On Sunday, Feb. 10, Scott and I sailed Island Time from Key West to the Marquesas, due west approximately 20 miles. We tucked behind the island with six other boats to spend the evening. One of those boats was Gratitude, owned by friends Ivor and Lynn, also members of Apalache Bay Yacht Club.
The next day, we sailed an additional 50 or so miles to the Dry Tortugas, where we spent two nights. With 1-2 foot seas and 10-15 knots of wind, both boats enjoyed a beautiful sail getting there. Scott even caught a fish using the Cuban yoyo. It was too small to keep but he had fun catching it. We think this is a Lesser Amberjack.
The park’s centerpiece is Fort Jefferson, which is located on Garden Key. Built in the 1860s, this fort is a wonderful piece of history with a lighthouse that is being restored but was decommissioned long ago. The name was given to the islands by Ponce de Leon in 1513. It means “the turtles” in Spanish. These are the “dry” Tortugas because there is no fresh water on any of the islands. They use cisterns to capture rain water.
On nearby Bush Key, around 100,000 sooty terns gather for nesting season. I think all of them were there when we arrived. These birds made a constant ruckus that became background noise as we enjoyed the park. Bush Key is also home to a rookery of Magnificent Frigate Birds. Pretty cool. I was not able to get a photo of the sootie tern but the frigate birds with six to seven foot wing spans soared overhead. As it turns out, the sootie tern eggs are a favorite food for the frigate birds. (OUCH!)
Loggerhead Key is located three miles to the west of Garden Key. This island has a working lighthouse. The park reports that approximately 250 sea turtles (loggerheads and greens) nest on the island, yielding 15,000 hatchlings each year. Scott overheard one of the park guests who arrived by sea plane saying that the turtles were plentiful and looked like manhole covers from the air as they flew over. (WOW!)
Snorkeling is the show stealer at Dry Tortugas. OMG. Water temp is 70 degrees this time of year so we wore our wetsuits. The reefs were beautiful, the fish were plentiful and the colors were amazing. We also snorkeled over a sunken boat, called the Windjammer. (AMAZING!)
If you ever have an opportunity to go, DO IT! There are three ways to get there: private boat, ferry from Key West or sea plane charter. I recommend private boat because you get to stay as long as you want ($10 entry per person gets you a seven day visit). You can dinghy to the other islands to explore.
Stormy weather was expected so we sailed back to Key West on Feb. 13. Seas were 3-5 feet with wind in the 15-20 range with gusts around 24. Seas diminished as we sailed north of the Marquesas toward Key West. They provided great cover for a beautiful sail. We are glad to be back at the dock. The rain started about two hours after we docked at the marina.
Here are more photos.