Monkey Tom. Discovery of an Artist

Private Property. Do Not Enter.

This is one of the most alluring signs. I enter.

It’s all very fascinating. Is it a trailer park, is it a junk yard, or is it a museum?

The road is wide and covered in pale gravel, bleached broken up corals, and faded wet carpets. From the entrance to the end is probably a hundred feet. There are six or seven shabby old trailers on both sides hidden beneath trees I’ve never seen before and surrounded by huge piles of junk. I am almost convinced that this place has been abandoned ages ago and there is no one living here. No signs of life.

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The road ends in the sea like a boat ramp. There is an improvised wooden pier, a yellow houseboat on the left and a grey house on pillars on the right sticking out of the water. The sea is calm here and in the distance lays a mangrove island and a small anchorage where a few sailboats quietly rest. An idyllic scene reminiscent of some distant past, forever lost, my dear Hemingway.

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This place can only be possible in Stock Island, I tell myself. In this poor neighborhood divided in small fenced in trailer compounds, like decrepit ancient campgrounds, one can see all sorts of strange dwellings. And this one surpasses them all. There are mountains of junk taller than the trailers.

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But as I slow down and inspect closely, I realize things have been carefully placed, the junk has been meticulously arranged. The discovery enlightens me. The place morphs in my mind like a rock becoming a turtle. The junk transforms into artworks. The trash is now found objects. The piles- installations and sculptures. Yes, this is a bizarre offbeat museum, a lunatic gallery, and I am thrilled!

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Art is all around me. Barbarous, paranoid, psychopathic art; crying, roaring, and laughing at me. What a discovery, what a luck, what a fortune!

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Then, as I celebrate, a creature appears. Riding some weird contraption that blends with the place and soon disappears among fishing nets and fake flowers, an old, very old guy with a straw hat slowly approaches and says nothing. I say, Hi.

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I figure, this must be the artist, and his noble steed. And it is.

His name is Monkey Tom.

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(He once had a monkey named Igor, but the pet died stung by a scorpion. Someone later told me, that Igor actually was killed in a bar fight.)

Monkey Tom showed me around, and we talked for a bit. I went back and visited a few more times, and we talked even more. His life is a saga full of love and betrayal, adventure and glory, and there are articles even books written about him. But that doesn’t mean he is famous, or rich, not in the sense you might think.

In Stock Island where he presently lives, everyone knows him. He is the local celebrity. But he is not at the least known in Key West where the galleries are and the tourists with money willing to buy „local“ arts. But that’s ok, his paintings are not what the tourist requires anyway: colorful seascapes, palm trees, and flowers. His are of bizarre creatures with three eyes, old men with white beards and faces covered in fish scales, ghost shrimp boats, sea monsters, and storms. He paints on whatever is lying around.Old paddles, driftwood, turtle shells, coconuts…

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And he would exchange an artwork for a good meal or two. In fact, a girl I met at the Rusty Anchor restaurant, Inka, has an extensive collection of Monkey Tom paintings which she bought from him whenever he needed some cash and a bowl of soup. The whole restaurant is decorated by his artworks.

Inka with dog Maya at the Rusty Anchor restaurant showing Monkey Tom paintings

Inka with dog Maya at the Rusty Anchor restaurant showing Monkey Tom paintings

Later, in a mechanic’s shop where Ivo was going to pick up some spare parts for the engine, I recognized Monkey Tom’s paintings all over the walls. Marc, the mechanic, collects them and has hundreds of them. He also receives Monkey Tom’s mail and helps him when needed…

I must end this post here, although I wanted to show you all the details of Monkey Tom’s place and his paintings… Oh, well, I will do this next time.

p.s.

Monkey Tom has a website with lots of details about his past life and his artistic explorations. Check it out.  www.monkeytom.org

 

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Our Key West

Key West is a fantastic little city. A quaint drinking village with a fishing problem. If only there were not so many tourists…

Still, we absolutely loved living on a boat anchored just opposite Mallory Square; riding bikes through the narrow streets carpeted with tiny yellow flowers fallen from huge trees and iguana droppings; eating sandwiches at The Cuban Coffee Queen tossing occasional crumbs to the paranoiac wild roosters proliferating all over Monroe County; roaming through downtown in the evenings with friends and a backpack full of beers; or making a small fire after sunset on the coral covered shores of a mangrove island.

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Most of all, we will miss our friends. We played a six hundred year old plastic bottle game in front of The Green Parrot, we waited for the afternoon rain to stop on the terrace in front of Turtle Kraals looking out at the grey waters calm under the raindrops. We sailed. Aboard Fata Morgana, Rocksteady, and The Liquid Courage, we dreamed together and planned the future.

