Thursday, May 30, 2019

Apr - May 2019: Continuing in Fort Myers

Keeping Ghost Rider Clean & Shiny at Legacy Harbour in Fort Myers
Spring weather in southern Florida ends about midway through baseball’s spring training season – which is roughly mid-March.  By April we’re into early summer temps.  Early summer means it’s already quite warm but the occasional cool front will drop the humidity to something tolerable for about a day and a half.  And by May it’s just plain hot and humid here with daily afternoon TRWs, and it continues that way until roughly late October.  Which is why we are typically underway and heading elsewhere by this time.

The intensity of the south Florida sun presents a number of other challenges, most notably with its attempts to bleach the boat’s gelcoat into something resembling chalk.  While we’re stuck in port this year we’re doing our best to combat that with frequent fresh water rinses and chamois-wiping exposed surfaces so dirt and bug juice don’t dig in.  Where stains do form Rick is experimenting with a mild soap-with-wax formulation from Z-Tuff, and we also will occasionally follow that up with a quick application of Collonite liquid wax on some of the horizontal surfaces.  The whole goal is to see how long we can make that previous (January) paste wax and detailing job last.
Crew & Ghost Rider Posing with the Grandkids....Grace, Alice & Danny
Rick has also finally completed the boat’s “Projects Page” on our Ghost Rider web site, which can be viewed at this LINK.  We think it’s a fair representation of the more major changes and retrofits we’ve managed over the first two years of ownership.

April Update
Chelle made the first of a few trips to Oklahoma City, initially spending over a week there to assist her mum with move preparations – inventorying, downsizing, packing, plus coordinating some renovation projects.  Around mid-month we also made the move from the boat back to the condo.  But our April highlight was a visit from kids and grandkids during their Easter break.  Lots of pool time, some golf, a visit to the Edison & Ford Winter Estate, and a fishing charter were among the fun activities that kept the din and overall chaos to reasonable levels.
Nick & Danielle with Grace, Alice & Danny After the Easter Egg Hunt on the Beach....and Before the Sugar Highs Kicked In
May Update
Early in May Chelle made another trip to OKC, once again back in her project management mode, to manage the final renovations and move preparations for mum.  But upon return a healthy portion of the month was focused on Rick’s second surgery and subsequent recovery.  An old body is just like an old boat -- lots of maintenance and no warranty on parts or labor. As much as Rick hates hospitals, the intestinal plumbing schematic is now back to where it should be.  (And Rick is thoroughly convinced by now that the engineering behind our intestines is deeply flawed.) Anyway, let the healing begin....we've got the remainder of the summer reserved mostly for just that.

Boat Business Updates
The boat is an easy 12 mile drive from the condo, so outside of the surgical / recuperation window we’ve been making occasional trips to check on Ghost Rider and to tend to the routine (Wheelhouse-prompted) maintenance tasks.  But Rick has also enjoyed our leisurely dirt-dwelling days to tend to some long lingering, albeit minor, boat projects that have been on our “later list” for a long time.  For example:

➤ One of the requirements for joining the hurricane club at the River Forest Yachting Center (RFYC) was to have the boat’s optimum (safe) sling locations labeled, so that their travel lift operators don’t have to guess where to position the boat in the lifting straps.  Rick ordered and applied the 4 decals on the hull.  All boat projects should be this easy.
Two "Sling" Labels on Each Side of the Hull to Mark Where the Travel Lift Straps Go
➤ Another simple (but time consuming) job was placing “clamp jackets” on the exposed ends of the stainless steel worm gear hose clamps (what the Brits call “Jubilee Clips”).  There are a stunning number of them even on a fifty foot boat, and, speaking from painful experience, each tag end of those clamps is like a knife waiting to lacerate someone.  Just the engine room and lazarette so far have consumed fifty of these little rubber-tipped jackets.  Rick calls them clamp condoms.  
A Double Clamped Hose with a Jacket on One & Not the Other
➤ We had also been carrying a fairly hefty bench vise around with us since we purchased the boat, figuring some day we would find a good place to permanently mount that thing.  We never did.  So Rick thru-bolted it to a slab of plywood and attached non-skid rubber feet to the bottom of the base, making it sturdy yet portable.  Check off another one.
Making the Bench Vise Portable & More Usable
  A piece of kit that we found extremely useful on the previous boat is what we call an anchor shank wedge.  It’s a simple piece of black starboard cut to fit snugly between the stainless anchor chain guides on the bow pulpit, with a slot in the center that securely straddles the shank of the anchor.  Sometimes called a “doghouse” due to its frontal appearance, it allows us to keep a little slack on the chain between the windlass’s capstan and the anchor (reducing stress on the windlass) yet keeps the anchor from wobbling around on the bow roller in rough seas.  Rick also discovered sawing through starboard can be quite messy (especially when you use the wrong saw blade) but that bench vise sure came in handy.
The Simple but Effective Anchor Shank Wedge, AKA the Dog House
➤ A few months ago we noticed the two recliners in the salon were starting to show severe wear and chafing at the fabric seams; and long before that we had noticed they weren’t all that comfortable to begin with.  So while we were visiting friends Ron and Mercedes on N47 Moonrise in Fort Lauderdale a while back, we took a side trip to Pompano Beach to visit Glastop (LINK), on outfit that specializes in boat & RV furniture.  There we ordered up a pair of their “Island Lounger” recliners, along with a small table to fit between them.  Luckily our son, Nick, was in town when the shipment arrived and helped with the furniture moving….they’re heavier than they look.  
The New Recliners in the Salon.....Very Comfy & Durable UltraLeather
Another View of the Salon and Our Comfy New Lounge Chairs
Finally, we did have to add one rather significant problem to the boat’s “to-do” list.  When Rick went to clean out the strainer baskets for the main engine’s thru-hull strainers that filter the cooling seawater, we unfortunately discovered the thru-hull ball valves were not closing; one was only partially closing, the other not at all.  The manner in which one discovers this is unsettling to say the least – when the strainer basket screw top is removed you end up with one helluva gushing geyser of seawater….in the engine room.  Putting that lid back on with that kind of upward water pressure sounds a lot easier than it is in actual practice.  Rick got soaked and the bilge pump got a workout.

To make it more frustrating, those two thru-hull units were just replaced two years ago. Grrrr. Regardless, we’ll need to have the boat hauled out to effect removal and replacement, something we hope to schedule once Rick’s surgical recovery is complete.  It might make for a good test run up to our hurricane hole at the River Forest Yachting Center (RFYC).  In the meantime, should one of those thru-hulls experience a separation failure, the boat won’t sink far….we have at best only 2 feet under the keel at our marina slip.  Sometimes you have to look hard to find it, but there’s always a bright side.

What's Next
Once we’re done with summer projects and our administrative distractions we’re hoping to sortie the boat back over to the Bahamas for some fall/winter cruising, and we’re also not ruling out a stopover in the Dry Tortugas. But the specific timing will depend largely on how the tropical storm season plays out following Rick's surgical recovery.

As for the next boat project -- other than getting those two damned thru-hulls replaced -- Rick is intent on finding a decent remote monitoring solution for the vessel.  We've already got a geo-fencing solution in place, but the goal now is to also trigger email and/or SMS text notifications when battery voltage drops below a certain level, or when shore power is interrupted, or when the bilge water level rises to certain levels.  Those are health metrics that are sorely needed when we're away from the boat for extended periods. We would likely add a few other sensor devices and alert triggers once those basics are reliably satisfied.  Stay tuned for progress on that front in our next blog posting.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Feb - Mar 2019: Hanging in Fort Myers

We Had a Front Row Seat on the Bow of Ghost Rider for Viewing the
Pyrotechnics that Concluded This Year's Edison Festival of Lights
Two months have passed since our previous post, so here’s another catch up entry from the crew of Ghost Rider for the months of February and March.  Our days have been a good mix of recreation, social events, some travel, lots of reading, occasional boat business and even some actual boating.  Since we started our dirt-dwelling winter spell here in Fort Myers Chelle has turned her attention back to her golf game, playing an average of twice per week.  She even has taken some corrective lessons and spent time at the range, which used to be heresy for her.  Meanwhile, Rick has continued his recovery both in terms of energy level and weight gain, which of course means he’s gotten quite active once again with his main hobby – more boat projects.  (There’s always a list.)

February Update
With guests occupying the condo we moved back onto the boat in February, still moored at Legacy Harbour Marina in downtown Fort Myers.  That gave both of us the luxury of combining dirt-dwelling with live-aboard life.  That also meant we had a front row seat for the Edison Festival of Light fireworks finale right off the bow of Ghost Rider….it was a sustained and percussive pyrotechnic display that we thoroughly enjoyed, see the YouTube video link HERE.

