Wednesday May 21, 2003. Venice, Florida.
In the Dry Tortugas, which is a national park, we visited Fort Jefferson, the largest 19th century American coastal fort. It was built to protect a large deep anchorage (the only deep anchorage between the Chesapeake and the Rio Grande) and to control the main entrance to the Gulf of Mexico in the time of sailing vessels. The architecture of the fort was quite ambitious but the Corps of Engineer of the time had no experience building heavy structures over a tiny sand island. As a result the weight of the fort made it sink in the sand, cracking walls and the precious cisterns. The Dry Tortugas have no fresh water and no local building materials. Everything (14 million bricks) had to be imported by sailing ships.
The fort was never finished (to reduce the weight) and never fully armed but there were some impressive cannons to be seen, including a 15-inch smooth bore Rodman, one of the biggest cannon ever built, capable of throwing a 15 inch diamamter cannon ball 3 miles away, but with little accuracy.
In the evening, the park ranger gave a slide show on American coastal forts which was interesting. Only cruisers boaters from Florida attended as other tourists come only on a day trip from Key West. There are no hotel or camping facilities at the site.
The next day, we went snorkeling at one of the site recommended by the site brochure. We found only a handful of coral head but each was like a pretty flower arrangement in a large crystal bowl. The bowl was a round piece of hard coral, inside which delicate soft coral was growing and many fish were gathered. We also saw many big lobsters which were unafraid of us. Fishing is prohibited within park boundaries and they knew it!
We had been warned that the Florida water police would be picky about such things as having life-jackets and navigation lights on the dinghy and sure enough we received a friendly warning from them because we were not flying a dive flag on the dinghy while snorkeling. It seems to us that an empty, anchored dinghy is pretty obvious warning in itself.
Since the weather was threatening to change, we did not stay to explore other snorkeling locations, but left Tuesday on an overnight trip to Venice, Florida. Dolphins accompanied us for a while and the evening brought a spectacular display of thunderstorms. After a windy night, we arrived in Venice at around 10 AM. The town is called Venice due to many canals and some Italian-style architecture. It was difficult to find a place to anchor as there is very little space and many boats but we did finally drop anchor. After Clark replaced the bathroom sump pump which had failed during the night, we both went to sleep.
We will likely check-in back in the US tomorrow and explore the city a bit. Then we will make our last sail of this trip to St-Petersburg/Tampa, which will take only one day.