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Old 15-02-2011, 11:34   #1
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Planning Trip: Key West to Dry Tortugas as Soon as Possible

Hi everyone,

We're free for the next two to three weeks, and are in Marathon FL right now. We're starting to plan a trip to the Dry Tortugas via Boca Grande key in the Marquesas. We have one potential buddy boat for the trip, and are open to others also (in case you or a friend may be interested).

We have significant coastal cruising experience, but this will really be one of our few times out on open water with no protection from the reef. We've done the New Jersey coast and northern Florida coast outside before, but that's all for open ocean sailing. Bite sized pieces are right for us at this point.

Any of you every sailed or motor sailed to the Tortugas via the Marquesas? What would you recommend to us first timers on the trip?

We are on a 27 foot ocean cruising sloop (albin Vega)

Here's what I'm thinking so far:
50 gallons of water
30 gallons of gas (for our 8hp 4-stroke Honda outboard)
tethers, harnesses, jacklines, foul weather gear
Dramamine (started 24-48 hours before the trip, along with no alcohol for 2 days prior)
collapse our inflatable dinghy and outboard and store in the v berth
have our compass calibrated before the trip
plot and track our gps coordinates on paper charts every 10 minutes
consider renting a satellite phone or getting a SPOT gps tracker

Our primary instrumentation is a bulkhead compass and garmin self-contained bulkhead mounted small color gps. digital depth sounder also.
Good old VHF that has good signal.
backup gps navigation on a laptop with gps receiver and also on iPad.

I have not yet had the chance to talk to any local charter captains or fisherman about the Marquesas and the currents and shallows, etc. This is a top priority before we leave. I especially want to ask about uncharted shallows and the entrance to Mooney harbor in the Marquesas!


Concerns:
Being out of communication in case of emergency
Unexpected current from north or south when beyond the reef's protection
Running aground when trying to anchor in the marquesas
Unexpected storms of course
We do not have a life raft (our boat is our life raft!)
The east winds that are prevalent this time of year. It would suck to get stuck out in the Tortugas for a few weeks of nonstop heavy east winds or storms!!!

Maybe we should head to the Tortugas at the tail end of an easterly and then hang in the Tortugas while the winds are south, and then return to Key West when they clock around to the west. That's been the dominant weather pattern here for the last month, but still you never know!

I don't want to have to reply on communication and the coast guard in case of emergency, but I'd like to be able to contact someone if something happens like losing our rudder or running hard aground, etc.

I suppose we could leave the dinghy behind, but it could come in handy to have it in case we ran aground and need to kedge off or if we want to dinghy over to loggerhead key, etc.

Thanks!
Capt'n K
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Old 15-02-2011, 12:11   #2
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My God Man! You're only going 70 miles! 75% of which is within sight of land!

I've made that trip about a zillion (well a LOT of) times....
  • Leave the dinghy inflated and tow it
  • there are a LOT of lee-shore anchorages along the way.
  • The prevailing winds during the winter fronts are north/south.... plan your route N or S of the Marquesas accordingly for calm water.... the islands don't block much wind!
  • Yes, you can get weathered in, but never for more than a couple days this time of year, so extraordinary provisions are not required
  • get a SPOT with a linked TowBoatUS account for emergency comms.. BUT you'll have VHF with Group Key West the entire way.
  • Forget Mooney Harbor unless you are shallow draft.... you can get into the swash channels to anchor though, but beware the tide runs FAST through there!
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Old 15-02-2011, 12:47   #3
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Thanks for making me laugh at myself!

It's our first "offshore" trip so we are planning for worst case scenarios, of course!

I hadn't thought about traveling north of the marquesas if the wind is out of the south! Thanks for the idea.

Our VHF is 25 watts, and I don't ever reach more than ten miles, so I wonder what you mean about not being outside of VHF radio contact. I can imagine being in touch with other cruisers or boats, but I can't imagine that my signal would reach 70 miles to key west unless the sun flares kick up and suddenly affect 2-meter communication! I suppose you can hail the rangers on the tortugas once you get into range of them.
You have experienced VHF with "Group Key West" all the way from the Tortugas on a normal VHF???

We draw just about 4 feet, so I've read that we can get into mooney harbor, but my charts are inconsistent and probably horribly out of date.
Do you think 4 feet of draft can get into the harbor, and if so, then which channels do you think can take 4 feet all the way in? Here is the one that I have read about a few sailors using:



The course is the blue line that goes to the northeast.

Thanks so much for your thoughts!! When was the last time you went, and was it in a sailboat?

K
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Old 15-02-2011, 13:17   #4
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There are many threads on this subject. Scroll this page to the bottom to see "Similar Threads". FWIW there is little to be gained by trying to tuck your boat into Money Harbor save no-see-ems. Anchor to the south or southwest of the key if you can't make it to Ft. Jefferson in one go. It's an easy trip and you'll do fine.
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Old 15-02-2011, 14:13   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Weehappy View Post
Thanks for making me laugh at myself!

It's our first "offshore" trip so we are planning for worst case scenarios, of course!

