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.


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.


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 (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.



Dry Tortugas – Day 2

We have a great night at anchor. I get up at 6:00 and catch the tail end of a gorgeous moon set. The moon will be full in two days.

We make coffee using the inverter and the house batteries are fine afterwards. The engine barely starts on the starting battery.

Instead of going directly to Marquesas Keys, we head southwest towards American Shoal Lighthouse and try to catch some Mahi-Mahi.

American Shoal Lighthouse
American Shoal Lighthouse

We get south of American Shoal Lighthouse and follow the reef, staying in about 150 feet of water. George and Nancy catch a bunch of tuna. They don’t eat tuna, but they bleed and save two for us. We don’t catch anything.

When we pass Sand Key Light we start heading inshore towards Marquesas. George and Nancy stay out to bottom fish directly south of Marquesas.

Sand Key Light
Sand Key Light

We arrive at Marquesas at 4:15. George told us he would anchor “between the two rocks” but we are not sure where he means. We want to be close to him so we can get our tuna. We drop the anchor at the “A1” mark on the chart shown below.

Marquesas Keys
Marquesas Keys

We wait for George to anchor and anchor right behind him, in the spot labeled “A2”. We are a little concerned about how rocky this anchorage might be in the east wind.

After we anchor he brings us two tunas, already bled and chilled. He also give us some lures like what he used to catch the tuna.

We have seared tuna for dinner. Yum!

Marquesas Keys is one of our favorite anchorages. Its location is an ideal stop before Dry Tortugas and we love the isolation. There is no light pollution so we get a great view of the moon and stars.

Sunset in Marquesas Keys
Sunset in Marquesas Keys

We watch a great sunset and blow the conch shell. Tomorrow we plan to stay here and explore with the dinghy.


Dry Tortugas – Day 1

We set an alarm for 5:30. We want to leave the marina by 7:00 and have some things to do in preparation. We pump out the holding tank, top off the water tank and empty our trash and recycling. George and Nancy have more things to do, so we are going to leave ahead of them and meet up in Newfound Harbor.

We turn the key to crank the engine and nothing happens. Some how our battery switch was off. We turn it to “1”, which is our starting battery, and try it again. It turns over, but not enough to start. We turn it to “All”, which is the starting battery and the three house banks, and it starts.

Questeria Leaving Marina
Questeria Leaving Marina

We are underway at 8:30. Our friend Tracy takes our picture as we leave the marina. We are going to anchor in Newfound Harbor for the night, but first we will go to Looe Key, grab a mooring ball, and go snorkeling.

We hadn’t taken Questeria out for a while, but on April 1st we went out just to see how our engine would do. That day we ran at 6 knots for an hour at 19.5 RPM and never got above 165°. Today, after 20 minutes, we are doing 5.5 knots at 19.5 RPM and the engine is 170°. Maybe we should have cleaned the prop before we left.

We have a little wind and put up the sails. As we are raising the mainsail, we see an Island Packet that looks familiar. She is Imagine, one of our buddy boats on our Bahama trip two years ago. They are headed to our marina to use George’s slip for a few days while they provision for the Bahamas.

We get to Looe Key at 1:20 and grab a mooring ball. Looe Key is a reef.  According to www.floridakeys.com/lowerkeys it gets its name from the HMS Looe, which supposedly ran aground there in 1744. I don’t know why it’s not named “Looe Reef”. Probably because “Looe Key” sounds better.

Whatever the name, it’s a great spot for snorkeling, and that’s what we do.

Looe Key
Looe Key

When we jump in the water we notice barnacles on the prop. We swim around, looking at the reef and then get scrapers and clean the prop and hull as best we can.

Then we untie from the mooring and motor to Newfound Harbor. Scraping the hull and prop has made a noticeable difference. At 5:00 we drop the anchor in 7 feet of water, east of red “4”. Normally we would go further into the harbor, but we don’t expect much wind or seas tonight.

We have fajitas on the grill. The chicken breasts are marinated and the onions and pepper are already cooked. We wrap the onions and peppers in foil to heat them on the grill while we cook the chicken. We get the last of aluminum foil off the roll. After dinner we wash and save the foil if we need it for something else.

Sunset in Newfound Harbor
Sunset in Newfound Harbor

In cruiser tradition I blow a conch shell at sunset (after taking a picture). I was curious about how this tradition started, so I Googled it.

