Saturday, 3/15/08 Day 42
Today was pretty neat. After an awesome breakfast of pancakes topped with Bananas Foster, bacon, sausage patties, and fruit salad, we went to shore. We talked to the park rangers and found out the fishing regulations. You can fish within one mile of Garden Key. We are going dinghy trolling tomorrow morning. I can't wait.
We went on a dinghy ride to Bush Key and Long Key this morning. That is where the birds breed. You cannot go onto these Keys, but can dinghy up to 100ft. from them. We saw Sooty Terns, Brown Noddies and Frigatebirds. They flock in clouds over Bush Key. We watched the Sooties and Noddies fish. Some of the birds would swoop feet from the dinghy. It was great to see them so close up in nature. They were cool.
We came back to the boat for lunch and Daddy got the watermaker running! Now we can take salt water and make it fresh water. This will let us stay out of port longer because we won't run out of water.
After lunch, Dad dinghied us to shore while he went back to the boat to do projects. Josh and I played in the sand, but we got bored after a while. We wandered over to the pier where we met a man named Mr. Clyde who had come to the Tortugas to camp with his 11 year old son Will. Mr. Clyde and Will were fishing off the dock and offered us bait. Dad, who had just come back to see what was up, went back to the boat to get our poles and we fished for about 2 hours before saying goodbye and heading back to the boat.
We watched a rescue helicopter land at Garden Key this afternoon and take an old man from one of the ferries to a hospital in Key West. He was having a heart attack. A ranger told us that the chopper would be at a hospital in Key West in about 40 minutes. The ferries take 2 ½ hours.
We had a late dinner of pork loin and potatoes before going to bed. The weather was warm with clear blue skies all day. I like it here. I am tired.
Sunday, 3/16/08 Day 43
We went fishing and had fun this morning. Dad, Josh and I went dinghy trolling around the Dry Tortugas' surrounding coral reefs. We hooked four fish and actually caught three. We only kept one fish though. It was a 24 in., 10 lb. Red Grouper. The other three fish were big Great Barracudas. Bro got the first barracuda which jumped high in the air before spitting the hook. I caught the second barracuda which we got right next to the boat. Daddy wasn't sure what to do with it, but it didn't matter because the fish spit the hook. Joshua pulled in the third barracuda. We got it right to the side of the boat and were going to keep it. Dad was even dragging it back to the boat behind the dinghy when he thought about the ciguatera poisoning that some big barracudas get. While he was deciding what to do, something weird happened. I got a fish but didn't notice it because my clicker was off. Dad jumped to turn it on, but accidentally flipped a wrong switch. The reel got messed up, but Dad fixed it enough to bring in the grouper. It was a ton of fun!!
As soon as we got back from fishing, we dinghied to shore to try to catch a tour of Fort Jefferson. The ferries that come from Key West provide their passengers with a guided tour of Fort Jefferson and we tagged along. I learned a lot. Our tour guide talked all about the history of the fort. We learned that Dr. Samuel Mudd, the doctor who fixed John Wilkes Booth's leg, was imprisoned here, but then was pardoned by a U.S. President when he saved the soldiers at the fort from a yellow fever epidemic. Though Mudd was pardoned, he was not exonerated. He had always said that he did not know who Booth was when he helped him. His descendants have been trying to clear his name for years. In 2006, the Mudd family tried to get the Supreme Court to hear the case. Our tour guide said that they somehow missed the court date and the court refused to ever hear the case again. I think that that is very interesting.
After returning to the boat for lunch, we went snorkeling. Part of the fort was once used as a ship refueling port during the Spanish-American War. The coal docks, now in ruins, are good snorkeling spots. You are not allowed to fish at the coal docks, so they have an abundance of snappers, hogfish, and more. Coral, sea fans, sponges and some anemones have grown on the underwater posts, creating an artificial reef. Though the water was cold and a bit murky, I saw snapper, hogfish, wrasses, damselfish, sea urchins, Sergeant Majors, grunts, a stingray, a Great Barracuda, and some parrotfish. I had a good time.
On the beach, we met a man named Dave and his brother who were camping. Dave has traveled all over the world. They are from Nottingham in Sherwood Forest in England, the setting for Robinhood. Dave likes the Dry Tortugas and has been coming here for the last 10 years. He likes to paint the fort, the Loggerhead Lighthouse, and other sights of the Dry Tortugas islands. At night, he and his brother fish on the docks for sharks. He catches nurse sharks, sand sharks, reef sharks, and occasionally a Mako or Tiger Shark. They always throw them back. He was nice.
We thought about going to fish with the group of guys after dinner, but we couldn't. Dinner was too late. It's okay. The day was good anyway.
Monday, 3/17/08 Day 44
Today was full of excitement, but it was not all good excitement. The weather was constantly switching from gray clouds covering the whole sky to clear, blue, sunny skies, and back again.
