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Keys Voices Main Archive

Cynthia Aguilar: Paddling into History

Carol Shaughnessy | July 2011

When she paddled ashore on a Key West beach not long ago, she was sunburned and exhausted — and as joyfully triumphant as a 27-year-old woman could ever be.

Cynthia Aguilar cries with joy as she ends her incredible 103.2-mile prone paddleboard marathon on a Key Wes Rob O'Neal, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Cynthia Aguilar cried with joy as she ended her incredible 103.2-mile prone paddleboard marathon on a Key West beach. (Photo by Rob O'Neal, Florida Keys News Bureau)

That’s because, when she reached that beach, South Florida lifeguard Cynthia Aguilar became the first solo prone paddleboarder ever to cross the Florida Straits — paddling an astonishing 103.2 miles in just 29 hours and 12 minutes.

Making her feat even more remarkable is the fact that prone paddleboarding doesn’t involve actual paddles.

Instead, participants in the sport propel themselves through the water using their hands and arms.

When she landed, Cynthia dragged her paddleboard onto the beach as crowds of supporters erupted in wild cheers, then hugged her parents while tears streamed down her face.

When a friend uncorked a bottle of champagne and moved to pour it over her head in celebration, Cynthia grabbed it and doused her bright yellow paddleboard instead — sharing her victory with the board that was her “partner” in the historic journey.

Cynthia became the first prone paddleboarder to complete a voyage across the Florida Straits -- and did it in just 29 hours, 12 minutes. (Photo by Rob O'Neal, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Cynthia became the first prone paddleboarder to complete a voyage across the Florida Straits -- and did it in just 29 hours and 12 minutes. (Photo by Rob O'Neal, Florida Keys News Bureau)

“Everybody here kept me going to prove that anything is possible no matter what,” she said breathlessly as members of her support crew took turns enveloping her in jubilant embraces. “You’re knocked down, you get up, you keep fighting — you keep paddling no matter what.”

Strong and wiry, yet surprisingly small, Cynthia believes the phrase “keep paddling” also describes the best way to conquer life’s struggles — like the daily struggles of the Make-A-Wish Foundation kids she designed her crossing to benefit. It also inspired the name of the nonprofit she started.

And it certainly describes her unswerving determination to complete the Florida Straits crossing even after an initial attempt failed.

Cynthia first tried to paddle across the straits in September 2010. However, she encountered such strong currents and suffered so many Portuguese Man o’ War stings that she and her crew were forced to end the effort after 17 hours.

Cynthia's strength and determination kept her going even after a previous attempt to make the crossing was unsuccessful.  (Photo by Presley Adamson, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Cynthia's strength and determination kept her going even after a previous attempt to make the crossing was unsuccessful. (Photo by Presley Adamson, Florida Keys News Bureau)

“The greatest challenge for this attempt is letting go of the past, moving on and doing what I need to do at this moment, which is cross this body of water,” she said as she left Key West just before the 2011 crossing.

A seasoned endurance paddleboarder, she completed a 58-mile solo paddle in 2007 from Bimini to Dania Beach, Fla., in approximately 19.5 hours. And even after 2010’s unsuccessful Florida Straits attempt, she wasn’t about to give up on her dream.

“I know what went wrong last time, and not finishing last time made me even more determined. I’m meant to do it,” Cynthia said as she boarded the catamaran that carried her to a spot just outside Cuban waters, where she began the 2011 paddle. “That was a trial run the first time; this is the real run now.”

Cynthia's supporters welcome her with joy and open arms when she completed the crossing -- which benefits the Make-a-Wish Foundation. (Photo by Rob O'Neal, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Cynthia's supporters welcomed her with joy and open arms when she completed the crossing -- which benefits the Make-A-Wish Foundation. (Photo by Rob O'Neal, Florida Keys News Bureau)

During the 2011 run, as she stroked her way across the straits on her board, she was trailed by the catamaran and a yacht carrying a support crew, supplies and a documentary film crew chronicling her incredible journey. Like her crossing, the documentary will benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Southern Florida.

And when Cynthia finally completed her marathon paddle, landing on that Key West beach, her success sparked such shared joy that it practically shimmered visibly in the air.

With true grace of spirit, she credited her victory to her team, her well-wishers, and even the elements.

