Our Last Days In Grenada

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By the end of September, Howard was well on the mend, so we felt ok about going home. We first said another goodbye, this time to our friends Nick and Lori-Anne, who were flying back to the U.S. Parting ways with friends is definitely one of the worst parts about cruising.

As I mentioned, it was Scott’s first visit back to the U.S. in two years. Once the boat was settled in a slip at Port Louis Marina, we flew home and ran him around like mad, spending time with family, visiting friends, old neighbors and the gang at Hendersons Marina.

Scott arrived back to a very needy cat. Howard had a hard time in our absence, and consequently, so did our incredibly great friends who fed him while we were both away. In addition to the weeks in and out of the clinic, we haven’t left Howard for more than two nights since we first brought him home. He was glad to see his Dad.

I stayed on for several more weeks at home, spending more time with friends, and stuffing myself with fresh produce! All of these fall veggies are available to us in the Caribbean, but they’re just not the same quality.

I spent time with my sister and brother-in-law, in their neighborhood of Eastport, just across Spa Creek from Annapolis, where many of the houses were decked out for Halloween.

I was also lucky enough to be home for the 20th annual “Slaughter Across the Water,” a tug-of-war match stretching between downtown Annapolis and the Eastport peninsula; that’s a tug, across the water.

The “friendly” competition began in 1998, when the residents of Eastport got fed up with a Public Works Department project that closed the bridge leading into Eastport from Annapolis. Over “a couple of pints and a some scribblings on cocktail napkins,” the Maritime Republic of Eastport was born. The newly-born MRE then proposed a tug-of-war to the townspeople of Annapolis, and a yearly tradition began.

Every year since, on the first Saturday in November, an 1,800-foot rope, half solid yellow and half yellow and black, is spooled out across Spa Creek, and carefully piled onto the deck of a boat that marks the center line. (Not being able to be on both sides of the tug, or on the water, I borrowed some online photos)

Competitors pulled in seven different match-ups, with money raised going to local charities and philanthropic causes; this year’s Slaughter Across The Water resulted in a Eastport taking the event, winning four out of the seven tugs. The event has become a day-long festival with music, crafts and a chili cook-off.

In mid November, I flew back to Grenada. Scott had moved Sea Life from the marina, and was now out in the anchorage off of St. Georges harbour. Once I had unpacked, we planned a short visit to Petite St. Vincent, one of Grenada’s nearby out islands, before clearing out of the country to head north.

We mad a last minute grocery run to Foodland, located on the carenage. Conveniently, they have a dinghy dock right across the street.

As I mentioned earlier, produce can be challenging in the Caribbean. Check out these tiny heads of cauliflower and cabbage, that Scott can comfortably hold in one hand. The cabbage is marked in Eastern Caribbean dollars, which equals roughly $1.20 usd.

We headed back to the boat, to unload our groceries. As we drove away, something strange caught our eye just beside the dock. We had walked right by this man, asleep across the rocks.

The next day we made the short trip over to Petite St. Vincent. I’d come back with a “travel bed” for Howard. The soft sides allow him to snuggle in, and keep him from moving less while we’re underway. It was a warm day, so a cold sports towel was in order.

Before long, we arrived at Petite St. Vincent, a private island with an exclusive resort.

The water colors were gorgeous, and we were able to anchor off to ourselves, not having had this much room around us in months. We soon had a visit from a yellow footed booby, who spent some down time on one of the paravanes.

The next day, we set off in the dinghy to explore the coastline, and get a peak at the resort, which spread’s out across the island.

Back at our anchorage, we now had a neighbor…a rather large neighbor.

Eager for some more clear water time, Scott took the dinghy out for some snorkeling and underwater exploration. Spear fishing was illegal in the area, but he couldn’t resist the urge for dinner when he came across some lobster. He bashed the poor things to death with the dinghy oar (hence, not using a spear or “official” fishing device), bringing back a speckled and a slipper lobster. Slipper lobsters are creepy, and look like giant pill bugs.

The entire island of Petite St. Vincent is private, but lowly cruisers are allowed to visit the resort’s beach bar, so we cleaned ourselves up and headed to shore for cocktails. We relaxed and enjoyed our drinks, looking back at Sea Life, with her big buddy, out at anchor.

At $15.00 usd a cocktail, one round was all our budget could afford, so we headed back as the sun began to set.

