Saturday, May 31, 2014

Marathon–Tight Squeeze in the Keys.

Posted by Scot

We left Bahia Honda, and continued on up the Keys, bound for Marathon.  I was excited to see this town in the middle of the Keys as I had read a lot about it on other sailing blogs.  It is the boating centre of the area, with lots of resources for people needing to get work done on their boat.

Leaving Bahia Honda
Boot Key Harbour, which is the main harbour at Marathon, has over 200 mooring balls maintained by the city to try and decrease the number of derelict boats that end up getting left in Marathon.  Unfortunately, to get to the moorings, you have to cross under some hanging cables which are 65 feet above the water at mean tide.  The antennas and wind vane on our mast top out at around 63 feet.  Not a lot of wiggle room if we wanted to get into the inner harbour.

In fact, that 65 foot number has haunted us a bit in the Keys.  To sail up the Keys, you can either stay in the Hawk Channel, which is outside on the Atlantic side, or you can motor up the Intra Coastal Waterway, which is on the protected inside of the Keys.  For those that don’t know about it, the ICW is a channel that runs up the entire East Coast of the U.S.  If you want, you can use it to cruise from Key West all the way up to the north eastern states without ever seeing open water.

Watching the bottom through the clear water as we cruise up a calm Hawk Channel
But you have to be able to fit under some bridges to get to it.  In the Keys, the highest bridges provide about 65 feet of clearance.  Again, that is a pretty tight squeeze for us.  We talked about crossing over to the inside a few times, but in the end, decided against it.  Really, we would rather sail anyway, if the wind is good, and we didn’t want to risk scraping the hardware off the top of our mast.

We made the same decision at Marathon.  When we first got there, we anchored outside the harbour and had lunch.  After an hour of rocking in the wakes of all the boats heading in and out of Marathon on the Memorial Day long weekend, we gave in, and called the only marina that we could get into without having to cross under the low hanging cables.

It was so calm and clear on the way to Marathon that we decided to let the kids catch  a ride on a tow rope (don't worry we slowed the boat almost to a stop).
The channel was crazy busy as we motored into the marina.  There were boats everywhere.  We got a weird call on our VHF as we motored up the shallow and narrow channel. 

“Catamaran in the Boot Key Harbour Channel, this is Wind Traveller.”

“This is the Catamaran Monashee in the Boot Key Harbour Channel.  Go to 17”.

“Catamaran, this is Wind Traveller.  We are heading up the Boot Key Harbour Channel.  We don’t think we will be able to fit past you.  How would you like to proceed?”

Huh?  I had no idea what this lady was talking about.

“Uh, Wind Traveller, why don’t you just follow us up the channel.  We will be turning in at the marina.  Then you can keep going up the channel to wherever you are headed.”

No answer from Wind Traveller.

“Wind Traveller, does that answer your question?  I’m not sure what you are asking.”

Still no answer.  We switched back to 16.  They must have thought, for some reason, that we were sitting still in the middle of the channel, blocking all traffic, on one of the busiest weekends of the year.  Weird.  Somebody needs to get their depth perception checked.

Drying off after a swim.
Anyway, we motored up to the marina, and checked out our assigned slip.  Monashee has a 20 foot beam, which we had told the marina when we called.  They had assigned us a 22 foot slip, with a fixed dock on one side and pilings on the other.  Once we hung bumpers over both sides of the boat, there were mere inches to get into the slip.

We radioed in and asked if they had anything wider.  Fortunately, they had a 25 foot slip on the other side of the marina.  We quickly headed over there and backed in. Even that slip was hard to get into, with their super high docks, but thanks to some fancy footwork by Katie and Christopher, we managed to keep fended off the pilings and got tied up. We were glad we did, because about half an hour later, a motor cat came into the slip we had originally been assigned.  Sara and I were at the office checking in, but the kids said they bounced off the pilings three times as they wedged themselves into that slip.

This beautiful blue hulled power boat caught my eye at the Marathon marina.  And he had no trouble fitting into his slip.
Once we got settled into the marina, we called a cab to go check out Marathon.  The town itself was a disappointment.  I was hoping for an interesting historical town like Key West.  Instead, Marathon is just big stores on either side of the Overseas Highway which blasts right through the middle.