I hadn't thought about traveling north of the marquesas if the wind is out of the south! Thanks for the idea.

Our VHF is 25 watts, and I don't ever reach more than ten miles, so I wonder what you mean about not being outside of VHF radio contact. I can imagine being in touch with other cruisers or boats, but I can't imagine that my signal would reach 70 miles to key west unless the sun flares kick up and suddenly affect 2-meter communication! I suppose you can hail the rangers on the tortugas once you get into range of them.
You have experienced VHF with "Group Key West" all the way from the Tortugas on a normal VHF???

We draw just about 4 feet, so I've read that we can get into mooney harbor, but my charts are inconsistent and probably horribly out of date.
Do you think 4 feet of draft can get into the harbor, and if so, then which channels do you think can take 4 feet all the way in? Here is the one that I have read about a few sailors using:



The course is the blue line that goes to the northeast.

Thanks so much for your thoughts!! When was the last time you went, and was it in a sailboat?

K
Yes I've talked to Group from Ft Jeff... I think they have a repeater at the light house... or at least did. Power is not so much an issue with VHF as is elevation. All of the USCG high sites are... well.... real high LOL!

4 feet you might maybe, but why bother? Last time I went (CAL 28 4'9" draft) I couldn't get near enough to swim my dog in for a pee.... BUT it was low tide. Just find a lee and anchor up (use caution on the South side, as I was once beat-up by the Dry Tortugas Ferry as she went by.... The bugger didn't deviate course a whisper to give me a berth... passed within 50 yds! Look at Active Captain for some anchorages. If I'm expecting a blow, I work into one of the swash channels South and West of Mooney Harbor Key and Bahamian Moor... again remember the tide in there can run close to a couple knots! Sight navigation is the key to getting in there if you really want to go in.
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Old 15-02-2011, 14:31   #6
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I've made the trip from Key West to the Dry Tortugas four or five times. We left Key West around 6 to 6:30 am. If we had wind, and often we didn't, we'd sail or else motorsail. If we maintained 5 kt that was 14 hours so we would be dropping the hook around 8 pm. Not to bad in the summer with the longer days. Boost speed to 6 kt and you're looking at 12 hours or a 6 pm arrival time. I don't know your info source but the very old guides show two entrances but the one on the SE side of the fort is no more, just the one on the west side of the fort.

I've never had any desire to stop in the Marquessa's because of the reputation for thin water and tons of bloodsucking bugs. Re: vhf range, during the day one of the tour boats might pick up your transmission. The vhf antenna at Fort Jefferson would have a pretty good chance of picking you up as well since it is much higher.

Besides the obvious problems of being on your own re: food and water, my main problem with the Tortugas is the really poor holding. Basically, a thin layer of sand over limestone. One trip we set the anchor and were fine all day and all night only to start dragging the next morning. I almost always sleep in the cockpit and wake frequently to make sure everyone is in their proper spot. I really do wish they would install moorings. I'd readily pay just for the peace of mind.

It's really a neat place, lots of great snorkelling (don't get too excited but nurse sharks are common and as I understand it, this is a breeding area for them.) I look forward to my next trip there. Have never had a problem getting there. Leaving was sometimes another story. Your vhf will not receive weather reports from Key West. I suspect the park rangers have access to that weather report but we were never successful in getting them to tell us. Consequently on a couple of trips going straight from the Tortugas to either Venice or our home port of Tarpon Springs, we got our clocks cleaned. By the by, Dry Tortugas to Tarpon Springs is 215 nm about a 40 hour trip. Considerably less if you head to either Naples, Ft. Meyers, or even Venice.

All in all, a fun and rewarding trip. Personally, I rate the most dangerous part of the trip to be heading out the NW channel from Key West and with a modicum of navigation, that's not really all that bad. (I came in once at 11 pm with 30 kt on the nose and down to 5 gal of fuel, not fun but what the hey, we made it and definitely had a cocktail after tying up)

Rich
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Old 15-02-2011, 14:38   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by cabo_sailor View Post
Personally, I rate the most dangerous part of the trip to be heading out the NW channel from Key West and with a modicum of navigation, that's not really all that bad. (I came in once at 11 pm with 30 kt on the nose and down to 5 gal of fuel, not fun but what the hey, we made it and definitely had a cocktail after tying up)

Rich
BTDT! I'm not as adventurous anymore... I anchor up and wait on daylight before running that!
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Old 15-02-2011, 15:35   #8
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cpngeo,

That incident was several years ago and I too am older and wiser. All in all it was an unpleasant trip from Tarpon to Key West. The forecast 10-15 kt out of the SE became 20-30 directly out of the south and, of course, right on the nose along with squall lines peaking at around 40 kt. Also, in re-reading I notice the OP mentioned leaving his dinghy behind. NO, NO, NO. Once at Ft. Jefferson, there is only one way ashore and that is by dinghy. Kinda a bummer to get that far and see the fort and not being able to get there.

A question for more recent visitors, its been a few years for me. We would always bring along a bottle of Captn Morgan for "trade goods". Commercial fishermen would anchor there for some protection and would often cruise through the anchorage looking to trade some fresh seafood for a bit of a wet.

