All posts by Ron

I am a father, grandfather and retired software engineer. I live on a sailboat, in the FL Keys, with my wife Fran.

Hurricane Irma

Tuesday, September 5

We are in Pagosa Springs, CO, with Robert and Angela. We parked the RV in their driveway. The leveling jacks are not working.

We wake up and look at the National Hurricane Center website. It looks like Irma is headed straight for Marathon. Robert and I book flights to Fort Lauderdale. We make arrangements with Mark to get a ride to Marathon so we can haul out our boats.

We drive to Albuquerque. On the way to the airport, I get a notice that there is a mandatory evacuation order for the FL Keys tomorrow. We park the car in Albuquerque airport and get on a plane. We stop in Dallas. We cannot find any reasonable return flights.

We call Captain Bruce, in Marathon. He says he can take both boats to be hauled out at Marathon Marina and Resort, where we have a haul-out contract. We decide to abort the mission and fly back to Albuquerque, but we can not get out until the next morning.

Wednesday, September 6

We get on the plane in Dallas and are out at 8:00am. We have a lay-over in Las Vegas and get to Albuquerque around noon. We drive to Taos and meet Angela and Fran.

Bruce gets Questeria to the boat yard and they haul her out.

Questeria Being Hauled-Out
Questeria Being Hauled-Out

Thursday, September 7

Bruce evacuates. Questeria is out of the marina, but we have two dock boxes and two vehicles that are still there. Our Honda 2000 generator is in one of the dock boxes. We call George and ask him to move the generator to Robert and Angela’s storage shed.

We go to the Big Barn Dance music festival and watch Irma approach Marathon.

Friday, September 8

We have a fun day at the Big Barn Dance. The last performers for the night are The Band of Heathens. They are the highlight of the day. Their last song is “Hurricane”. The lyrics are inspiring. It takes a lot of water to wash away New Orleans the Florida Keys.

Saturday, September 9

Irma is headed straight through Marathon, as a category 4 hurricane. We watch The Weather Channel. They keep telling us the wind and storm surge will be devastating. There is nothing we can do. We go to the Big Barn Dance and make the best of it.

Sunday, September 10

Irma is a Category 4 hurricane. The eye goes just west of Marathon. They see 130+ mph wind gusts. James talks to George at about 7:30am EDT. George is okay, but power is out and water is over the docks. Cell phone service goes out.

We drive to Pagosa Springs. Communication out of the Keys is almost nonexistent. We can’t do anything but worry.

We see a video , on Facebook, of our marina under water. All we can do is wait.

Monday, September 11

Irma has passed over the keys. We have no idea how we fared.

The RV leveling jacks are not working and the fresh water pump is hobbled together. Robert and Angela take us to get a new water pump and we go grocery shopping. We have an appointment to fix the jacks at Meyer’s RV, in Albuquerque, at 8:00am .

We drive to Albuquerque and park at a Flying J.

Flying J in Albuquerque
Flying J in Albuquerque

Tuesday, September 12

We hear from George. He is good. Everything got flooded, including his truck and our two cars. Our two dock boxes are gone as well. The good news is that  our friends are alive and well.

We get to Myer’s RV before 8:00am. They look at the RV and decide we need a new hydraulic motor. We agree to pay Fed Ex Red to get the part the next day.

We go to the KOA in Albuquerque.

We install the new fresh water pump. It works great.

We watch Irma destruction on TV, apply for a FEMA loan, look for a new car, and get a car loan approval. We find a car in Nashville, TN.

Wednesday, September 13

We wake up to text messages that there is satellite imagery available of the hurricane aftermath.

It looks like our boat is standing. It looks like the solar panels are laying on the ground, but the dinghy is there and still inflated.

Questeria is Standing!
Questeria is Standing!

We get a call from Bank of America. We have to redo our car loan application because we used our mailing address instead of our physical address.

We finish that and we get a call from Myer’s RV. Our hydraulic motor has come in. We get there by 10:30am. They finish up by 1:00pm and we are headed east.

We pay a $500 deposit on a 2014 Honda CR-V in Nashville. We want to get there by Friday. We make reservations at Two Rivers Campground in Nashville. It is next to Camping World and we hope we can get them to add the towing equipment to the car and RV.