The next morning, we would head for Carriacou, Grenada’s nearest out island, to clear out. It was time to head north. First stop, the Grendine Islands. Here are more photos of our last days on Grenada.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

 

 

 

Back To Bocas

Holy cow, I cannot believe it’s been almost a month since my last post!! I finished up my visit home with a day at the Fell’s Point Festival. Located just east of Baltimore’s “Inner Harbor,” the neighborhood of Fell’s Point has a maritime past, and the air of a seafaring town. And, it also has the greatest concentration of drinking establishments and restaurants in the city….a perfect place for a festival!

I was able to spend time with our former neighbors, giving me a chance to take a peek at the house, yard and pier we sold last year. I was only able to sneak a photo of the pier, at the left.

Our friends Eric and Mary were great neighbors, and it was nice to catch up with them, their daughter and grandson. The views of Shallow Creek were, as always, beautiful and peaceful.

My friends Amy and Joe, and Nan and Mike put me up for many nights while I was in town. A BIG thank you to them, for graciously sharing their homes with me. Both have awesome views of the city from their rooftop decks, just one of many things I love about Baltimore.

On one of my last nights in town, I met with friends to watch the Orioles try for a spot in the playoffs. Unfortunately, they didn’t get past the wild card game, but it was a great final night out.

From there, it was back to Annapolis, and my sister’s house. She and my brother-in-law also allowed me to drop in and out of their lives during my visit. They are invaluable with helping us manage mail, bills, and many other mundane details as we cruise; we cannot thank them enough!

My sister plays cello…scratch that, “electric” cello, with a group that plays in the Annapolis area, and also on Maryland’s eastern shore. On my last night in town, they performed at a record store in downtown Annapolis. I was shocked to see how popular records have become again!

They drew quite a crowd, and the store was packed with people. Please forgive me, but it  has to be said, my sister kicks ass!

So, that wrapped up my visit home. It was great to be back for awhile. I recently heard someone describe Baltimore as being like an old, worn shoe; a little scuffed up around the edges, but don’t polish it, because the scuffs tell many stories. All my Baltimore stories and memories are great ones, and I’m proud of my city’s “scuff.”

My trip flew by, and I had an awesome time, but all the running and doing had me pretty ragged by the end. It was time to board a plane and head for Panama, via Atlanta. I enjoyed some great sunset views from my window, along the way.

When I landed in Panama City, my trusty cab driver, Willie, was waiting as I rounded the corner out of customs. Hurray…as I was lugging quite a weighty load!

After an overnight in Panama City, Willie met me first thing the next morning and dropped me a the domestic airport. I arrived extra early, to beat city traffic, and was rewarded with an offer to take an earlier flight. I hesitated, knowing I had no way to let Scott know the change of plan, but decided to just go with it.

I took off just after 7:30am, and again enjoyed some great views, during the short flight back to Bocas.

We flew right past Isla Colon, and Bocas Town.

I waited for the plane to make it’s turn toward the airport, but it kept going. I was sure I’d boarded the right plane, but now wondered where this thing was headed. We landed at a remote airstrip, similar to that in Bocas Town, but it was definitely not Bocas Town.

As people began to disembark, I went forward, to ask the flight attendant what to do. I asked her about Bocas (dealing with language barrier), and she motioned that I had to get off the plane. It seemed that I had to change planes, but I wondered how I’d do that, with just a torn ticket stub.

As I gathered my things and headed for the door, an America couple ahead of me was asking about Bocas as well. A different flight attendant, with better English skills, told them to stay on board, that we were continuing on to Bocas next. Whew!

Soon we were off to Bocas, landing eight minutes later (really, eight minutes!). I easily got my bags, as only seven of us got off the plane, and a cab driver called to me as I came outside. He dropped me at the water taxi stop, and called for someone to come help me with my bags, that were as heavy as if they had dead bodies packed inside them.

I made the five minute trip across the water to Bocas Marina, was dropped at the pier, and lugged my way to Sea Life just before 9am, much to Scott’s surprise. Luckily, I caught him before he’d left to pick me up! We discussed having  a “plan B” in place for future situations.