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It’s time to leave, one more time. To part. It has been twelve years since we arrived in America. We didn’t land here by plane, we got here swimming across a dark river. We arrived wet. And that is how we are leaving, twelve years later, the waters again will carry us some place else.

As you are reading this, we will be probably somewhere in Cuba, if not at the bottom of the sea.

Farewell Key West, we left a lock of Maya’s red hair and a piece of our hearts on the dinghy docks, next to the tarpon pond.

And farewell friends and boats, we will be seeing you some crazy day in Guatemala, Tonga Tonga, or at the bottom of the sea.

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Laundry On The Boat

Ah, the laundry post!

There isn’t a respectable sailing blog without a heroic laundry post, explaining how it is a huge achievement to wash clothes aboard the boat with seawater and dry them in the breeze hanging them from the mast…  And the pubic is full of admiration and esteem.

We, Americans, Canadians, First World, First Class citizens, are addicted to certain technological comforts and doing without is an act of bravery.

So here we, go:

We, the Nomadiks, like to announce to all: we are doing laundry on the boat! Washing clothes by hand with seawater, rinsing twice in rainwater which we collect through a very complicated system in buckets and coolers. Then, we hang the laundry from lines and rigging, and the sight of this colorful installation amazes the tourists piled up on sunset cruises, who turn their cameras toward our boat, neglecting for a short second the setting sun. I mean, it must be quite a sight if the sunset becomes secondary.

And we don’t limit ourselves to shorts and t-shirts. When Ivo steps in, Ivo steps literally IN (in a 5-gallon bucket where he stomps with his feet bed sheets and even blankets!)

The electric washing machine was invented in 1908 by Alva J. Fisher, Google told me. How did people live before that is no longer a mystery.

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Visit by a German Journalist

A few days ago, a journalist, Ann-Katherin Eckardt, came all the way from Germany to write a piece on Boat Punk for NEON magazine, a magazine targeting readers in their twenties and thirties, reflecting the young generation’s issues, aspirations, and viewpoints of the world. With her came a photographer Charles Ommanney, and they stayed for 3 days in Key West interviewing and photographing kids from the Boat Punk community.

Tyler, who is one of the founding fathers and nucleus of the community, helping everyone, organising Boat Punk events and meet-ups, and who was also featured in a French reportage by  Anne-Cécile Genreand , was the official host of the event and the star of the article which should be published in NEON soon.

Tyler introduced us to Ann Katherine and we had the chance to talk to her a few times during her short stay even though we felt we don’t truly qualify as Boat Punks, or at least as Punks: we have no tattoos nor piercings, no Mohawk haircuts, and we don’t listen to the right music. The only reason we are part of the Boat Punk community here in Key West is our common ideas and ways, shared experiences, as well as our friendship with Tyler and the others which is now fathoms deep.

Still, we all felt a bit flattered by the attention. By the recognition that what we, as a community and as individuals, are doing is interesting to others, unique and exciting, but also valid and rebellious, worthy of international attention and recognition. That people across the Oceans will read about us, the Boat Punks, and maybe get inspired.

The last day of their visit, we all gathered for a sunset sail aboard Tyler’s boat Rocksteady.

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The Photographer

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Tyler

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How to Eat Poisonous Fish for Supper

That particular evening started with a benign game of chess between Ivo and Tyler aboard Rocksteady.

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But then Ryan and Stacie showed up with a bucket of fish a friend gave them.

„Lionfish, Ryan, who loves animals and nature more than anything in the world, explained, is a non indigenous invasive species here in Florida, and you can catch it and eat it all you want. It has poisonous spikes, but if we manage to cut them off without getting stung, we can eat the meat and we will not die! “

This sounds almost reassuring…

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So basically, you need to fillet the fish without touching it much…To do so, you need to stab it with a knife in the head using a coffee pot.

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…Use pliers, knifes, forks, and all available instruments…

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…and band up with others if necessary. Team work pays off.

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Discard all bones, guts, and spikes. Keep only the fillets.

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Repeat as many times as fishes there are in the bucket. Do not forget: Operate with caution!

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Then cook the fish! Add salt, lemon, some pepper, and it is delicious! And ask a friend to make the salad!

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What’s left to do is eat the fish, with lots of salad, beer, friends.

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I tried it and I loved it!

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„Lionfish are an invasive species that threaten Florida’s saltwater fish and wildlife. The FWC encourages people to remove lionfish in Florida waters to limit negative impacts to native fish and wildlife. Lionfish can be speared, caught in hand-held nets or caught on hook and line.

A recreational fishing license is not required for recreational fishers targeting lionfish while using a pole spear, a Hawaiian Sling, a handheld net or any spearing device that is specifically designed and marketed exclusively for lionfish. There is no recreational or commercial harvest bag limit for lionfish.“ (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission)

I just want to add to this that it is extremely tasty and safe to eat if correctly prepared and: Thank you Ryan, this was the greatest tasting poisonous fish ever!

