Keys Voices Main Archive

Stephen Frink: Capturing the Underwater World

Christina Baez | November 2011

Twenty-five cents can buy a gumball, 15 minutes at a parking meter or a phone call on a pay phone. But for world-renowned underwater photographer Stephen Frink, a quarter led to a profession, a passion and a lifetime of success.

Stephen Frink is captured here on the other side of the lens -- off the coast of the Red Sea. (All photos courtesy of Stephen Frink)

Stephen Frink is captured here on the other side of the lens -- off the coast of the Red Sea. (All photos courtesy of Stephen Frink)

Stephen always wanted to be a scuba diver, but his ultimate motivation was the offer of a part-time job cleaning yacht hulls that required him to be dive certified.

“I always say I got certified as a scuba diver for 25 cents a linear foot, because that’s what I got paid for cleaning boats,” he joked.

Stephen grew up a landlocked Midwesterner, but constantly fantasized about what it would be like to scuba dive. He took his first and only photography class while getting his master’s degree in experimental psychology at California State University at Long Beach.

“Seeing the black-and-white darkroom and the alchemy coming up in the tray, I just knew that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” he said.

Stephen bought his first underwater camera from a surfer, and initially enjoyed underwater photography as a hobby. Once he finished school he spent six months in Hawaii working as a tourism photographer, shooting what he described as “drunk people at luaus at night,” and diving and shooting underwater photos during the day.

Stephen's brilliant photo of Key Largo's iconic Christ of the Abyss statue was widely recognized during the recent 50th anniversary celebration of John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park.

Stephen shot this brilliant photo of Key Largo's iconic Christ of the Abyss statue.

Subsequently he gave up the island life and scuba diving for “coat weather” and a darkroom job as a custom color printer in Colorado.

Competitive swimming had been a big part of Stephen’s youth, and coincidentally it’s what brought him to the Florida Keys. An old friend from his swimming days, who was living in Key Largo and working as a treasure hunter, invited him to visit.

He arrived in Key Largo in April 1978 and immediately realized he could make a living processing film and renting camera equipment.

He rented a small space in what was then the Ocean Divers building, eventually buying the building and creating what is now the Stephen Frink Gallery and his working office.

Surprisingly, he has never taken an underwater photography class. Instead, he perfected his craft by trial and error.

Underwater photography is so unique,” Stephen said. “Each day you dive is going to be a little different, and there’s always the challenge to photograph even a familiar subject in a better way.”

Stephen captured this manta ray and the remora fish tagging along with it.

Stephen captured this manta ray and the remora fish tagging along with it.

On a rainy winter day in 1979 — a day he remembers distinctly — he began his work as an educator.

“A guy drove up in a brand new Cadillac and asked me if I taught underwater photography,” Stephen said. “I thought the guy looked like he could pay for it, so I said, ‘Of course I do,’ and I’ve been teaching ever since.”

Today, he teaches master photographers through the Stephen Frink School of Photography, hosting two underwater photography seminars in Key Largo each summer.

His photojournalism career began in 1982 when a Miami–based magazine needed underwater photos of Marathon. Although Stephen had never used a wide–angle lens, he borrowed one from a friend, took a model down to Marathon and got the shots. Two weeks later, he was called to hit the road and travel to the Cayman Islands to shoot for the magazine.

Since then, Stephen Frink has traveled the globe as a photojournalist and worked with publications including Skin Diver magazine, Scuba Diving and Alert Diver magazine. He also authored a coffee-table book titled “Wonders of the Reef.”

Of the thousands of images Frink has shot, the one closest to his heart is this photo of his daughter Lexi swimming with a dolphin when she was only 3 years old.

Stephen's photo of his daughter Lexi, swimming with a dolphin when she was only 3 years old, remains close to his heart.

An active environmentalist, Stephen sits on the board of directors of the Sanctuary Friends Foundation of the Florida Keys — a nonprofit dedicated to the preservation, restoration, and sustainable use of the area’s coral reef ecosystem. He finds himself in constant awe of the world that lies just offshore in the Keys.

“Sometimes I’ll be out with my buddies and we just shake our heads with disbelief,” he said. “So many places I go just don’t have much marine life anymore, and we have this legacy of conservation here — it is such a big deal. I truly enjoy diving and living here.”

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An Insider’s Taste of Key West … Yummm!

Steve Smith | November 2011

As the holidays approach at warp speed, we’re starting to hang icicles and colored lights in our palm trees and across our houses. Soon the Key West neighborhoods will look like a winter wonderland — without the snow!

Spotted at a recent Key West Business Guild mixer are blog author Steve Smith (right), guild executive director Rebecca Tomlinson (center) and guild office manager Patrick Shanks.

Spotted at a Key West Business Guild pre-holiday mixer are blog author Steve Smith (right), guild executive director Rebecca Tomlinson (center) and guild office manager Patrick Shanks.

Since many of you may be heading this way during the festive season, this week I’d like to stimulate your appetites with a tour of some of my favorite Key West eateries.

Mornings are always a treat with a variety of Keys twists on the breakfast experience — like the wide choice of Eggs Benedict served at Blue Heaven in the heart of Bahama Village. Choose from ham, vegetable, filet mignon, or their special lobster benedict. Add a slice of warm homemade banana bread, and you have a feast! Blue Heaven’s dining is outdoors with live music, wandering hens and “gypsy” roosters running around the courtyard. Their own Bloody Mary will kick-start your day.