So, I’m back to life at sea, or should I say marina life for now. I’ve caught up on sleep (getting 12 straight hours my first three nights back), laundry and cleaning and we’ve moved locations to a new marina (more on that to come). It’s great to be back on Sea Life, with Scott and Howard, and I’m looking forward to enjoying the area before we shove off to discover more of Panama’s Caribbean coast. Here are more photos of my final days at home, and flights back to Bocas.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

 

 

 

A Trip Home

I left Bocas del Toro just over three weeks ago for a visit home, and have been on a whirlwind tour of family, friends, shopping and eating since landing in the U.S. My journey began with an hour long flight to Panama City, and some great views from my window.

The coastline gave way to hills and then more populated areas, and as we approached Panama City, I caught sight of the Panama Canal through the haze (at the top of the photo).

I landed at the domestic airport, and my next flight was out of the international airport. Not wanting to chance missing my flight, due to heavy traffic across the city, I chose to spend the night at a hotel. My friendly cab driver, Willie, dropped me off, and promised to fetch me at 5:30am the next morning, to beat traffic. After checking in, I decided that the neighborhood was not one I’d like to explore for food on my own, so I settled for a dinner of bottled water and pretzels.

Willie was waiting for me bright and early (or should I say dark and early) the next morning, and I easily arrived at the airport, checked my bags and went through security. With that done, I purchased two bottles of water and headed to my gate, only to have to go through security all over again!

At each gate, passengers are again required to pass through metal detectors (after taking off  shoes, belt, etc.), have their body “wand-ed” and carry-on bags x-rayed and, dispose of all liquids! Seriously?? I’d just went through all of this 300 feet earlier, what could I have made or bought in that time that would endanger the flight? I had to throw out both bottles of sealed water…$8.00 in the trash.

Of course I was welcome to leave the gate area, to get a drink, some food or use the bathroom, but I’d have to go back through security again, and the line had gotten much longer, so I chose to sit and wait. Once aboard the plane, we were promised the usual beverage service and a breakfast sandwich. Great! I was thirsty and hungry, as my pretzel dinner had long worn off.

Unfortunately, there was considerable turbulence for the first part of our flight. So much so that the flight attendants were told to sit down and strap in. I was less worried about the turbulence, and more worried about dying from dehydration. Finally, two hours into our four hour flight, we were served a small sandwich and a drink, in the usual tiny cup. I managed to get a refill, and when I headed back to use the restroom, asked for still more water.

After a stop in Atlanta, I landed in Baltimore and headed to my sister’s house, in Annapolis. Sally and her dog Cooper were there to greet me.

It was great to see her, and my brother-in-law, catch up and relax a bit. The weather was gorgeous, and I enjoyed a walk around Annapolis, referred to as the sailing capital of the world, and also home of the U.S. Naval Academy.

While taking photos of the mooring field, I did a double take. For a second, I thought Scott and Howard had come to meet me!

Look familiar?? Another 42′ Krogen was enjoying some time in Annapolis.

After sleeping off my two days and three flights, I met our friends Kirk and Gisela for lunch. They are our cruising “mentors,” having spent 15 years circumnavigating the globe on their sailboat. Scott and I learned so much from their experiences, and soaked up as much information as possible from them over the years. We spent hours catching up, as I relayed all that we’d experienced since leaving home.

Then it was up to Baltimore, where I made several stops for lunch, drinks and dinner over the next few days, before joining my football gang for the Baltimore Ravens home opener. I walked to meet them for breakfast, happy to be back in the land of row homes and roof top decks.

We arrived at our seats in time for the pregame festivities, commemorating 9/11, and then cheered the team on to a win. It wasn’t glamorous, but a win’s a win!

After a fun, but long day of football festivities, I drove almost three hours south, to my parents’ farm in Virginia. This time of year, the field corn waiting to be harvested makes it hard to spot the driveway!

It was so good to see my parents and spend time…and, to get some proper produce!

After loading up on corn and tomatoes at the local stand, Mom made crab cakes, with fresh back fin….de-lish!

Next up, Ocean City, on Maryland’s eastern shore, where my college roommate and I worked thirty years ago during summer break (Nancy flew in to go with me)! I have stayed in close touch with the family I worked for, and had a fun time visiting my OC family and friends.

After just a night at the beach, Nancy and I headed back to Baltimore, where I celebrated turning fifty! Nancy surprised me, by having our other roommate, Amy, drive in from Pittsburgh to celebrate.

Friends I’ve known since kindergarten (aka, birth), high school, Baltimore roommates and friends I’ve met along the way gathered for a terrific evening of fun and reminiscing. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to celebrate 50 years!