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Ryan and Scabs

 

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Breast Milk Crepes

As we left our home and friends embarking on this journey, we invited everyone to come and visit, whenever they want to and whenever they can. And we are hoping to see you guys all, sooner or later, in some beautiful part of the world.

The first to visit were Kotze and Desi, our Bulgarian friends who we first met in Saint Petersburg Florida a few months ago. The visit was short, only three days, but full of fun and emotions.

Kotze and Desi aboard Fata Morgana at Sand Key, Florida

Kotze and Desi aboard Fata Morgana at Sand Key, Florida

 

We sailed to the Marquesas, we snorkelled in the reefs, we fished and we grilled our catch on the BBQ, we saw dolphins, sunsets, mysterious things glowing green in the dark waters at night, and skies filled with stars. It was truly beautiful.

Kotze and Desi snorkelling at Sand Key

Kotze and Desi snorkelling at Sand Key

But for me, personally, the highlight of the visit were the pancakes.

You see, Kotze and Desi have two daughters, Dahlia who is 6 and Lilly, who is barely 8 months old. The girls didn’t come this time, they stayed home with their grandparents. But Desi, who is still breastfeeding little Lilly, had to collect the breast milk every day. You see, the breasts cannot take a vacation, cannot just stop producing milk for a couple of days, so the milk keeps flowing even when the baby is not around.

Desi's breast milk

Desi’s breast milk

Us, on the other hand, don’t often buy milk, and so milk on the boat is a sort of a rare commodity. And so, I carefully took Desi’s breast milk, added a couple of eggs and some flower and I made crepes! Maya was a bit shocked at first, but when she tried them decided that these are the best crepes ever. Viktor ate a whole bunch, and we all followed, and yes, these were the best crepes ever!

And if you react like most people, shocked or disgusted, think about it! Why not? How much more natural, organic, whole, milk can get? If a baby can drink it, why can’t we?

Thank you Desi!

Desi and Maya eating breast milk crepes. Yum!

Desi and Maya eating breast milk crepes.
Yum!

And thank you guys for the wonderful visit! We can’t wait for the next time, and bring the girls too!

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Boat Punk Mash-Up

The following is a collage of recorded conversations and personal written reflections, and an attempt to reveal (maybe this is not the right word) who, what, why, when, and how of the relatively recent Boat Punk phenomenon. These are the stories and thoughts of Rebecca, Cherri, Ryan, Tyler, Tony, and Stacie: the Boat Punks in Key West, mashed up in one piece. I collected their written and oral accounts and took the liberty and huge responsibility to slice the individual stories and collage them in a way to create a collective piece that would pertain to the entire gang, a piece all can relate to. Even though I have been very careful, individual passages have been taken out of context to produce a somewhat universal but nevertheless altered meaning. 

–Mira

BOAT PUNK MASH UP

by Rebecca, Cherri, Ryan, Stacie, Tony, and Tyler

 

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Met up with friends Sunday and hatched those rafting plans I mentioned with a couple close friends over drinks that very night. Yesterday we visited some places and found beginning flotation and building supplies, and today I found a place next to a boat ramp where we can build and launch the framework for free!

You can call me a boat punk and I can tell you what I’m thinking right now.  

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As I write this, I’m sitting in the cockpit of my private yacht, my own personal ship, floating in a sea of turquoise, beneath a sky of stars. 

The process of transferring our hopes and dreams, our whispered fantasies, from the realm of the imagined and intangible to the concrete and lickable world of truth is one of the most fascinating processes available to the human experience, in my perception. The amount of roadblocks, obstacles and governors we place between our dreams and our realities is another concept I have been masticating for months. From what I can see, from my frontal lobe experience, it is possible to achieve your dreams. I just did it.

I have an oven to bake bread in; I have a cooler to keep beer cold, a liquor shelf, and a toilet. I have a bed (10 of them in fact). I have the table I’m sitting at with a computer plugged in and hot coffee at my side.  I have a fishing pole and a small BBQ that I can use at the same time while listening to my favorite music.  I have a library and a bike shop, and a backyard fenced in by over a million miles of coast line where my neighbors are interesting and the crime rate is almost nonexistent.  I have a wall to hang art and another to hang my hat.  And all this for the arguable sum of nothing.

I realized I didn’t want to live like normal people when I was a little kid.

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I had so many questions. I went to Sunday School. I had to read the bible, but I didn’t understand. I wanted to ask questions. How did this happen? How did that happen? They couldn’t answer my questions! Like the Noah’s Ark thing, that was a huge deal. They were teaching me Lord of the Rings type of stuff and I wanted to know like how the fuck this magic shit happen? They couldn’t answer me! They couldn’t answer me! And even when I was 6 years old I could still put two and two together. You got two animals of each on the arch. Forty days and forty nights, all you gonna have left at the end is lions and tigers. And also there is like you know one hundred thousand different kinds of ants and they live communally… That just doesn’t work! It’s fake, it’s thought to kids, it’s fucking…you know…and don’t bring up dinosaurs. So I got kicked out of Sunday school for not asking the right questions. And my parents were very, very upset.