Rick finally began construction on a new page for our web site, with the purpose of documenting the more significant boat projects that we’ve undertaken on Ghost Rider.  That page is still under construction, and while mostly of interest to boat geeks, a partially completed version/preview is available HERE for the curious.  It’s also worth noting that these blog page(s) now have a search capability, and you’ll find the search box towards the upper right hand corner of the current web page.
The Ships's Computer and a Bluetooth Laptop Feeding the Fusion Stereo
System with Either Internet Streaming or Our Own Music Library

As for February boat business, Rick completed configuration and testing of the boat’s revised sound system, using a full screen media player (MusicBee) with access to our fairly large music library, as well as Internet-streaming music (and Rick’s favorite podcasts) all now accessible via Bluetooth devices as well as the ship's computer, piped through our Fusion marine stereo system.  We’re also happy with the smartphone remote control capability.  And, as has become our custom when wintering here in Fort Myers, we had the U.S. Coast Guard aboard for Ghost Rider’s annual courtesy inspection.  Legacy Harbor sponsors these each winter and we find it comforting to have that third party evaluation of the boat’s safety readiness.

March Update
Ron & Mercedes with Daughter Stephanie Preparing Dinner Aboard Moonrise
The month of March brought spring training baseball to Florida; it was a treat to attend a Red Sox game on a perfect sunny afternoon, even if the Sox got trounced by the Pirates.  Immediately after the game we drove over to Fort Lauderdale on the other coast to visit with good friends Ron and Mercedes, who had just returned from months of cruising the Bahamas in their Nordhavn 47, Moonrise.  They were waiting on some water maker parts before resuming their journey north to their home in Charleston, so we were able to spend a couple of very pleasant evenings together.

Shortly after returning to Fort Myers we finally got the boat out of its slip for a three day period, heading down river and then up the ICW to an anchorage between Cabbage Key and Useppa Islands.  We got a good chance to fully sea trial some of the previous repairs: the stabilizers performed well with no more leaks, and the new wing engine throttle did its job admirably for both hydraulic power and as auxiliary propulsion.  We were met at the anchorage that Friday by friends Dan and Juli in their Grady-White Marlin, FloMotion, and we anchored together just west of Useppa.  We launched the dinghy and ferried them over to Ghost Rider for dinner, drinks and a fun social evening. 
The Water Taxi Going from Ghost Rider to Nearby FloMotion
The following morning (a Saturday) we were greeted by some spotty rain, so Rick tended to some boat chores.  On the sortie north the previous day we had noticed some rubber chunks of an alternator belt beneath the main engine, so Rick pulled off the engine and belt guards to take a look – sure enough both drive belts for the #2 alternator had begun shredding themselves.  We had spares on board and it didn’t take long for Rick to remove and replace those and reassemble the guard shrouds.

By noon the skies cleared and we had another pleasant afternoon hanging on the hook.  Dan and Juli departed later that day but by then we had been joined by yet another Grady club couple, good friends Dan and Cher.  They rafted their small Freedom (Lady GoDiver) to Ghost Rider and that evening we dinghied over to Cabbage Key for dinner.  We returned to the anchorage just after sunset and enjoyed more social time aboard, with Dan and Cher spending a comfortable night in our guest stateroom.
Two Grady-White's and a Nordhavn at Anchor...and the Dingy as Water Taxi

The next day the four of us enjoyed a lazy morning hanging out on Ghost Rider’s fly bridge while watching light traffic pass by out on the ICW.  By late morning we had gathered enough energy to begin departure preparations and by noon Dan and Cher had pushed off to head back to their home in Punta Gorda.  We retrieved the anchor and chugged back south to Legacy Harbour in Fort Myers, arriving just after 1600 in calm conditions for an uneventful docking exercise.  It had been good to be back out on the water.

