Also: No bullynetting after curfew

Richie Stiglitz is having a sleepover on Key Colony Beach, grilling for his crew and friends six days post-Irma, telling stories of the past week. His story is a little different from most. He, with a fleet of nine commercial Marathon boats, rode the storm out 60 miles offshore in the Dry Tortugas. His home, on Cudjoe Key, was destroyed in the storm.

“At first the storm was looking like it was going up the east coast of Florida,” said Stiglitz, boat owner and commercial fisherman. “We were on the seat of our pants for a little bit.”

The crew included Marathon residents Justin Bruland with first mate Riley Young, and Raymond Bruland with grandson Jayden, 14, Randolf and Cole Daniels, Ray Salidino, Justin Woodward, and Stiglitz’s sons Deme and Peder, who, at 16 years old, each captained their own boats on the way down.

Making the decision Thursday night before the storm to head to Dry Tortugas, the crew ate a good breakfast at the Stuffed Pig and took off Friday morning.

As they came into the harbor at Fort Jefferson, a sailboat coming in from Fort Myers hit the rocks outside the fort and sank. “The guy swam a half-mile to the fort; Scuba Steve, that’s what we were calling him, shacked up with us on our boat, and now he’s still with us here in the Keys,” said Stiglitz.

A shrimp boat also sank off the Tortugas during the storm and was rescued by a passing cruise ship and help of the U.S. Coast Guard.

The fleet tied up to the dock at the fort, whose harbor is protected on two sides by the islands and the other sides by reef.

“The fort blocked all the wind,” said Stiglitz of the 60 mph winds coming off Irma. “It’s a safe shallow harbor. We barbequed and had a really nice time.”

Justin Bruland added that another sailboat riding out the storm at the fort disappeared in the middle of the night. “We came across them heading home Tuesday and had to call the Coast Guard for them,” he said, adding the seas outside the harbor while they waited the storm out were 12 to 15 feet high. “We thought they were taking on water, but they were just really drunk.”

Now, back in the Keys, Stiglitz already had a run-in with the law after returning from the fort after the four-day hiatus.

“We went bullynetting for a couple nights, to feed all of the crew after we returned, when a chopper pulled up on us and followed us all the way back to the dock,” said Stiglitz. “They gave us one warning and said if they catch us out past curfew again, we were going to jail.”

While now strictly following the curfew, Stiglitz added, “We are behaving, but can’t eat lobster for dinner any more, because the day before this happened, I gave all my lobster to the same guys who wanted to take me to jail.”

Would they do it again? “If conditions are right for it, maybe,” said Bruland. Stiglitz added that it’s one of the best places to ride out winter cold fronts when needed, too.

“We all worked really well together,” said Stiglitz. “Our boats definitely had a better chance with us in control of the situation.”

Photos by DEME STIGLITZ/Contributed

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