Planning trip to Dry Tortugas via the Marquesas

We’re free for the next two to three weeks. We’re starting to plan a trip to the Dry Tortugas via Boca Grande key in the Marquesas Keys (not to be confused with the Marquesas Islands in the south Pacific. We have one potential buddy boat for the trip (RJ & Mel on Kinfolk), and are open to others also (in case you or a friend may be interested).

We have significant coastal cruising experience, but this will really be one of our few times out on open water with no protection from the reef. We’ve done the New Jersey coast and northern Florida coast outside before, but that’s all for open ocean sailing. Bite sized pieces are right for us at this point.

Here’s what I’m thinking so far:
50 gallons of water
30 gallons of gas (for our 8hp 4-stroke Honda outboard)
Tethers, harnesses, jacklines, foul weather gear, etc
Dramamine (started 24-48 hours before the trip, along with no alcohol for 2 days prior)
Collapse our inflatable dinghy and outboard and store in the v berth
Have our compass calibrated before the trip
Plot and track our gps coordinates on paper charts every 10 minutes
Consider renting a satellite phone or getting a SPOT gps tracker

Our primary instrumentation is a bulkhead compass and garmin self-contained bulkhead mounted small color gps. We have a digital depth sounder also.
Our radio is a good old VHF that has good signal.
Backup gps navigation on a laptop with gps receiver and also on iPad.

I have not yet had the chance to talk to any local charter captains or fisherman about the Marquesas Keys and the currents and shallows, etc. This is a top priority before we leave. I especially want to ask about uncharted shallows and the entrance to Mooney harbor in the Marquesas Keys!

Being out of communication in case of emergency
Unexpected current from north or south when beyond the reef’s protection, which might push us off course
Running aground when trying to anchor in the Marquesas
Unexpected storms of course
We do not have a life raft (our boat is our life raft!)
The east winds that are prevalent this time of year. It would suck to get stuck out in the Tortugas for a few weeks of nonstop heavy east winds or storms!!!

Maybe we should head to the Tortugas at the tail end of an easterly and then hang in the Tortugas while the winds are south, and then return to Key West when they clock around to the west. That’s been the dominant weather pattern here for the last month, but still you never know!

I don’t want to have to reply on communication and the coast guard in case of emergency, but I’d like to be able to contact someone if something huge happens like losing our rudder or running hard aground, etc.

I suppose we could leave the dinghy behind, but it could come in handy to have it in case we ran aground and need to kedge off or if we want to dinghy over to loggerhead key, etc.

Capt’n K

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6 thoughts on “Planning trip to Dry Tortugas via the Marquesas

  1. Volker

    nice blog folks. i’m about 400 miles north of you i just completed a refit on a vega i bought for my girlfriend last year and will be heading to the bahamas for 3 months starting march 1. don’t be too concerned about that trip to the marquesas you may get stuck for a few days with contrary wind but it’s no big deal

  2. Jim

    A trip to the Dry Tortugas looks great and on my to-do list as well. If you have not seen this site before, you should check it out… This is an interactive cruising guide that might give you some of that local knowledge you are looking for. I have used it for planning a few times now and was very happy with the results.
    Fair winds…
    s/v Skylark

  3. Joshua Altschule

    Erin and I went to the Dry Tortugas when we both worked for the park service 14 years ago. What a beautiful place teaming with aquatic wildlife, beautiful reefs, etc.. The island that has the light house on it seemed to have anit may be your amaizing reef just 50 yards off the beach (which direction I don’t recall). You can only get to the light house island with your own boat if I recall correctly so it may be your own private island! It was a 2 1/2 hour motor boat ride from Key West, which leaves daily. That route might be worth while exploring as this boat comes by twice a day if you come into any problems. Not sure about how sailboat friendly it is but a magnificent place.

  4. Tim

    That looks like a great spot to check out.
    I wouldn’t worry too much about going on a 112 mile trip, as long as your boat is in good shape. That’s what 97 nm 24 hours if you can average 4 knots.
    50 gal (400 lbs) of water seems like a lot, unless you can’t get water there. I would definitely take the dinghy (deflated and stowed below).

    Renting a satphone would be a good security blanket. So would getting an epirb. I am working on putting a ssb on my boat for my security blanket- if you run across a good deal on an icom at-130 tuner let me know….

    I’m sure you know that you can probably get some much better advice (than mine) on any of the cruise nets/forums-people that have actually done the trip vs just some guy that sails around on a tiny lake in Colorado. -Tim

  5. Aaron

    Great plan. Careful, step by step, gain confidence, well thought out, Yeah! Still want to come visit you, but have possible plans to visit the Philippines in April which will eat up all my vacation time. Thinking of you two always.


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