Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Not So Common

We left the marina in North Palm beach on Saturday morning. A short backtrack to the Lake Worth inlet and we were again out on the ocean. Sails up and engines off we sailed north all day and rounded Cape Canaveral early (like 4 AM early) on Sunday morning. The forecast winds of 10 to 15 knots were about 25 knots, and the 2 foot seas were more 3 to 4 with an occasional 5 thrown in as we rounded the cape.  The NOAA weather radio channel reported winds at the Kennedy space center at 8 knots.  Guess they need a buoy out near where we were.  We arrived in Daytona and dropped the hook just off the ICW near downtown Daytona Beach. The next morning we made our way up the ICW and are back in Hammock Beach Marina to pick up our cars and plan our next leg of this northbound trek.

But that is not really the point of this post. The point is more observations I've made about this trip. First, I don't think I like traveling, at least on the ICW, on weekends. It seems that there are a lot of weekend warriors who come out to play.  These folks are typically in smaller boats with much larger engines and even larger stereos. Best I can tell, a good number of them have no idea of the right-of-way rules nor do they seem to possess basic self preservation instincts. It starts to feel like weekend sailing on the reservoirs back home, except here there are fewer people out checking on boater sobriety. Even if one didn't take boater education classes, one might think that a large boat with a tall stick is limited in its ability to maneuver when passing under a bridge or through a drawbridge. Or self preservation might kick in before zipping a wave runner just feet across our bow.  But I guess common sense and common courtesy just aren't that common.

We encountered a lot of these people out on the water in what could only be described as a makeshift demolition derby when we departed Palm Beach. Once on the outside, we fortunately only had to dodge all the fishing boats that seemed to be as thick as the mosquitoes on Elliott Key at dusk. I think there may have been some sort of fishing derby going on for we had never seen so many out at one time.  Fortunately they were far easier to avoid than the little power boats scurrying around in the channel.

Hours before passing by Cape Canaveral, the USCG came on the radio and warned of an 18 to 25 foot boat with outboard that was overturned and floating somewhere in the area.  Since we would be passing within a mile or so of the coordinates given, I ended up calling the Coast Guard to verify that I copied the coordinates correctly and asked if they had any updated information.  They did not.  We both kept an eye out for this mysterious overturned yet floating boat in the moonlight.  We also used our radar in hopes that enough of it might be sticking up to give us a ping if we got close.  Fortunately we never saw (or ran into) the boat.  I still wonder if it could have been a lost partier from one of those boats back in Lake Worth. Somehow a less-than-sober boater getting lost out on the cape or even just failing to properly tie up his boat at the end of the day didn't seem very far fetched. It is nice to know that the Coast Guard is doing its best to help keep us safe out on the water.

Coming into Daytona on Sunday was similar to the scene we left in Lake Worth.  I started to wonder if this is why there is so much contention between sail and power boaters.  To sailboats, power boats are like flies buzzing around your head, creating wakes that jostle the boat and seem to have no regard for anyone else.  Power boats probably see sailboats as nothing more than slow moving obstacles in their way. The power boats that I've found to be annoying are always the ones that have very big engines relative to their size and weight.  Trawlers and tugs generally seem to be more courteous and respectful.

Our last bad power boat encounter occurred just after we passed through Flagler Beach.  We looked back to see a power boat heading our way.  Actually, what we see is the bow of a boat and a large wave emanating from either side of the bow. Having just passed through the area, we know it was a no-wake zone to protect the manatee this time of year.  From a mile away we could clearly see the wake he was producing and knew he wasn't obeying the restriction.  As he got close, we slowed down and moved to the side in hopes he would slow down when passing us.  He did slow down a bit, but still sent our boat rocking as he passed.  And as soon as he was around us, he was back at full throttle, throwing waves of water over the shoreline and into people's yards.