We spent a bit of time shopping, enjoying being back in the “land of stuff.”  The contrast between what is available to buy in America and the rest of the world is remarkable.

We headed back the boat, and spoiled ourselves again by ordering a pizza to be delivered to the marina for dinner, just because we could.  Then we settled in for a quiet night at the dock.  The cost of the marinas in the Keys meant we were only going to get one night on the dock, and were going to be heading back out to anchor in the morning.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Hanging With the Sportsmen in the Lower Keys ... (and Contest Winners!)

Posted by Scot

Happy to wake you!  See you again soon.
As we sail up the Atlantic side of the Florida Keys, we find ourselves in the self-proclaimed “Sport Fishing Capital of the World”.  During our time in the Caribbean, we have had the pleasure of being “waked” by sport fishing boats everywhere we have been.  But nowhere has it been as frequent or as enthusiastic as it is here.

Sport fishing strikes me as a curious “sport”.  Armed with nothing but hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of boats and gear, and copious amounts of beer, these intrepid athletes set out on the sunniest and calmest of days.  Once at their chosen destination, they pit themselves against some of nature’s dumbest creatures to see who can reign victorious in a classic struggle of man against beast.  If they are clever enough to trick a fish into biting their lure, then the real fight begins.  Again and again, they must turn a little handle in a single direction to slowly reel the monster in.  No chef beating eggs has ever had to use his wrist and forearm more vigorously.  Once the beast is finally in the boat, the coup de grace comes from a swift blow to the head.  Or, failing that, the fish will soon be dead due to simple suffocation.

Out for some sport.
In an effort to be as environmentally friendly as possible, between these pitched battles they roar along at full throttle, in straight lines, from location to location.  This way, they can keep their fuel consumption costs down to less than $50.00 per hour.  If a hapless sailboat gets in their way, they are not put off.  Despite the fact that miles of open ocean may be available on either side, they scream by as close as possible.  As the sailboat is rocked violently and helplessly in their wake, they flip a casual, friendly wave, as if to say “You’re welcome.  If you’re lucky, I’ll get you again on my way back!”

Burning fuel, burning money.
Needless to say, we will not miss these noble sportsmen when we leave their happy hunting grounds.

After leaving Stock Island (Key West), our next stop along the Keys was the Bahia Honda State Park.  This was an interesting anchorage.  It was wedged in between two bridges.  The old bridge had a section taken out to allow sailboats and their tall masts through.  The new bridge was much lower, so barred our passing any farther.

Coming into the anchorage at Bahia Honda, through the old Overseas Highway bridge.
It was a well done park, with a great little gift shop and snack stand.  We were pleased to see that, now that we are back in America, a single scoop ice cream cone really means about two and half scoops, pressed down tight with the scooper.  We all agreed that Belizean ice cream scoopers should have to spend some time training in the U.S. to learn how to serve up a proper cone.

After refreshing ourselves with ice cream, we stopped by the ranger’s nature station, then hiked up on the old bridge to check out the view.  The clarity of the water in the Keys easily rivals that of the Bahamas.  I guess that makes sense, since we are at about the same latitude.  It is a wonderful thing to be able to look down in 20 or 30 feet of water and easily see lobster traps, turtles, and fish on the bottom.

Looking down the old highway.
Heading back into the park from the old highway.
Enjoying a swim in the crystal clear waters at Bahia Honda.
We had a great night at Bahia Honda.  At first we weren’t sure if it would be a good anchorage.  We had read it could be a bit rolly.  But for us, once the fishermen went home, it was calm and pleasant all night long.

Monashee leaving the park, as seen from the old bridge.
Gliding through the clear waters.  After they took this picture, the boys ran down to the water from the old bridge, jumped in the dinghy, and caught up with us before we left.

Contest Winners:

For those that have been following the blog, you will remember that in my last post, I introduced a mysterious sea creature, and asked for your thoughts on identification.

Out of thousands of entries (OK, actually two), we had two Grand Prize winners, so congratulations to you both! 

