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Old 11-03-2006
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Question Tampa Bay to Dry Tortugas

We are trip planning for May of '07. Anyone made this trip and have any advise? Diving, anchorages, etc.

Thanks

Keith
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Old 11-06-2006
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The Tortugas

Ohhh Yeah!!! One of my most favorite places in the world!!

Here is how I would go, If I were you:

Sail down from Tampa and make a pasage to Charlotte Harbor It will be a good run and not too far off of your way. Just inside the harbor, make a right on the ICW around Cayo Costa (The state park you will pass coming in). You can either stay inside the protected anchorage there or go about another 1/2 mile or mile to Cabbage Key/Useppa. Good anchorage there as long as the wind is not out of the NWest. I personally would not stay at the marina in Cabbage Key. It is expensive and there is really good anchoring at Useppa. It is just across from Cabbage Key. From there you can take the dink over to Cabbage Key for a beer or two and a prety nice meal (albeit, very expensive). Of course, anything tastes good after being at sea for 24 hours! If you do choose to anchor at Cayo Costa instead, You have to follow the inlet very close to the north side of the island and skirt the shore. THis is tricky, and if you draw more than 5 1/2, you will have to really watch your tides to get in/out. Once inside you are fine... it is getting inside that is tough. If you draw more than 5 1/2, you are probably better off anchoring at Useppa and taking the dink over to Cayo Costa State Park and exploring. Be careful, you can even run aground in the dink really easily there, so follow the ICW into the Cayo Harbor. A good cruising guide will show you what I am talking about.

From there, you can pretty much make a straight run to the Tortugas. It is 121 miles from the first marker at Fort Myers, so I would guess from Charlotte Harbor it is more like 150 miles. It is an easy run as long as you don't get caught in a northern blow. If you do get caught in a northern blow, let me tell you it will be UGLY! 10-15 foot breakers are very likely, especially given the fetch across the gulf. THus, watch your weather windown closely. Also, once you head to the tortugas, you are committed. South of Naples, there is really no where to duck. The tortugas are a grave yard for sunken ships, so you obviously do not want to try to navigate them at night. Plan your departure accordingly for a day arrival.

Get a good map of the tortugas and still be wary. The last few hurricanes have really changed the landscape and shoals. You should really watch out for coral heads too. You will usually see the water breaking around them if they are shallow enough... but not all of them are. Best to put someone on the bow coming in and keep looking behind you to make sure you are saying on course.

There are two places to anchor (as shown on the map) but many times the rangers will tell you to anchor on the South side. It is well marked and holding is good.

There is no water or food, and no black water dumping, so take everything with you and back out. I think they are allowing fishing again, with some limits. No lobsters, as I recall. Take a bunch of cheap beer and liquor to trade with local fisherman. Since you cannot trade money (state park), they will often see if they can trade for alcohol. We once got 17 lobster tails for 1/2 a liter of cheap rum and a 12 pack of beer!

The area around the fort is good for snorkeling, but there is one area about a half mile or so south of the lighthouse that is awesome. It is the remains of an old sunken wooden hull boat. Part of the mast still sticks up out of the water. You can tie onto the mooring ball there and dive or snorkel from there. It is gorgeous and awesome diving. Lots of wildlife and things to see (we saw a tiger shark, many great barracudas (too many), and countless other fish I could not even pretend to identify). Another warning: the currents are VERY strong, so you may want to dive or snorkely with a line from the dink so you can get back to the boat easier. There are many other wrecks to dive out there too. Take a handheld GPS with you in the Dink and buy a map from the store at the fort. They have many of the wrecks marked with GPS coordinates. Some areas have a lot of fire coral, so show some caution.

I have not been there since last years hurricanes, so I do not know how some of the sights have weathered. Still, it is an awesome place to visit and lots of history. Have fun and PM me if you have any questions.

Fair Winds.

- CD
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Old 11-13-2006
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Alternative route

If you have time for a more leisurely trip. You can make your way from Charlotte Harbor down the coast. Food, drink, fuel, etc. can be had at Fort Myers Beach, Naples, Marco Island, Little Shark River, Marathon Key then Key West before going to Tortugas. Downside of Fort Myers Beach is transient anchoring. The only options are going mooring off Salty Sam's Marina just pass the Mantanza's Pass Bridge or staying overnight at Moss Marine, on the right just before Matanzas Bridge. At Naples, you can run in to City Docks for food/fuel etc then come back out to Marker 9-11. To starboard is a wide channel (stay right) with no hassles anchorage among very upscale homes. Factory Bay in Marco Island has an excellent anchorage on the East side (stay 100 yards off shore, local ordinance). Lots of restaraunts, fuel, etc. Little Shark River is just South of 10,000 Islands. Easy entrance to deep river. No-see ums can be a problem but lots of wildlife; turtles, birds, etc. Recommend going to Marathon rather than Key West. Excellent anchorage in Boot Key Harbor. Easy dinghy ride to all services. Much less hassle and concern about loss of dinghy and OB than Key West.
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Old 11-14-2006
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Thanks for the helpful suggestions.
Wittetoo
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Old 12-03-2006
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Dry Tortugas

We have sailed from ft Myers to the Dry Tortugas several times. It is an easy doer but, as mentioned by others, there is no amenities there other than what nature has provided. I have traded with the fisherman there for just about anything from diesel to fish.

From Tampa, depending on how you want to sail, there are a plethera of anchorages enroute to the Keys. Egmont Key, Anna Maria Isl, Saratsota Bay, Venice city dock, Charlotte Harbor (Boca Bayou, Pelican Bay/Cayo costa, Useppa, etc), Ft Myers Beach (north or south end), New Pass, Gordon Pass (Naples), Marco Island (Factory Bay or the Winn Dixie), Little Shark River, Marathon, Etc.

If sailing overnight I usually enter the park at the Tortugas at the northern most yellow bouy then head due south to the west side of the fort and around the south side of the fort to the east side. You are only allowed to anchor overnight on the east or south side of the fort. Holding is fair to good. As previously mentioned, if the wind blows more than 15-20 there can be significant activity in the anchorage. Many who venture there seem to think that 3:1 rode is good enough. If the weather has been poor or winds from the east the anchorage tends to fill up with those waiting to head towards Key West.

If you do head towards Key West and find that you are running out of time to make it by dark you can anchor anywhere around the Marquesas which is about 30 miles from Key West. Watch your depth, as always, and don't worry about the bombing range off the west of the Marquesas. they have used it for years and even when they did they missed a lot.

If you need more info just drop me a note. I sailed out of Ft Myers for the last 8 years and can help you find services or anchorages if you want.

Jerry
jcvillines@gmail.com
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Old 02-03-2010
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Post tampa to dry tortugas

I just read the responses to your inquiere , back on 2001, I am planning the same trip, I like to know if you made the trip and what advice you can give me... may is good time in the year.?

thank you
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