The Dry Tortugas, Chapter Three


There were two things we noticed when we entered the anchorage two days ago.  One, of course, was the massive fort, the other was the crazy amount of birds flying adjacent to the fort on Bird Island.  Twenty thousand Sooty Terns come to this island during the winter, the only place in the U.S., to lay their eggs and raise their young.  Sailors call them “Wide Awakes” because they are very noisy sea birds.  They live their entire lives in the air deep at sea.  They sleep while flying although they do not need deep sleep.


The sounds and sights of thousands and thousands of Sooty Terns were our constant companion day and night.  They were a ball of energy.  But  birding was the afternoon’s agenda.  In the morning we went snorkeling.  Before we took off with Sea Alice and our snorkel gear we had a visitor at the boat.  This is T.J. the Goliath grouper, also known as a Jew fish.  Goliath groupers can reach over eight feet long and eight hundred pounds.  T.J. was a big boy.


We listened to our VHF weather report before snorkeling and some weather was coming in a few days so we were going to have to cut our stay shorter than we would have liked.  It was disappointing but not unexpected.

The snorkeling was fun but since we are snobby scuba divers it did not compare to some of our experiences.

Ooo!  Baracuda!




We returned to Echoes for lunch and to grab my bird books, binoculars and camera.   We took Sea Alice back to the island to walk the perimeter of the fort on the moat and to bird watch.



There are two hundred and ninety nine kinds of birds on the island.  The vast majority of species are migrants that only stop for a short period of time.  Many of these are sea birds that are rare to see.  It is bird heaven.




After our perimeter walk and before we did some bird watching we checked the gift shop computer.  The park service is very friendly to boaters and they let us use their computer to look up weather and wind websites that are designed for mariners.  These sites are more detailed and up to date than the VHF weather reports.  We had been checking these websites daily at the gift shop.  We were being especially careful because we planned to sail directly back to Marco, one hundred miles.  This would be our first all night sail.  We checked the weather and all looked well in the Tortugas for the next two days.  We checked the weather on the Marco end and a string of swear words followed.  Very heavy and stormy weather, seas and wind, were predicted for when we were to reach Marco.  Long story short, to miss the Marco weather and to miss the coming Tortuga weather we had to leave immediately.  It was 3:00 pm as we stood mumbling in the gift shop.  By 4:30 we were leaving the anchorage for a twenty four hour sail to Marco.  Bye bye birdies.



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