Payday Loans Online

Keys Profiles

Andrea Paulson: Exploring the Unspoiled Lower Keys

Christina Baez | March 2013

More than 13 years ago, Captain Andrea Paulson began exploring the Lower Keys backcountry as a weekend alternative to Key West shopping for herself and other fishermen’s wives.

Andrea Paulson's easygoing attitude and love of the Keys' ocean realm make her the perfect guide for backcountry kayak trips. (Photos courtesy of Andrea Paulson)

She discovered she loved the experience so much that it seemed only natural for her to share it with others — which led to a career and a richly rewarding life.

Today, Andrea entertains hundreds of Florida Keys visitors annually with her Reelax Charters Lower Keys backcountry kayak excursions.

A 20-year Keys resident and lifetime outdoor enthusiast, Andrea named her business Reelax Charters for her nickname “Ree” and the relaxing experience participants enjoy.

Originally from Rochester, N.Y., she grew up boating and canoeing on Lake Ontario. A true water lover, she even worked as a lifeguard on the beach.

Andrea met her husband, Bobby Paulson, while visiting a friend who owned the house he was renting.

“I came down and was expecting to meet some old salty captain,” she recalled. “We met and that was it; it was kind of love at first sight.”

Adventures in the Keys' shallows and uncharted islets await Reelax Charters' guests.

After a long-distance romance that often involved commutes back and forth from Palm Beach, she moved to the Keys permanently in 1993.

While her husband is out guiding flats-fishing trips, Andrea guides her clients on a journey by motorboat seven to nine miles off the Lower Keys. There they begin their kayak adventure in a realm of crystal clear waters, remote islands, pristine beaches, shallow flats, mangroves and more.

While exploring, kayakers enjoy an “off-the-beaten paddle experience,” discovering islands and areas unreachable by kayak alone. They might spot native Keys wildlife like great white herons, ibis, starfish, stingrays, colorful tropical fish, sea turtles and even a dolphin or two.

Offered daily by appointment from Sugarloaf Marina on Sugarloaf Key, Reelax Charters’ fully customized kayak excursions are an escape in time. Participants begin at their leisure — and Andrea doesn’t watch the clock while guests are having fun. Most tours last four to five hours and accommodate up to six people.

A few couples, clearly romanced by the natural beauty of the Florida Keys, have even gotten engaged or tied the knot on one of Andrea’s private kayak excursions.

Bobby, Andrea and puppy Clark share a moment of "reelaxation" on the water.

Families too find themselves captivated by Reelax Charters’ adventures, and the captain keeps books and literature on hand for kids to use in identifying Keys wildlife.

“I love my job, and when I’m not working I’m out exploring new areas by kayak,” Andrea admitted. “The best part (of my job) is ending the day with a hug from a customer because we’ve had so much fun together it’s almost like we’ve become best friends.”

During her free time, Andrea often finds herself kayaking, fishing with her husband and entertaining other fishermen’s wives. She also enjoys “downtime” with her husband and their yellow Labrador puppy, Clark.

Like a true Paulson, Clark loves the water. In fact, most likely he’ll be spotted exploring the Lower Keys backcountry by kayak sometime soon!


Kelly Grinter: Wild Birds’ Best Friend

Julie Botteri | January 2013

Originally, she was more interested in working with porcupines and skunks than birds. Yet Kelly Grinter has spent 18 years at the helm of the Marathon Wild Bird Center — and now she’s one of the Florida Keys’ best-known wildlife rehabilitators.

Kelly Grinter is renowned for her passion for helping the Keys' avian residents and visitors.

Kelly came to the Keys in 1995 to intern at the Wild Bird Center in Tavernier, in part to escape a cold Massachusetts January and an unsatisfying career in graphic design.

A friend of hers was an ornithologist — and that friend’s passion and knowledge about birds convinced her to relocate and learn.

“I discovered that birds were light for flight and had high metabolisms, and thought, ‘Okay, they’re interesting,’” she said.

In addition, she was intrigued by the Florida Keys’ location within a migratory flyway, where 10,000 or more birds pass the same travel paths each year. Winged travelers ranging from small songbirds or warblers to birds as big as bald eagles — white ibis, brown pelicans, red-shouldered hawks, ospreys, double-crested cormorants, raptors and peregrine falcons — take a migratory break in the fall before they head farther south to Cuba.