If you’re longing for French cuisine, check out La Creperie just across the street from Blue Heaven. Serving savory and sweet crepes, this café will tantalize your senses with the aroma of strong French coffee, sizzling butter, and a mixture of accents from around the world. I find it hard to pass up their Croque Madame followed by a “Red Velvet” sweet crepe. Other favorite French cafés are Banana Café and Croissants de France, both located on Duval Street.

Yolande and Sylvia are the guiding spirits behind the great La Creperie. (Photo by Rob O'Neal)

Yolande and Sylvie are the guiding spirits behind the great La Creperie. (Photo by Rob O'Neal)

If I sleep in and feel “brunchie,” you’ll often find me at Harpoon Harry’s. This true 1950’s diner is located across from the Historic Seaport on Caroline Street, and owners Robert and Ron will greet you and offer you a “Bloody Harry.” In their diner you can try fish tacos, Blue Plate specials or half-pound burgers. You’ll dine with colorful local fishermen, politicians and pundits, drag queens and tourists.

If a quieter spot suits you better for brunch, try owner/chef Drew Wenzel’s Azur Restaurant. Azur offers al fresco lunch by a waterfall, or an intimate moment in their dining room surrounded by the works of local artists.

Around midday, stop by Kermit’s Key West Key Lime Shoppe on the corner of Elizabeth and Greene Streets. Pieman Kermit can be seen in the street offering a Key lime pie to the riders of our local trolleys as they make the turn beside his emporium. Kermit has been featured on the “Today Show” and the Food Network, decked out in his chef’s jacket and Key lime green chef’s hat. (For a real treat, try his frozen chocolate-dipped Key lime pie on a stick!)

Key lime pie guru Kermit Carpenter doesn't really throw pies at visitors -- or does he?

Key lime pie guru Kermit Carpenter doesn't really throw pies at visitors -- or does he?

Time for dinner? Discover El Siboney for an authentic Cuban meal where fresh pork, seafood, and chicken are cooked with olive oil, garlic, and secret spices. In true Cuban fashion, the meals are accompanied by black beans, yellow rice, and fried plantains. If you favor fresh seafood Paella Valenciana, call in advance and bring a couple of friends — I don’t think I’ve ever seen as large a dish of paella served anywhere.

A hidden treasure and favorite of mine is the Flaming Buoy Filet Company. Owners Fred Isch and Scot Forste are outrageously entertaining and their dinners are over the top. Steak with blue cheese sauce, black grouper, and scallops wrapped in bacon will tickle your palate. Their lip-smacking lobster mac & cheese is beyond amazing.

When it’s time for dessert, stop in to Flamingo Crossing. For many years this ice cream parlor has churned flavors that include mango, Cuban coffee, guava and passion fruit gelatos. Try the guanabana (soursop) for an interestingly unique Key West flavor. The place offers front-row seats on a busy Duval Street corner, where you’ll suddenly find you have become a part of the colorful fabric that makes up our community. Maybe I’ll see you there!

Till next time … bon appetit!

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Jimmy Buffett Shows His “Key West Heart” at Surprise Concert

Carol Shaughnessy | November 2011

“I heard I was in town,” Jimmy Buffett quipped after strolling onstage on Key West’s Duval Street, referencing one of his well-known song titles and the rampant rumors that he would appear and perform.

Jimmy Buffett waves to some 3,500 "Parrot Head" fans during his surprise concert on Key West's Duval Street. (Photo by Rob O'Neal, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Jimmy Buffett waves to some 3,500 "Parrot Head" fans during his surprise concert on Key West's Duval Street. (Photo by Rob O'Neal, Florida Keys News Bureau)

And perform he did. The fabled singer/songwriter returned to his former Key West home to give a rare surprise concert that delighted some 3,500 “Parrot Head” fans during their 20th annual convention.

Jimmy, whose most successful songs include “It’s Five O’clock Somewhere” with Alan Jackson and the iconic “Margaritaville,” rocked with his world-class Coral Reefer Band for more than 70 minutes — from a stage just steps from his Margaritaville Store and Café.

“This is pretty cool, playing on Duval Street,” Jimmy admitted with a grin at the start of the free concert, which was open to the public as well as Parrot Head conventioneers.

He then launched into a set of 15 songs, most of them inspired by his time in Key West during the 1970s and 80s or mentioning local people and places.

Barefooted and grinning, Jimmy played for more than 70 minutes, sharing songs and memories that recalled his days in Key West. (Photo by Rob O'Neal, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Barefooted and comfortably casual, Jimmy played for more than 70 minutes, sharing songs and memories that recalled his days in Key West. (Photo by Rob O'Neal, Florida Keys News Bureau)

While he lived on the island, Jimmy absorbed its characters, ambiance and laid-back lifestyle, memorializing them in songs that feature Key West locales like Fausto’s Food Palace, the Blue Heaven restaurant, and the Chart Room Bar. He drew on the influence of his Key West home to create the near-addictive tropical mystique that permeates his music.

Among the songs he and the Reefers played during their Duval Street concert were favorites such as “A Pirate Looks at Forty,” “Tin Cup Chalice,” “Nautical Wheelers,” and “Woman Goin’ Crazy on Caroline Street.”

The entire performance was upbeat and lively, with intricate riffs from the Reefers and stellar vocals by Jimmy. Despite new instrumental flourishes, the songs were pure classic Buffett — and each one was greeted by exuberant applause from the Parrot Heads lining the street.

