sailboat, west, key, wrecking, ship, conch, schooner, wrecked ship, boat, wreckers, sailing, horseshoe crabs, people, reef, called, mooring, salvaging, cargo, islands, salvage
Jim Scott, Brian Roman, Tony Price, Bronza Fox, Intro, Outro
Welcome everyone to the Friends That Carry On Podcast where we dive deeper into our trips, unpack tips, and everything in between. Now sit back, relax, and get ready to go on a trip with your favorite group of friends.
Jim Scott 00:20
Hello and welcome to another episode of Friends That Carry On Podcast aka FTCO Travel Podcast. We are a group of friends who love to travel the world together and inspire others to do so. We like to share our adventures, give travel tips along the way, and hopefully create some FOMO so people don’t want to miss out on our next adventure. Today in studio, we have fellow friends. I’m Jim Scott. We’ve got Brian Roman and Tony Price. Today’s podcast, we are going to head to Key West. Tony and I, and our wives were able to go there recently and had a great time. While we were there, we did a sunset cruise with Danger Charters, and our, for lack of a better word, first mate was Bronza Fox. Bronza is a native to Key West, grew up there in a family of sailors that have centered their lives and careers around sailing and ecotourism in the Keys. He loves the area. He was great on the boat, served us plenty of wine, man the sails, did a little bit of everything, and has a unique knowledge of the history of Key West. So, we thought we’d invite him on the show to share that perspective and insight. Welcome Bronza.
Bronza Fox 01:45
Hello everybody. Thank you for having me on the show today.
Jim Scott 01:50
Glad you could join us. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about growing up in Key West in a family of sailors?
Bronza Fox 01:59
All right. I most definitely will. Growing up in Key West was a lot of fun, I’ve got to say. Being around the water all the time and the ocean, my dad would always take me out the water even when I was really young and get me acclimated to the area even at an early age. Even when I was really young, we were doing a lot of activities such as snorkeling and even diving for lobster. Lobster diving is pretty popular down in the Florida Keys. Spear fishing, of course, was a very really fun activity that I did at an early age. The high school is right next to the beach. So, on lunch breaks and stuff, we’d go to the beach and just enjoy it there. I have to say, it was a lot like growing up anywhere else. You get used to it.
Jim Scott 03:01
The two things that’s not like growing up anywhere else, let’s start there. First is at lunch break, being able to go down to the beach, I definitely didn’t have that experience.
Brian Roman 03:11
We had the beach of the Potomac River.
Jim Scott 03:14
We did, but nobody was going there on lunch break. How did that work? Did that prevent people from skipping school or did that encourage skipping school?
Bronza Fox 03:24
Well, I think [inaudible 03:25] got more popular as the end of the school term came along. We hang out there before every school function. It was a really nice spot to just ease your minds a little bit and encourage your precious bodily fluids.
Jim Scott 03:46
No doubt. What is the high school’s mascot?
Bronza Fox 03:51
We are the Fighting Conch.
Jim Scott 03:53
There you go.
Brian Roman 03:57
I don’t think I’ve ever seen a conch fight.
Bronza Fox 04:01
Well, a funny story, I recently saw conchs fighting for the first time ever.
Tony Price 04:09
Brian Roman 04:11
I feel like I don’t want to believe you.
Brian Roman 04:15
You definitely want to believe me this time because it was a ferocious conch. Conchs come in all shapes and sizes. Starting at the bottom, you’ve got the welds, which are real small, pretty conchs, sharp edges. Then you have the queen conchs, which are the most relatable. When you think of a conch shell, it’s the queen conch. And then, the most giant, aggressive conchs are called the horse conch. When I was out at the sandbar with my family one afternoon, a couple weeks back, there was this massive horse conch, had to be a foot and a half long. It forms like giant snails. Inside the shell, there’s this very dense, slimy organism that’s bright orange. What was happening is this big giant horse conch, while we’re waiting in the water at the sandbar, kept on nudging each one of us at the sandbar. We thought it was doing it by accident because it can’t see very well. We realized after persistent nudging, that this conch was after us. It was actually chasing us around the sandbar at a rate of .01 miles per hour or maybe less.
Brian Roman 05:29
I’m a little concerned for you Bronza that it was actually catching you and nudging you.
Bronza Fox 05:34
We thought it was hilarious. They generally eat other conchs. The horse conchs eat other conch shells, but this one had an appetite for humans apparently.
Tony Price 05:46
That’s definitely the first aggressive conch I’ve heard.
Brian Roman 05:52
Are you sure that it was attacking you or was it mating season?
