22 Thursday Jan 2015
After dropping anchor in Key West we spent a day doing nothing but recovering. We’d dropped anchor in twelve feet of water right off of what our chart said was “Wisteria Island”. The island right next to it was called “Tank Island”. Tank island was full of very expensive looking homes while Wisteria island looked like it was left in its natural state with shrubs and scrub brush growing on the skirts but taller things growing in the center.
Being so close over the next couple of days we were able to observe kayaks and dingies heading to shore there and people seemed to be milling about. I began to form the assumption that people would travel to this little uninhabited island to take a walk or hang out. I’ve read blogs for so long I had visions of cruisers having a little beach bon fire at night or a pot luck. I was wrong.
Staying next to Wisteria was a mistake for two reasons. The first one became apparent very quickly. The day after we dropped anchor we watched two different boats drag and collisions occur. Commercial traffic from Key West Bight (read charter boats, fishing boats, parasailing boats, and occasionally a coast guard boat) would zoom between the two islands, sometimes actually cutting right through the anchorages and throwing massive wakes. On the second day we actually felt like it was calmer crossing the gulf than being anchored in that spot so we upped anchor and left for Flemming Key which has proven to be a MUCH nicer anchorage. We dropped the hook in 25ft and have been happy as clams over here. It had the side benefit of letting all of our muddy chain out to be washed in the clean waters.
After recovering and having been to town a few times we got antsy for some adventure, hopefully meeting other cruisers and generally doing non-touristy things. We decided to visit Wisteria Island, which we had learned was also known as Christmas Tree Island by the locals. Apparently the island was renamed Wisteria because of a ship wreck on the side of it that was used as some sort of shark processing facility in years gone by. The island itself was man made by dredging up lots of old broken coral. Sounds like fun right?
We parked the dink on the side of the island next to a bunch of other dinks.
I met an old guy sitting there shooting a BB gun at some cans with a much younger girl. The old guy said it was where he lived in a wigwam and told us some stories about how the island’s ownership was in dispute. The guy seemed like an old war vet type that kind of migrated to the fringes of society. Being from New Orleans we’re used to that type. The girl seemed like your average gal. Maybe his daughter. Either way we asked if the island was open to be walked and they said it was fine so we set off.
It was picturesque at first.
We made it some way enjoying our stroll. We met a guy cleaning his dink that showed us hermit crabs and conch shells. I smoked my pipe. Dani posed in the sun.
As we made it to the opposite side of the island there was a place blocked by a tree but a small trail seemed to lead inland so we took it hoping to make it back to the beach. Then things got weird.
A guy in shorts but no shirt with a pony tail was walking towards us dangling a machete from one hand and had a very tattoo’d woman in tow that looked as if she had been crying. He asked what we were doing and “If he could help us?” I said we were just trying to get around the fallen tree. He came right up to me with wide blue eyes, looking to be in his late thirties and with streaks of grey in his curly hair. He said, “Do you have a cell phone?” I said no. He was perplexed for a moment muttering, but then he looked at me again and said, “My wife has been raped.”
Que up the record screech…. What?
He explained that the girl with him, his wife had been raped by a guy on the island, who was apparently still prowling around. Dani and I exchanged looks. He asked if we could bring her to shore. I said I only had room for one in my dink but he asked if we could just bring her. I agreed. So he says to follow him and sets off into the interior. Dani was having none of that and I told them we’d walk around the beach to get back to the dink. So they followed us. I had a really sinking feeling.
The story they told us along the way was that they lived on the island in a tent. There apparently a whole homeless community out there. The “rapist” was a trusted marine mechanic that had befriended them and brought the husband “Mr. Machete” ashore that day then returned to the island and taken advantage of his wife, who called herself “Butterfly”. Apparently Mr. Machete figured out something was up and returned to the island somehow to find his wife had been raped and then we entered the picture.
After learning all this we made our way back to our dink, which thank God was still there, and got aboard. As I’m getting in there is another older guy in another dink and they point at him and say, “That’s him.” It was apparently the rapist staring at us. He asked if he could come ashore. I said very forcefully, “No.” Mr.Machete asked if our outboard was fast. I said it wasn’t. What was he insinuating? That we’d be chased by a rapist across the bay? This was getting more and more crazy. But we set off at the highest speed we could with “Butterfly” talking gibberish and waxing religious that we were angels sent from God to save her and then telling us her life story about how at 38 she was a grandmother and a cutter. I really can’t make this stuff up.
We dropped her at the first dock we came to, not wanting the locals to see us with riff raff and went back to the boat post haste. Dani was shaken up really badly. Were all her fears about the dangers of cruising coming to fruition? I speculated that they were just using some ruse to get a ride to shore. We got some stuff on the boat and decide to go to town for a drink. We needed one.
As we’re getting ready, the rapist comes by our boat waving. I realize we’ve seen him passing by every morning, he always waved. I waved back not wanting to incite trouble. A sort of, “We are staying out of this shit” wave. When we got back to the dock we sighted Butterfly with cops around her. The rapist was on the other side of the dock with cops around him. I told Dani not to make eye contact and we slipped away from all that drama.
We eventually calmed down from it all. It has had an up side. We tell the story to locals who gobble it up. They don’t seem surprised. Most of the them say Christmas Tree Island is like “Lord of the Flies”. I believe them. We checked the local arrest reports and no one had been arrested, so who can say what really happened.
We’re going to check with local knowledge before randomly visiting islands from now on. Its a little crazy out here, but we’re staying together and trying to stay safe.
PS> Please don’t let this post worry our family and friends too much. We’ve both seen FAR worse in New Orleans. We just wanted to report what turned out to be our first real misadventure.