by Shayne Benowitz
Summertime in Key West… zero wind, stiflingly hot temperatures, and water flat as glass. Well, not this summer. It has been unseasonably windy, which cools down the thermometer, but also results in a choppy sea state. When the wind is blowing particularly strong from the south and it’s too bumpy in the Atlantic for enjoyable snorkeling, we have a Plan B and head west in the Gulf to the patch coral reef of Cottrell Key.
Sailing through the Norhtwest Channel on the way to Cottrell, we come across a sight of historical and literary interest, Ernest Hemingway’s fishing platform. Hemingway moved to Key West in 1928 and subsequently bought a home on Whitehead Street, which you can still tour today. Sport fishing was a major draw for Hemingway and he explored the waters of Key West daily on his beloved boat, Pilar. The platform on the way to Cottrell was one of his favorite spots. Hemingway lived in Key West for ten years and wrote much of his greatest work here including A Farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and To Have and Have Not, which is his only book that takes place in Key West. Maybe it’s the schoolteacher in me, but if you’re planning a trip to Key West, Hemingway is definitely required reading. My personal favorite? The Sun Also Rises.
Today, we headed to Cottrell for the snorkeling portion of the Ultimate Adventure with Captain Chuck Buck. Cottrell Key and its patch reef is complemented by several mangrove islands, a sandy seafloor, sea grass, and some of the biggest fish you are likely to see. In the past, I have spotted a Goliath grouper, which was easily 400 pounds, just chilling underneath the boat. As I plunged into the water today, I was hoping to catch sight of some other monstrosity. I dove down to the sandy seafloor and swam at the bottom for as long as I could hold my breath and thought that this must be the perspective a shark sees things as it swims along. When I came up for air, and looked into the water again, the biggest stingray I have ever seen swam by me like a dark grey shadow. It was at least eight feet long, tail included, with a wingspan of five to six feet. I was completely shocked and could not get over how much bigger this creature was than me.
I pointed it out to the other snorkelers nearby and many people on the boat got a good look at him. On our sail back to Key West customers gushed about all of the great things they saw at Cottrell. And once again, we were treated to one of my favorite landmarks, Hemingway’s fishing platform.
Shayne Benowitz is a Fury crewmember and freelance writer who is working on her debut novel. Shayne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.