The last time I was there that bottle of rum got us a HUGE bag of shrimp and a 10 lb grouper. This is why I carried the rum, a box of Zatarain seasoning, and a large pot for shrimp boil. The grouper, once cleaned, had the head attached to a thin line and dropped over the side. Whoaaa! It wasn't in the water more than a few seconds before the 'cudas were spitting out cotton line. Now though, I see that the park has officially said no to trades. What I don't know is if this is something that is enforced or not.

Rich
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Old 16-02-2011, 08:43   #9
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Well we definately will bring the dinghy on deck or stored deflated so that we can get ashore when we get to the tortugas. The plan is to overnight in the marqueas on the way there and then on the way back also. Boca Grande looks good in a northeast blow for an overnight too.

I'm glad to hear all of your experiences. I'll check the other threads below also.

I heard about one guy who went to the marquesas and stayed there for a year because he loved it so much. Any of you heard about him?

K
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Old 16-02-2011, 09:30   #10
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Weehappy,

You might want to keep in mind that the channel into Boca Grande is very long and totally exposed. It can be a rolly SOB rocking gunnel to gunnel. It is one of my least favorite inlets on this coast.

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Old 16-02-2011, 10:05   #11
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Wee.... Tow the dink, I do it all the time on that run.... NBD unless it is predicted to get real sloppy! I might add that considering the size of your boat if it is going to get too bad for the dink, you ain't got no business being out there in a 27'er.

I saw a boat in Mooney for a long time.. never talked to the guy. As I recall he was in pretty skinny water and even from 1/2 mile away through the glasses it was apparent he was "clothing challenged"... we stayed on the outside!

To expand on Cabo's post.. I keep the Capt M to myself... the fishermen are just as happy with a case of Natties, and they are a lot cheaper! Once I got stuck at Ft Jeff for a week; I parleyed 3 cases of cheap beer into about 10#of lobster, 20# of shrimp, 10# of grouper, which I then traded off to the Yachties (BIG ONES) for diesel, ice, fresh water, fresh vegs, liquor and steak. I came back to KW with about 25x the value of the beer aboard.... AND I ate and drank well! I have not heard of the rangers putting the squash on barter... is that new?

I have a few days in the sched ( though not enough to go to Ft Jeff).... I'm either going to get caught up on some chores dockside or maybe a short overnight sail around the area.... I'll have internet at least through tomorrow if I do slip the lines... Or hail "Happy Days" on 16 if I'm outside 3G internet. I'll buy you a beer!
George
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Old 16-02-2011, 15:02   #12
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Hey K and L -

Sounds like a great trip. I haven't done it yet, but Judi and I are hoping to head down there next winter on our new boat (yes we finally bought it). We're up in St. Mary's, GA right now, planning to spend the sumer on the Chesapeake and in New England, then head south come October.

One of the mags - I think Sail, but don't have it with me on the boat, has a write-up about the Dry Tortugas in the newest issue.

Have a great trip, I'll be reading about it as you post.
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Old 16-02-2011, 15:51   #13
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We've anchored in the lee of Marquesas several times. With east wind, the west side is great. Approach from the north is straight forward, from the south it's an obstacle course of shallow. Tuck up tight as you can get to shore, you'll be a couple hundred feet out in light grass with good holding. Trying to get in the middle isn't worth it, you have to time the tides.

Dry Tortugas is great, you'll want your dinghy for sure. Motor over to Loggerhead and pick up a mooring ball out in front (new last year). Put the dinghy in and motor around to the west side and snorkel little africa. Spend some time on the beach/walking around the island then head back to Garden Key for the night. The obligatory fort tour will waste another 1/2 day or so.

If you can't find a spot in the harbor there is good holding in the sandy patches on the west side of the fort, just stay out of the swim area.

It's well worth the trip!
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Old 16-02-2011, 16:19   #14
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Weehappy,

The trip is a breeze from KW. Go on either the north or south side of the islands, depending on the winds. We stop over on the west side of Boca Grande, and as previously said, moore Bahamian style. (so I don't have to type everything again here are some links)

The Marquesas Islands | Southern Crosses

Also, be properly prepared for boarding and inspection. We were thoroughly checked twice. I handed the FWC guys my current USCG safety inspection, but they wanted to dig through my stuff anyway. The park police were a bit more rational.

The Admiral and I conducted an armed invasion of Loggerhead Key and claimed it as our own. Feel free to use it as often as you like.

The Dry Tortugas ~ Paradise with a twist! | Southern Crosses

A good source of the weather for your return trip would be the ferryboat captains or crew. They were friendly and full of advice.

My yacht club has a club cruise heading that way the last week in April. Hope to see you there!
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Old 16-02-2011, 16:40   #15
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Lannen,

That was a great suggestion, I'm ashamed I never thought to ask the Ferry boat about the next day's weather. I later installed a Furuno Navtex for about $300 but I now see them at about twice that. For as often as I go to the Tortugas, I think I'll pass on the SSB or the navtex and simply ask the tour boat captain. Once again, great idea, thanks.

Rich
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