(As I promised a few days ago, here’s more detail about my recent trip.) In order to catch the ferry boat out to the Dry Tortugas National Park I had to be up before dawn (not my usual, as you may know). Considering that I’ve waited a few years to take this trip I didn’t really mind.
About 20 miles west we passed by the Marquesas Keys. This small cluster of islands is protected from habitation as part of the Key West National Wildlife Refuge. The area is most famous for what lies in the water nearby, the wreck of the Nuestra Señora de Atocha.
The Atocha was one of eight Spanish ships that sank during a hurricane in 1622. Over a span of 60 years Spain recovered large amounts of gold, silver, emeralds, pearls, and other valuables from the vessels but they never located the Atocha.
In 1973, the shipwreck was famously discovered by Mel Fisher and his team. Over the ensuing years they recovered $450 million dollars worth of treasure, though according to the ship’s log, that is only half of the precious cargo.
It was roughly another 50 miles before we next saw land, this time Loggerhead Key (with it’s lighthouse) and Garden Key (almost completely covered by Fort Jefferson). We could feel the difference in the sea about the same time we spotted the Dry Tortugas. Named by Ponce de Leon in 1513, Las Islas de Tortugas were prized by sailors for offering shallow, safe harborage.
I spent an hour touring the 16 acre fort (third largest in our coastal fortification system). Began in 1846, the outpost was constructed to protect a vital shipping lane for US commerce, though it was never really needed (none of the heavy guns were ever fired).
The rest of my four hours I wisely spent wandering Bush Key (which storms and shifting sand have now connected to Garden Key, though who knows for how long). Impressions from the island: the intense color of the water, a flock of Magnificent Frigatebirds wheeling overhead, a sea turtle in the shallows, a Peregine Falcon dining on something feathery, and my first sea biscuit (and yes, it almost killed me to leave it behind, but I had to follow national park rules).
Long before I was ready it was time to board the ferry and return to Key West. Though the high speed catamaran averaged 30 miles per hour, I still spent more time at sea than I did on land that trip. Didn’t matter to me as I thoroughly enjoyed the entire adventure – well worth the wait!