Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Reef Fun

On one of my last days after Pete's departure, the folks on Garden Key remembered I was wasting my lonely days away on Loggerhead Key and tried to include me in their Reindeer Games.

Jeremy invited me to go along on a dive with him and Billy (the Interp Ranger on Garden Key) out to a spot or two off Loggerhead.
They dug up a BC in (mostly) my size, a tank, regualtor, every extra diving weight on the island and a dive computer and we were off to a nice 75-80 foot dive NorthWest of Loggerhead.
It was a huge stand of 20 to 30 foot pillar coral and huge humps of plate corals.
I wish I had a decent underwater camera because the coral formations were fantastic.
We took a 25 minute dive there, then went to a 25' deep spot due north of Loggerhead.
Much shallower dive and full of amazing scenery including a 150 pound Goliath grouper and one very aggressive barracuda.
All in all, a great pair of dives...

Thanks Jeremy, Billy!
I really appreciated the ride-along on that trip...

TBG out (of air, at 35 feet)

Monday, July 30, 2007

Out of Mixers?

So... We have several bottles of Anejo rum.

And we started with several cans of Pineapple/Orange and Pineapple/Mango mixers.
But the ratio somehow didn't work out right.
And drinking overproof rum straight might have been OK for the Brethern of the Coast, but the Blokes on Loggerhead have a more delicate palate.

I came up with a decent approximation of a makeshift strawberry daquiri...

1 shot (or more) of rum
1 tablespoon of Strawberry preserves
6 or 7 ice cubes

Combine ingredients in your blender;
Blend until smooth, pour in glass and enjoy.

Necessity is the mother of invention.

TBG - Boozing on the front porch

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Feet, don't fail me now!

My feet took a beating down here...

The first night on Garden Key I was in the crews quarters- after the Cubans had arrived and were secured, I was back asleep.
Somehow I was thrashing about and I kicked the (hard, brick) wall with my right foot.
I peeled back my toenail pretty bad...
Not a good start.
On the first day on Loggerhead I kicked a brick on the walkway with my 4th toe on the same foot... It turned a little black under the nail.
I thought it might be broken, but after an hour or two the pain subsided and I decided that it was just superficial.
I was working on the Dumpster/Burrito one afternoon during week 3 and kicked a old dock foundation on the beach. I took a big chunk of skin and part of the nail out of my big toe on my left foot, and then when we were burning the "Flipper" I stepped on a board with several nails on it, and one went through the side of my left heel...

I didn't take any photos of the toe injuries...

But I did take the time to shoot a pic of the heel injury...

TBG out (trying to avoid Clostridium tetani)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Helicopter Invasion

Fortunately, Taskmaster that I am, one of the PC's chores when she was on-island was to do a little mowing.
Not that there is a whole lot of grass...
However, the South 40 on Loggerhead is the helicopter landing area.
Like I said, it was fortunate that I had her give it a once-over with the John Deere.

We got a call from Garden Key that the Air Force Reserve was on the way-
They would be arriving around 3:00 PM.
Garden Key also sent over a new barbecue grill for them to use, and in our copious free time, could we prep & FOD the Landing Zone, unearth the buried chugs down on the south beach and put together the new BBQ?

The PC already did the work on the LZ, so Ranger Steve Roper, Pete and I put the big dig on the chug closest to the dock.
(Which we found was named, of all things, "Flipper". Go figure.)
We left the grill for the AFR guys to assemble.

"Flipper" was mostly uncovered; Steve and I went to one of the metal Chugs and prepped it to be lifted off the island while Pete continued to dig on Flipper.

That left us with the Dumpster Chug (Blue Burrito) near the dock, Flipper, Caridad, Metal #2, Fiberglass #1, and one more wood chug on the south beach.

With the Landing Pad mowed and checked for FOD, the 301st Air Force Reserve guys arrived around 3:00, Loggerhead Key's population went from 2 to 15 in a matter of minutes.

We burned Flipper down to the sand that afternoon... No reason to try to airlift it off the island...