Within a year, Kelly was offered the top spot at the Marathon Wild Bird Center at the Museums of Crane Point, tucked inside a 64-acre hardwood hammock at mile marker 50 on Florida Bay.

The center’s mission is to rescue, rehabilitate and release injured birds. Each year, it treats 500 or more migratory and native birds.

The Marathon Wild Bird Center rescues and rehabilitates wild birds in need and releases recovered "patients" back into the wild.

“The coolest thing about coming to the Marathon Wild Bird Center,” Kelly said, “is you get to see these birds up close and personal.”

People might glimpse a red-tailed hawk, pelican or osprey in flight or in their nests, but sightings in the wild rarely offer the chance for a close-up examination of the bird.

“Here, visitors can see their plumage, interact with them and discover they each have their own personality,” Kelly advised. “Families learn together.”

During the past 18 years, she has performed thousands of avian rescues. Few, however, were as harrowing as helping a young female pelican that had swiped and swallowed the 8-inch filet knife a fisherman was using to cut mackerel at his cleaning table.

Kelly was afraid she would lose precious time transporting the bird to the center’s hospital to anesthetize it and surgically remove the knife. So she attempted to extract it right then.

Each year, the Marathon center provides help and a safe haven for around 500 native and wild birds.

“The blade was pointing straight up, so I figured all I had to do was pull it up and out,” she recalled. “After a few unsuccessful attempts at grabbing the slimy blade, I put on latex gloves and on the count of one-two-three, up and out came the knife, without a drop of blood.”

The crowd gathered around erupted in cheers.

“I told the pelican not to do that again and released her back into the water,” Kelly quipped.

At 42, she remains enthusiastic and committed to her chosen path. In 2006, she was named a finalist for the Animal Planet network’s Hero of the Year award.

She’s fueled by life-affirming events such as the birth of baby cormorants at the center and the release of the young birds into the wild. Her toddler son, Noah, accompanied her on the release so he could watch and learn.

“I love what I do, caring for these innocent creatures. Honestly I can’t see myself doing anything else or living anywhere else,” Kelly said. “I want to help others learn how to care for birds, and I want my son to be an advocate for the birds of the Keys.”


Captain Finbar, Key West’s Colorful Seafaring Senior

Katharine Roach | January 2013

Captain Finbar and the Schooner Wolf. Think of one, and the other immediately comes to mind.

Finbar Gittelman, a master seafarer with a roguish sense of humor, is the builder and skipper of the Schooner Wolf. (Photo by Rob O'Neal)

Captain Finbar Gittelman, one of the Florida Keys’ most illustrious senior citizens, has lived and sailed in and around Key West since the early 1970s.

When you look at his weathered face and neatly trimmed grey beard, you’ll quite likely be reminded of artists’ renditions of salty sailors. A twinkle in his eye and an offbeat sense of humor only add to the resemblance.

In fact, Captain Finbar looks unnervingly like the wicked Barbossa in “Pirates of the Caribbean” (though a good bit more cheerful!). Barbossa, however, probably couldn’t tell as many tales of rogues and renegades as Finbar can — or tell them so entertainingly.

In the early 1980s, along with master builder Willis Ray, Finbar built the 74-foot topsail schooner Wolf, which he still owns and operates. The Wolf, incidentally, is the flagship of the Conch Republic, the Keys’ offbeat alter ego, and Finbar is the Conch Republic Navy’s Admiral and First Sea Lord.

Finbar is the Admiral and First Sea Lord of the Keys' spirited Conch Republic Navy. (Photo by Rob O'Neal)

It’s far more than a ceremonial title. He directs operations including an annual sea battle, which has received national and international acclaim, commemorating the birth of the republic.

In addition, Finbar and the Wolf have taken Key West visitors on day trips and sunset cruises for many years, been the location for weddings at sea, and have sailed over many parts of the world representing the Florida Keys.

