"Wreck Ashore"

Trip Start Apr 15, 2012
Trip End Apr 21, 2012

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Flag of United States  , Florida
Thursday, April 19, 2012

Shipwrecks were the bread and butter of Key West and an average of one ship a week would wreck on the reef. The wreckers would watch the reef night and day from observation towers  and also from in their own small vessels. I guess it would be a form of Neighborhood Watch. When a wreck was spotted, the cry of "Wreck Ashore" would echo  as men ran to the docks to join the race to the reef. The first man to reach the wreck became the "wrecking master" who controlled the salvage operation and got a larger share of the prize. The goods salvaged from the wreck would later be sold at auction in Key West with the wrecking courts awarding anywhere from 25 to 50 percent of the profit to the wreckers. The biggest salvager was a man named Asa Tift. A man working in the salvage business for Asa Tift would earn $500-$700 a month as a diver, provided he could hold his breath for 5 minutes. A lumper, who hauled cargo, would earn $1 a day. Tift built the house  in which Ernest Hemingway would eventually live. He owned most of Mallory Square from where he ran his salvage company. His biggest single prize was the merchant vessel Isaac Allerton, which sunk on the night of August 28, 1856, in 30 feet of water 15 miles from Key West, after running into a reef during a hurricane. Because it was in such deep water, the divers couldn't retrieve all the cargo. What they managed to retrieve brought the single biggest shipwreck payoff in Key West history --$50,000. The shipwreck was rediscovered in 1985.

We actually started our day at The Key West Butterfly and Nature Conservatory. This delightful place on Duval Street, neat the Southernmost Buoy, lets you walk in a mini tropical forest where butterflies fly all around and even rest on your head, back or arm. Tanagers and Finches chirp and flit about looking for fruit flies and friendly Chinese Quail come over and cross your path. In an environment kept at 82 degrees with a humidity of 80%, 50 varieties of butterflies and over 20 species of exotic birds keep you company. The butterflies live an average of 5 days. New butterflies come from breeding farms. Keith had one rather bedraggled butterfly hitch a ride on his shirt for awhile. If you are ever in Key West, take the time to go. One admission lets you come and go for the whole day, so you can see different butterflies depending on when they are active.

Out next stop was lunch. We had mahi-mahi tacos at Bagatelle and they were terrific. We then went over to the Shipwreck Museum where we heard all about the Wreck of the Isaac Allerton and the wrecking industry before climbing the Observation Tower for a fantastic 360 degree view of Key West.

We had to leave Key West to go back to Fort Lauderdale so started our return drive.  We again crossed over the Seven Mile Bridge, which is actually a little less than 7 miles, is believed to be the world's longest segmental bridge. The old bridge, resting on 546 concrete, pillars runs parallel to it. If you have time, stop and walk out on the Old Bridge to get a great view. We didn't have time, but enjoyed the view as we drove over.

In Islamorada, take a few minutes to stop at Robbie's. One day over 15 years ago, a Tarpon, named Scarface, showed up at the dock with the side of its face all torn up. The marina owners actually called a vet and the vet stitched him up.  He was fed by hand and after 6 months, was healed and released back into the water by the deck. He would frequent the dock and sometimes bring a friend. Soon it was a party. You can go and feed them. We just watched others. Some of them are huge and the brown pelicans who hang around hoping to get a fish snack that the tarpon miss are rarely satisfied

We ended our evening with dinner at Michy's, Michele Bernstein's restaurant in Miami. We had the tasting menu (just get the 3 course one. It will be more than enough to eat). The appetizers were squash blossoms filled with cheese over cheesy shrimp grits (fantastic), Sashimi grade tuna tartare (delicious and I'm not a fan of raw fish) and a beet salad that Keith ate since I can't stand beets. (I did try it, but I can't eat something that tastes like dirt.) The main course was Michy's famous short rib, halibut over celery puree (yummy) and Butternut Squash Risotto.. We barely had room for dessert which was a baked Alaska and bread pudding. We barely touched the bread pudding. There was nothing wrong with it; we were just too full. If you are ever in Miami, treat yourself and go.

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