Bronza Fox 05:59
Well, that actually sprung up a couple times. The way we gauged it, after it nudged us, what would it do next? What happens after that? I told my girlfriend to hold still. It was approaching her, alarming. After it has begun to nudge her, it slowly took its shell, went upwards, and slowly got its more slimy, bodily part onto her skin. And then, as it slowly creeped up, my dad told her that it might try to attack her with its internal beak, because they have a beak that looks like a squid beak. Squid has that beak inside of them, conchs have the same thing. So, it started suction cupping my girlfriend’s legs, so we finally pulled it off of her.
Jim Scott 07:02
Was she freaking out or was she a good sport?
Bronza Fox 07:05
She was a good sport. She’s a good sport about it. The reason why natives are called Conchs is because back in the early 1800s, when most of the population of Key West consisted of Bahamians, people who were immigrating from the Bahamas to do all sorts of business like turtling and fishing were coming here. The Bahamians that were living in Key West, whenever there was a newborn baby in one of the Bahamian households, all the Bahamian neighbors would put conch shells on the doorstep of the family with a newborn baby. That’s where the name conch originates from for people who were born in Key West.
Tony Price 07:45
I had not heard that. That’s interesting.
Jim Scott 07:47
It’s a ‘yeah’ to be born there to be a conch.
Bronza Fox 07:51
That’s right. There is an exception. People who are born there are absolutely conchs. Now, people who have lived on the island for seven plus years can be called freshwater conchs.
Jim Scott 08:09
Gotcha. We’ve met a couple of freshwater conchs at the … What’s the name of that place that we hung out by the hotel?
Tony Price 08:17
Oh, the Schooner Wharf?
Jim Scott 08:19
The Schooner Wharf, yeah. People that work there had been there over seven years. I think they mentioned that they’re a freshwater conchs.
Tony Price 08:26
Yeah. That’s pretty cool.
Jim Scott 08:28
Interesting. So, your family is sailors and have worked in the Keys, but you were the first one that’s actually a true conch. Is that correct?
Bronza Fox 08:38
Jim Scott 08:40
What was a life of sailing like? What type of jobs do they have? Were they sailing around the world or the Keys? Where did those adventures take them?
Bronza Fox 08:51
Definitely started out in Key West sailing. Now, something about Key West sailing is that it can be very docile, but it can also be unpredictable because the waters around Key West are very calm and shallow most of the time. A lot of areas where you might be sailing are chest deep, if not less. It makes sailing there quite hospitable, relaxing, and easy. We sailed as hard as we could. My dad being a boat carpenter and a boat builder, he built wooden sail boats that we like to race around in the back country. The back country is the place where all the wildlife is, all the mangrove islands that are offshore Key West. That’s part of the reason why a lot of people stay in Key West. They don’t stay there for the downtown part of Key West, the island itself. People move to Key West so that they can experience what’s off the island, the other islands that surround Key West, the uninhabited ones where you’re going to find most of your wildlife, all your fish, your birds, the turtles, and the sharks. That’s where they all hang out, on the outskirts or the back country of the Florida Keys. The most special part about that area is sailing there. That’s what they were doing back in the days. Fishing smacks and fishing sailboats were sailing around the back country hundreds of years ago, all the way from the late 1700s until the age of sail was over, people were sailing to the back country, hunting turtles, conducting business, commercial fishing, and whatnot in those areas. Nowadays, we do it a lot more as a leisure activity, for fun, or for sport. It definitely reminds us of the days of sail and how they really aren’t too far behind us. Key Westers still get to experience the specialty and the renaissance of the sailing age. It’s amazing to do it. One of my favorite activities is recreational sailing because it really brings us back to a time where it was more relevant and had to be done every day.
Jim Scott 11:14
Nice. Now with some of those mangrove islands, a couple questions. I don’t know the size of the sailboat to get on to the islands because I know they’re not usually inhabited, so you’re not going to have docks and all that. Is that just taking a dingy and rowing in or is there a way that a sailboat can get up there fairly easily? How do you go and explore the mangrove islands?
Bronza Fox 11:43
That’s a great question. It most definitely depends on the size of the sailboat, but it sometimes doesn’t matter. If you have a sailboat that’s small enough, you drop your sails when you get close to the island and row your sailboat through the channels and interwoven canals that exist inside some of these islands. The Marine Sanctuary and the Key West National Wildlife Refuge are the mangrove islands that extends to the west of Key West. Now, we sometimes go there on our Danger trips. It’s very special because those Danger boats are some of the largest boats that can get up close to those islands. They have this special design on the center board where we have something called a retractable keel. We can pull our keel up into the boat, and below the waterline, we only draw about three and a half feet. We can get the Danger boats into chest-high water. What that means for the tour is that we can offload kayaks really close to the islands and go on guided eco tours through the mangrove channels and habitats. Some of the really cool things that you often see inside those channels of the mangrove islands are, for one, the most ancient of all species that still exist on this planet, the horseshoe crab. The horseshoe crab is so ancient. Sorry, that’s the wrong word. Prehistoric. The horseshoe crabs are so prehistoric that they actually have copper-based blood. Unlike human blood, most animal blood, or the blood of most mammals, horseshoe crabs have copper-based blood which makes a very bright, milky blue color.
