Jeffrey “Hammerhead” Philips strapped on a scuba cylinder (when Clorox bottles were BCD’s) for the first time in 1967. Dove for two years, decided he liked the water and obtained his scuba certification from NASDS, then became a PADI instructor. He hasn’t stopped diving since. In 1980 he married the prettiest mermaid in the ocean, Kitty. Today, he lives in West Palm Beach, Florida, writing fictionalized events of his travels.
The Best Place to Write - Stiltsville
Some people have told me this would be a great place to write. Not going to get any neighbors dropping by on a whim, or the telephone ringing constantly. And it’s pretty quiet sitting in the middle of Biscayne Bay. Well, not quite in the middle, but you have to admit, not much here just a mile south of Key Biscayne. At one time twenty homes sat in the north east corner of the bay, but in 1992 hurricane Andrew with her 190 mph winds knocked that down to around seven.
But how did this collection of homes start?
Back in the 1930’s, an enterprising fisherman by the name of “Crawfish” Eddie Walker decided to sell bait and beer from his shack. His establishment was a wooden house plunked down on a barge. For the men who fished, netted, and trapped the reef, it was a time saver to stop at Eddie’s, rather than motoring all the way back to town. Eddie was given his nickname because he made chowder from the crawfish he harvested under his shop.
Soon prohibition caused an economic boom in the bay. Gambling was allowed (and bootlegging) a mile off shore. Stiltsville is about 250 yards over the limit. The good times flourish. The structures grew into a small town. And of course, no taxes were being paid. Can’t have that, now can we. And the Federal Government changed the law to a three mile limit.
The flappers, rum-runners, and speakeasies left, but the homes survived.
As you can see, some of the homes have a lot of square footage. The structures are built in water between five and twenty feet deep. The stilts look like telephone poles that were driven into the sandy bottom, and the homes are made out of Dade County pine. Very sturdy.
So I decided to visit one. The captain of the boat didn’t want to motor under the house or anchor very close. Shallows come up quickly in the bay and the risk of running aground is always present. Thus the boat was anchored just outside the channel, meaning I’d have to snorkel a ways. And, not checking the tide chart, we arrived as the bay was emptying itself into the ocean.
Strapping on my fins, de-fogging my mask, and grabbing the dive flag, I slid off the boat’s swim platform and headed to the nice blue color house with the pink shutters. Everything in Miami has flair. The salty water felt warm against my bare skin and I kicked against the current looking for a place where I could stand. No such luck.
Underneath the house, the water was twelve feet deep and the current still kicking. I snagged the dive flag’s stainless steel hook onto a barnacle encrusted piling, held on, and rested. To my surprise this stilt was made out of concrete. The boat dock under the house was destroyed and the stairwell leading up to the home was gone. I had picked the wrong house to try and explore.
Underneath the structure, there was calmness. Some yellow stripped sergeant majors swam by and every now and then a barracuda scooted over to see what I was up to. But as I lay floating on the surface, holding onto the float line to keep the current from swirling me out to the reefs, I’m thinking, this would be a great place to hole up and write. Especially if your story involves the ocean.
It seemed I was only there for a few minutes, when the boat crew signaled that my hour was up and for me to return.
Thus, I headed back to the boat.
Stiltsville, a place I’d like to stay.
While diving on Jesse Stoker’s boat, Cassandra, a local radio personality awaiting contract with extraterrestrials, disappears. Stoker considers her a hoaxster, but allowed the charter because the bank is ready to repossess his vessel.
Cassandra’s body is found three days later, but the M.E. finds she’s only been dead for five hours. Once it’s known that Stoker filled her tanks and she died from oxygen poisoning, he becomes the prime suspect. He’s never lost a diver before, doesn’t believe in alien abduction, and doesn’t believe she just died. To clear his name, stop a wrongful death suit, and save his livelihood, Stoker must figure out where Cassandra spent the missing days and find her killer.