February 13-19, 2013... The Marquesas and Dry Tortugas

These last islands in the chain are beautiful and worth the trip. The Marquesas are small keys in the shape of an atoll about 20 miles from Key West. We anchored overnight only as there isn't much protection for a boat with a deeper draft. It would be a great place to get back to when the weather is calmer. On the way we had a dolphin accompany us and a turtle greet us in the anchorage. The sunset was beautiful as it was just us, the water, and the sky.

Next day, 40 miles on to the Dry Tortugas National Park. The only people here are the park rangers, other cruisers, overnight campers and the daytrippers who take either the ferry or seaplane out from Key West. When the planes and ferries go back to the barn, it is a very quiet place. The first night we arrived, an unforecasted storm did as well. Steady winds of 25 with gusts over 30 and downpours for HOURS were a big surprise -- to us as well as the fishing boats that hurried into the harbor after sunset. Everyone made it through ok. One of the fishing boats that came in for the storm traded us yellowtail snapper for beer. They even cleaned the fish for us and invited us onboard for some Cuban coffee. You never know who you will meet when cruising.

Garden Key is the island with Fort Jefferson -- a beautiful brick fort and moat started in the mid-1800s and never finished, though under construction for 30 years. It served as a Union military prison during the Civil War and was abandoned 10 years later by the Army. Later it was used as a coaling station for warships. The Maine stopped there on its way to Cuba in 1898. FDR proclaimed it a National Monument in 1935 and in the 1990s became part of the Dry Tortugas National Park. You are allowed to walk up to the fort roof (terreplein) and see some of the Rodman cannons still there. And what a view of the ocean, keys, and birds.

The Park is a wildlife refuge for nesting sooty terns, brown noddies, and frigatebirds. Of course there are also other seabirds like seagulls, ruddy turnstones and pelicans. The literature says over 100,000 birds are here at peak season. That's a lot of noise... and guano. Most of the time we were there, the wind was so high that we couldn't hear the birds, but when the wind settles it is an amazing racket. The birds were so thick over Bush Key and Long Key that from a distance they looked like bees swarming around a hive. Visiting under the boat were at least two goliath groupers -- said to be about 300 pounds each. That's a lot of fish.

We waited out another cold front with high winds, and left when we were the only ones still in the harbor. Another great place.

Marquesas Keys: 24d33.593'N 82d10.158'W
Dry Tortugas: 24d37.470'N 82d52.308'W

February 3-13, 2013... Key West, FL

Waited for weather. Got it wrong. Same old song. Left the anchorage off Little Torch in 16 knots. Blew 20-25 in the Hawk Channel. With our staysail and our incredibly reefed mini-main, we had a rather sporty sail for the 30 miles to Key West. Around Fleming Key we picked up a mooring off Garrison Bight and got ready for the 'big town'. First day in we met cousins Joel and Sarah with little cutie David (who we were seeing for the first time), down in the Keys for a vacation. Last time we saw Sarah and Joel was in the Thimbles in Connecticut, 4 years ago. What a pleasure to catch up. And that David -- what a kid!

Over the next week we walked all over the Old Town, the New Town, alternately sightseeing and getting prepped to leave the country. If you can avoid Duval Street and the daily disgorging of cruise ship passengers, Key West can be a wonderful small town. Many old houses have been beautifully restored. We met one lady who called to us from her porch. In our conversation we learned that she was born in that house 90 years ago. The changes she has seen!

We made ourselves at home, finding great places to eat (loved Santiago's Bodega), buy fresh bread, watch the sunsets (people blow the shell to celebrate sundown), and see the neighbors change in the mooring field. Still winter, we needed to watch the weather and wait to leave for the last keys in the US -- the Marquesas and the Dry Tortugas -- before the big jump to Mexico.

Key West:  24d34.538'N  81d47.302'W