Thursday, September 14 – Friday, September 15

We stop in the welcome center in Amarillo, TX one night and in a Flying J in Russelville, AR the next night.

Questeria in Boatyard
Questeria in Boatyard

Cell phone service is back in the Keys. We are getting lots of pictures. Our boat is standing, but we think we might have a crack in the hull. Our cars are definitely flooded out, but our two dock boxes have been found.

Many people are still without power. Marathon is under a boil water order. They are only letting residents in and there is a 9:00 curfew.

Questeria's Hull
Questeria’s Hull

Bonefish marina has some damage, but it survived a category 4 storm better than most people expected.

We get to Two Rivers Campground in Nashville and get a site for two nights.

We walk next door, to Camping World to find out if we can get the equipment installed to tow a Honda CR-V. They tell us it will be 2-3 weeks and $4000 – $5000. We are not real happy.

Saturday, September 16

We buy a 2014 Honda CR-V at Crest Honda in Nashville, TN. We go to Caney Forks for lunch. We are hearing that the boatyard where Questeria is hauled-out is telling people they are going to start splashing boat on Tuesday.

Our 2014 Honda CR-V
Our 2014 Honda CR-V

Earlier, we had watched a YouTube video and decided that we did not want to install the equipment ourselves. But now we think that that’s what we are going to have to do. We order all the things we need on amazon.com. It costs $2300 and the parts should  be shipped to Jerry’s by Thursday.

Sunday, September 17

We drive the RV and the Honda to Jerry’s house in Athens, TN. We park the RV in his driveway. We have to use leveling blocks to level it out. We plug into his electric and run the A/C.

Monday, September 18 – Wednesday, September 20

We are waiting for our parts. We drive the Honda down to Chattanooga to visit Gary and Ellen for a few days.

Parts start to arrive on Tuesday. We drive back to Athens early Wednesday.

We start working by 8:00. The first task is installing the base plate. We start by removing the front bumper.

CR-V with Bumper Removed
CR-V with Bumper Removed

Next, we install the base plate, which replaces the bumper. Then we wire the tail lights to the four-pin plug and install the break-away switch.

Setup for Towing
Setup for Towing

We get it back together and cleanup by 6:30. We need to test it out but we are too tired today.

The boatyard called and left a message on my phone. They want to splash Questeria tomorrow. We are concerned that the hull might be cracked. We make arrangements for Bruce to inspect it and George to bring her back to the marina if it’s okay.

Thursday, September 21

We test the towing equipment we installed. It all works.

Our Dinghy
Our Dinghy

Bruce checks out Questeria. The hull is okay. They splash the boat and George takes her back home to our slip in Bonefish Marina. Everything goes fine.

We go to the grocery store and get ready for our trip home.

Friday, September 22

We attach the Honda to the RV and start heading south. Most of our friends who evacuated have now returned, Power is starting to be restored. We expect to make it back by Monday.

Many of our live-aboard friends have lost their boats. David and Brenda have their boat back and are able to live on it. Bill and Lisa’s boat is on the mangroves. Susan and Johns’s boat is in mangroves as well. Mark and Angie’s boat burned up from the generator.  John and Mel’s boat got totaled in the marina. Gary and Sally can’t even find their boat. The good news is that everyone we know is alive and well. We hear that everyone in the Keys is helping one another. The new slogan is “Keys Strong”.  It was not enough water to wash away the Florida Keys.

AIS

In November 2012 we bought a Garmin AIS 600, Automatic Identification System Transceiver. We chose this product for several reasons. We have a Garmin 4208 chartplotter and this is compatible. We wanted both send and receive capability and the ability to connect to our existing VHF radio antenna without a splitter. This product has all of that.

We installed it ourselves. We received some defective units at first and went through three before we got it working. Garmin’s technical support team was great. We were very happy with it once we got it up and running.

AIS works by sending and receiving digital information using the VHF radio band. Typically the AIS receiver and transmitter use the same antenna as your VHF radio. Some products need a splitter to share the antenna. The information transmitted includes latitude, longitude, MMSI number, vessel name, speed and course. The unit has a GPS to provide some of this information. The rest is programmed into the device.