A busy March was concluded with a long flight out to Tucson, Arizona where we were privileged to attend the wedding for our niece, Morgan.  She and her soulmate Claudio hosted a backyard affair under crystal clear desert skies and it all went perfectly.  Making it even better, we got to spend quality time with Rick’s lifelong wing man, Dick Schulte, at Dick and Cindy’s gorgeous home in the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains.  It was a fabulous five days.
Rick and Dick Next to a B-52D (Tail Number 067 in Which Rick Had Many PIC Hours) at Tucson's Pima Air & Space Museum.  Two Buddies Who Went Through Grade School, High School, College and then Pilot Training Together.  Brothers.
March Boat Business Updates
New Fire Bottle in the Engine Room
As for the latest boat business:  First, an unfortunate modernization opportunity arose during our annual fire suppression system inspection; the big Fireboy bottle (900 cubic foot capability) in the engine room failed the weight test, indicating some propellant leakage had occurred.  These auto discharge bottles are not serviceable, so a new one was ordered to the tune of two “boat units”.  During the same inspection the smaller fire bottle (350 cubic foot capability) in the lazarette passed, but unfortunately experienced an accidental discharge during the remounting process.  The poor technician got a face full of FM200 propellant, but fortunately emerged without serious injury (apart from a temporary burning in the eyes and a numb tongue.)  Lesson:  wear eye protection when messing around with those things.  We’re not sure what that replacement cost since ABC Fire Equipment Corp footed the bill for that ‘oops’.  We also replaced the manual pull cable for the big engine room bottle while we were at it….it had some fraying and was difficult to operate at full travel.  Once all that was completed we re-tested the system’s auto-shutdown sequence and all was well once again.

Draining the Coolant from the Diesel Generator
Next up was the coolant service for the generator that comes at 600 hour intervals, a threshold we crossed while anchored at Useppa.  That’s a relatively simple routine maintenance operation since (unlike the wing engine) the drain spigot and hose is well-designed and easy to access.  Rick drained the old coolant, flushed the block twice with fresh water, then refilled with a 50/50 mix of Peak Fleet Charge, which meets all the SCA specs for these Lugger diesel engines.  Changing out the thermostat (a recommended precautionary measure) was a slightly different story since that damned thing was located on the “wrong” (outboard) side of the engine, thus requiring some boat yoga, and is mounted vertically with a rather beefy internal hold-down spring.  With four hands it would have been easy, but with only two it took Rick a while to get it done right.

New Caframo 12V Fan Added to the Pilot House Bridge
The final project on the list was to mount two more Caframo 12 volt fans that Chelle had purchased a while back; she liked the one we installed in the galley so much that she asked for one in the master stateroom and one in the pilot house.  Mounting the hardware was simple enough but figuring out where and how to tap into the boat’s 12V system is sometimes challenging….at least for Rick it is.  But we figured it out and these new fan additions help address some dead-air spots when not running the AC.

Morgan & Claudio as Wife & Husband...and Ready to Get Out of There and Over
to Europe for Their Honeymoon.

Dick & Rick Next to the F-16 Viper at Pima Air & Space Museum.  Dick Flew the Viper During
 the First Gulf War.  He Also Has Time in the F-4 Phantom and the OV-10.
Among the 300+ Aircraft at the Pima Museum was this F4D Skyray.  It's Obscure to Most, but Rick's Dad Flew This Carrier-Based Aircraft.  Note the Tail Number '4748'.  Our First Nordhavn was an N47....Hull Number 48.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Dec 2018 / Jan 2019: Holiday Time in Fort Myers

Winter in Our Fort Myers Condo is....Pleasant
Happy New Year! Since arriving back in Fort Myers back in late November we’ve grown accustomed to being dirt-dwellers once again, thoroughly enjoying time in our waterfront condo and visits from daughter Suzi, Chelle’s mom, and Rick’s sister and brother-in-law.  Southwest Florida is simply a fabulous place to enjoy the winter holidays and long overdue family visits.

It also occurred to us that with all the travels and blogging during the past year we had forgotten to mention a second interview we had conducted with James Ellingford of N62 Pendana fame, way back in June 2018.  For those of you who have not had a chance to browse through that exchange, you can find it by clicking HERE.

December Update
The Healthpark Hospital Lobby Looks More Like a Hotel but We
Would Have Preferred to be Elsewhere in December
We had hoped to use the month of December to resolve the few problems that had arisen during our November return to Fort Myers, but that didn’t work out. The week after returning to our home port at Legacy Harbour Rick took ill….severe abdominal cramps turned out to be a nasty intestinal infection with a complete blockage, resulting in a 24-day hospital stay and two surgeries to remove & otherwise untangle a real plumbing puzzle in the gut. The surgeon likened the procedure to “removing blocks of concrete” and then reassembling what was left.  Rick compared the surgical aftermath to having the entire 1st Infantry Division march over his abdomen in spiked boots. 