Jim Scott 13:37
Bronza Fox 13:38
Their blood is currently being tested and researched for a cure to the Coronavirus.
Tony Price 13:44
Jim Scott 13:46
Bronza Fox 13:48
Now, their blood, one of the reasons why it’s being tested right now is because horseshoe crabs are actually immune to most cancers that humans are susceptible to. That’s really the main reason why they chose horseshoe crab blood to study further.
Tony Price 14:03
Jim Scott 14:04
Brian Roman 14:05
It makes sense. I’d heard about that before with those horseshoe crabs but not with the Coronavirus.
Tony Price 14:10
I have a question. If they’re one of the oldest species, and they’re named horseshoe, isn’t horseshoe named after a shoe for a horse?
Bronza Fox 14:19
Tony Price 14:20
So, what did they call it before?
Bronza Fox 14:21
There’s a Latin name for it, but I’m afraid they don’t call it at this time. Now, one interesting fact about the horseshoe crabs is that they’re actually less related to crabs as they are arachnids, spiders. This is physically apparent because oftentimes, I’ll pick one up and show the guests on a Danger tour, the horseshoe crabs actually have six eyes like a spider does.
Jim Scott 14:58
Are they considered a crustacean or an arachnid?
Bronza Fox 15:03
They’re considered a myth, a giant underwater tarantula with a shell.
Jim Scott 15:10
Tony Price 15:10
Okay. They’re still good.
Jim Scott 15:12
So, they’re not really a crab.
Bronza Fox 15:16
Exactly. They’re not really a crab. We named them such because they have the same behaviors as a crab does.
Tony Price 15:24
There was one chasing us down the sidewalk there, right down by the pier there.
Brian Roman 15:31
Was it just behind the conch?
Tony Price 15:32
He was just lost. He had to be. He was just walking down the sidewalk.
Brian Roman 15:38
Do they have claws or a bite to them?
Bronza Fox 15:43
The female horseshoe crabs usually get a lot larger than a male horseshoe crabs, twice the size. The male horseshoe crabs are the only ones with claws, although they don’t use them. They don’t really look like claws as much as they do like boxing gloves. They use those boxing gloves claws to latch on to the stern or the back of the female horseshoe crab and transfer their fertile fluids.
Brian Roman 16:14
I think I know what you mean.
Jim Scott 16:15
Much like the fighting conch.
Bronza Fox 16:21
We’ve studied the behaviors of horseshoe crabs quite extensively. They’re a little faster than the conch, but you can get them up pretty easily. They have that big, massive shell, pretty hard shell to defend themselves. Often, people mistake their pointy tail as a stinger, but the stinger actually just serves as a pivot point. If they get flipped over on their backs, they can use the point to pivot themselves back on their on their stomachs, on their on their legs. When I’m doing my my kayak tour through the mangrove islands and I pull one up, everyone freaks out because I tell them it’s a face hugger from that movie Aliens.
Tony Price 17:15
You did a fabulous job with us when we were on our schooner tour. You said that you are an actual captain, right? You’ve got your captain’s license, and you sit in several different sized boats. Tell us all about that.
Bronza Fox 17:33
Yeah, sure. I got my captain’s license as soon as I turned 18, as soon as I possibly could. The type of license you need depends on the tonnage of the boat that you’re operating. I got a 100-ton captain’s license, and that is a blanket license for any vessel under 100 gross tons.
Tony Price 18:03
Wow. So, what does that relate to in the size of a ship that we would typically see there on the harbor of Key West?
Bronza Fox 18:13
100-ton vessel is most likely under 100 feet in length. The Danger boats are all less than 100 tons, those are all operable. I could operate the Danger vessels. I could even operate an 80-foot schooner called the America, which is like 60 tons, somewhere there. In order to operate a sailboat, you have to get an additional endorsement called the auxiliary sail endorsement. Once you get your blanket license, there’s all these add-ons. You can get your towing endorsement, parasailing endorsement, all these endorsements that allow you to do different things. Your cargo transport endorsement, you can carry international cargoes and transport them around. All these licenses are provided by the US Coast Guard. They’re not the only type of captain’s license as you might imagine for international sailors who have a different form of captain’s license. The good thing about the US Coast Guard licenses is that they are internationally recognized by most countries who do a lot of nautical transportation and maritime commerce.
Brian Roman 19:40
Okay. Bronza, do you have any goal or ambition in what to do with the licenses that you have in the short-term and long-term?