The AIS 600 sends the information about your vessel over the VHF airwaves for other vessels to receive and sends information about other vessels to your chartplotter over NMEA 0183 or NMEA 2000. You can also see vessel information on PC-based applications via a USB cable.

We connected our AIS 600 to our chartplotter via NMEA 0183. We can also display other vessel information on our Windows PC or tablet running  OpenCPN or the Garmin setup program for Windows.

OpenCPN with AIS
OpenCPN with AIS

We were very happy with our Garmin AIS 600 until it didn’t work. Actually, it only stopped showing vessel information on the chartplotter. It still transmitted our vessel information and we could still display vessel information on our Windows tablet.

Troubleshooting

Whenever something stops working, and I’m not sure why, my first step is to procrastinate. Sometimes it will start working again, or at least I find out why it stopped. Once I determined that it wasn’t going to fix itself, I checked the connections between the AIS 600 and chartplotter. I re-soldered the NMEA 0183 connections and checked them with an ohmmeter. Everything checked-out good.

Garmin AIS Setup Utility
Garmin AIS Setup Utility

I Googled “garmin ais 600 problems” to see if I could find any suggestions. I found a Garmin support page. This was geared to first-time setup problems. I did it anyway. I updated our Garmin 4208 chartplotter to the latest firmware and checked the NMEA 0183 settings. The NMEA 0183 port used for AIS must be set to high-speed (38,400 baud vs. 4800 baud). It still didn’t work.

I emailed Garmin support. They replied, but I had already tried everything they suggested. I reread the installation manuals for the chartplotter and AIS. I rewired it to use other NMEA ports on the chartplotter, but it didn’t help.

I suspected that the NMEA 0183 stopped working, but I didn’t know if it was the AIS or chartplotter. I wired the output of the AIS NMEA 0183 to a serial to USB adapter. The adapter that I had did not work with the current version of Windows. I bought a new one on Amazon.com for $8.99.

Windows used to include HyperTerminal, a terminal emulator. Windows 10 doesn’t include that accessory anymore, but I had another program, PuTTY, that could be used in its place. I hooked it all up. I could not see anything on the AIS NMEA 0183 output, but I could see valid NMEA sentences on the AIS USB output. I was almost certain the problem was the NMEA 0183 output o the AIS 600.

PuTTY connected to AIS
PuTTY connected to AIS

A Garmin technical support rep called me to find out how it was going. He said it would cost $450 to repair the AIS 600. We discussed using NMEA 2000, which is supported by both the AIS 600 and 4208 chartplotter. That required a NMEA 2000 Starter Kit. The starter kit cost $87.95 on Amazon.com. This looked like my best alternative.

Solution

The AIS 600 came with some NMEA 2000 parts. The NMEA 2000 Starter Kit had everything else I needed to connect the AIS to the Chartplotter.

NMEA 2000 networks are powered by a 12 volt source. We wired ours to the same circuit as the Chartplotter and AIS. Our network consists of a backbone with three T-connectors and a backbone extension cable. The middle T-connector is the power cable, the others connect to the AIS and Chartplotter with drop cables. Each end of the backbone is terminated.

NMEA 2000 Sample Network
NMEA 2000 Sample Network

The above diagram is from Technical Reference for Garmin NMEA 2000 Products.

We connected the network to temporary a power source and verified that it was working in about 10 minutes. The permanent network wiring was pretty easy as well. We set it up so that we can easily attach other devices, such as a wind instrument. One more to do item to check off the list.

Weather, Part 8

It’s been a while since I did a weather post. I thought I had covered everything, but when I wrote Dry Tortugas – Day 6, I wanted to reference a post about GRIB files and realized that I never wrote that post. So here it is.

Cruisers have used GRIB files for a while. GRIB stands for Gridded Binary file, which describes the format, not the content. But most cruisers accept it as weather data, in particular, raw data from the Global Forecast System (GFS) model.

GRIB files are raw data from a computer model and have their advantages and disadvantages. Unlike Radio FAX weather maps they are not interpreted by a human, but a GRIB file has data for multiple locations over periods of time. GRIB files are more complex than weather FAX files and need a program to interpret them.

There are many ways to work with GRIB files. We use AirMail for it all.

