Only the Denizens Know the Docks

There exists a separate world within the island confines of Key West. It is a realm that many of us visit occasionally, but only the seasoned professionals truly comprehend.

That is the world of the docks.

Be it a Stock Island marina or the downtown seaport, docks are a bustling world of varying activities among dissimilar people. You’ve got captains of dinghies that come from offshore live-aboard vessels, smug owners of mega-yachts and charter captains just trying to earn a living doing what they love.
And let’s not forget the presumptuous pelicans, who know exactly what time the fishing boats return, and which slips they will be entering. The pouch-billed birds wait patiently on pilings, eyeing scraps from the successful fisherman.

The dock world comes with its own etiquette that includes the wiping of feet before boarding a vessel, returning the rolling “dock boxes” to their proper storage place and never boarding a vessel with improper footwear.

One also must be very conscious of how adept they are at boarding a vessel.

Let me admit right here that while I have spent a good amount of time wandering around local docks and marinas, I couldn’t navigate my way out of a paper bag, not to mention Key West Harbor. But I can get on and off a boat with a decent amount of grace, which is surprising, because I don’t do anything gracefully — except maybe fall down.

There’s always the too-cool guy in a Guy Harvey T-shirt who shuns the outstretched hand of the captain, especially if it’s a woman, and then proceeds to flail wildly, nearly falling between dock and the boat.
Then there’s one of my favorite types of people — the jolly guy. He’s usually a large, sunburned fella who admits good-naturedly that he doesn’t “do” boats very often, and he’ll take any help he can get. He’s usually quick to grab a cold beer and position himself solidly in a comfortable, shady seat.

Of course, one of the favorite harborside pastimes is watching someone try to dock a boat. It’s comparable entertainment to watching someone parallel park at the Jersey Shore during Fourth of July weekend. And while the setting sun is the official end of the day in the rest of the world, it does not silence the waterfront world. Once the afternoon reggae band stops and the fishing clients leave to shower and have their catch cooked at a local restaurant, the docks settle into their own nighttime symphony.

Wind whistles eerily through masts, while halyards clink against them. Lines creak, radios squawk and someone who forgot something makes the dock cart give off its telltale “du-dunk du-dunk” while rolling down the pier.

The world awakens again before the sun, with fishermen rumbling ice into coolers, and slamming the lids.
Sailors check their rigging and set a course. Fried chicken and Italian subs are deposited into a non-fishy cooler, beers are iced and radios are tuned to the NOAA forecast. The sun is not yet up, but it’s getting late for the boaters.

These are the seasoned professionals — everyone else is merely a visitor.

Thanks to “Eric from the Northwest” and Matthew Babich, general manager of Southernmost Hotel Collection, whose combined topic suggestions led to this column.

Mandy Bolen’s columns appear in The Key West Citizen

Mandy Bolen's award winning "Tan Lines" column appears bi-weekly in the Key West Citizen. Offering unique insights on life in the southernmost island and life in general, her wit and wisdom has been likened to that of a "female Dave Barry."