Bronza Fox 19:53
I would really love to become a schooner captain. A lot of books that I’ve read about like Schooner Captains in Key West, something I really wanted to get into today, I had to do with Key West’s first major industry, which was wrecking and salvaging. Have you ever heard of this industry?
Tony Price 20:16
Well, actually, I wasn’t too familiar with it. Maybe I’d heard some of the stories of Key West. Since the weather was a little crazy when we were down there last time, we went to one of the museums, did a little tours on a few things, and found out a lot more about the industry. Please tell us a little bit.
Brian Roman 20:34
Yeah. I’m interested in the salvaging piece of it. I can grasp, but why would you want to wreck something?
Tony Price 20:40
You got to hear this. This is great.
Bronza Fox 20:46
In the 1850s, Key West was the richest city per capita in the United States and it was the most important city in Florida. Key West was the largest city in Florida aside from St. Augustine, which was the second largest. After the 1850s, other states started to pop up, but Key West was a huge shipping port. The whole Florida Keys and the geography of the Florida Keys made the Florida straits. That body of water between the Florida Keys and Cuba have very major shipping route. It’s been that way since the Europeans started to come to the new world, even in the 1500 or 1600s when Spanish treasure ships were coming back from Central America, they had cargo full of gold and silver bars. Inside these big Spanish galleons were so much treasure. There was this very famous instance of a fleet of ships, the treasure floaters as they were called, that got caught in a hurricane off the markings of Keys, right here in the Florida straits. They got caught in a storm, drove across the reef, literally damaged the holes to their sailboats, and sank in about 35 feet of water 20 miles west of Key West, near the markings of Keys. Now, in the 1600s, that amount of gold and silver that was lost in the sea floor was a huge blow to the to the Spanish economy at the time. So, Spain immediately commissioned a salvage operation in the 1600s to go and try to find this treasure that was in the bottom of the ocean across the Atlantic in the Florida Keys. Now, the Spanish employed all sorts of people like Spanish divers, who we’re usually slaves that came from the Bahamas, people who are really good at free diving. They hired a whole bunch of them and equipped lots of sailboats with [inaudible 22:53] and all sorts of crazy equipment that would help them salvage stuff off the sea floor. In the 1600s, they had a really hard time finding some of these ships that were wrecked right away because they were wrecked in such shallow water. Some of the mass of the sailboats were still protruding from the surface. You could actually see the mass of the sunken sailboats from the surface of the water. After another hurricane hit the year after, the wreckage was basically scattered across the sea floor. They had no way of finding it except for just going from place to place, going underwater, and looking for it just by the Key [inaudible 23:35]. They had really no way of finding these wrecks. They found some of the gold and the treasure, but it wasn’t until the 1980s, hundreds of years later, that a guy named Mel Fisher, who’s one of the most famous salvagers in history, found the mother lode of the treasure, which valued upwards of $80 million. That’s a whole different story. The salvaging industry continued in Key West through the 1800s. It was the most prosperous industry. Like I said before, the major shipping channel existed right to the south of Key West. I haven’t mentioned yet, but Key West has the third largest reef in the world, which you guys may have heard about when you were down in Key West. We have such a huge reef that stretches from Key Biscayne, Florida. It parallels the entire Florida Keys, and then stretches another 70 miles past Key West out to Dry Tortugas. Some parts of this reef are very close to the surface. 10 to 15 feet below surface, you have these massive hard, bottom coral heads that could do massive damage to the hull of a sailboat. That’s what was happening when ships were running through this shipping channel all the time. In the 1800s, when this industry was just getting started, there were no lighthouses, very inaccurate charts, no channel markers, no GPS, no engines. Nothing but your local knowledge, the power of your sails to get you away from this reef, and to navigate the straits of Florida safely. At the height of the wrecking industry, which was in 1850, there was more than one wreck happening a week on the Florida reef. And so, people in Key West were employed by this because there were all sorts of schooner captains and sailboat captains in Key West who not only were like fishermen, that was their normal duties, but they often became wreckers and salvagers. What they would do is these sailboats would patrol the reef, they would sail up and down the reef looking for wrecked sailboats. Big giant merchant ships are coming through there, like I said, every day. It was a very common occurrence for one of these sailboats to run aground, misjudge the navigation, get off track, get swept away by the current, and pile up onto this reef. Of course, it’d be much more severe when there was a storm about, but sometimes it happened in broad daylight and most of the time it happened at night. When these ships ran aground, one of a couple things would happen. Sometimes when they would run aground, the ship would still be intact, not flooded with water, but be high and dry on this reef, or what would also