Blowing the conch shell, or Pū, is an ancient Hawaiian tradition. Pū, pronounced ‘poo’ is the Hawaiian Name for Conch Shell. (eww, I blew Pū)

In modern days some blow the Pū to say Goodbye at sunset to end the day and to say Mahalo (thanks). Tonight we were also saying goodbye to cell phone and internet service, since we will be out of range of any towers before this time tomorrow. And thanks for the great day sailing and snorkeling.

Dry Tortugas

We intended to take Questeria to the Bahamas this year, but we ran out of time. So we went to Dry Tortugas instead.

The plan is to  leave on Monday May 8th, anchor in Newfound Harbor overnight, spend a couple of nights in Marquesas, spend three nights in Dry Tortugas and return by Tuesday May 16th, stopping in Marquesas and Newfound Harbor again.

We took Questeria to Dry Tortugas in 2013. See questeria.info/jframe5.html and questeria.info/tortugas.html. We had a great time, but we cut the trip short due to weather. We talked about going back. The weather looked good for the next ten days and George and Nancy were going on Steel Lady.

We didn’t prepare for this trip like we have done in the past. We only had a couple of days to prepare because Fran came back from North Carolina on Saturday and we left on Monday. We went to the grocery store, washed the boat, pulled the outboard motor from the dinghy and mounted it on the back rail, strapped the dinghy down on the davits, pumped out the holding tank, filled the water tank, and bought gas for the dinghy and generator. We also informed family that we would be out of touch for a few days after we got out of cell phone range.

Between painting the boat and weather, we hadn’t taken Questeria out for a while. We hadn’t even recently started the engine or cleaned the prop. The AIS and anemometer were not working.

We have some new, or almost new things to try. We have a Rocna anchor that we used a couple of times. We have a new windlass wireless remote. It’s actually a winch remote that cost $15 versus the Lewmar wireless remote for over $300, that didn’t last a year. We also have an EarTec Ultra Lite Headset system that we haven’t tried yet. And we have a new AB inflatable dinghy. We got tired of patching a inflating our old Caribe dinghy so we splurged and bought a brand new one.

We have a freezer full of meat and fish, a watermaker and plenty of beer. We will be fine.

New Paint

We painted Questeria’s topsides in 2011. I was still working at the time, so Fran’s uncle Ben helped. (See questeria.info/jframe5.html) The boat looked great for a while, but its long overdue for a new paint job.

Last time we used Interlux Brightside one-part enamel.  We wanted an off-white color. We tried Hatteras off-white Y4208, but we thought it was too dark. Next we tried Hatteras off-white Y4218, but that was too light. We ended up mixing them 50/50 to get the color we wanted. For the non-skid we used KiwiGrip. We bought white and had it tinted to match our enamel.

This time we decided to paint it white. It was easier and we felt it would keep the deck cooler in the sun. We also decided to use a two-part polyurethane paint. They say you can’t put two-part paint over one-part paint but we talked to people who had done it successfully.

They make about a dozen variations of white. We decided to use Interlux Perfection, Mediterranean White because West Marine had two quarts in stock.

There were many cracks in the gelcoat. We repaired them by widening them with an xacto knife and a chisel. To stop the cracks from spreading we drilled a bevel at both sides with a bevel drill bit. We filled them with West System G/flex and sanded it smooth.

There were many places where the old paint had worn off or peeled.  We sanded the old paint with 60 grit paper. Then we applied three coats of Interlux Pre-Kote primer. We used a foam roller in large areas and a brush in small or tight areas.

Next we applied three coats of paint. We used a badger hair brush and foam roller. When we ran out of paint we went to West Marine in Marathon, but they were out of it. So we went to the West Marines in Key West and Stock Island to get more. After that we found it on Amazon.com for a cheaper price.

For the non-skid we used white KiwiGrip. We used a nappy roller where we already had enough or too much texture and a textured roller (the one that comes with the KiwiGrip) when we needed more texture.

New Paint Job
New Paint Job

It didn’t come out perfect, not even close, but Questeria looks so much better than before. We can start enjoying her now.

First Post of 2017

It’s been a long time since I’ve written a new post. My last one was Looking Back at Our First Bahamas Trip, on October 8, 2016. The post before that was Ten Years, on November 2015. I will try to do better than one post a year.