There is an unrest forming, a casually brewing system of frustration, present amongst many of the finest people I have the joy of being connected to in my life. It is a storm of confusion, of anger and resentment, for the prevailing public standard in America. For the way many people raise their children, for the fog that exists in the minds and the eyes of the tourists we see bumbling through the streets on a daily basis, for the midwesterners drowning in our seas because, at the age of forty, they have never swam in the ocean, for the boy scouts who come to our schooner’s to learn of the sea who’s hands are lilly soft, for the mothers in the parks who warn their children of the inherent dangers of the sand beneath their child’s feet at the playground, frantically dressing them with fresh, thick socks, a filter for the evils of dirt and potential pain, for the war veterans we take into our homes to avoid their slow death on the sidewalks of our finest cities and the dreamy teenagers who volunteer on our properties, lacking the taught skills or motivation to wield a hammer or drive a plow, entrenched in their personal sagas, lost in a dreamland of television, nutritionally defunct meals, apathy, fear and misplaced ideals. 

It’s all very interesting.

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When I was in high school I said I wanted to be an ex-patriot as I grow up. I got suspended for three days.

When I was in high school I was an outcast. My neighbors were my only friends. They were much older than me and they were Punks. They were the only friends I had. They would take me to Punk shows. It was the only time I felt cool, it was the only time I felt accepted. I was fortunate enough to have this outlet because I didn’t fit in the school at all. So I started going to Punk shows. And I realized: Punk music caries a message. I got the message. 

It’s so strange…even some of my earliest memories were listening to music. I remember sitting in the driveway, someone working on their car, listening to music. And I was listening to the lyrics of the music realizing that they are saying something. And just like that, the whole discovery. Wow! Tripped me out, dude. This one memory I’m saying, the song was I can see for miles and miles by The Who, an old classic rock. Then I kind of looked out and I was sort of like, Wait, I could see for miles and miles too! It was like a weird revelation.

In my personal realm, I am on the reaping end of a dream I have been sowing for months. Post the „completion“ of a nearly eight month long, filth infested restoration of the boat on which I now rest, write and create art, I’m reflecting on a process that reminded me of the values I intend to place upon my own life and instilled in me a brand of astonishment that is reserved for the people who have a vision and possess the fortitude, both mentally and physically, to apply the strength, dedication and patience necessary to reap fruition in a tangible sense.

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I got a skateboard as a kid. That was really sort of cutting edge back then. Now every kid has a skateboard but back then not a lot of people had a skateboard. And, you know, getting into skateboarding writing graffiti, hanging out with punk kids and stuff, I started getting into Punk Rock. And I started listening to this old Sex Pistols type of Punk Rock and stuff. It was cool ‘cause you could say SEX pistols without getting in trouble. I was about 9 or 10.

Then there was this alternative college radio station It was on the Fridays nights and it would go till like 4 in the morning and it was called the bottom 40. They would play mostly Punk music and shit like hat. I remember staying up listening to songs and I would record some things. I always wanted shit that was fast, I needed something Punk but fast and they played this Bad Brain song and that fucking changed my life, it was fast as fuck, the fastest music I ever heard, dude. That was my influence right there.

At that point I kind of knew what anarchy was just being a skater, there were anarchy signs on everything. And when you research the bands and learn where they come from really influences you.

Ryan

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I suppose though I’m unsure whether I fit into the [Boat Punk] piece, as I’m at most a fringe-boat punker–there because of the situation. Many would never consider me ‘punk’. I never wore the right studded pants or collected the right audio cassettes. For me punk meant screwing the normal assumptions, roles, and attitudes pushed upon us by society. It meant doing something different and working, in whatever small way, for a world that could be something different. The people I think of as punk are radically different from what most might visually and aesthetically think of as punk. While part of me was on Rocksteady because of Tyler, another part was there because I believed in a boat that offered inspiration and a website (www.boatpunk.com) that offered collaboration.

