Happy New Years, Corona style!
-Ashley and Ren
Slobber, slobber! Sniff, sniff! Lick, lick, whimper!
There we were in the Dry Tortugas on New Years Eve! Encouraged by our few shallow dives the day before, we decided to make a day of it and check out some of the national park charted dive spots. We rose with the sun and had a hearty breakfast, something to keep us going for a day of diving. We worried little about what we ate since we had the freedom of having our “aqua deuce” anytime and anyplace we felt the pangs come on. After breakfast it was time to embark to location #1, Texas Rock.
The sail over to Texas Rock was beautiful. We opted to sail instead of dinghy over to avoid burning fuel. A long ride in Nila Girl is far preferable to a long ride in Dinky. The former rides like a true lady, graceful and gentle. The latter rides like little a punky little bronco, noisy and bucking the whole way. Nila Girl delivered us skillfully to the mooring ball at Texas Rock, which we secured her to all under sail. Meaning, we sailed to the ball, picked up the mooring line and tied her off while the sails were doing the heaving lifting. We are getting good! Jumping in at Texas Rock we were immediately welcomed by the kind of sight we’ve been waiting for since our departure. Huge corals, fish everywhere and a little relief where lobster and other animals hide out. We stayed for a while (no longer than the two hour period in which the park permits you to tie up to any mooring ball in the Dry Tortugas network…of course), cruising the reef, pretending we were flying, which is one of the best things about freediving, it’s proximity to the sensation of flying. Ren got some video footage which I’m hoping will make it to our Videos page sometime soon.
Just to the southeast of Texas Rock is another Key called Loggerhead Key. Loggerhead Key is infamous as a landing spot for Cuban refugees. It is the closest US landfall to Cuba and is often a destination for refugee rafts. From Loggerhead, the refugees go to Key West, then on to Miami for processing. All this, IF they can get one foot on land before a US guard spots them. On the Key is a lighthouse and some lodging facilities for caretakers. There is also a shipwreck near the Key that we were eager to explore. We were off to location #2 the Windjammer Wreck. The sail took us a while since the wind was way down. To keep cool in our ultra-warm Dessault wetsuits, Ren and I took turns jumping into the water and letting Nila Girl pull us along the side of her. That’s some kind of fun! We just hung onto a line trailing behind the boat and checked out the scenery, all while cooling the body down.
The Windjammer Wreck was neat. It was pretty dilapidated with the influences of time, sand and the tides. Still, while there, we visited with a huge goliath grouper, not domesticated like the puppy dogs that hang under the boats anchored at the Dry Tortugas (see previous blog entry). This guy kept shying away before we could get close enough to take some video of him. The old boat bow provided a vertical structure for schools of all kinds of fish to hang out in. Ren took video here too and claimed that it was his favorite dive spot of the day. I thought the wreck was too shallow. We had to wear too much weight to stay down on it for any bit of time. Plus, I was pretty mad after I smashed my foot on a hard coral protruding very close to the surface. I wasn’t wearing fins…bad idea. My sometimes bad temper will not allow me to “get over it” very soon after getting angry. To Ren’s dismay, I wasn’t over it until we left the Windjammer Wreck.
As I mentioned in the previous entry, no spearfishing or lobstering is allowed within the park complex. Hook and line fishing is allowed within a one mile radius of Garden Key. As soon as we crossed the invisible radius threshold, Ren dropped a light tackle spinning outfit with a diving plug into the water and we thought nothing else of it. Partly because we weren’t hungry enough to REALLY care if we caught anything. Partly because we have had stellar luck trolling for fish. It must be the quiet of Nila Girl’s hull passing over the water teamed with the perfect trolling speed allowed by her sails. As we suspected the line was buzzing in seconds as it reeled out behind us. Ren easily reeled in a smaller yellowtail (translation=lunch) and dispatched the creature right away. I gutted and gilled the fish just after it’s death and fed the ocean with the refuse. Now that we had the fish properly preserved and showed adequate respect for the catch, it was back into the water for the fishing line. As I said, the yellowtail was small (but legal) and we required a bit more protein for our already lacking bodies. In minutes the line buzzed out again with much more authority than the first time. I took the wheel of Nila Girl and turned us into the wind to slow down a bit just so Ren could get a handle on whatever we had hooked. Correction, I took the rod and felt the intense pressure of the fish bearing down on the line. Since the outfit was light tackle, to prevent an argument when I improperly try to reel the fish in and break our tackle off, I handed over the rod to the Captain and took the wheel. The animal pulled hard and caused us to redirect course multiple times in order to secure it. Still unable to identify the fish by the fight, Ren reeled all the way up to Nila Girl and discovered that it was a bruiser mutton snapper (translation=dinner). The fish was treated with the same respect as the previously caught one was. With our catch secured, and our hunting satisfied, Nila Girl sailed back over to the anchorage where we dropped anchor, showered up (in the cockpit, out of a bucket) and ate some lunch.
