Dry Tortugas and Back.

After we had anchored at our favorite spot in Key West, we went into shore and visited with John and Deb Bresnan, our dock mates from Herl’s on Lake Erie where we normally keep our boat. We had a wonderful afternoon, then after they left we went back to the boat, watched a movie and then collapsed into bed. We both slept hard. Neither one of us had gotten a whole lot of rest due to the rolling nature of the trip the night before.

Sunday morning we relaxed on the boat, listen to a sermon then had lunch and came ashore to do laundry. We walked around, then decided to go to the hardware store but it was closed. We went back to the boat and watched the sunset. Monday after work we came into shore, went to the hardware store and to the library so we could print off some new boat cards, then went to the happy hour at the White Tarpon. We had a rotisserie chicken, two orders of potatoes and two drinks each for $20. This is definitely the cheapest place to eat! We came home to the boat and watched the sunset before catching a show and going to bed.

On Wednesday, a cold front came through in mid-afternoon and whipped up an ugly chop. We got soaked heading into shore with the waves against us out of the Southwest, and when we headed back the waves were against us out of the Northwest – the front had passed while we were on land. We were soaked when we got back to the boat. The wind howled all night long, and then another front came through later in the evening. Even though it was out of the northwest we still had waves enough to make it a little uncomfortable in the boat. There was a lot of chop but we were still fairly well protected from the winds as the banks around the Keys are very shallow with waters only 1 to 2 ft deep.

Thursday around noon the clouds from the previous day finally burned off and gave way to sunshine which warmed things up a little. Temps in the morning we’re in the mid-60s but climbed rapidly after the skies cleared. It was a glorious day, special forces paratroopers gave us a show, dropping from planes by parachute onto the island that we were anchored behind. After work we came ashore, took the bus over to the shopping area and picked up a package from UPS. We bought a quart of ice cream and ate it while we waited for the bus home. On the way home we met a couple that were cruising who lived in Indiana. They had a Catalina 47 and we arranged to meet them the following day.

The ride back to the boat was very rough and we both got wet again. During the night the wind changed from the north to the Northwest and howled once again. It was so rough that we felt like we were underway. Eventually in the early morning the wind did switch to the Northeast and East and the waves laid down and we were able to get some sleep. After work in the morning we headed into shore, did the laundry and had a cup of coffee and then went back and visited with our new friends David and Robin on their Catalina. We had a nice time getting to know one another, shared some sailing stories and family stories and then headed back to the boat.They were anchored in the same anchorage field just a little north and west of us. Their boat was larger with a deeper draft and they were not able to get in as close to shore as we were so they were a little less protected from inclement weather.

Next morning after breakfast we raised the anchor, headed in and filled up our gas tank, water tank and pumped out. Then we headed out to the northwest channel towards the Dry Tortugas. We got a late start; the sky was cloudy and the winds were between 10 and 20 knots out of the southeast. This put us on a dead run going up the channel, but once we exited the channel and headed to wards Garden Key in the Tortugas we were a little further off the wind on a broad reach and the ride was a little more comfortable.

The Sun peaked out for a brief while and once we were headed West down the Keys along the banks the water turned to a beautiful greeny turquoise. It was only 20 to 30 feet deep, and you could see where the coral heads were because there were dark spots indicating their presence. We made good time down, motor sailing to ensure that we kept a minimum speed of 5 to 6 knots. We passed by the Marquesas islands shortly after noon, with the wind on a broad reach gently pushing us along. We had a gentle 2 foot swell pushing us towards our destination.

Melanie made us a good lunch, and as we headed past the Marquesas Keys, we saw a shipwrecked sailboat. Half of the mast was sticking out of the water but the hull was completely submerged. In the afternoon the wind increased to 15 and 20 and our speed speed increased from 5.5 up to the upper sixes and low sevens. The sea was still rather choppy with a following component that made us roll quite a bit.

Around sunset the wind died and we had problems with the engine overheating again! We ended up running the inverter with a fan blowing into the engine and we were able to keep it cool enough so the alarm did not go off. It started raining and storming around 7 p.m., and then rained pretty much until we arrived at 10 p.m. We were soaked and exhausted. We anchored on the west side of the island in the shelter of the fort and slept hard. The wind eventually diminished and we were woken by the gentle rocking of a Southerly wind in the morning.

We pulled up the anchor and motored around into the bay, found a good sheltered spot and dropped anchor. We checked in, ate breakfast and watched the animal life. There were frigate birds circling, terns yapping and a giant Goliath grouper took residence up underneath our boat. It was probably a 400 pound fish, huge! The water was crystal clear and in 18 feet of water I could see the anchor in the bottom!