My friend, Steve, has mastered the steel drum over the past few years, and plays with several groups at locations all over the area from May through September. He happened to be playing nearby, and I took the opportunity to take some friends and surprise him. Steve is now quite the musician, and we thoroughly enjoyed the music, as well as his witty banter back and forth with the crowd.

Since I’d seen my Ravens play, it was now time for an evening of baseball. I met my friend, Dan, just outside of Camden Yards; Dan and I were roommates for nine years (yes, nine!). We had a great night together watching the Orioles. Unfortunately, my birds weren’t as lucky as my Ravens, and we lost to the Boston Red Sox. However, I still have fingers crossed that they’ll manage to get to the post season!

I traveled to see my friends Bruce and Hallie, and their family, who live just outside of Philadelphia. Bruce made us an awesome Indian feast, and as always, their children Colin and Lizzie kept me entertained. On the way back to Baltimore, I stopped for a quick visit with some of Scott’s family. After time with my equally entertaining niece and nephew, I continued back to Baltimore.

Scott and I spent a year at Henderson’s Wharf Marina, before leaving for our journey. We loved the marina’s location, in the historic Fells Point neighborhood, and met many great friends there. I spent a night and then next morning visiting, and stayed over with friends aboard their boat. The weather was beautiful, and I enjoyed the views from L pier, where we were docked, of the harbor and Under Armor’s world headquarters across the way.

While I’ve been heading in all directions here, Scott and Howard have had plenty of “guy” time in Bocas. Scott usually can’t hold Howard too long without getting chewed on. Howard goes into play mode, since he and Scott are adversaries in epic battles. Scott complains about this, and also comments that Howard doesn’t sleep with us at night.

All of that has changed now that Scott is a “single parent.” Howard now tolerates much more holding (despite still having epic battles), and they are sleeping buddies at night, much to Scott’s dismay, as Howard sleeps on Scott….careful what you wish for!

I have just under two more weeks here at home, to soak up U.S. conveniences and more time with friends and family, before traveling back to life afloat! If interested, here are more photos of my visit home.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Our Time At Anchor In The Dry Tortugas

Knowing that we didn’t have the weather to get all the way to Mexico, we went as far as the Dry Tortugas, to wait there for our next window. It ended up being two long, challenging weeks of wind and cold fronts.

At least three back door cold fronts (unusual weather, that we are learning about), generated by low pressure systems, came through while we were anchored (it may have been four, but we lost count or blocked it out). All had winds that were sustained in the 30 knot range, with gusts in the 40s, and our favorite, that had sustained 40 knot winds, with gusts up to 56. We have come to realize that after 25 knots, the sound of wind becomes unnerving…very unnerving, especially when it blows consistently for days. One front would come right on the heels of the previous one, giving us barely a day of relief in between.

We weren’t alone in our frustration with the fronts. When we’re at anchor, the vhf radio stays on scan, to hear any talk between boats or any information from the Coast Guard. Large commercial shrimp boats were continuously talking back and forth, about how unusual this string of weather was. Many hadn’t even left their docks to go out, and many were anchored on the other side of the reef from us, waiting out the weather and wind for days. Their conversations back and forth were very entertaining for us. They managed to swear in all forms of grammar!

With the waves crashing on the reef in front of them, it appeared as if they were underway.

On our side of the reef, we were surrounded by smaller commercial fishing boats. Our first night at anchor, we had eighteen of them around us..close quarters! Most all would leave during the day to fish, and then return for the evening, except during the exceptionally windy days, when everyone would stay put.

There were only one or two other cruising boats at any given time. At the first 24 hour break in the weather, they would leave (we guessed for Key West, as it was close and reachable before the next front) and one or two more would show up.

So, we’re stuck in place because of strong winds, and have seen all that the fort and the small island that it sits on has to offer. Even if we wanted to go to shore, most days were just too rough to get into the dingy and make the unpleasant ride. Oh, and did I mention that these fronts contained no sun??!!?? Seriously, if you add up the hours of sunshine that we had, it would just total 24..in fourteen days! The temperatures were colder than normal, in the low 70s, but that was the least of the unpleasantness. So what do you do to pass time??

