Yankee Freedom II

Beez Neez now Chy Whella
Big Bear and Pepe Millard
Fri 11 May 2012 21:11
Trip to the Dry Tortugas on Yankee Freedom II
PF Dry Tortugas 020



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 of Key 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.



BB Dry Tortugas 032  BB Dry Tortugas 040 


Bear took pictures and enjoyed the fast passage down



PF Dry Tortugas 021


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.



PF Dry Tortugas 073  PF Dry Tortugas 074


As we neared the anchorage looked like a stunning place to spend a week



BB Dry Tortugas 042 


We arrived at half past ten and docked beside Fort Jefferson (own blog).



BB Dry Tortugas 036
BB Dry Tortugas 039



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 of hurricane impact.



BB Dry Tortugas 037


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 survival.



Sooty Tern  Brown Noddy  Masked Booby


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 colony, including Sooty Terns, Brown Noddy, Masked 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 completed Fort 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 thereafter.

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 research.

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 York, 2003).

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 cinematographer Neal Fredericks while he was filming scenery for the feature film CrossBones.


PF Dry Tortugas 060  PF Dry Tortugas 061  PF Dry Tortugas 063  PF Dry Tortugas 064
PF Dry Tortugas 066  PF Dry Tortugas 065  PF Dry Tortugas 067


After our Fort Jefferson tour with Max we went to the little museum and shop, learning how they lifted the enormous cannons



PF Dry Tortugas 023  BB Dry Tortugas 045



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 air.



PM under Dry Tortugas 003  PM under Dry Tortugas 010  PM under Dry Tortugas 030


PM under Dry Tortugas 011


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.



PF Dry Tortugas 084
PF Dry Tortugas 088




                          A SMASHING BIRTHDAY TREAT