The first correct answer came from Diane, Evan and Maia, salty veterans of the sea that they are.  They not only identified the creature correctly as a Sea Hare, but also provided it’s full scientific identification, all the way from the Kingdom (Animalia) right down to the genus and species (Aplysia dactylomela).  As a biologist, I love that they gave the full classification.

As a prize for Diane, Evan, and Maia, here is a picture of a sister ship to theirs, which we saw in Robbie’s marina in Key West.

Spelled slightly differently, but how many Ceilydh's can there be out there?
The other prize goes to Tom Mountain, who also identified the creature as a Sea Hare.  He also got bonus points for identifying the bird as an immature Sandhill Crane.  I have no idea if he is right about that, but it sounds good.  For his prize, here is another picture of that bird.

A full length picture of the bird outside our boat, which it appears is probably a Sandhill Crane.

Thanks for entering the contest, everyone!  For anyone who wants to learn more about Sea Hares, here is a link to an interesting web page that describes the one we saw.  If you don’t want to go to the effort of reading a whole separate page (lazy! - how will you ever learn?) , I believe the creature we saw was a Sooty Sea Hare, whose Latin name is Aplysia brasiliana.

They are officially my new favourite hermaphrodite.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Mysterious Sea Creature - Contest Time!

Posted by Scot

This wasn't the mysterious sea creature, although he was strangely calm, and came really close to our boat.  Bonus points if you can identify this bird!
With all the snorkelling and diving we have done over the past several months, we have seen lots of sea life.  So it surprised us to see a creature we have never seen before, swimming along beside our boat in the Stock Island Marina in Key West.  It was a bizarre looking thing, undulating through the water with sinuous strokes of its single fin/wing under it’s belly.

Swimming gracefully with the use of a single fin, flipper, wing type thing under it's belly.

I did a little internet research, and came up with some information on this creature.  It is definitely a strange one.  I think it is totally fascinating. I have seen them before, but I didn’t know they could get this big. As it turns out, back when I was at UBC, I had a professor who had devoted his life to studying these guys, mainly so he could do all his research in tropical places.

Here's a hint - they come in many sizes, usually smaller than this, and are often brilliantly coloured.

Anyway, instead of just telling you all about it, I thought we could take this blog to the next level, and make it interactive.  Why don’t you take the time to see if you can figure out what this is?  Post whatever you find in the comments section below, or send it to me via Facebook or email, and I will post your comments for you.
All I’ll tell you is that it was brownish in color, and about 8 to 10 inches long.  You can’t really tell how big it is from the pictures and video.

Whoever comes up with the best answer, as judged by a panel of impartial experts (me) wins the internet for the day.  Good luck!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Birthday Party!

Posted by Alexander

So yesterday was my birthday and I woke up to a sign that told me to sleep in. This is because Katie was setting up the party in the morning.

When I was finally allowed to come up, there was an awesome surprise waiting for me. Mom and Katie had made crepes. There was also a strawberry jam/syrup, banana, nutella, and Greek vanilla yogurt. Put all this together in a crepe and you get one of the best breakfasts I have ever had.

After breakfast we played a couple of games that Katie had made all by herself which was really fun. We played special birthday pictionary with cards she had made. After the games I got a few little presents. It is hard to get presents on the boat so we usually have to make do. Mom and Dad had got me a video game way back when Dad was in Red Deer but it’s a good game so no worries. Katie got me a jigsaw puzzle craft that she again made herself and Christopher gave me one of his orange slices when I asked nicely.  My Grandma and Grandpa also sent me some money, so I will get to buy myself something when I get a chance.  Thanks Grandma and Grandpa.

I got to wear the birthday hat to go with my crepes.

Even though it was my birthday the boat still has tons of things to be done so the late morning was all about boat jobs. I cleaned the barbecue and unscrewed the door clips for Mom to clean and then put them back on. Christopher and Dad changed around a bunch of ropes on the front of the boat and Katie did the dishes.
After all the work was done it was lunch time. The awesome birthday meals didn’t stop as we had conch chowder with sourdough bread and dip. It was really good. Scrumptiously delectable might be the correct term. We then transitioned into a nice break time before the evening and the main event.

