Just wanted to share a few things about my recent trip out to the Dry Tortugas on the Yankee Freedom 3.
This was probably my 6th trip out to Ft. Jefferson, and I knew I wanted to spend more time there, since the 1/2 day seaplane trip I took 2 years ago didn't give me nearly enough water time.
The boat boards at the terminal where the Key West Express docks.
The new boat is very big and there were plenty of places to sit, though there seemed to be a rush to grab seats upstairs. Everyone boarded quickly, so we got to leave about 10 minutes early, at 7:50 AM. I grabbed a window seat inside and had the light breakfast they served once under way.
The big boat doesn't exactly fly at top speed, so the trip takes about 2 1/2 hours, so there's plenty of time to walk about and many people were hanging out on the front end of the boat, watching for birds or turtles.
We arrived at Ft. Jefferson just before the seaplane landed and were given the option to wait around for a while for the tours of the fort at 10:45 or to head out straight to the water for snorkeling. It was warm and there was nobody in the water, so I headed over to the main beach for some snorkeling.
Since it was May there were huge schools of juvenile fish of all kinds everywhere. I passed through many of them on the way out to the coral heads, which are off the far edge of the fort, almost to the right when standing at the beach. I couldn't find any coral heads off to the left, where I thought they were!
I also snorkeled out by the pilings and while entering the water is a bit tricky, as it's very rocky, there were plenty of fish there, including huge tarpon that would pass by me in the deeper waters that drop off to over 25 feet deep.
It's always a little scary when a fish bigger than you passes right by you! I also saw some big sting rays on the bottom, with tons of snapper and a few grouper.
They serve a buffet lunch on the boat from 11-1, so at about 12 I went aboard for some food. Oh, and they have several freshwater showers in the stern of the boat, with warm water. I made a huge sandwich but since I didn't want to eat aboard a rocking boat I had lunch on land, under a tree at a picnic table near the smoking area. This was a mistake, not because of any stray smoke, but because I think it was there that I got several bug bites! We've heard how there aren't supposed to be mosquitoes in the Dry Tortugas? Myth busted! They are out there! Next time I'll stay away from the shaded area and eat on the boat or on the sand by the water.
There were lots of "birders" on this trip, and they spent the time running around with their cameras and binoculars on tripods in search of as many species as possible! The land bridge to Bush Key has reformed, though you aren't allowed to walk over there during breeding season.
I toured the fort after a final dive and really wish they would have offered a later tour, since the fort has really had a lot of work done since my first visit in 2000. Lots of signs telling you about the fort though, so you can do a self-guided tour.
We left on time and for the ride back they showed a movie ("A Big Year" a film about birding) on the flat screen TVs inside the main cabin of the boat. We got back and docked at 5:20 pm.
I ended up getting way to much sun on my back (always use a rash guard!) and was sore for the rest of the trip. But I saw more fish than anywhere else, including schools of juvenile barracuda, squid, tarpon, and for the first time I saw a large nurse shark swimming by. I swam after it, cursing the fact that I'd shut down my smart phone that wasn't working too well inside its waterproof case! It's very rare to see nurse sharks swimming around, as they usually are found just lying down on the bottom, like this one I saw the day before out at Rock Key.
So yes, this trip did take a lot of time, from waking up at 6:30 AM to getting back at about 5:30 PM, but there was still plenty of daylight left in May but if snorkeling is on your list of things to do in Key West you really should consider making the trip out to the DTs!