Voyage 2000: Chapter 5

Dry Tortugas and Back

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Key West to the Dry Tortugas is a 78 nm voyage. A nighttime trip is not recommended largely due to the lobster pots. A convenient anchorage to the Tortugas is the Marquesas Key. The western anchorage provides protection against the prevailing easterlies. However, the approaches are shallow and the charts are inaccurate. Visual bottom navigation is a must. We anchored near the western shore of the Marquesas around 1400. The crew deployed the dingy and quickly went ashore. There we met the crew of S/V Tell Me Something Good and S/V SplashDance. We were all headed for the Tortugas the next day. That night two other boats came to the anchorage. We would later call them "Harry and the Girl.

The first to leave the anchorage went aground several times before acquiring the channel. Of course, we were the last to leave, Small Craft Advisories were posted but the reef seemed to provide adequate protection. We sailed then motorsailed most of the day. We arrived at the Garden Key anchorage at 1630 and it was full! S/V SplashDance called us on the VHF and told us to follow the dingy. The dingy (with their handheld depthsounder) directed us to a suitable anchorage. The dingy folks (S/V Charbonneau) invited the Jule III to a fish dinner. All but Bob accepted the dinner invitation. Bob stayed on board to insure that the anchor was secure.

The next day, Bob and Ann celebrated the completion of Bob's dream; sailing to the Dry Tortugas. Since the early 70's, he had been planning such a voyage. This is great! Many of the boats left as a weather window to Key West opened. Our plans were to stay for at least a week. Bob climbed into the dingy to scope the depth around the Jule III. Normal communications (VHF, wireless cellular) did not work in this remote area. The Park Rangers managed a satellite phone but the cost of $ 15.00/minute was prohibitive. Jule III was the only one at the anchorage that had email over SSB. Within a few days, Jule III became the communications center of the anchorage. We helped close business deals, contact family members, and provide weather information.

Every imaginable vessel seems to end up in the Dry Tortugas. The majority of the visitors are sailing vessels followed by commercial fishing boats. While we were there we saw a number of tall ships, sea planes, a helicopter (picking up a visitor with a heart condition), two ferry operations from Key West, the Park Service shuttle. The anchorage can be crowded or nearly empty, depending on the weather. Now that the eastern channel of Garden Key has shoaled entirely, the is no current in the anchorage. There is no longer a need for Bahamian anchoring.

The main attraction at Garden Key is Fort Jefferson, a pre-Civil War structure that outlived its usefulness before it was completed. Turns out that it was too heavy — it started sinking. It was used as a prison, warehouse, and now a museum. Walking the moat is a real experience. We saw all kinds of fish and coral inhabiting the underwater portions of the moat. Ann did not want to go snorkeling (her feet, you know) so we saw the sights from the moat.

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