Sunday, April 1, 2012


Coconut Grove, Miami, FL 25º43.532N | 80º14.193W

I don't know if you've been reading my blog for this long, but when we left Miami last year in January, I got it in my head to see Stiltsville, houses built out in the flats on the eastern edge of Biscayne Bay. I say the flats, but basically they are houses on stilts in the water.

The original houses were built in the 1930s and at one time 27 houses hovered over the water on the edge of the Atlantic. Being one mile from the Miami shore, the houses were just beyond the reach of the law and were known to be something of a frontier town, the place to see and be seen for whoever thought they were who in Miami, a haven for gambling and other illegal activities. In the '60s, a "businessman" grounded a 150-foot yacht out there and created the Bikini Club offering free drinks to women in bikinis, a nude sunbathing deck and rooms that could rented for any purpose. Ahem. The Florida Beverage Commission and Hurricane Betsy shut them down in 1965.

The people running the various operations in Stiltsville increasingly came under attack as the law encroached farther from shore, and the houses were attacked by hurricanes encroaching from the other direction. Hurricane Andrew pounded through in 1992, leaving only seven houses standing. Those seven still stand today and are now the property of the National Park Service.

I had heard about these spindly houses for years and wanted to see them before they took their last bow. So last year, when we left Miami to cross the Gulf Stream I timed our departure to put us in Stiltsville at sunrise.

Here's what happened:

I'm not a very good calculator. We arrived well before dawn. I took the high-powered spotlight in hand, we slowed to a crawl and crept into the ghost town I thought I wanted to see.
I was wrong about that too. The first time I swung the spotlight through the pitch black and a house loomed up, right in the middle of the water, oh boy. That was definitely NOT what I wanted to see. I'm not usually prone to the heeby jeebies, but all I wanted was to get the hell out of there! AAAAAAHHHHHH! 
But we plodded slowly through. I stopped shining the light anywhere but directly at the marks, so we silently passed houses without seeing them. CREEEPY.
I can honestly say this was one of the scariest moments I've had since we started cruising. SO CREEPY.

Well, the reason I bring this up, as we headed into Biscayne Bay yesterday, we took advantage of a second chance to see Stiltsville, this time in daylight.

I laughed at my old self as we motored past these very NOT scary houses. The only thing creepy this time was the gathering storm on the horizon.

I couldn't help but wonder what it would be like to weather a massive storm out here just feet above the water. You might wonder why someone who lives just inches above the water would wonder that at all. Somehow my hovering doesn't seem scary. Mine floats and has steerage.

If only those houses had outboard motors....

The Miami skyline, just before the squall disappeared it.

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