Getting GRIB Files

We get GRIB files by sending an email to SailDocs. A minimum request message specifies the model and area of forecast. There are other optional parameters such as grid spacing and Valid Times (VT). The AirMail program has a GRIB-Request window to help format a request.

AirMail Grib-Request Window
AirMail Grib-Request Window

There is a trade-off between the amount of data needed and the file size. We tried out different parameters before we started our cruise to Dry Tortugas. Here is what we ended up with.

Subscribe GFS:26N,21N,084W,072W|1,1|0,12..120|PRMSL,WIND TIME=00:00

The above message is a single line. It has the following meaning:

  • Subscribe asks to get a new file daily. Use Send for a one-time request.
  • GFS is the model.
  • 26N,21N,084W,072W are latitudes and longitudes of the area the file will cover. We get a big area because we like to see weather from Dry Tortugas to Bahamas.
  • 1,1 defines the grid spacing in degrees (Lat,Lon).
  • 0,12..120 define the Valid Times (VT). In this case it is requesting the current forecast, followed by the 12 hour forecast, and 12 hours thereafter until 120 hours. We like these times because they correlate to the NWS 5-day zone forecast.
  • PRMSL requests Mean Sea-Level Pressure.
  • WIND requests gradient surface Wind.
  • TIME=00:00 specifies the UTC time that the file is sent. This time works best for us when we are cruising because we get our emails in the evening when the SSB propagation is good.

More information about requesting GRIB files is available at  www.saildocs.com/gribinfo.

Viewing GRIB Files

There are many options or viewing GRIB files. We use the viewer that comes with AirMail.

AirMail GRIB Viewer
AirMail GRIB Viewer

This viewer shows wind barbs and isobars for the area covered. It shows wind speed/direction and pressure wherever you place the mouse cursor and wind speed/direction at your current location, as set in AirMail. Select a Valid Time (VT) or scroll through them using up or down arrows to see the forecast for that time period. We usually set our location and scroll through Valid Times to see wind for our location for the next five days.

GRIB files play an important role in cruising. Especially when combined with other available weather resources. A GRIB file might even be the most important weather resource when in remote areas, without cell phone or internet access.

Dry Tortugas – Day 9

We wake up at 5:20 to rain. We quickly shut the windows and hatches. The rain stops by the time we get everything closed. It’s almost time to get up anyway.

We don’t have far to go today, but we want to get back to the marina before the wind and seas get too high.

Our refrigerator was running when we went to bed, but it started blinking lights during the night so we turned it off. We start the generator and run it on 110 volts AC. It runs fine that way.

Our holding tank is doing good. We partially dumped it five days ago on the way to Dry Tortugas. We could go a few more days, but we will get a pump-out when we get back to the marina.

We pull the anchor at 6:50 and exit the harbor. We turn east and head to our marina and we are heading directly into the wind, with seas about 1 foot.

We get back to the marina at 10:15.

This was a good trip. We came back with a long list of “To Dos” but most of them are easy fixes. Lots of things worked perfectly We had a great time exploring Marquesas and Dry Tortugas. It was especially fun with George and Nancy.

Dry Tortugas – Day 8

The wind dies during the night and the boat fills up with no-see-ums. Fran gets up and closes the hatches and windows, but it is too late.

We get up at 5:30, make coffee, and add oil to the engine. We start the generator for the refrigerator. The food inside is still cold.

Originally we talked about anchoring in Newfound Harbor, but since we went further yesterday, we decide to anchor in Bahia Honda tonight. We’ve always wanted to anchor there and we might even dinghy in to the concession store and get ice cream.

Questeria Leaving Boca Grande
Questeria Leaving Boca Grande

We put out our trolling rods and catch a barracuda. We can’t get the hook out so we end up cutting the line and losing our lure. No more fishing today. George and Nancy decide to go out to the reef and fish for yellow tail. We want to get to the anchorage and let the boat cool off and check on the refrigerator.

We get to the Bahia Honda anchorage at 3:00pm. We are the only boat in the anchorage. When we go to drop the anchor, the windlass remote does not work. We have to use the control switches in the cockpit. It is easier with our EarTec headsets. We anchor in 9 feet of water. We have heard that there is a strong current here so we put out 7:1 scope. Adding 6, the height of our anchor shoot, to 9, the depth, and multiplying by 7 comes out to 105 feet.

