Saturday, October 8, 2022

Sep-Oct 2022: Hurricane Ian - Early Pics (Only)

By now everyone knows about Hurricane Ian and its destructive path.  Here at our place in Southwest Florida – where the Caloosahatchee River flows into San Carlos Bay and the Gulf of Mexico – we got hammered.  We’ll write more about the experience and aftermath in due course, but for now we’re just sharing some photos.

This what the situation looked like on 22-Sep, six days before landfall.

The 22-Sep model plots....looked ominous

By 24-Sep most of the model plots had shifted well to our west....and we were not buying it.
We started putting up shutters and making arrangements to evacuate the boat & ourselves.

By 26-Sep the plots started moving back towards the east & us.

And we ended up in the worst eye wall winds & surge for hours.  At least we were inland in
a hotel by that time.

Here's a capture of the inReach track from our dock to RFYC

We hauled out the boat at RFYC in Labelle on Monday, 9/26

Ghost Rider got placed under a Cat-5 rated roof

Back at the house we then spooled the empty lift as high as we thought safe.

We put up house storm panels (shutters) all around & then got the hell out of there.

We should have relocated that standup paddle-peddle board.  Oh well.

Poolside prep view.

The storm hit as a high-end category 4 with 150 MPH winds and surge varying between 8 and 14 feet.  Our place is about 7.5 feet above sea level.  Fort Myers Beach (a few miles to our south) was flattened, as was Sanibel Island (a few miles to our southwest) and Pine Island (a couple miles closer.)  Our area experienced the southern eye wall for at least 7 hours.

The front of the house looked like it weathered the winds well.  We had retrofitted the roof with
hurricane hold down straps.

On the backside, however, not so much....there WAS a hot tub in this space

The pool was part seawater aquarium & part mangrove swamp

Water level at the back side of the house was obvious.

Water damage inside....

One street over from ours...floated off of someone's lift & plopped down here.

This is what's left of our neighbor's pool cage (one lot to our right.)

This is our neighbor's boat (across the street); it floated and/or blew off its lift and parked itself
on top of the dock.  They did get a crane truck back there to put it back in the water.

The start of our interior demolition.

We're just getting started (as of 7-October) on interior demolition steps, that and rebuild will take some time, but we'll get there.  We'll post more on such progress in the future.  As a parting shot, and a reminder of why informed folks "hide from the wind, but run from the water", here is a before and after aerial view of Legacy Harbor Marina, which not long ago was our home port just a few miles upriver:

Monday, August 22, 2022

August 2022: A Misleading Overheat Warning

Nope, the title isn’t talking about the weather.  It’s referring to the boat, specifically the starboard engine.  When is an engine overheat warning not an actual overheat condition?  Read on.

Instrumentation Consternation

One slight anomaly we had noticed on the return leg from Marathon to Fort Myers back in late July was a suspiciously low water pressure indicator for the starboard engine.  (Actually, it was Dan Eisenberg who noticed and pointed out the aberration when he was spelling Rick at the helm.) Under normal circumstances that gauge reading would essentially max out when moving along at planing speeds and just about any RPM above 3000.  It’s mainly a health indicator for the raw water cooling passages in the big 425 HP four stroke outboard engine. 

The Yamaha Engine Instruments on Ghost Rider: Note the Water Pressure Reading (Green Arrow) for the Port Engine Pegged at the Top....Normal for This Speed & RPM.  Whereas the Pressure Gauge for the Starboard Engine is Quite a Bit Lower....Not Normal.

Theoretically, a low water pressure reading could indicate a restriction or blockage to the raw water pickup, or a failing impeller, perhaps even a faulting thermostat (there are at least two of those on the 425 XTO engine.)  But any of those should also cause a corresponding temperature increase, and we were not seeing that (per the black arrow in the picture above.)

Once back at the dock, as a precaution we did verify that the water intake ports were clear, and then decided just to closely monitor the starboard engine.

On Friday 12-August we splashed the boat and started to motor towards Palm Harbor Marina about 30 miles to our north, with the intent of joining some boat of our club friends the next day for a lunch outing on Palm Island.  The plan was to return home some time on Saturday.  But we didn’t get far.  Shortly after departure and getting Ghost Rider up on plane, we heard the piercing scream of the engine overheat warning and saw the attendant warning message on the instrument display.