My presents were wrapped in blankets, with scarves for ribbons.  No wrapping paper mess to clean up!  Katie made the birthday decorations.  Apparently this was a party for nerds.
We walked over to west marine to get some things for the boat in the afternoon. Once we had what we needed we called a taxi and went to a mall with a theatre. We walked in, ordered a bunch of popcorn and watched the Amazing Spiderman 2. Here is a reviewish thing: The Amazing Spiderman 2 is a good movie with quite a few twists. It feels very long to watch and there are quite a few subplots. I was okay with this but Mom said it left her a little confused. Dad and Mom kept going on about how the Tobey Maguire movies were better and how they liked the first Amazing Spiderman but I thought it was worth the watch. If you are a fan of Spiderman you should definitely check it out.

 Back to the blog.  One thing that kind of annoyed us throughout the film was this: Godzilla was playing in the room next to us and every time Godzilla took a step we heard a huge bass boom. The sound was really ominous and every time I heard I thought something exciting was going to happen in our movie. When I figured out where the sound was really coming from I got a little ticked off. Also the theatre was very cold.

Birthday pictionary.
When we got out of the theatre it was really nice and warm and I was soaking up sunlight. After we all thawed out we went to a small Chinese restaurant in the mall. IT WAS DELICIOUS!!!! I ate so much that I felt like I was going to explode. I have always loved Chinese food and there was a bunch of really good dishes that I didn’t even expect to like; the egg roll and shrimp toast would be prime examples. The zodiac was on all the menus so we got to see what our signs were. I was the rabbit which was lucky so that’s great. Unfortunately Mom, Dad and Katie were all roosters so they are my mortal enemies! (Not really). The only thing that slightly disappointed me about the restaurant was my fortune cookie. Everybody else got something really profound but, I kid you not, all mine said was: "You will receive a fortune (cookie)". That was it!  How is that a fortune?

Anyways I am complaining about nothing. My birthday was great and I had lots of fun. I’m fifteen now which is weird but I’ll get used to it. Until next time, bye!

Friday, May 23, 2014

You Get Key Lime! You Get Key Lime! YOU ALL GET KEY LIME!

Posted by Christopher

Tourist time in Key West!

We got in to the shuttle bus that goes from Stock Island Marina, to down town Key West where all the tourism happens. There were some other nice boaters in the bus, and our parents began to talk to the other boaters, about this and that. The shuttle was very nice, and MUCH less cramped than the one in Guatemala had been. Also, I had a nice seat at the front, this time facing the windshield. We drove for about twenty minutes with all the talking going on, until finally we stopped next to a walk, that was by the water. We were going to spend the day in the colourful downtown of Key West, and apparently, so were the other boaters, as they clambered out behind us.

Cruisers waiting for the shuttle to Key West.
The first order of business was food. We were all starting to get hungry, considering it was high noon. Something that we had not had for a long time, was the ability to choose any restaurant without fear of diseased or spoiled food being served. But because we were in America, this was not an issue. So we went in to a nice little café restaurant place called Key West Lime Shop. We went to order, and our server, was really nice. He recommended a drink called key lime soda, so much that we all ended up getting it. It was, really good and we were all happy he had. He also explained why they had key lime soda. Apparently sailors used to bring limes to key west, and so they used it in a lot of recipes. It ended up being a bit of a gimmick and so the whole town had key lime things. I ordered a sandwich, and when I got it, I knew it was going to be just scrumptious.

We had an awesome lunch at the Key West Lime Cafe.
When we were done eating, Alexander prompted me to go to the gift shop with him. So I went with him, only to learn why they called it the Key Lime Shop. It was FULL of different Key Lime flavored things. There was Toffee, jelly beans, ice cream, pie, and everything else you could imagine. Alexander and I kept looking around for a while, then we decided to keep going to something different.

Darn Hippies.

We walked around the town, a bit only to find out how much key lime there actually was. Everything in the town was just key lime. It was pretty crazy. At one point, we went in to a cramped little mall, where they were selling everything key lime, including key lime cigars. We walked around the mall a bit, and dad bought some sunglasses.
If you like Key Lime, you`ve come to the right place.