Punk is no more an expression of freedom as claiming a national or spiritual identity.  It’s common to point out all the black cloths and tattoos and the shinny things in the face.  It may be true that we all look the same, which is a two way street that, in my mind, is just a wash at best. Probably like cowboys, businessmen and gangsta’s, the dress and hangout spots filter out people with strongly opposing characteristic values.  I’v never been to prison but I don’t imagine on the first day you walk around introducing yourself to every single person you see and discuss the potential benefits of acquaintanceship. If I had a swastika on my face I think I would try to get to that side of the room as quickly as I could.  On one hand a marked punk can walk into any city in the world, find the other punks and be in good hands, on the other hand I’ve been cornered by some jock who has me totally confused with some other black shirt tattooed kid that threw a bottle at him the night before. Or upon walking into a store for the first time in my life only to have some manager escort me out reminding me that just last week I had been banished for life.  And I know there are people out there who have paid heavily for my own shenanigans. Like I said the looks part is a wash.  Below and within that, however, exists camaraderie in a community that is strong and free.  Though widely varying philosophies and practices surface, networking and moral support persevere in creating a bond of unity where d.i.y. (do-it-yourself) becomes d.i.t. (do-it-together).   

Community is: everybody takes care of each other. And it’s really important. It’s kind of like here, you know. If you guys need anything you call us, or we hail you guys. Like if we need a dinghy ride. Everybody working together to create a community.

I lived in the Slabs for 14 months and I made moccasins. I made a little community camp, and did little acoustic night and all this shit. And that’s what I did.

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I was dating a girl at a time and she lived in LA and she took me to Slab City. We just stayed for like a weekend. But I felt in love with the place. And I didn’t go back till 6 years later. I was touring with a Punk band and all this stuff, so…but in the back of my mind I knew the band wasn’t gonna last forever and I knew I didn’t want to work, pay rent: I didn’t want to do all that stuff, you know what I mean, it just didn’t feel right to me. So after the band broke off I went to Slab City. And Slab City is a giant community in the very essence of the word. In the Slabs there’s gardens, and there’s libraries, music and arts and everything, and you don’t get this anywhere else. There is for sure a dark side to it. The thing about the Slabs is, you either want to live there or you have to.  Because, you know, some people have no place else where to go. Whether they have a warrant or they are running from the law or whatever. So it’s like Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. All these crazy people. I’ve seen giant mansions made out of trash. I mean, nicer than any Hilton that you can stay in. Some of these people have been there for 40 years. Oh my god, I met so many cool people there: Builder Bill, New York Mike… I want to go back, I miss it right now…

And then I got this idea to buy a sailboat and I did that. I got the idea because of this documentary called Hold Fast. It was this punk guy and two girls, they bought this boat and filmed their experience. Kind of crappy filming but super awesome. Full inspiration. And I was in the Slabs. I was gonna stay there but I decided I still had some adventure left in me. So I watched this documentary and it just filled me with zeal. And I was just like Fuck this. I got out of the desert and I got me a sailboat. From the desert to the ocean.

I tried living on land and I hated it; it’s very expensive. So I ended up buying my own boat which was the most exciting day of my life. I know she doesn’t look much to anybody else but me but I think she is beautiful. So that’s how I ended up down here. It’s been quite the adventure for sure. A learning experience. I was really scared at first. Now I am completely comfortable.

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I always wanted a home for myself. But I am a traveler. A house, you always have to go back to. So, I figured a boat will be perfect. I am almost turning 40 and finally have a home of my own. A home I can travel with anywhere in the world. I really like the freedom of it, travelling, and self-sufficiency. Plus, it is free to travel using the elements. And that is amazing for me. Humans have been doing this for centuries and we lost it.

I believe it is important to live a life intimately connected to the rhythms of the natural world–one who’s daily processes are affected by earthbound realities like wind, rain and tide. The loss of connection to the natural world is destroying our humanity.

I like being immersed in science and facing the challenge of adapting to it by way of education and experiment.  I like being reminded that being human is nothing in comparison to nature as a whole and that an interest in self preservation is nothing more than that.  I like living almost off grid and only very near an overly structured society.  I like seeing the fruits of my labor very directly providing a sustainable freedom of travel.  I like the gleam of wanderlust in the eye’s of the dreamers.    

I think the most important thing we can continue to do is act on our wildest dreams. To stay true to ourselves and our intentions. To laugh loudly and create blindly. It is a fucked up global situation. We’ve made some pretty big mistakes, as a species, and I wouldn’t be surprised if momma Earth decides any moment now she’d like to wipe the slate clean and start again. I’m easily convinced of this potentiality every time I saunter down Duval Street and watch a fraternity boy in American flag print swimming trunks chuck a full can of beer across the street at noon on the 3rd of July, drunkenly screaming „YOLO!!“ and then pointing a series of gyrating pelvic thrusts in the direction of the guy he just creamed, who is now crying. Or many of the more subtle examples of mistreatment that you can see every day if you chose to seek them out. What, exactly, defines our culture’s definition of „crazy?“ 

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The other day, I got these worms, I call them burn worms. I thought they’d be great bait. Got them under the rocks. Giant worms! And I grabbed them and they burned the shit on my hands. So I looked them up online and they are called bearded fire worms. Here you go, there is the name!

