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


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. 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.

Yes, We Can Sail This Boat

Another post that either disappeared or didn't manage to get posted.  Guess the internet was more spotty than I thought.  Oh well.  This should have been posted somewhere around 4/16/2016. At least this time I found a couple of the pictures for the post.

We departed the marina at Lake Worth, where we picked up the batteries, around 1PM. Yes at least this time it was not a multi-week process to replace the starting battery. We made the short trip out the Lake Worth inlet and pointed the boat south once again.

We unfurled the sails and put the engines to rest. With the southeast winds, we were set up for a nice beam reach down to Biscayne Bay.  We sailed down the coast, past Palm Beach (and a dozen other towns with beach in the name) Bocas Raton, Ft. Lauderdale, and the Port of Miami.  It is amazing how deep and how blue the water is here just a couple miles from shore.

How most of the coast looks...high rises along the coast.

As we were passing by Boynton Beach, the Coast Guard came on the radio and said there had been a report of an airplane going down a mile west of the inlet. We kept a lookout, occasionally scanning the sea with our binoculars. Soon a Coast Guard helicopter and a couple small Coast Guard boats were searching the area around us. After a couple hours, as the sun was setting, they gave up the search. Since we were in the area around the time the plane supposedly went down and we didn't see anything, I suspect this was a false alarm or they got the position wrong.

We made between 4 and 5 knots under sail for the entire trip from Lake Worth to the Biscayne Channel entrance. Seas were 1 foot or less on a 4 to 5 second period, and that made for a fairly comfortable sail.  It was nice to finally make significant progress without the aid of diesel.  We did fire up an engine briefly to help us negotiate the channel.  We passed by the stilt houses and into the Bay.

And you thought good fences made good neighbors...

A Stiltsville building with Miami in the background.

We continued our way south and anchored just off Elliott Key early in the afternoon. We were about 3/4 of a mile away from the key in 6 feet of clear water.  We dropped the dinghy into the water and went over to check out the dock and ranger station on the key.  It was deserted except for the millions of mosquitoes that make it home.  The signs say you can camp there for a $25 fee...but I don't think I'd pay to feed the mosquitoes all night.  Camping here does come with a luxury though; they have restrooms with running water and even cold water showers. When you live on a boat with a small holding tank, you take advantage of restrooms when you find them.

After we decided that we fed enough mosquitoes, we headed back to the boat.  We swam in the clear water around the boat, and even got out a bit of soap for an impromptu bath.  Enjoyed a beer while sitting on the bow of the boat as dusk approached. Anchored this far away from the key gave us a nice breeze, and the mosquitoes didn't come out to visit.

This is more like it.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Bridges and Batteries

This post is out of sequence and should have been posted on 4/15/2016...not sure why it didn't post (actually, I thought it had..but don't see it or the pictures now).

Sorry it has been a while, but Internet has been spotty and we have been quite busy trying to keep Rover moving. The good news is we made it to Key Largo. The bad news is the repair plagued trip continues.

After fixing the issue with the port prop shaft slip and spending two nights in Ft. Pierce, the weather wasn't cooperating for an outside passage. The wind had picked up off shore and was stirring up the sea a bit. We decided to take the ICW south so we could keep moving. Most of this leg of the trip is a pretty straight section of the ditch down the middle of lakes and rivers just inside the coast. It wasn't until we were near Jupiter that we ran into a bunch of bridges we need to have opened in order to pass. The first three open on demand, the next were on half hour schedules.

The first three were uneventful and the tenders timed the openings so we wouldn't have to slow down. The only trouble we had was dealing with all the little weekend warrior power boaters around the Jupiter inlet that don't seem to understand the right of way rules or that boats with deeper draft than a few inches and tall masts sticking up have a limited ability to maneuver in a canal.

The boat decided to start acting up when we reached the first bridge with a schedule. We tried to time it so we would be just a few minutes early for the opening. As we approached, the port engine stalled. When I tried to restart it, I found that the battery was dead and wouldn't crank the engine.

Maneuvering or keeping a catamaran in a fixed location in a current is easy when both engines are running. It is much trickier on one engine when that motor sits out on one pontoon. We managed to circle and make it through the bridge. I fired up the generator and turned on the battery charger and was eventually able to bring the engine back to life.

The rest of the trip was uneventful. We anchored in North Lake Worth, just outside of West Palm Beach. I did a little more investigation and found that the starting battery had reached the end of its life. We found a marina near a boaters warehouse and picked up two new starting batteries (figuring the other would likely go soon) and had the one replaced within a couple hours.  The weather was improving so as soon as the battery was installed, we departed. More on that in the next post.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Heading South.