“This year the gods, the ocean {and} mother nature were on our side,” said Cynthia Aguilar — whose athletic feat, determination and generous heart make her one of the most inspiring visitors ever to arrive on Key West’s shores.

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Keys Reefs Provide Rehabilitation for Wounded Veterans and Families

Julie Botteri | July 2011

Life’s lessons present themselves unexpectedly, and this week mine came via the smiling face of a U.S. Army Special Operations Command soldier whose physical body was marred by war but whose positive outlook is as big as the ocean. His unflagging spirit reminded me what a great blessing family togetherness is.

Just seven months after he lost both legs and full use of his right arm following an attack in Afghanistan, Army Chief Warrant Officer Scott Schroeder was reintroduced to scuba diving with his wife and son who were learning to dive in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

Scott, his wife Laura and teenage son Zach — all from Clarksville, Tenn. — were part of a trip coordinated by Task Force Dagger Foundation, a Texas-based nonprofit organization. Established in 2009, the nonprofit provides opportunities for wounded warriors to become certified to scuba dive after sustaining life-altering injuries during military service.

“The Task Force Dagger Foundation is unique in that it allows the families to bond together by letting them participate in all the events,” Scott said. “A lot of foundations out there are very good at taking care of us wounded warriors, but not all of them include the family — and this one does.”

Scott, who’s 45 years old, sustained his injuries last December when his vehicle rolled over a hidden roadside bomb (which he described as 50 pounds of homemade explosives) in a rural province of Afghanistan.

cott Schroeder, a U.S. Army Special Operations Chief Warrant Officer severely wounded in Afghanistan, examines a brain coral while scuba diving in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary off Key West. (Photo by Bob Care, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Scott Schroeder, a U.S. Army Special Operations Chief Warrant Officer severely wounded in Afghanistan, examines a brain coral while scuba diving in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. (Photo by Bob Care, Florida Keys News Bureau)

“When I was hurt, it wasn’t just me that was hurt,” he said. “It impacted the entire family.”

Before his injuries, Scott had contacted Task Force Dagger Foundation’s managing director Keith David, with whom he’d served in the early 90s, about donating his time and energy to the organization to help wounded comrades.

“I said I want to be a part of {the foundation} monetarily, with my time, with everything. I think about retiring, and this is one way for me to give back after a 24-year career,” Scott recalled.

He never thought he would be on the receiving end of the foundation’s mission.

“I originally thought I was going to be on the giving end,” he said. “I’m blessed that they were there to help me … help us recover together as a family.”

Keith David said Task Force Dagger Foundation’s family focus sets it apart from other organizations.

Scott Schroeder, center, scuba dives with his son Zachary, left, and wife Laura in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. (Photo by Bob Care, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Scott Schroeder, center, scuba dives with his son Zachary, left, and wife Laura in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. (Photo by Bob Care, Florida Keys News Bureau)

“We try to assist when there’s a need,” he said. “One of the things we try and do is help them heal as a family unit.”

This trip to the Florida Keys was a first for the Schroeder family.

Despite being scuba certified in the late 1980s, Scott had to take a refresher course — primarily to adapt his knowledge to his new capabilities. Special hi-tech prosthetic “swim legs” helped propel him through the water during his dive on a shallow reef with his wife and son.

“It was so cool, like you’re in an aquarium,” Laura Schroeder said of the reef fish, barracuda and conch they spotted on their first ocean dive. “I thought the Keys were all about margaritas and salt.”

Although the diving is rehabilitation for him, Scott said he gets to do things he wouldn’t normally do while stuck in a hospital — getting on and off boats, walking up and down the beach and the dock — activities that I, and probably most of us, take for granted.

“Any ‘first’ we get to do as a family is a big event, and to be out here and to be able to dive with them on their first time is just great,” Scott said with a beaming smile. “You can see their eyes light up inside their masks while they’re down there.”

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Lower Keys Underwater Music Festival Rocks!

Carol Shaughnessy | July 2011

According to divers at the annual Lower Keys Underwater Music Festival, held recently in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, Elvis Presley never died. He simply took his act underwater.

Eel-vis Presley," portrayed by diver Eric Rolfe "strums on a colorful faux guitar during the Lower Keys Underwater Music Festival. (Photos by Bob Care, Florida Keys News Bureau)

"Eel-vis Presley," portrayed by diver Eric Rolfe, strums on a colorful faux guitar during the Lower Keys Underwater Music Festival. (All photos by Bob Care, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Divers costumed as “Eel-vis,” “Bob Marlin,” “Joss Stone Crab” and other rock-and-rollers “performed” beneath the waves for an audience of more than 500 divers and snorkelers at the offbeat festival.

