The Dry Tortugas has some of the best snorkeling in Florida, not to mention the amazing Fort Jefferson. It’s not always easy to get here by sailboat, or get out!
In this article/video we cover the following:
- Sailing to the Dry Tortugas from Tampa Bay and Port Charlotte
- Goliath Grouper in the Dry Tortugas
- Snorkeling in the Dry Tortugas
- Dry Tortugas Fort Jefferson Tour and History
- Man Overboard Rescue at Garden Key
Preparing for the Dry Tortugas
Sailing to the Dry Tortuga’s is one of those things every sailor has in their bucket list. The fact that it’s only 70 miles west of Key West makes it accessible to the average coastal cruiser, though it is considered a remote destination. On a good day, it’s a 10-12 hour sail to Key West… but the weather often does not cooperate. I have personally attempted to make the trip 4 times and was only successful twice. This trip, we made it… but almost didn’t make it out. The reality is if you get stuck in the Dry tortuous, you better be well equipped. You better have ample food, fuel, and most importantly, water (or a water maker).
Getting to the Dry Tortugas
We set sail for the Dry Tortugas from Charlotte Harbor, about 75 miles south of Tampa Bay, a 24-hour sail to the Dry Tortugas. Our plan was to time our sail so that we would arrive at the same time as two other boats in our party. They were to depart St. Petersburg in Tampa Bay the night before. This would take them approximately 36 hours.
No Radio Contact
As we approached our destination, I fully expected to get them on the radio at some point. From my understanding, the average sailboat radio should be able to send/receive a radio signal up to 30 miles. As long as we were within 3-4 hours of each others arrival time, there should be no issue. Even though I’ve been sailing for a number of years, I now realize that I had never tried to make contact with any other boat more than a few miles away. Well, this experience has shed some new light on this idea. We were very concerned as we approached our anchorage, with no sign of our friends. But as they sailed in shortly after we arrived, we were relieved, to say the least.
Snorkeling the Dry Tortugas
The Dry Tortugas is known for its vibrant coral reefs and beautiful turquoise water. It’s a haven for both fisherman and snorkelers alike. There are a number of sunken ships around the islands that make for an amazing snorkel experience. In the anchorages, you will often find large barracuda, goliath grouper, and even shark. They have learned they can get a free meal from the visiting fishing boats as they clean their daily catch. We were lucky enough to have a close encounter with two goliath grouper that set up camp under Satori for much of our stay.
Dry Tortugas Fort Jefferson
The designated anchorage in the Dry Tortugas is located near Garden Key and Fort Jefferson. Fort Jefferson was built in the early 1800s after the Spanish American war. It was originally built to protect these major shipping waters from pirates and military threats to the united states. It is considered one of the most strategies deepwater anchorages in North America. Construction of the fort was never completed and amazingly, this structure is still considered unfinished.
Touring Fort Jefferson, Dry Tortugas
As we toured the fort, it was fascinating to think that by the mid-1800s, there were close to 2000 people living within the walls at any one time. During the civil war, the federal government decided to use the fort as a prison, even though it was still in construction. being sent to Fort Jefferson was considered a fate worse than death. It meant hard labor, blazing sun, scarce food, very little fresh water, swarms of mosquitos, not to mention bouts of malaria and yellow fever. Prisoners were forced to wear a ball and chain while working day and night to build the enormous brick structure.
Famous Prisoner: Dr. Samuel Mudd
The forts most famous prisoner was Dr. Samuel Mudd. Dr. Mudd was sentenced to life imprisonment after being convicted of treason. Dr. Mudd treated the broken leg of John Wilkes Booth after he assassinated President Abraham Lincoln. After a failed attempt at escape in 1865, Dr. Mudd’s heroic efforts during a Yellow Fever outbreak earned him a pardon in 1869. Now the only prisoner at Fort Jefferson is this saltwater crocodile that has been stranded on the island for years.