Between the On-screen Warning and the Obnoxious Buzzer, the System Leaves No Doubt That You've Got Some Kind of Problem.

It was pretty clear, however, the engine was not actually overheating (nor about to)….the engine temperature gauge was still dead center, and the tell-tale water exhaust port from the power head (“pee hole”) was still flowing strongly.  But the Yamaha computer determined otherwise and put the engine into “Guardian mode” – severely limiting its range of RPM operation.  So we reluctantly limped back to the dock.

This is What the Instrumentation Looked Like Just Before the Overtemp Warning....Port Engine Water Pressure (Green Arrow) is Normal, but the Starboard Engine Pressure Appears Low (Bottomed Out...Yellow Arrow.)  The Temperature Gauge, However, (Orange Arrow) Remained Normal.

Aftermath (Boat Business)

Rick had previously read about a Yamaha technical bulletin regarding faulting water pressure sensors, so he was 99% certain that was our issue.  It took a few days to get the part ordered and delivered, but shortly after Rick had the cowling and required engine panels off the engine, the old sensor removed, and the new one installed.  The engine panels took about 15 minutes to remove and replace; the sensor itself took all of 45 seconds.

Once the Cowling and Engine Panels are Removed the Water Pressure Sensor is Easily Accessible.

Yamaha has also published a software update for the 425 XTO outboard in connection with this particular issue, modifying its code so that the Guardian mode isn’t invoked unless the temperature sensor (not just the water pressure sensor) also reports an actual overheat.  That requires an authorized dealer or tech to apply, so for now it goes on the “to do” list.  Rick also ordered another water pressure sensor for the spare parts inventory.

Pull Off the Wiring Harness, Unscrew the Bad Unit, Install the New One.  Simple.

Chelle was eager for some close quarters stick time, so for the ensuing sea trial she manned Ghost Rider’s helm, backed it off the lift and away from the dock, and then once in open waters put the boat through its paces while Rick monitored the engine’s gauges.  It only took about 10 minutes to fully verify we were back to normal operation on the starboard engine throughout the operating RPM range.

One final note: provided one has the spare part onboard (and the seas aren’t too bouncy), this is a fix that can be done while enroute – all that is needed is the replacement sensor, the tool to remove the engine cover panels, and a crescent wrench.  In retrospect, we should feel fortunate that sensor did not fail on the previous trip, halfway home from the Keys….that would have been a lengthy limp back home.

Still Looking at the Tropics

For this calendar year the prognosticators originally predicted 14 to 21 names storms and 6 to 10 hurricanes, of which 3 to 6 would be “major”.  It wasn’t an unreasonable forecast given the La Nina in the Pacific, and the much warmer than normal air and sea temperatures throughout the Atlantic tropics….not to mention all the other extreme weather events clobbering the planet lately.

But it has now been over 50 days since the last named tropical system, and those three were mostly yawners.  A combination of very dry and dusty air aloft (blowing off the Sahara desert) and unfavorable wind shear and pressure systems have kept things eerily calm apart our normal summer thunderstorm season.  The folks at the Weather Channel seem both flummoxed and disappointed, while we down here in hurricane alley are quite content with the dullness.

That said, we are only halfway through the “season”, with the historical activity peak (mid-September) still several weeks away….so we know some nastiness will eventually develop.  The experts seem undeterred, postulating the late start just means the season will extend longer this year.  Eventually we’ll find out.

The GFS Deterministic Weather Model for Early September Portends a Chain of Low Pressure
Systems Spinning Up, with the First Two Skirting Florida to Our East.  All the Other Models
So Far Don't Agree (Showing None.)  Odds Are They're All Wrong. 

Wednesday, August 3, 2022

July 2022: A Week Back in the Florida Keys

Our inReach Track Captures to & From the Keys

By mid-July most everything in south Florida was hovering in the low 90’s – including temperature, humidity, average age, and the region’s political EQ.  We did our best to ignore all that, and despite the daily afternoon thunderstorms and “air you can wear” atmosphere, we completed all the provisioning tasks and boat preps for our next run back to the Florida Keys.  That included a slightly-early 100-hour interval service on Ghost Rider’s Yamaha outboard engines, since we would be rolling past the 500-hour mark in the first few days of offshore trolling.  Now it was time to go fishing.