In addition to brightly-painted underwater guitars, their undersea jam session featured “fishy” instruments such as a “sax-eel-phone,” “clambourine,” “trombonefish,” and “wahoo kazoo” sculpted by talented Lower Keys artist August Powers.

Not only did participating divers and snorkelers enjoy watching the iconic “rockers” in action — they also had the opportunity to view the colorful marine life that inhabits the continental United States’ only living coral barrier reef, which parallels the Florida Keys.

“I’ve never had a snorkeling experience like this,” marveled first-time festival participant Gail Coad of Sarasota, Fla. “It’s just like a magic show with the different beautiful tropical fish.”

Samantha Langsdale, dressed as a mermaid, blows air through a "musical instrument" sculpted by Lower Keys artist August Powers.

Samantha Langsdale, dressed as a mermaid, blows air through a "musical instrument" sculpted by Lower Keys artist August Powers.

Staged by Keys radio station U.S. 1, the quirky Underwater Music Festival featured melodies broadcast into the undersea realm via speakers suspended beneath boats at the reef. It took place at Looe Key, a part of the marine sanctuary about six miles south of Big Pine Key.

“Sound underwater is incredible because you can sense it with your entire body,” advised festival director and founder Bill Becker of U.S. 1. “You can feel it coming through your head and your chest — it actually comes from all directions.”

The broadcast playlist included ocean–related tunes such as the Beatles’ “Yellow Submarine,” Jimmy Buffett’s “Fins,” and even familiar themes from the film “Jaws” and television’s wacky “Gilligan’s Island.”

FYI, it wasn’t just human participants who appeared to be rocking at the sub-sea songfest.

“The fish seemed to enjoy the music as much as I did,” said Gail Coad. “They almost were dancing in unison to the melody — and the music just kind of surrounds you.”

"Eel-vis" and his mermaid backup singer jam beneath the sea during the offbeat underwater songfest.

"Eel-vis" and his mermaid backup singer jam beneath the sea during the offbeat underwater songfest.

Veteran festival participant Samantha Langsdale, who wore a vivid green mermaid costume and jammed with “Eel-vis,” reported that she made some undersea “friends” during the festival.

“I believe the parrotfish family has accepted me,” Samantha confided after returning to the surface. “We have similar colors.”

As well as being a one-of-a-kind event for divers and snorkelers, the Underwater Music Festival included diver awareness messages promoting preservation of the Keys’ unique coral reef ecosystem.

“We have a lot of fun, we dress up in costumes, but there’s a serious side,” said Bill Becker. “Coral reef conservation is the message.”

To all the divers and snorkelers who take the festival’s lesson to heart, and pledge to protect the Keys’ underwater wonderland, “Eel-vis” might add his own message: “Thank you … thank you very much.”

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Fabulous Florida Keys Cuisine Steals Spotlight in ‘Man v. Food Nation’

Carol Shaughnessy | July 2011

If you’re craving a Florida Keys food fix but can’t make it down to the island chain right away, savor some “virtual dining” with the Travel Channel’s “Man v. Food Nation.” Show host Adam Richman samples signature Keys dishes from three favorite local restaurants in a taped episode that debuted July 6 and reruns nine times through July 18.

At the Key Largo Conch House, the show stages the Conch Republic Fritter Contest to determine who can eat the most conch fritters in 15 minutes. Below, watch Adam coach an engaging — and unexpected — underdog contestant in how to chow down on the classic Keys appetizer.

Other eateries spotlighted include the Hogfish Bar & Grill on Stock Island, where Adam enjoys the “Killer Hogfish” sandwich of locally caught fish in a casual waterfront atmosphere. FYI, the Hogfish is a must-visit spot for its great seafood (especially world-class smoked fish dip), friendly crowd of regular customers, and wonderful old-Keys vibe.

And what would a food show be without dessert? Musician and Florida resident Vanilla Ice joins Adam at Key West’s Blue Heaven to taste the historic spot’s towering meringue-topped Key lime pie (see below). He also explains why the Keys are home to the best Key lime pie anywhere.

