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Monday, February 6, 2017

Eric & I Visit Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas

Eric at the Passenger
Terminal Entrance in
Key West at 7:00 a.m.

Eric & I wait to board the
Yankee Freedom III
Catamaran at 7:30 a.m.
for our 70 mile journey
to Fort Jefferson.

Having heard that the ride to the fort is a rough one, I bought Dramamine at the terminal.  Eric and I join about 50 other passengers and board the boat quickly.

We leave promptly
at 8:00 a.m.

Breakfast is served.

It's a rainy ride.

Eric goes out to the
front of the boat, &
returns quickly.

The ride got rough, as we crossed turbulent water as we crossed submerged reefs east of the fort.  I wish everyone had taken Dramamine.

The water got very calm as we approached the Dry Tortugas, seven low lying islands near the Gulf of Mexico.  Tortuga means tortoise in Spanish. Spanish sea captains had sailors to capture Tortoises and bring them on board for fresh meat.  The population of Tortoises in this area has been decimated by hunting.  The word Dry was added to describe the island chain because there is no fresh water to be found.


We arrived & have several
 hours to explore the fort,
 swim & go snorkeling.

The rain continues to come down.  It's windy and in the low 60s.  I don't think swimming and snorkeling will be popular today.

Fort Jefferson is a
National Park.

Fort Jefferson is six sided,
three levels high.

It takes up most of this small,
low lying island.

Eric & I joined a
guided tour.

Fort Jefferson was built between 1846 and 1875 to protect America's influence over the shipping lanes between the Gulf of Mexico, western Caribbean and the Atlantic Ocean.  It was never completed because of supply problems and delays caused by the Civil War.  Besides controlling the shipping lanes, the fort protected calm deep water port adjacent to the fort.

This fort was built with an impressive cistern system to provide fresh water.  The building settled and cracks in the majority of cistern walls allowed seawater to contaminate the collected fresh water.

Slaves, construction workers, soldiers and their families lived on rationed water.  The food that was shipped here was full of bugs or spoiled.

This outpost is a very lonely place.  The soldiers, their families and construction workers did their best to entertain themselves by performing plays, doing readings, putting on concerts etc.


Cannon could be moved from
side to side to increase the
coverage of every gun
during battle.

During the Civil War Union ships used the deep water port as a base of operations to support the Union blockade of Confederate supply ships.  Union deserters and political prisoners were sent to this remote fort during the war.  

Dr. Samuel Mudd, the physician who set John Wilkes Booth's leg after he shot President Abraham Lincoln sent to Fort Jefferson to serve a life sentence for his assistance of the assassin.  The Doctor's efforts to care for Yellow Fever victims in 1867 earned him an early release from the island.

It's easy to trip over
"lumps" on the floor
beneath the archways.

They are stalagmites
growing beneath the
stalactites that are
forming from the

This climate is very hard
on brick, mortar & iron.

Gun ports are deteriorating.

Watch your step on the
top level of Fort

There are no railings.

These are the few trees
on this island.

Wood, in any amount
was shipped in.

The ruins in the Parade
Ground are the Barracks.

They were badly damaged during a hurricane.  Soldiers and their families moved to the outer structure of the fort.

This armory was built

to hold gun powder
& munitions.  

The slanted building is

Cannon balls heated to fiery hot, loaded into cannons and fired at approaching ships.  The red-hot cannon balls could start fires on an attacking ship, or hit the ship's magazine, igniting gun powder and blowing the enemy out of the water.

The top of the lighthouse
is built of iron.

A brick lighthouse would have been a hazard in battle.  An enemy cannonball shattering a brick and mortar lighthouse would have sent sharp shards of brick through the Parade Ground, injuring and killing soldiers.

Brown Penguins roost
on pilings adjacent
to the dock.

Lunch is being served on board.  There's still an hour or so left to tour the island.

It's time to board the
Yankee Freedom III
& start our trip east
to Key West.

As we leave Fort Jefferson,
I notice reinforcing metal
on the fort's east side.

This is probably one of the
restoration projects.

The fort was used briefly during World War I.  President Franklin Roosevelt designated Fort Jefferson a National Monument in 1934.  World War II necessitated its use again before it reverted to the status of National Monument.  Congress re-designated the fort and surrounding areas a National Park in 1992.

Our boat picks up

One of the other Tortugas
is easy to spot.

Others are just barely
under the water.

Eric watches Fort Jefferson
slip away....

The ride east is much smoother than the ride out.  I now have an understanding of the defensive systems that protected the southern east coast for centuries.  

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