By the end of our second day in the Tortugas, there wasn’t much we had not seen or done. We had swum with goliath grouper, snorkeled the fort and a sunken wreck, braved a wicked overnight storm and repaired the dinghy motor. There was only one thing left to do… rescue a man overboard! Ok, so Jeff from Sailing S/V Ohana rescued him, but we saw him first! As the last boat in our group arrived the day after us, half the crew was seasick as dogs after making a very rough passage from Key West. One of the crew members was puking over the side as they approached the anchorage. He lost his balance and went over the side. Luckily, Jeff was already on his way to guide our friend into a safe anchoring position within the already crowded anchorage. Luckily, no-one was injured.
Now, the only thing left for us to do is get home. Easier said than done, however. The seas in the Gulf of Mexico had picked up as soon as we arrived in the Tortugas and the forecast had no sign of letting up. How did we get home… we’ll cover that in the next blog. until then, fair winds!
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Intro Song – Carribean Cuisine 4 – Magnus Ringblom
King Arthur Intro – 3:55 – Rule Britannia Classic – Traditional
Ending Song – Figure It Out – Daniel Gunnarsson
Download these songs for free at Epidemic Sound
Intro (Dry Tortugas Snorkeling and Fort)
Ohana, this is Satori. Second unit, this is Satori. We’re supposed to meet up along the way with at least two other boats. At this point, we’re about ten miles from our destination. We should be close enough to have radio contact. We are starting to worry. (Dry Tortugas Snorkeling and Fort)
Arrived in the Dry Tortugas (Dry Tortugas Snorkeling and Fort)
Our friends Ohana and second-unit made it to the Dry Tortugas shortly after us. Our boats were on two different courses and we were simply out of radio contact the entire trip down. We were so happy to see them. (Dry Tortugas Snorkeling and Fort)
Let’s go snorkel! (Dry Tortugas Snorkeling and Fort)
Your chin is correct, now you have to rise up on your releve. Let’s snorkel instead! Okay, during a quick check of our snorkel gear, we said hello to the two Goliath Grouper that set up camp underneath Satori. They can weigh as much as 800 pounds but these guys are probably closer to the average size of 400 pounds. The Dry Tortugas is home to some of the most vibrant coral reefs in the United States. It’s a snorkeler Wonderland. The reef stretches from the Dry Tortugas in the Gulf of Mexico all the way to Miami in the Atlantic Ocean. This reef is the home of hundreds of tropical fish and marine life. (Dry Tortugas Snorkeling and Fort)
The Windjammer site is located on loggerhead Reef. It was not until 1990 that the vessel was identified as the Norwegian Avanti, which sank in 1907. The Avanti was an iron hull, three mast ship built in 1875, which was relatively late in the age of sail. The vessel was carrying lumber when it was lost, however, the events of the wreck are still unknown. Archaeologists speculate the vessel was lost in a storm. (Dry Tortugas Snorkeling and Fort)
Storm (Dry Tortugas Snorkeling and Fort)
There is a 30-knot wind in here. The wind is just howling right now. All the boats next to us are swinging. We’re within what looks like 20 feet next door. The storm just whips in. We are just exhausted from the passage yesterday. I’m not going to get any sleep with this going on. It’s wicked here and there’s no protection at All. I’m going up front to check out the anchor. That’s too close when you feel like you can step into their cockpit. (Dry Tortugas Snorkeling and Fort)
So the winds died down to 17 Knots. It feels like it’s super calm Suddenly. That was just crazy. Everybody’s up in the Anchorage we got about nine or ten boats in here. Nobody looked like they moved. We stayed pretty solid. We didn’t move, we all swung back and forth a lot. The winds got pretty high. Jeff said he clocked 38-39 knots. I’m sure people have been through worse. It was a little nerve-racking. We are going to try and get some sleep now. (Dry Tortugas Snorkeling and Fort)
The next morning (Dry Tortugas Snorkeling and Fort)