When it was decent to get to shore, we spent a day touring the fort with Ranger Mike, and afterward spent 7.00 each to have lunch aboard the ferry that comes from Key West every day. Scott made the world’s largest sandwich, and I had seconds of both tuna and potato salad, so we got our money’s worth. Another day, we went to shore and walked around on our own, seeing some things that Ranger Mike didn’t cover. Then we joined him for a tour around the fort’s moat, learning about the various fish and coral that surround it. After that, it there wasn’t much to do ashore, and most days it was too windy and bumpy to get in the dingy and make the journey there anyway.

Motivation was nil, so we ended up watching a lot of tv and movies on dvd. I’d like to say we caught up on sleep, but the noise of the wind outside, the water slapping against the hull, and the sound of the water in our full tanks slapping back and forth made for a restless night’s sleep. Wind that sounds like a train, slapping noise and rolling from water (inside and out), cool temperatures, cloud-filled days, and peaks of sun that just mocked us. By day eight, madness was starting to set in.

Thankfully, during our last days, we met and spent time with a Danish couple…yay!…social interaction! Henrik and Signe were waiting for an opening to head toward Cuba. They have been cruising for three years, making their way across the Atlantic and spending time from New York City down along the East Coast before meeting us at anchor in the vortex of crappy weather.

There was a very important silver lining in the two weeks of madness. Our anchor, the Incredible Hulk, held like a champ. Like our windy days spent in the Exumas, it didn’t drag once! When we drop anchor, Scott sets a point on the ipad for both the anchor and the boat itself. If the anchor is holding, we should make an arc as the wind swings us. Scott would set a point every time the boat moved, to track our swing. We would take the ipad to bed with us, checking during the night to see if the boat was moving out of the arc path. We made a 360 degree swing every time that a cold front came through. The hulk held fast through it all. Here is our circle…

I apologize for my initial “Are you serious??” comment, at the size and cost of this anchor. It is now my favorite part of this boat! As the sounds of the wind frazzled us more and more, confidence in our anchor grew with each front.

Here are some photos that we took during our two week stay off of Fort Jefferson. For you non cat people, I apologize for so many of Howard. We were stuck aboard for two weeks, with little to amuse us!

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Atlantic Dolphins!

On our first ocean leg, from Beaufort North Carolina to Charleston South Carolina, we had dolphins travel with us for quite some time…a lot of dolphins! I finally have the video compressed enough to share online..so here it is!

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Loggerhead Key

Loggerhead Key was named for the abundance of loggerhead sea turtles in the area (the Dry Tortugas support the largest green and loggerhead turtle nesting grounds in the Florida Keys). Mariners were often attracted to the area, looking for the natural food source that the turtles provided. However, the shoals and reefs here proved dangerous. Proximity to the nearby shipping lanes of the Gulf of Mexico, make the area a natural “ship trap,” and more than 250 shipwrecks have been documented in the waters surrounding the Dry Tortugas.

When the United States acquired Florida from Spain, they were immediately interested in constructing a lighthouse in the tortugas, to protect mariners in the areas. The original lighthouse built was on Garden Key, the site of Fort Jefferson. It was later replaced by the current iron light that sits on the top of Fort Jefferson. Iron was used because bricks could shatter if hit by enemy fire, and send debris flying into the fort.

Unfortunately, it proved to be too short, too dim and too far from other reefs, so construction began on a taller lighthouse on Loggerhead Key. This light could be seen 53 miles away, and in the 1930s, it was the brightest light in North America.

Significant scientific research was conducted on Loggerhead Key, by the Laboratory for Marine Ecology, which was operated by the Carnegie Institute. The lab studied the reefs and waters of the tortugas from 1905-1939. They took the first underwater black and white, and color photography, and performed the first heart transplant…..on a nurse shark! The lab was destroyed by hurricanes over the years, but there is still a monument to the it’s founder on Loggerhead Key.

The lighthouse was maintained by light keepers through World War II, when the duty was transferred to the US Coast Guard. A single light keeper would stay on site for six weeks, and then have a three weeks off ashore. It’s noted that their main complaints were..lack of women, having to cook for themselves and boredom from isolation. In 1982, the light was fully automated, and all Coast Guard staff left the island.

We have been enjoying the view of the lighthouse, flanked by palm trees, while anchored here.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Cuban Refugees At Fort Jefferson

The fort sees an average of 400 Cuban refugees a year. Since the nearest coast guard is some 70 miles away in Key West, and therefore unable to intercept them, many refugees head for the Dry Tortugas to make their landfall. Technically, it is illegal to enter the US this way, but under a policy established in 1995, having “one dry foot” on US soil allows a Cuban migrant to legally stay and seek citizenship. After talks with the Cuban government, the US agreed that it would stop admitting Cubans found at sea.

