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Shavasana Atlantic Shakedown

  • Three weeks of Erich is a good thing

  • Hilton Head to Palm Beach

  • Amelia Island

  • Key Biscayne

  • Florida Keys

  • Dry Tortugas

Trip's brother, Erich, was able to join us for 3 weeks of travel as we continued to head south from Hilton Head in search of warmer weather. He brought levity and giggles to the days, and we loved having him aboard. Some overnight sails, lots of fishing (we decided there are no fish in the Atlantic), love biscuits (you have to come aboard for those), and so many Pandemic games.

Big highlight was the many dolphins that visited us in the deep waters of the Atlantic. See a video of the best experience (DOLPHINS!) here.

Pam saw "something" in the water several miles out into the Atlantic. It was large, and floating on the surface. We thought it was a tarp or some sort of large plastic item. As we approached, it didn't move, so we had to change course to avoid it. When we were beside it, we heard a whoosh of a blowhole and an eyeball was following the boat. It was an Atlantic Right whale! It never budged - just watched us sail by.

After Erich left, we headed further south towards Key West. We sailed in the Hawk Channel which runs 125 miles to Key West and is about 10-30 feet of depth. On one side of the channel is land, on the other side is the Florida Reef. Needless to say, we did not travel at night and paid extra close attention on our daytime passages. The water was still pretty chilly for snorkeling - while we did swim some to cool off during the day, we didn't spend much time snorkeling at the reefs.

We stopped in Key Largo - we found a restaurant for lunch and a dinghy tie up, and walked to a Divers Direct store for snorkeling fins. Didn't spend too much time here, as good winds were coming and we wanted to continue our journey south.

The next stop was Marathon, and we knew we would be there for a few days until good weather returned. We anchored in Boot Key and took the dinghy into town. We immediately loved the "island vibe" - laid back attitude, chickens and roosters running around, local people very welcoming.

An easy walk brought us to the Turtle Hospital and we took a 90 minute tour. It was unlike anything we had ever experienced.

The Turtle Hospital opened in 1986 in order to rescue, rehab, and release sea turtles. The facility is on the grounds of an old hotel. The guest rooms serve as living quarters for rehab staff, and also for storage. The hotel had a large salt water pool which is now used as a covered swimming area for turtles that are either about to be released or can not ever be released due to their extensive injuries. Surrounding the pool are smaller pools for more intensive care. If a turtle is very sick, the small pool has just a few inches of water in it so the only energy it needs to expend is lifting its head up to take a breath.

These are some of the more common injuries/health issues they see:

  • Boat strikes - turtles have their spines on the inside of their shells. If they are at the surface of the water and a boat hits them, their shells can crack and cause damage to their spine. Sometimes they are paralyzed, and sometimes they have a bubble develop under their shell - and sometimes both happens. That is unrecoverable because they can't dive any longer to get food. If found, they will remain in the turtle hospital for the rest of their life.

  • A wart-like virus that green turtles get because they eat the under water grasses. These grasses have become polluted with chemicals and oils from human pollution. At the hospital, the turtles undergo surgery (many times multiple surgeries because they can not be anesthetized for very long) to remove the tumor.

  • Cold stunning can happen when an injured turtle can not migrate towards warmer waters. Like all reptiles, they keep warm by they surroundings. If they are cold stunned, they can no longer float and will drown.

The Turtle Hospital was fascinating - if you want more information, or wish to contribute to this wonderful organization, you can visit

Something we learned at the Turtle Hospital was about the Lion Fish - an invasive species of fish native to the Indo-Pacific. It is a beautiful fish, and many people have had them in their private aquariums but have released them into the ocean when they no longer wish to care for them. Scientists speculate that is why we currently have a lion fish problem. They have venomous spines - they won't kill you, but the sting is extremely painful. They eat native fish species, particularly on the reefs, and do not have a natural predator (although we were informed that the goliath groupers are beginning to eat them).

We were told a local Marathon restaurant owner and diver serves lion fish at his restaurant. Of course we had to visit. And try the lion fish. And ask questions. And meet the owner.

John Mirabella, owner of Castaway, was a Navy diver and continues to dive today. He began to spearfish lion fish on the reefs. He only keeps what he will eat. He wanted to do his part to help save the reefs, so he and his chef learned how to handle, clean, and prepare lion fish to serve in his restaurant. We both ate it, and it was delicious!

John and Trip hit it off right away, and Trip wrote a deeper dive (#19) on the experience here.

Eventually, after traveling over 1000 nautical miles, we made it down to Key West!

Sad to travel past derelict boats to our anchorage - apparently hurricanes and such cause boats to run aground and it is cheaper to leave the boat than have it salvaged. Many times the city can not find the owners, so they leave the boats in place.

We anchored off Sigsbee Naval Annex and enjoyed a quick dinghy ride into the small marina to enjoy their seaside bar and walks to the exhange and commissary. Also convenient were Lyft rides into town. One afternoon we stopped at the bar before heading back to the boat. We struck up a converation with one couple who had just taken a cruise, then another group of siblings who were in Key West celebrating birthdays. It turned out that we were all from Maryland! Small world....

One last trip we wanted to make before we began our journey north was to Dry Tortugas National Park. It is located 70 miles west of Key West, and very remote. No cell service, no provisions. Bring in and bring out whatever you need. We had read that it is a great place to snorkel and enjoy the isolation and quiet, and it did not disappoint!

We fished on the way there, as we do most often when we are underway. We got into a school of Spanish Mackerel and caught about a half dozen of them. They are beautiful fish, and we saved and filleted the largest one. It made for a delicious dinner!

Dry Tortuga was gorgeous. Fort Jefferson was built in the mid to late 1800s as a protection against potential aggressors passing towards the Gulf and Southeast coast of the US. It has had several other uses in its long history, including serving as a prison - its most notable prisoner being Dr. Samuel Mudd, the physician who set the broken leg of John Wilkes Booth. You can read more about Fort Jefferson here.

On a calm day we took our dinghy to Loggerhead Key to explore the deserted island and do some snorkeling. We met some fellow live aboard sailors who explored and snorkeled with us. It was a fantastic day, complete with fresh coconut for our sundowners that evening!

The following day we took a self-guided tour of Fort Jefferson, then headed to a small beach to snorkel around the moat of the fort. So many fish, all colors, big, small, and in between. We saw a very large spiny lobster (couldn't get it though, as it's a National Park), sea slug, tarpon, grouper, and snapper. It was refreshing to see healthy coral reefs!

Back at the boat that night, a huge Goliath Grouper swam up to the back of the boat and stayed for several minutes. It looked as though it was begging for scraps - we were sure that people had fed it (we didn't). We were amazed - we just never know what we will see!

With the Tortugas in the books, our southbound journey came to an end. After a few days we returned to Key West to provision and plan our trip back to Chesapeake Bay for the hurricane season. We had some interesting things planned, so stay tuned for the next update!


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