In the “Sailing” page and the “Travel” page, I mentioned a trip in Summer of 2010 to the Dry Tortugas. Since the Dry Tortugas are, by far, one of my favorite travel destinations, I thought it would make sense to post some content (with nice pictures) of the Tortugas. The pictures included here were taken over the course of our trip. My dad has a really nice digital camera that he brought with us which makes some of the pictures truly impressive. I hope you (whoever you may be) enjoy these as much as I do.
It may be most appropriate to start at the beginning (because, as they say, a beginning is a “delicate time”). So where are the Dry Tortugas? They are roughly 67 miles west of Key West.
It takes about a full day’s sail from Key West to the Dry Tortugas with good wind. For both my trips to the Dry Tortugas, however, we sailed from Summerland Key to the Marquesas Keys (which are about 30 miles west of Key West). We spend the night in the Marquesas Keys and then depart for the Tortugas the next day. The Marquesas Keys are also a pretty but somewhat less remote area. Since it is only 30 miles west of Key West, many fishermen and tourists often take motor boats out to these islands for day trips. The result is a feeling that you are not quite yet totally away from civilization.
One of the most enjoyable moments of sailing to the Dry Tortugas is seeing the first signs of the islands. The first thing you will notice is, in fact, not the stunning Ft. Jefferson (one of the world’s largest brick structures), but instead the lighthouse even further west of Ft. Jefferson located on Loggerhead Key. There is something inspiring and humbling in watching the lighthouse seemingly rise up out of an empty ocean. Watching it come up over the horizon through definitely impresses upon me the sense of wonder that must have stirred the hearts of explorers when they came upon new lands. The cliche “land ahoy!” takes on a new meaning after seeing this for the first time. Of course the lighthouse was built much later after these islands and the surrounding waters had been thoroughly explored, but the sentiment remains (at least with me it does) that traveling out into the ocean and seeing a needle rise out of the waters on the horizon is truly spectacular.
The main attraction of the islands, besides the crystal clear waters, is Fort Jefferson. I could write a good deal about the history of the Fort here, but since that info is available already on the internet, I thought I may simply share some nice photos of the Fort here.
You could potentially spend many hours simply exploring the Fort itself. There is a great deal of history between when it was originally a naval base and a prison during the Civil War. The mote that surrounds the Fort can be walked on all the way around and provides an excellent opportunity for those who do not want to swim to see some of the fish that call the Fort home. You will also find the remains of unfortunate fish who leaped out of the water onto the mote wall. The life underwater around that mote does seem perilous indeed for small fishies.
If you are not a big fan of the fish, you may enjoy the large populations of birds (some of which are fairl rare) that call the Tortugas home. Commonly found throughout the keys are the Magnificent Frigatebird, Brown Pelicans, Masked Booby, and Brown Noddy. However, the Sooty Tern and Cattle Egret are more popular for birdwatchers.
Since the Fort has visitors from Key West via ferry and airplane, the island is ocassionally flooded with tourists who snorkel around the island. Loggerhead key, which is a bit of a distance from the Fort and is not part of the typical tourist tours provided, provides the best opportunity to get away from the few tourists that visit the Fort. I cannot stress enough how unbelievably crystal clear the water is around Loggerhead Key. As someone who has spent their entire life living in Florida, having sailed around the state from border to border, and having snorkeled most popular areas to snorkel, I can say without any hesitation this is the best spot in Florida to swim.
Leaving the Dry Tortugas is always a bit disappointing. There are so many shipwrecks around the islands and so many interesting places to snorkel that it feels like nothing short than two or three full weeks are enough to see everything you’d like to see. Though I was disappointed by leaving, we were pleasantly occupanied by some dolphins swimming in front of our sailboat for a bit.
A few last pictures to round out the post…