Sat, 16-July, Fort Myers to Marathon

Joined by good friends Dan and Julie Eisenberg as crew, we piled into Ghost Rider and departed at 0815 on Saturday, 16-July.  Before 0900 we had rendezvoused with three other boats from our Grady-White boat club just east of the Sanibel Lighthouse, then pointed the bow south towards Key Colony Beach (KCB) in Marathon.  The air was already feeling like warm soup, but was generally clear with light winds from the southeast, providing mostly flat seas.  Cruising at 30 MPH with Ghost Rider in the lead was quite comfortable.

For Some Reason Our Fleet Companions Wanted to Maintain
a Single File Formation Behind Ghost Rider....Not Recommended. 

Rain and thunderstorms were predicted for the afternoon, and shortly after rounding the Cape Romano shoals just south of Marco Island a solid line of storms grew across our planned path in perpendicular fashion.  We did not see any lightning activity, so using real time radar and the XM weather display we picked the least foreboding area and punched through at speed.  Precipitation was generally light and only lasted around 20 minutes, although the water surface on the back side was waffle-iron rough for the following hour, so we slowed our speed to around 25 MPH for a spell.

As we neared the island chain the sea surface flattened again, and after cutting through the narrow Vaca Key pass we arrived at Key Colony Beach just after 1400.  We proceeded to the KCB marina to top off fuel tanks, then docked at our nearby rental property and unloaded our gear.  We were joined there by two more good friends, Doug and Cat Cox.  All of us had rented this particular property several times before; we keep returning to it (when available) due to the roominess, cleanliness and ideal location – a short canal ride to the open Atlantic, ditto for the nearby marina for fuel and bait.

It Wasn't Too Difficult to Find a Hole to Punch Through This Line of Storm Cells

  Sun, 17-July thru Thu, 21-July (Marathon/KCB)

The next five days were all quite similar….we left the dock each day around 0900 in stiff southeast winds that clocked 12-18 knots, and in seas that ran from four to six feet through early afternoon, then calmed a bit to the two to four foot range of boat beaters.  It was warm and humid every day, and while some showers would occasionally transit the area, they were few and far between and not a factor – basically the norm for this time of year in the Florida Keys.

We Really Like This Rental Property in Key Colony Beach, So We Keep Returning There.

Easy & Protected Docking for Ghost Rider, and a Good View, Too

And while the storms and rain were barely noticeable, unfortunately the same was true for the fish.  Finding fish is never an easy or simple challenge, but for this particular week it was particularly frustrating.  Our targeted species was mahi-mahi, also known as dorado or common dolphinfish, a fun fight and excellent eating – when you can find them.  We would also occasionally pick up a blackfin tuna or a wahoo on the troll, but not this week.

The Crew of Ghost Rider in Trolling Action...Doug, Cat, Juli & Dan

Noting that NOAA had pegged the Gulf Stream further out than normal – 27 miles south – we ran out there in some rugged seas, but still weren’t finding much in the way of keepers (minimum of 20 inches to the tail fork in this part of the ocean.)  Even trolling the famed “Marathon Humps” (sea mounts), where the usually tell-tale birds and weeds (sargassum) were plentiful, produced nothing.

Pic of Our GPS Fishing Chart While Trolling the "Hump"....Easy to See the 300' Rise of the
Sea Mount in the Surrounding 780' Depths.

Over the course of the week, we caught and tossed a few mahi shorts and boated only two keepers, usually in 600-to-700-foot depths.  Results from the other boats in our club were similar, and more broadly the fishing reports for the area reflected the same.  For the mahi species in particular, which is normally plentiful in these waters given their rapid reproduction and growth rates, this was not only frustrating, but also worrisome.  All we know is that with Dan and Doug along, it sure wasn't for lack of skills, experience or fishing gear.

Of course, we still enjoyed the boating and spending time with good friends, fully cognizant that just being able to attempt this kind of recreation is a generally rare opportunity.  As for the diagnosis of the poor fishing results, that jury is still out, but that seems to be the trend lately.