I love critters, I love nature, I love checking all that shit out. I think it’s really important that everybody knows about how everything lives and its little spot in the environment, and how little it takes to destroy it…But people are ignoring that. I try not to get depressed about it…

Still, a lot of kids are getting around now, caring about the environment and all that stuff. I think that it’s really good for the kids to know ‘cus if they all band together can get pretty cool. When I was a kid I felt I could do more about it, but there is not much you can do as a single person, you can just do your part… As I get older I’m getting a little more bitter and angrier about it. I think animals are more important than people. But I think it’s up to people to protect them.

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Personally, I am reacting to my own disgust by concentrating on building a life for myself that I believe in, the type of life that, if more people chose, would generate a better world. I have only been back on the water for a week–a week that has rekindled truths I am, personally, consistently guilty of forgetting about. It has been a wild week–consistent high winds with numerous passing gales possessive of headwinds over 30 knots, some gusting upwards of fifty. She has not been a particularly gentle teacher, aside from when I float in her relatively still waters during a warm tropical rain, an hour of respite between the winds. These are the lessons the sea taught me this week:

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(the end)

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The Star Of The Sea

In the beginning of this journey, 9 months ago, many asked us: What are you going to do about money? Many still ask us the same question. We ask them back: What do we need money for?

Sure, it’s a joke. We all need money for so many things. But if you think about it, we need a lot less money than most of you guys out there asking the question, just because we have less needs than you, and we also have a plethora of alternative ways to get what we need without money. We don’t buy stuff (clothes, shoes, furniture, gadgets, electronics, etc.) simply because we don’t have much use for them, nor space on the boat where to put them. The things we really needed in the beginning after we got the boat were: fibreglass, paint, water pumps, marine toilets repair kits, engine parts, filters, insulation for hatches, buckets, fishing gear, electronics, and charts. For these we did spend money from our savings but hopefully we will not have to buy them too often from now on. Other than that, we are all set.

We don’t pay rent. We drop an anchor somewhere close to shore: it’s free. We don’t have an electricity bill: we have solar panels. We don’t have a car: we have bicycles. We don’t have to pay for freshwater: we collect rainwater or we fill our tanks at the docks for free, and we even have a watermaker which produces freshwater from seawater. We don’t work and we don’t pay taxes.  We fish, we barter, we volunteer at farmers’ markets in exchange for  fruits and vegetables, we even volunteer at museums for free access to art! Everywhere we go, we find a way to „survive“ almost without money.

It has been 3 months now since we last entered a store to buy groceries. We get enough food for the four of us from the Stock Island food bank where we work as volunteers once a week for 2-3 hours. I give a tour to people who come for food and Ivo works in the back unloading crates and arranging them on the shelves. This is one of a very few choice-pantries where people walk through and choose the food they need, which is a much better option than getting two bags of groceries half of which they don’t need, like in most of the other ready-bags pantries.

A mother and a girl are choosing groceries at the SOS food bank

A mother and a girl are choosing groceries at the SOS food bank

The Star of the Sea Mission, or SOS for short, is truly the best food bank we ever came across, providing food, clothing, and services to underprivileged low-income families and individuals in Key West, serving over 90 people per day, providing 57, 000 pounds of food bags per month. Located in a small building on Stock Island, it reminds me more of a home than an institution. There are a few small rooms in the front: an office, a reception room, and a small store. In the back there is a big warehouse with lots of stored goods inside, and a huge backyard populated by well fed chickens, with wooden tables under a big tree where the workers rest and eat lunch and where trucks come and go. Lunch is usually prepared by Lobster Bob for everybody: a big meal with salad and desert.

Lunch time in the back yard of SOS food bank

Lunch time in the back yard of SOS food bank

People sign up in the office, wait for not more than 5 minutes in the reception room, and then go in the „store“ where they get to choose two canned goods from this rack, one item from that rack, one meat item from the freezer, two salads from the fridge, two breads, two deserts, two drinks, etc. It’s like shopping, only there is no cashier at the end. And some people take a looong time to choose. No hurry.

A volunteer at SOS food bank

A part-time volunteer at SOS food bank

These are low-income senior citizens, low-income families, and homeless families and individuals who can come once a week, any day, any time, as the SOS is open 5 days a week from 10 am to 5 pm. That is why there are never long lines of waiting people. Most of the other food banks we have seen operate in a church basement for a few hours once a week and people are forced to wait forever in stuffy waiting rooms.

But what makes this particular food bank so wonderfully unique in my mind is the staff, the people who work there.

Donna Knull runs the place since 7 years now.

Donna

Donna in the office of SOS food bank

„Some people resent feeding the homeless… They don’t like looking at them let alone feeding them.