Next we walked over to the West Marine, (which for those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s essentially where you buy everything you’d ever need for boats) and we spent about an hour there, getting touch ups and extra spare parts and stuff. I mainly just sat down and watched the video that the little GoPro stand was showing. It was about a half hour long, so I spent half the time doing that.

Which one is real, and which one is the statue?
Dancing in the street in Key West.

Finally it was 4:00, so we began to head back to the shuttle pick up station. We waited there fifteen minutes. Then the shuttle arrived. The shuttle was very relaxed, with not too many people in it, maybe seven including us. So we collectively decided to go on a bit of a tour with the driver. So we drove us around the town a bit showing us the coolest stuff that we had missed.

Hanging out at Cigar City.

We finally got back to the marina, after an educational tour of the island.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Dry Tortugas to Key West

Posted by Sara

Well, never a dull moment on a boat.  We arrived at Key West on Friday.  It was midnight, pitch black with winds gusting up to 30 knots.  Don't we have a rule never to arrive somewhere in the dark you ask?  Yes!  So something went wrong.   As you can imagine we are delighted to now be all in one piece and comfortably tied up to a dock in a nice marina in 'the land of plenty.’


First impressions of being back in the states……hopefully this doesn’t sound too provincial, but… aaaahhhh - clean docks, clean washrooms, actual toilet paper in the washrooms & nice toilet paper at that!

They speak English here, all the water is potable, we can eat anything from anywhere and not worry about a stomach bug and all the people are nice and act like they appreciate our business.  You can’t miss the super sonic fighter jets that fly over in pairs at regular intervals.  We got buzzed in the boat at about 4 pm as we were sailing toward Key West – it’s a uniquely American experience.  Oh and the food portions.  We went to grab some dinner the day we got here.  We all ordered something and when the food came, our eyes bulged –  it was enough food to feed a football team.  Oh yeah, we are definitely back in the States.  Yum.


Here is a quick rundown of some of our first thoughts on returning to the states:
  • Alexander came back to the boat after his first trip to the nice clean washrooms with soft TP and announced that he was back in heaven.
  • Christopher has been Googling for a mall with big stores (mainly electronic) since he hopped onto the WiFi.  He likes his internet and his toys.  He is also looking forward to a Subway.
  • Katie is looking forward to going to an Olive Garden.  It’s Alexander’s birthday in a few days so hopefully we can accommodate.
  • I am just looking forward to replacing my $3 Guatemalan flip flops.  My lovely Sanuks, which had held up impressively from 24/7 wear for over 8 months, finally gave up the ghost in the Rio Dulce.
  • I asked Scot what he liked about being back in the U.S.  He said he just wanted to turn around and sail south to Panama.  But I think secretly he is happy to be back where things all work a little more efficiently.
So how did we end up coming into Key West at Midnight?

It all started in the Dry Tortugas.

We had finished our crossing from Isla Mujeres mid-afternoon on Thursday, motoring in little to no wind.  This fit in with the weather forecast we had when we left Mexico.   From this point, the winds were supposed to come up to 15 knots from the north during the night on Thursday and slowly clock around to come more from the east by Saturday in the day.  We really wanted to get to Key West before they clocked around to the east as that would mean sailing directly into the wind.

The distance from the Dry Tortugas to the marina we had booked in Key West was about 75nm, so we guessed it would take between 10 – 17 hours depending on our speed.  We weren’t exactly sure how the current would effect us for this section.  So our plan was to leave the Dry Tortugas on Friday night after a day of rest and arrive into Key West on Saturday morning (in full daylight) before the wind switched to come from the east.   We had considered the option of leaving early in the morning on Friday but it wasn’t ideal, since if our boat speed was slow, we’d be arriving at the marina after dark.

As it began to get dark on Thursday night, the wind really started to pick up from the north.  Lots of boats were repositioning themselves in the anchorage at the Dry Tortugas.  It felt like more than the 15 knots we had expected.  Several boats limped in after dark, having aborted their trips north, looking for safe harbour.  They obviously hadn’t planned to stop but were probably getting bashed around too much.