happen is the ship would run aground on the reef, puncture their hull, and flood with water. Sometimes, the ship would become a complete loss at that point, but not to the wreckers. That’s where the wreckers came into play. When a wrecker saw one of these ships piled up on the reef, it would offer their assistance. Usually if the ship wasn’t in grave danger, the captain of the wrecked ship would refuse the assistance of the wrecker and try to get the ship off with his own crew and by himself. That was extremely hard to do, and they were almost never able to do it by themselves. After a couple of hours of trying to get their ship off, what the master of the wrecked ship would do is hail back to the wreckers who were standing by and hail for their assistance. The wreckers would come alongside on their small schooners and start offloading cargo and heavy objects off the wrecked boat that would lighten the load and hopefully be able to get the ship light enough to be able to drag off the reef. Next, what they would do is take the very heavy catch anchors and carry them out on their small boats far away and into deeper water. Almost all the time on these big ships, they have these giant wind [inaudible 27:46]. Think of a giant cylinder with poles in it that bunch of men could get on, heave an anchor chain tight, and pull it in. What they would do is they would drag the anchors out to deep water, then start getting every able body they could to get on these wind [inaudible 28:08], heaving the [inaudible 28:09] anchors, and literally drag the ship off the reef from onboard. When that would happen, if they successfully got the ship off with the assistance of the wrecker, the wrecker would escort that ship back to Key West. Usually, they would have some sort of salvage award. There was a wrecking court in Key West where a judge would determine what the salvage award would be for the wreckers. A portion of the cargo that was sold, a portion of the cargo that they salvaged, the money from that cargo would go to the wreckers. Oftentimes in the early days of wrecking, it was an outrageous amount. Sometimes, 95% of the value of the cargo goes to the wreckers. They would recover pretty much all of it off the wrecked ship and try to save the ship. Key West was making so much money because we had all sorts of wharves like huge docks where ships could be careened and repaired. We had a whole bunch of trade ships from around the world being repaired and restored right there in Key West where they could get refitted completely by shipwright, and literally outfitted so they were ready to go and get back on track on their voyage. These wreckers were essential for safe passage of these merchants. Some merchants were very perturbed at the salvage awards given to the wreckers for saving their butts, however, people sailing through the Straits of Florida were very thankful that these wreckers were there to offer assistance if they were in trouble.
Tony Price 29:46
I look at it this way. You can either have 5% of your cargo or we can leave it where it is, and you get zero.
Jim Scott 29:55
Plus, your ship. You get your ship back.
Tony Price 29:57
I think it’s a deal.
Bronza Fox 30:01
There were some really crazy instances like a lot of wreckers were not employed for very long. It was a gamble. It was a very risky business. That’s because there was a lot of wreckers at the time. In 1850, there was over 100 small schooners and sloops, usually less than 100-ton vessels that were engaged in the wrecking industry. It was literally like hitting the jackpot when a huge ship would run aground, and you were the first one to the scene. If you were the first one to a wrecked ship, you were the wreck master. You were basically the overseer of establishment of the wreck. You were the one that would divvy up the spoils, the salvage award. Sometimes, there’s foul play.
Brian Roman 30:54
Tony Price 30:55
I couldn’t imagine that there’d be foul play in something like that.
Bronza Fox 31:00
There’s this really interesting case one time of this Columbian privateer, international privateer during the war of 1812, the Spanish American War, capturing a Spanish ship. Since international cargo could only be imported through the Customs House in Key West, what they would do is they would take this privateers prize and run them aground. They would run a ship aground on purpose, so that they could claim a salvage award from it and be the first ones there to help get the ship off. There were many ways still on doing this. They would often move channel markers
Tony Price 31:47
That’s what I heard. Some fake lighthouses and things like that, right?
Bronza Fox 31:52
Yeah. All sorts of misguiding lights and beacons set to help ships run aground even in the 1850. So, when 1850 came along, merchants coming through the Florida straits were so upset that so many wrecks were still happening at the time. By then, there was such a number of ships coming through the channel. Like I said, that was the height of the wrecking industry. That’s when we started building a bunch of lighthouses. For some reason, even though we built a bunch of lighthouses, that’s when we had the greatest number of wrecks happening during the 1850s, when we finally started to get all these lighthouses built.
Jim Scott 32:31
Interesting. That’s a neat history.
Tony Price 32:33
It was. It was very interesting to go through the museums down there and check that out. It’s kind of cool. It’s just something I hadn’t really paid much attention to, but that’s pretty wild.
Brian Roman 32:45
Is there much to the salvaging part of that industry other than just the name of it? Is it really just salvaging?