This is the first time we have anchored here, but we are familiar with the Bahia Honda state park because we stayed here in our RV in January. See RV Adventures, Sault Ste. Marie to Marathon, Bahia Honda.

The refrigerator has run on the generator all day. We turn off the generator and the refrigerator runs on 12 volts.

This a noisy anchorage. There is road noise from the Bahia Honda Bridge and there is a lot of boat traffic from the state park and boats going between Hawk Channel and the bay-side. Worst of all is the people on the beach blasting their music.

Steel Lady comes in at 5:00 and anchors 100 yards west of us. Another sailboat comes in behind them. A woman in a thong is out on deck with a boat hook. First they try to moor to a crab pot buoy, then they go to the mooring ball that is for official use only. When they see that they can’t use a mooring ball they decide to anchor right on top of our anchor. We call them on the VHF radio and tell them they are over our anchor. He comes back and asks how much rode we have out. We tell them over 100 feet and they move. We thank them.

We watch the sunset and blow the conch shell. The park closes at sunset (except for the campgrounds) and the loud music from the beach stops. At 9:00 we run the A/C to cool the boat. The refrigerator is still running on 12 volts. The road noise and boat traffic subsides.

Dry Tortugas – Day 7

It starts to rain at 1:30am We wake up to rain pouring in our hatch. The bed is soaked by the time we get the wind scoop off and the hatch closed. The wind is howling – maybe 25 to 30 knots. We dry  ourselves, the bed and the floor. I go back to bed. Fran says “In a wet bed?” I reply “It’s only wet in the middle.”

A few minutes later Fran is calling me. Our shade is trying to blow off. She is holding a corner and wants a piece of rope so she can retie it, but sees the grommet is torn out. We decide we need to take it down. It is tied in some places and we have to cut the ropes with a knife, but we get it down and out of the wind.

While we are doing this boats around us that are dragging anchor and commercial vessels are coming into this anchorage for better protection. When we came here we put out 75 feet of chain, 5:1 scope. In these condition we need at least 7:1, but we are afraid to mess with it now since The wind is gusting and our anchor is holding. We set Drag Queen just in case.

We try to go back to sleep. Me in part of the bed that is dry and Fran in the aft cabin.

We get up at 5:30am and make coffee. We pull the anchor at 6:50am and we are underway to Marquesas. We are wallowing with the wind behind us and following seas.

George calls us on the radio and says they caught a tuna. We put out the trolling rods. At 8:30 we catch a 24″ cero mackerel. At 9:15 we catch a 21″ tuna.

Cero Mackerel
Cero Mackerel

George calls us on the VHF radio and suggests we go north of Half Moon Shoal since it might be calmer. It doesn’t seem to make much difference.

We approach the west side of Marquesas and we think it might be rough anchoring there. We decide to try anchoring on the northeast side of Marquesas. If that looks too rough we will anchor in Boca Grande Key.

It starts raining at 2:20. We have to close up the boat. With everything closed and our exhaust (annoying) fan not working it is really hot below and our refrigerator is not happy. The yellow light is blinking. According to the manual that means low voltage, but that doesn’t make sense because the batteries are fully charged from running the engine all day. We think it may be too hot so we try to cool it off with fans.

We get near the spot northeast of Marquesas and decide to continue to Boca Grande Key. The seas are really rough until we get into the Boca Grande Channel, then it calms way down. We raft up to Steel Lady.

The refrigerator is still not working. We think the problem is that it is next to the engine and is too hot. We open the engine room doors to cool off the engine room and now the entire boat is hot. We start the generator and run the A/C. The A/C pulls a lot of current and occasionally the generator goes into overload. When that happens we have to restart it, but eventually the boat cools down a little. The refrigerator is still not working.

In the meantime we clean fish. We filet three tunas, the one Fran caught and two from George and Nancy. We cut the cero mackerel into 1″ steaks. After that we clean up the blood and guts and freeze all the fish, except for enough cero mackerel for dinner.

We try running the refrigerator on 110 AC with the generator and surprisingly it works.