That night we got an invite to dinner with the guys from the 301st...

Good steak, Omar?

These guys know how to rough it!


The USAF guys lifted the Metal Chug at 2:00 the next day- setting it down on Garden Key at a little after 2pm, just as the ferries were loading up.
Unfortunately, the landing zone was just north of the dock, so everyone on the dock and on the shore watching got a dusting sand as the helicopter came in to drop the chug.
From Loggerhead it looked like they had elected a new Pope over at the Fort.

From Loggerhead

Poor bastards.

The helicopters returned to Loggerhead and commenced Operation Big Blue Burrito...
We had filled an old chug with all kinds of trash, flotsam & jetsam, old chug parts and other garbage and wrapped it up like a big Mexican entree.

Before wrapping

Ready to fly

The ground crew hooked up the Burrito and it was off to Garden Key.

2 down, 3 and a half to go...

There was a storm coming in from the east so they called off operations for the rest of the day.

Of course, the storm never actually got to Loggerhead. They are mocking me, I tells ya.

The guys with the 301st Reserve were great guys. They really helped with getting all the old chugs off the island, and they were genuinely a pleasure to have around...

Even if they did bleed all over my sidewalk...

I didn't ask what happened.
As we say down here, "What happens at DRTO, gets published on 'Listen to Uncle Jay.com'"

Who's got the fishing pole?

Word has it they are off to Afghanistan soon, so they definitely deserve a little R&R in the Tortugas.

Good Luck, Guys! Safe travels and come home soon.

TBG Out-

Monday, July 23, 2007

New Citizens from South of the Gulf Stream

July 22nd- 6:00 AM

Pete: "Hey Jay- there are 50 people on the front porch. They want breakfast and a ride to Miami."

He was downstairs, looking out the front window.

I rolled out of bed and looked out the second floor window.
There were people all over the place- out by the PV array, near the lighthouse, and even a bunch in front of our house.
It looked like a lot of them had the same blue-shirt-blue-pants kind of uniform...
I wondered for a minute if it might be the folks off the Eagle, but no... there were old folks and kids in the group.

Definately Cubans.


I grabbed the radio and we headed out to deal with the situation.

I went to the group to find the leader, or at least to find someone who spoke better English than my poor Espanol. Pete took the flag out to the flagpole while I started working with the group.

"Are we in the United States?"

This was answered as Pete put up the flag. There was a round of cheers and applause as the flag went up over the island.

Then the questions really started...

The Loggerhead/Dry Tortugas Cuban
Frequently Asked Question List.

1. Where are we?

Directly above the center of the Earth.

2. Will we be sent back to Cuba?

No, unfortunately.

3. Do you have anything to drink?

Yes, here's a bottle of water.

4. We'd rather have Coke.

So would I.

5. It's not cold. Do you have cold water?

Yeah, it's right here in my pocket, next to the Eskimo Pies and the Popsicles.

6. Ice?

You're kidding.

7. What is going to happen to us now?

Boat to Garden Key, then a Coast Guard Cutter, then a bus to Krome.

7a. Krome Detention Center? I hear it is a prison.

I only wish it was so...

8. How are you going to get us to Miami?

Oh, it's MY problem now?

9. How long is it going to take?

Forever, if you keep up with the dumb questions

10. We're hungry.

Me too

11. Can we use your telephone?

Sure, here's my cell. Go nuts.

12. Is there a TV here we can watch while we wait for the boat to arrive?

No, but here's some shovels. Let's go dig up one of the old chugs.

13. We want to use the bathroom.

...and people in hell want ice water.

14. My clothes are wet/covered in fuel. I want new clothes.

I know this might shock you, but they closed the Loggerhead location of "The Gap" last week. Sorry.

15. Are you sure you don't have a nice ice cold Coke somewhere?

Sure. It's on the bus in Key West.

16. We're bored.

You need more shovels?

17. When will the boat be here?

Not soon enough.

18. We're hot. We want air conditioning.

Don't we all.

At about question number 4 I begin to lose my tolerance for the whole thing...