Recovery has been predictably slow but still has allowed us to spend some abbreviated time on the boat whittling down a long list of overdue but mostly minor Wheelhouse maintenance items that had accumulated over the month.  Towards the end of December we even managed to enjoy an inshore fishing expedition with one of our favorite local charters (LINK), although Rick was more a spectator than an angler at that point.  Nonetheless we boated seven nice Sheepshead (Wayne took honors for the biggest) which made for some delicious fresh fish dinners.
Bro-in-Law Wayne with a Very Nice
Sheepshead Catch...the Biggest of the Day
Chelle Boated This Nice Redfish....Which We Tossed Back to Fight Another Day
January Update

As the calendar rolled over to 2019 we began to progress with some of the needed repairs for Ghost Rider.  Our preferred technicians for the Naiad stabilizers (Stabilized Marine, link HERE) made the trip from Fort Lauderdale, diagnosing the actuator oil leaks as faulty feedback valves (again).  And after tearing apart the starboard side unit we discovered the source of the clunking noise:  its torque pin (which connects the hydraulic cylinder to the actuator yoke) had come loose and dropped down in its sleeve where it was striking one of the mounting bolts as it neared the center position.  It was a relatively simple fix to restore the pin and re-secure its set screw (with generous amounts of Loctite this time.)  During the ensuing system test we also noticed the fin position indicators in the pilot house were grossly inaccurate, which led to adjusting one potentiometer and replacing another.  But now the stabilizer system is finally back to ops normal.
The Red Arrow Points Out the Torque Pin That Had Worked Loose and
Caused the Starboard Side Clunking Noise.  We Were Lucky It Did
Not Cause Further Damage.

As for the wing engine’s messed up throttle mechanism, we had ordered and received a whole new Morse throttle assembly back in December, but we were slow to make any progress on remediating that.  There is a certain amount of “boat yoga” required to disassemble / reassemble the new control head and cable guides, so that got addressed in stages as Rick healed up.  He probably set a record for the most time needed to complete such an installation – several hours spread across several days – but in the end we got it done.  After verifying proper operation of of the gear (transmission) lever – forward, neutral, reverse – and RPM range for the throttle lever – from 700 RPM at idle to 2500 RPM at WOT – we declared victorious completion on 23-January.  And we put the vice grips back in the toolbox where they belong. 
The Shiny New Wing Engine Throttle Control Head

Along the way there have been plenty of other things to work on: Chelle has been systematically progressing on a thorough cleaning of Ghost Rider’s interior; we’ve coordinated the requisite monthly bottom cleaning services during our extended layover at Legacy Harbour with Adams Diving (LINK); and we also scheduled the boat’s annual “spa treatment” (shampoo, compounding and wax) with our preferred boat detailers, Frank & Pedro of Ultimate Marine (LINK); that got underway the week of 21-January.  Additionally, given that we and Ghost Rider will likely end up spending the bulk of the 2019 tropical storm season in Florida waters, we also joined the “hurricane club” at the River Forest Yachting Center in nearby Labelle.  If you are curious what that provides, information is available at this RFYC web LINK, but it guarantees us a haul-out and secure tie-down 35 miles upriver in the event of a big blow.

And a New Project

Lastly (for now), Rick decided to embark on another new, albeit minor, project to find an optimum way to use standard Bluetooth technology for piping music through the boat’s stereo systems.  Our two separate stereo systems – Sony in the salon, and Fusion serving the pilot house & fly bridge – both supported MP3 playback via USB memory sticks, but with over 8,000 tracks in our collection (and growing), the user interface for that input source was klutzy at best and not always reliable.  
The Red Arrow Points Out the New Fusion Bluetooth Module. Later
We Permanently Mounted It Further Inside the PH Equipment Panel

We wanted a PC-based or tablet-based media player interface with full screen navigation, and one that supported the standard album/artist protocols and custom playlists, but also folder-based organization as well as Internet streaming services…plus smart phone remote control.  The Fusion unit required a separate Bluetooth module installation, but that was a simple $45 Amazon order.  While installation required splicing new power and ground connections with new butt connectors behind one of the pilot house dash panels, that went smoothly enough.

