Friday, November 27, 2015

Key West Super Boat Races

Back in June, Jenny told us that if we wanted to go to Key West, we were welcome to stay at Chris’s house. Key West, yes! Other than for a few hours on our Carnival Victory cruise last January, we hadn’t been to Key West for three years. We were definitely overdue for another visit to the Conch Republic. We decided we’d go in November because our friends Ronnie and Jamie would be there for the Super Boat International Championships.

But then this fall, everything went crazy. Between all the changes at work and having our house torn up to replace the floors, we barely had time to think, much less get excited about the trip. I didn’t start feeling that vacation vibe until we hit Key Largo and saw the beautiful turquoise water. At mile marker 37, we stopped at Bahia Honda State Park for photo ops of the old Bahia Honda Bridge, originally part of Henry Flagler’s railway in the early 1900’s. Very cool!

We could easily have spent a few hours at the park, but it was already after noon so we headed on to Stock Island for some lunch at Hogfish Bar and Grill, where I had my first mojito of the trip. That is one thing I love about the Keys – they know how to make a mojito. Not syrupy, not sour and definitely not from a mix! :-)  Hogfish’s Key lime mojito had just enough Key lime flavor to make it unique. Ahh, vacation had begun.

Bahia Honda State Park
Bahia Honda State Park

Bahia Honda Bridge

Bahia Honda Bridge

Hogfish Bar and Grill

Hogfish Key lime mojito
Mojito #1

We finally made it to Chris’s house in Old Town around two o’clock. It was a fabulous house.  Chris had done a beautiful job restoring it, so it had all the modern amenities but kept the Key West personality. I unpacked and tried to find my way around the house while Ron took the car to pick up some soda and beer. He came back about an hour later with Ronnie and Jamie, who’d been watching the boat races from Fort Zachary Taylor Park.

We relaxed and chatted out on the porch for a while, then walked down to Turtle Kraals on the waterfront for a Happy Hour snack and to watch the sunset. It had rained earlier but the clouds were breaking up enough to make a decent sunset and the Bight was filled with boats in town for the races. I had my second mojito and enjoyed the view. There’s just something about being near the water that always makes me happy.

Turtle Kraals Tower Bar

Key West Bight

Turtle Kraals mojito
Mojito #2

sunset from Tower Bar

When we finished our drinks, we wandered over to Duval Street. There was a block party that night for the race teams to show off their boats, but it hadn’t gotten going yet so we popped into Irish Kevin’s to see Jamie’s favorite singer, NY Pauly. He was funny and entertaining and we ended up staying for a few hours until I couldn’t take the noise and crowds anymore. That place was packed! Ron and I walked up and down Duval for a little while, getting some fresh air and checking out the boats while my ears recovered. We hadn’t eaten dinner yet but I didn’t feel like a lengthy or expensive meal, so we picked up a Philly cheesesteak at Mr. Z’s on Southard to eat back at the house.

In the morning, we decided to save our feet and take two of the house bikes to breakfast. They say you never forget how to ride a bike and I guess that’s true, but it had been a few years since I had been on a bike so I was definitely out of practice. We stayed on the quiet roads until I could get the hang of riding again. I really should ask Ron for a bike for Christmas. Then maybe I won’t be such a clown on our next trip! (Hint, hint, Ron.) We had breakfast at our favorite breakfast spot, Blue Heaven. I usually order the pancakes there but this time I decided to try something different and got the shrimp and grits instead. Unfortunately, it had so much butter on it that it was practically soup. I don’t usually send things back in restaurants but I knew I couldn’t eat it so I asked for another one with less butter. The replacement was a lot better but a bit on the onion-y side for breakfast. Next time I think I will stick with the pancakes and save shrimp and grits for dinner. Ron’s eggs Benedict was very good though.

After breakfast, we rode to Truman Annex to check out Fort Zachary Taylor Park. We always try to discover something new each trip to Key West, and we’d never been to the park before. We took the bike trail down to the beach and walked around the fort where we could see the power boats doing practice runs out on the water. I loved the juxtaposition. You didn’t see that in the 1800’s!

Fort Zachary Taylor State Park
Fort Zachary Taylor State Park

Fort Zachary Taylor

inside the fort


Fort Zachary Taylor State Park beach


fort wall

Ron watching boats

By then it was getting really hot so we rode back to Fleming Street to meet up with Ronnie and Jamie. They were staying at Marrero’s Guest Mansion, a large Victorian home that had been converted into a bed and breakfast. While Ronnie showed us around the hotel, we decided on lunch. Ronnie and Jamie had wanted to go to Garbo’s Grill for a few years but kept missing it. No objections from me and Ron. We loved that place! Since our trip last January, Garbo’s had moved to Caroline Street so we headed that direction, stopping on the way for mojitos at the Grand Café. The new Caroline Street location was a big improvement. It was right next to Grunts Bar so you could get drinks from Grunts and food from Garbo’s – very symbiotic. Plus they had actual seating now! Ron and I shared the Korean BBQ tacos, which were as delicious as ever. It amazes me that Garbo’s can produce such great food out of that tiny food cart. While we ate, we watched a group of kids playing on the vintage kiddie boat ride outside of Grunts. It looked like fun so the guys took a ride too. Good thing they made stuff sturdier back then. :-)

Ronnie and Jamie
Ronnie and Jamie at Marrero's

Grand Cafe mojitos
Mojitos for All!