We grill some cero mackerel. It  is awesome.

We are on the edge of having cell phone service. It is Mothers Day and Fran gets texts from her children. She even talks on the phone, but the calls keep dropping.

We leave the generator running while we go to bed so the refrigerator will run until the generator runs out of gas. When we get in bed, the bit of breeze we have is blowing fumes into the boat, so we turn the generator off. The refrigerator has a cold plate and it should keep cool for a while.

We had a good day despite the weather and problems with the refrigerator. We caught fish and we are here in this awesome anchorage. You can down-load our track, track20170514.kmz and open it in Google Earth if you want to explore Boca Grande Key.

Dry Tortugas – Day 6

Today is partly cloudy. Winds are about 15 knots from the south-southwest.

I’m guessing at the wind speed because our anemometer is not working. The anemometer and AIS were both broken before we started this trip and we’ve added a bunch of other items to our list along the way.

We have been monitoring weather every day. It’s pretty straight forward when we have internet access, but here we use our Single Side-band (SSB) radio. We do a nightly email, via SailMail, and get a GRIB file, a NWS marine zone forecast and a synopsis. We also use SailMail to keep in touch with Adam in case there is an emergency. Adam is our contact for our EPIRB and his fiancée is in the Coast Guard.

Weather Fax
Weather Fax

We can also receive weather faxes on our SSB. We receive some today and see a low pressure system and an approaching front.

Today’s forecast calls for southwest winds near 10 knots, with isolated showers. Tomorrow’s calls for southwest to west winds 5-10 knots, seas one to two feet, with scattered showers. Then the wind will be variable, near 5 knots, seas one foot, or less, with scattered showers. Monday night it will  become east and start increasing. By Wednesday they are calling for 15 to 20 knots of wind and seas 3 to 5 feet.

We had talked about maybe staying longer, but now we definitely want to be back in the marina on Tuesday before it gets too rough.

After lunch we take the dinghy to Fort Jefferson. We get a weather update from the rangers. It pretty much agrees with what we’ve seen, except the rain chances for Sunday are higher.

We take the self-guided tour of Fort Jefferson.

Fort Jefferson
Fort Jefferson

Construction of Fort Jefferson began in 1846 so the United States could control navigation to the Gulf of Mexico and protect Atlantic-bound Mississippi River trade. Construction went on for 30 years but the fort was never finished.

View of Anchorage From Fort Jefferson
View of Anchorage From Fort Jefferson

During the Civil War the fort was used as a prison for captured deserters. It also held four men convicted in complicity in President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. The army abandoned the fort in 1874.

Selfie in Front of Iron Light
Selfie in Front of Iron Light

The first lighthouse in the Tortugas was built on Garden Key in 1825. The iron light atop Fort Jefferson replaced that lighthouse. Last time we were here we walked up the light tower but this time it is closed for renovation.

View of Bush Key From Atop Fort Jefferson
View of Bush Key From Atop Fort Jefferson

There are plenty of other areas of the fort open for exploration and the view from the top is spectacular.

Loggerhead Key
Loggerhead Key

The original lighthouse on Garden Key was too short, too dim, and too far away from other reefs, so in 1856, construction began on the 150 foot tall Loggerhead Key lighthouse.

Fort Jefferson Moat
Fort Jefferson Moat

The moat was built around Fort Jefferson to protect against erosion from the sea. We walk around the entire moat and see a large starfish.

Starfish
Starfish

We take the dinghy back to Questeria. We haul the outboard onto the rail mount, pull the dinghy onto the davits and strap it down.

We watch the sunset and blow the conch shell. Later, we see lightning in the distance so we put down the enclosure. We hope we won’t get any rain, because it is too hot to close up the boat.

Dry Tortugas – Day 5

We want to explore Loggerhead Key. It’s about 3 nautical miles west of us. We have an east wind making us roll in this anchorage, but it should be nice on the west side of the island where want to snorkel.  We will take Questeria to the mooring ball and dinghy to the beach. The dinghy ride might be a little rough. George and Nancy come with us.

We are still rafted up to Steel Lady. We untie at 9:00 and head to the single mooring ball at Loggerhead Key. We are towing our dinghy.

