Daisy Bateman

Day 27- The Dry Tortugas

In Which Daisy Has A Minor Adventure, And Learns That They Really Do Mean It When They Say You Should Snorkel With A Buddy

Today I took a ferry out to the Dry Tortugas, a group of (basically) uninhabited islands about 70 miles west of Key West. It was kind of expensive, I kept hearing of it as something you really had to see, with this old, abandoned fort and great snorkeling. So I was really looking forward to it, and up to a point it lived up to my expectations. The fort was really cool, a giant, hexagonal total failure of engineering. The guide didn’t say this- in fact, he was pretty defensive about the place. But it was too heavy for the site, and when it started settling it cracked the cisterns built under it, loosing the fort’s only supply of drinking water. When they noticed the problem, they stopped adding things to the second level, which was never finished, although the first and third were, making it a strange kind of fortification with holes in the middle. It never saw a single shot of action (the guide stressed its’ ‘deterrent” properties) and was eventually turned into a military prison- a sort of super-Alcatraz. I don’t mean to imply that I didn’t enjoy seeing it- it was an impressive place, beautifully built and I actually found it more interesting than if it had been a rousing success as a defensive fortress. But that wasn’t what I came for.
What I came for was snorkeling, but unfortunately that wasn’t really to be. The day had started out as cloudy, but by the time we got to the island it was sunny and clear. Unfortunately, what had cleared off the clouds was the wind, which was blowing steadily. And the waves it made kicked up the sand in the water, making snorkeling an exercise in claustrophobia. I tried for a while to find the coral heads that were supposed to be in the water near the swimming beach, but eventually gave up, since I couldn’t see more than about three feet in front of me. I turned to swim back to the beach, surfacing every once in a while to check my progress and orient myself, and that’s when I realized that I might have a problem. Every time I came up, I was no closer than the last- in fact, the waves seemed to be pushing me further away from the land. I tried keeping my head above the water to see, but I kept getting mouthfuls of seawater. Then it occurred to me to take off my mask and breathe through my nose. That was better, but dog-paddling still wasn’t getting me anywhere and I had to break into a full breaststroke before I could make it to shore. I probably wasn’t in much danger- I was never very far from the beach and lots of people there, but it was still kind of unnerving.
I spent the rest of the afternoon lying on the beach, reading a book and taking occasional dips in the water to cool off. The book was a surprise, in a good way; I had bought it because it was by a local author and there were sharks on the cover- I will read anything with sharks on the cover- but it turned out to be pretty good too. The beach was sheltered from the wind and the water was warm, and it turned out to be a pretty nice day, if not quite worth what I paid to get there.
In the evening I went out drinking and dancing with my new friend from the hotel and had a great time (I’ll never hear a cover band do an extended rap medley without fond memories). This must be what they call ‘fun’. I should try it again some time.

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