By morning, it was really howling from the north, 25+ knots.  Hmmmmm.  We were feeling a bit uncomfortable with our plans so Scot dingyed over to the ranger station to look at their updated weather forecast.  Their prediction was for 25-30 knots winds from the north/northwest during the day, and then dropping to 25 knots from the east/northeast on Saturday.  We really didn’t like the speeds of the winds but particularly didn’t like the switch to the east/northeast.  We certainly couldn’t sail directly into 25 knot winds.  Well technically we could beat up there, but it is really bashy and uncomfortable sailing right into the waves.  Scot, being brilliant, pulled out the sat phone to call Chris Parker to see what his thoughts were.

Chris Parker basically said – go now or you will need to wait a week at the Dry Tortugas as the winds will be strong (25+ knots) from the east starting Saturday morning.  It was 10 am Friday morning.

Are you serious?  We, of our own volition, sail out into 25-30 knot winds at 10 am with a 15 hour sail ahead of us?  This will guarantee not only a CRAZY passage but that we arrive in a busy unknown port in the dark in strong wind?  Did you not see all those boats limping into this anchorage looking bedraggled and exhausted searching for a safe escape from the wind and seas?  Never mind whatever is going to be running through all the other cruisers heads as we leave a secure anchorage in this.  But, on the other hand, waiting a week in the Dry Tortugas?  As interesting as they are, we are on a bit of a timeline, and don’t really want to sit here for a week waiting for our opportunity to make it to Key West.

OK – Let’s go now!  Scot called the marina to see what advice they could offer for arriving in the dark.  The reassuring answer came back that they had boats arrive in the dark fairly frequently and that it was an easy marina to get into.  We just needed to come straight up their channel and tie up to their lighted fuel dock, without even making a turn.

We programmed some back-up waypoints into the GPS so if we chickened out of arriving in the dark we could just sail further up the Keys.  We weren’t sure how we would clear customs if that happened, but our main focus was making an otherwise sketchy trip as safe as possible.  Within 10 minutes, our crack team had the anchor up and we were motoring out the narrow shallow channel into the huge winds and waves.

The radio crackled…”Monahsee, Monahsee…this is Manana…ummmm… what’s it like out there?”  Translation “Where the *&^%$ are you going in this slop?”
Scot looked at me…”Are we sure we should be doing this?”…..“Keep sailing!``, I said.

To be honest, I wasn’t nervous of the 25 knot winds especially as the crossing was only 10 or so hours.  My background is dingy racing so sailing in a lot of wind is really just a lot of fun if you aren’t doing it for an extended period of time.  We just reef our sails right down and fly along.  Hey, if you have to sail, you might as well  be sailing fast!  Our boat sails really well and, at this point, our team is pretty much a well oiled sailing machine.  It’s only the big waves pounding the boat which make it uncomfortable and cause the exhaustion.  My main concern was arriving in the dark.
So we reefed everything in and headed off.  The waves were definitely big for the first few hours but with the high winds we were flying along at 8 knots.  Yeah!  As we went, the wind stayed high but the waves became smaller, and as soon as we were tucked in on the south side of the Marqueses Keys we were well blocked from the waves and had euphoric sailing all the way to Key West – consistent 8 knots of speed with almost no waves. It reminded me of sailing behind the reef in Belize.
The only concerning thing as we came closer to Key West and dusk fell, was passing crab pot after crab pot in the water (truthfully I don’t know what kind of seafood trap they were, but they were just plastic buoys in the water  every few hundred yards and we weren’t sure if they were just attached to a single line or some kind of net).  I prayed we didn’t end up coiled in some fishermen’s net in the dark.  The depths had been about 35’ or less since we came behind the Marquesas Keys so there were hours of sailing in prime fish net waters.