They arrive in makeshift boats, called balsa cubanas, or chugs.

Nice rudder!

Scott was amazed at what is used to build an hold them together. Some use cement for caulk..

And this one appears to have used large plastic tubes, filled with random shit!!..

The boats carry up to 33 or more people!

The rangers here at the fort usually see the boats on the horizon, call the coast guard, and then keep an eye as to where the refugees land. Most often, the boats land on the nearby, small keys. Once they are brought to the fort, the refugees are given food, clothes and water, and a place to stay until the coast guard comes to collect them. On occasion, the coast guard is too busy to come right away, or sea conditions are too rough, so they arrive days later. Refugees from other countries who may have traveled with Cubans are sent back to their home country, as the US only extends this policy to Cuban refugees. It seems likely that in the near future, this whole procedure will be a thing of the past!

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Fort Jefferson – Dry Tortugas National Park

Fort Jefferson is visited every day by a large, fast ferry from Key West. It travels roughly 2.5 hours to get here, and brings daily tourists as well as those who wish to camp on the island.

Visitors can tour and explore the fort, walk the beaches, and snorkel the waters. While the ferry is here it is part of the fort, so all who are here (boater, park rangers, etc.) have use of it (restrooms, etc., in place of the composting ones by the campsites). You are also welcome to pay for lunch aboard: sandwiches, salads, chips, cookies, etc. We have also heard you can purchase bags of ice from the ferry…a handy perk!

In addition to the high speed ferry, the fort is also accessible by sea plane. Several arrived each day, bringing tourists to the fort.

Scott and I have spent several days ashore, touring and learning about the fort. National Park ranger Mike is very, very knowledgeable and informative on many subjects related to the fort. Here are a few highlights that we learned from him:

The U.S. government built Fort Jefferson on Garden Key because of its natural, deep water harbor, protected by the surrounding shoals. They knew that controlling navigation to the Gulf of Mexico, and protecting Atlantic-bound Mississippi River trade would be possible by fortifying the Tortugas. It was the most remote, but still a vital link in a chain of coastal forts that stretched from Maine to California, complete with a moat! I borrowed these images, old and new, online.

Construction of the fort started in 1846, and went on for 30 years but was never finished. Supply problems and the Civil War delayed construction, and it became obsolete before it was completed. Still, it is the largest all-masonry fort in the United States, and features 2,000 arches.

 

The lower two tiers are made up of tan bricks that came from brickyards near Pensacola. After Florida left the Union, red bricks for the fort’s top wall were shipped 2,000 miles from Maine. In all, over 16 million bricks were used in construction of the fort. Scott can’t stop commenting on how many bricks there are, and the sheer size of it all. He says that if he were a brick layer here, he’d kill himself!

Twenty percent of the workers constructing the fort were enslaved African Americans, hired from owners in Key West. Owners were typically paid 20.00 a month per slave. The slaves were given some of the more difficult tasks, including collecting and transporting coral rock from nearby islands. The rock was the main ingredient in making coral concrete for construction of the fort.

At its fullest, the fort was home to nearly 2,000 people, made up of soldiers and some of their families; prisoners, who also worked on the ongoing construction of the fort; slaves, who worked along with the prisoners and some of their families, who worked at cooking or doing laundry. There were also shops that sold goods that were shipped in from Key West, as well as those who provided services.

The fort was set up to support 1,500 people for a year. Food consisted of mostly salted meats (including salt pork that often still had hairs on it…bleh!) and dry biscuits. Cisterns were built to collect rainwater, that was filtered through sand. However, the weight of the fort caused it to settle, producing cracks in the bricks along the walls and in the cisterns, contaminating the water. Sections of the fort were intentionally never finished, for fear that additional weight would cause further settling and cracking.

A moat was constructed around the entire fort, which provided several advantages. It protected the external walls from the heavy Gulf of Mexico surf, and also served as a deterrent against invasion.

 

In the days when Fort Jefferson was constructed, black powder was used for the firing of weapons, and having it remain dry was incredibly important. Keeping the powder dry while swimming across a moat, and avoiding gunfire from the fort, would be extremely difficult. If an attacker was lucky enough to make it across, he’d then have to scale the wall of the fort..again, while most likely being fired upon. End result? Moats are good.