After breakfast, we took advantage of a time where the skies were mostly clear and went back to Fort Jefferson. It was before the ferries came, so we wandered to the places the tour did not take us to, tourist-free. We had picked up some Junior Ranger packets that asked questions about different places in the fort. We found all the answers. When we went to the bookstore to turn in the booklet and get Junior Ranger badges, Mom bought us an identification book on whales, dolphins and porpoises. It has a map of where they live, so now we won't accidentally think we saw a dolphin that only lives off the coast of Africa! It's a great book.
Back at the boat, we ate lunch and Josh and I did a little school. At around 2:00, a NOAA cutter came into the anchorage and docked where the ferries usually park. People on board were doing CPR on someone on the boat. We watched that for a while. A Trauma Star, Life Flight helicopter finally arrived and picked up the person. The helicopter didn't race away quickly like the rescue helicopter did the other day. We don't think that is a very good sign.
Shortly after that happened, we heard a boat calling for the National Park Service on the Dry Tortugas. It was the same boat (S/V Coaster) that the Park Service was calling earlier in the day. When no one answered the boat, they called for any boat that could hear them. Dad answered. They were coming offshore from Mexico and were having trouble. Their forestay, the part which attaches their jib sail to the main mast, had broken and a Coast Guard cutter had assisted them in fixing it earlier in the day. Now, their transmission went out, leaving them without an engine in foul weather conditions. They were 12 miles away and could not sail into the wind to get to the Dry Tortugas. They were calling for a vessel to come out and tow them in. Dad jumped in the dinghy to alert the rangers.
The National Park Service (NPS) tried to contact s/v Coaster, but they could not hear each other, so Mom relayed. The NPS and the Coast Guard both said that they could not provide a tow, but could come out to rescue the crew (Paul & Ellen) off the boat if they were in danger of loss of life or limb. That would mean they would abandon their boat. They did not want to do that. They tried calling a fishing vessel or a commercial towing service, but nobody would come and get them because the weather was so bad. In the end, they decided to heave to (position their sails so that the two sails work against each other to slow down and stabilize the boat, basically drifting), get some rest and wait. They are drifting NW, so I don't know if we'll ever see them. Mom and Dad will continue to call for them during the night, but they are drifting out of radio range. This is not good for them.
By the time we were almost out of radio range of s/v Coaster, it was 10:00pm. We had a small, late supper and are going to bed now.
Tuesday, 3/18/08 Day 45
Today was a pretty simple day. In the morning, Josh and I did school. In the early afternoon, after lunch, he and I played together. Later in the afternoon, we went to the beach for an hour or so. We found cool stones, shells, and coral chunks that we traded with each other. I saw a couple of Portuguese Man-Of-War that had washed up on the beach. The weather has been rough with 20+ knot winds. We got really wet on the quick dinghy ride back from the beach. The wind generator is spinning super fast, but it is broken and isn't making the power it should be. We are getting a new one soon.
Nobody has heard from s/v Coaster all day. I hope they are okay. If they hit no more bad weather and nothing else breaks, I bet they'll be fine. I am worried. Everything else is good.
Wednesday, 3/19/08 Day 46
There is so much to tell about today. Starting after breakfast, Dad gave us our first haircuts. We bought a clipper and trimmer in Pearland, and Dad got to use them for the first time on Josh. I'm glad I wasn't the guinea pig. Everything worked out, for the most part, and I went next. I got a nice haircut. After me, Dad did his own hair. I thought he would mess up. He ended up doing well.
After lunch, Daddy dropped Mom, Josh and me off at the beach while he went back to the boat to do some projects. Mommy owed the bookstore $1.50, but the store was closed because the ferries could not come because the seas were too rough. We had to go to the park ranger's office to get them to call the lady who runs the bookstore. While we were there, a park ranger told us that s/v Coaster had been found. We had put out a call for them on a Ham radio net, so we will have to tell this to the net tomorrow. The U.S. Coast Guard found them and towed them to Marcos Island, near Naples, FL, just before they were going to send a helicopter looking for them. I am very glad that they were found. The park rangers said that they thought the crew of s/v Coaster was okay. Mom was so relieved she cried.
We set all of our stuff on the South beach, but a camper said that we should try the North beach. We had already planned to walk around the fort's moat, so we decided to check it out on the way around. Josh found Hermie, a hermit crab, on the beach for the third day in a row. The strong wind has blown tons of Portuguese Man-Of-War onto the beaches.
On our walk around the moat wall, we saw needlefish, parrotfish, damselfish, Sergeant Majors, snapper, sea fans, sea urchins, and a bit of coral. We saw how the fort is crumbling apart. This is happening because of the rusting rebar inside the walls from the shutters that protected the artillerymen and cannons. The National Park Service is sending teams of masons to repair it. There is a team at Fort Jefferson right now. They are fixing the walls and restoring the shutters with ones that will not rust. The North beach looked nice, so we hurried back to the South beach to gather up our stuff.
At the north end of the island, closest to Bush Key, where the Sooty Terns and Brown Noddies breed, a volunteer had set up a telescope through which we could see the birds close up. She was showing and telling a group of campers about the birds. We got in line. It was cool seeing the birds so close again. We had already dinghied as close to Bush and Long Key (100 ft.) as we were allowed to the other day. The only problem with the telescope was that the birds were sometimes too fast for you to see them clearly. I like the Brown Noddies.