When we arrived at the marina, we tried calling the staff on the radio but got no response.  Since we were familiar with the marina, we easily made our way to the pump out station.  As we were tying up, the assistant harbormaster stopped by and asked if we got the name of a boat that sped by a short time ago and sent a large wake through the marina damaging a couple boats (this was why she didn't answer...she was busy dealing with that mess).  Having recently left an impression on us, we knew the name of the boat she was looking for, the Scotsman.  They called the authorities, and last I know, they were trying to intercept this boat as it headed north. I hope they catch him.

I know this post has been a bit negative,but the trip in general has been far from it.  So, I'll leave you with some more images from the trip.

Tarpon Basin Anchorage


Cape Florida Lighthouse


The  southern Florida coastline

The space coast and VAB in the distance

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Northbound Again

As much as we would like to stay in the Keys a bit longer, the dreaded "H" season is fast approaching once again so it is time to make our way back north. We made one last provisioning run to the Publix supermarket near Tarpon Basin and departed on Wednesday morning. The goal for the day was to pick up some fuel and once again anchor near Elliot Key.

We have done pretty well on fuel best I can figure. We last topped off our 66 gallon fuel tank in Ft. Pierce during our trip south. Since that time, we have spent most of our travel time under sail, only starting up the motors to maneuver in tight channels (where the wind is often blocked or not in a favorable direction) and to anchor (the windlass needs running motors). The lack of solar means most of our diesel was actually spent feeding the generator to top off our house battery bank.

Believe it or not, I found only two marinas where we could get fuel between Tarpon Basin and Elliott Key. One was Gilberts Marina located right next to the Highway 1 bridge into Key Largo. They didn't have fuel prices listed on Active Captain and the reviews seemed to indicate that they were well aware of the fact they were the only game in the area. The other marina was Herbert Hoover marina in southern Biscayne Bay. They were a municipal marina and, while the knowledge of the staff was questionable, they were reported to be more friendly and with better fuel prices (for the area).

We sailed as much as we could. Unfortunately the winds that were forecast to be from the east were more northeast and we occasionally fired up an engine to get a better course. We arrived at the marina a little after 3PM (they close at 4) and topped off our fuel and water supplies. When we left the fuel gauge indicated over half a tank and my "worst case" calculation said we should have at least 26 gallons remaining. It was nice to see it only took 32 gallons to fill up. I've been logging the gas gauge indications and fuel added and am gaining more confidence in what the gauge is telling me.

We departed the marina and motored directly into the wind across Biscayne bay. We dropped the hook just a bit north of where we were the last time, near a sandy beach. Just as we were anchoring a couple of guys from the parks service stopped by. They wanted us to know that they were doing rodent control on the island that night and not to be alarmed if we heard gunfire. Fortunately we didn't hear a thing, I guess the park service great rat hunt didn't go that well but at least they didn't keep us awake.

Our neighbors anchored at north Elliott Key

The next morning we decided to continue our trip north by making a stop by No Name Harbor before doing an overnight passage to Lake Worth.  We raised the main sail while still anchored and only started the engines in order to use the windlass.  We pulled up the anchor, pointed the nose north, and let the sails once again take over.  We made our way through one of the narrow cuts and had a nice sail across Biscayne bay.

No Name Harbor at Bill Bags Cape Florida State Park.

We arrived at No Name Harbor around 1 pm.  The main reason for stopping here is that I know that the harbor is often used as a staging location for people waiting on weather in order to cross to the Bahamas and I wanted to check it out while we were here.  We tied up to the wall and paid the $8 day use fee.  We had lunch at the on-site restaurant (can't say I would recommend them...all the quality of airport food with prices to match) and took the dogs for a nice long walk along the paths in the park.  Around 5 pm we bid the park adieu, continued out Biscayne channel and pointed the bow north.  The engines again fell silent after we exited the channel and wren't pressed into service until we were becalmed about an hour outside of the Lake Worth inlet.

Sun Setting somewhere over Miami/Ft. Lauderdale.