Bronza Fox 32:55
The salvaging is very laborious, and it can be very intense especially during a storm. Oftentimes, wrecking boats would be beat to hell. Usually they would lay alongside of a wrecked ship. If you were there during a storm, oftentimes their boats would get destroyed, all their equipment would get destroyed. They’d be lucky if they didn’t lose their ship. The wreckers would lose their ship. It was such a gamble trying to rescue and save some of these wrecked ships. I read one story of when a ship ran aground in really bad weather, the wreckers went to assist them, but then the weather got so bad that they actually had to go back to shore, leave people out there on a wrecked ship in the storm, and then come back when the storm subsided to finish the salvaging operation. A lot of times, when a ship was dragged all the way over the reef and sink in deeper water, salvage divers were employed, and they’d have to dive down. What they would do is they dive down with a line and tie it around individual pieces of cargo for crew members onboard the ship to then haul up to the surface. Sometimes, there was some very strange cargoes being hauled up. Sometimes, some of these cargoes had no monetary value but had a lot of value to science. There’s this one instance of a wreck happening that was full of dinosaur fossils. They were pulling huge dinosaur bones off the sea floor, salvaging them, and bringing them back. Of course, archaeologist was very thankful, but they actually didn’t get a salvage award for finding dinosaur bones.
Jim Scott 34:44
Tony Price 34:45
Oh, man. The history and the lore of Key West, right?
Jim Scott 34:48
Absolutely. That’s a lot of good stuff there. I know you’re not the captain of the Danger Charters, but you work on Danger Charters. Part of going to Key West, and since we’re a travel podcast, talking about things to do there, you’ve hit on a number on the eco tours. I don’t know if there’s salvage and wreckage tours, but I know there’s sunset cruises and that type of stuff. Can you elaborate a little bit on some of the day tours that are out there and available to people who come to Key West?
Bronza Fox 35:23
Yeah, of course. The most incredible thing by far that you could do while you’re in the Florida Keys is go snorkeling. Some parts of our reef is still very healthy coral. I’m really happy to say that we, at Danger Charters, we’re stewards of the environment, and we do everything we can to preserve the health of our coral reefs. Going snorkeling in some of these areas is unbelievable. It is so beautiful. You’ll see thousands of fish of all different shapes and colors, anything from parrot fish to sharks, angel fish, all sorts of marine life down there that’s so unique, and stingrays. It’s just countless marine life down there. Some of the most popular places to snorkel or some of the best places to snorkel aren’t even in Key West necessarily. They might be up the Keys at Looe Key which is the offshore of Summerland Key which is about 25-minute drive outside of Key West. That’s some of the healthiest reef that we have there in the keys. That’s my favorite pastime by far, going snorkeling. That’s what brings you the closest to salvaging. Sometimes, you’ll go snorkeling on these wrecked ships, and it’s unbelievable to see a ship laying there on the bottom of the ocean, being surrounded by fish, and overgrown with coral. A lot of these ships that sink in the Florida Keys will eventually become artificial reefs. The coral will start growing on them, and all sorts of marine life will start to use it as a home base. That’s amazing to see. I love going snorkeling. That’s definitely my favorite thing to do while I’m there in Key West, go snorkeling. It’s just beautiful. It’s the most intriguing and special thing that you can do really.
Brian Roman 37:25
When you go snorkeling Bronza, do you have your own boat that you take out or do you just go right off-shore? How do you approach the day?
Bronza Fox 37:38
It depends whether I’m working or not. I go snorkeling whether or whether I’m not working. So, when I’m working at Danger, we’ll sail the boat out to a patch reef. Some of these spots, we’re the only boat that goes to, so they’re really nice spots. We’ll anchor up nearby, be sure to not damage the coral with our anchor, find a nice, clear spot, we’ll lower down our dive platforms, distribute our freshly sanitized dive equipment. Fins are really nice to have while you’re snorkeling. Then, your mask and snorkel itself. Pool noodles are nice too to carry with you because snorkeling is usually a very leisurely activity. Michael Phelps is probably one of the worst snorkelers because he scares away all the fish. The slower you go, the more you’ll see. I’ts the general rule of thumb. When I go snorkeling on my own time, I have my own little center console boat. It’s like a scout boat. It’s real fast compared to a sailboat. It’s got a motor on it. That boat will take all around, not just to the patch reef but to the barrier reefs. We’ll go out to the North side where you’ll see a lot of different marine ecosystem. The really cool part about the water around Key West is that there’s a lot of different geography on the sea floor. A lot of times, you’ll see big giant corals with lots of fish, and then on the other parts, you’ll see sponge gardens, which are equally intriguing. A lot of the fish that hang out in sponge gardens are still in their adolescent stages of life, so their color is going to be more muted. You might see more exotic fish there and animals like a pancake ray. I’m sorry. A yellow stingray, but they look like pancakes. Sponges are really cool too. They’re filter feeders. They’re actually animals. Sponges come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. You’ll see sponges that are massive. Those are the type of sponges that filter up to an olympic-sized swimming pool of water a day. They’re also part of the reason why the water in the Florida Keys is so crystal clear. It’s because the sponges, when they eat, they’re filtering out the water. They basically ingest water into the orifices in the top of the sponge, they eat all the microorganisms and the sediment that’s floating around in the water and then they spit out. They basically poop out really clean water that’s crystal clear. Sponge gardens are extremely important to the ecosystem. They’re vital to be able to snorkel around there because they’re one of the reasons why the water is so clear in Key West.