Every year, Jimmy’s Parrot Head fans “flock” to Key West to explore the island portrayed in their hero’s lyrics. At the concert, some attendees wore the offbeat tropical headgear that earned them their name, and many sang along as Jimmy performed.

Jimmy greets eager Parrot Head fans after his exuberant Duval Street concert. (Photo by Rob O'Neal, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Jimmy greets eager Parrot Head fans after his exuberant Duval Street concert. (Photo by Rob O'Neal, Florida Keys News Bureau)

(Parrot Heads, by the way, are a remarkably caring group of people. Since 2002, members of the more than 200 national and international Parrot Head chapters have contributed $22.1 million and nearly 2.7 million volunteer hours to local and national charities.)

Like his tunes, Jimmy’s commentary between numbers was rich in references to his Key West memories and favorite spots.

“I’ve had great inspiration and great fun on the streets of this little rock,” he said, “and I appreciate it very much.”

Jimmy mentioned the late lamented Islander Drive-in and former gentleman smuggler Phil Clark, whose life is chronicled in “A Pirate Looks at Forty,” and dedicated “Last Mango in Paris” to Captain Tony Tarracino. The late captain, a bar owner who became one of Key West’s most colorful mayors, was a friend of Jimmy’s whose tales inspired “Mango.”

Jimmy was backed by the entire Coral Reefer band -- including Mac MacAnally (left) and Michael Utley (right). (Photo by Crystal Ruffo)

Jimmy was backed by the entire Coral Reefer Band -- including Mac McAnally (left) and Michael Utley (right). (Photo by Crystal Ruffo)

Jimmy’s deep affection for Key West and the Florida Keys was particularly apparent as he introduced and sang “Migration.”

“Some people fly down here and never go back,” he warned his Parrot Head audience in mock seriousness. “This happened to me, and it may happen to you.”

He then embarked on the song … changing the lyrics near the end to proclaim, “I’ve got a Caribbean soul I can barely control and some Key West always here in my heart.”

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Marine Mammals Find Help and Healing in the Keys

Josie Gulliksen | November 2011

It’s not just human visitors who come to the Florida Keys for rest and relaxation — marine mammals in need come calling, too. Some arrive with health problems, while others are orphaned or lost.

Marine mammal rescuers tend to pilot whales at the Marine Mammal Conservancy in Key Largo after a 2011 stranding. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Marine mammal rescuers tend to pilot whales at the Marine Mammal Conservancy in Key Largo shortly after a May 2011 stranding. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Whatever brings them to the Keys, dolphins, whales and manatees that need help find a willing and dedicated group of rescuers. Caring professionals and volunteers try to provide whatever these creatures need, so eventually they can be returned to their pods or home territory.

One of the top rescue organizations grew out of Key Largo’s Dolphins Plus, which was founded in 1979 and offered the first dolphin swim program in America. Over the next 20 years, it expanded and opened Dolphin Cove just a mile away. Both centers support the activities of two nonprofit organizations — Island Dolphin Care, where the staff works with high-risk people, wounded veterans and special-needs children; and the Marine Mammal Conservancy.

Established in 1995, the conservancy operates under a permit from the National Marine Fisheries Service as a response and rehabilitation center for stranded marine mammals. In fact, it often takes the lead in efforts to save their lives.

The conservancy is one of 12 teams in the U.S. authorized under the Marine Mammal Protection Act to rehabilitate dolphins and whales. MMC personnel have been involved since 1987 — when the first federally authorized attempts were made to rehabilitate marine mammals.

A Marine Mammal Conservancy expert attempts to help two stranded whales in May 2011. (Photo by Mariela Care, Florida Keys News Bureau)

A Marine Mammal Conservancy expert attempts to help two stranded whales in May 2011. (Photo by Mariela Care, Florida Keys News Bureau)

But that’s not all the organization does. The conservancy’s research program is working to develop a science-based model program for marine mammal rehabilitation and release. Plus, it provides important data to environmental researchers to help them understand the causes of strandings.

Working with other organizations, individual researchers and the National Marine Fisheries Service, MMC rehabilitates survivors of a stranding event — and, whenever possible, releases them back into their ocean home.

Another nonprofit, Dolphin Research Center on Grassy Key, promotes peaceful coexistence, cooperation and communication between marine mammals, humans and the environment through research and education. A group of dolphins lives at DRC, including descendants of “Flipper” from the 1960s film.

DRC also is the Florida Keys’ licensed manatee rescue team, authorized by state and federal governments. Specially trained assessors, rescuers and medical personnel respond to sick, injured or orphaned manatees.

Dolphin Research Center's Mary Stella gets a kiss from one of the acclaimed center's resident dolphins. (Photo courtesy of Dolphin Research Center)

Mary Stella gets a kiss from one of Dolphin Research Center's resident dolphins. (Photo courtesy of DRC)

According to DRC’s Mary Stella, the response begins when a call comes in from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission that a manatee is in trouble.

“DRC-trained personnel can perform an on-site assessment of the animal’s condition,” Mary explained. “Based on their report, if the decision is made that the manatee needs treatment, the DRC team can mobilize to help.”

One well-known manatee, Bonnie, is considered a “serial entangler” for her repeated encounters with monofilament fishing line. DRC’s first rescue, treatment and release of Bonnie occurred in April 1999. In 2003, she required a flipper amputation because of a deeply embedded and irreparable entanglement. She later recovered and was released.

Bonnie can navigate without a problem and has even raised manatee “kids,” but she has suffered additional entanglements over the years that led to more rescues and treatment.