I don’t remember if I mentioned this yet, but we simply ran out of time to make it to the Bahamas this season.  Our backup plan is to at least spend a little time in the Florida Keys before we have to make our way back north for H season.  On 4/7 we finally left Hammock Beach Marina heading south.  There was a small weather window that would allow us to make an outside run to Ft. Pierce before the small craft advisories start back up. 

It didn’t sound like ideal conditions, but workable. There was to be a weak cold front passing through the area on Thursday morning and the prediction was for a fast shift in the winds, which had been blowing hard from the east for the past few days. The quick shift in the wind would likely not abate the swell that had been building the past few days but should stretch the period of the 3 to 5 foot waves out from 5 seconds to around 10. That would make the ride a bit more comfortable. And a 20 knot beam wind would give us a chance to actually sail.

We motored down the ICW from Hammock, past Daytona, and to the Ponce Inlet where we could access the ocean once again. It has been a while since we've been to this inlet, and things seem to have changed. We did an initial sea trial in this expanse of water and now we find a pretty narrow and shallow channel with lots of shoaling. I should have taken a picture or two, but our attention was on safely maneuvering Rover out.

Once on the outside, we found wave conditions pretty much as expected. The swell was about 3 feet on a 10 second period from the east. The winds were a bit higher, blowing 30+ knots from the west and this added little west moving choppy waves to the mix. It wasn't uncomfortable, so we put out the reefed genoa and were sailing along at a comfortable 5 to 6 knots. After the long motor down from Charleston to Hammock, it was nice to finally be sailing again.

Overnight sailing is always interesting. It started out pleasant, and I even spent a little time laying out on deck looking at the stars on this moonless night. The sea became a little unsettled as we rounded Cape Canaveral while the lighthouse and big vehicle assembly building looked on. Sorry, no pictures of that either, as you can't really take a good picture at night from while constantly bouncing around the platform...and I did try.

Just south of the cape is Port Canaveral. It is funny how all the big ships are always moving about at night. Even this small port is no exception. We encountered 3 cruise ships lined up on approach as we crossed the channel entrance. One of them, a Disney cruise ship, came within about a mile and a half of us. Even at that distance, it is amazing how big they are. And they are always lit up like a small city. They never show you this when you are learning about night navigation. Good luck seeing a little red, green, or white navigation light when it looks like part of the Manhattan skyline is floating around out there. I usually monitor the floating masses of light with my radar to figure out where they are heading...and to let them know I'm there.

Psychedelic light display...or attempting to take a picture
of a cruise ship at night.
A little better..can even see the red nav light in this one...
of course, the boat is only 1.5 miles away.
A video screen capture of the same boat...for reference.

Morning came while I was taking a nap.  With the morning came lower winds. Still we were able to sail all but the last 10 miles of the outside leg of the trip.  Unfortunately the wind did die to ZERO just before we arrived at the Ft. Pierce inlet so we fired up the motors a bit earlier than I would have liked. But it was a far cry from that previous all motoring trip.

We started to make our way in, and the current coming out of this inlet was strong.  We were an hour from low tide and with engines set where I would usually be making 7 knots, we were doing right around 2.  Not good. We decided to turn around and wait the hour for low tide to see if that would help.  Ironically, the wind picked back up a little while we were trying to enter the inlet, so we were able to heave-to and wait by pulling out a little of the genoa.  Unfortunately waiting didn't help all that much.  Probably not even half a knot.  Oh well, guess we will push our way through.

It was a slow trip up the inlet.  Only the planing hull fishing boats had a better time of it. Things did improve as we got to the ICW at the end of this inlet, but there were sill some decent currents.  This lasted all the way to our parking spot at the marina. The marina is where it got a bit exciting. We were making our way through the narrow channel that ran across the current. A squealing noise started emanating from the port engine. Along with the squeal was a loss in power.  I was trying to contact the marina and let them know we were having engine problems and needed the location of a T-head we could stop at.  Of course we were having a hard time contacting the marina and impressing on them what we needed.

A catamaran with two running engines is easy to maneuver, even in tight spaces.  When one engine fails, it is a whole other game.  When the boat has enough speed, the rudders can counteract the asymetric thrust caused by power applied only at the one corner.  At speeds needed to maneuver in a tight marina, not so much.  It is like driving a car with no brakes that can only turn to the left. Add in an impatient fishing boat that decided it was a good idea to pass by a struggling catamaran in a narrow channel, and that was just the cherry on top of our little disaster cake.

