First stop: Garden Key, Dry Tortugas. These lovely little islands take their name from the sea turtles who flock here year round, some to live all their days in this 100-acre National Park, nesting and getting fat on sea grass and their favorite delicacy, lobster. The islands are dry—having no fresh water other than that caught in rainstorms or made in desalinators. Garden Key (so named because they tried fruitlessly to plant a garden here) is home to Fort Jefferson, a two-story, red-brick hexagon built in the 1800s to guard warships in its deep anchorage and protect shipping lanes between the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. It was ill-fated; built on sand, the cisterns cracked and ruined fresh water supplies. The rifle-cannon, invented around the time the fort was built, rendered it obsolete before it was even completed. It was sometimes used as a prison, its most famous prisoner being Dr. Samuel Mudd, the conspiratorial physician who assisted assassin John Wilkes Booth after he shot Lincoln.
The kids had a great time roaming around the fort; it’s a great place for young imaginations. They were also the proud recipients of Junior Ranger badges, thanks to the thorough examination given by Ranger Tree Gottshall. Other highlights of the trip included snorkeling in clear coral-filled waters, exploring a sunken Windjammer by dinghy, and swimming with sharks and barracudas. Eli and Aaron especially took to snorkeling like, well, fish to water, with Sam and Sarah tagging along not far behind. All in all, it was a great introduction to a cruising lifestyle for everyone. We learned this week that it can be hot and unpleasant, and that there’s a lot of hard work that has to be done, but that the rewards are well worth the discomforts.
Tomorrow we head to the Marquesas to stop over before heading to Key West.