We got up at six, left Beez at half past
to be ready to board the Yankee Freedom II for our journey to the Dry Tortugas, a small group of
islands, located at the end of the Florida
Keys, about 70 miles west
West, and 37 miles west of
the Marquesas Keys, the closest islands. Still further west is the
Tortugas Bank, which is completely submerged. The first Europeans to
discover the islands were the Spanish in 1513 by explorer Juan
Ponce de León. With their
surrounding waters, they constitute the Dry
Tortugas National Park.
Once settled on board we ate a hearty breakfast and I went to sit in with
Captain Cory to ask about the Gulf Stream. We chatted about all sorts and he told
me he got his Commercial License at the age of nineteen up in New England and
had done a lot of professional game fishing in the past.
Bear took pictures and enjoyed the fast passage down
Michael gave us the ‘specs’ of this custom built catamaran with its
twin Caterpillar engines that kept us a steady twenty five knots, the fastest
vessel of its size (a hundred feet long and sixty feet wide) out of Key West.
Captain Cory – here seen at work, hand steering all the way, pointing out markers
to me as we went. Michael popped in and told me of a previous job delivering a
foam built catamaran through the Panama Canal and gave me lots of good advice.
Thank you both. Derek, first mate and cousin to the skipper also popped in
between jobs and talked about his dream to sail off like us.
As we neared the anchorage looked like a stunning place to spend a week
We arrived at half past ten and docked beside Fort Jefferson (own blog).
Geography: The keys are low and irregular. Some keys have thin growths of mangroves and other
vegetation, while others have only small patches of grass or are devoid of plant
life. In general, they rise abruptly from relatively deep water. They are
continually changing in size and shape. The Tortugas Atoll
has had up to 11 islets during the past two centuries – 7 at present. Some of
the smaller islands have disappeared and reappeared multiple times as a result
Environment: The islands get their name from their distinctive characteristics:
Dry, because none of the islands has fresh water and Tortugas,
because Ponce de León, a Spanish explorer, saw an abundance of sea turtles on
the island. Later seafarers would keep the turtles on their backs in the holds
of sailing ships. ‘Watering’ them kept the turtles alive for up to two months,
then they were butchered as the men needed fresh meat – sad but it’s called
They are not related to the Caribbean island of Tortuga, near Hispaniola. The islands are home to Dry
Tortugas National Park,
and are only accessible by boat or seaplane. The large seabird
Booby and our old mate the Magnificent Frigatebird, and the regular occurrence of Caribbean vagrant birds makes them a popular birding destination.
History: The first European to discover the islands was Spanish explorer Ponce de
León. He gave them the name on his first visit in 1513
- the name is the second oldest surviving European
place-name in the U.S. They were given the name Las
Tortugas (The Turtles) due to the 170 sea
turtles taken on the islands and shoals by de León's
men. Soon afterward, the word "Dry" was added to the name by the English, to
indicate to mariners the islands' lack of fresh water.
In 1742 HMS Tyger wrecked in the Dry Tortugas. The stranded crew lived on
Garden Key for 56 days, and fought a battle with a Spanish sloop, before sailing
to Jamaica in several boats.
The United States government never
Jefferson after 30 years
on Garden Key, and this bastion remained in Union hands throughout the Civil
War. It later was used as
a prison until abandoned in 1874. Dr.
Samuel Mudd, famous for
being the doctor who treated John
Wilkes Booth in the wake
of the Lincoln assassination, was imprisoned here until early 1869.
During the 1880s, the Navy established a base at Tortuga; and it subsequently set
up a coaling (refueling) and a wireless (radio) station there as well. During World
War I, a seaplane base was
established on the islet, but it was abandoned soon
From 1903 until 1939 the Carnegie Institute of Washington operated
the Marine Biology Laboratory on Loggerhead Key which "…quickly became the
best-equipped marine biological station in the tropical world.” Through the
years, over 150 researchers used the facilities to perform a wide range of
An account of a visit to the fort at the
Dry Tortugas by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Justice-to-be Robert
H. Jackson can be found in
the book, That Man: An Insider's Portrait of Franklin D. Roosevelt, by
Robert H. Jackson, edited and introduced by John Q. Barrett (Oxford
University Press, New
In August 2004, the Dry Tortugas were
directly struck by Hurricane Charley. The following day, a Cessna airplane crashed into the water near the islands, killing
Fredericks while he was
filming scenery for the feature film CrossBones.
After our Fort Jefferson tour with Max we went to the little museum and shop, learning how they lifted the enormous cannons
We went back to the Yankee Freedom II for lunch. Parked next to us was the sea plane that brings people down in twenty minutes, at cost. Thousands of birds in the
After lunch we snorkeled off South Coaling Dock ruins. We didn’t see
anything exceptional but it was lovely to see healthy
growth on the piles and masses of
birds. We settled for our return trip and watched the next sea plane come in, land and cruise in right next
to us. A lovely sunny trip back with several
cocktails each (well this was Bear’s birthday present from me - paid for out of
my Rummikub winnings) – Huh but a brilliant day. A huge thank you to Captain Cory, Derek, Michael, Max, Eric, Chelsea
and Liz for making our day brilliant. They all worked so hard and mucked in with
any job that needed doing. Feeding us, snorkel gear, our tour and making mean
strawberry daiquiris on the return journey.
ALL IN ALL SUCH A
GOOD TRIP AND A GREAT DAY OUT
A SMASHING BIRTHDAY