our bikes throughout the island, day and night, seeing the sights and finding funky little stopovers for drinks or snacks. Each week, we would strap cargo bags and a soft-sided cooler to our bicycles and ride 3 miles to buy food at supermarkets on the island's north side. We tried to explore every street and alleyway of lovely Key West, and we can happily say that we saw more than the average tourist.

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