Southwest FL to Dry Tortugas
I just finished a single-handed trip from Key West to the Dry Tortugas with my 26 footer.It''s a fun,challenging trip to do, but be sure to do your homework before going. Needless to say,with any offshore passage you need a good sea worthy boat,and IMO, should have a good back ground in navigation (not just connect the dots with GPS.) Having a good dependable depth gauge,binoculars,GPS and VHF radio are essential.O.k.,I''m stepping off my soapbox ;^) It''s a long trip. Approx.22NM from Key West to the Marquesas,and then an additional 41 to Garden Key.I chose to spend the night at the Marquesas before going on to Garden Key in the Tortugas.It''s a nice stopover,and if you like to fish,be sure to drop a hook.There are only a couple of Nav.marks on the Southwest passage (Halfmoon,and Rebecca Shoals), but the passage is pretty straight forward if you use them.Be aware that as you approach Garden Key that there is no entrance to the anchorage from the Northeast side of Fort Jefferson.The chart I was using is suppose to be the most up to date chart of the area-copyrighted in 2000, but yet it clearly shows markers and access to the anchorage from the Northeast.The markers are gone and the entrance to the anchorage has completly shoaled over so that Bush Key and Garden Key join one another.It''s my understanding talking with other sailors that had local knowledge, that it''s been like that for years? The only entrance to the anchorage is from the Southwest,and it is well marked. Garden Key is unique.Touring Fort Jefferson-Dr.Mudd Fame, is very interesting.The snorkling around the fort moat is very good, but around the old coal station dock pilings,it''s excellent.There is a wide variety of soft and hard corals there,as well as a huge variety of fish,etc.We''re talking big fish here!! The park also has a very nice beach. Nearby Loggerhead Key also has some excellent snorkling,and beautiful beaches. Maptech has a good chart guide for the area. Make note that on both of these Keys,there are no provisions. Not so much as a Coke machine! You will need to truly be self sufficient in the Tortugas. One last word of caution.My impression of sailing in the area was that it seemed "fickle." Strong winds died quickly,and light winds grew extremely fast to reef worthy.I got hammered pretty hard on the return trip from Garden Key to Key West on the Northeast passage by a storm that hadn''t been forcasted by NOAA.This was the first time I''ve sailed this area,and others with more experience with it might have other opinions. I''m not trying to sound negative here,but do respect this area and be well prepared. It''s a beautiful area and a great area to sail,but pay very close attention to the weather reports,and what you see going on around you to seaward each day. Fair winds, to you!