Having spent so much time sailing since we left Ft. Pierce and given the heat of the day, we decided to treat ourselves to a dock at a marina in North Palm Beach.  This would allow us to use the air conditioner, do some provisioning without the hassles of the dinghy, and get wifi access. So, as I finish up this post I'm sitting in air conditioned comfort...trying to keep my eyes open late on Friday night.  Maybe I'll finish and post this in the morning.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Everglades Park

We left our convenience anchorage at Tarpon Basin on Friday (4/22) to check out some of the keys in the nearby section of Everglades National Park. The goal was to see if we could find a spot near Nest key. The water is a bit thin except at the north side of the key so this would only be possible if the winds calmed down and shifted to the south as forecast. Naturally, the forecast was a bit off and we decided to duck in behind Shell key.

Panorama of the Shell key anchorage.

Before we left Tarpon Basin there was one task I wanted to accomplish. While I have depth sensors on both hulls, I've often wondered how they were calibrated. They have never read depths as deep as I would expect and I figured they were showing readings either from the sensor location or from the bottom of the keels and not from the waterline. Since water depths in the Florida Keys are shallow, it would be good to know exactly what the readings represent.  I got out a boat pole and extended it to its full length. I then used it to measure the depth as close to the sensor positions as I could. What I found was that when the depth sensors read 3.8 feet, the boat was sitting in 6 feet of water. So, as I thought, it seems the sensors are reading depth from the bottom of the hull with a bit of safety buffer. Good to know.

We threw out the hook at the south end of the anchorage behind Shell key in about 5 feet of water. We can just see civilization off our bow on Key Largo over the top of the key. Behind our boat are small uninhabited keys separated from us by turquoise water. The water isn't as clear as I had hoped, I guess the wind is keeping a bit of silt churned up. Except for visits from a few fishing boats and a small pod of dolphins, we've had the anchorage to ourselves. It was a beautiful place to hang out, swim a little, read a little, write a little, and watch the sunset.

Dolphins stop by.

The next morning we decided to go check out Nest Key. The winds were forecast to clock around to the west and die down. Our current spot didn't offer much protection from the west and we did want to check other areas out. So, after a leisurely breakfast we hauled up the anchor and made the short sail. We apparently forgot it was the weekend until all the small power boats and pontoon boats started zipping by. They were headed to Nest as well. It is one of the few Keys in the park where you can go ashore and apparently the camping spot and beach on the west side is a popular place to congregate on the weekends.

I never get tired of sunsets from the boat.

We tried to find a place to anchor on the northeast side of the key, but every time we thought we found a Sandy spot, we would discover these light colored round coral heads.  Our path around that end of the island probably looked like one of the weekend party goers had a bit too much to drink as we tried to locate a suitable spot. In the end we didn't want to risk damaging any coral and gave up. 

We have sailed more than
motored most of this trip.

We sailed over to Porjoe key to see if there was a suitable spot there to throw the hook. As we made our way over, we checked the weather again and found the forecast was now for stronger winds from a more northerly direction. We couldn't find a good spot around this small key and ended up anchoring along the east side of Shell key across the key from where we spent the previous night. Winds were around 20 knots as we sat with our bow pointed at the setting sun and our stern pointing at Key Largo in the distance.

The next morning we awoke to nearly the same winds as the night before, only coming from the northwest. Guess the calming aspect of the forecast didn't come true.  We decided to do a bit more sailing and threw the hook for one last swim east of Shell key before we made our way back to Tarpon Basin to meet up with some fellow Coloradans (who also bought a catamaran and sailed away) for sundowners.  Thanks for the invite Ken and Mary!

Despite the weekend traffic, it was a nice and relaxing time.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Free

There's a term that puts a smile on most cruisers faces.  Those out living on their savings (or cruising kitty as it is often called) like to be frugal, to stretch their savings and keep the adventure going as long as possible before having to find a way to refill the kitty. So things that are free or low cost are certainly helpful when they can be found.

