Latch, Life And Love After Hurricane Irma At Boot Key Harbor Marina in Marathon, Florida Keys

THIS ARTICLE WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN 2017.

Latch- To fasten, to secure, to attach oneself.

21765133_959057967565271_4796067056688191468_n.jpg

Boot Key is the place where most of the ‘live-aboard’ people have latched their boats and their lives, Jonathan and I included. This is where most of us started to dream of owning our house and building our lives. The misconception about the sailing community is that we have nothing else to do with our money so we end up buying a sailboat. No. this is not true.

Moving In With The New Toyota Tundra.jpg

Most of us couldn’t afford to buy a house yet. So instead, we just bought a cheap sailboat, repaired it, and turned it into our little floating homes. Some doesn’t even have titles yet. Waitresses, mechanics, waiters, sales ladies… Most of them live on a sailboat.

20232743_928811410589927_6041055354103817909_o.jpg

Our boats are latched into anchors, chains and moorings. Our hearts latched into our boats and into this island that have taken us without any discrimination or condition. We are latched to to the warmth of Florida and the genuineness of the people. We are latched to the place we call our home, the place where we latched our 1971 year old sailboat S/V Empress, Boot Key.

Life- Existence, being.

21193013_949911341813267_4244828306225326511_n.jpg

Our life on the boat is amazing. We have ‘live aboard’ neighbors who are just all lovely. We have a nice sailing community where a lot of members are ‘live-aboard’ people like us who is just very helpful and who is always there to lend a hand whenever necessary.

21314322_950761218394946_2266656743545036699_n.jpg

Some of our neighbors even became our mentor. They taught us how to sail and fix things. We spend the day paddle boarding, fixing things, motivating each other, talking about life and just laughing all day. We go out at night, go out for drinks and share our meals. More than friends, we consider them our family. We were just happy to be with the company of each other. We are contented with our lives-- and that’s pretty hard to get.

21314347_952176994920035_228855245482023001_n.jpg

One day, the news of Hurricane Irma directly hitting Florida Keys reached us. Jonathan and I packed our things and prepared to leave S/V Empress behind for the mandatory evacuation. Some of our friends didn’t want to leave and we can’t blame them. Some even decided to sail to Mexico. We feared for our safety, our boats, and our properties. We feared for our lives.

21271137_952176978253370_4345145278056749621_n.jpg

Based on the news, Hurricane Irma is the most devastating storm ever recorded in the Atlantic. Its Category 5 winds have a speed up to 185 mph. It’s so strong that it even ended up showing up on scales for measuring earthquakes.

21761650_958812610923140_6850250177325023511_n.jpg

It hit Florida with a Category 4 storm. Although it eventually weakened into a tropical storm, it still left the state in a huge mess. It destroyed houses like sheets of paper. It uprooted trees and sign boards. It destroyed our little floating homes in Boot Key.

21730809_956160671188334_1852627353647372574_n.jpg

Out of more or less 260 boats, only an approximate of 60 boats have made it through the hurricane, our S/V Empress included. The others? Smashed like a porcelain by the mangroves, some by the roads and some whose remains could not be found.. Good memories are the only thing that’s left of them.

Love- Definition varies.

As Jonathan and I made our way back, it just broke our hearts to see what remains in Boot Key. It’s sad to see people and their children basically living in tents or at the back of their cars, it’s heartbreaking to see our neighbors mourn for the loss of their belongings and their floating little homes.

21686442_959057840898617_5304613629373507165_n.jpg

But despite all the sadness, we still find hope and love in each and every one of them. The people in Boot Key, all the other volunteers and those in the government isn’t showing any weakness. They are showing nothing but positivity and love. It’s just empowering to see how the US Government, the NGOs, the volunteers from all over the world, and individuals responded to the disaster. Each of us are helping in our own little ways.

May I just mention, show admiration, and give honor to a few of them in this post..

21617771_959057987565269_9019776649572596453_n.jpg

Mr. Diesel Dawn- He is a well known in Boot Key for being one of the best boat guys and diesel mechanic. He is well liked, loved, and highly admired by the people because of his talent and genuineness. Being one of the best boat guys, he knows the best and safest place to hide during the hurricane-- by the mangroves at Fort Myers. After all, that’s where he spent and survived the rest of the hurricanes since 1991. He went there, and being the selfless man that he is, he took other boats with him. He coordinated everything, he helped them, tied all their boats to the mangroves.

