The Dry Tortugas are a small set of islands and sandbars at the end of the Florida Keys. They are roughly 70 miles East of Key West, and about 30 miles from Cuba, so we really needed to not miss them navigating. I did not want to go to Cuba, and Belize was a long way on the other side.
Almost an atoll, the islands are a US National Park. The park consists of Fort Jefferson on Garden Key, a lighthouse on Laggerhead Key, Bird island, which was connected to Garden Key while we were there, and some sand islands.
You can not leave anything there. No trash, nothing, it must leave with you.
The park has a couple Porta potties, and that is it. No water, electricity, internet, cell coverage, radio, or food of any kind.
We have always said our final goal was the Tortugas, it sounded exotic, and most people don’t have a clue where it is.
The weather lined up for us, wind out of the East at 10 mph Friday, dying to 7 Saturday, 3 Sunday, then 8 out of the West Monday. So it would blow us down there then back, saving us an hour travel time.
We provisioned and pulled the trigger. Tanks full of 200 gallons of water, 60 lbs. of ice, soft drinks, steaks, bacon, bread, etc. Ice is like gold there, we could trade it for many things.
During the trip the water went from kind of clear ten foot visibility to gin clear 40 foot. Not the Bahamas, Belize, or Bonaire, but close.
As we motored down we passed Key West again, then at 45 miles the last key, Marquesas.
Rain squalls surrounded us, but it only sprinkled as we out ran them.
Marquesas seems like a place explore on another trip. I can only imagine how bad the “no-see-ums” are there at night. The island has a lagoon in the center that just might be deep enough for us.
After that, there are several places it gets shallow, around 10′, which is kind of unnerving when you are out of sight of land. Most have a mark on them to warn navigation, and are maybe a mile wide under the water. Notice the change in water color.
As you approach you see the light house, then the fort. You must enter the channels and work your way back into the basin. All anchoring must be within one mile of the fort. The numbers are depth at low tide in feet. We need five feet or we run aground.
Choices is anchored on the far right. The slightly brown area to the right of Choices is one foot deep. Choices was in 15 foot depth there. The little brown beach in the middle of the picture is the dinghy beach, ours is the one to the left.
The tents are for Eagle Scouts that come out here for a couple of weeks at a time. They do volunteer work around the fort, cleaning up, replacing brick, etc. Slightly out of the picture to the right is the public campgrounds, a little more private. Contract workers for the docks and major repairs also camp here or on the workboats.
It is common to go from 30-40′ to 1-2′ deep in less than half a boat length. The bottom could be sand, coral, or rock.
We finally launched our new dinghy. It is white Hypalon, with a soft bottom, and rolls up into a package small enough to fit into the lazarette under the back deck. We used our gin pole to lift it onto the bridge. It is comforting having it there on open passages, would be much more comfortable than floating around in a life jacket.
The dinghy has a 5 Hp, 4 stroke outboard that has a small integral tank and a large exterior tank. It is perfect for exploring.
The wind had blown the sargassum weed into the harbor. It stinks like hell when rotting. When floating, all kinds of critters swim and hide in it. It was pretty thick until the wind blew it away.
The fort is 17 acres. It is huge and made entirely of 16 million bricks, like house bricks, walls eight feet thick. It was used as a prison during the civil war.
This picture is from the top of one of the armory buildings. These are small buildings scattered along the top that housed the gunpowder and cannon shot.
It has three levels, a moat around it, and one small entrance.
It was never finished, and has never fired a shot. Claire doing a readiness inspection…
You must register to stay at the park. Here is Claire dropping off the form and our money in the box. The big ball is actually one of the bumpers for when the ferry arrives to keep it from damaging the dock, or vice-versa.
You can ride a high speed ferry, seaplane, or private boat to the island. We have taken the plane before.
We chose private boat. It had air conditioning, two bedrooms, bathroom, shower, full kitchen, bar, and ice.
Many come by private boat to fish, stay for a night or two and tough it. They just sleep on their boat decks, in the open, no air conditioning, and feed the local bug population. Basically they drink themselves unconscious. The really stupid ones turn all their lights on so the bugs can find them, like ringing a dinner bell….
Others come just to relax and get away.
Claire whipped up some fine dining. We had steaks on the grill, etouffee, crawfish pot pies and everything.
The first night there we celebrated out arrival, and finished the Zafra rum bottle. Zafra is very hard to find, but hands down the best rum I have ever had.
Sunsets were pretty spectacular, there was no pollution. At night there were only boat lights, no moon, and the stars were thick.
We snorkeled the old docks and Claire did the moat. It was very clear and covered in coral with big tarpon patrolling it.
The lighthouse took a beating during hurricane Harvey. Notice the boat barn building broken in half.
Supposedly this island is owned by the Rockefellers, who lease it back to the government.
On the way down and back we saw many sea turtles. From the bridge their brown shells are easy to spot, but they spook quickly and dive. Hard to photograph, but here is one Claire took.
Here is a shark she got from the bridge
Once back in Key West we refueled and cleaned the boat.
We have decided to put Choices up for sale. Our travel goals have been reached, and currently we have no new ones, that could change though.
Maybe the next posting will be the listing.