Jim's sister Grace and her husband Steve invited us down for their annual January escape to Key West. We enjoyed a relaxing few days with them and also doing some sight-seeing.


One day we rose before dawn for a catamaran trip to the Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas National Park. There were several options, but Grace & Steve recommended the "Yankee Freedom" because of the entertaining and informative guide, Cap'n Rick.

The Dry Tortugas are a cluster of islands about 70 miles west of Key West. They are called "Dry" because there is no fresh water to be found. "Tortugas" because of the once-abundant sea turtles.

The trip out was lovely -- blue skies (once the sun came up) and crystal clear water.

Approaching Ft. Jefferson The fort was started in 1847, but never completely finished. It was designed to control the vital shipping lanes between the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico, but masonry forts such as this one were made obsolete by the development of rifled cannon. After the Civil War it was converted to a prison and used as such until 1874. Its most famous prisoner was Dr. Samuel Mudd, who was convicted for his role in the assassination of President Lincoln. He was pardoned in 1869 at least in part due to his assistance in treating those affected by a yellow fever epidemic at this fort in 1867.
Lighthouse The fort was encircled by a moat and breakwater. The original lighthouse actually preceded construction of the Fort, but there were numerous problems with it and it was replaced by the one shown here. Eventually a newer lighthouse, which is still in operation, was built on a nearby key.

The low pyramids on the right are ammunition storage for the upper batteries.

The brick rectangles in the foreground are part of an ingenious, but ultimately unsuccessful, design for the capture and storage of fresh water. Rainwater was captured by these "chimneys" and funneled into large cisterns. Unfortunately due to settling and other factors, the cisterns began to leak and allow salt water in.

Breakwater Cannon ports on all sides of the fort look out over the moat and breakwater. Campers and day-trippers hike in the area.
Arches There were cannon emplacements planned for all three levels of the fort, but it was never fully armed. The structure on the upper level held ammunition. There are still the remains of brackets that supported a walkway from the location of the cannon to the door leading into the ammo storage area. In theory those who were getting more ammunition would be sheltered from fire. The fort was never attacked, however, so it is unknown how well this would have worked in practice.

The arches on the two lower levels are quite graceful.

Living Quarters These foundation ruins are all that is left of the officers' quarters. Each officer had his own house. A few of the buildings have been restored for the use of Park Service personnel and may be seen in the background.

The barracks for the enlisted men were even less visible.

Hot Shot We were fascinated by this "hot shot furnace." Non-exploding cannon balls would be inserted at the far end, and by the time they got to the exit facing us in the picture, they would be red hot. Their intended use was to set fire to enemy warships. I would not have wanted to be responsible for taking the hot cannon balls to the batteries, which were not especially nearby. Especially if an attack happened in the blistering heat of a Florida summer!
Spalling One of the many innovations used in Ft. Jefferson that didn't quite pan out, was the use of hinged, wrought-iron Totten shutters designed by General Joseph Totten. These would open automatically when a cannon was fired and immediately close to protect the soldiers as they reloaded.

Unfortunately the iron, when exposed to the salt air, rusted and expanded, pushing out the exterior bricks.

Restoration efforts, ongoing at this site, are removing the original shutters and replacing them with materials that are both historically accurate and resistant to the elements.

Gun Emplacement This restored gun emplacement shows how the cannon would be mounted on a carriage that would allow it to recoil when fired. It would then be reloaded and pushed into position for another shot.

The iron shutters discussed above covered the gun port to protect the artillery personnel.

Cubans Since the Dry Tortugas are so far west of Key West, they are the closest US landfall to Cuba. This was brought home to us at Ft. Jefferson.

This party of Cuban refugees had successfully made the passage and landed on one of the nearby small islands. The Coast Guard fetched them to Ft. Jefferson where they would wait until they could be transported to an induction center elsewhere.

The policy vis a vis Cuban refugees is that if they have dry feet, or have successfully reached US soil, they may remain. Those who are intercepted at sea (wet feet) are returned to Cuba.

They saw my camera and insisted that I take their picture!

Black Battery The Dry Tortugas expedition took the entire day. The next day we visited Fort Zachary Taylor on the Key West "mainland." This was originally constructed as a sister fort to Ft. Jefferson, but was heavily modified for the Spanish American war in the late 19th century.

The black structures here were part of the modification. Ironically the newer parts of the fort are condemned as unsafe whereas the older sections are still sound.

Cannon Storage When newer batteries were added onto the existing fort, old Civil War vintage cannon, now obsolete and too heavy to move easily, were simply used as fill in the concrete extensions. As a result the fort has one of the largest collections of cannon. A bit hard to get at, however.
Latrines Another clever idea that didn't work was the construction of latrines that were intended to be flushed by tidal forces. As it happened the tides weren't strong enough to do the job and the latrines became breeding grounds for mosquitoes that carried yellow fever.

Also located at the "Fort Zach" park is a very popular beach. Neither Jim nor I are particularly fond of sun and surf, but we did spend a lovely morning there with Grace and Steve. It was a short bike ride from their rental house in the Truman Annex.

Also nearby is the Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center. We spent a good bit of time there fascinated by the ecology of the area.

Racers One of the annual January events at Key West is Race Week. It was the week after our stay there, but we enjoyed watching the racers gather with their boats. Some trailer in; some sail in. Competitors come from all over the world to race in the various divisions.

In addition jet-setters may cruise in on their mega-yachts to be a part of the action. We saw several luxury ships docked nearby.

Lighthouse One day we took a walking tour of Key West with Grace and her family. The lighthouse is now a museum, but we didn't visit it on this trip.


Hemingway cat Instead we toured the Hemingway house, which was almost across the street. It was hard to get good pictures of the house or grounds, so check out the link if you want to see what it looked like. It is preserved with the same furnishings that the Hemingways used. I couldn't resist, however, a picture of one of the famous polydactyl cats. She clearly doesn't mind the parade of tourists.
Jim HemingwaySpeaking of Hemingway... At one point we were walking along and a group of ladies came running up to Jim full of giggles! "He's perfect!" they exclaimed. It turns out that they were participating in a "scavenger hunt" and one of the items was to locate someone who looked like Ernest Hemingway.

What do you think? Does Jim qualify? Personally I think Jim is better looking!

(Hemingway image from americanlegends.com.)

Southernmost Point

Another spot we visited was the "buoy" at the so-called Southernmost Point in the contiguous USA. There was a queue of  tourists waiting to take each other's pictures. We are (L-R), Matt & Ben Janus, Grace's sons, Steve & Winnie, Jim, and Grace.

The insignia of the Conch Republic can be see at the top of the buoy. Grace & Steve have Conch Republic passports.

There are numerous "southernmost" sites in Key West. There is a little Presbyterian Church that I attend when there that is the southernmost in the continental US.

BOs But what is a visit to Key West without a bit of bar crawling? Our favorite was BO's. The picture doesn't do it justice!

Another favorite was the Turtle Kraals. Every evening featured a turtle race.

And then there was the Green Parrot.

You get the picture!

Happy Hour Here we are at Happy Hour at some dive or the other down by the docks. L-R are Jim, Matt, Steve, Winnie, Grace & Ben. 


Winnie at Happy Hour At the time of this visit Key West was pretty dog-friendly. Winnie could go just about anywhere that we could. In the intervening years (I'm finally getting these pictures online in 2012), that has been less so.

And lest PETA or some other such organization get on our case, no we didn't ply Winnie with beer or other intoxicating beverages!

Sunset Then there is the iconic sunset view from Mallory Square. We enjoyed our Key West visit, but mostly we enjoyed spending time with Grace and her family.