We've been at the anchorage in Tarpon Basin just off of Key Largo for a week now. "Parking" the boat here is essentially free (since we don't have solar or wind, there is a small cost in diesel for the generator to charge the batteries).  This beats the $60+ a night it would cost to be at a marina (and most marinas around here are far more than that).

Shore access can be an issue when at anchor.  When the shore is lined with private property, access can be tricky.  Often there are businesses (marinas, restaurants, and bars) that will grant access for a fee or only if you are visiting their establishment. This is what makes the nearby free government dock a nice feature of this anchorage. It allows us to explore Key Largo without being tied to one given restaurant or have to pay a daily landing fee.

Waste is another issue that needs to be dealt with when you are your own floating little island. Fortunately, the government center also has a dumpster and recycling containers where anchored boats are allowed to deposit trash. We try to minimize the amount of trash we produce, but in the pre-packaged society we live there is inevitably some trash (or recycling) produced by any household.

Of course that isn't the only waste that needs to depart the boat.  The...um...other stuff...needs a place to go too.  Fortunately, Monroe County (the county that includes all of the Keys) has a solution for that as well.  The county has contracted with a company called Pump Out USA to provide a weekly pump out service for boats anchored in their waters.  In places that didn't already have some sort of service, they setup a weekly schedule and will stop by your boat and relieve it of the unwanted cargo. To use the service, you fill out a registration form on the Pump Out Florida Keys web site and they will get you on the schedule.

This area really does offer quite a bit for the cruiser, but I think it is about time to move on.  We would like to do just a bit more exploring before we have to make our trek back up north.  I think we are going to pick up the anchor today and go find another spot to drop it.  Not sure what, if any, internet access will be available, but I will continue writing and post when I can.  In the meantime, I'll leave you with a picture of the sunrise over the government dock this morning.

Better than the other picture options for this post.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Less Drama

Believe it or not, things have been lower in the drama department the past couple days.  No semi-critical systems deciding to have a fit, no boats trying to go walkabout on top of us.  If it weren't for the winds being a little blustery on the Atlantic side of the Keys, I'd say it has been downright nice here.

Tarpon Basin Anchorage. Dock just left of center.

The anchorage we are at is rather convenient for a variety of things on Key Largo thanks to the free dock at the park behind the Monroe County building. The two wooden docks are a bit rickety (loose boards and some splinters but not unusable by any means), however the sea wall has steps at a couple locations that make tying off there and bypassing the wood docks a nice alternative. There is space for a number of dinghys and crime doesn't seem to be much of a problem with the sheriffs department located right inside the building.  The park adjacent to the dock is a great place to let the dogs stretch their legs. The county building also has nice restrooms and public WiFi.

A sunset at the anchorage.

Unfortunately, there does seem to be some drama between the county and a group of "boaters" here. I put that in quotes because, while they live on boats, these folks don't seem to ever move them. Instead of cruising, this is more the case of low cost floating housing and the county feels these folks are taking advantage of the situation.  To that end, the county doesn't allow the people they are having a dispute with into the building (and the exterior bathroom doors are now kept locked). The access to water has also been turned off.  I do hope these two groups can come to a mutual understanding because it would be a shame to lose this resource for boaters visiting the area.

While things are reasonably convenient to walk to from this location, our bikes make it much more accessible. For instance, the grocery store is now 5 minutes by bike instead of 15 or 20 by foot. John Pennekamp State Park, West Marine, Divers Outlet, Napa, a dozen restaurants, and ICE CREAM are all easy trips now with the bike.  We even rode the 4+ miles to the Visitors Center in the middle of the day.  Being able to throw the foldable bikes into the dinghy and take them to shore is nice.

Wife in the big chair at the visitors center.

We visited Pennekamp today and did some kayaking.  Would like to go out and see the reef, maybe do some scuba or snorkeling, but those aforementioned winds I think are probably making trips out to the reef (in 5 foot waves) "fun" and I doubt visibility is very good. If things improve before we leave, we may still check it out. Meanwhile, we had to settle for a paddle through the mangroves.