A series of well orchestrated left turns and I was able to get enough room to get a little speed up and get the boat moving straight toward a spot on a T head.  The employee at the marina arrived just in time to hep with the lines and get us settled in. By this time your dear captain was not in the best of moods. Letting things settle down first, I finally went down to the engine room to see what the issue was.  Having just changed the transmission oil, my imagination jumped directly to something catastrophic with the transmission.  I know I replaced the oil...did I not get enough in the transmission?  Am I going to be stranded in Ft. Pierce for months waiting on a transmission?

The first thing I did was grab the coupler that holds the propeller shaft to the engine and try giving it a turn.  In neutral, I should be able to spin it by hand fairly easily (it free spins when under sail). Imagine my surprise when I spin the coupler and it spins very easily...but the prop shaft doesn't move.  I grab the shaft and it spins fine...and slides.  I slide it a little bit, making sure I don't push it far enough it will go out of the boat and I could see where the coupler had let go of the prop shaft, and the squeal I heard was the metal of the coupler spinning against the shaft.  I grabbed a socket wrench and box wrench, slid the shaft back up into the coupler, and tightened the four bolts of the coupler. We fired up the engine and give it a test, and all seems well again.

At Ft. Pierce City Marina
So, we are in Ft. Pierce to meet a friend of my wife's and then should be moving south in a couple days.  Our intention is to spend much more time at anchor going south, so blog updates may be spotty depending on internet access options. Hopefully we'll have good times and less drama to write about when we are able.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Teach A Man To Fish

How does the saying go....give a man a fish and he can eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he will go out and buy a funny hat, lots of expensive equipment, and sit in a boat on the water drinking beer all day.  Well, I'm sure it goes something like that anyway.

One of the things I've wanted to do since I moved onto the boat was have some gear so I could fish while on passage.  It kinda makes sense, right?  You are moving along at trolling speeds, might as well throw out a line or two and see if you can get some fresh fish for dinner.

The problem is, I don't know much about ocean fishing.  Ok, I don't know a whole lot about fishing at all.  Most of my fishing was done when I was a child in Colorado streams that you could pretty much jump across.  I don't think putting a couple of brightly colored salmon eggs on a hook the size of my pinky finger nail will work here. So, over the past months (ok, years), I've been talking with friends and acquaintances about what it would take to fish from the boat.

I'm not really interested in the "sport" of fishing where someone tries to land some huge trophy fish using a bunch of expensive equipment and line that will break if you sneeze on it. Or having to maneuver the boat to chase the fish all around the ocean for that matter.  Fishing under sail isn't so much the sport of fishing as it is the act of  replenishing food stores.  I imagine it is more akin to commercial fishing on a much smaller scale than fishing for sport.  Slowing the boat down or changing course just won't be in the cards. Getting the fish on board quickly without  increasing our time to destination is the name of the game.

After doing a lot of research on gear, I finally decided the best option would not be a conventional rod and reel, but instead to create a couple of simple hand-lines on large spindles known as Cuban yo-yos. I looked at Penn Senator reels and short rods that might be workable on the boat, but in the end the ease of use and storage of a hand line seemed like the best option.  It also doesn't hurt that it is a pretty inexpensive fishing rig.

My just put together Cuban yo-yo
handline fishing setup.

The Cuban yo-yo is a rather simple plastic spindle.  They have a U shape to hold line, with one side of the U tapered to allow the line to cast off (kind of like a spinning reel) The ones I'm using are about 9" in diameter. There are no cranks or clutches, you simply wind the line around it by hand. The big advantage on a boat is that this device is very easy to store, even rigged and ready to go.  You can stuff it in just about any bag or locker on the boat (try that with a 6 foot long rod). At under $5, just about anyone can afford to have several of these on board.

The down side of this approach is that you do have to reel in the line by hand.  Traditional monofilament line that you would use on a normal fishing rod would be pretty rough on the hands.  So, for hand lines, much more stout line is typically used (along with gloves).  The recommendations I found were to use 300 to 400 pound test monofilament line. During my research I even found a commercially made hand line and a fellow blogger that used a combination of monofilament and 1/8 inch double braided nylon line (commonly referred to as paracord). This sounded like the best option for ease in handling so I decided to go with this approach.