We are too close right now, haha. Did you pull the weather? Yeah, it said like 17 knots all day. That should make your life a little easier. Kelly’s sleeping and it’s bright right now. So she’s using her bra as an eye mask. Hey baby! Yeah? Is it too bright? Yeah. I have a bra on my face, don’t I? Yes! It’s the first thing I grabbed. Good morning! (Dry Tortugas Snorkeling and Fort)
The Adventures of King Arthur
Look at King Arthur as he strolls down the beach at his vacation castle. These are modest accommodations for such a king. Our good king has never been fond of the beach or water for that matter. As a young prince and the runt of the Litter, our Good King was routinely bullied by his brothers who pined for the Kings chair. During prep school, Arthur was regularly subject to swirlies in the royal commode. Ever since, our good king has been cursed with the fear of all things liquid. Any great King must overcome his fears if he is to rule the land. (Dry Tortugas Snorkeling and Fort)
This king is no different. Look as he perseveres. You can see the pain in his eyes as he powers through his internal struggle. Our good king is resilient. He towers with pride at his accomplishment. You should be proud. Look how your peasants bow to your greatness. You are a king like none other. Hmm, that’s right King Arthur you are the greatest in all the land. (Dry Tortugas Snorkeling and Fort)
Touring the Fort (Dry Tortugas Snorkeling and Fort)
In 1825, a lighthouse was built on Garden King here in the Dry Tortugas. 70 miles due west of Key West. Shortly after the construction of Fort Jefferson began an effort to fortify one of the most strategic deepwater Anchorage’s in North America. Fort Jefferson is constructed of more than 16 million handmade red bricks though it is still considered unfinished. Walking around the fort, it’s hard to imagine the 2,000 people living within these walls during the mid-1800s. (Dry Tortugas Snorkeling and Fort)
During the Civil War, the federal government decided to use the fort as a prison. Fort Jefferson was considered a fate worse than death. It meant hard labor, blazing sun, scarce food and fresh water, swarms of mosquitoes, not to mention bouts of malaria and yellow fever, prisoners were forced to wear a ball and chain while working day and night to build the enormous brick structure. (Dry Tortugas Snorkeling and Fort)
Dr. Samuel Mudd (Dry Tortugas Snorkeling and Fort)
The fort’s most famous prisoner was dr. Samuel Mudd. Dr. Mudd was sentenced to life imprisonment after being convicted of treason. Dr. Mudd treated the broken leg of John Wilkes Booth after he assassinated President Abraham Lincoln, after a failed attempt to escape. 1865 Dr. Mudds heroic efforts during a yellow fever outbreak earned him a pardon in 1869. Now the only prisoner at Fort Jefferson is the saltwater crocodile that has been stranded on the islands for years. We’ll call him Gary. (Dry Tortugas Snorkeling and Fort)
Going to Happy Hour (Dry Tortugas Snorkeling and Fort)
We’re off to OHANA for happy hour while we wait for SV Artemis to join our group. They’re on their way from Key West and the seas are nasty. Janet, you’re the best! I have in-Reach. I don’t have any messages from him. But we did get one from Kelly’s mom. She’s worried because the weather up there is nasty. Oh yeah. Oh Lily, love Lily. Did she send you pictures of the puppy? That’s all we care about is Arthur. (Dry Tortugas Snorkeling and Fort)
Man Overboard (Dry Tortugas Snorkeling and Fort)
One of the crew members on SV Artemus fell overboard while puking. The seas were so bad half the crew members were seasick. Thanks to Jeff’s quick action nobody was hurt. You know don’t mess it up. Good job. Coming by for mimosas tomorrow? You know how to get to Kelly! Just show her champagne. I got four bottles! We got it! Oh yeah! (Dry Tortugas Snorkeling and Fort)
End (Dry Tortugas Snorkeling and Fort)
Next time on Sailing Satori, we try to leave the Dry Tortugas but Mother Nature has another plan for us. Want to support our future videos? Hit like below and subscribe, it’s totally free and you’ll get notified every time we post a new video. You can also shop through our Amazon link. Every time you shop they’ll kick us a few bucks. All you have to do is click on the link and shop like you normally would. It’s totally free. We’ll put the link in the description and as always thank you to all our patrons and our PayPal supporters. (Dry Tortugas Snorkeling and Fort)