(published in the now defunct "Rhodes 22 Class Association" newsletter, April 1991)
Two boats set out together to sail to the Dry Tortugas. Marilyn Rolland and I in
our 1987 Rhodes 22 "Uff Da" from Marco Island, Florida, and Harry Clark with
friend Tom Coilin in a 1981 Rhodes, "Gloria J" out of Naples, Florida. Both boats
are well equipped: "Uff Da has a 175% genoa and a roller furling main; "Gloria J"
has a 165% genoa and a traditional main. Both have VHF radios, Autohelm 800
autopilots and depth sounders, as well as Loran: a Ranger mounted on a bracket
forward of the lazarette for "Uff Da"; and a Raytheon 570 Loran mounted inside
the jib box in the cockpit of Harry's boat.
The "Gloria J" sailed the 10 miles south to Marco Island the night before we left,
and anchored in a cove until morning. On April 10, 1989, we started together
through the pass into the Gulf of Mexico at 8:00 AM, turned on the Loran and
read the bearing as 109 miles at 216 degrees. The wind was from the southeast at
10-15 knots, which would be a good wind for the boats, and the right direction.
We were heading for Pulaski Light at the northeast corner of the boundary for
Fort Jefferson National Park.
Every two hours we checked and plotted our progress. By noon we had slid to the
west, so we motored back to the rhumb line. From then on we were sailing just
great until 8:00 PM when the wind died. We turned on the motor and continued
on until 2:00 AM when the wind came up again. We sailed again until we arrived
at Pulaski Light, motored first to the yellow boundary marker K, then continued
westward to marker J. Now, instead of going further around to marker I and to
the Northwest Passage into the Fort, we decided that with centerboard up and a
lookout at the bow we could cut across the big shallow flat to the Fort. The water
was very clear, and with most of the depth at 3-4 feet we were able to make it,
only having to dodge a few shoals that we were able to see clearly. We arrived at
the anchorage at 3:00 PM.
On the way down Marilyn made meals for us to eat in the cockpit. During the
night we changed watch every 4 hours. It was very important to watch for the
large shrimp boats out of Key West. They were well lighted, looking like
On arrival at the Fort we immediately jumped into the Bay for a swim. The next
day we noticed a big barracuda under our boat--but we guessed he wouldn't hurt
us if we didn't try to hurt him! We went swimming on a beautiful sand beach by
the Fort walls, toured the Fort, fished (catching Spanish mackerel and a small
shark), sailed over to Loggerhead Key, and snorkeled around a submerged wreck
where we saw some beautiful tropical fish. Close to the anchorage is Bush Key, a
reserve for birds, particularly the Sooty Tern. There are 100,000 pairs there which
start laying their eggs in March. Otherwise the Sooty Tern lives and breeds on the
wind. For bird watchers this is a super place!
In addition to the large shrimp boats, there are many smaller commercial fishing
boats in this area. The latter can make it into the anchorage for rest and protection
from heavy weather. We were told that if you bring along extra beer you can trade
for some of their catch. We'll remember that for next time.
After 3 days there we started back. We motored out to the Park boundary and set
our Loran for Naples, a bearing of 36 degrees and 11 miles. The wind was still
southeast at 10-15 knots, and once again died in the evening, forcing us to motor
for about 3 hours until it picked up again. We sailed through the night with a full
moon. The next morning at 7:00 I called the "Gloria J" and told them I was
changing course to 50 degrees, which would take us to Marco Island. They
continued on to Naples while we arrived at the pass at noon.
It was a great trip. We had 24 gallons of gas aboard when we started and returned
with 8. And, the Dry Tortugas are dry! No water, no gas, no food either, so you
have to carry everything. But we had enough and had a great trip.