I worked 16 years at a hardware store. Then I retired. But couldn’t stay at home doing nothing; I cannot not work. So I started volunteering here. And became director-manager. I wanted to do something I felt good about. To wake up in the morning and be happy to go to work. And here I got so much more back than I have given as a volunteer. This place made me compassionate and understanding of others.

I remember in the beginning, there was this homeless person who came for food and irritated me. We were giving ready-bags back then. She got the bag, looked in it and shoved it back at me, I don’t eat this! But now they don’t irritate me any more, and she is still coming every week. Now I give her a hug when I see her.

I see people walking the streets, sitting in parks, with dirty clothes and backpacks, and I recognize them. I know who they are and I feel good about myself for being able to help them…“

Raquel is second in charge. She receives people and deals with the files. Raquel came from Cuba in 2005.

„I came with my son, a two-year-old baby, in a tiny 12 feet boat. I would never do it again…

We were thirteen people in that boat. It took us three days and there was no food. It was so scary, water everywhere. At some point water started coming inside the boat. The men started putting things in the hole to block it. We managed to get to a small uninhabited island and then the boat sunk. My husband, who was already in the United States, came to pick us up and now we are here…

First, I worked in Orlando, housekeeping. Then we moved here. We lived on a houseboat for three years. I didn’t like it, it was hard…

I started working at the food bank. Not for money, I like to help people. I feel I do something important. Now we have a home. Only when you have a home you realise you can help others who don’t.“

Then, there are the permanent full-time workers: Chris, Lobster Bob, Louis and his girlfriend, and other guys who came from difficult situations: homeless, alcoholics, ex-convicts. Some came through offender programs, others just needed a safe place and a fresh start. For them, The Star of the Seas is truly a home.

Louis and his girlfriend both work as full-time volunteers at the SOS food bank

Louis and his girlfriend both work as full-time volunteers at the SOS food bank

“ This is my safe zone, says Louis who is on parole and needs to serve community hours. I used to drink a lot and get into trouble, and they would arrest me and put me in jail. But when I am here, I know I cannot be drunk, because these are the rules, and I work, and I get food and clothes. I know here I will not get into trouble. It’s my safe zone. Even after I finish my community hours I will keep coming and working here. I love it.“

For many, the food bank is a midway home, a sort of a purgatory, where they get ready for a better life. And Donna loves working with them. They even installed a tobacco machine where everyone can roll a cigarette any time, because, they figured, this will make everyone happier and will prevent people from stealing.

Lobster Bob, full time volunteer and community cook

Lobster Bob, full time volunteer and community cook

Chris is the soul of the place. With a German accent, Chris can tell you loud stories and jokes all day long. He was the first one who gave us a tour when we first came to pick up food and he thought us how to arrange the bread on the shelves, how to walk people through, how to treat them and be careful and all.

Chris, resident, full time worker, and   the "soul" of SOS food bank

Chris, resident, full time worker, and the „soul“ of SOS food bank

And finally, there are the part-time volunteers, mostly retired ladies and gentlemen who come to help once a week, or people like us who like to give back to those who have given them so much. Thank you, Donna, Rachel, Chris, and all you guys at The Star of the Sea Mission! You have made a huge difference for our family!

 

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Sunset Watching People

Why are sunsets breathtaking? I don’t know. People love to watch the sunset, I don’t know why… Maybe, because it is the only time they can stare directly into the sun without damaging their eyes? Or maybe because there is some residue of ancient Aztec spirituality still floating in the air?

In Key West, if you go to Mallory Square in the late afternoon, the golden hour, you will see crowds of tourists facing west. For them, watching the sunset is no longer enough, they all try to record it. It’s number one thing to do when you visit Key West: go to the Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square. They all take out photo cameras, i-phones, i-pads, and all sorts of other devices, trying to capture the soul of the supreme deity of the skies. And post it on Facebook two minutes later. To prove they have been there, done that.

I, myself, like to turn my camera towards the people photographing sunsets. I photograph miniature sunsets inside their sunglasses. And capture their souls.

 

 

Vanity.

He knows it is performance time.

People are watching with anxiety.

There he comes: perfectly orange and round, ready to dive in the ocean.

He prepares slowly, gets closer and closer.

As predicted.

Timing is everything.

The lights in the theatre dim, the audience stops breathing.

Corsets burst, children faint: it is all going to happen at the exact precise moment, not a minute earlier, never later.

Another death, another disappearance.

Painfully, first he touches the line, and then she swallows him.

The horizon stretches its back a bit higher: impatient, hungry.

He is doomed again, and the voyeurs are silent: photographing the evidence, a ritual, another sacrifice for the crowds.

Did you see him how he went down?

Did you see how she swallowed him, slowly?

The sky, the sea all gets smeared in blood.

And then the spectacle is over.

Ovations, satisfaction, the men look at the women with wet eyes: you see, exactly as I predicted,

I kept my promise. 

