Celi Voyage - Dry Tortugas

Approaching the Dry Tortugas for the first time, moving from the deep of the Gulf Stream to the coral and sand shallows, overloaded my eyes with shades of blues and greens. Driving winds still whipped up waves and stirred sediment. I could only imagine the clarity on a calm day. We made the best of or anchorage, resting a bit from the long night at sea, exploring historic Fort Jefferson and surveying a few sheltered reefs. Much of the energy I had in anticipation for underwater photography got redirected toward the 150-ft-tall lighthouse, an omnipresent feature on Loggerhead Key that seemed to capture the light differently with every glance. As a result, I got a lifetime's quota of lighthouse photographs out of my system in fewer than two days.

We did manage one dive beneath the waves, finding relative calm in the leeward side of Loggerhead Key. The coral reef blew my mind, reminding me of pristine places I'd seen in Australia, Indonesia and the Caribbean. I was mesmerized and at the same time saddened to think that all of the reefs along the Florida Keys were recently just as vibrant, innumerable living corals and fishes having faded from existence is as little as a generation. Protected by their isolation and protection by the National Park, the reefs in the Dry Tortugas were thriving as God intended.

We found sandy bottom where we could safely anchor the Grand Lady without harming any coral, then set out by Geenoe and paddle board to photograph and paint. Christopher has designed a special technique for painting underwater. You will see him in action in the images below. With phenomenal focus, he spent nearly three hours hovering on his knees just above the bottom, managing to capture the color and detail of coral heads with fine brush strokes while balancing against currents and waves. To internalize the scene before him with palette and brush soaks his memory in the colors and forms in ways that photographs alone cannot. When Christopher revisits the scene in his studio to create a large master painting, the reef will become manifest at deeper levels the two dimensional colors and forms captured on the small canvas beneath the surface.

I had great fun paddling and swimming in the pristine waters and made a few memorable photographs. Before we pulled anchor to continue to the Marquesas, I was already dreaming of when I would return to spend more time photographing a place that embodies the wild and historic essence of coastal Florida.