Dry Tortugas-take 1-mission aborted

7.10.09 -7.11.09

Destination: Dry Tortugas to shoot the Garden Key Lighthouse (Ft.Jefferson) and Loggerhead Key Light

Launch Point: Key West City Dock

Log entry taken from letter to friends Mitch and Jack:
I just wanted to fill you in on our aborted plan to make a run to the Dry Tortugas.
Orignal plan was to drive down and launch Friday from Key West  early enough to consider going the 3 hrs to the tortugas if the water was flat. And, if not so early,  then go out 1 hr and anchor at the Marquesas and run out to Ft. Jefferson on Saturday with a Sunday am return to Key West.
Due to the prototypical last minute fussing with the boat (one day it will be just gas and go!), we did not depart until around 11am which means that we launched late.  Although, the days prior had been reportedly flat out in the ocean, the dull gray skies seemed to portend something other. But, it could as easily have been just heat haze..which was what I took it to be in the absence of any development or electrical activity that I could see or news of unfavourable weather.

After stopping at the Key West Publix for last minute cold foods, ice and dry ice, we launched at the Key West City Dock at around 6pm. A man just arriving at the dock said it was about 6ft out there and expounded on the fact that the entire week had been completely calm and perfect..which was the information we had. The ramp was quiet but it was windy and new information was leading to a no go already. We had a sandwich at a nearby dockside restaurant to mull things over.
We made the decision to do an exploratory run out to the Marquesas and anchor there. Then decide in the morning. It was encouraging and completely calm and smooth. The GPS was invaluable as we traveled after sunset away from the lights of Key West and into a steadily darkening sky. We went out the NW channel and anchored about 5 miles shy of the Marquesas in about 17 ft of water well off of the shipping channel but still within sight of Key West lights…at least on the high point of the wave motion.  We were very tired and ready to try and sleep anticipating Saturday’s journey.
The seas were around 2 ft I suppose but the motion was pleasant and no problem at all. Yet I could not seem to sleep. Periodically I’d check the GPS to see if the longitude was still 81 58.247 indicating our anchor held and we did not drift. I’d look back and see if the KW lights were in position and a particular white flashing beacon where I expected it to be. Soon I heard Raymond snoring and so was glad the captain was getting the rest he needed to drive in the morning. I laid down and watched the horizon slide up and down as the boat moved with the waves and enjoyed the play of light on the dark water. It was most pleasant. After awhile the clouds parted so the stars and the moon beamed brilliantly. I watched a pretty white cloud on the horizon pile up quite high and soon had my own light show strobing the undulating ocean into dramatic snap shots. When it seemed the storm was getting nearer I woke Raymond too see if he thought we should move, but he felt ok to stay put.
Ultimately, I must have dozed because I woke with a start realizing that the waves were a good deal rougher. Raymond was up and saying we should pull anchor and go back, that things did not bode well for any transit to Ft. Jefferson.  Channel16 was putting out boaters warnings. Considering I was concerned we would drift while sleeping, we had a devil of a time getting the anchor up. I was ready to cry uncle and cut the rope when most of our maneuvers failed to free it, and then of course it was maneuvered free and responded to my efforts to pull it into the boat.
The original storm I had watched faded off into the distance but we found ourselves surrounded by three large cells…one particularly dramatic. Quite monstrous in the dark, it was filled with electrical flashes and heavy streaks of lightning straight down into the sea. The channel back took us closer than comfortable to its dark underbelly and thick cylindrical walls but it did not seem to move in our direction. The GPS was again a life saver and Raymond did a terrific job negotiating the waves and avoiding some treacherous areas in the dark and in an area we were still new to.  I was glad of our new fluffy lightning protection apparatus but have no way of knowing if it made a difference or dissipated any local charge.  Just glad we had it. (Did I say that with all our apparatus and stuff for this trip..we looked a bit like the oceanic Beverly Hillbillies ?)
By the time we entered Key West Harbour, passed the sheltered anchorages, and made way to  the ramp, the sky looked considerably better. It actually had blue in it and the water around the ramp was very smooth. Flats fishermen were launching..it was around 7:30am by this time. You would not know we had just been through such dangerous looking weather. Raymond slept some but restlessly so we were both too tired to think of alternate plan and what we did think of just didn’t seem worth it. So we pulled out and headed back home. While we transferred stuff from the boat to the truck, we did overhear a returning fisherman who’d recently launched say it was too rough out there. Right when I’d begun to think our night had been a figment of imagination.  
I really did not know if we’d be able to drive the 5 hrs back safely since Raymond could hardly keep his eyes open at the IHOP we stopped at for breakfast and coffee. By, Cudjoe Key we stopped and napped on the side of the road. Freshened we continued but I kept fading off and on all the way back. Can’t remember when I’ved felt so out of it.
We had spotted a church group doing a car wash for donations before we left the southern keys. So for 15 bucks they rinsed our boat down. This was good since when we arrived home we unloaded only the necessary things and slept until morning.
Just to wrap up such a lengthy short tale..Sunday AM just cleaned salt off of things and put stuff away. This part is a test for Jack to see if he made it this far into the narrative……for the first time I used that camouflage waterproof duffle you sent me. It was full of beach towels and my changes of clothes for the journey and had been in a part of the boat which took a lot of salt water splashed in during our stormy return. Everything inside was dry and I just put it away with no washing needed. So it works!! Sunday afternoon I just curled up and read a charming little book called “The Last Camel Died at Noon” an Amelia Peabody Mystery. Finished it around 2am actually…having had all that sleep and all!
I think the big thing I came away with was that next time we should sleep in a hotel, get a good nights sleep and strike out early and just go the three hours straight to the Dry Tortuas. We’ll worry about sleeping on the boat when we get there. I do think we packed well and that food and water was adequate. With dry ice we learned …last time having frozen some food…..dry ice on the bottom.then a layer like a handtowel…then wet ice…then food. 6lbs worked pretty well that way.
The next 10 weeks we have to concentrate on business so our next adventure waits.

~ by Judy on July 13, 2009.

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