The last time we were here a power boat came from behind us and grabbed the mooring before we could get there. This time someone calls on the VHF and asks if we are going to the mooring ball. We tell him yes, for two hours. There is a two-hour limit if someone is waiting.

We grab the mooring ball at 9:40. We grab our snorkel gear, hop in the dinghy, take it ashore and pull it up on the beach. It’s a little rough with four people, but we plan to get wet anyway.

We are looking for the trail to the other side of the island and we meet Ed and his wife, the May volunteers. They walk us to the beach on the other side of the island. They tell us that the island has shifted by about 15 feet. We can see that because there is a structure with half the foundation washed away.

Loggerhead Key is the largest island in Dry Tortugas. It gets its name from its abundance of loggerhead sea turtles. The lighthouse on Loggerhead Key was built in 1856. It is no longer in service. Today the island is self-sufficient with solar panels and watermaker.

Loggerhead Key Lighthouse
Loggerhead Key Lighthouse

We go snorkeling. This area is named “Little  Africa” because from the air it looks like the continent of Africa.

Loggerhead Key Beach
Loggerhead Key Beach

After we snorkel we get back to the dinghy and go back to Questeria. We leave the mooring at 11:40, two hours exactly, and return to the east anchorage. We raft up to Steel Lady, but we are still rolling a bit.

George thinks it would be calmer if we move up. He pulls his anchor and we drive both boats, still rafted together, closer to shore. It is still too rocky to stay rafted up. In the meantime, many of the boats have left the main anchorage. We decide to try it there.

We go around the fort into the main anchorage. It is much calmer here.

Steel Lady comes and anchors southwest of us. George and Nancy dinghy over for a dinner of pork tenderloin and squash and onions. We reuse some aluminum foil and we are now out of fresh vegetables. The only vegetables left are two cans of green beans. We did not provision very well for this trip.

Later the wind picks up again. We watch a sunset, blow the conch shell and watch a moon rise, but it is a little cloudy.

Google Earth Track
Google Earth Track

Today was a great day. We thoroughly enjoyed Loggerhead Key.  I have saved  track20170512.kmz. You can down-load and open this file with Google Earth. If you do, make sure you look for the structure with the collapsing foundation on the west side of Loggerhead Key. You can also see the solar panels west of the lighthouse and the volunteer’s house north of the lighthouse.

 

Dry Tortugas – Day 4

We get up early to get to Dry Tortugas.  I turn on the inverter to make coffee. It goes into overload when I turn the A/B switch to inverter, even with all breakers off. My brain is foggy because I have not had any coffee, but I’m awake enough to find an extension cord and plug the coffee maker into the inverter directly.

I try starting the engine but it won’t crank. We start the generator and charge the batteries. The generator is running erratically, but doesn’t stall. I finally get the engine cranked on house batteries only.

We have an exhaust fan in our engine room to help with the heat. We have nicknamed it the “annoying fan” because it is loud. Today our annoying fan won’t come on.

We pass out of the no discharge zone and try to dump our holding tank. Nothing comes out. We back-flush with water and then with Dawn detergent. The macerator pump is coming on and stopping. Eventually we get the tank mostly pumped out.

While we are messing with the macerator pump we notice that water is leaking from the rudder post. We fixed this problem before and we know it only leaks when the boat is moving.

George calls us on the VHF radio and tells us they caught two large mutton snapper trolling.

We put out a fishing line. We get a hit while we’re letting the line out, the rod bends, and the reel spins into a bird’s nest. We reel it in, put out the other line and catch a barracuda. We bring him to the boat and shake the lure away from him. At least we didn’t lose our lure.

We start the watermaker for three hours. It is making about 7.7 gallons per hour. At least that is working.

Once we enter the protected area we reel in the lure and work on untangling the other reel. We let the bare line out as far as it will go and take turns pulling out tangles. We finally get it untangled.

Approaching Fort Jefferson
Approaching Fort Jefferson

As we get closer to Dry Tortugas we see that there are at least ten sailboats already anchored there. George suggests that we anchor in the old channel, called the Fort Jefferson East anchorage. There are markers guiding us in. Prior to December 2011 this was a channel into the anchorage. It started to shoal, and now it is a solid land mass connecting Garden Key and Bush Key. George’s chartplotter shows it open.