Kayaking through mangroves in Pennekamp Park.

The ice cream deserves special mention.  On a warm day of biking around the island it is a special treat.  Add in that our boat refrigerator won't get cold enough to keep ice cream for long and it becomes a rare treat.  We found a place called Mr C's that has truly hand-made ice cream.  You can tell this isn't the usual stuff, and it is worth a stop if you happen to be in the area.  The only catch is that the hours they are open seem to be a bit random, but if you find them open you will like the ice cream.

Well, that is what we've been up to the last few days.  Living on the hook and exploring Key Largo.  What will we do tomorrow...who knows (Ok, there is one thing on the schedule, but we won't worry about that right now). Cheers!




Monday, April 18, 2016

Another Day (or Two) in Paradise

Our pump arrived!  At 10:30 on Saturday I get the call that our replacement raw water pump for the generator was delivered to the shop. I hop in the dinghy, go to shore, make the death-defying crossing of the Overseas Highway (US-1) on foot and retrieve the pump.  The shiny new lump of bronze and stainless steel was a mere $350 and shipping was another $72, but we now had the pump. One more crossing of the highway, back into the dinghy, and the pump was at the boat and ready to be installed.

I install the drive gear onto the pump, add a little dish soap to the impeller to act as lubricant until water makes it to the now dry raw water lines, and bolt it back onto the generator's motor.  Hook the hoses up, complete an oil change, and the generator was finally ready to go again.  I'm happy to report that the generator is once again alive and cooling water flows from the exhaust and no oil or water is flowing from anywhere else.  Batteries are now capable of being fully charged (the inverter/charger running off of the generator is far more efficient and does a much more complete job of charging than the drive motor alternators).  As a celebration, we even ran the air conditioner that evening while the batteries were topped off.

This morning we sleep in.  No big tasks for the day and the wind is howling outside. We get up and make ourselves a nice breakfast.  Using the stove in the boat is much more palatable when there is a strong wind outside to sweep the hot air out of the boat.  Eggs, bacon, and fried potatoes.  As we are cleaning up, we notice a small sailboat had anchored fairly close in front of us.  Not all that close, but where there hadn't been a boat just a short time earlier.  We load the dogs into the dinghy and take them to shore for a little time on terra firma.

About an hour later we are on our way back to the boat when we notice that the small sailboat was now only about 15 to 20 feet away from us.  Oh crap, this boat is dragging anchor! No wonder we didn't see them arrive.  We quickly get the dogs on the boat and go over to see if anyone was on board.  Of course, no one was there.  Only a brokerage sign was found indicating that this boat was for sale.  We go back to our boat, get out a couple of fenders to try and fend off the boat if need be, and call the number on the sign.  The broker said they would call the owner, but that didn't really help us with the fact this boat is inching closer to us.

Way too close for comfort

We decide first order of business was to get our boat out of harms way, so we carefully pull up anchor and move upwind of the anchor dragger.  Fortunately there was some free space that was recently vacated by a trawler so we had the room.  Once the anchor was reset, I hopped back into the dinghy to see what I could do.  I checked to see if there was more rode that could be deployed but it appeared to be cleated at the very bitter end.  Best we could tell, the boats anchor seemed to reset and hadn't moved from it's resting spot that was feet from our original anchor position.

I head back to our boat and find the owner had tried to call and left a message.  I called him back and he let us know that he had called a friend in the area to come check on the boat since he was in Philadelphia.  I told him I couldn't promise anything, but at the moment the anchor seems to have reset. While I was talking with him, his friends arrived on scene, boarded his boat and found an anchor and some rode hiding in a locker, and deployed it as a second anchor to hopefully help keep his boat from going walkabout again. All I can say is I'm glad I'm upwind of him now.  Hopefully no other unattended boats will decide they need to come pay us a visit.

