Hi Everyone!!! How are you? I am back... for a bit. We are still trying to figure out the next destination, this one was great!!! We have been before, but not with the kids. The last time we were there was the early 2000's (and actually had one of the worst sails/storms of our lives, but that is another story).
We headed out about 4 pm. There really is no way around making an overnighter from Fort Myers Beach unless you have a really fast boat!! I know the rhumb line says about 115 or so from the first marker, but by the time you get to the marker, tack or jibe a bit, get to the park boundaries, get to the fort, etc... you better plan on 130nm or better.
Heading out we had very little wind and motor sailed a good part of the way. It was kinda dissapointing because we were looking forward to a fast, fun sail. Luckily the wind picked up as we crossed (and so did the seas), so we were scooting along. At worst, we did 7 knots. At best we were scooting around 8.5-8.9 kts.
As dusk settled, and the seas picked up, the kids got a little quesay. We found that Peppermint was the best thing for stomachs - especially kids. I am not sure it is better than ginger, but it sure taste better!! Thank heavens for a lot of left over Christmas candy canes!!
As the sun went down, the family settled in for bed. We decided not to have the kids stand watches with us, and I wanted Kris to be fresh, so I just made the run myself except for a couple of hours in the night. It was not hard or bad at all. We saw no traffic offshore to speak of.
Be aware that you will be out of VHF range for most of the trip. You will probably hear the coast guard, but will not be able to respond after about 30-40 miles out (much more on this later in another thread). However, you can follow the weather almost the entire way and listen for any abnomolies.
We raised the fort about 9am or so. We were really happy with our time as a bunch of it was simply getting out to the gulf. Here is a pic not long after dropping anchor and getting to shore.
The tortugas were as beautiful as we remember - though we did find a few non-authentic relics (smile). Here is a pic of one of them:
As I understand it, if you are Cuban and can set foot on teh Tortugas, you can stay. We saw 2-3 of these boats at the fort, including a motor off of one that I found in 10 feet of water off of Logerhead!!
The forst are currently undergoing a massive restoration and face lift. I was very happy to see that as they have been falling into serious need of repair. It is actually coming out of the TARP funds to get people back to work (they brought in a lot of NE bricklayers). You will see some of their stuff happening in the background around the fort.
Below is a picture of one fo the key reasons they quit building the fort: The parrot Gun. Not sure if you can make it out in the pics, but the canon is rifled. It allowed projectiles to be shot with much more accuracy, strength, and distance. The entire fort became obsolete. The kids and I marveled at how one small invention (if you call it small) could immediately make obsolete such a massive undertaking.
One of teh reasons the fort was such a great strategic outpost was that it had one of the few accesible anchorages for large vessels (specifically battleships). Behind us is what is called Battship Bay (or anchorage) where teh water is about 40-50 feet deep. You will see a USCG cutter and a Navy Seals (on loan from navy) vessels anchored in the background. The pics do not do the vessels or the anchorage justice - but kinda neat still.
Of course, the vessel that everyone marveled at was the mega yacht captained by the world-renowned as best looking sailor, Cruisingdad (HEHE)!!
As we were in port over Easter, we decided to have some fun. We colored Easter eggs on the boat and did our hide and seek at the fort (with yours truly hiding them). We are happy to report that we did find the last egg (real eggs, btw) to the relief of the fort rangers!!! They do seem to get a particularly unpleasing smell when left in teh hot sun for a few weeks!!!
... and the hide-and-seek...
... and yes those are old cannon balls (That was the one we had trouble finding, behind the cannon balls - MY BAD!!)...
We later took a great snorkel at the Windjammer wreck, along with a few great swims off of Logerhead (the island that has teh large Lighthouse). We found some unbelieveable shells, including this conch shell which is now a fine horn! I could post a whole thread just on trying to make one of those darned things into a horn. It was my first time. I thought I would just knock off the end in 5 seconds.... pfft. I used my hammer, claw, hammer and chisel, and finally got out my freaking drill with steel bits and and drilled a hole in that dumb thing. It works pretty good now. It does take a bit of getting used to though!
Here is Glen (the best conch-blower of all four of us) calling in the sunset over Loggerhead...
Of course, the world-renound fisherman (me) went fishing with the boys. It was the boys day out while mom sits back and reads a book. I had to teach them how to fish, you understand. THat was why I caught nothing and the only show of our success was Chase and Glen catching this great barracuda. I wouldn't eat one, but they sure are fun to catch and sure can fight!!! It tried to pull is into the reefs by the fort! No kidding.
However, the most amazing fish we saw (or have ever seen) was this ENORMOUS Jew fish. Holly cow! Pics simply cannot do this thing justice. It was at least the size of my dink! To get a small grasp, look below. That is just his head. Beside him is my wife's head!!!! The rangers told us he could suck in a child and weighed well over 500 lbs. Some cuban fishermen confirmed it. Of course Auto (what the park rangers call him) knows he is off limits and has his run of the anchorage. He likes to come up and say hi - a little too close for our comfort though!:
We were blessed with many beautiful sunsets while we were there - this just being one of them. We ended up seeing a few more than we had originally planned because it was blowing a solid 20 sustained for most of the week (making the boat roll for almost the entire stay). We finally left as a low was approaching, but beat the storm back. The trip back was something I will never forget and will discuss that with the forum later - but I did not want to place anything negative in here. This was not the place for it. And even though the kids got a little sea sick going and coming, they both got teary eyed when we left and said to me, "Daddy, thank you for taking us to the Dry Tortugas." That was one of my dreams, having my kids there with me this time. It was a wonderful, wonderful time.
Hope you can get your family there too one day.