The majestic Wolf is reminiscent of the blockade runners of the 19th century that sailed the Caribbean and the Atlantic. Finbar takes his schooner to seaport festivals in the U.S. and Caribbean islands and the ship has appeared in several films. It was also the lead vessel in Key West’s late lamented Pirates in Paradise festival, offering buccaneer excursions complete with an appropriately scurvy crew.

But there’s also a more serious side to Finbar Gittelman. In 1980, along with three others, he survived Hurricane Allen in the Caribbean. After the boat Finbar was piloting sank during the storm, he and his crew endured three terrifying days in a life raft, not knowing whether rescue or death awaited them.

Aspiring seafarers can experience sunset cruises on Captain Finbar's magnificent Schooner Wolf. (Photo courtesy of the Schooner Wolf)

Perhaps as a result of that experience, over the years Finbar and first mate (and wife) Julie McEnroe have taken the Wolf on many humanitarian journeys into the Caribbean, delivering food and other relief supplies to area devastated by hurricanes, earthquakes, or other natural disasters.

“We’re islanders,” explains Finbar simply, “and we need to take care of our fellow islanders.”

These days the Wolf is docked at Safe Harbor Marina, located at 6810 Front St. on Stock Island (the island next to Key West). She is available to take passengers on Saturday and Sunday afternoon and sunset cruises, piloted by Key West’s colorful seafaring senior … the one and only Captain Finbar.

For information and tickets, call (305) 294-9694 or click here.



Dick Hagood: Accounting for Art in an Angling Paradise

Christina Baez | November 2012

Dick Hagood seems to live a double life between the disciplined and the unpredictable. A regimented former Marine and accountant, he chucked it all at the ripe old age of 38, escaped the fast-paced city life and shortly afterward married his former co-worker Laurie Wickham.

The way Dick Hagood tells it, he's been smiling ever since he relocated to the Florida Keys.

The Miami Sport Fishing Club brought Dick down to Islamorada to fish competitively in the region called the Sport Fishing Capital of the World. So far, the native South Floridian and art enthusiast has remained for just under 30 years.

Dick and his wife, hired by one of his fishing club buddies in 1983 for $1,000 a month, made their break from the city to manage El Capitan Resort, a small oceanside property in Islamorada that is now part of the Postcard Inn Resort.

They managed El Capitan until it was sold in 1990, completely revamping the small 10-unit property during their tenure. In addition, Dick began working as a fishing guide.

Today, his “double life” flourishes. He splits his time working as a full-time guide and a virtually full-time volunteer as the executive director of Islamorada’s Morada Way Arts & Cultural District.

“I have no artistic talent and neither does my wife,” Dick admitted. “But we love art, so we thought the next best thing would be to represent artists.”

These days, Dick leads an intriguing "double life" as an arts organizer and fishing guide.

Following the sale of the resort, the couple had the opportunity to pursue their true passions. Dick worked as a fishing guide and Laurie opened Gallery Morada in 1996. Two years ago, the gallery was named one of the top 10 in the country for craft art.

Laurie’s longtime love of art rubbed off on her husband when she opened her gallery, and the couple began attending art shows and building relationships with artists.

“I just become enthralled with how these people can create things,” Dick explained. “Since I’m not an artist myself, I’ve always really admired people who have those talents. Laurie and I consider ourselves advocates and supporters of art.”

The couple and local artist Pasta Pantaleo were instrumental in establishing the Morada Way Arts & Cultural District — and organizing its first Third Thursday Walkabout in January 2011. The district was officially founded the following month with the goal of bringing nightlife to the Islamorada area.

Upper Keys visitors and residents celebrate the arts at Morada Way cultural events. (Photo courtesy of the Morada Way Arts & Cultural District)

The Morada Way Arts & Cultural District has significantly enhanced the Islamorada community by giving the area’s creative talent a wide audience, providing exposure for and economically stimulating local businesses, and working with local schools to create opportunities for students to develop and express their interest in the arts.

Now 65 years old and a grandfather, Dick Hagood remains passionate about his duties with the district and oversees all its business and organizational aspects. With the Third Thursday Walkabouts securely established, he continues to seek new opportunities to benefit the community and support the arts.

In addition, he’s frequently busy guiding. When he’s not working, however, Dick can be found enjoying the arts or spending time with his family — especially his granddaughter Windley, who was named for Windley Key where her mother and father met.