Scheduled episode airtimes and dates (all Eastern/Pacific time) are 11 a.m. Saturday, July 9; 9 p.m. Sunday, July 10; 12 a.m. Monday, July 11; 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 13; 12:30 a.m. Thursday, July 14; 11:30 a.m. Saturday, July 16; 9:30 p.m. Sunday, July 17; and 12:30 a.m. Monday, July 18.

Be warned, however: watching is guaranteed to whet your appetite for your own food-focused Keys exploration.

Luckily, the Key Largo Food & Wine Festival is coming up July 29 through Aug. 7, Florida lobster season begins Aug. 6 and Key West Lobsterfest is set for Aug. 12-14. So make reservations now — and get ready to savor the flavors of the Florida Keys.

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Fly Like “James Bond” — Only in the Florida Keys

Andy Newman | June 2011

Visitors to the Florida Keys can now pretend to be — and actually fly like — “James Bond” with a new watersport providing levitation-like flight. The Keys are the first place in the United States to offer the amazing experience to travelers.

Jetpack Adventures is based in Key West at the Galleon Resort & Marina. A similar experience is to be offered by Sundance Watersports at Hawk’s Cay Resort & Marina near Marathon.

Participants strap on a flight pack that looks like the one actor Sean Connery wore in “Thunderball.” A 30-foot hose tethers the apparatus to a tiny boat with a pump that uses seawater as propellant. Flight controls allow adventurers to take off, make soft turns, hover and land. To watch a more comprehensive video of the experience, click here.

Of course, flyers who want to conclude their astonishing experience like Bond did (see the classic “Thunderball” clip below) will need to provide their own expensive sports car and sexy companion.

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‘Big Man’ Clarence Clemons Left Us with a Love for the Keys

admin2 | June 2011

(Editor’s Note: This week’s Keys Voices, honoring the late Clarence Clemons, was written by Larry Kahn, editor of the “Florida Keys Keynoter.”)

"Big Man" Clarence Clemons, shown here onstage in the Florida Keys, was an unparalleled musician who loved the island chain. (Photo courtesy of Redbone Celebrity Tournament Series)

"Big Man" Clarence Clemons, shown here onstage in the Florida Keys, was an unparalleled musician who loved the island chain. (Photo courtesy of Redbone Celebrity Tournament Series)

Saxophone player extraordinaire Clarence Clemons, 69, for nearly 40 years Bruce Springsteen’s No. 2 man in the E Street Band, was well known in the Keys for playing gigs at various bars, sitting in with whatever bands were playing.

They include the Schooner Wharf in Key West; the Brass Monkey Lounge, Castaway, Dockside Lounge and the Hurricane Grille in Marathon; and Woody’s, the Lorelei and Cheeca Lodge in Islamorada.

Clemons, who died June 18, was also a staple fixture at a group of Florida Keys fishing tournaments that raise money for cystic fibrosis treatment and research.

“He always showed up with his sax and played, even though I never was presumptuous that he would play,” said Gary Ellis, founder of the Redbone Celebrity Tournament Series.

Ellis said that even though it wasn’t widely known, Clemons had an affinity for sportfishing.

“He was totally taken by fishing,” Ellis said. “He was all about Keys fishing … for tarpon and bonefish.”

Shown here releasing a catch, Clemons found pure joy in fishing Keys waters.

Shown here releasing a bonefish, Clemons found great enjoyment in fishing Keys waters. (Photo courtesy of Redbone Celebrity Tournament Series)

In the Keys, Clemons’ special place was in Marathon. His Stirrup Key home overlooks Florida Bay.

Clemons’ 2009 autobiography, “Big Man: Real Life and Tall Tales,” has a chapter called “Marathon Key.” In it, he writes following back surgery:

Most of my time lately has been spent in Florida healing. It’s a slow process but I’m doing well. I feel strong every day and look forward to dancing across the stage again on the next tour. As I write this, I’m sitting on my porch looking out at the bay toward the horizon where the ocean meets the sky.

The book also has a chapter called “Looking Back from Islamorada.” That recounts his chance meeting with singer Jimmy Buffett, who was signing books at an Islamorada bookstore, likely Hooked on Books.

Clemons went into the bookstore and saw a bunch of Parrot Heads {as Buffett fans are called}.