For now we are using the freeware "MusicBee" media player on our Windows 7 laptop PC, and are pleased with the connectivity and sound through the Fusion and Sony stereo systems, both from our MP3 library and also using the Spotify streaming service. It can also be remotely controlled from our Android smart phone app. 
The MusicBee Player Has a Richer User Interface than the Stock Windows Media Player, but More Importantly Offers Better Organization and Control Options.  And It's WAY Better Than Tiny USB Scrolling Displays on the Small Stereo Units.
We've got more testing to do which we'll tend to once we move back onto the boat in mid-February and have a chance to "live with it" on an extended basis.
The MusicBee Android App Connects to the Full Screen Media Player on the PC.  It Uses a Reliable WiFi Connection
and Provides a Convenient & Functional Remote Control Anywhere on the Boat.

More to come later in February.  Happy 2019!

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Nov 2018: From Palm Beach to Fort Myers

Our Track from OPC in Palm Beach to Marathon
After our week-long dirt-dwelling break visiting family in the Midwest we returned to Florida…..Rick to the boat in Palm Beach while Chelle stayed at the condo in Fort Myers for a couple more days.  During that spell Rick got caught up on a long list of overdue Wheelhouse recurring maintenance items while Chelle continued condo preps and coordinated some needed repairs at that location.

Our “boat business” maintenance list had been completed as planned with one exception (see footnotes at the bottom), so we turned our attention to planning the final legs to get ourselves and the boat back to our home port (Legacy Harbour) in Fort Myers; those sorties would also serve as our sea trial for all the repair work.  Sea conditions weren’t looking great, but they were good enough to make the trip “around the horn” – down and around to Marathon in the Keys, then turning back north and up the west coast of Florida.

So, on Saturday, 17-November, we departed Old Port Cove Marina in North Palm Beach at 0900 and started chugging south again.  Offshore conditions were forecast to be rather rough so we decided that first leg would once again be down the ICW on the “inside.”  That turned out to be a rather poor choice.
Departing Lake Worth Inlet and Heading South from There on the ICW

Temperature and humidity levels were quite pleasant, standard south Florida weather for this time of year.  But we had to constantly remind ourselves that we were getting a smooth ride; the tradeoff of dodging nutcase weekenders (who also did not want to be on the outside) and negotiating bridges – there were 24 of the damned things between OPC and Suntex Marina just south of Fort Lauderdale – plus the Manatee go-slow zones (effective 15-November through 15-March) – all combined for an absolutely miserable day.   We had to take evasive action on two occasions to avoid collisions with clueless boaters.  And as we were about to cross the Port Everglades turning basin the USCG shut down the waterway for 15 minutes while a humongous cruise ship lumbered away from the pier and they maintained a “security perimeter” around it.
Total Cluster F*ck at the Fort Lauderdale Turning Basin

All that nonsense led to an overly long sortie with the last hour in darkness.  Night runs on the ICW are essentially an emergency procedure, so we rigged for red, dimmed all the displays, and just tried to patient. 

To top it all off, about an hour before arriving at the Suntex Marina (approaching yet another low bridge) the throttle lever for our wing engine – upon which we depend for hydraulic power for the bow and stern thrusters – literally fell apart….springs, a ball bearing and a few washers departed from their assigned places and the throttle went limp.  Rick turned the helm over to Chelle and scrambled down to the engine room, found a way to prop open the throttle lever on the engine to maintain sufficient RPM for the hydraulics when needed, and we pressed on with that MacGyver-like solution for the remaining bridges and docking maneuvers.
The Wing Engine Throttle Goes Tango Uniform
But Down in the Engine Room Rick Found a Way to Set the Required Wing Engine RPM Using a Vise Grip for a Throttle Stop
We found the marina entrance without any issues and weaved pour back to our assigned slip – which turned out to be located in a fairway no wider than the length of Ghost Rider…it was a damned tight pivot to back into that slip, but we got it done without too much drama, albeit slowly and deliberately.  Rick logged another night landing in his logbook and eventually we called it a night.

We were underway once again by 0830 on Sunday, 18-November.  We had to negotiate another five miles of ICW before we could cut to the outside, but at that hour there was no other traffic and we were able to squeeze under all three bridges along the way by lowering the big sticks.   We hung a hard turn to port at the Haulover Inlet and got back out into the Atlantic Ocean.  At last.