We wait for George to anchor and raft up to Steel Lady at 2:30.

Bush Key
Bush Key

We keep our dinghy on davits all the time. When we are at the dock we keep our 15 horsepower outboard on the dinghy. The heavy outboard causes the dinghy to swing too much if we leave it on when travelling. So when we travel we hoist the outboard to the rail. We have a strap on the motor that we use for hoisting. We keep it on all the time since the cover latch is broken.

We lower our dinghy into the water. Before we start lifting the motor one of the straps breaks. It probably would have fallen if we had lifted it. We make a temporary repair get the motor mounted on the dinghy.

We take our dinghy to Fort Jefferson. We talk to the ranger and get lots of good information. We both have senior access passes so we don’t have to pay the $10 admittance fee. We also stamp our national park passport book.

We see a crocodile in the moat. The ranger says he has been there for 14 years.

Crocodile
Crocodile

We dinghy back to the boats. We start a list of things that need fixing.

George and Nancy invite us to dinner of mutton snapper. Delicious!

Dry Tortugas is a cluster of seven islands 70 miles west of Key West. With the surrounding shoals and water, they make up Dry Tortugas National Park. It was names “Las Tortugas” (The Turtles) in 1513. They soon read “Dry Tortugas” on mariners’ charts to show they offered no fresh water. In 1908 the area became a wildlife refuge and designated as Dry Tortugas National Park in 1992.

Almost half the park is a Resource Natural Area (RNA). There is no fishing, collecting or anchoring allowed in the RNA. The area within one nautical mile of the fort is not part of the RNA.

It was a great day on the water in spite of all our problems and failures.

 

Dry Tortugas – Day 3

It was a rocky night, as we thought it would be. Fran couldn’t sleep in the v-berth. She tried sleeping in the aft cabin. That was a little better.

Sunrise in Marquesas Keys
Sunrise in Marquesas Keys

We decide to move to calmer waters, east of the islands. We call George on the radio and he had the same idea.

We try to crank the engine. It turns a little, but not enough to start. We turn the battery switch from “1” to “All” and try it again. It still doesn’t start. We start-up the Honda 2000 generator and turn on the battery charger. After a few minutes, we finally get it cranked on “2”, the house batteries only.

We raft up to Steel Lady in the spot labeled “A3”.

Calmer Anchorage in Marquesas Keys
Calmer Anchorage in Marquesas Keys

When you look at our track in the above diagram you may think that we went out of our way to get from A2 to A3. We did this because our 2014 Garmin chart shows a big shoal here. Later we notice that the new Garmin chart on Nancy’s iPad does not show the shoal.

Old Chart Showing Shoal
Old Chart Showing Shoal

This anchorage is much calmer than the last one. We put down our dinghy and mount the outboard. George and Nancy lower their dinghy with their platform. We take the dinghy to the sandy beach just east of us.

Fran with Questeria and Steel Lady in the Background
Fran with Questeria and Steel Lady in the Background (P1)

This island is mostly mangroves with sandy beach on the north, west and south. We land the dinghy near the north side of the island and walk as far as we can. Then we walk south as far as we can.

Sponge Sculpture
Sponge Sculpture (P2)

There are a lot of sponges here. Part-way down the beach we see a sponge sculpture that someone has made by putting sponges in a tree.

Driftwood
Driftwood (P3)

This island was a popular spot for Cuban refugees to land and it was cluttered with trash and refugee boats. It seems cleaner after the “wet feet, dry feet” policy ended in January 2017.

Fran, Bella and Nancy on the South Side of Island
Fran, Bella and Nancy on the South Side of Island (P4)

We walk around the south side of the island into the harbor and see a conch in the shallow water.

Conch (P5)
Conch (P5)

After that we get in the dinghy and go in the deep channel between the two islands.

Here is a snip of Google Earth showing locations of our anchorages and photos. You can explore Marquesas Key by down-loading track20170510.kmz and opening it with Google Earth.

Marquesas Anchorages and Photos
Marquesas Anchorages and Photos

Later we are invited to eat lobster, fish and shrimp with George and Nancy on Steel Lady. A great meal and fun day.