Clemons jams with the band at a favorite Keys watering hole. (Photo courtesy of Larry Kahn)

Clarence plays the Brass Monkey in Marathon in May 2010 at the Save the Monkey party. (Photo by Ryan McCarthy, "Florida Keys Keynoter")

I walked up to the head of the line and waited for Jimmy to notice me. It’s very hard not to notice me. Especially in a tiny Florida bookstore a few feet off the highway.

“You’ll have to get in line with everybody else, sir,” said Jimmy when he finally looked up.

“I don’t think so,” I said.

“I don’t think so either,” said Jimmy, smiling. “Big Man! Look everybody, it’s Clarence Clemons.”

The folks in line smiled. Two big stars for the price of one in a very unlikely setting. Well, one big star and me. They applauded.

(Editor’s Note: Andy Newman contributed to this piece. An earlier version of it appeared in the Wednesday, June 22, edition of the “Florida Keys Keynoter.”)

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The Vanishing Boot: a Wacky Return to Key West

Carol Shaughnessy | June 2011

One of my friends is moving from Marathon to the Lower Keys. Her days are filled with plumbers, pool cleaners, and absent cable installers. Her speech is disjointed; her eyes glitter feverishly.

Is this the face of a boot thief? (Photo by Joanne Denning)

Is this the face of a boot thief? (Photo by Joanne Denning)

I recognize her symptoms from the time, years ago, when I moved home to Key West with my then-boyfriend Gerry after 18 months in Nashville. In fact, I still can’t look at a moving van without twitching uncontrollably.

It all began with Clyde.

Nashville, Sept. 29. We hire a mover despite his peculiar nickname (Clyde the Magic Mover), and he asks how many boxes we have. Gerry and I are not fooled. We have moved before. We do what any other experienced householders would do. We lie.

Nashville, Sept. 30. Clyde the Magic Mover and his partner, Ezell (E´-zell), arrive. Both are in their mid-50s and so strong they have enough energy to joke as they lift our 300-pound couch into their moving van, a vehicle seemingly big enough to hold Sloppy Joe’s Bar.

When all our belongings are safely stowed, we hop in our car and follow the van south.

Exuberant blossoms add a lush beauty to Key West homes ... like our beloved cottage.

Exuberant blossoms add a lush beauty to Key West homes ... like our beloved cottage.

Key West, Oct. 1. Arriving at our new cottage during an island rain shower, we realize our attractive tropical yard is filled with tropical mud. Unfortunately, we must cross it to get the furniture in the back door.

Undaunted, we do what Keys residents have done for generations — we improvise. We lay a large board from the moving van over the mud. Clyde and Ezell speedily unload our household goods and disappear. With their board.

Key West, Oct. 2. While I wander the Historic Seaport, glorying in being back on my island, Gerry stays home to unpack. Unfortunately, another tropical shower turns our backyard into a mud puddle again. Carrying boxes in from the car, he removes his favorite cowboy boots and leaves them outside the back door so he won’t track mud inside.

Shortly afterward, he spots a floppy-eared puppy racing past the kitchen window with something in its mouth. At first he thinks the object is a dirty rag — but then realizes it’s one of his boots! Frantically, he gives chase but can’t catch the culprit.

After returning, I quickly headed down to the Historic Seaport.

After returning, I quickly headed down to the Historic Seaport.

When I get home, Gerry is pacing the kitchen (barefooted) muttering to himself. The remaining boot sits on the counter.

Gerry does not handle this kind of thing well. Indignantly he relates the boot-snatching episode. I collapse into a chair, laughing uncontrollably.

Later, as we dine on Key West pink shrimp at the Hogfish Bar, Gerry says,  “I’ve heard that animals do only what they need for survival. So why did that dog need my boot? He can’t wear it!”

We fantasize briefly about a local dog pack indulging in boot worship on Dog Beach beside Louie’s Backyard. I try to finish eating my shrimp, but can’t stop laughing.

Key West, Oct. 3. Gerry starts the day in his flip-flops. He’s not amused when I hum “These Boots Are Made for Walking.”

The missing boot reappeared behind the Southernmost Point marker, delineating the southernmost spot of land in the continental U.S. (Photo by Rob O'Neal, Florida Keys News Bureau)

The missing boot reappeared behind the Southernmost Point marker, delineating the southernmost spot of land in the continental U.S. (Photo by Rob O'Neal, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Outside, savoring Key West’s tangy salt air, I begin chatting with two kids trying to crack a coconut on the sidewalk. Gerry unobtrusively searches the area for a boot.