“We always say we love the Keys so much that we named our granddaughter after them,” he quipped.


Nick Stanczyk: A Fish and Smile Away From Childhood

Christina Baez | September 2012

Despite a resume that includes helping pioneer daytime swordfishing (probably one of the greatest discoveries in the recreational fishing industry in the last decade), Nick Stanczyk is just 27 years old — and sometimes feels like a child during his day’s work.

Nick Stanczyk, who helped pioneer daytime swordfishing in the Florida Keys, guides anglers from the U.S. and many other locales in Upper Keys waters. (All photos courtesy of Nick Stanczyk and Bud N' Mary's Marina)

“Every time I see the smile that comes to a kid’s face when he catches a fish, it brings me back to the days when I was a young kid fishing off the dock of the marina,” Nick said. “I feel like I was one of those kids just the other day, and it’s a good feeling.”

As the son of fishing legend Richard Stanczyk, who has owned Islamorada’s landmark Bud N’ Mary’s Marina since 1978 (which, FYI, is seven years before Nick was born), Nick Stanczyk is a true “Conch” or Florida Keys native.

Raised in the Keys and an angler all his life to date, he spent most of his childhood hanging around Bud N’ Mary’s, fishing after school and on days off. Later, after high school, he followed in his father’s footsteps by attending the University of Miami.

“For as long as I can remember I’ve been catching and eating fish,” Nick said, “but I still can’t cook or clean them.”

A second-generation captain, Nick skippers the B n' M out of Bud N' Mary's Marina in Islamorada.

Led by his father, Nick and the team at Bud N’ Mary’s are perhaps best known for discovering a large body of broadbill swordfish off the coast of Islamorada.

Before the amazing 2002 discovery, few broadbill swordfish had ever been caught — and typically they were targeted only at night. The Stanczyks and their crew discovered how to fish for them during the day, and have turned Islamorada into a top destination for catching the species.

“We spent a few years trying to figure out how to target these swordfish, and some days we still scratch our heads,” Nick said. “If you look at fishing in the United States in the last decade, I can’t think of another fishery that’s been newly developed like this daytime swordfishing.”

In the last few years, Nick has captained swordfishing charters for visitors from around the world. Hailing from places like Australia, Germany, England and other distant locales, they all came to Islamorada just to fish for swordfish.

A seasoned captain despite his youth, Nick has led his anglers to some remarkable catches of swordfish and other notable gamefish.

Nick has led his anglers to remarkable catches of swordfish and other prized gamefish.

These days, the young captain can be found fishing for anything on the Atlantic Ocean side of the Keys aboard his 34-foot Crusader — appropriately named the B n’ M.

A true family affair, Bud N’ Mary’s Marina is home to 40 different fishing captains. As well as Nick’s father, it’s run by Nick himself, his brother Rick and his Uncle Scott.

“I love that fishing is a family atmosphere,” Nick enthused. “It’s something a family can all do together.”

He hopes to carry on the Stanczyk family tradition, keeping the name of Bud N’ Mary’s Marina alive, living and raising a family in Islamorada — and spending time on the water fishing with kids of his own one day.


“There’s Still So Much to be Done”

Katharine Roach | August 2012

Key West is known for its legendary residents. Over the years, they have included literary geniuses Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams, Tony Award-winning Broadway composer and lyricist Jerry Herman, “A Chorus Line” writer James Kirkwood, and even singer/songwriter Jimmy Buffett — who not only lived on the island, but immortalized it in such enduring hits as “Margaritaville.”

Captain Tony's renegade spirit is captured here in this portrait by Keys photographer Rob O'Neal.

And then there are the political legends. Sonny McCoy was Key West’s mayor when he water-skied from the island city to Cuba (more than 90 miles!) on a single slalom ski. Wilhelmina Harvey served as county mayor well into her 80s, as well as being Admiral of the Keys’ irreverent Conch Republic Navy.

You may recall reading in my previous columns that ageism really doesn’t exist in the Florida Keys — and Wilhelmina, an energetic and beloved “senior grande dame” was a shining example of that truth.