Statue of Liberty on way from Maine to Florida

We haven’t been completely idle. We spent some time on other boats. In October 2015 we helped Fran’s uncle deliver a boat from Boothbay, Maine to Cocoa Beach Florida, with a week stop over in Boston, Massachusetts. In March and April of 2016, we helped our friends, Gary and Ellen, take their boat, Gypsea, from Marathon, Florida to Chattanooga Tennessee. We also helped deliver a boat from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina to Sandusky, Ohio in May of 2016. The boat broke down and we had to leave it in Wilmington, North Carolina.

M/V Gypsea
M/V Gypsea Moving to Chattanooga TN
Tow Boat taking us to Wilmington NC

Most of our traveling has been by RV. See our RV Adventure pages for more details.

We take a break from the RV in September 2016 and drive from North Carolina to Marathon, Florida. On September 4  we try to take Questeria to Newfound Harbor. The engine overheats. We stop,  let it cool down, and barely made it back to the marina.

I don’t know if Questeria is mad at us, but we now have a list of things to fix:

  • Engine cooling
  • Starter solenoid not working
  • Tachometer is erratic
  • AIS is not showing other vessels on chart plotter
  • Anemometer is not working
  • Transmission is leaking fluid

Besides the above, we have to fix deck leaks, repair deck cracks and paint the topside.

It is time to descale the  engine. We drain the coolant and take off the heat exchanger, the coolant tank, and all associated hoses. Next we put it all back together, except for the heat exchanger and thermostat. We borrow an air-conditioner pump from a friend and run Barnacle Buster through the engine via the heat exchanger hoses. We also soak the heat exchanger in Barnacle Buster. We finish by flushing with fresh water.

While we have all the hoses off, we replace the starting solenoid and an old oil line. We also replace the impeller and clean and tighten the alternator contacts. We tighten up the transmission coupling and add Lucas transmission fix to it.

On September 20 we have everything put back together and we are ready to test it out. We go to Burdines fuel dock and get 45 gallons of diesel. Then we go to Newfound Harbor for a few days.

The engine does fine at first. It stays below 170° until we leave the fuel dock. After that it creeps up to 180°. The starter, anemometer and tachometer mostly work, but the AIS doesn’t work at all.

We anchor in Newfound Harbor for three nights. It is very hot and we run our A/C using our Honda 2000 generator. The power for the A/C is near the limit  of the Honda 2000. Occasionally the generator goes into overload and we have to restart it. We lower the inside temperature a few degrees at a time and get it from 91° to 75° with two tanks of gasoline.

Newfound Harbor Sunrise

We also have problems with our refrigerator. The yellow light blinks, which indicates that the voltage is low, but our batteries are above 12 volts. We use our Honda 2000 generator for charging the batteries and running the refrigerator and freezer.

Trip to Newfound Harbor
Trip to Newfound Harbor

We leave on the fourth day. The engine gets up to 185° and we notice there is no raw water pumping out of the exhaust. We drop the anchor and let it cool off. The raw water starts pumping out of the exhaust again, but it is still running hotter than is should. We run at 1800 RPM and get home, but the engine is just below overheating temperature.

When the engine cools down we notice the coolant is gray. We drain it, fill it with distilled water, run the engine and drain it. We repeat this until we get most of the gray stuff out. The gray stuff looks like fine sand.  We guess it is from the descaling. We remove the coolant tank and heat exchanger and flush them with water. We put it all back together and fill the system with 50/50 coolant and distilled water. It seems better now.

With the engine running cool, we now can start working on repairing deck cracks. These are many stress cracks in the old gelcoat. We start with an xacto knife, then widen the crack with a chisel and bevel out each end with a drill bit. Then we fill it with West System G/flex. Next we sand it smooth. We work on this some each day.

The National Hurricane Center is predicting Matthew to go up the east coast. It looks like the Florida Keys are not at risk, but our RV is in North Carolina and it might be at risk. So we pack up, leave Questeria, and drive to North Carolina.

We have fixed the engine overheating problem and the starter solenoid.  The AIS and anemometer are still not working. The transmission  still leaks, but is a little better. We have started deck repairs,  but this will take a lot more time.

We did get one boat trip to Newfound Harbor. We return to Florida for the rest of the year, so that will be our one and only boat trip on Questeria in 2016.