Living on SV Island Time

Adventures of Life on a Boat

Tag: Friends

Sailing to the Dry Tortugas

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.

Scott wading at the Marquesas

Scott wading at the Marquesas

 

Four people on the beach at Marquesas

Scott, Lynn, Martha and Ivor on the beach at Marquesas

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.

Scott caught a fish.

Scott caught a fish!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is a short video of Scott talking about the trip and another taken as we approach the channel to Garden Key at Dry Tortguas National Park.

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.

Sign: Fort Jefferson at Dry Tortugas National Park

Sign: Fort Jefferson at Dry Tortugas National Park

Entry over the moat at the fort

Entry over the moat at the fort

The first floor of the fort

Exploring the first floor of the fort

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moat around Fort Jefferson

Moat around Fort Jefferson

Lighthouse at Fort Jefferson

Lighthouse at Fort Jefferson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!)

Male and female frigate bird fly over Fort Jefferson

Male and female frigate bird fly over Fort Jefferson

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!)

Lighthouse at Loggerhead Key

Lighthouse at Loggerhead Key

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!)

Fish were plentiful at the Windjammer wreck

Fish were plentiful at the Windjammer wreck

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Gratitude and Island Time in the harbor at Dry Tortugas National Park

Gratitude and Island Time in the harbor at Dry Tortugas National Park

Sunrise over Dry Tortugas

Sunrise over Dry Tortugas

Four people at Dry Tortugas

Scott, Ivor, Lynn and Martha at Dry Tortugas

What We Learned on the Shake Down Cruise

Last May, we took a shake down cruise for 10 days. See the previous post for the itinerary. The goals were to play, identify what worked and what needed more attention. Here are five things we learned/verified:

1) Be careful who you invite.

Four people on the bow.

Phil and Jackie with us on the bow at Dog Island. Photo by Phil Werndli.

Phil and Jackie were perfect companions for 10 days. We’ve traveled with them for long trips before so we knew we’d get along great. Jackie and I alternated meal preparation so we were not in the galley together. Phil and Scott worked together on anchoring, engine issues and trouble shooting other systems. We ate, drank cocktails, played dominoes and window shopped in two towns. Both were able to assist and offer valuable suggestions. It was great and we appreciate their company, their expertise and their friendship.

2) Our solar panels kept us off the grid — mostly.

Two solar panels.

Two solar panels on the radar arch of Island Time.

In recent months, Scott installed two 150-watt solar panels on the boat. He also replaced the refrigerator/freezer combo on the boat. The test? Would the solar panels keep up with all the demands of four people and two dogs? It performed well, despite some cloudy days. Between running the diesel engines and the solar panels, our batteries stayed charged and covered all the electrical needs, including powering the refrigerator. The 12-cubic-foot space was filled to the brim when the journey began. As each meal was prepared, the contents slowly diminished. On the days when we knew we would be motoring, we let the crock pot do all the work — pork roast and pot roast. That’s good eating on a boat.

3) Four people need a lot of mixers for 10 days on a boat. Boat drinks are important. Soda Stream to the rescue. We kept cold water in the refrigerator, added the appropriate flavoring and whirled up tonic, lemon/lime and ginger ale on demand. No hauling cans and bottles to the boat and no hauling away the garbage. It worked great and kept us singing along with Jimmy Buffett the whole trip.

4) Ground tackle matters. On the first night, we anchored in Tyson’s Cove at Dog Island. We know from experience that the bottom there is sandy and that most anchors simply don’t hold without the weight of chain to hold it in place. Our new Mantus anchor with all chain rode did a fabulous job. The anchor held great and we all got a good night’s sleep. Of course, Scott was still up every couple of hours checking on the position of the boat.

Because of the sandy/silty/muddy bottom, Phil had the job of rinsing the chain as Scott used the windlass to lift the anchor. Phil had a cloth bucket on a rope that he lowered to the water, filled and lifted to pour over the chain to remove the black mess. Phil filled, lifted, and rinsed while Scott raised the anchor. This was hard work for Phil for more than 30 minutes. Lesson learned: install a fresh/salt water pump on the bow. Scott’s still working on that one.

5) You never know who’ll you’ll meet or meet again. After we docked at the marina in Port St. Joe, another boat came in a little bit later. We assisted with tying their lines. The woman on board and I started chatting and both kept saying, “We know each other. How?” After we chatted for a few minutes, we figured it out. We had met at the St. Petersburg GAM reception for the Seven Seas Cruising Association the previous November. Gary and Shirley are now full time cruisers and we are excited to join them on the water.

Bonus lesson: Keep both engines running. Motoring into the wind with one engine means little progress. Early in the trip, we noticed that the starboard engine was spitting black gunk. Scott turned it off and we decided to proceed with one engine. On the way to Apalachicola, we were going about one knot into the wind. Unacceptable. We started the engine and motored along, taking it easy for the rest of the trip. When we got back to home port, Scott replaced both exhaust elbows (one for each engine). As it turns out, this is a routine maintenance item and it was due.

Scott and I are working to move from the house to the boat so we can begin our adventure on the water. Next post: transitioning from house to boat. What to keep? What to donate? What to store?

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