No Key West resident is more legendary, however, than the late Captain Tony Tarracino. Today it would be hard to do everything the outspoken, larger-than-life captain is reputed to have done in his extraordinary lifetime. (Let’s just say that his “professions” supposedly included gambler and gunrunner during the Bay of Pigs invasion.)

Captain Tony landed in Key West in 1948 after departing (some say fleeing) New Jersey. In 1958 he bought a bar on Greene Street that he aptly named Captain Tony’s Saloon. In one of its earlier incarnations, the saloon had been a favorite spot of Ernest Hemingway and his cronies.

Tony's saloon remains a local landmark -- just as it was when he held court at its weathered bar.

Tony served as mayor of Key West from 1989 to 1991. At that time he was in his late 70s, but senior status didn’t mean he’d lost any of his characteristic vigor or irreverence — either in his professional or personal life. (Speaking of his personal life, Tony was married four times and was the father of 13 children.)

But it wasn’t just in Key West that the colorful captain was a legend. The film “The Cuba Crossing,” starring Stuart Whitman, was inspired by his life. Jimmy Buffett immortalized him in his song, “Last Mango in Paris.”

As well as referring to some of the captain’s reputed escapades, the song captured Tony’s exuberant attitude in a line he supposedly spoke: “And Jimmy, there’s still so much to be done.”

From Aug. 8-11 Key West honors this extraordinary legend, who died in 2008 at age 92, with a festival:  Captain Tony Days. Produced by his family members and friends, it includes a celebration of his Aug. 10 birthday at — where else? — Captain Tony’s Saloon on Greene Street.

Crowds gather outside Captain Tony's Saloon to celebrate the life of a legend.

As a fitting part of the festival remembering the individualistic captain, one of this year’s Key West High School graduates will receive a $1,025 “life scholarship” in his honor. The recipient must NOT be college bound, but instead plan to learn from life.

Even after his passing, Captain Tony Tarracino is remembered for his nonconformist viewpoint.

When I knew Tony is the 1980s, I found myself captivated by the stories he could tell. Now, as an older senior citizen myself, I look back on his zest for life with awe. To him there was always “still so much to be done.”


‘Old Guys Rule’ at Hemingway Look-Alike Contest

Katharine Roach | July 2012

July in Key West means Hemingway Days, the island’s annual celebration of Ernest Hemingway’s birthday, and one of the festival’s most popular events is Sloppy Joe’s “Papa” Hemingway Look-Alike Contest. Large men sporting beards, some wearing khaki pants held up with rope belts, wander the streets and occupy the barstools of Key West’s watering holes, each hoping to be named the year’s look-alike winner.

The late Tom Chadwick is fondly remembered by his fellow Hemingway look-alikes and fans. (Photo courtesy of the Hemingway Look-Alike Society)

The Look-Alike Contest is unlike most other contests in that rotund seniors can enter repeatedly, and most don’t win on their first try. One of the most persevering contestants was Tom Chadwick, who passed away last August. He’s probably best described in the tribute here, written by his and his wife’s good friend, Bunny Carey.

“He was in last year’s contest, and this year would have been 29 years in a row he participated. Tom was known as the ‘Horny Papa,’ since he always wore a Viking hat with horns in the contest. Last year he donated this hat to be auctioned off for the Hemingway scholarship drive, fetching $400. It is now on a plaque, with his name, at Sloppy Joe’s Bar in Key West.

“Tom was an annual favorite when he went onstage and announced, ‘Well, how do you like me so far?’ We not only liked him, but loved his enthusiasm and zest for life. Although he never won, he was always a winner, and all who knew him loved him.

“I like to recall Tom sitting at Sloppy Joe’s Bar, as he did many times, saying, ‘I’ll have another!’ Of course, he always bought drinks for everyone else, as he was also a great ‘Papa.’ I’d like to think he’s on a cloud with other lost look-alikes, along with the original, one-and-only Ernest Hemingway — with drinks on the house for all.

Shown here participating in Sloppy Joe's "Running of the Bulls," Tom (center) loved camaraderie and cocktails -- and that's no bull! (Photo courtesy of the Hemingway Look-Alike Society)

“Tom was the true reflection of ‘The Old Man and the Sea.’ He was attracted to the sea as a young man and served in both the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard. He passed away as a sailor at sea while on a Caribbean cruise with his wife at the young age of 84.