We had 53 people in two distinct groups. One group was picked up off a dock outside Mariel at about 3 in the afternoon the day before.
The other group said they had been underway for 3 days in a home-made boat.
The motor didn't work so they rowed for a long time, then they were picked up by a fishing boat.
They had all been dropped off around 1:00 AM on the southwest shore of the island.

Interestingly- We had been shooting photos of a lightning storm off to the south of the island that night. I saw a light on the horizon that wasn't acting like a typical recreational vessel or commercial fishermen...

Night exposure on the 21st

I told Pete that I thought it was acting wierd...That it was probably a chug or something.

The Eagle was still offshore on the west side of the island and lit up like a Christmas tree. I thought that might deter any landings.
I guess I was wrong. (Like THAT never happens. heh)

One thing we've learned is that, as a rule, the migrants can be deceptive and vague about their details. They want to be seen as having undergone a severe hardship in the crossing...
For instance- for the group that had "been in the boat for 3 days" showed no symptoms of exposure. Having seen the results of long-term exposure to sun and saltwater, these folks were not on the water for 3 days.
The other thing is that they didn't want the boat that dropped them off to get caught, so they were not going to give any details that might identify the boat.

So, we checked them for basic first-aid needs, got them some water and got them into the shade. Then we called the Rangers over at Garden Key.
They called the Department of Homeland Security (the US Coast Guard is part of DHS) to find out how we were going to get them off the island.
We got the standard reply- "We'll get back to you."
We asked if the Eagle might be able to assist with them migrants, but got a big "no" on that that idea... They are training to tie knots and trim sails, not deal with real-world issues like migrants and interdiction.

Rangers Roper and Donnely arrived on Loggerehead Key in short order and began the next step of processing them.

After the Rangers searched them for contraband and weapons, we still hadn't heard from DHS, so we began the transport process to take the migrants over to Garden Key.
We made several trips to get them all off Loggerhead.

The USCG Cutter "Hawk" showed up about 2:00 and we transferred the migrants to the cutter, then headed back to Loggerhead.

One of the other issues with a Cuban landing is the manpower expenditure needed to deal with the situation. Pete and I assisted in securing the migrants over on Garden Key, and assisting with getting the migrants from Garden Key to the Coast Guard cutter.
It took 8 hours for myself, Pete and Rangers Roper and Donnley to deal with the landing, and a good 4 hours from Bob on Garden Key to assist.
We still had a full day of stuff to do over on Loggerhead...
The entire process takes a huge chunk of time out of everyone's day...time that is needed to ensure proper operation of the park.

In addition to the park's lost time and resources, there is the issue of fuel and manpower and equipment by the USCG. Do you have any idea of the cost in fuel, people and equipment used to come pick up the migrants? 10 guys, a big boat that burns diesel fuel at a high rate of consumption...

How about the per person costs of taking a Cuban migrant into the mainstream of the US population
Did you know that migrants get between $5,000 & $8,000 dollars each in "starting out money"? They get 3 years of free medical care? Food stamps? Tax Exempt status for 3 years?

Does any other immigrant group get this kind of benefits package?

I'll get off my soapbox now...

We had to pull double duty on the 23rd... to make up for the lost day on the 22nd.

TBG out (walking the beach, AGAIN)

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Eagle hasn't landed

The Eagle is a USCG Cadet training ship.
They sat off the back side of Loggerhead for two days.
We kept expecting to see a longboat come ashore from the Eagle, but they never showed up.
I couldn't believe there wasn't a mutiny...
How do you sit off an island like Loggerhead for two and a half days and not get Shore Leave?
The only thing I can think is that the Cadets must have really screwed up and Shore Leave on Loggerhead got cancelled. After a little reflection and checking, it seemed like they were just returning from Veracruz Mexico and hadn't cleared US Customs and needed to hit their next official port of call before making "real" landfall.

TBG out-

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Storm Front

The weather is mocking me...

It kills me... Every day or so it clouds up and there is lightning and high winds...
but never a drop of rain.


Storms from the East...

Storms from the West...