The next question was how much line. The sport fishing folks often use several hundred yards (400 feet or more) of line to allow the fish to run without breaking the line before they can turn the boat to follow a fish that is trying to run away. The people trolling for Dolphin (A.K.A. Dorado or Mahi Mahi) and smaller Tuna claim that you just need enough line to clear the wake of the boat. I guess the theory here is that the wake itself kinda looks like the disturbance of a school of bait fish to these species and this length will make your lures look like the stragglers in the group. The general consensus was that 100 feet should do the trick. This length is also easier to pull in by hand than several hundred feet of line.

I rigged my two yo-yo's with about 75 feet of 1/8 inch nylon chord (roughly 550 pound test) and 25 feet of 400 pound test monofilament, making sure that one rig is a little shorter than the other so we can troll both of them. I started by drilling a hole in each of the yo-yo's so I could pass the nylon line through it.  I then tied a loop on the end of the line and a stopper knot on the other side of the spool.  I can use the loop to attach the line to a bungee cord and then to the boat.  The purpose of the bungee (or a length of surgical tubing) is to provide a shock absorber when the fish first chomps down on the lure. I'll also add a safety line a bit longer than the bungee just in case the bungee fails. If that is a little confusing, what I've got thus far is a bungee to attach to the boat, the bungee then attaches to a loop in the nylon chord.  The chord passes through a hole in the yo-yo near the loop and a stopper knot that will prevent the yo-yo from deploying itself down the line.  My hope is this setup will allow for some shock absorption and will allow me to grab the yo-yo and start winding in the catch.

Theory on attaching this thing to a stanchion on the boat

Connecting the other end of the nylon line to the monofilament is another trick.  The nylon chord is pretty easy since you can use any of a number of rope knots.  I decided to tie the nylon to a heavy duty over-sized snap swivel using a Buntline hitch followed by an overhand knot as a safety for the bitter end. I then added 25 foot section of monofilament to the end of the nylon line. Since you can't really tie knots with the thick 400 pound test line, I used crimping sleeves and a crimping tool to make a loop on one end. A loop was added to the other end as well, but this time with a snap swivel to allow for attachment of the lure and leader. I used a nylon thimble to reinforce the loops and minimize chafe on both ends.

The result is a very strong line with the weakest link thus far being the 200 pound test swivel at the very end.  On that swivel I will be adding lures rigged on leaders with lower breaking strength, so if some very large fish comes along and tries to take the bait...or my catch hooked on the should break there saving most of the rest of the setup.

I got lots of advice on what pre-rigged lures to try.  Many of them had names indicating they were designed to specifically target Dolphin (Dolphin Delight, Dolphin Candy, Tuna Tango, Ahi Slayer, etc.) and several recommendations on colors.  I've tried looking for these various lures for quite some time now, and had virtually no luck finding them in stores from Florida to Virginia. I did pick up a couple similarly named lures in similar colors to the recommendations.  At one shop I ended up buying some supplies to make my own rigs and will likely give that a try as well.  Got to keep yourself entertained on passage anyway, right?

Hopefully some of this will appeal to some fish

So, I don't know how all this is going to work out, but hopefully we will be able to augment our provisions with some fresh fish.  Now if I can only figure out all of the fishing license issues in the various states...and where I actually need licenses...where is that beer anyway?

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Psycho Heater and Stubborn Outboard

Almost sounds like a couple super villains that Superman should be dealing with, but in fact are a couple things we did battle with today.  The day started with me finishing the wax of the hardtop (a task we put off so we could escape Virginia). When I came back inside, I noticed the heater was acting a bit strange. Just as I came in, the air conditioner kicked on (one of the nice perks of this marina...electricity is included). I glanced down and noticed the thermostat said it was 83 degrees. Then it said 84, 85, 86, 87, and 88 as if it were practicing counting with Big Bird from Sesame Street. I guess it was happy with 88 so then it started counting backwards until it reached 75 and the AC unit shut down (the thermostat was set at 76).  A couple minutes later the unit fired back up and I looked over and it was claiming 82 this time.  The whole time I doubt it was over 75 inside.

The thermostat has been acting a bit flaky lately, but this is by far the wildest swing we had noted.  I checked the temperature at the thermal sensor at the base of the thermostat and the non-contact thermometer claimed it was 72 (and I know it reads 2 degrees low).  I turn the unit off, wait a few minutes, and turn it back on. It claims 83 again and this time it just stays at 83 for a while. I start thinking that the thermostat is going bad and do a little research on the cost of a replacement on the internet while it starts practicing counting forward and backward between 75 and 90. Big Bird would be proud.

