We departed from Patrick Space Force Base on Dec 9, 2021 and drove to Sigsbee Island RV Park at Naval Air Station (NAS) Key West in one long day. We arrived after dark and, as required by their policy, we spent the night in the office parking lot and checked in first thing in the morning. As opposed to previous years, we would not be rotating between dry camp and full hook-up sites (a process known as rotation or shuffling), but remain in dry camp for our three-month stay. We knew this from the start and were ready, both physically and emotionally.
We were used to arriving later in December and having around a dozen sites from which to choose. This time dry camp looked like a ghost town. I can only remember one time when there were so many vacant sites. On the plus side, there was no waiting in line to use the showers!
Because we were not “shuffling,” we put up more decorations and made our site more permanent than past years. We had a nice site, close to the shore of the Gulf of Mexico, with a shade tree – life is good!
We got right into the swing of things. I hooked up with the Navy Chaplain to play at Sunday Chapel services. The Base Chapel is always in need of musicians to lead the music during the Sunday Worship. There was already another guitar player, but he was an air traffic controller and his work schedule prevented him from playing on a regular basis. We picked up a third sailor who played guitar and drum a week before we left. It was a unique situation where I was able to select the songs we would sing every week.
We began our routine of riding our bikes all the way around the island (It is only two miles wide and four miles long), and watching the sunset with friends. Snorkeling is fun here as we could snorkel right off the shore in the campground. I found two new sunken boats with loads of fish around them, including a large Goliath Grouper and a Green Moray Eel. I hadn’t seen these kinds of fish off the campground in past years.
We arrived in Key West in time for the annual Army vs. Navy Game and were able to watch it at the Sunset Lounge, our campground Tiki bar. Unfortunately, Army lost 😦
We wanted to participate in some of the Key West Christmas activities and we were not disappointed. There was a Christmas lighted boat parade, Christmas Trolley Tour, and a bicycle parade through old Key West. We had a great time.
Many parts of Key West were decorated for the Christmas holidays. Key West started out as a fishing village, and developed into a tourist town. This has resulted in some unique decorations, such as this Christmas tree made from crab traps.
Happy hour dining is a long-standing tradition in Key West and we visited some of our favorite haunts. One of our favorites, Turtle Kraals, had gone out of business, but was purchased by the Boathouse. The food and service at the new Boathouse at Turtle Kraals was just as good as at its old location.
Kayaking is always high on our list of fun things to do. We were able to kayak with a couple of different groups. We kayaked in the salt marshes and mangroves behind the Key West airport followed by a lunch at the Hurricane Hole Marina. Later we kayaked with another group through the mangroves at Geiger Key with lunch at the Geiger Key Marina and Fish Camp. It was so much fun to share this activity with other campers. We rediscovered the canal that runs through the base housing area. On windy days, it is a quiet and enjoyable paddle. There are always iguanas hanging out on the trees along the shore, sunning themselves, and a variety of fish.
I normally volunteer as a docent on the Coast Guard Cutter Ingham Museum. However, she had been towed to Tampa and dry docked to have repairs made to her hull. She returned on January 1, 2022 and we were on hand to welcome her home. We were surprised when we were pressed into duty to help guide her into her mooring at the Truman Waterfront and help set her mooring lines in place on the wharf. It was a fun night!
We spent the next five weeks cleaning her up and rebuilding all of the display areas. When most of us signed up as volunteers, it was to act as a docent, orienting visitors on the self-guided tour and answering questions. Now there were many other tasks that needed to be done, and we jumped on them. Finally, we had the Ingham open for tours on February 8th and we could put away our brooms, mops, and paint brushes.
Every Friday morning we helped with “Plogging the Keys,” a City of Key West program to keep Key West an attractive vacation destination. In short, we picked up trash! There was a regular group of volunteers (about twelve or more), a mix of residents, snowbirds, and military retirees from the campground, that made a point of giving back to the community. The City of Key West is actually paid a fee for cigarette butts from an organization that recycles these into another product. Harriett and Ray Riendeau took this to the next level and organized a Plogging event to clean the causeway at NAS Key West.
Music has always been a part of our time in Key West. There are entertainers in many of the restaurants and pubs. In the campground, we have a group of amateur musicians that met every Wednesday afternoon for a “jam session” where we took turns leading a song with the group. It was a great opportunity to learn new songs and improve our skills, and just a lot of fun. Sometimes we even had an audience! I discovered later in the season that one of the guitar players was the brother of one of my soldiers in Company F (RANGER), 425th Infantry and was also a retired Michigan Guardsman – what a small world!
After Christmas, a couple of vacationing, drunken bozos thought it would be a good idea to burn a Christmas tree leaning against the iconic Southernmost Point in the USA marker. While the concrete structure was fine, the paint job was ruined. Pat and I happened to ride by one morning when it was partially repainted and had a picture taken with this “work in progress.” By the way, the two bozos were identified by a local bartender that they had given a hard time, and were arrested and fined.
Pat and I either walked through the campground or rode our bikes around the island for exercise almost every morning. In Key West you just never know what you might see as you ride around town.
The Key West Half-Marathon is one of the most popular half marathons in the country. Conducted every year in January (except in 2021, when it was a virtual race), it draws runners, walkers, and wheelchair racers from all over the country. We have volunteered for this event for the last five years, selling merchandise and staffing an aid station (water point) to hydrate the racers. For all but one year, the weather has been challenging. This year had high winds (20+ mph), blowing water over the seawall onto the course. We got soaked! However, we felt we were providing a needed service, and we enjoyed celebrating with the racers at the finish line party.
We celebrated the Super Bowl with a watch party at one of the campsites. Our friend, Rudy, makes this an annual event, projecting the game onto the side of his fifth wheel trailer. Good food and camaraderie, combined with an OK football game, what could be better?
When the Cutter Ingham was towed to Tampa for repairs, it consumed all of the funds that had been raised for a major overhaul and there was a need to rebuild the bank account. To further that goal, I presented a benefit concert at the Southernmost VFW Post. We had a great turnout, mostly from the campground. I was so psyched by having so many friends in the audience to support me! I had modest hopes to raise a couple of hundred dollars and ended up raising $950 – I was thrilled. Needless to say, the crew of the Ingham was thrilled as well.
Pat and some of her friends visited the Butterfly and Nature Conservatory, a butterfly park that houses 50 to 60 different species of live butterflies from around the world.
Traditionally the campground would be the scene of many parties. Due to COVID-19, many of these were small get-togethers. In February, we revived an old tradition of the “Sigsbee Shuffle.” This is like a progressive dinner. We would gather at one of the campsites, be treated to drinks and snacks by a team of hosts, and then move on to the next site. Approximately 90+ Shufflers joined in the fun. It felt like old times!
As the end of February approached, some of our friends were going to head Up The Road, also known as UTR. We hosted a UTR party to send them on their way in style. One thing about Sigsbee, there is always something to celebrate!
With every passing day, we saw one friend after another head up the road. Three days before we were scheduled to leave, we were able to move into a full hookup site. Here we were able to give our waste tanks a thorough rinsing, vacuum the carpeting, and a few other maintenance items. On March 10th we made our last goodbyes and headed UP THE ROAD.