Sea turtles too find help and healing in the Keys -- at the acclaimed Turtle Hospital. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Sea turtles too find help and healing in the Keys -- at the acclaimed Turtle Hospital. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

As well as getting tangled in improperly discarded monofilament line and other marine debris, manatees can be hurt in collisions with boats.

“It’s up to each of us out on the water to properly collect and dispose of any trash, and to slow down and look around for manatees when we’re on our boats,” said Mary Stella. “The public is the first line of defense — humans cause many of the problems encountered by manatees, so it’s incumbent on us to help them.”

FYI, marine mammals aren’t the only creatures that receive help in the caring Florida Keys. People and groups provide food, compassion and treatment for sea turtles, wild birds and even feral cats.

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Fantasy Fest Glitters with Artistic Talent

Carol Shaughnessy | October 2011

The 10-day masking and costuming festival known as Fantasy Fest, running Oct. 21-30 this year, is internationally renowned for its outrageous, let-it-all-hang-out party atmosphere.

Artist Rick Worth paints part of the ocean-themed vessel he's creating for the elaborate Fantasy Fest parade. (Photo by Steve Panariello, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Artist Rick Worth paints part of the ocean-themed vessel he's creating for the elaborate Fantasy Fest parade. (Photo by Steve Panariello, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Yet it also offers a showcase for artists — primarily costume and float designers who devote their incredible talents to perfecting creations for costume contests, the Masquerade March and the grand parade.

Among them is Rick Worth, a soft-spoken and supremely creative man whose artistic triumphs range from small Key West-themed paintings to massive, over-the-top Fantasy Fest floats and festival facades for local emporiums.

Rick began his colorful career turning shabby cars into whimsical “art-o-mobiles” (like a shark car driven by a local attorney and a drivable coral reef).

Crafting one of Fantasy Fest's exotic, lavish float entries requires a LOT of glitter -- as Rick (right) and his fellow designer know!  (Photo by Steve Panariello, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Crafting one of Fantasy Fest's elaborate float entries requires a LOT of glitter -- as Rick (right) and his fellow designer know! (Photo by Steve Panariello, Florida Keys News Bureau)

He has also painted large-scale murals on the exteriors of local buildings, including an engaging vista outside Key West International Airport that features a rooftop view of the island’s historic Old Town architecture and greenery backed by the turquoise ocean.

And don’t miss Rick’s takeoff of the famed depiction of Washington crossing the Delaware, incorporating the Keys’ Seven Mile Bridge, outside a small bar at Simonton and Olivia streets.

Just before Fantasy Fest this year, Rick had projects galore on tap — and in keeping with the festival theme of “Aquatic Afrolic,” they had an oceanic flavor. For example, recently he was putting last-minute touches on a float and overseeing costume design for a glittering marine-themed entry in the spectacular Fantasy Fest parade. His workspace was filled with a “ship” nearing completion, beautiful shell-adorned headdresses and gauzy costumes. At the same time, he was completing weird-looking eels to be part of a building façade.

Susann D'Antonio, left, and her husband Bobby showcase their "Neptune's Reef" -- winner of the 2011 Pier House Pretenders in Paradise costume contest. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Susann D'Antonio, left, and her husband Bobby showcase their "Neptune's Reef" -- a winner of the 2011 Pier House Pretenders in Paradise costume contest. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Like Rick, Big Pine Key artists Susann and Bobby D’Antonio generally put enormous amounts of time and talent into Fantasy Fest endeavors. Since the early 1990s, the husband-and-wife team has become well known for crafting over-the-top entries for major costume competitions like Pretenders in Paradise and the Pet Masquerade — as well as the lavish parade.

Their trademark creations can best be described as crosses between gigantic costumes and small parade floats. Susann often comes up with the concept, and she and Bobby construct the pieces together — typically moving from sketches to a costume’s metal framework and fabric covering, and ending with embellishments and sequins. Challenges include keeping the piece light enough for Susann to wear and/or propel.

This year, they wowed crowds at the wonderful Pretenders in Paradise costume competition with “Neptune’s Reef,” featuring an alluring mermaid accompanied by vivid-hued, deliciously exotic denizens of the aquatic world.

Fantasy Fest's "aquatic" poster was creamed up by artist Brian Johnson. (Photo courtesy of Fantasy Fest)

Fantasy Fest's "aquatic" poster was dreamed up by artist Brian Johnson. (Photo courtesy of Fantasy Fest)

Artists in more traditional mediums contribute to Fantasy Fest too. Each year, festival organizers request design submissions for the official poster. The winning artist this year was frequent Key West visitor Brian Johnson.

Inspired by the festival’s aquatic theme, he dreamed up a blue-eyed King Neptune surrounded by imaginative undersea creatures, and elements suggesting the island’s Old Town — all depicted in the vibrant colors of the Keys’ ocean and sunset.

Whether you’re an art lover or simply a connoisseur of craziness, don’t miss any of the creativity and pageantry of Key West’s Fantasy Fest. In fact, start planning now to attend next year’s festival. According to organizers — and they should know — the 2012 dates are Oct. 19-28.

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Kelly Speeds to Underwater Title — Wow!

Carol Shaughnessy | October 2011

The fastest woman in the underwater world lives in the Florida Keys. In fact, the fastest woman in the underwater world, Kelly Friend, is an exuberant blonde who’s proud to be a seventh-generation Keys resident.

