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Voyaging

Destinations To Die For: Key West, Florida

Liquid Sunset | November

Sunsets like this are a virtual sure thing at Mallory Square.

The hot, orange-hued ball in the sky melts into the sea while my eyes record the sky's constantly morphing colors. In this sublime postcard moment, the knots that seemed forever housed in the tops of my shoulders melt. Welcome to Key West.

This sunset ritual is relived every evening at Mallory Square in this southernmost Key as street performers like Will Soto, who walks a high wire, Dennis Riley, who plays the bagpipes, and The Great Rondini, who escapes from a straightjacket while hanging upside down, perform for the crowd.

My last trip down this way came during the month of November, and late fall is an awesome time to take a cruise here. Key West's colorful sunset is only rivaled by the color of its local characters, of which there are many. The area also has a rich history, like the famous six-toed cats of Hemingway's house—legend has it a captain gave the author-angler a six-toed feline, and the progeny that currently live at the house are all descendants of it. And there's the fact that this little seaside spot once produced 20 percent of all the salt for the United States. I have no doubt that learning about the history of salt alone would have you packing your bags, but there are several other reasons to visit, too.

The first one is pretty clear. At this time of year, most of the country is downright cold, and boaters' thoughts turn from cruising lazily on calm seas to going up on the hard, shrink wrapping, and eating turkey next to a fireplace. But November down here will average around 75F at night and a balmy 80F during the day.

Hemingway's house in Key West.

So if you want to save on that shrink wrap and keep that tan, then check out one of the half-dozen or so marinas in the area.

Once here, you'll find a boater's paradise because there are few stuck-at-the-dock days. No matter what the wind is doing, there's boating available on either the Gulf or the Atlantic side. Those into scuba or snorkeling can do a day to the Dry Tortugas. There are plenty of reefs and wrecks to explore closer, too.

If you're into fishing, species from snapper to sailfish are willing and catchable. I've caught more than a dozen species, including yellowtail, grouper, and mutton snapper. My most interesting catch was a hogfish, a.k.a. hog snapper. Don't let the name fool you, hogfish is a true Key West delicacy and a must-try. I suggest you walk from your boat to Cafe Sole, which serves this oddly named fish as a house specialty. Or, if you can manage to catch one, cook it in your own galley.

So listen, forget about the fireside turkey and put down that snow blower. It's time to throw on some Tommy Bahama casual wear, point the boat south, and get ready to cruise off into that liquid sunset. Your shoulders will thank you.

Destinations To Die For

January: Plymouth Harbor, Dominica
February: The Spanish Virgin Islands
March: Mazatlan, Mexico
April: Man-O-War Cay, Bahamas
May: Southport, North Carolina
June: Greenport, New York
July: New York, New York
August: Penobscot Bay, Maine
September: Block Island, Rhode Island
October: Panama City, Florida
November: Key West, Florida
December: Staniel Cay, Bahamas

This article originally appeared in the December 2007 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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