“I met Tom on a cruise over 20 years ago. He was at the bar, and his (first) words were, ‘Hi, I’m Tom. Can I buy you a drink?’

“His memory is one that makes my heart smile, and I’ll drink to that.”

I never knew Tom Chadwick, but I have had the privilege of knowing many other participants in the Look-Alike Contest — some winners, some perennial hopefuls.

Among them are previous winners Jack Waterbury, a former airline pilot who still has a roguish twinkle in his eye; Bill Young, a gentle man and a gentleman who actually met Hemingway in Spain; and Fred Johnson, longtime guiding spirit behind the look-alikes’ fraternal society.

Each year "old guys rule" in the "Papa" Hemingway Look-Alike Contest. (Photo by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

I also recall some who have competed for many years, returning annually to enjoy the camaraderie of their fellow contestants, and to try once again to be known as an Ernest Hemingway look-alike winner.

This year’s Look-Alike Contest will be held, as always, at Sloppy Joe’s, beginning July 19. The finals are scheduled for July 21, when yet another stocky, bearded senior citizen will be named the winner. So if you’re in town during the Hemingway Days festival, join the crowd at this unusual competition — a big-as-life example of the popular contemporary catchphrase “Old Guys Rule.”


Kim Workman: The Art of Fish Rubbing

Christina Baez | June 2012

Some people are dedicated to catching fish, while others are dedicated to eating fish. Lower Keys artist Kim Workman, however, has dedicated much of her adult life to rubbing fish to create unique images.

The Lower Keys' Kim Workman is a master of the art of gyotaku. (Photos courtesy of Kim Workman)

Rubbing fish? Though mind-boggling to most in the Western world, this technique, known as gyotaku, is well known in the Japanese culture. Named combining the words gyo meaning “fish” and taku meaning “rubbing,” the art form originated in the mid-19th century as a way for Japanese fisherman to record the size of their catch.

Typically, the gyotaku process begins with placing the fish on a wooden bench and painting it with black sumi ink. White rice paper is then pressed over the fish and rubbed gently. When the paper is lifted, an exact black ink positive image is revealed. Kim enhances her fish images by adding watercolors.

In fact, Kim and her late husband Ian evolved the traditional art form into a process they called Kimian.

“Although both of us could print and paint, Ian did most of the fish rubbings and I did the paintings in bright bold colors,” Kim explained. “Because we created the art together we signed it combining our first names, Kimian. We called it ‘two arts beating as one’.”

Gyotaku artists take freshly caught fish and make trophy art prints from them.

The daughter of a marine conservationist and descendant of pioneer shrimpers, Kim grew up on America’s Gulf Coast.

“That great love of the sea was passed on to me,” she said. “Whether it was from childhood experiences or genetically inherited, the sea flows through my veins as it did my ancestors’.”

Kim discovered her talent for art as a child, but pursued another career as an adult. She owned a health club for 20 years and focused her time and energy on fitness.

Kim’s husband Ian was a marine biologist who shared her love of the sea and fitness. He even proposed to her while they were scuba diving in Cozumel, Mexico.

“Ian drifted past me holding a slate with the written words ‘will you marry me?’” Kim recalled. “Surrounded by beautiful coral and breathtaking tropical fish, I nodded yes.”

The couple married and opened a dive shop adjacent to Kim’s health club, while Ian also worked as a fishery biologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Kim and Ian Workman, shown several years ago, work with a team installing their “Back Country” gyotaku on hand-made paper, mounted on canvas panels, in the airport terminal.

Kim rediscovered her love of art in the early 1990s when Ian introduced her to gyotaku, a process he studied in college for scientific purposes. The couple’s gyotaku paintings became so successful that they opened a gallery in 1992.

Subsequently, they began making frequent trips to the Keys — Ian for his work as a marine biologist, and Kim to print and paint fish.

“The Keys are so different from the Gulf Coast,” Kim Workman said. “I had never seen water so beautiful in the U.S. as it is in the Keys.”

