Rest on the Dry Tortugas

After a rough and wet six day crossing of the Gulf of Mexico, we cheered when we sighted Loggerhead Key, part of the Dry Tortugas. At 9:30 AM we splashed the hook in the protected harbor of Garden Key and enjoyed a cold drink in celebration of our successful crossing of the Gulf of Mexico.

First discovered in the 1700′s, the Tortugas were known for an abundance of sea turtles, but since there was no fresh water on any of the islands, they were called the “Dry Tortugas” by early mariners. In the mid-1800′s, the United States began building Fort Jefferson on Garden Key. The fort was never finished because technology changes in shipping rendered the fort useless. Today, the fort is best known as the prison that housed Samuel Mudd, the doctor that set John Wilkes Booth’s broken leg after he assassinated President Lincoln.  The fort is part of the Dry Tortugas National Park and is in excellent condition today — well worth the visit, though it is only accessible by boat and sea plane.

We spent a day touring the fort and snorkeling around Garden Key. At the end of the day, we broke out the margarita mix and had a true Texas style celebration. We were joined by Bill and Kate, fellow cruisers aboard a Seawind 1000 catamaran.

The next morning while the crew went in search of the perfect snorkeling spot, I stayed behind to replace the zincs on the saildrives. When I jumped into the water, I turned around to face a 6 foot Grouper staring at me! Once I started breathing normal again, I continued working on my underwater projects and everywhere I went he was there with me — looking over my shoulder and making sure I was doing the job correctly. What a great experience!

When the boys returned to the boat, we raised anchor and headed over to Loggerhead Key to do some serious snorkeling at a reef known as “Little Africa,” named after its general shape. We had a fantastic afternoon of snorkeling, beach combing and snoozing. As we returned to the boat, the crew from a Swiss charter boat that was anchored at the other end of the island came alongside and and asked if we could help them with an engine problem. I grabbed my tools and motored the dinghy over to their boat and went through the list of things I knew to try in order to get their engine running (they had already done them all), but nothing worked, so we agreed that Double Wide would tow them the 3.5 miles back to Garden Key, where they would try and get a park mechanic to help them.

We dropped off the Swiss and anchored in the harbor long enough to enjoy a King Ranch Casserole dinner, then pulled the anchor and headed for an overnight run up to Key West (about 70 miles). The wind was on the nose the entire way, so we motored through the night and arrived in Key West just before dawn. Success!

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