Friday, October 24, 2008
A Three Hour Tour, a Three Hour Tour
I promised earlier this week to share the details of our trip board the Yankee Freedom II, or as I referred to it then, "The Catamaran of Death." The Yankee Freedom II is a high-speed catamaran ferry to the islands of Dry Tortugas, about 70 nautical miles off the coast of Key West. The largest island in the Dry Tortugas is home to Fort Jefferson, one of the most remote national parks in the system. The abandoned fort, built before the Civil War, is an amazing structure built from over 16 million bricks brought in by boat from New England. The pentagon shaped fort covers nearly the entire island, leaving room for just a couple of tiny beaches for snorkeling and boat docks.
The trip to Fort Jefferson is an all day affair, and when we got to the dock at 7 AM the weather was rainy and windy. We had discovered that Key West is one of those places where if you don't like the weather, just wait 10 minutes, so we hoped that it would clear off and warm up during the two-hour voyage to Dry Tortugas. The captain warned us that it might be a bit choppy on the trip, especially once we got out into open water. He was not kidding. Ron and I both felt a little queasy on the trip and were glad to get to the Fort and off the boat. Several people had actually been seasick and the crew was selling Dramamine, which we bought for the return trip. They cautioned us to be sure and take the Dramamine about an hour and a half before our scheduled departure time so that it would have time to get in our systems. Consider that foreshadowing.
When we reached the island, a salty old crew member named Tortuga Jack led us on a tour of the Fort, after which we had lunch on the boat. Ron remembered to take his Dramamine at that time and I foolishly did not. After lunch we went down to the small beach to do some snorkeling around the coral reefs. My only previous experience with snorkeling was when we were in Hawaii last January, and I'm disappointed to discover that I am a bit of a panicky snorkeler. I have become fairly claustrophobic in my middle age and something about wearing the mask and only being able to breathe through my mouth bothers me. I can get over it if I can find something interesting to look at under the water, but we discovered that most of the fish were around the pylons of an abandoned dock, and I was afraid that the heavy current was going to smash me against the pylons. Basically I am a wimp and besides, seaweed kept attacking me. I am a disappointment to my wannabe adventuring self.
One of the pieces of information that Tortuga Jack shared with us on the way out concerned the sand on the beach. Apparently there is a species of fish that feeds on the algae in the coral but doesn't have the appropriate mouth shape to suck them out. So they bite off pieces of the coral, chew it up, and poop out the chewed up coral. I couldn't stop thinking of the coarse white sand on the beach as fish poop, especially when I dumped approximately 2 cups of it from my bathing suit back at the hotel.
The weather had cleared up while we were on the island, but threatening dark clouds appeared just before our departure time. We were warned very strenuously that the water would be very choppy for at least the first half of our two and a half hour return trip. I wasn't too concerned, having not experienced motion sickness since childhood, and besides the trip out hadn't been that bad.(More foreshadowing.) By the time we were about 15 minutes out, people started needing the sea sickness bags, that crew members were handing out. I lasted for about half an hour. I posted a review of our trip aboard the Yankee Freedom II on Trip Advisor, and I gave it four stars largely because of the helpfulness of the crew. Early on in my life, I made it a policy to avoid any career path that involved a high probability of people throwing up on my shift, but this crew could not have been more accommodating and sympathetic. They walked around providing fresh barf bags, paper towels and ginger ale, and offering ice packs to the foolish people who did not heed their warnings to stay in their seats. One gentleman was thrown into a table and at least bruised and maybe broke some ribs, and another man got a nasty bump on his head. If I had not felt so miserable I certainly would've been singing the theme to Gilligan's Island. It may have been the longest 2 1/2 hours of my life.
Another reason for my four star rating is that Fort Jefferson is definitely worth a visit, and the island is very beautiful. I understand that in time, the pain of childbirth fades, allowing for the births of more children, and I would probably return to Dry Tortugas in 10 or 20 years when the memory of the horror of that trip fades. I might take the seaplane next time.