After the morning excitement, we decided to go to shore and take a bike ride to see what else was in the area.  Fortunately there is a decent bike path that runs along the highway and makes for a safer ride than if we were on the street.  We visited a couple shops, grabbed a bite to eat and had a nice afternoon. Upon return we found our boat right where we left it (the Mantus anchor has been very reliable for us in a variety of conditions thus far) and fortunately the dragging boat stayed put as well.

No idea what the plan is for tomorrow...and I think I like it that way.  I just hope that we can forgo dragging boats and emergency repairs and of one sort or another for a while.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Art of Fixing Your Boat

Ok, this is getting more than just a bit old. I know that cruising is supposed to be the art of fixing your boat in exotic locations, but we seem to be spending all of our time fixing, and haven't even made it to a really exotic location yet.

Sorry...had to get that off my chest...let me back up a bit. A couple days ago we departed Elliott Key heading for Key Largo. The day started well enough. We fired up the engines (recommended for windlass operation), pulled up the anchor, set the sails, shut the engines down, and were sailing along in Biscayne Bay.  After a nice stop at Elliott, things were finally starting to feel like they should.

Sailing along in Biscayne Bay

Since we had been under sail most of the trip and we don't yet have solar, I decided it would be a good idea to fire up the generator and top off the batteries.  Don't want the beer getting warm, right?  I fire it up and there is no cooling water coming out of the exhaust.  Argh.  I shut it back down and go grab a wrench to check the impeller since that is the usual cause of such issues.  I find it looks just fine.  Hmm....this seems familiar.  I grab a couple more wrenches and pull the pump.  Once again the drive gear has come loose.  Unfortunately this time I discover the seals on the pump are also starting to fail.  So it looks like we will either need a new pump or to rebuild this one.  In either case, no generator until this is resolved.

Despite being able to sail, we fire up an engine so we can use it to charge the batteries.  We motor sail the rest of the way to Tarpon Basin on the east side of Key Largo and drop the hook. We chose this location since Active Captain said it had a dinghy dock behind the county building and was close to grocery and other supplies. It is also well protected and there are storms predicted in the near future. Best to be somewhere protected while we work out this issue.

View of the Tarpon Basin anchorage from the Monroe
County free dock.

Once we arrived, we started the hunt for parts for our ailing generator. We search for parts and repair facilities in the area and don't find much online. In desperation, we call the local West Marine. They can special order the parts, but it will take 3 weeks or more before they can get them in. At the end of the day,  our only option seems to be a long wait for a part. Needless to say we were more than a tad frustrated. How can we be in the Florida Keys, a boating mecca, and can't find a pretty simple and common part?

One of the "guard dogs" at the dinghy dock.

The next morning we take the dinghy to shore, armed with smartphones and a tablet, determined to find a better solution. Sadly, the marine industry seems severely lacking in online presence. As some of the local boaters came by, we would ask them if they knew of any marine diesel repair shops around. We finally found a guy that pointed us toward a couple of places nearby. We hopped on our bikes (we brought them to shore in the dinghy), and with the failed pump in our backpack, went to the shops.

The first shop we stopped at told us they didn't have what we were looking for, but there was a small marine diesel guy down the street that might be able to help. We head over to this shop in our quest for generator power. Ironically, this shop is almost exactly across the street from the county building with the dinghy access. No real signage other than a couple small diesel manufacturer logos on the windows (once you were close enough to see them). We go in and tell him tales of our woes, show him the pump, and ask if he could help. He said he could probably rebuild the pump, but it might be cheaper to buy a new one (their labor rate is $125/hour). He checked and could have a new pump shipped for arrival today (Saturday) for about the same price as rebuilding the one we have. Not a cheap option, but next day service for what West Marine was going to take 3 weeks to accomplish.

So, we wait for the pump as I type this. With all the work we have done on the boat I would have thought we would have some credit built up...but I guess not. At least the county building has WiFi so I can finally update the blog. I can even go back and add pictures to the posts I had queued up and ready to go.