Friday, August 10, 2007

Mystery solved

Last Monday morning we opened up our shop to find a palm tree sail boat waiting for us. As we pondered over the sender of this gift, we couldn't help but to wonder if somehow this was a sign. We spent our day glancing at the gift as the clocked ticked to raise funds to save the Western union.
So this is how the palm tree boat mystery was solved.......

Yesterday morning, I went to Coffee Plantation to write, because I’d bought a palm-tree-material sail boat off Capt. Jack at Mallory Pier a couple of nights before, and had wanted it delivered to Sippin’ Internet Caffe, but it got delivered instead to Coffee Plantation on Caroline Street. The owners, Theo and Diane, have been my friends since shortly after they came to Key West from California, and opened Coffee Plantation near the corner of White Street and Petronia. It was there that we three and nearly twenty black Bahama Village school kids were caught up in what nearly turned out to be a catastrophic riot, perhaps a month after Wilma came through. It was there that I got to know Theo and Diane, and saw that they were the kind of folks Key West wanted to have living here. They were forced to change their business location, because they couldn’t renew the lease. I like the new place even better, although I miss the neighborhood atmosphere of the old location.

Meanwhile, there is something else I need to report. That palm tree sailboat, I ended up giving it to Theo and Diane after learning yesterday that Theo is behind the restoration of the Schooner Western Union now owned by Historic Tours of America, the same company that Duck Tours sued. Ed Swift doesn’t want to keep the boat any longer, it isn’t profitable, but he wants it to remain in this area. HTA has received an offer of $400,000 from an out-of-state-purchaser, who would take the boat out of the state. Ed has offered to donate the boat to The Schooner Western Union Project, contingent on the Project raising commitments for the $300,000 needed to get the boat restored. Ed pledged $25,000 out of his own pocket to seed the fund-raising for the costs of restoration.
The schooner then would be used for educational outreach with the local schools, for thirty days a year made available to Florida Keys not for profit outfits for their fund raising, and the rest of the time it will be used for its old uses: day and sunsets sails for pay, to generate the funds needed to keep running the boat, which are substantial, according Jeff Salzman, who is sitting with me here right now at Coffee Plantation. Jeff wrote the prospectus gratis, even though he only has a six-grade education, or so he says. Oh, now he says he’s a high school drop-out, he exaggerated a little. Jeff's a bit under the weather today, after spending a bit of time yesterday afternoon at a local recording studio. Yeah, right. So Key West.

I read the prospectus yesterday, found it well-written. Toward the back is an appraisal of the Schooner Western Union, for $950,000. I learned practicing law and as a real estate broker, several lifetimes ago, that appraisals can be gotten for a variety of reasons, and sometimes we lawyers and real estate brokers joked among ourselves that the appraiser professional designation, M.A.I., stood for “made as instructed.” I wager that the IRS would argue that $400,000, not $950,000, is the real value of the Schooner Western Union, because that is what has been offered for it. Certainly, the appraiser did not offer to buy the ship for $950,000, and I rather suspect that the appraiser would not pay more than $400,000 for it, if he had plenty of money lying around and wanted the boat. Perhaps I’m mistaken, but I can envision that the $950,000 appraisal is all the IRS might see, if a charitable contribution in that amount is claimed on a tax return.

If the Schooner Western Union were my boat, and I had the money I’ve heard Ed Swift has, and if I loved Key West as much as Ed Swift is said to love it, hell, I’d give the entire $300,000 needed to bring it up to speed. But other Key West folks can step up to this worthy plate, too. Theo’s not looking to make any money out of the deal. He, and others, are giving their time and effort to this project because they feel it is worth while. Just as he, and others, gave their time and effort to organizing and participating in the recent Wisteria (Christmas Tree) Island clean-up. Capt. Jack’s sail boat is right where it belongs. Like I said, Theo and Diane are the kind of people Key West needs to keep here.

Anyone wishing to learn more about this very worthwhile project can drop by Coffee Plantation on Caroline Street, or go to

Sloan Bashinsky
623 Josephine Parker St #102
Key West 33040
Paid political advertisement, I suppose