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Fort Jefferson & The Dry Tortugas

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Screen_shot_2009-12-27_at_7.18By Water 24.627344, -82.871803


Almost 70 miles (112.9 km) west of Key West lies a cluster of seven islands, composed of coral reefs and sand, called the Dry Tortugas. Along with the surrounding shoals and waters, they make up Dry Tortugas National Park. The area is known for its famous bird and marine life, and its legends of pirates and sunken gold. Ft. Jefferson, the largest of the 19th century American coastal forts is a central feature.

The Tortugas were first discoverd by Ponce de Leon in 1513. Abundant sea turtles or "tortugas" provisioned his ships with fresh meat, but there was no fresh water-the tortugas were dry. Since the days of Spanish exploration,the reefs and shoals of the Dry Tortugas have been a serious hazard to navigation and the site of hundreds of shipwrecks.
U.S. military attention was drawn to the keys in the early 1800's due to their strategic location in the Florida Straits. Plans were made for a massive fortress and construction began in 1846, but the fort was never completed. The invention of the rifled cannon made it obsolete. As the military value of Fort Jefferson waned, its pristine reefs, abundant sea life and impressive numbers of birds grew in value. In 1935, President Franklin Roosevelt set aside Fort Jefferson and the surrounding waters as a national monument. The area was redesignated as Dry Tortugas National Park in 1992 to protect both the historical and natural features. Information from Statespark.com

You may tie up to the dock for no more than 2 hours between sunrise and sunset with the following exceptions: From 10am to 3pm daily (due to ferry boats), and while park supply boat unloads cargo or unloads fuel. There may be other occasions when the dock is not accessible if this be the case when you arrive please contact park staff on VHF 16.

NAVIGATION: Use your charts and know how to navigate and read the water. NOAA Chart 11438. You can travel from Key West going either South or North of the Marquesas - depending on the weather. The southern route is typically to parallel the marquesas (see loran waypoints below) to about 24 30.0N 082 28.0W, then 21 nautical miles on a true heading of 290 to about 24 37.32N 082 49.48W which is close to the R"2" Fl R 4s in the Southeast Channel. Arrive during daylight. Local information provided by Gregory T. Absten of www.bootkeyharbor.com

Boating Information & Mooring Balls



All visitors wanting to take vessels into the Research Natural Area (RNA) must have a permit and use one of the six mooring balls located in this area. Vessels are limited to 2 hours at a time on a mooring buoy. Vessels are no longer allowed to anchor within the area marked as the Research Natural Area, park officails say.

Those officials also remind boaters that permits are required for all vessels in the park, including the RNA. Boating permits apply to all recreational vessels, including kayaks and dinghies, vessels operating under a Commercial Use Authorization (CUA), and commercial fishing vessels. The only vessels exempt from this rule are those transiting the area without interruption