The Dry Tortugas, Chapter One


We left the Marquesas in the morning in a small craft advisory.  We decided we’d give it a try with the idea we would turn around and anchor back at the Marquesas if it was too rough.  The wind direction was favorable as it was at our backs.   The waves and wind were pushing us from behind rather than us trying to push through them.  We put up our jib, which was plenty of sail, and sailed on a run.  There is a formula the National Weather Service uses to estimate wave height.   Basically, they take the average wave height and also a timed swell count to come up with their predictions.  We were in seven foot seas which loosely means that on average the seas were seven feet tall.   The seas could reach up to twenty one feet on rare occasions and heights in between about a third of the time.  I can’t tell you how high the waves were, but they were the highest I’ve ever sailed in.  I’m sure they can get much bigger.  I hope not to “experience” that.  Sometimes we were at the bottom of the trough and there would be walls of waves about two stories high around us.  However, it was more exciting than terrifying, the whoaaaa kind of exciting, not the weeeee kind.   Echoes handled them well.  So we kept going and sailed the gripping forty five miles to the Dry Tortugas.


Land ho!  We could see Fort Jefferson and the island where we’d be anchoring.   We knew the anchorage was small and we were worried it might be full because boaters probably did not leave that day because of the weather.  We counted masts as we approached knowing it could hold maybe fifteen boats.  We counted twelve masts that we could see on the back side of the fort.  You can anchor in one other place but it was unprotected and we had enough of spin and spank from the night before.

The anchorage was tight and shallow to say the least.  We wedged ourselves between two boats closer than we would have preferred (and I’m sure than they would have) but there was no avoiding it and our neighbors took it in stride.  I was so relieved to be tied up safely in a calm anchorage at the destination we had been talking about for months.  It had been a challenging previous fifteen hours and it was time for a glass of wine.

We watched three more boats arrive after us.  There were very slim pickings left to anchor in.  They all had a hard time finding a spot and all changed their minds at least once and pulled anchor to try another spot.  A large motor boat finally anchored right behind us.  John gave play by play commentary as we watched and he did not like the way they set their anchor.  The boat looked like it left the show room floor the day before.  We watched a funny looking aluminum hulled sail boat named High Maintenance struggle to find his spot.  Finally, the ocean floor found one for him as he grounded himself about five boat lengths away from us.  John made note of how far away our motor neighbors had drifted as we watched some other sailors come to High Maintenance’s aid .  The motor boat drifted even further as they obliviously threw back cocktails on the deck.  John got on the VHF and hailed the “motor vessel anchored at Fort Jefferson” and told them they were dragging.  Without a response, they flew into action and reset their anchor.  Meanwhile, other sailors were in their dinghy and had attached High Maintenance’s halyard to them (the line used to raise the sail) and were motoring the dinghy perpendicular and away from the ground boat in hopes to pull it sideways by the mast and set it free.  They worked at it quite a while but High Maintenance wouldn’t budge.  It sat there all night and until high tide around 2:00 pm the next day when the water lifted it enough for him to motor out of harms way and drop anchor.  It was an entertaining evening and we preferred being the spectators this time.


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