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June 28-July 1

The Dry Tortugas


After six days sailing across the Gulf, we arrived at The Dry Tortugas and anchored in front of the historic Fort Jefferson. The fort is about 68 miles west of Key West in the Gulf of Mexico. In addition to the history of the Fort, the waters around it are filled with beautiful fish and coral. Because of its remoteness, it was a great place to wind down from the crossing and enjoy our first taste of real "cruising".

On the first full day that we're anchored, we dropped the dinghy and motored to the beach in front of the Fort. The fort is huge and as we got closer to it we could see a small group of campers that had set up tents on our left. On the right was a large, fast catamaran ferry from Key West. Normally, it ferries tourists from Key West to the Fort and back, but it sometimes has other passengers as well (more later....).

The Fort and the whole area (including Logger Head Key, a few miles west of the Fort) are part of the National Park Service, so there are about a half-dozen park rangers that live there full time. Despite the fact that it is a beautiful location, it is still quite remote. The island has no natural water (that's why the original Spanish explorers wrote "Dry" on their maps, therefore the "Dry" Tortugas), no telephone, no internet and they have to import fuel to run their generators for electricity.

What they do have, it appears, is Cubans. When we woke up on Saturday, we noticed a smaller catamaran ferry docked at the Fort. It seemed too early for tourists, but we didn't think much about it. We dinked over to Logger Head Key to snorkel there. A fast 15 minutes later, we beached the dinghy. The island has a lighthouse (which is still used) and some old buildings that have been used from time to time as a marine research facility. These days, you can get on the island, but you're not allowed to go into the buildings. There are people who live there, however. Volunteer couples from the VIP National Park Service spend a month at a time in one of the original buildings. They have power via several large solar arrays and they're job is to make sure that nobody messes with the buildings.

We had chance to talk to them and found out why the ferry was there that morning. In the middle of the night, 30 Cubans where dropped off on the island. An additional 24 Cubans were dropped off at the Fort as well. The couple (they were from Rockport, TX, amazingly enough) told us that they have been spending one month a year on the island for the last 7 years and they personally have picked up over 300 Cubans over that time. The Cubans get dropped off in the middle of the night, when discovered, the volunteers call the Fort, who then pick them up and transport them to Key West. Because of the Washington's policy, any one who makes it on land gets to stay in the U.S., but if you are caught on the water, you get sent back.

After a political lesson, we snorkeled about an hour in the beautiful reef just off of the beach full of different coral and fish. The only thing is that the huge tarpon kept following us around eyeing us like food.

Fort Jefferson

Fort Jefferson view from the boat.

Fort Jefferson

Terri lands at the beach at Fort Jefferson.

Float Plane

You have to be careful about where you anchor...



Fort Jefferson

A view of the parade ground of the Fort. The building in front is a "shot hot oven" used to heat canon balls red hot. When these red-hot balls are fired from a canon over the water, they will skip over the water several times, extending the range of the canon.

Fort Jefferson



Logger Head

Logger Head Key and the lighthouse.

Logger Head

The only shade on the island for lunch (yes, it was OK for us to sit on the porch).


Fort Jefferson

The parade ground (the armory is at the right).




Copyright © 2008 Jan Buskop