Finally one of the kids says, “Mister, are you looking for something?”

Gerry relates the whole sorry tale.

The older kid grabs Gerry’s sleeve and urges him down Whitehead Street. There, behind the Southernmost Point monument, the boy indicates a boot. It’s muddy, bedraggled, and appears to have a few bite marks.

Gerry snatches it up with a glad cry.

Key West, Oct. 4. I bike over to Fausto’s Food Palace for groceries. On the way back, I encounter a puppy that looks suspiciously like the boot thief Gerry described. He’s carrying something in his mouth … but nevertheless, he manages to give me a wide canine grin.

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Sally Bauer’s Dream: Diving into Underwater History

Christina Baez | June 2011

In the late 1960s, Sally and Joe Bauer made a road-trip pit stop that changed their lives forever. Driving back from diving in the Florida Keys, they stopped at a store near the Miami airport called Stone Age Antiques.

Sally Bauer stands beside a diving bell after a dive in Norway in 2005. (Photos courtesy of the Florida Keys History of Diving Museum)

Sally Bauer stands beside a diving bell after a dive in Norway in 2005. (Photos courtesy of the Florida Keys History of Diving Museum)

There they found an old diving helmet selling for $500, and bought it because they thought it was attractive. That simple act set them on a path that, years later, led to their founding the Florida Keys History of Diving Museum in Islamorada.

“When we purchased that helmet, we caught the collecting bug,” Sally admitted. “Like any incurable disease, it can’t be treated. You can suppress the strength of it a little bit — in this case by adding to the collection — but you never quite get over it.”

Under the influence of the “disease,” the Bauers eventually assembled the world’s largest collection of diving artifacts, antiques, books and prints related to the history of diving.

Sally wasn’t always interested in the underwater world. She grew up in a rural area near Youngstown, Ohio, and later studied medicine. She first met her husband of 42 years, the late Joe Bauer, when she showed up at his office seeking a summer job while in college.

“I started working for him, and then I worked for and with him all of the rest of his life,” she said. “We did everything together — that was my joy through life and my great tragedy when he died.”

Sally displays a wooden Griswood helmet underwater.

Sally displays a wooden Griswood helmet underwater.

Sally and Joe began diving as a hobby that helped them disconnect from the world and escape the stresses of the medical profession. They kept diving because of their fascination with the marine biology of aquarium fish.

The Bauers took dive trips to the Keys to study the spawning behaviors of fish and bring them back to their Cleveland home for further research. As well as making important scientific discoveries, they also were the first to raise clownfish and peppermint shrimp successfully in captivity.

By the 1980s, their collection of artifacts was so vast that they helped found the Historical Diving Society of the United States and the United Kingdom. Concerned that the collection, and the history it represented, would be scattered and lost after their deaths, they approached the Smithsonian Institute, Disney’s Epcot Center and others — but got little response.

“When we moved to the Keys full-time in 1997, we realized that the Keys are the only place that you can drive and dive on a coral reef,” Sally said. “It just seemed natural that this is where we should have the museum.”

That realization sparked their creation of the world-class Florida Keys History of Diving Museum, located at mile marker 83 — which contains artifacts and other items covering an incredible 4,000 years of diving history.

The museum's highlights include an exhibit of dive helmets from around the world, and one dedicated to Upper Keys treasure hunter Art "Silver Bar" McKee.

The museum's highlights include an exhibit dedicated to Upper Keys treasure hunter Art "Silver Bar" McKee.

Highlights include an exhibit of dive helmets from around the world, and one dedicated to legendary Upper Keys treasure hunter Art “Silver Bar” McKee.

“The museum is not just for divers — it’s for anyone who wants to know more about man’s quest to explore under the sea,” explained Sally, who was inducted into the prestigious Women Divers Hall of Fame in March 2011. “Joe used to say, ‘It’s a little jewel that has not quite been discovered,’ and when people come in they’re astonished.”

Joe Bauer died suddenly in April 2007, but his legacy and knowledge of diving history live on through Sally.

“My challenge for the rest of my life is to put this history down so it’s not lost,” Sally said. “There are many more stories we want to tell about diving history.”