Kelly Friend enjoys a victory lap after powering her DPV to an amazing underwater speed record. (Photo by David Sirak)

Kelly Friend enjoys a victory lap after powering her DPV to an amazing underwater speed record. (Photo by David Sirak)

Kelly’s roots run so deep in the island chain that her family dates back to 1820, just after Key West’s settlement.

“The romance of the ocean is genetically imprinted within me,” she says. “I remember swimming and boating all the time as a kid — my parents used to take me to Higgs Beach when I was barely even two years old. Snorkeling and exploring the reef was simply what we did back then.”

Kelly didn’t earn her speed title for swimming, boating or snorkeling. Instead, in early October at Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park, she set the world’s first underwater speed record for driving a DPV — also known as a diver propulsion vehicle or underwater scooter — propelling it at a remarkable 2.58 mph.

But that’s not all. The day after setting the record, Kelly was forced to defend it against a challenger who temporarily bested her — and trounced the challenger by reclaiming the record with an amazing top speed of 4.55 mph.

Kelly earned her first racing triumphs on land. (Photo courtesy of Cope's Creations)

Kelly earned her first racing triumphs on land. (Photo courtesy of Cope's Creations)

Her first racing triumphs, however, were achieved on land. After high school in Key West and college in Texas, Kelly took up motorcycle road racing in the early 1990s. She finished the 1995 season with a regional championship and a twelfth-place ranking in the national finals.

In 2000 Kelly began working for Key West’s Audio Video In Paradise and eventually bought the business. She quickly rediscovered free diving and spearfishing as both competitive and contemplative sports.

Then, in May 2009, the 523-foot-long General Hoyt S. Vandenberg was sunk as an artificial reef about seven miles south of Key West in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Affectionately nicknamed the Vandy, the former Air Force missile tracking ship was the second-largest vessel in the world ever scuttled to become an artificial reef.

Kelly steers her DPV around the Vandenberg artificial reef. (Photo by Digital Island Media)

Kelly steers her DPV around the Vandenberg artificial reef. (Photo by Digital Island Media)

The Vandy is so huge that its hull rests on sand in about 150 feet of water, but its superstructure begins about 45 feet below the surface. And that’s where Kelly’s need for speed and love of the underwater world combined into a whole new adventure.

“I caught a segment on CNN about underwater scooter racing around the Vandenberg and immediately called the co-founder of the sanctioning body, the Wreck Racing League, who was my friend Joe Weatherby,” she explains. “I had finally found my true love — back on the race course and underwater!”

In May, Kelly participated in the Vandenberg Underwater Grand Prix, where divers using DPVs sped around the ship’s superstructure. Demonstrating both speed and style, she took top honors in the Wreck Racing League’s recreational class with two first-place victories and a third-place podium finish.

What's next for Kelly Friend? More underwater challenges and triumphs, she hopes! (Photo by Mike Hentz)

Now Kelly hopes for more underwater challenges and triumphs. (Photo by Mike Hentz)

Founded to inspire greater awareness about artificial reefs, the Wreck Racing League is the organization that recognized and recorded Kelly’s recent speed record in Weeki Wachee.

Despite earning the title of the fastest woman in the underwater world, she’s not planning to rest on her laurels any time soon. Instead, she’ll continue to compete in her chosen sport.

“The spirit of competition and camaraderie of racers is a great mix,” she says, “both above and below the water line.”

Chances are, as DPV racing gains fame among divers drawn to exhilarating adventures, you’ll be hearing plenty more about speedy Key Wester Kelly Friend.

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For Jimmy Johnson, Florida Keys Fishing Beats Football

Andy Newman | October 2011

In 1993 Jimmy Johnson had just won his second consecutive Super Bowl, and was celebrating with his Dallas Cowboys team in the locker room, when Cowboys owner Jerry Jones jammed a phone in his ear.

Former NFL and University of Miami football coach Jimmy Johnson at the wheel of his "Three Rings" fishing boat off Islamorada at sunset. (All photos by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Former NFL football coach Jimmy Johnson stands at the wheel of his "Three Rings" fishing boat off the Upper Keys at sunset. (All photos by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

The caller was Bill Clinton, then president of the United States.

“He said, ‘Coach Johnson, I want you to come to the White House, and congratulations on winning the Super Bowl’,” recalled Jimmy, who also coached the Miami Dolphins and led the University of Miami to a national championship. “I said ‘I’m sorry, Mr. President, I’m going to the Florida Keys. I’m going fishing’.”

Jerry Jones, standing next to him, was shocked to hear him refuse an invitation from the president.

“Jerry Jones grabbed the phone and he says, ‘Yes, Mr. President, we will be at the White House’,” Jimmy said, laughing. “I wasn’t even thinking, but that was my mindset: I wanted to go to the Florida Keys.”

Jimmy displays a nice dolphin fish he caught while trolling off Islamorada.

Jimmy displays a nice dolphin fish he caught while trolling off Islamorada.

Jimmy Johnson has had a residence in the Keys since just after that second Super Bowl victory. He moved to his current home in Islamorada 11 years ago and his name graces Jimmy Johnson’s Big Chill at Fisherman’s Cove, a dining and entertainment complex as well as a private residence club in Key Largo.

Jimmy began visiting the Keys in the mid-1980s while he was head coach at the University of Miami. Toward the end of that period, he earned his dive certification and developed a lasting love for the subtropical island chain.

“I came down to the Keys (for) my final open water dive and just fell in love with the place, the people and all the things you could do down here,” he said.

While he was the Cowboys’ coach, he decided he eventually wanted to live in the Keys. When he retired from Dallas, he sought a home that offered specific benefits.

