Flying To Dry Tortugas

Dry Tortugas from our seaplane

Big dreams require big risks. Sometimes the greatest risk is overcoming your own fears. That’s the way it is with me and flying in small planes. In a recent post, I shared my excitement about escaping to Key West a few weeks ago for a romantic getaway. My husband and I had waited a long time for this vacation, and we were ready for adventure.

Only excitement, no fear!

When we arrived at our favorite bed & breakfast, the topic of Dry Tortugas came up as it has the past three visits. This national estuary is a bit off the beaten path. Seventy miles west of Key West, to be exact. I get seasick, so the two-and-a-half hour ride each way on a catamaran or ferry didn’t appeal to me. Traveling there by seaplane had always been out of the question, too. This time, I surprised us both when I agreed to fly.

What changed my mind? I was tired of fear holding me back. One of my favorite Meryl Streep romantic comedies is the Al Brooks movie, Defending Your Life. I kept thinking about how Al Brooks’ character dies to find himself in Judgment City. The movie’s premise asks, “Did you live with courage?” If you haven’t seen this 1991 film, it’s worth a look. Be forewarned though, the trailer has a spoiler in the last twenty seconds:

We booked the excursion, payment in full. I prayed I wouldn’t chicken out like I had at the Las Vegas Stratosphere when I was unable to overcome my fear of heights and go on its thrill rides. I promised myself I would “just do it,” like the old Nike ad.

Two days later, the conditions were perfect for flying. I’ll admit, I woke about three that morning in a cold sweat, worrying about all the horrible things that could happen on our trip and having flashbacks to the flick, Six Days, Seven Nights. Remember this movie? It features my all-time favorite actor, Harrison Ford. (Okay, so maybe my nightmare wasn’t all that bad if Harrison was in it.)

By the time the sun rose, however, I was calm and mentally prepared for the day ahead. It helped that everyone at the airport inspired confidence. (Click on photo of me in the plane for information about Key West Seaplane Charters.) I beamed with excitement as we buckled in and outfitted ourselves with headsets.

A Shipwreck off Key West

The view from our seaplane was incredible. The photos only hint at the beauty that surrounded us. The blues were bluer than I’d ever seen. We flew low enough that we could observe sea turtles, sharks, and sting rays glide through the tropical waters. Via our headsets, the pilot told us about the sunken ships whose outlines were visible from our vantage point, the tiny islands dotting the ocean, various channels and other water features we viewed during the thirty-five minute flight. When he wasn’t talking, music themed to our flight streamed through our headsets. It was surreal, and I felt like I was in a movie–one with a happily-ever-after.

Landing on water was smooth and gentle, unlike the bumpy, braking experience when landing on concrete. We literally floated backwards onto the white, sand of Dry Tortugas.

Most tourists to this estuary spend a bulk of their time snorkeling the shallow waters directly off the main beach, and our planemates were thrilled at the prospect of underwater vistas. We, however, were fascinated by Fort Jefferson, and spent our visit exploring the Civil War era fort from inside and on top. I imagined the roar of cannons protecting American waters from enemy or pirate ships. We learned that Union soldiers stationed here would put on plays and to combat boredom. When we spoke to a National Park employee, she said she could never get bored. But then, she has internet and cable access, whereas those 1860’s boys didn’t. This fort, never completed, was used as a prison. That must have been torture, to be in a damp, brick cell while paradise lay right outside your window. Just look at this view!

Looking toward the moat from inside the bastion of Fort Jefferson

Once we had our fill of maritime lore, weaponry, romantic vistas, and stolen kisses, we strolled over to the sandy beach and waded in the warm, crystal waters off Garden Key. Like kids, we sat on the beach and examined seashells.

Lighthouse at top of fort

We then walked hand-in-hand along the low, outside wall of the fort to spy a variety of tropical life at the water’s edge. I took so many photos and videos. (To see them all, visit me on Facebook!) When our seaplane arrived for the return trip to Key West, I was thankful I’d taken a risk that day. The isolated, primitive beauty of Garden Key in the Dry Tortugas was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

What risk have you taken that paid off?

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