27 March 2018
KEY WEST, Florida Keys — Activities including a lighthearted sea battle featuring tall ships and a “drag” race for female impersonators await visitors April 20-29, when irreverent “patriots” stage the 36th annual Conch Republic Independence Celebration. The offbeat festival commemorates the Florida Keys’ symbolic secession from the United States.
The republic was born following a 1982 U.S. Border Patrol blockade of the island chain. In protest, citizens organized the secession, declared war on the mother country, surrendered 60 seconds later and demanded $1 billion in foreign aid. The anniversary of the secession is marked each year with a roster of eccentric events.
The 2018 schedule includes the Great Conch Republic Drag Race Saturday, April 21, in the 700 block of Duval St. The wacky challenge typically stars drag queens in racing attire and wigs, sprinting down the pavement in startlingly high heels.
The secession’s anniversary Monday, April 23, features the world premiere of a documentary on the Conch Republic’s venerable First Sea Lord Admiral Finbar Gittelman, captain of the republic’s flagship Schooner Wolf. “The Old Man and the Sea: Return to Cuba” is to be screened at 4 p.m. and 9 p.m. at the Key West Theater at 512 Eaton St. Question-and-answer sessions and receptions with filmmaker Matt Dean and the admiral follow the screenings.
The secession itself is to be commemorated Monday evening at Mallory Square overlooking Key West Harbor. Hosted by the Conch Republic Military Forces, the ceremony includes a 21-gun and 21–conch shell horn salute at sunset. 
Thursday evening, April 26, brings the World’s Longest Parade. Stepping off at 8 p.m. on Duval Street, the procession is named because it begins at the Atlantic Ocean and proceeds down the length of Duval to the Gulf of Mexico.
The action moves to Key West Harbor at 7 p.m. Friday for the Great Sea Battle for the Conch Republic, featuring weapons ranging from water cannons to flying Cuban bread. Noncombatants can view the seafaring spectacle from Mallory Square.
Other festival attractions include tall ship sailing adventures on the Schooner Wolf, the Hot Havana Nights gala, Conch Republic military demonstrations, parties and libations, the Community Unity Concert, a pirates’ ball and the election of the republic’s “royal family.”
Following the festival itself, the inaugural Conch Republic Independence Celebration Regatta to Cuba is scheduled April 30 through May 5.
Event information and schedule: conchrepublicdayskeywest.com
Key West visitor information: fla-keys.com/keywest or 1-800-LAST-KEY
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