Jimmy is happiest at the wheel of his fishing boat off his Islamorada home.

Jimmy is happiest at the wheel of his fishing boat.

“I wanted to get away from all of the hustle and bustle and autograph seekers, and go to an area where I could just lay back and enjoy life,” he said. “{In the Keys} I can go out anywhere and not be bothered.”

Although Jimmy still dives and loves to catch Florida lobster, these days Florida Keys sportfishing is his primary passion.

Behind his Islamorada estate he keeps a 39-foot SeaVee center console boat named “Three Rings,” after his three coaching championships. A dedicated room houses a large collection of rods, reels and boxes of lures and other tackle. Photos in the room and on his iPhone showcase past notable catches including a big bull dolphin (mahi-mahi), a large wahoo and an estimated 235-pound blue marlin he caught while fishing alone.

In fact, Jimmy usually fishes alone — a testament to the real reason he enjoys the sport.

“I fish for fun and for relaxation,” he said.  “I don’t fish for meat. I don’t fish to brag to everybody what I can catch.

Shown here heading home aboard "Three Rings," Jimmy has traded the pressures of coaching for the tranquility of Keys living.

Shown here heading home aboard "Three Rings," Jimmy has traded the pressures of coaching for the tranquility of Keys living.

Jimmy particularly enjoys the freedom of solo fishing, without a schedule or pressure to catch anything.

Sometimes he doesn’t even put a line in the water.

“When I was coaching, everything about my entire life was so regimented,” he said. “Now, going out by myself fishing, I load the boat and I go out and stay as long as I want to stay.”

That’s where he usually can be found — except during the NFL season, when he travels weekly to Los Angeles to help anchor “Fox NFL Sunday.”

“There’s only two things that get me away from the Keys,” said Jimmy Johnson. “The Fox TV show, and if someone gives me a big check.”

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Key West Artisan Inspired by Passion for Potions

Carol Shaughnessy | October 2011

Fans of Crystal Ruffo’s artistry don’t just appreciate it on a visual level. Instead, they rub her creations into their skin, savor their tropical fragrances and even lather them into pets’ fur.

Crystal Ruffo crafts all-natural tropical bath products at her Key West store.

Crystal Ruffo crafts all-natural tropical bath products at her Key West store.

That’s because Crystal’s artwork doesn’t consist of paintings, sketches or sculptures — it’s a unique type of “mixed media” composed of natural ingredients, fragrant essential oils, botanicals and ground-up minerals blended into tropical hues.

A friendly and outgoing blonde, Crystal is the artisan and owner of Purely Paradise Natural Bath Products. Her inviting emporium, located at 1108-A Duval St. in Key West, offers all-natural personal-care products that she handcrafts on site.

“Many artists work in the mediums of oils and watercolors; I work in the mediums of soaps and salts and bath products,” says Crystal, a longtime Key West resident who explored fiction writing and Web design before discovering her passion for “potions.”

At Purely Paradise, you’ll find a wide range of artisan wares including body and facial butters enriched with mango, scented shampoo with coconut oil and aloe vera, sea salt and sugar scrubs, revitalizing skin toner made with green tea, handcrafted sunburn relief products and even natural aluminum-free deodorants.

Soaps are crafted in whimsical, Keys-inspired shapes and scented with tropical fragrances.

Soaps are crafted in whimsical, Keys-inspired shapes and scented with tropical fragrances.

“We can create personalized facial products based on your skin type and what you’re looking for the product to do,” Crystal says. “I especially enjoy creating things for people with allergies — lotions and soaps that make their bodies feel good.”

But it’s not just people who benefit from her soothing proprietary formulas. Motivated by her dog Nicky’s skin and coat problems, Crystal developed a pet shampoo with goat’s milk, shea butter and essential oils to calm skin irritations.

“We use castor oil to make their coats shine but not be oily, and we use several different essential oils which naturally repel insects,” she reveals. “Several of the vets in town recommend our pet shampoos.”

NIcky's sensitive skin inspired Crystal to create pet shampoos for four-footed "customers."

NIcky's sensitive skin inspired Crystal to create pet shampoos for four-footed "customers."

(Nicky’s skin problems, by the way, are now completely gone and his coat is glossy and beautiful.)

Many customers at Purely Paradise favor the fragrant multicolored soaps, all crafted in whimsical shapes that communicate the spirit of the Keys.

You’ll discover palm trees, two-toned flip-flops that invariably evoke a smile, conch shells, cats inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s famed six-toed feline, roguish pirates, bare feet, manatees, parrots, dolphins and intricately “sculpted” mermaids with flowing hair.

Crystal takes particular pleasure in formulating and blending the unique colors that tint her soaps and lotions.

“None of our products are made with artificial coloring or dyes, so I create all of our colors by mixing ground-up minerals together — playing with the colors until I get the shade and hue I like,” she explains. “I try to stay very tropical with aquas for our water, a light ‘Key lime’ green, pinks and corals.”

According to Crystal, Key West is "purely paradise" -- inspiring the name of her Duval Street emporium..

According to Crystal, Key West is "purely paradise" -- inspiring the name of her Duval Street emporium.

Since its debut in 2010, Purely Paradise has become a gathering spot for locals and visitors drawn by its inviting atmosphere and personalized all-natural offerings. Nonstop tunes by Jimmy Buffett — Crystal’s favorite entertainer — provide a laid-back soundtrack while customers browse, sample lotions and creams, and watch her craft products behind a pastel-painted counter.