Tony Price 40:35
That’s just crazy because how many times I’ve been there and snorkeling, it’s one of the few things I haven’t done. I guess that’s on the list up.
Brian Roman 40:42
The must do.
Tony Price 40:43
Yeah. Well, something else we always like to talk about is getting good insight on places to stay. Not necessarily a hotel but an area. People from the upper states here, when they come down, everybody knows Southernmost Point, Mallory Square, Duval Street, and all that kind of stuff. But if you were to come in and want something a little different, is there an area specifically of Key West that you think would be a good place to stay and hang out or even maybe just outside of Key West?
Bronza Fox 41:20
One thing that people have been doing a lot lately is on Stock Island, which is the next island up outside of Key West. What’s really cool, especially if you’re into maritime or even if you just want a different experience that’s outside the big hotels in Key West, is people are Airbnbing their sailboats. That is super cool, to be able to stay on somebody’s sailboat in Key West or just outside of Key West. Believe it or not, a lot of people who live and work in Key West live on sailboats. It’s actually considered Key West affordable housing.
Jim Scott 42:01
We saw that.
Bronza Fox 42:02
If you have a sailboat, you can very cheaply and very economically keep it on a mooring ball just outside Key West. I think that’s the way to go for anybody who’s looking for more exotic time in Key West, check out Airbnb to stay on some sailboats down there.
Brian Roman 42:17
So, you just stay on the dock on those, and obviously, if you wanted to take those out, you’d have to work with the owner.
Bronza Fox 42:26
That’s right. Some are dockside. Some are already on mooring ball. That just depends on which one you pick. I know there are some larger ones that just stay dockside for you, but there’s also some that are offshore. I’m sure they’d be happy to take anybody out sailing. Like I said before, my favorite activity to do is sailing in Key West.
Brian Roman 42:54
Help me out here. You said a sailboat on a mooring ball?
Bronza Fox 43:00
Yeah. A mooring ball.
Brian Roman 43:02
Okay, you’re going to have to help me out. I’m probably the only one in the room that doesn’t know what that is, but maybe there’s a listener out there that doesn’t either.
Bronza Fox 43:09
A mooning ball is just as if a sailboat was on an anchor, as if it was attached to an anchor. There’s a heavy object in the water securing it to one spot.
Jim Scott 43:21
And then the ball is offshore.
Brian Roman 43:23
It’s parked off-shore.
Jim Scott 43:28
The ball marks where it’s at, and then you hook to the ball with an anchor.
Bronza Fox 43:31
In the case of a mooring ball, it’s generally a very heavy cement block that’s placed on the bottom of the ocean with a really sturdy line attached to it, and then a floating buoy, in which you tie up to when you approach a mooring ball. If you wanted to grab a mooring ball with your sailboat, you go up to it and put a line to one of the eyes. There’s usually like an eyeball attached to one of the mooring balls. You can put a line through, or there’s a line in the water that you can just pick up and attach to it. It’s a very safe way of mooring yourself, of keeping in one place.
Brian Roman 44:10
Now, as the businessman, who owns those? How do you access one of those boring balls?
Bronza Fox 44:20
Most of them are owned by the city. What you can do is just tie up to one. When you go into shore, go to the dockmaster’s office and let them know the number in which you tied up to. They’ll just mark it down. Usually, they’re very cheap. You just let the dockmaster know that you have tied up to one of his mooring balls, and he’ll mark it down on his reference sheet.
Brian Roman 44:57
Just to let you know Bronza, in Shepherdstown, we call those parking meters. You park your car beside it, you put a quarter in, and it gives you about 30 minutes.
Bronza Fox 45:08
Oh, we have those in Key West, too.
Brian Roman 45:12
Do you have a car?
Bronza Fox 45:14
Yeah, I do. I’m driving in the car right now. My girlfriend’s driving. We’re actually driving across the country right now. I was just going to school in Los Angeles, California. They decided to move the school to an online platform. So, I’m bringing my truck back home to Key West as we speak.
Tony Price 45:37
Oh, wow. Okay,
Bronza Fox 45:39
It’s an old 1995 Ford f150. It’s bright blue. It’s real pretty truck, real old school, boxy looking.
Brian Roman 45:48
Tony Price 45:49
Wow. So, cross country trip.