The couple bought a home on Cudjoe Key in 2000 and relocated permanently in March 2003. Word quickly spread that they were taking freshly caught fish and making trophy art prints from them. Soon, Kimian art could be found in local galleries among other places, and in private collections.

In 2008, the Workmans were commissioned to create a large piece for the Key West International Airport terminal. It was the last piece they created together, and remains dearest to Kim Workman’s heart. Ian fell ill in October 2008 and died July 4, 2009.

The Workmans' large piece in the Key West International Airport terminal remains the one dearest to Kim's heart.

“I took a break from painting and printing for six months and wondered if I could ever paint again. I found I could and I did,” Kim said. “I knew Ian would be angry with me if I didn’t.”

Kim rediscovered her artistic passion in 2010 on a trip to Japan where she studied with master gyotaku artist Mineo Yamamoto. She also taught a gyotaku class to schoolchildren in Singapore and traveled the region with paper and ink.

Since returning home, Kim has expanded beyond prints and says she enjoys creating gyotaku-inspired sculptures and more. Today, her art can be found at several Keys galleries.

“I love traveling, but there is no place like home in the Keys,” she said, “with water that is the color of lime Jello and those beautiful reefs that can only be described as indescribable.”


Lighthouse Larry Shines a Beacon on Florida Keys History

Julie Botteri | May 2012

He’s known as Lighthouse Larry. The Islamorada-based artist has fashioned his passion for lighthouses into creating exact scale replicas of six historical beacons off the Florida Keys — three of them built before the Civil War.

Larry Herlth's lighthouse replicas, such as Alligator and Sombrero lights, inspire others to learn more about the Keys' historic beacons. (Photos by Andy Newman, Florida Keys News Bureau)

Born in Chicago, 50-something Larry Herlth has lived most of his life in the Keys. As a Keys kid, he was amazed at a local lobster fisherman’s ability to carve a dolphin from coral rock — and discovered that he too was adept at the craft. Soon, people were asking him to carve coral rock dolphins.

When he returned to Islamorada after spending his high school years in California, Larry continued developing his talent for sketching and creating sculptures in stone and coral rock.

But it wasn’t till a friend requested him to build a dock jetty light that Larry became inspired by lighthouses. He first created a replica of Alligator Lighthouse off Islamorada, which dates back to 1873, and his enthusiasm snowballed from there.

Now, having forged replicas of the 160-year-old Carysfort Lighthouse located off the northern end of Key Largo and Sombrero Lighthouse off Marathon, as well as Alligator Light, Larry hopes to re-create each of the once-lived-in and manned lighthouses along the Florida Keys island chain — in several sizes.

In crafting his lighthouse replicas, Larry pays great attention to detail, recreating each feature of the original to scale.

He plans to include Fowey Rocks off Key Biscayne, the ornate Victorian-era American Shoals, the last lighthouse that was built in 1880 off the southernmost tip of Big Pine Key, and Sand Key, built in 1853 off Key West.

His passion earned him his Lighthouse Larry nickname. He finds it a bit comical, but accepts it for a serious reason.

“In building the lighthouses, learning their history, talking about them around the community, I have taken on a true desire to get the word out to save them because of the historical value,” Larry explained. “If that leaves me with the name Lighthouse Larry, so be it. I am proud to wear that name.”

Larry creates his replicas from photographs of each lighthouse, using copper and brazing techniques to heighten and achieve the visual effects of smaller details. He spends an average of 200 to 300 man-hours on a single replica (depending on the size). For pieces more than 20 feet tall, he uses stronger welded steel.

“I strictly go by picture(s) and my eye. I don’t use blueprints,” said Larry, whose work is considered expressionism blended with realism. “There’s no challenge in using plans — if it feels right, that’s what I do.”

Larry doesn’t use blueprints or plans, but instead plans his projects with photographs and the naked eye.

Today, Larry and his wife Keira have two daughters, 23-year-old Lacy and 15-year-old Kyia. An avid triathlete and spear fisherman, he’s a soft-spoken man whose influence on his daughters is apparent. Both are artistically inclined and Lacy is destined for a graphic arts career.

