Trying to sculpt out a rough draft of The Improbable Sea Dogs of St. Croix North, I’ve been thinking a lot about Dry Tortugas. Back in the mid-90s, when my family and I were learning how to ocean sail, we considered this our “Apollo moon shot.”
Borrowing from President Kennedy’s infamous 1961 Moon Mission speech, I announced to my family in 1997:
“I believe that we should commit to achieving the goal, before the year is out, of landing on Dry Tortugas and returning safely to the Charlotte Harbor. No single sailing project will be more exciting, or more impressive to our family, or more important… and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish.
We choose to sail to Dry Tortugas this year and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”
For those of you who may not know, Dry Tortugas is a small, isolated archipelago of the Florida Keys, some 70-miles west of Key West (and 100-miles north of Havana). For us, it was a 150-mile “offshore” excursion — waaaay out of my OSHA-orientated comfort zone. Let’s see: two Minnesota-born landlubbers, one teen, one pre-teen, a water-hating cat, on a 35-foot sloop far from the sight of land, trying to find a tiny, distant target without the benefit of GPS.
I realize that to big league sailors, this is nothing. Heck, we live down the road from Robin Graham, who solo circumnavigated the globe in a 23-foot sailboat when he was 16 year old (immortalized in the 1974 film, The Dove). But he grew up around sailboats and the ocean. To us “pond-canoe-paddlers,” ocean sailing was very foreign, indeed.
Yet, we were determined to imprint our feet in the sands of Dry Tortugas. So, we boldly chose to go, “not because it was easy, but because (for us) it was hard!”