Jim Scott 45:51
Great, so where are you at right now?
Tony Price 45:52
Yeah, where are you guys now?
Bronza Fox 45:54
We’re in New Mexico.
Jim Scott 45:57
Brian Roman 45:57
Wow, that is totally off from what the visual in my mind was you driving along the shore in Key West as you were talking with us. I had no idea that you were in New Mexico.
Bronza Fox 46:09
Yeah, I could see that.
Jim Scott 46:16
One final little segment before we wrap up. We’re starting to get towards the end of our time. Since we’ve talked about things to do and areas to stay on Key West, what are some wine and dine places you’d recommend? If you had family coming from out of town, what restaurant, bar, any kind of eating type experience, or food experience would you recommend them to go and check out?
Bronza Fox 46:43
That’s a great question. Business in Key West is very competitive, especially in the restaurant industry. Nearly every restaurant in Key West has something unique and good about it. Living there for 18 years, I can definitely point you in the right direction to some of the best places I know of to go, eat, and enjoy.
Jim Scott 47:07
What were one or two of those be?
Bronza Fox 47:12
For fresh seafood and fresh fish, I always go to Hogfish Bar and Grill in Stock Island. They are literally situated right next to the fishing docks, so they get their fish very fresh. They have a very famous sandwich called a hog fish sandwich. Hog fish is only found in the Florida Keys, in the waters around Florida that I know of in the United States. It’s such a good fish. It’s very white, flaky fish, and it’s so good tasting. I definitely recommend hogfish for those who are in the mood for some fresh seafood.
Jim Scott 47:54
Nice. I think somebody recommend that too. We’ve never been over to Stock Island yet, so we’ll have to get over there.
Bronza Fox 48:00
Yeah, you do. It’s also a great scenery too because you get to walk down the docks there and see all the pretty sailboats docked near the restaurant.
Jim Scott 48:10
Nice. Awesome. That sounds like a great recommendation. Guys, we’re at the end of our time. Do you have any final thoughts for Branzo?
Brian Roman 48:20
I’m curious about the origin of your name, Branzo. Where did that come from?
Bronza Fox 48:23
That’s a great question. My name comes from another person. His name was Bronza Parks. Bronza Parks was a shipwright. He was a boat builder who worked in Maryland building Chesapeake Bay skipjack schooners. A lot of times, he built schooner yachts, live aboard type vessels where people would buy them to enjoy weekend sails or even month-long adventures. Originally, his designs were used for working vessels, for oyster dredgers, because there’s a lot of oyster fishing and Chesapeake Bay. His designs are beautiful. Some of his designs are like really nice, shallow draft, sleek looking schooners with great masks, boats that look like you did 10 knots sitting at the dock.
Jim Scott 49:25
Nice. No wonder you’re tied to sailing, boats, and everything else. You couldn’t help yourself. Well, this has been fantastic, Bronza. Wealth of information on not only the history around Key West, but the ecosystem and all that. That’s been fantastic. Do you want to give a shoutout, obviously, to Danger Charters? I think you have a media company of your own. Any last shout outs on how people can reach you or Danger Charters?
Bronza Fox 49:56
That’s right. I’d love to. So, my company’s called Nautico Media. We specialize in doing aerial photography and videography for yachts, sailboats, anything on the water. We get spectacular footage here in the Florida Keys. It’s beautiful. I’ve also taken footage of a beautiful sailing yacht called the Columbia, 175 feet long, and designed after a famous Gloucester fishing schooner of the same name, one of the most beautiful boats to sail to the state.
Jim Scott 50:29
Wow. What was the website for that?
Bronza Fox 50:33
Jim Scott 50:35
Gotcha. Shout out to Danger Charters. What’s their website or how to contact them if they want to do one of the tours?
Bronza Fox 50:45
Danger Charters has a website. I think it’s dangercharters.com, but you’ll definitely be able to find them by looking up Danger Charters. They are definitely the only one with that name.
Jim Scott 50:56
Nice. Fantastic. Thank you, Bronza. Everyone, hopefully that gives you a lot of key insight from a native conch on Key West. So, that wraps us up for the Friends That Carry On travel podcast for this week. You can always find us at friendsthatcarryon.com and all the social medias @friendsthatcarryon. Be sure to go to the website to subscribe, so that you can get our podcasts sent to you on a regular basis via email. We now have our fan page set up, so you can see all kinds of specials and other things we offer including trip giveaways on a quarterly basis. Check that out. We will talk to you next time. Thank you.
Tony Price 51:36
Be sure to join the friends next week for another great discussion. Don’t forget to subscribe if you haven’t already. You can also find the friends and other content at www.friendsthatcarryon.com or check us out on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook by searching Friends That Carry On. Thanks again for joining us. Don’t forget to carry on, friends.