Lighthouse Larry’s sculptures are publicly displayed outside Upper Keys banks and restaurants, including a 20-foot replica of Alligator Light at Islamorada’s Kaiyo Grill. His intention is to create a lighthouse park where people can stop, read the entire history and see what stands just offshore of the Florida Keys.

“I do want to bring attention to the actual beauty of these lighthouses in their design and incredible architecture and strength,” Larry said. “They have held up to the wind, the oceans for 160 years, through many hurricanes, and they are still standing — and hopefully will always be standing.”


Kristie Thomas: A Pioneer Chocolatier

Julie Botteri | May 2012

Chocolate’s rich, dark history dates back 2,000 years according to historians, but visitors to Key Largo are discovering a newfound love of cocoa confections thanks to the talents of Kristie Thomas. As well as being the culinary creator behind Key Largo Chocolates, she’s currently the only chocolatier in the Florida Keys.

A passionate chocolatier, Kristie makes many appearances at Keys festivals with her truffles. (Photos courtesy of Key Largo Chocolates)

Kristie has a passion for baking Key lime cakes and crafting chocolate shells into a creative niche for truffles, each handmade from natural ingredients including the best chocolate from around the globe.

Much of the world’s cacao comes from areas within 20 degrees of the equator, she reports, and one of her favorite cacao products is Machu Picchu from Peru.

Kristie’s husband Bob oversees the company’s marketing, handling custom orders and special events. He refers to his wife’s superbly sweet talents as having “panache with ganache.”

Key Largo Chocolates, located at mile marker 100.5 bayside, grew out of Kristie’s success with her first love — Key lime cakes. Not a professional baker, she attended cake school for cake design and decorating, and dabbled in making her daughter’s Key lime wedding cake in addition to decorative and delectable chocolate seashells.

At a flavor university, Kristie trained among researchers for Kellogg’s, Quaker Oats and candy companies to detect flavor notes and tastes. That training helped develop her ability to balance the cocoa with yummy additions of Ké Ké Key Lime Liquor, bourbon, whiskey and secret spices.

Kristie’s neat-as-a-button chocolate factory and store delight the senses.

In addition to her numerous “everyday” truffles, Kristie concocts seasonal treats that include a dizzying array of flavorful fudges, toffees and specialty barks made with peppermint, cream, pralines and hazelnuts.

A while back, her “pumpkin-pie-less” spiced truffle even won first place in the dessert category at the annual Key Largo Cookoff. However, there’s no pumpkin in it — just secret spices.

The Key Largo kudo is not the only award Kristie has won. Her Key lime truffles placed second in a nationwide taste competition in Atlantic City, behind an offering from the Ruth’s Kris steakhouse conglomerate.

“We’re just a little chocolate company,” Kristie said modestly. “We’ve grown in leaps and bounds, and we enter contests and festivals as often as we can to help our growth spurts.”

Her Key lime confections include freshly squeezed, locally grown limes. With the help of a pastry chef, she creates six- and eight-inch Key lime cakes and cupcakes in addition to rum cakes, a flavor favorite. Her passion for working with chocolate runs as deep.

Kristie says keeping the chocolate for her truffles tempered, or at a temperature ideal for its sheen and consistency, is a challenge in the humid climate of the subtropical Florida Keys since chocolate can absorb moisture.

Kristie has mastered how to temper her chocolate and create beautifully flavored seashells with an attractive sheen.

“To make up to 300 truffles a day, the chocolate needs to be perfect,” she said. With air conditioning and dehumidifiers, she manages to keep her kitchen near a cool 68 degrees.

Entering Kristie’s vibrant store, visitors are greeted by a daunting display of aromatic chocolates to choose from — each a shiny melt-in-your-mouth nugget of heaven. Packaged in lovely boxes, the truffles tempt customers to sneak a sample even before they make it out the door. Plus, the emporium offers ice cream.

In addition, some Upper Keys hotels as well as Key Largo and Islamorada retail stores carry Key Largo Chocolates. Patrons at Key Largo restaurants might also be fortunate enough to find a mousse-filled chocolate seashell on the dessert specials menu.

No matter where her morsels are found, Kristie Thomas aims to please. She delights in the satisfied faces of her customers that testify how irresistible her creations can be.

“People like to treat themselves,” she summed up. “People love chocolates.”