Garbo's Grill Caroline Street location

boys will be boys

Since we’d booked spots to watch the next day’s races on Sebago’s viewing boat, we thought we’d better figure out where we needed to go to check in. We wandered our way back towards the waterfront, stopping at Peppers of Key West on the way so that Ron could pick up some spicy pretzels for his co-workers. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it’s hard to get from Point A to Point B in Key West without stopping at C, D and E. You get to B eventually :-)
Once we’d sampled a few hot sauces at Peppers and found the Sebago office, Ron and I went back to the house to relax by the pool until it was time to meet up with Ronnie and Jamie again for dinner. This time we ate at Bien, a casual Caribbean/Latino restaurant that Ronnie had told us about. I ordered the Caribbean roast pork with rice and black beans, which was soooo good. Roast pork is one of my absolute favorite foods. We probably should have split an entree because the portions were huge, but I made a pretty good dent. After dinner, we went to Sloppy Joe’s for a while to listen to some live music. The entertainers were a strange duo who sang more dirty limericks than actual songs. Odd… The boys were both tired and we had to get up for the races in the morning so we didn’t stay long. On the walk back to the house, the wind had really picked up and was whipping through the palm trees. A front was coming through with predicted 20 mile-per-hour winds. Hmm, that was going to make for an interesting day out on the boat. Good thing I’d remembered to pack the Bonine.

I woke up early the next morning so I could figure out how to use the coffee maker before we had to leave for the races. Half an hour later, I’d finally made a decent cup. Note to self: next time bring the Keurig! The radar was showing a big mass of rain over South Florida, but Key West was still dry and the wind had died down a little. I hoped the rain would hold off!

We met Ronnie and Jamie at 8:15 at the Sebago office and checked in. At 8:30 we all boarded the Marquesa, a 69-foot sailing catamaran. The Sebago staff had told us the day before that there would be 85 people on the boat, but there were obviously fewer than that. A lot of people must have cancelled because of the weather. Oh well, more room on the boat for us. While we motored out to the race course, the crew put out fruit, muffins and quiche. I didn’t see any coffee so I was very glad I’d made some at the house. The first race started at 10 o’clock. We anchored on the fort side of the race course, right next to the buoy at Turn 2, so the boats flew right by us. It was amazing to be so close! We’ve taken our own boat to the Super Boat races in Clearwater a couple of times and weren’t able to get nearly that close. The rough weather made things even more exciting because the boats were launching over the waves, motors completely out of the water. What a rush!

We had almost 2 hours to kill between the first and second races so while we waited, Captain Tim gave us a tour of the harbor and around Sunset Key. A buffet lunch was set out – fried chicken, fixings for sandwiches, pasta and tuna salad, and of course beer and wine. While I was finishing up my lunch, I noticed that we were pulling back up to the dock. Strange, did some of the people who cancelled decide to join us after all? No, the beer was almost gone and we were picking up three more kegs! Apparently, Sebago hadn’t counted on Ron and Ronnie being on the boat :-)

Sebago Marquesa

Jamie and me

The next races were at 12:30, 1:30 and 2:30. With each successive race, the boats got bigger and more powerful and the weather got rougher. By the time the 4th race started, the wind was blowing so hard that the crew was having trouble keeping the Marquesa in position. We kept drifting closer and closer to the turn buoy and I started thinking that maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to be quite THAT close. All it would take was for one boat to lose control or miss the turn…Eek! Finally, we pulled up anchor and just motored in place for the rest of the race. One of the boats did end up losing control and flipping over, but fortunately the drivers were ok.

Key West Super Boat Championships

Cooper Standard Super Boat

neck and neck

taking the turn


Super Boat Race

Stihl boat

Despite the crazy weather, it was a great day. Being on the viewing boat was the perfect way to watch the races - close to the action with plenty of food and drinks, hanging out with friends. And the rain held off (at least until a few hours later). That night we hoped to get back to Garbo’s Grill for dinner but they were closed so we ended up back on the waterfront at Schooner Wharf Bar. I had one last mojito before we called it a night. We wanted to get an early start in the morning for the long drive home. But we’re already making plans for next year!

Mojito Review

You can always count on Key West for good mojitos, but some are better than others. Here is my ranking, starting with the best:
  1. Grand Café – strong, delicious and a bargain at $6 (Happy Hour price)
  2. Hogfish Bar and Grill – loved the unique Key lime flavor
  3. Turtle Kraals – could have used a little more rum but the view made up for it 
  4. Schooner Wharf Bar – on the weak side and I kept getting pieces of mint stuck in my straw
The mojito at El Meson de Pepe still stands as my all-time favorite.  Hopefully we’ll get back there on our next trip.

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