“I’ve done many things throughout my life, and many of them were very satisfying,” says the “artist in residence” with a characteristic smile. “But I think this is the most fun and the most self-satisfying adventure that I’ve ever undertaken.”

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Kings, Queens and Four-Footed Friends ‘at Large’ in Key West

Steve Smith | October 2011

Wow, time just keeps flying by on this island! September ended with the sloth of Bear Fest attendees growling, moaning, groaning, eating, drinking, and laughing as they enjoyed Key West. I played with the bears as I welcomed and escorted three German, two British, and three domestic journalists to the island.

Fort Jefferson, lying on a tiny island in the Dry Tortugas nearly 70 miles west of Key West, is a favorite spot for visitors eager to snorkel the cool, clear waters. (Photos by Rob O'Neal)

Fort Jefferson, lying on a tiny island in the Dry Tortugas nearly 70 miles west of Key West, is a favorite spot for visitors eager to snorkel the cool, clear waters. (Photos by Rob O'Neal)

In addition to the bear parties, my group enjoyed dinners at Mangoes, Antonia’s, Braza Lena, and Abbondanza Family Italian Restaurant. The days were spent on the Blu Q snorkeling and picnicking, visiting Fort Jefferson (one of the largest brick structures in North America, located 70 miles from Key West in the Gulf of Mexico), and walking and bicycling around historic Old Town Key West. The weather was splendid during their trip and a great time was had by all.

The Bear Fest bears also splashed in the pools at Big Ruby’s and the Island House, and watched the moon cross the sky while playing in the Bourbon Street pool and foam parties. (I would think it difficult to see the moon through mountains of foam — when you’re here, ask the Bourbon Street boys how one does it).

It was truly a weekend to be remembered. Next year’s Key West Bear Fest is set for Oct. 4-7, 2012.

The U.S.S. Spruance was commissioned at a sunset ceremony on Key West's waterfront. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

The U.S.S. Spruance was commissioned at a sunset ceremony on Key West's waterfront. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Another event to remember took place Oct. 1. A new chapter in Key West’s nearly 200-year military history was written when the island hosted the commissioning of U.S.S. Spruance, the U.S. Navy’s most advanced destroyer. The sunset ceremony included the raising of the ship’s colors and a flyover by a Naval Air Station Key West fighter squadron.  This is the first time the subtropical island has hosted a Naval vessel commissioning — and it couldn’t have came at a better moment, just after the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” opened a new chapter of pride in serving our country.

October, by the way, contains a staggering number of events hosted by the candidates for king and queen of Fantasy Fest.  Recent highlights were an afternoon of music by our own Howard Livingston at Charlie Bauer’s Smokin’ Tuna Saloon, hosted by Dave Taylor, Cypress House general manager and candidate for king. Drop in sometime and enjoy a hidden treasure just steps from Duval Street.

Clockwork Orange won first place in the 2010 Headdress Ball. (Photo courtesy of Fantasy Fest)

Clockwork Orange won first place in the 2010 Headdress Ball. (Photo courtesy of Fantasy Fest)

Other candidate events included chocolate parties, wine tastings with the butterflies at the Key West Butterfly & Nature Conservatory (one of our award-winning gay-owned attractions), dinners, fashion shows, and sailing adventures.

If you’re here for Fantasy Fest, don’t miss the 29th annual Headdress Ball on Oct. 25. It’s sponsored by the Key West Business Guild and held in a massive tent on the grounds of the former Atlantic Shores at Southernmost on the Beach. Attendees will be entertained by some of Key West’s finest, including recording artist and local entertainer Faith Michaels.

Speaking of Fantasy Fest, you and your favorite pet should start planning your costumes for the festival’s annual Pet Masquerade and Parade. The wacky costume contest for domestic pets and their people takes place at the Casa Marina Resort Wednesday, Oct. 26.

Time to start choosing your four-footed friend's Pet Masquerade attire!

Time to start choosing your four-footed friend's Pet Masquerade attire!

Past competitors have included a leather-clad dog ‘driving’ a tiny hot rod, a ‘cocktail-loving’ cockatoo, a hairless cat in goggles, and an Asian ensemble starring a Great Pyrenees dog as a giant panda.

Let your imagination inspire you, and compete in the fun-filled event with your furred or feathered friend.

(After all, pets and their owners sometimes look alike, so now is your chance to dress alike too!)

I’m on the way to Atlanta Pride, but I’ll be back in plenty of time to frolic at Fantasy Fest. See you there!

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Sea Turtles Thrive at Unique Middle Keys Hospital

Andy Newman | September 2011

Truth be told, I can’t remember the first time I met Richie Moretti. I know it was pre-1985.

Television nature host Jack Hanna (left} and Hanna's wife Suzi help Richie Moretti examine a loggerhead sea turtle. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Television nature host Jack Hanna (left} and Hanna's wife Suzi help Richie Moretti examine a loggerhead sea turtle. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

He had a small “Mom and Pop” motel in Marathon called Hidden Harbor. Richie and his girlfriend, Tina Brown, had begun filling the motel’s saltwater-fed pool with fish. There were tarpon, snappers, jacks, triggerfish, a small goliath grouper, Florida lobsters and a blowfish that followed Richie as he walked around the pool’s perimeter.

I asked why.

“Because I like getting up in the morning and going swimming with the fishes,” Richie replied.

I shook my head in wonderment — but what the heck. Even back then, I had begun to understand that the Florida Keys are a place of character and characters. Certainly Richie was (and still is!) a character.

