God Made the Universe, But the Navy Made This Island

When HTG was just a G, she spent a couple of weeks in the Netherlands. While she was there, she spent some of those weeks with a boy named Rolf, with whom she spent some of that time…talking about international politics.

HTG didn’t know much about international politics then, but Rolf was older and a little more versed in….international politics.

Anyway, we all know that talk of international politics between two youngsters can not last forever. So HTG eventually came back to the states, and Rolf most likely began talking about international politics with some cute young thing with blonde hair and hand-rolled cigarettes and truly exceptional bone structure.

For several years, HTG received letters from Rolf. In them, he went on and on about the Dutch’s superiority in…everything. (See, now you’re starting to think we really did talk about international politics, aren’t you?)

In one letter, he sent a hand drawn map of the world. The United States was the size of a nickel, while Holland was the size of a separate piece of paper.

In another, he ended his letter with the following declaration (his capitalization, not mine): GOD MADE THE UNIVERSE, BUT THE DUTCH MADE HOLLAND.

I soon found other nice young men stateside who liked to talk international politics as much as I did, and I eventually forgot about Rolf and his quite appealing accent and less than appealing ego. But I never did forget the above slogan, which would fit nicely on the bumper of a Dutch-made Carver.

I thought of this slogan again when I visited Sunset Key, a pretty place previously known as Tank Island. It’s a tiny place…just 27 acres, which is probably the perfect size to dart around in a brightly colored Carver (although the pale 60-something millionaires and their tan 20-something girlfriends there make due with much less sporty golf carts).

Tank Island is located about 500 yards off the coast of Key West (far enough that you can get away from the constant racket of annoying Buffet tunes). It was originally just a sandbar, but the Navy wanted to dredge a nearly harbor (the “Mole”,  at the southwestern point of KW) to a depth of 36 feet so that the diesel subs patrolling the Southern Atlantic could float on through.

In 1965, they began dredging, first pumping the sand onto Wisteria Island, and then moving the pipes a bit south to a submerged sandbar. Soon they started thinking that that sandbar would be a nice outpost to hold their fuel tanks.

They pumped 10 million cubic feet of fill onto that sandbar, then presumably they created a commission to come up with a name for the new place. Fifteen thousand memos and fourteen thousand department meetings later (I’m just guessing, of course), some genius came up with Tank Island, and the military heavy weights–who oftentimes do not even have the right lobe of their brain, using that space instead to store knowledge about firearms and the best way to increase your chest size–nodded and said it sounded good. They then presumably created a committee to figure out what they should order for lunch.

Tank Island sounded good until 1994 when the the island was sold. The new owners, and their right-brained marketing geniuses, decided that “Tank Island” might not draw the tourists in the way they hoped. So they presumable got together for 4,000 billable hours, created a couple dozen focus groups, and did a trademark search before settling on the infinitely more romantic sounding Sunset Key. They then created a survey and direct mail piece to determine what cocktails they should order.

To be honest, the sunsets you’ll see there are pretty much the same ones you can see on Mallory Square.

But you’ll be watching them with about 10,000 less people. And none of the people on Sunset Key will be swallowing swords for money or asking you if you want to pose for a photo with their pet iguana for just five bucks.

Sunset Key is pretty exclusive. In fact, you can’t even get there unless you take the Westin’s private water shuttle (you catch it at the Westin Marina which is behind their main hotel). It feels very rat-pack to hop into a sleek little boat and feel the wind in your hair as you’re going to your destination. And you dock in the cutest pier I’ve ever seen.


But don’t think that you can just take the boat over and roam around among the millionaires. You can’t.

You can go to the island if you’re staying there–the Westin has a couple of private cottages that you can rent, or you can spend hours online trying to become friends with someone who owns one of the 40-some private homes there.

For those of you with shallow pockets and too many scruples to ingratiate yourself with owners, the Westin does have a public restaurant called Latitudes. It’s a great place, with lots of tables on the beach, but it’s the type of restaurant that most people go to for their anniversary (ca-ching!). If your anniversary (or your sales commission check) is months away, try Latitudes for lunch. They’ve got a great grouper sandwich with Key West sauce (a mayonnaise-based spread with a hint of lime), for about ten bucks. It comes with an interesting sweet potato salad (which seems so much more special than regular potato salad) and a pickle. The view is free. And, if you like that kind of thing, you can take your bathing suit and hit the Westin beach. Having a real beach in the Keys is one huge advantage to being on a man-made island.


How did I slip past the crack security team on the island? The hub and I were lucky enough to find a homeowner who would rent their slice of paradise to us for a month. I didn’t have the money or the time to take off a month, but I did have enough friends who were interested in hanging out at the island to split the cost and make it doable.

During our time on Sunset Key, we did catch some pretty nice sunsets. They were a great backdrop to a quiet swim, a fruity drink, and some very interesting discussions of international politics.