Once lunch was ate and we finished cleaning up, it was time to reward Oreo for hanging tough on the boat all day while we pranced around the reef and wrecks of the Dry Tortugas. Dinky took the three of us over to the beach for a nice sit in the sand and our usual daily viewing of the sunset. Once we got to the beach, Ren realized it would be much nicer if we had warmer clothes, for after sunset, books, the camera and chairs to accompany the wine and rum we definitely already packed. He left Oreo and I on the beach while he went back to Nila Girl to fetch the needed items. Oreo was feeling spunky and further deserved a walk. He sniffed and rolled and galloped about. I took him over to the mote wall surrounding Fort Jefferson. The wall is 6/10 of a mile around and makes a great little walk. Oreo ran so I started to run. Oreo looked at me with gratitude and I looked back at him lovingly. Oreo started to merge over to the edge of the wall and I didn’t. I couldn’t stop him as he ran clear off the mote wall and tumbled 8 feet down to the clear waters below. Did I mention that a crocodile lives within the mote walls?!! Since Oreo is a less than par swimmer, and is losing his eyesight and hearing, it was quite a feat to encourage him to swim back from the fort (30 feet away from me) to where I had posted up, in the water, on top of the only structure I could see that would allow me put Oreo back on the wall and climb back up myself. Anywhere else and the water was too deep for me to still have access to the top of the wall. Finally, the poor monster swam back to me. I grabbed him quickly and lifted him to the top of the wall. I pulled myself back up and stared in disbelief as Oreo’s tail was profusely wagging. He was looking at me thinking, “What’s wrong? It was just a little swim”. So Oreo survived “Oreo Suicide Attempt #8 (previous attempts are not accounted for in this blog).
By this time, Ren must have gotten back from his chores on the boat. Oreo and I walked over to a ledge where we could better view Nila Girl. He still hadn’t left the boat! Don’t ever send your husband out for milk and eggs ladies, they might not come back. Discouraged, we took a trail back to the beach where we ran in to two campers we had met the night before. Josina and Bobby are a super nice couple living in Ft. Lauderdale. Bobby attracted Ren’s attention the previous night when we passed by their campsite and Bobby had his arms elbow deep in a portable film developing tent. Bobby likes to take pictures using film, which intrigued the developing photographer, Ren. You can check out some of his work here, www.elevation9photography.com. I stopped to talk to Bobby and Josina for a bit and invited them to join us on the beach for some wine (if Ren ever came back). I also found out that they were camping there for the rest of the night. Sounded to me like it was almost time to start thinking about a little New Years Eve celebration. Oreo and I rambled onto the beach. I drank some wine and built a sand scene of an alligator chasing a fish. Thinking back, I should have moulded a crocodile chasing Oreo but we had already tempted fate and won. I had nothing to prove. Upon finishing my scene the Captain returned with our booty. I gave him one annoyed look at his hour’s absence and quickly got over it. I didn’t want to be responsible for ruining a perfectly good time to be.
Our new friends joined us on the beach with more wine just in time for sunset. No green flash, but we did have a mutton snapper on the boat that was huge and needed to be shared with our new friends for a New Years Eve feast. A few glasses of wine and a couple sips of rum and we were again in action. Ren went back to the boat to collect some things to contribute to a meal, Bobby went to start the coals and Josina and I continued to shoot the poo. The meal came together quite nicely. We grilled the fish whole and our friends added to the grill their steak and elephant garlic. We spread the roasted garlic on bread and I made some make shift guacamole to accompany the garlic bread. We had brie cheese and grilled snap peas, mashed potatoes and even some M&Ms and Jordan Almonds to finish the whole thing off. Oreo had fish skin and tail and mashed potatoes. He was a happy boy. I couldn’t of asked for a more satisfying meal…or company for that matter. Since Ren, myself and our company deemed ourselves way too cool to stay up until midnight, and there was no ball dropping anywhere close to where we were, and we wanted to avoid hangovers, we departed company and slept.
We woke up to a happily bright and sunny New Years Day. We had leftover fish, eggs and fruit for breakfast. I picked the remaining fish off the fish head and skeleton (which we brought home with us the night before) and proceeded to make fish salad according to a new chicken salad recipe my Mom’s Guamanian friend gave to her. I smashed the fish by hand into almost mush and mixed in lots of lime juice, some lemon juice, red pepper flakes and fresh coconut. We brought the salad over to the beach and shared it along with crackers with our friends from the night before while sitting on the warm sand. They left for home on the ferry and the three of us hung a bit longer. We went back to the boat where Ren caught a nap in preparation for the night sail we had planned. It was time to leave our Dry Tortuga heaven and head back towards Key West. I left him for his nap and suited up for a nice run along the mote wall back at the fort. 4 miles and one beautiful sunset latter, which included a green flash, I went back to the boat where we prepared for our departure, including a shower. The wind was perfect around 2:00am. If I looked closely I may have noticed a shed tear or two from one of the three members of our crew as we finally departed the Dry Tortugas after a 3 day, 3 night stay. Now more than ever we are hungry for warm weather and blue waters. It’s time to move on.
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