We watched some seaplanes land and bring tourists to the island. They pretty much backed their planes up onto the beach! It was quite a sight. We went to shore, walked around the island looking at the outside of the Fort and then brought Windsor back to the boat. We got our snorkeling stuff and went snorkeling, first on the south side of the island which was very murky, so we went to the north side of the island and that was crystal clear. We saw some wonderful Coral, waving fans of purple, brain Coral, yellow Coral, all kinds of fish and really had a fabulous time.

We explored the pilings along the North end of the island and then went down the north wall of the fort. Fabulous sights and a perfect sunny day, ideal for snorkeling. We walked back afterwards and and on our way talked to one of the pilots of a seaplane. While we were looking at the sea plane we saw two Live conch shells in the water! We put on our snorkeling gear, went out and took a look at them and then saw a starfish out in deeper water around 8 to 10 feet.

We got Windsor and took him over to the north Shore which was absolutely gorgeous. There were Sooty Terns, Brown Noddies, Frigate birds and Pelicans all flying around on the restricted part of the island. It was breeding season and it was a wonderful sight to see so many birds wheeling around in the sky. Sunny, beautiful water and white sand made for a wonderful time, and it was back to the boat for afternoon drinks. Before that I climbed into the water and washed the bottom of the boat off with the scrubbing brush. A huge 5 foot Barracuda came to watch me, but took off when I looked at him. Glad he wasn’t hungry!

We enjoyed lunch on the ferry and then had a drink before it departed. Next day we took in all of the Fort, leaving Windsor on the boat (no pets allowed in the fort). The weather was cloudy, and while we were on the tour it started raining and the rain came down in buckets. There was a blinding thunderstorm with a torrential downpour for about 3 hours. After the tour we ran back to the ferry, had lunch and a drink there and waited for the rain to stop. We met some interesting people on the ferry, one gentleman was a master Mariner on oil tankers and container ships and a sailor to boot.

After the ferry left we returned to Southern Cross for happy hour and prepared the boat for travel the next day. We took the engine off the dinghy and put the boat up in the davits. During the night the wind came up to between 30 and 40 knots. When I woke at 5am in the morning the wind was out of the north at about 35 knots so we decided not to go. We waited another day. We weren’t too sure the ferry would even come but it did. We had a drink and chatted with some of the crew members, getting a good weather forecast from the ferry captain.

During the day the wind did moderate and the seaplanes actually came in. Melanie and I took a walk through the fort and enjoyed the beautiful views from the top level. Then we returned back to the boat after the ferry left. The schooner “When and If” arrived and dropped anchor. We went over and talked to him for a little bit, then headed back to the boat for dinner. We had met some people earlier who were fishing and they caught us some mangrove snapper that we took back to the boat and cooked for dinner. It was delicious! Fresh fish, salad and chocolate for dessert, doesn’t get any better!

On the way back to the boat we passed a Hobie 16 out sailing. One of the park rangers sails and he was out for after work relaxation. Its strange to see something like that 70 miles from civilization. After dinner we went back to the Fort for a lecture about the research being done on sooty terns, it was very interesting. Then we were back to the boat for a nightcap and to bed. It was rather cold; the front that passed dropped the temps into the upper 50s at night, the coldest we have been since arriving in Key West.

Next morning the wind was blowing 20 to 25 from the NNW. After eating we hauled anchor and motored out of the harbor. The waves were 2 to 3 ft, a close sharp chop that made heading directly into them almost impossible with our 20HP engine. A boat ahead of us turned back after fighting the waves for a few minutes. We decided not to attack them directly, but rather at a 45 degree angle using the staysail to help us along. It worked, but tacking out of the funnel shaped harbor entrance took almost an hour.

Once clear we hoisted all sails and headed off on a deep broad reach towards the south end of Rebecca shoals, the tip of the shallower land that holds the Marquesas Islands and Key West. With the shoal between us and the wind our waves went from a choppy 8 ft down to 2-3 ft, much more manageable. We made good time with the following seas, but steering was tough, I ended up driving most of the way because Melanie was as not strong enough and the auto pilot could not handle it either.

Two hours from Key West the winds Increased to 25 to 30 knots, so much for the forecasted drop to 10-15 knots. We were grateful that the wind was still from the beam and not from ahead; that would have been rough and slow going. We pulled into the main harbor just after 7pm, an average speed of close to 7 knots, quite a days run. Everyone in town at Mallory Square got to watch us lower our sails and motor up to our anchorage. We were exhausted, and slept like babies. Now to plan our next stop…


Our sunset after arriving back in Key West

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