Florida-Dry Tortugas-Key West

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Course Advanced Coastal Cruise; Florida, Dry Tortugas & Key West
Date March 8-15, 2008
Students: Mike Coyne, Frank Crumb, Jeff Harper, Jeff Scott, Ken Stevens 
Captain: Joe Kliment

This first Dry Tortugas cruise was a thoroughly enjoyable success. The five member student crew were exposed to a wide variety of experiences fitting for an advanced coastal training cruise.  The only change made to the original cruise plan was the elimination of the last port of call, because of insufficient time.  

The crew planned their menu before provisioning on Saturday, March 8, then they prepared the boat for departure. It was a chilly 41 shortly after dawn when we began our cruise on Sunday March 9, leaving the South Shore basin of Burnt Store Marina, motoring into Charlotte Harbor then heading south into the Gulf of Mexico.
This overnight run down the Gulf to the Dry Tortugas provided considerable off wind sailing with swells on the beam and quarter. By 0900, we were 30 miles away from our destination. Even with lumpy seas, this was an easy sail to Fort Jefferson on Garden Key.

Arriving Monday March 10 at 1500, we anchored close to the Fort and enjoyed some adventures off the boat, touring this historical landmark with a little snorkeling on the side. Our initial anchorage at Bird Key Harbor was less than adequate due to lack of protection from east swells and wind.  As with the US Virgin Islands National Park, there is a charge to anchor and use the facilities. The mooring buoys were adequate and we had no trouble negotiating the course in and out of Garden Key, but it should be done during daylight hours. Depths were sufficient in the designated channels.

After 24 hours of rest in the Dry Tortugas National Park, we began the next leg of our journey immediately after an early dinner on Tuesday, March 11. We made our second overnight run, sailing from the dry Tortugas to Key West by going offshore south of the barrier reef. This provided some great sailing while beating into an east wind. We encountered the Gulf Stream about 10 miles south of the barrier reef near the Key West main ship channel providing for a great ride east. The 24 hour stopover at Key West was exciting for the students as CELESTIAL mingled with some much larger vessels. We docked for the night at the City of Key West's Bight Marina. The cost was reasonable, accessibility was good and it was near the Historic Seaport. A chance to visit the Historic Seaport, Sloppy Joe's, Margaretville, and excellent seafood restaurants kept the crew busy along with intermittent study for the ASA106 test.

At 0800 on Thursday, March 12, we departed Key West via the Northwest Channel and motored out into Florida Bay. The channel was easy to negotiate. A stale high pressure system resulted in light winds on our trip north. The Navy towers provided some great navigational fixes along the way with a man overboard drill to keep the students alert. We were accompanied along the way by dolphins and occasional sea turtle and a great sunset to test some celestial skills. 

On Friday, March 13, at 0900, we arrived at the entrance buoy at Boca Grande Channel and traveled up Charlotte Harbor.  We were met and escorted by a "tagged" manatee as we entered Burnt Store Marina at 1300. We had covered 470 miles safely, utilizing three overnight sails with excellent seamanship, camaraderie and adventure. This was a thoroughly enjoyable cruise with a GREAT student crew.  All three testing students handily passed the ASA106 test! 

Captain Joe Kliment
March 15, 2008

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