During the Civil War, the fort served as a Union military prison for captured deserters. Some of the reasons for their arrest are quite amusing. One man received a sentence for being a straggler, and another for the charge of “worthlessness!”

Among the prisoners were four men who were convicted of being involved in the assassination of President Lincoln, one of whom was Dr. Samuel Mudd (Dr. Mudd set the broken leg of John Wilks booth, who shot Lincoln). When yellow fever spread through the fort, the doctor on site fell ill and died. Dr. Mudd stepped in, and treated the sick. Afterward, he remained the fort doctor, and was eventually pardoned and released. The area where his cell was located is still intact.

In the 60s, the park rangers took it upon themselves to blow up the enlisted men’s barracks, which had fallen into disrepair. When the government questioned why they would do this, the answer was: “There’s nothing that says we can’t.” As a result of this, the national preservation for historic places was enacted, putting in place guidelines for those who wish to restore or remodel historic houses and sites.

Today, the rangers work for 10 days, and then have four days off.  On their free time, they usually catch a ride to Key West, on eithre the ferry or the sea plane. The ranges live in modern apartments onsite, that have been built into the wall of the fort. There is a water maker on site, and water is stored in a cistern. Electricity is supplied by generator, and gas, food, mail and other supplies come by boat from Key West every few weeks.

Here are more photos of the fort.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Traveling To The Dry Tortugas

We left Key West on a Friday morning. Our weather window wasn’t big enough to make it all the way to Mexico, so we decided to head toward the Dry Tortugas, and anchor off of Fort Jefferson, shaving about ten hours off of the total journey. This also provided a good anchorage for us to wait for another window to continue on to Mexico.

We needed to come into Fort Jefferson with decent daylight to navigate the shallows. The days are shorter now,  so we decided to break the trip into two days. We traveled three hours to the Marquesas Keys on Friday. The Marquesas Cays are just a few tiny spits of land. We need too much water depth to anchor inside of them, so we stayed on the outside, using them for shelter against the wind.

Howard surveyed his surroundings, scanning the water for fish.

Early Saturday morning we continued on, traveling another 5-6 hours to Fort Jefferson and the Dry Tortugas. Located about 70 miles from Key West, the Dry Tortugas are a cluster of seven islands, made up of coral reefs and sand. With the surrounding reefs and sand, they make up the Dry Tortugas National Park, an area known for birds, marine life and shipwrecks. Fort Jefferson is the central feature here, and I’ll post more about it separately.

The Tortugas were first named Las Tortugas (The Turtles) by Ponce de Leon. Soon after, they read “Dry Tortugas” on mariner’s charts, showing that they offered no fresh water (dry), but plenty of food (turtles). The area became a wildlife refuge in 1908, and was named a national park in 1992.

Dry Tortugas National Park

Speaking of marine life, as we anchored, we were greeted by some of the local Goliath Groupers whole live here. Goliath is correct, they are huge!!!

 

We first anchored outside of the harbor area. Scott had read that it was still protected by the reef, but offered more room for us to swing.  As the winds kicked up, we took a beating the first day, with Scott even being a bit seasick from the rolling at anchor. After watching numerous fishing boats take better shelter in the harbor, we headed in and found a spot. Scott was nervous, as the area didn’t allow for us to let out as much anchor scope as he would like. Never the less, we set our anchor and settled in to wait for good weather to travel on to Mexico.

Here are some photos of our trip from Key West to the Dry Tortugas.

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”

Adios USA!

We are shoving off this morning, to make our way toward Mexico!

Last night we spent time in some of our favorite Key West places, and said goodbye to friends here. We also met some new faces..Key West locals, by way of Maryland! Thanks for welcoming us Joe and Provie!

After a five hour run today, we’ll anchor for the night in the Marquesas Cays, and then head for the Dry Tortugas tomorrow. We’ll wait there for a good weather window, to continue on to Isla Mujeres, Mexico. It’s a two day run, and we’ll most likely be waiting close to two weeks in the Dry Tortugas for weather..ugh! Internet will be non existent until we get to Mexico, so I’ll upload posts in a few weeks, when we get settled.

Sea Life won’t see U.S. waters again for a few years! Adios!

“Shells Sink, Dreams Float. Life’s Good On Our Boat!”