Visitors donate new ringer to replace lost artifact


When the charter boats come home at the end of the day, it’s tradition to ring the big brass bell.

“I think it’s partly for luck and partly to celebrate their safe return,” said Tom Johnson, director of operations for Whale Harbor Group.

After Irma, however, the bell fell silent. It was one of the casualties of the storm and nowhere to be found, as the staff of Wahoo’s Bar and Grill – part of the Whale Harbor Group – was putting the eatery back together. And so the charter fleet straggled in every afternoon unheralded, until two weeks ago when a new bell was installed. It came from Holland, courtesy of Rob and Monique Schuitema.

They were visiting the Keys in May and stopped in at Wahoo’s at MM 83 for a bite to eat and a cool drink. They overheard the talk at the bar.

“A man was talking at the bar about the bell, about the bell that was missing,” said Rob Schuitema.

“Maybe they overhead the conversation, or joined the conversation — I really don’t remember,” said Johnson.

But the situation stuck in Schuitema’s mind precisely for the reason that he had such a bell.

“I realized those two stories were one story — my bell and the restaurant’s missing bell,” he said.

Schuitema had been given a brass bell as a retirement gift after he retired from his job with the “Rijksrederij.” It’s a department within the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management in the Netherlands. His specific department managed about 100 ships and 400 crewmembers on the seas and in the canals.

Schuitema said he was struck by the similarities of Florida and the Netherlands — lots of water and hospitality; and the differences — the weather, the long bridges.

“As Dutch, we very much recognize the fight against the water and the losses that go with it,” said Schuitema. “We hope that with this brass bell the connection between America and the Netherlands will be confirmed. We hope that with every safe return of a fishing boat the bell will be sounded.”

The offer, acceptance and shipping of the bell was accomplished in less than two weeks in June. Schuitema even paid for the shipping and jokingly asked for a Key lime pie in payment. Johnson said he’s still trying to figure out the logistics of that.

In the meantime, Schuitema and his wife are making do.

“There’s an Italian ice shop near where I work. They have a Key lime ice flavor there,” he said.

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