Everything went as planned and with the extra speed, we were already threading through channel markers south of Key West by the time it got dark.  Luckily most of the markers near Key West have flashing lights on them and they are precisely pin pointed on our navigation software so we could essentially just sail on the GPS and pray there weren’t any surprises out there.  We made it to the entrance of our channel without running into anything or getting caught in a fish trap.  We roused both of the boys from bed to help dump the sails in the dark.  It was shallow all around so we didn’t have a lot of ‘wiggle room.’  In a testament to the skills we have all developed during the year, it was a full team effort but the sails came down without a glitch and we switched to motors as we puttered down the channel.
Now, where to go?  Fortunately, the marina fuel dock was a lighted 500’ stretch of dock without a single boat on it – resembled a long landing strip.  Love those Americans who ‘go big or go home.’  Even we could get onto that dock.  It was still blowing 20 knots, even in the sheltered channel, but it was blowing right on our nose so we weren’t too worried about getting blown onto the dock or off the dock.

Scot, as usual, managed a perfect landing.  With no one to grab our lines, we came in gently enough for me to jump off the side of the boat mid-ships and the boys threw me the lines.  We all breathed a huge sigh of relief.  In retrospect it was a fantastic sail and a great day. It was just unfortunate that we spent the whole day worried about the last few hours in the dark.  I guess we weren’t going to be allowed to finish our year without a good story to tell.


Monday, May 19, 2014

Fort Jefferson

Posted by Alexander

Setting out to explore Fort Jefferson
After our passage from Isla Mujeres, Mexico, we arrived in Florida in a small anchorage in the Dry Tortugas.  The Dry Tortugas are an amazing collection of little islands, 70 miles west of what people usually think of as the tip of Florida. The anchorage was nice and cool and had two standout features. One was that on the island there were hundreds of birds flying around and going crazy. The other was a huge old fort built in the 1900’s to hold a strategic point from the U.S.A.’s enemies.

Anchored in front of the Fort.
This fort was called fort Jefferson. It was made all out of red brick and had a hexagonal shape. It was built to hold about 500 guns (I’m talking ginormous cannons that weigh more than Monashee) But only ever had 141.

Big cannons, pointed out to sea.
Staring down the barrel of a gun.
The place was now a reserve and there was a designated path through the fort with signs telling about the inner workings and how resources were attained on the isolated island. They got freshwater from rain that ran down into cisterns but the many of these cracked to let forth the ocean rendering certain cisterns unusable. There were Bastions on any side of the fort. Big round drum towers at the end of each side. This allowed guns to be pointed parallel to the fort to protect from attackers.

The bastion is the part of the Fort sticking out to the left.  It was designed so that cannons could be aimed at the moat or the walls, to prevent attackers from getting in under the other cannons and climbing up.
There was of course a lot of history about the fort including one story I liked in particular.

When the fort was still being provisioned there were no guns at the fort yet. Unfortunately even so, an enemy ship had come to close and was threatening U.S. territory. The man in charge told the ship that it had ten minutes to get out of range before it was blown out of the water. The fort was so formidable in appearance that the bluff worked and the ship fled. The fort was still impressive today.

Walking through millions of bricks.
There was a huge shallow moat all around it so we had to cross a drawbridge to check it out. This drawbridge was protected by the aforementioned Bastions. A sign later on politely informed us that if we had felt nervous crossing the bridge, it was likely because six cannons could have been aimed to blow us sky high. Of course they weren’t since the fort has been inactive for ages.

Fort perspective.

There were some gaping holes in the red brickwork where we could easily have fallen into the moat.

Checking the moat for sharks.
It was a long way down.  When the wind was up the waves bashed hard against that outer wall around the moat.
There had been prisoners held in the fort at one time and the wardens liked to keep the rumour going that sharks lived in the moat. It wasn’t true but one inmate did once bring a shark into the moat. How I have no idea but it lived for two months afterwards.

Looking down on the inner courtyard of the Fort.
Poor shark! I wonder how that had happened… “Hey inmate get that shark out of here!”.

“No thank you I like it, but you can get rid of it if you want”. (Shark growls and shows it’s teeth).

“Ummmm actually it’s kinda cute you can keep it”

There were even some of the cannons from way back in the day that we got to see!

I think fort Jefferson is probably one of the coolest forts we’ve seen on our trip and we’ve seen quite a few.

Standing on top of the Fort, with Monashee just behind us.