The psychotic air conditioning

The thermostat/controller I come to find runs about $200 online.  Ouch.  I decide to try unplugging the controller wire and plugging it back in.  No change.  I decide it is time to clean the filter and unit anyway (it is amazing how fast dog hair collects there when you have two aboard) and just take a look at the whole unit even though I doubt it will change anything.  I get the shop vac out and vacuum up the dog hair and then clean and rinse the reusable filter.  For no real reason I decide to look at the control circuit panel.  I open up the box and don't notice any burnt trace wires.  I decide to unplug the control wire and plug it back in again. I put every thing back together and turn the unit back on.

To my utter surprise, the thermostat reads 75 degrees.  Huh.  I change the temperature setting to 73.  The unit turns on and blows cold air and the thermostat slowly goes down to 72 and then the unit turns off.  It continues acting perfectly normal through another cycle.  I change the temperature to 75 and continue to monitor it for the rest of the day.  It seems to be acting perfectly normal now.  Cool! (no pum intended)  My best guess is that, contrary to what one might think, the controller doesn't read the temperature and just tell the unit when to turn on and off, but the controller board on the air conditioning unit does this.  The act of re-seating the plug on the controller probably knocked some corrosion off and now everything works. Keeping my fingers crossed that it stays that way.

The other task was one I had planned for today.  I've continued having some issues with getting my dinghy motor to idle well.  A while back in Brunswick I even had a shop work on it and it seemed good for a short while, but soon it would be back to dying when at idle.  A couple days ago I hooked up a garden hose to an outboard fresh water flushing adapter so I could run the engine while mounted on the rail of the boat (this supplies cooling water to the motor when it is not sitting in the water).  I fired the thing up and played with it for a little bit. It would run for a while, then suddenly sputter and die.  I'd start it back up and it would run for a while, then suddenly sputter and die.  The engine seems to run fine when not at low speed.

Stock photo of the
model from Yamaha

One thing I did notice is that when the motor sputters, it tends to smoke a lot. Since I didn't have any history on the motor (it came with the boat) and it looked pretty new inside, I wasn't sure if the break-in was complete. So, to be safe, I did add more oil to the gasoline (this is a 2-stroke) than is normal. I don't know if this is contributing to the issue or not, but I will likely return to a normal mix next fill up.  In the meantime, I decided to try readjusting the idle mixture. With the engine off, I gently tightened the idle mixture screw until it bottomed out, recording the number of turns (so I knew were it was set and could reset it there if needed).  I then turned the screw out to where it was and then just a little bit more so it would be set a little rich.  I started the motor and let it run a bit and it idled OK at that setting.  I then slowly tightened (closed) the idle screw, allowing the engine to stabilize about each 1/4 of a turn. Once it started stumbling, I turned it back 1/4 turn until it was idling OK again. I let it run for a bit and it seemed happy.

This was all done with the engine mounted on the rail, so all that was left was to take the dingy for a spin and see if it would run OK.  While this was work, it was also fun. We dropped the dinghy into the water and mounted the motor on it.  We started off with a low speed cruise around the marina (so I was never all that far from the boat or the tools).  The motor shifted into and out of gear at idle speed, didn't stall, and seemed generally happy. Next I dropped my wife back off at the boat (so I would have someone to call in case I got stranded somewhere and needed a ride back) and took it out on the ICW for some higher speed runs.

I started with a couple of short high speed runs (not beyond what I was willing to row back from) and everything seemed good to go. When the engine was brought back to idle, it would continue to run just fine. I increased the length of the runs as I gained confidence in the operation.  My longest run was about a mile and the whole time the engine performed well.  When I got back to the marina, I found some dolphins jumping and playing in the basin, so (after watching them a bit) I decided to let them be and did a little more touring of the area with the dinghy.  Man this boat can fly with a single person on board.  That 15 hp motor brings the RIB up on plane and zips right along.  I turned into one of the canals and looked at some of the homes that have easy access to the ICW.

I eventually made my way back to the boat, and the outboard ran perfectly the whole time.  We pulled the motor off the dinghy, placed it back on the rail, and put the boat back on the davits.  I then hooked up the hose and did a fresh water flush of the motor.  In order to clean the salt water out of the cooling passages and drain the carburetor at the same time, I do this run of the engine without the gas tank connected.  The engine can run for a couple of minutes (depending on how fast you run it) without the gas tank attached by draining the gas sitting in the carburetor bowl.  I've found this is just about the right amount of gas to give the cooling system a good flush.

We are getting things ticked off the list in preparation to leave the marina and spend a bit more time on the hook. With any luck, we will be continuing our journey soon.