We Were Damned Proud of This (Expensive) Mahi...Pictured Left to Right Are
Juli, Dan, Cat, Chelle & Doug

Fri, 22-July, Marathon to Fort Myers

We actually cut short our stay in the Keys by a day – not just because of the fishing and sea conditions, but mainly due to a family matter back in St. Louis that required our attention: our brother-in-law and fellow fishing friend, Wayne, had passed away.  It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that even the fish were in mourning.

So we packed up and evacuated the rental on the morning of the 22nd just after 0900, cut back through the Vaca Kay pass, and began the sortie back home.  Thunderstorms were already plentiful in Florida Bay, necessitating an indirect route back north, as a big one in particular was already directly in our planned path and looking very ominous.  By taking a jaunt more to the northeast towards Cape Sable we managed to skirt that one on its backside as it built even more and moved slowly northwest, while passing just to the west of yet another that was just coming off the mainland.  Lightning of the air-to-water variety was especially frequent and fierce in the nasty looking cell to our west…when you can smell the air after a big bolt, you know you’ve gotten a bit close.  (Meteorological tidbit: lightning heats the air to as much as 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit…and that can split the air’s N2 and O2 into random, separate bits, occasionally recombining to form O3 – ozone, which has a bit of a chlorine smell.  But over south Florida waters, where Sulfur content can be high, you can also get that sulfuric (rotten egg) odor wafting your way.  Another definition of too close.)

Weather for the Trip Home Required Some Detours

But our path and timing were fortuitous, as we managed to speed ahead and around those two TRW cells; then they merged together just behind us into a wicked-looking dark gray wall.  There were more cells (also quite electrical) building to our north and east over the mainland, but we managed to outpace those as well.  And in spite of the dicey looking atmospherics, we experienced only a brief rain shower and had very smooth water all the way home, arriving at our dock before 1500.

We Managed to Thread the Needle Between Storm Cells Before They Closed in Behind Us

It didn’t take long to offload all our gear from the boat and get Dan & Juli’s car packed up again for their drive back to their Englewood home.  Then the next morning we did the same with our car and made the long, sad drive to St. Louis to grieve for a good man.

Aftermath (Boat Business)

Ghost Rider performed admirably throughout the trip, undeterred and unaffected by the sloppy sea conditions.  Mechanically it ran perfectly.  We had a barrel-bolt latch break on the cabin entry door (corrosion failure, now replaced by a beefier one), and a minor drip leak from a seam in the weatherstripping around the windshield vent opening (corrected by a dab of black RTV caulk.)  That’s pretty damned good.

Looking at the Tropics

As of this posting (early August) we’ve gone over 30 days without a named storm spooling up, an odd situation given the way above-average tropical forecast for the season.  For now, an abundance of Saharan dust streaming across the low latitudes of the south Atlantic is keeping potential development probabilities low….and we certainly welcome that.  Of course, we’re only 1/3 of the way into the season, so there’s a long way to go.


With the brunt of brutally hot and humid summer weather now upon us, we’re going to take a boat break for a spell.  We’ll keep y’all posted when additional plans develop.  In the meantime, more pics are posted below. 

Wayne & Rick's Sister, Linda, and a Good Day's Catch....Taken About 8 Years Ago at the Same Dock.

Afterword:  My brother-in-law, Wayne Watson, passed away at the age of 75 during this interval.  He was a big guy with an equally big heart, but ironically it was his heart that physically failed.  A Huey gunship pilot during the war in Nam, he was a damned good definition of guts, grit & courage. We’d occasionally argue about politics and whether rotary or fixed wing pilots were better, but that never got in our way….he always remained a friend and a fun fishing buddy.  Wayne was aboard some of our best fishing trips to the Keys, a fun-loving good luck charm, one of the Good Guys.  He is missed & fondly remembered. 

(Rick R / Aug-2022) 

Another Fish!  Doug, Rick, Chelle, Cat & Dan

Whenever Rick Would Flush the Engines After a Day of Trolling, This Manatee Would
Position Himself to Enjoy the Fresh Water Draining Out.

Ghost Rider Dockside with Fish Flag Flying

Chelle and Cat Busy in the Kitchen

Dan and Doug Relaxing with the Day's News on the Telly After A Day of Fishing

Track Capture of Our Diversionary Route Home (via Google Earth KML File)