On our way to the North beach with our stuff, we saw Fort Jefferson's supply boat come in. The name of the boat is Fort Jefferson. It only comes every 2 weeks, so it was loaded. They loaded and unloaded stuff for hours. Everybody had to help, a volunteer said.
The North beach is awesome! It is the best place I've ever been to skim board. The waves came just right and were calm because the beach is protected from the wind. I only fell 5 times. That's really good for me.
There is also a huge sand mound, around 15ft. high, that Josh and I played on. Josh slid down on his rear end, making a cool trench. We found bricks that we rolled down the trench, each trying to make our brick go farthest, and trying to knock down obstacles like washed up sea fans. It was cool!
There was also a lot of slate on the beach. Josh and I found cool pieces and traded them with each other. It was fun.
Dad came to pick us up around 5:30. He brought the fishing poles with him to troll around Garden Key. About halfway around, a catamaran named Aussie Cat called us over to tell us that there was a fishing boat that gave them free fish. We went over to check it out, and the fishermen gave us a little Smallhead Porgy and a big Jolthead Porgy. On our way back to the boat, I got a bite. I fought the fish until Dad thought that I may have been snagged on some coral. He reeled in an 18 inch, 4 pound Red Grouper! We may have been fighting a piece of coral for a while because grouper hide in holes in rocks. Next time Dad thinks there is a problem when I may have a fish on the line, I'm reeling the grouper in (see 3/16/08)!
We ate fish for dinner. I had a ton of fun today!
Thursday, 3/20/08 Day 47
I woke up to a serious problem this morning. The engine wouldn't start, and we needed to go to Key West today. After Dad spent a long time trying to fix it in vain, we made a plan to sail to Key West because the wind was right today. We asked the fishing boat Monica from Miami, FL to tow us to the channel where we started to sail. We sailed all the way to the Key West channel, where we were towed by TowBoat U.S. into the wind to a mooring ball.
We had a good time while we sailed. We saw dolphins three times. All three times they were Bottlenose Dolphins. The first time we only saw two, the second time a pod, and the last time a small group of three. Mom and Dad think they may have seen a shark, but they are not sure. We also saw a Loggerhead Sea Turtle swimming in the middle of the reefy waters we were traveling in.
At first we were sailing slowly and we thought that it would be at least midnight before we got to Key West. Then, a squall came and we made very good time (about 6kts.) for the rest of the day.
At the channel into Key West and the mooring ball field to which we were headed, TowBoat U.S., of which Mom and Dad are members, came to pull us to our destination. The last, first, only other, time we were towed, the weather was bad and we were pulled at around 2kts. This time, we were towed at around 8kts. We had a current pushing us at least 1kt. We got into the mooring field and onto the mooring ball at 10:00pm, exactly 14 hours after we left Garden Key in the Dry Tortugas at 8:00am this morning.
Dad will call a mechanic that was recommended to him in the morning. The rest of the day was good.
Friday, 3/21/08 Day 48
Most of today, our first day in Key West, was spent on land. Key West, an island 4 miles long and at the Southernmost point of the Continental U.S.A., is a major tourist destination. People come from all over to fish, snorkel, and explore the numerous reefs in the surrounding area, visit Key West's famous bars, and enjoy what some would characterize as "paradise." I don't exactly think so. Yes, the blue water, coral reefs and beaches are nice, but the island is too touristy. Huge cruise ships make this place a stop, and you can also fly in and rent an electric car to tour the city's pirate and shipwreck museums. I prefer more peaceful, deserted places like the Dry Tortugas.
We dinghied to shore in the morning and headed to check into the marina office that owns the mooring field. They have laundry, restroom, shower, and pump out facilities. We need to do laundry. Dirty clothes are piling high in our head (bathroom). We took showers and headed for Duval Street and the main part of town where we ate lunch at Jack Flats. Mom, Dad and I ate big ½ pound burgers, but Josh had a huge burrito. He ate the whole thing. After a large lunch, we went shopping. We went to West Marine and a grocery store.
Mom and Dad decided that we would attend a church for Good Friday service. We rushed back to the boat to get ready. On our way back to our boat, we stopped at a boat named Katheryn. Mom and Dad had noticed it earlier. We knocked and found out that, like we had thought, s/v Katheryn had been sailing with s/v Coaster from Mexico. We told them what we knew and exchanged boat cards. I hope we see Coaster one day, but it doesn't seem probable.
We went to Good Friday service at Grace Lutheran Church. I realized that this is the same name as the church we attended in New Orleans, LA. We liked the church and will attend Easter service there.
We ended the night by stopping into a Breyers Ice Cream shop. We enjoyed ice cream in waffle cones before returning to the boat and retiring to our beds. Today was cool. Today is the first day of Spring. Who cares? It's as warm as Summer here. I wonder what it's like back home in Pearland, TX.