Florida Keys News - Islamorada/KL Free Press
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
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Liveaboards still hanging on

FLORIDA KEYS -- They all have stories to tell. If you have the time, they will undoubtedly leave you entertained.

Tourists grin at liveaboards. They add to the island feel and accentuates their idea of paradise. To some locals and government officials, liveaboard residents aren't always as appealing.

As public access to the water is being further restricted throughout the Upper Keys due, in part, to homeowner complaints about liveaboards and government concerns about raw sewage, this seafaring community that once decorated harbors and sounds seems more endangered nowadays.

But, in Key Largo, a few still exist.

At the Murray E. Nelson Government and Cultural Center, a group of Tarpon Basin liveaboards has taken to the benefits of public restrooms and parking. Other groups are established off Mangrove Marina, Rock Harbor and Jewfish Creek.

Living on the hook in the Upper Keys is a whole different experience. It means rowing water, laundry and all of life's conveniences to the boat and back out to shore.

Scott Brodie, who lives in Rock Harbor, says it's a simple life but hard work keeping the sailboat in shape.

"People say it's living for free, but it's not," Brodie says.

For now, Brodie motors his dinghy out to his mooring, but he says the engine is acting up and soon he may be rowing again.

"I did laundry today, and tomorrow is going to be water," Brodie said.

About a decade ago, Maggie Mckeehan spent four years on a sailboat. Like many others, Mckeehan came for a weekend and never left. While vacationing, she landed a bartending job, bought a boat and was set.

"My cat used to wake up every morning and watch the dolphins," Mckeehan said.

She says after four years, she woke up one day and up and left for Fort Lauderdale.

"It was the cabin fever," she said.

Mckeehan, who has spent many years on boats, says she could tell stories for days about her experiences. And she probably could.

That was in the 1990s when the Island Grill Mandalay Restaurant acted more like a marina, catering to sailors. It was a hub with showers and a place where boaters would get their mail.

They can all tell you how good life once was.

Today, "Red Dog Jim" lives on a sailboat near Rodriguez Key among a dozen other boaters. Not one for sharing heartless pleasantries, still he entertains tourists with his yellow dog Rusty, who scampers along rocks at the end 2nd Avenue before diving into his owner's dinghy.

While liveaboards hang on and the county explores a permanent place for them, you can still find their dinghy's tied up along the ends of Upper Keys streets and know that someone nearby has a story to tell.

jgore@keysnews.com

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