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On ‘Safari’ with Rob O’Neal

Carol Shaughnessy | June 2011

Rob O’Neal wasn’t born with a camera in his hand (at least, his mother is reasonably sure he wasn’t). But somewhere along his journey from childhood to adulthood, from his former homes to Key West, the camera became an extension of Rob’s eyes and heart and brain.

Rob O'Neal's eye for a great photo leads him to shoot images like the "southernmost legs" in front of the Southernmost House in the continental United States. (All photos by Rob O'Neal)

Rob O'Neal's eye for a great photo leads him to shoot images like the "southernmost legs" in front of the Southernmost House in the continental United States. (All photos by Rob O'Neal)

He doesn’t regard that as remarkable; it’s simply the way things are. Just as Dylan and Springsteen translate their experiences into chords and lyrics, Rob translates his into photographs. His “Key West Photo Safari” book, a compilation of those experiences, is a quirkily vivid record of the world he inhabits — and a must-have volume for everybody who loves the island city.

Though Rob has shot thousands of photos of Key West and the Keys, until 1996 he was a land-locked guy who worked in the restaurant business in Dayton, Ohio. But serendipity intervened, and he wound up in Key West with a camera and a simple philosophy.

“The battle cry has always been, if it moves, shoot it,” says Rob, ”and if it doesn’t, shoot it again.”

From a helicopter, Rob captures the action of a world-class sailing regatta held each year in Key West waters.

From a helicopter, Rob captured the action of a world-class sailing regatta held each year in Key West waters.

Since his immersion in the world of Keys photography, Rob has found himself in some pretty unusual situations. For example, flying over Key West Harbor in a helicopter at 100 miles per hour to shoot world championship powerboat races. Diving on the shipwreck site of the fabled “Nuestra Señora de Atocha” Spanish galleon that sank off Key West in 1622. Dodging huge, lavish floats full of semi-naked revelers during the elaborate (and wonderfully bizarre) annual Fantasy Fest Parade.

Rob’s camera has captured some of the wackiest events in the Keys. Like the Minimal Regatta, where rules mandate that “vessels” must be constructed of two sheets of flimsy plywood and a roll of duct tape. The annual Parrot Head gathering of some 3,000 Jimmy Buffett fans, who typically wear eccentric headgear that inspired their name. The late lamented Chickenfest, a celebration of Key West’s free-range fowl that included a “Poultry in Motion” parade.

When former President Bill Clinton strolled down Duval Street past Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville, Rob was there with his camera.

When former President Bill Clinton strolled down Duval Street past Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville, Rob was there with his camera.

And while some photographers shoot only pretty stuff, or only things they’re assigned and paid to shoot, that’s not the case with Rob O’Neal. For him, chronicling his world on film is as natural — and as necessary — as breathing.

His wonderful “Photo Safari” is a testament to his passion. Not only are the shots intriguing and appealing, but many portray things that only someone with a highly developed “eye” (and an equally well-developed appreciation of the absurd) would recognize and shoot.

For example, there’s a car shaped like a giant red chile pepper rolling down legendary Duval Street. A trio of tiny dogs wearing t-shirts riding in a cushioned bicycle basket. A garbage truck with a supersized pink plush bunny stuck to its grill. A shrimpboat with its outriggers arched like the legs of a giant grasshopper.

And of course Rob’s book showcases the glorious mix of characters that give Key West its character — from drag queen Sushi to weatherbeaten former mayor and saloonkeeper Captain Tony.

So who is Rob O'Neal? Here's a rare portrait of the guy behind the camera.

So who is Rob O'Neal? Here's a rare portrait of the guy behind the camera.

You’ll even find a shot of former president (and repeat Key West visitor) Bill Clinton, dressed in a bright red polo shirt, standing under the sign that marks Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville Café.

“Ask any Key Wester and they’ll tell you that the people are what it’s all about,” says Rob, adding that his book includes “entrepreneurs, doctors, musicians, cab drivers, city commissioners, policemen, firefighters, artists, writers, bartenders, and a healthy dose of full-fledged nut cases.”

Get the book, spend some time wandering through its pages, and you might be able to figure out which are which. Or, of course, you might not. But either way (and this is virtually guaranteed), you’ll have a terrific time trying.

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Volunteering to Help Pilot Whales Means Chance to Give Back

Julie Botteri | May 2011

I admit it — I’m spoiled. And the Florida Keys are to blame. These islands have rewarded me, a scuba diver for 20-plus years, with numerous fortunate encounters with wild marine life that occasionally intertwines with human life here.