Storms from the South...

Storms from the North...

But nothing for us.

We sat watching a stormfront roll in- the Fort completely disappears from view like Brigadoon...

They get an inch and a half of rain.
I stood on the front porch with a bar of soap and a bottle of shampoo for an hour, mentally drawing the storm to the island.


Another day we watch as they get rain and several waterspouts dance around the fort. Us? We had sunshine the whole time.

The first one

They better be battening down the hatches over there...

Two waterspouts nearing Ft. Jefferson

The weather- she mocks me.

TBG out- being mocked by the raindrops

Sunday, July 15, 2007

A Case of the Crabs

The PC finally figured out how to catch the Black Back Crabs...
Hold the flashlight in your mouth, distract them with one hand and grab them from behind with the other as they give you the "Hey - hey - hey" a la the crabs in "Finding Nemo"...


Kiss kiss!

As Marvin would say...
"It will all end in tears. I just know it."

TBG out- (looking for a band-aid for her lip)

Friday, July 13, 2007

Loggerhead Key - Week 2 - Now with Pics!

Greetings Constant Readers...
Welcome to Week 2.

The PC and Loggerhead Key Light

A few pics and some notes...

Remember I said the primary life form on Loggerhead Key was the crabs?

Here they are:

Black Back Crabs

...and Ghost Crabs
(You'll have to wait on the latin. I don't have my taxonomy books with me.)

They (the crabs) get into everything.



Some views of Fort Jefferson...

From the front porch of the Little House

From the top of the Lighthouse.

It's been so hot and still here this view reminds me of the lines from the
"Rime of the Ancient Mariner."

"Day after day, day after day,
We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink

Speaking of the Lighthouse...
(A/K/A The Deathtrap)

Let me share with you the reasons it's not open to the public...

The railing is about to fall off, and if you lean against it, you're going over the edge, along with most of the walkway around the top of the light.

That is one steep, narrow, dark stairway

Do these stairs look safe to you?

...because they aren't. They are melting in the heat and humidity of this place.

There are 193 steps *just like these*.

THAT's why we don't let people climb the lighthouse.

If you ever wondered what the lighting element looks like in a lightouse like the one here on Loggerhead Key...

This is the actual light...

One other thing...

This is damage from 2 years ago... Hurricane Wilma, I believe...


The crabs again...
Did I mention that the Ghost Crabs and the Black Back Crabs don't get along? They don't.
It's like the Crips and the Bloods out here...

"You lookin' at me, Ese?"


Other residents...

We have the Zombie Tarpon out at the dock...

The glowing eyeball is from the flash on my camera, not because they are Undead Fish. Heh.

Another pic from out near the dock.

There is also a young Goliath Grouper under the dock. Just a little one, about 60 pounds or so...

Speaking of homes...

Here's our place. Commonly referred to as "The Little House". Interior pics and pics of the Big House coming soon.

The PC has been working her tail off...I had the poor child out working on the power grid last week.

She was out dressing the cables that tie the PV Array together.

Note the expert "extra cable tie in the teeth" methodology...That's my girl.

We also get occasional visitors, usually folks from over at the Fort come over in an inflatable, dingy or kayak. We give them the nickle tour and answer the Loggerhead FAQs (coming soon).

Looking for a spot to snorkle.


And the turtles...
I'm getting pretty good at identifying the tracks that they leave all over the beach each morning...

This is what they look like from the Lighthouse.

Ok...Loggerhead Tracks on the left, Green Turtle tracks on the right.
(Caretta caretta and Chelonia mydas respectively. I didn't need my book for those.)

And it's not like they crawl up and do their business then leave.
Some are pretty picky about where they want to dig a nest.

Who decided to hold a tractor pull on my beach?

Actually, it's easier to tell a tractor pull from an arribata.
Just look for empty beer bottles. The Green Turtles & Loggerheads love Pabst Blue Ribbon.

Well... Our friends from the USCG Cutter Yellowfin out of Charleston are gone, so we are expecting Visitors from the South tonite. What fun...

TBG out -