They all managed to survive despite the fact that the eye of the hurricane passed over directly at Fort Myers. Diesel Dawn was safe. He could have stayed there, get a job, start a new life. But this guy came back to Marathon to help people and try to restore their lives, clean up the debris, and help build homes.

21761757_959057684231966_7528185365733287736_n.jpg

Our neighbors Rocky And Donna- The first time we docked our S/V Empress at Boot Key, these two people were like.. “Hey, we know this boat since the 80’s!!” Instantly, there was a connection. Apparently, they have known the previous owner (he died 3 days after we bought the boat). They are just both kind, lovely, and generous people. They would often give us bananas or anything we can eat.

Donna spent most of her life in Boot Key, while Rocky is born and raised in South Florida but spent his life in Marathon for so many years. He is a very good artist and a teacher. He sells his lovely paintings and his artworks to support himself.They both have boats and when they got together. They decided to sail with each other’s company using Osprey, Rocky’s boat. He built Osprey by hand in the 90’s. On the day of the hurricane, both of their boats were gone. Just like that, their belongings were swept all together by the storm. Donna’s boat cannot be found until now. Osprey was nevertheless found by the mangroves, but it cannot be salvaged anymore.

21558914_957288481075553_1455751032580279928_n.jpg

Despite their loss and despite the storm, they made sure to look over Empress. As soon as they had the opportunity to check her, they made sure that everything was okay and she wasn’t sinking. They found Empress’ windows broken and they immediately patched it up. Rocky is born and raised in South Florida but spent his life in Marathon for so many years. He is an artist and a teacher. He sells paintings and artworks to support himself. They had gotten together recently and was planning to sail together, but now the hurricane has taken both of their boats and belongings all together.

Without these two guys, our boat would have been underwater by now. Instead of trying to find their boats, they still made time to check on other boats too! When we saw Empress, the insides were completely dry as if nothing happened because of their good deed. Salute to our heroes!

21685911_959057777565290_5255521768176385590_n.jpg

Our kind neighbors- There were some people who managed to get in Boot Key earlier by sailing from other parts of Florida. These people did survey reports, they patrolled the area, and formulated the idea of where the boats have all gone. Business owners almost do their business for free. Some residents are giving away free meals and coffee. Some even offer their freezers free of use so leftovers can be saved for the next day!

Bob- This guy runs a tow boat business called Tow One. Instead of taking advantage of the situation and making more money out of it, he helped people tow their boats out of the mangroves or out of the bridges where they crashed. And all of this he did for free. Now, more people have access to their boats and can finally check the damage up close.

Alex and his team from a local company called CTech- Using Alex’s drone, they surveyed the hurricane hit area. These people took photos of the damaged boats and properties and tried to find out where all the other boats are and in what condition they are in. They went out of their way, tried to find the owners, and coordinated with them.

Peter James, Robin Krest, Shannan Lynes, Kenny Mickler, Carolyn Shearlock, and Christine Springfield- Working together, they took a lot of photos of the boats, compiled them,  identified them and their owners, and tried to send the photos to their owners so that these people can prepare what they have to do once they get back in. It’s such a big help especially during the times that there was not a lot of media coverage.

Kevin of Backyard Bro's Competition BBQ Team- This guy gives free lunch every now and then at his Tiki Hut! They offer this delicious pulled pork and chicken for people all over the community. They have ice cold beer and cola too!

Please understand that I cannot mention each and everyone of you. Nevertheless, you are all heroes! It’s a very difficult situation now, but Recovery Centers from all over the State are very efficient. They are bringing down food, ice, and water all over the Florida Keys.

21761833_959057904231944_2401171541873656193_n.jpg

We used our rental car a couple of times to get toiletries and other supplies to bring them down to Marina so the people who are still busy collecting their boats will have a central point to pick up their supplies. We also organize free lunch once in a while for everyone to share (Today, we had it at ELKS Lodge). A lot of people have been doing it as well, not just us. And it’s such a beauty amidst the tragedy.

If this isn’t love, then I don’t know what else love is.  ❤

21559036_118964335441464_4663197731627208304_n.jpg

Show them some love too! We are currently gathering funds for these people to help rebuild and even buy new floating homes! Here’s how you can help the now ‘homeless’ live-aboard people in Boot Key:

Send cash or donate important items like tents, anchor, kayak, paints, floatation device, motor, paddle or anything else which may be beneficial to the sailing community.

You may ship it to this address at Marina:

Please write Sean as the receiver. He is a very good and trustworthy guy in charge of our Marina. He will make sure all of your donations will fall into the right hands ❤

Are you on Pinterest? Pin these!

SAILINGKach HoweComment