Duane K. McCullough

Image of boats at anchorage offshore Key Largo
Image of Key Largo
Images of Key Largo bayside area

We are now just offshore Key Largo near mile marker 100 in Buttonwood Sound where many houses and some nice restaurants can be found. As you can see there are several boats anchored offshore out here. Some of these boats are liveaboard boats that are homes to persons who work ashore and contribute to the community.

The cost of living aboard a boat can be considerably less than living ashore -- for example, see that catamaran sailboat over there, a couple lives aboard with satellite TV and cell phone service, together with wireless Internet connection, all powered by wind and solar generators. They pay a small fee at a local marina to park their car and get garbage & water services. The market value of their boat is about half the price of the cheapest house trailer in the Florida Keys.

However, life aboard a boat is not for everybody. Notwithstanding a few hot buggy night events during the Summertime, there are three main things that persons living aboard their boats have to cope with out here anchored on the water -- or as they say "on the hook".

The first thing to cope with is the amount of space aboard a small boat is usually not enough to store all that stuff we like to collect overtime. If money is hard to come by, a large boat with baggage space to store all that stuff is too expensive -- so, there exist a space issue for some who choose to live aboard small boats.

I was lucky when I first moved down from Miami in 1977 -- I found an old 37' Chesapeake Skipjack sailboat that only cost $300 that provided a home to me for about 14 years. I had a stove, a TV, a canoe and a windsurfer -- with nobody telling what to do or where to go. Like was a lark. No monthly bills to pay. And then -- well, I got married -- There went my camping trip...

The second thing liveaboard persons have to cope with is the threat of hurricanes. Every year the threat exist and the movement of the boat to protective waters is needed so that, at the very least, high wind and water does not drag your boat ashore where it can get expensive to recover. Having all your eggs in one basket -- and losing that basket, can be a traumatic thing to deal with.

However, the greatest thing I remember having to cope with while living aboard my boat was the threat of lightning. I was not made any younger worrying about what a lightning bolt could do to me and my boat during many major thunderstorms over the years. The bright white flash and loud crack of a nearby lightning strike while aboard a sailboat with the mast acting like a magnet to static electrical energy is very scary. Again, I was lucky not to ever have been hit -- but other boaters can not say the same.

Another thing liveaboard persons are having to cope with here in the Florida Keys are the new regulatory rules of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary -- wherein human wastewater can not be dumped overboard anymore. It must now be taken and disposed of properly at a pump-out station found at some marinas -- or, if your boat can travel beyond the three mile state limit of the Oceanside shore, the holding tank can be emptied in the deep open waters there.

There has always been a Florida state navigational law rule that boats without anchor lights are considered a navigational hazard and can be fined -- and that rule itself usually can weed out the vagabond liveaboard boater who do not contribute to the community. Over the years, I have seen several old boats at anchor whose owners have lost control of their priorities wherein the forces of nature -- with the help of some government funded barges, have removed the boat from the area.

Living offshore aboard a boat has its challenges -- but living onshore in a house or condo also has its challenges. Because property taxes are based on the selling value of the home, new home buyers are paying much higher taxes than ever before. It seems that only the very rich will be living in the Florida Keys before long -- but actually, the cost of living anywhere desirable is much greater than before.

The Florida Keys are definitely a desirable place to live for many reasons. The coldest it usually gets in the wintertime is in the upper 40's after a cold front. Once a decade or two, it may even get into the upper 30's -- but almost never does the air temperature get below freezing. The greater city of Miami -- with all its shopping, entertainment, hospitals and major airports, is but just an hour's drive away from Key Largo.

Although most all of Florida is relatively a flat state without mountains, if we could see the Florida Keys from high above we would see offshore underwater hills covered with tropical foliage and coral formations that hold baby blue sandy valleys with thousands of colorful fish swimming about. A visitor can float and fly over these coral reefs without walking -- a paradise if there ever was...

The backyard of the upper Florida Keys is Florida Bay -- where again, if we could see from high above, we would notice emerald green lagoons that have been home to many plants and animals for thousands of years. The first humans who lived in this unique realm must have experienced a wilderness much different than today.

If we could go back in time when this realm was pristine with natural springs, we would see a world rich in wildlife wherein the chemical makeup of area may have inspired the first mystery story in Florida -- the Fountain of Youth legend.


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