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.


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