Post author Julie Botteri (second from left) volunteers her time to help Marine Mammal Conservancy care for three pilot whales. (All photos by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Post author Julie Botteri (second from left) volunteers her time to help the Marine Mammal Conservancy care for three pilot whales. (All photos by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Front-row seats to view giant whale sharks, leaping dolphins, sea turtles being returned to the ocean after recovering from illness or injury? Yes, I am spoiled.

Recently, I had an enviable opportunity to give back — give my time, myself and my energy — as an in-water volunteer for the Marine Mammal Conservancy’s efforts to save three female pilot whales. The whales are recovering in Key Largo after surviving a mass stranding on May 5 in the Lower Keys shallows.

The four hours I spent helping those whales were some of the most precious of my life.

I joined a group of 20-plus volunteers at MMC for the 8 a.m. “shift” after a briefing about the whales’ condition, how to properly place our hands on their delicate dorsal and pectoral fins, and their expected behaviors.

Marine Mammal Conservancy veterinarian Pamela Govett (left) applies an antibacterial solution on the sunburned skin of a pilot whale during the whale's recovery at MMC's Key Largo headquarters.

Marine Mammal Conservancy veterinarian Pamela Govett (left) applies an antibacterial solution on the sunburned skin of a pilot whale during the whale's recovery at MMC's Key Largo headquarters.

Rarely seen by humans, pilot whales are deep divers, unfamiliar with shallow water — and with humans supporting them to make sure the blowholes they use to breathe are free of saltwater.

As we waited to enter the shallow pen, chatter among the group was hushed yet excited and full of positive energy. I wondered what personal motivation had brought us all together on this morning.

Quickly it became clear that everyone’s intention was the same, and unselfish — pure healing.

Some spent their week’s vacation doing several shifts. A woman who splits her time between Boca Raton, Fla., and California heard about the volunteer opportunity through the Coast Guard Auxiliary, and joined because she loves the Keys.

Hannah, a student in Miami, took time away from her job performing hearing tests on infants to be in the Keys. She admitted she was afraid of the water — but had been so inspired by the whales that she helped make “Please Volunteer” flyers to post around Miami, and displayed them on her car that she parked “in crazy ways” at the beach and elsewhere so people would notice them.

Brandon Paquin (left) holds the tail of a pilot whale while MMC veterinarian Micah Brodsky (center) draws blood. Assisting (at right) is Alexandra Epple.

Brandon Paquin (left) holds the tail of a pilot whale while MMC veterinarian Micah Brodsky (center) draws blood. Assisting (at right) is Alexandra Epple.

Evans Raveneau, who stood beside me helping support the smallest of the female whales, said he’d recently lost his corporate job and was looking for a new direction, re-evaluating his purpose in life.

He was deeply moved from the first time we held the whale. “This is unbelievable,” he said, near tears.

No matter where we were from, our experience was equally memorable. As soon as you feel a pilot whale draw a full breath and its body shudder beneath your fingertips, it’s magical.

The whales’ musculature is pure power, with a presence and awareness in every fiber. My practice with Reiki energy makes me more attuned and sensitive of its abilities — but regardless, the amount of force that these whales use for propulsion is unmistakable.

MMC still needs volunteers to help with the whales' recovery. Here, vet Micah Brodsky listen's to one of the whales' gastrointestinal tract while volunteers support them.

MMC still needs volunteers to help with the whales' recovery. Here, vet Micah Brodsky (right) listens to one of the whales' gastrointestinal tract while volunteers support them.

As veterinarians and staff drew blood, applied antibiotics, tested respiration, heart rate and hearing, we held the whales firmly yet steady and calm. For the first time in my life, I saw a pilot whale eat from a tube, fart underwater and take a poop. Twice.

And I watched as the still-weaning youngster we cared for stretched and bent her tail to play “footsie” with her neighbor — just for the touch and reassurance that another of her kind was close by.

I recommend that everyone, scuba diver or not, take a moment and pay it forward. Give of yourself unselfishly to help another living thing survive, if only for a flicker in time. Reap the rewards of volunteering — they are huge.

To learn more about the Marine Mammal Conservancy’s efforts, and to volunteer your time, visit www.marinemammalconservancy.org.

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