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The Wreckers

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The Wreckers by Rush

 

The breakers roar
On an unseen shore
In the teeth of a hurricane
Oh, we struggle in vain
A hellish night
A ghostly light
Appears through the driving rain
Salvation in a human chain
.
All I know is that sometimes you have to be wary
Of a miracle too good to be true
All I know is that sometimes the truth is contrary
Everything in life you thought you knew
All I know is that sometimes you have to be wary
‘Cause sometimes the target is you
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Driven to ground
With a helpful sound
Drowned by the cheer from the shore
Oh, we wonder what for
The people swarm
Through the darkening storm
Gather everything they can score
‘Til their backs won’t bear any more
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All I know is that sometimes you have to be wary
Of a miracle too good to be true
All I know is that sometimes the truth is contrary
Everything in life you thought you knew
All I know is that sometimes you have to be wary
Of a miracle too good to be true
All I know is that sometimes the truth is contrary
‘Cause sometimes the target is you
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Key West’s Geology

Lying in shallow tropical seas, a long and disordered chain of islands, the Florida Keys, stretches between the southernmost point of Florida’s mainland and Dry Tortugas. Alongside, submerged in turquoise waters and hidden from view, run the corral reefs: a 200 miles (320 kilometres) of underwater wilderness just a few feet bellow the surface. Beyond the reefs, a busy ocean highway flows, a major shipping route: The Gulf Stream.

How many absent-minded ships carried by winds and powerful currents have diverted from their route in the uncertainness of night to slit their bellies open upon the shallow  underwaters? Countless.

For them- disaster.

For local wreckers- booty.

A Short History of Key Wet’s Wreckers

It’s been going on for centuries, since ships started sailing in these waters: a wreck per week. For centuries, rootless islanders have been awaiting  unaware vessels to run aground, sometimes luring them towards the shallows with deceiving lights.

When an elephant falls, a hundred hyenas rush to the carcass,devour it, fight for a chunk.

The wreckers would anchor behind mangrove islands at night and patrol the dangerous waters during the day looking for stranded vessels to pillage. The first wrecking captain to reach a crushed ship would became the wreck master. He would employ as many wreckers as he needed to help salvage the ship, and direct the whole operation.

The salvaged cargo and the ship, if it could be saved, were taken to Key West where they were appraised or auctioned. The wrecking vessels and crews that participated in the operations would then be awarded a share of the salvage value. Half of the salvage award went to the owners of the wrecking vessels, divided among the boats on a tonnage basis. The other half went to the wrecker crews, proportional to the number of crewmen on each vessel.

Thus, by the mid 19 century wrecking, regulated, became one of the main industries in the region, along with piracy, drug trafficking, smuggling, and other shady activities.

Recent Wrecking Events

Tyler calls on the VHF and tells us of a recent wreck. A sailboat has ran aground and has been abandoned. What exactly has happened and why is a mystery. So are the identity and the whereabouts of the boat’s owner. We decide to go check it out.

The wreck is near Stock Island, a few miles away from our anchorage, and we get there sailing aboard Fata Morgana in a couple of hours. With us are Tyler and Tony. We get to the site in the afternoon and drop anchor away from the shallows using our dinghy to get to the wrecked vessel.

The crippled boat is leaning on its starboard side, the tip of its mast pointing towards the sunset. Its insides are a dark mess half full of water and green liquids. It must have been a slow painful death. There is a yellow note from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Law Enforcement explaining: Vessel aground. No sails. Abandoned. No apparent value. Open to elements. We, Tyler, Tony, Ivo and Mira, thereupon name ourselves The Elements, pumped up with adrenalin, and proceed to scavenging the wreck, working with screwdrivers and hummers, taking anything that looks useful.

We get a bunch of valuable stuff, we have to do two dinghy rides to bring them to Fata.

The boat is stripped of most of its valuables before the night falls and we are going back to our anchorage in Key West to split the goodies.

Approaching the wreck

Approaching the wreck

Boarding the wreck Ivo and Tony

Boarding the wreck
Ivo and Tony

Inside the Wreck Tyler and Ivo

Inside the Wreck
Tyler and Ivo

Green diesel water inside the wreck

Green diesel water inside the wreck

Notice

Notice

 

Grabbing stuff Tyler

Grabbing stuff
Tyler

Inside Mira

Inside the wreck
Mira

Ivo finds the American Flag

Ivo finds the American Flag

Smoke break  Tony and Tyler

Smoke break
Tony and Tyler

Bathroom break Ivo

Bathroom break
Ivo

Tony's new anchor chain

Tony’s new anchor chain

 

Back at Fata Morgana Tyler and Tony

Back at Fata Morgana
Tyler and Tony

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ClbE019cLNI

 

 

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