During the first week of January, I took my boat 200 miles south to Plantation Key and was powerfully struck, once again, by the difference between South Florida and the Keys.
The beginning of the trip down the Intracoastal from Fort Pierce was totally uneventful, and I saw only two small boats during the first 40 miles. Then I crossed into Palm Beach County and entered South Florida. After the peaceful, leisurely run, suddenly there were boats everywhere, and most operators had left courtesy, common sense, and good judgment behind. Sports fisherman were running flat-out, passing within twenty feet of me and throwing five-foot wakes. Around nearly every bend I encountered kayaks and paddleboats, propelling themselves leisurely down the middle of the channel, totally oblivious to the traffic…why not skateboard down I-95 at rush hour? Watching porpoises cavorting in your wake is fun, but being pursued by a pack of hornet-like jet skis intent on jumping your wake is just plain dangerous!
There were lengthy delays for drawbridges (39 bridges between Lantana and Miami) and small boats were constantly trying to pass on the wrong side. Both sides of the Intracoastal are built out with homes and condos, and the only patches of native greenery I saw were the occasional waterside parks. In Broward County, home of Fort Lauderdale, the boating capital of the world, I had reached the infamous “concrete canyon”, a narrow stretch of the waterway encased in seawall with uninterrupted high-rise condo complexes blocking out the sun. There were no speed limits observed in this section of the Intracoastal, and everyone drove wide-open, throwing wakes that doubled in size as the backwash was reflected from the seawalls.
As I entered Dade County, the Intracoastal became wider and traffic thinned out. The Intracoastal passes through the colorful vertical skyline of downtown Miami and then reveals the horizontal skyline of glistening white cruise ships in Government Cut. Suddenly, I passed under the high Rickenbacker Bridge and entered the open waters of Biscayne Bay…what a relief! The water color changed and my pulse began to slow down. Time for setting the autopilot and the color plotter navigation program on my iPad, as the boat slowly chugged south.
Just a few miles down the bay, I entered the 600,000 acre Biscayne National Park and began to pass the first in a chain of uninhabited islands that offer free anchorage: Soldier Key, Ragged Keys, Boca Chita and Sands Key. Fifteen miles out of Miami, I passed through Featherbed Cut, a narrow passage between mudbanks that every boat traveling north or south through Biscayne Bay must traverse; there was wide water ahead of me and seven-mile long Elliott Key was to the east. After passing under the high Card Sound Bridge, I crossed the two-mile long Barnes Sound, entered a narrow mangrove channel known as Jewfish Creek, and officially entered the Keys at Blackwater Sound. I had seen only two boats since leaving Miami! Key Largo was on my left.
Key Largo, the largest of the Florida Keys is about half the size of Manhattan but has a population of only 12,000 versus the city’s 1,600,000…obviously a lot more trees than people here. While the Keys lack the white sand beaches found in most of South Florida, they boast the clearest water found anywhere outside of the Bahamas. The cleansing Gulf Stream passes nearby and the shallow coastal waters offer an abundant variety of fish, shellfish and mollusks.
People who have never visited the Keys imagine that the rampant development that blights South Florida just continues down this 90-mile long chain of islands, but aerial photography (http://www.skypic.com/flkeys.htm) reveals most of the area is still natural woodland and water. There are hundreds of uninhabited islands where you can anchor for a day, a week, or a month or two before moving on.
The reason I migrate to the Keys each year is the weather, the natural beauty, the privacy, and the laid-back lifestyle where Keys Cruisers (bicycles) are still the preferred mode of transportation. The few people I still stay in touch with think I’ve dropped out; others think I’ve died; but the truth is that I’ve probably found my own heaven here on Earth.
Many who have read my novel Boca Chita: Prepare. Escape. Survive. http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_1_9?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=boca+chita+prepare.+escape.+survival&sprefix=boca+chit%2Cstripbooks%2C361 have labeled me a “prepper” or a “survivalist”; in fact one reviewer included my novel in the list of the “10 Best Survivalist Books”. Another reviewer described me as a modern Robinson Crusoe. The fact is that I carefully prepared for this lifestyle by learning a wide variety of skills, finding and fitting out my survival platform boat, and determining where I’d most like to spend my remaining days on this planet.
The National Geographic television series Doomsday Preppers has both popularized and ridiculed the prepper movement by interviewing self-proclaimed preppers who appear to spend most of their time stockpiling food and ammunition in the anticipation of a final shootout from their spider-hole bunker with a band of “zombies”. Since I seldom watch television and have not attended a movie since the mid-60s, I had no idea what a “zombie” was, until I googled it and learned that a zombie was “an undead being in horror fiction, largely drawn from George A. Romero's 1968 film Night of the Living Dead. Zombies have since appeared as plot devices in various books, films, television shows, and video games.”
Apparently, an entire generation or two has grown up believing that zombies really exist and they’re coming to eat your brain! I readily admit I don’t believe that zombies or vampires are a legitimate threat. They’re not the enemy…the bankers, politicians, lawyers, realtors, car salesmen, and others who earn their livelihood trapping us in debt bondage are the true threat to our freedom. I don’t believe that arming myself for a final shootout is the answer. The traditional reaction to a confrontation is fight or flight; why prepare for a gunfight, when you can simply escape to a sunny paradise in your boat? I’m not ashamed to admit that I prefer flight…just sail away!
Of course, both luck and fortune favor the prepared. The original settlers in the Keys, affectionately known as “Conchs,” came here for the same reason as the generations that followed. Leave your ammunition and zombies behind. Just lie back and enjoy!