One day he called me to say he was trying to get a Fish and Wildlife permit to keep a sea turtle. Again, I asked why.

Richie (center) displays a proclamation honoring The Turtle Hospital on its 25th anniversary. Shown with him are Florida Keys Mayor Pro Tem David Rice and Mayor Heather Carruthers. (Photo by Larry Benvenuti, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Richie (center) displays a proclamation honoring The Turtle Hospital on its 25th anniversary. Shown with him are Florida Keys Mayor Pro Tem David Rice and Mayor Heather Carruthers. (Photo by Larry Benvenuti, Florida Keys News Bureau)

“We’re bringing in school groups now to teach kids the importance of preserving their marine environment,” Richie said. “I’ve had several requests to see one, because of this new cartoon that’s out there.”

I said he must mean the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”

“Yeah, that’s it,” he agreed. “Those martial arts-fighting reptiles.”

Richie got his first turtle and then another.

Later, someone called to report a turtle that had been hit by a boat.

“Bring it here,” said Richie. “I’ll take care of it.”

Now, you must understand that Richie had no veterinary experience. He made his money in Orlando restoring Volkswagen Beetles. But that didn’t stop him. He managed to convince local vets to help out.

In September 1986, The Turtle Hospital was born.

One day, Richie was brought a turtle that had hideous cauliflower-like tumors over its head and flippers. He tried to find out what the problem was, but no one knew.

Sandy, shown here, was flown in to be treated at The Turtle Hospital after being injured by wild dogs. Eventually she was released back into her home territory.

Sandy, shown here, was flown in to be treated at The Turtle Hospital after being injured by wild dogs. Eventually she was released back into her home territory.

He did learn that sea turtles around the world were washing up on shorelines with the same disease. Determined to do something about it, Richie contacted the University of Florida School of Veterinary Medicine. Vets there agreed to begin a research project.

Several years later the disease was identified as fibropapilloma, a herpes-like virus. It was discovered that, in many cases, the tumors could be removed and the turtles released back into the wild.

A place to do surgery was needed, so Richie purchased Fanny’s, a closed-down strip club next to his motel. He used his own money to gut the place and build a surgical suite, examination room, commons area, classroom and an upstairs apartment for visiting vets. The one item that didn’t get torn down was the dance pole in the middle of the building.

Since its opening, the hospital has treated and rehabilitated more than 1,200 sick or injured sea turtles and assisted tens of thousands of hatchlings gone astray after exiting their nests.

Sara, "the world's luckiest sea turtle," undergoes a final checkup by Richie (right) and other Turtle Hospital staff members before her release. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Sara, "the world's luckiest sea turtle," undergoes a final checkup by Richie (right) and other Turtle Hospital staff members before her release. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Among the most memorable patients was Kincaid, a sick 80-pound loggerhead sea turtle that managed to find its own way to the hospital. Kincaid swam near a dock just 20 feet from the hospital’s rehabilitation pools for several hours without leaving. Upon close examination, staff determined he had a bacterial infection, treated him and released him 10 weeks later.

It was a lucky coincidence that Kincaid found The Turtle Hospital. But one thing’s for sure: turtles don’t need health insurance when they come in. Each gets treated.

Turtles have arrived from all over the eastern seaboard and Caribbean. Sandy flew in on an American Airlines jet after getting attacked by wild dogs on a Virgin Islands beach. Less than a year later she was flown back, good as new, and released to lay her eggs.

Not long ago, Richie and everyone at The Turtle Hospital celebrated a very special moment. A loggerhead turtle named Sara was released, less than six weeks after she arrived with a diver’s spear in her head.

Former President Jimmy Carter (left) grins delightedly as he holds a juvenile green sea turtle at Marathon's Turtle Hospital. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Former President Jimmy Carter (left) grins delightedly as he holds a juvenile green sea turtle at Marathon's Turtle Hospital. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Why anyone would want to do that is unfathomable. Loggerheads are endangered and federally protected. People in the Keys are not happy. They’ve raised a reward of more than $16,000 in cash, plus complimentary services — like eight hours of welding — for the tipster who provides information leading to the arrest and conviction of the imbecile that launched the spear into Sara’s head.

“This has to be one of the luckiest turtles in history,” said Doug Mader, the fulltime volunteer vet who works with the hospital’s staff of 12. “The spear went in just behind the ear, crisscrossed over the windpipe and lodged against the jaw on the other side. Quarter of an inch in either direction and that animal would be dead.”

Education remains a priority at The Turtle Hospital and tours are offered daily at 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 4 p.m., with tour fees funding ongoing treatment programs.

Many famous folks have visited the hospital — including former President Jimmy Carter, who toured in 2010 and helped release a recovered turtle.

I watched in amazement as President Carter hung on Richie’s every word as he was shown the facility. He was unbelievably interested in the entire operation.

Jimmy Carter (right) and Richie help carry Danger, the loggerhead sea turtle, just before Danger's release. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Jimmy Carter (right) and Richie help carry Danger, the loggerhead sea turtle, just before Danger's release. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

I credit that to Richie. He cares so much about sea turtles, and that concern is so infectious, that it’s impossible to walk away without getting “the fever.”

Recently, Florida Keys county commissioners declared Sept. 24, 2011, to be “Richie Moretti and The Turtle Hospital Day,” honoring 25 years of serving the marine environment.

“I don’t have grandchildren,” Richie told the commissioners. “These turtles are my grandchildren.”

No doubt about that.

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