Sailing from Stock Island, Key West to the national park at the Dry Tortugas

Setting out at sunset.

Robbies Boat Yard                  = LN 24° 33.4 - W 81° 44.1                                                                 Fort Jefferson                          = LN 24° 37.7 - W 82° 52.4

Ventenar anchored on the left, Ship-O-Fool, and the Dry Tortugas ferry docked at Fort Jefferson, Garden Island.

One of the golden cruising rules for sailing anywhere you’ve not been to before, especially when its going to include tricky shallow entry depths… is do arrive during daylight hours, allowing plenty of time for safest docking or anchorage.

As it was my first time sailing the Caribbean, and I assumed the role of Ventenar navigator/weather girl… reading all I could local pilot guide wise was another worthy investment.

The weather was a tad surprising, for the days we were locked onshore at Key West. The pattern seemed to be 2-3 days of stormy squalls, followed by a couple of days of more stable sunshine… then repeat as necessary. Not the 24/7 Florida sunshine you see copiously advertised on all the holiday brochures! Mucho humidity was a given, which took a Devon belle such as myself at least a couple of weeks to properly physically adjust to. Mega bottled water consumption became a daily routine.

The day we departed was one of squally showers and the occasional thunderstorm - mainly sans lighting - not a good look on a lone sailboat. We left on the back of the worst of it that had punched through for a few days or so post Xmas frolics. A late afternoon slip from the mooring which would see us arriving at the Dry Tortugas the following daytime, critical for a boat and crew keen to weave safely through the considerable shoals and reefs in the area, during a window of more clement weather.

The prevailing conditions still made for an ultra quick crossing with winds averaging the mid 20knts range… but the angles were great for reaching, a Catamarans true forte… Dawn was around 5:30am, though with the lingering dank dull grey skies, we opted for a slightly longer run so as we could sling in a tack and then head 6:00am track into the final shallow bay with a wooden posted marked approach channel that terminates just in front of the red bricked splendour of Fort Jefferson…

Another smart move is to keep at least with reef one, set in on the main sail during night passages, unless you’re 110% sure that light air is going to prevail with you until till dawn. This keeps the pressure off both the lone crew on watch, and yacht speeds calmer. Galloping chaos is better saved for wide-awake mariners during daylight hours!! SV Ventenar has a modified FP Belize rig allowing for three reef points in the main.

This first voyage one night’s sail was a very good way to shake down the whole fledgling Globe Hacker team allowing them to gently slip into the routine of night watch mode. Three mariners means 4hr shifts, split 8pm to Midnight, Midnight to 4:00am, then 4:00am to 8:00am… allowing the crew to spend most of the daylight hours together. Shootin’ the breeze, gibing and all that jazz.

A few nautical miles offshore the Fort channel it’s prudent, polite and indeed necessary to log in with the on-duty Rangers, who act as harbourmasters… via VHF channel 16, mush as you do on final departure.

And as there are no services at all onshore at the fort, you need to have enough food, fuel, water and provisions onboard to cover your stay in total and beyond, making safe transit and docking to a more conventional marina or finish location, for us this was Marina Hemingway near Havana, Cuba. However the Ferry that arrives most days from Key West has a canteen and showers on the back that can be used by cruisers for a small fee.

Some useful Dry Tortugas Park info here

It’s a very interesting and historic stop place for a few days, and the moored cruisers social side over New Year’s Eve worked very well for us. Another Brit’ crew we met sailed over to Cuba at the same time as ourselves.

For those heading westward from the central Caribbean up the eastern USA seaboard, it is a very welcome rest point and shelter too.

Fair winds… 

Lighthouse at Fort Jefferson

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Alexandra Deegan

Alexandra is a dyslexic polymath and her personality type is best summed up by this phrase: Does it work? During 2013 "Deegs" worked as an avionics tech-head on the ETRAC part of the A350 XWB launch for UTC/Goodrich. In her more distant past she's been a creative director for various blue-chip agencies including Omnicom Group Inc. Currently, time-wise, Alexandra is fully qualified RYA mariner delivering sail yachts internationally as a hobby. She crewed on "Ventenar" from December 2013 to March 2014 contributing her wit and skills to the budding Globe Hacker founders. "Thought is wind, knowledge the sail, and humankind the vessel." Alexandra Deegan (quotes are us). Some of her other quips, admonitions and anecdotal lessons are better shared in the jovial safety of seasoned Globe Hackers.