Dry Tortugas -3
13 June 2010
Day 14 - Thu 10 Jun 10
I suppose it might say something about my personality, but I kept dreaming about our passage home. I was ruminating over various tactics for various wind and sea conditions and how to account for engine or sail plan failures. The end result was that I feel comfortable with the plan; now we just enjoy our days here until the weather is right to go home.
Following a nice breakfast, I dinghied ashore to use the lavatory, which is a composting design using no water or chemicals. The odor was surprisingly inoffensive, but I will advise others not to glance down the hole. Next, I met some campers who had their pre-teen sons there on a little fishing trip. They came over (almost 70 miles) from Key West on a 23 foot boat. Lots of folks do it; you just have to have adequate fuel, a working radio, reliable propulsion, and good weather.
I got back to Diva Di and Diane asked me about the weather posting. I had forgotten to look, so I went back. They had not posted today's forecast yet, but I did use the Iridium Satellite payphone there at $1.25 per minute to make an important call. When I got back to the boat, our friends from Marathon were in their dinghy and ready to go to Loggerhead Key.
Even though we are still breaking in the new engine, it has enough time on it to go wide open throttle for 10 seconds to get on plane, and then back off to a lesser power setting. We were zipping across almost dead flat water, which was changing hues with the depths and bottom condition. When we would approach a section that shallowed, it was like flying the dinghy across the highly visible bottom with the clear water seeming like air.
First stop was the pier near the lighthouse on the east side. There were several large tarpon feeding in that area. Next, we went to the west side where there is a coral reef called "Little Africa." It covers a wide area and has many beautiful corals, but very few fish. The one big event occurred when I did one of my frequent 360 degree turns to survey my surroundings and saw a 7-8 foot nurse shark just 10 feet away, between Diane and me. I stuck my head up long enough to get her attention and point and she got the message. We both agreed it was the highlight of that visit.
A visit to the Key was needed, so we found a place to beach the dinghies on the southwest side and then walked a ways to check out the various buildings there. While the place is a national treasure for the waters and marine life, the man-made structures are obviously in disrepair. It is a stark existence there for the volunteers that man the island much of the year, I am sure.
On the ride back, we saw a loggerhead turtle and many feeding fish. I can't say enough how beautiful the water and sea bottom looked as we cruised along.
Starved from snorkeling against a mild, but pervasive current all morning, we had a late lunch. It was incredibly still, which helped make for such a nice day of snorkeling and the smooth, fast ride on the dinghy. It also made for an incredibly hot day. Not long after lunch, we both went into the water to hang off the stern ladder and cool down. A quick fresh water rinse afterwards keeps the salt from making your skin itchy.
We did a few boat chores and then took a brief nap. For some reason, the rest of the afternoon seemed to disappear without much at all happening, but maybe that's how you know you are finally relaxing enough to call it cruising.
About 1800, our buddies from New Hope came over with their beverages and snacks to share and we had a nice visit for over an hour. It is always nice to get different people's opinions on things. I also got to try pickled okra for the first time and liked it.
It may not have been the most nutritional decision, but the snacks seemed to sate our hunger, so we skipped dinner. Diane was not feeling well; I suspected dehydration and encouraged her to drink more water. She went to bed very early in hopes it would help.
I listened to music in the cockpit and took in the amazing marine life around me. There were baitfish making surface disturbances that looked like raindrops, tarpon rolling in the middle of the anchorage, and blue runners leaping out of the water as they chased their prey. One kayak fisherman hooked up a tarpon that could have been 80 lbs and it pulled him all over the anchorage until he got it to the kayak and released it.
Another nature spectacle is the presence of the sooty terns. Each year large groups migrate to and from Africa. They leave in August and return for mating and nesting on nearby Bush Key (300 yards from Garden Key where we are) in February. They are not nearly as noisy this year as they were three years ago, but at that time we also had strong winds from the direction of their Key to carry the sound. The terns spend an amazing amount of time flying; it is reported that many hardly touch the ground except for brief periods.
The boat next to us has two couples and two other guys and they were all jumping in the water and having a good time after a long hot day doing who knows what. It made me reflect on the various people here all enjoying this park: fisherman in 23 foot boats making the 70 mile trip in two hours and then living in tents on the grounds; campers with kayaks that came over on the commercial fast ferry; two young couples on a fast powerboat that don't know the difference between an anchor light and navigation lights; a couple on an ocean trawler that could probably make a transatlantic passage; and a bunch of us cruising sailors with various boats who take at least 12 hours to get here from the nearest civilization.
Diane stayed in the v-berth all night. Clyde and I enjoyed the early evening until he decided to join Diane below. I made my cockpit berth, closed the hatch boards, and settled in to sleep. There was very little breeze, but just enough to provide some comfort. As the night wore on, the breeze increased a little and it was very nice, indeed.