A Dry Tortugas Adventure from Key West

Fort Jefferson and lighthouse

Fort Jefferson and lighthouse

I wondered if this could possibly get any worse. Have I ever had a more terrible experience in my life or is this the worst thing that has ever happened to me? The guy at the ticket counter said: Dress like you’re going to the beach! Bring suntan lotion, towels and a swimsuit. The Dutch woman adorned in pearls, rocking an ivory silk blouse, paired with a matching skirt, had hung a light sweater over her shoulders looping the empty arms in front, looking so preppie-like — I guess she had a different idea of dressing for a day at the beach. She, who later begged the purser, please, 2 candy bars, deux, chips and how much is that rum!! She had no idea what she was in for either.

Roof top view from Fort Jefferson

Roof top view from Fort Jefferson

The clerk at Fort Jefferson suggested I buy a baseball hat. For those bad hair days, she offered. What? Have you looked at my hair? I briefly for about 10 days considered growing dreadlocks. It would make life easier if I never had to mess around styling my hair. When I am on vacation, I don’t even comb it after washing it. Do you think I care about my hair? I asked. I twist it, stick a clip in it, and call it a day.

Which came in handy, an hour earlier, keeping my hair out of my face as I clutched the handle of a seat one one down from me, holding a barf bag in the other. I would have sat in the seat with the arm, but that seat was too wet, pelted by the continual rain. Swells in the Atlantic reached 6 to 8 feet. The 100-foot passenger boat Yankee Freedom III plunged forward, pounding the waves. It’s not dangerous to go out in weather like this, it’s just rough seas. I’m not a woman who gets seasick. I used to own a Bayliner.

Moat Wall 1

Waves pouring over Moat at Fort Jefferson, Florida Keys

It’s not like they didn’t warn us in person at 6:30 A.M. when nobody was awake, as we stood in line to retrieve our boarding passes for the boat. The Yankee Freedom III staff said it would be cold, windy and chilly, which doesn’t mean much to a girl when there is no time to go home to her hotel and change clothes. I was dressed for the beach, not a mid-winter rainstorm at sea. Yankee Freedom III had our cell phones numbers, and they could have called to warn us, but why, when they could do it at the ticket window when our only chance was either a) take the trip of a lifetime NOW because we aren’t coming back or b) cancel all together? They also offered us another option that would have involved c) a voucher good for travel when we would not be there, so NOT really an option.

Fort Jefferson

Fort Jefferson from the sea

I didn’t wear makeup and pearls for the beach like the Dutch woman. No, I wore a two-piece tankini because I’m an old person, over which I threw a beaded coverup from Bermuda and, just for good measure, threw on a Dolphin t-shirt from the Dolphin Research Center in Marathon. It was not not nearly warm enough.

Clutching the handle of the seat chair required great dexterity. I could not move from my unnatural position. Frozen there in time.

A moat surrounds Fort Jefferson

A moat surrounds Fort Jefferson

My husband was somewhere inside by himself. It’s every man for herself, I see. I was outside, trying to use the ocean air to revive my queasy stomach. An Asian couple slumped in seats across from me. She kept her eyes closed, thinking about how she could thrust a knife into her husband’s ribs, but even those thoughts would not take them off the boat. I, on the other hand, held a dandy bag in my hands, which I did not need because a) I took 2 dramamine non-drowsy pills an hour before boarding and b) I wore my dandy sea wrist bands, which I googled for position thereof shortly before boarding.

Bush Key

View of Bush Key from Fort Jefferson

As I sat in my frozen state, staring at the crystal blue water bursting into waves in all directions around me, I continued to wonder if this cannot get any worse. How much worse could this possibly get? It’s not so bad when things are placed into perspective. Yes, this is miserable; I have now regurgitated every bit of contents in my stomach at least 3 times; I am shivering, and I must sit here until the boat comes to a stop in 60 minutes at Dry Tortugas. But this is the worst that it will get, and I deal with it; I will survive. Oops. Uh-oh, what is this new development?

Grumblings in my gut. My innards were upset all of a sudden. I had not been expecting this. Down deep in my churning netheregions, I recognized the signs. I needed to find a bathroom. The bathrooms were located on the lower level. I was on the upper level. To relieve this gut pain, I would somehow need to make my way down the stairs to the bathrooms and planned to hold on to the railing for dear life. Like little pins, rain pelted my hands. The handrail was like holding an ice cube, gingerly I started to make my way one step at a time.

To Boat from dock Dry Tortugas

Yankee Freedom from Fort Jefferson

Suddenly, a crew member from the Yankee Freedom III appeared out of nowhere, like an angel from heaven to help me navigate the stairs. Yes, I must be dead. Or this is just a dream. I reached the main-floor galley, gathered every bit of strength I could muster and literally threw myself around the door way toward the bathroom doors. Ordinarily, at this point, I would ponder which bathroom to choose. Do I want door number one? Door number two? Or door number three? Studies say most people use the first door, so generally that room doesn’t have any toilet paper. There was no time to study and choose. I opened the first door, flung my body into the air dryer, which immediately went off, and inched my way to the toilet, tearing at the clinging fabrics attached to my body.

Roof top view from Fort Jefferson

Roof top view from Fort Jefferson

Swimsuit top. Up. Swimsuit topper, up. T-Shirt from Save the Dophins at Marathon, up. Short black bottoms down. The swimsuit portions were made from spandex, which tends to roll into a tiny ball when you’re not paying attention. I don’t care. Toilet seat down. NOW. Oh, lookee here, a wastepaper basket under the sink perfect for multi-tasking. I grabbed it closer and heaved. Gag. Not much left in my stomach.

I would be remiss if I didn’t warn future navigators to Dry Tortugas, or to any place by sea for that matter, that the bathroom on a boat is the worst place to be. It’s confined, so the smaller space tends to intensify any queasiness. I also leave you with this ancient Hindu blessing: May you never find yourself in a squatting position to multi-task at sea.

Photos: Elizabeth Weintraub and Adam Weintraub

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