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Day Trips

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



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

Sand Key (Snorkeling )

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Sand_Key_002kwfBy Water 24.453501, -81.876482

Sand Key is a great place for relaxing and enjoying calm waters. It is well known as a first-class site for snorkeling but also has good diving on the ocean side. For beginners, it is best to stick to the northwest portion of the key. Sand Key is easy to find and is seven miles southwest of Key West. The key is a sand-spit of an island and is marked by a 110-foot light tower. Note that when diving or visiting this site, no anchoring is allowed so boats should tie to a mooring buoy (there are 24 on this site).

Information from Divespots.com

Looe Key Reef (Snorkeling)

User Rating: 5 / 5

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2754436694_273d8897edBy Water 24.547780, -81.405824

One of the most beautiful reefs in the Florida Keys, Looe Key Reef has large fingers of living coral extending out to sea. The reef has many large overhangs as well as several shallow sandy flats where shelling can be done. This is a great area for photography.  Depths from 5 to 70 feet.

Information from Divespots.com Photo by oal (flicker)

Newfound Harbor (Picnic island)

User Rating: 4 / 5

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Screen_shot_2009-12-27_at_6.28.18_PMBy Water 24.636354, -81.395175

Local Website

Picnic island -is a hot spot on weekends because of the long sand bar coming off the South side. People bring lawn chairs and cooler and spend the entire day there and on the island. It's a good place for kids and dogs. A pontoon boat may show up to sell soft soft drinks, hot dogs and hamburgers right off the boat! Dogs are welcome to run free here, as long as they're friendly.

Local Information provided by Gregory T. Absten , of www.bootkeyharbor.com

Marvin Key

User Rating: 4 / 5

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May252005MarvinKey_045By Water 24.708861, -81.643921


Best Sandbar in the Keys. Popular day anchorage. Once you get there and walk around, you couldn't tell you weren't somewhere out in the Bahamas Out Islands. The large flats/shoal to gulfside is very shallow (less than ankle deep). Lots of live rock. Small pockets of water in the sand around the Island are at Spa-like temperatures in the tropical sun. Can lie down in the Sand and have a therapeutic Spa treatment. Main Sandbar where you beach the small boat has steep sides so you can bow in your boat to the beach while the stern is floating. HOWEVER - at high tide the sand beach is almost entirely submerged. The tides are not high, but if you beach your boat at high tide it'll be stranded when the tide goes out - just keep an eye on the tide level while you're there. Locals keep this area very clean - no broken bottles or trash around (please keep it this way) - so you can take off your water shoes and walk around in the deep sand. This is one of the very few places you can do this in the Keys without sharp or crunchy corals, rocks or sea plants cutting your feet. (ALSO - Snipe point is just to the West of Marvin Keys. It also has a very nice beach but you can get there directly from offshore to anchor your boat in the sandbar - unlike the better Marvin Keys)

Local information and phott provided by Greg Absten, of www.bootkeyharbor.com