Thursday, May 21, 2009

Dry Tortugas, Florida

Our first real stop on our journey was the Dry Tortugas, which we love. The Tortugas are a small group of islands about 50 miles west of Key West. The only way to get there is by boat or seaplane, which makes them splendidly isolated and a great place to kick back and take it easy (see Chris’ blog). This picture of Mr Mac in the nearly deserted anchorage is atypical; the past two times we were here it was much more crowded.

Garden Key, the main island, is the site of Fort Jefferson. The fort was constructed for use in the Civil War, but was never actually active in that capacity, and was used mostly as a prison. Dr. Samuel Mudd, who set the broken leg of Abraham Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth, served time here, but was pardoned after he helped combat a yellow fever outbreak. The fort ha

s six sides, is built of brick, and is surrounded by a moat. There are three levels (including the open top tier), all of which were supposed to be lined with cannons and large guns, but were never fully armed. To accommodate the guns, the walls are lined with open arches through which the guns could be fired. The interior of the fort are the parade grounds, and open area with grass and trees, and some remnants of previous structures such as barracks, ammunition magazines, etc.

During the early spring, lots of migrating birds stop on the island, and last April we saw more than a dozen species; this year we must have been too late, because few birds were in residence, and the only ones we recognized were a gray catbird and seve

ral American redstarts. The redstarts are pretty-dark-bodied with orange/red patches on wings and tail-and they have an interesting way of hunting for bugs in the grass; they raise their tail and hop quickly all around, sometimes flying in a circle just above the ground. The real birds to see are on Bush Key (see picture), which is a sanctuary for nesting boobies (the birds-get your mind out of the gutter), terns, and magnificent frigates. Like Egmont Key on steroids, these thousands of birds feed and fly around, squawking day and night, but it’s a nice kind of sound. When we dinghyed around the bay looking for nurse sharks (it’s also a nurse shark mating area, and no, Mom, we didn’t see any this time, and they don’t have teeth anyway), the sooty terns would fly just over your shoulder and turn their heads to look at you. Very cute!

The water here is also clear and warm, and there’s all kinds of critters around. Some of the most interesting are the large ones. There are enormous tarpon swimming around, and also goliath grouper (the fish formerly know as the jewfish). The grouper like to hang out under boats, and you’ll see them swimming across the anchorage, going from boat to boat. Anne has snorkeled under the boat to see them, and let me tell you, looking at something that big close up is rather intimidating, but all they did was come up and look at me, kind of like a big (like, Newfoundland-size), curious dog.


  1. OMG, just beautiful pics and descriptions. SO cool. Pretty cool to have a sailing blog written by biologists. We're learning all kinds of things we never knew. Glad you're reappeared. We were wondering where the heck you were. Really great to hear about all this and get caught up.

  2. Wow, I can almost feel the warm ocean breeze! I am achy from gardening all week and would love to be sitting on deck with you at sunset sipping, well, whatever it is you have to sip on. Keep in touch
    -Linda and the crew of the S.S. Wanless

  3. Chris and Anne,
    Great meeting you guys and chatting about your future adventures. All the best to you, and we'll look forward to checking in to see how things are going. We hit some major squalls on our way home from the Tortugas, but as you mentioned in your previous blog we won't talk about that!
    -Jaime and Channing 'No Worries'