The egress through the inlet was a messy affair, with a ripping outgoing current bashing into the wind driven waves, and initially we saw four footers on the nose.  But after getting far enough out into the big water to safely make our turn to the south conditions improved considerably….initially a two foot swell at one second intervals with a healthy wind chop on top, all on the beam.  After we got south of Biscayne Bay that smoothed out even further.  We and Ghost Rider were happy to be back in our element.
Sunset at the Rodriguez Key Anchorage

It was another pleasant day atmospherically as well – low to mid 80’s, 55% humidity, some sun and intermittent clouds, although the breeze stayed steady at 10 to 15 knots from the east.  We enjoyed lots of fly bridge time on the 65 mile cruise south to Rodriguez Key, where we tucked in behind the island and dropped the anchor shortly before 1700.  We got a good set on the hook on the first try, and then enjoyed a relaxing evening in calm waters.

We weren’t in a hurry the morning of Monday, 19-November, so we putzed around for a couple of hours before finally retrieving the anchor and getting underway at 1000.  We had less than 50 nautical miles to traverse enroute to Marathon and we had an excellent forecast for the day.  But you could tell we were now back in south Florida – air temps reached near 90F and humidity hung thick at 70%, with a 10 knot breeze out of the east.

Sea conditions were identical to the day before – quite nice with two foot swells and a light wind chop, again on the port beam.  Ghost Rider purred along happily at an average of 8 knots as we kept her fairly close to the Keys shoreline, anywhere from two to five miles offshore, staying inside the reef to avoid the northbound Gulf Stream current.  We did have to stay vigilant for crab pots (it was Stone Crab season) as some parts of Hawk Channel resembled a mine field.  But it still beat the hell out of the bridges and Manatee zones on the ICW.
Sunset at Our Marathon Anchorage

By 1600 we approached our targeted anchor site and dropped the hook, just south of the Seven Mile Bridge and near the entrance to Boot Key Harbor, in about 10 feet of  mostly clear water.   Our Manson Supreme anchor set on the first try (as usual) in the soft sandy bottom and by 1700 we had the genset cranked up, A/C running and the tender launched.  Chelle motored over to the dinghy dock at the Marathon Marina to get in some walking exercises while Rick tended to post-flight checklists and some preps for the coming overnight sortie to Fort Myers. 

Given the very warm temps and high humidity we decided to run the genset overnight with the A/C going full bore.  We then enjoyed a quiet and calm night at anchor.

At around 0630 on Tuesday, 20-November Rick shut down the A/C and genset since temps had moderated and fan-driven air was sufficiently comfortable, and we were having a tough time keeping the generator properly loaded.  After a couple more hours of sleep we finally slipped out of bed for good, had our coffee, checked emails and weather (still looking very good), and started in on chores and departure preps.

Rick removed the cover from the search light in anticipation of the overnight run through crab pot country, and also practiced gymnastics – climbing up and down the radar arch to retrieve the wind vane for inspection and repair….its wind direction blade had locked up, but we were able to disassemble, lubricate and get it working again.

Marathon Anchorage Looking North Towards Seven Mile Bridge
and the Entrance to Boot Key Harbor
Then it was time to take a swim and dive under the boat to examine the starboard stabilizer fin; an intermittent knocking noise at irregular intervals had developed two days ago in that vicinity and we wanted to see if something had wrapped around the fin’s pivot shaft.  Rick donned wetsuit and goggles and took the plunge while Chelle manned the ring buoy safety line.  Unfortunately we found nothing fouled, but Rick was able to replicate the knocking sound by manually moving the fin to its centered position – and it would not travel further than that.  That likely indicated a mechanical issue somewhere in the actuator and/or fin shaft, but we would wait for feedback from our friends at Yacht Tech.  Rick took a few minutes to scrub the scum at the waterline towards the rear of the hull and then climbed back aboard to dry out and rest.

Chelle took the dinghy back into town after that for a couple of hours for a walking and shopping expedition.  Shortly thereafter word came back from Yacht Tech recommending we pin and disarm the stabilizers to guard against potential (further?) damage.  So Rick spent time getting that done….we would have to make the run to Fort Myers without roll stabilization, but the sea forecast looked good enough to make that tolerable.  Around 1400, after Chelle had returned from her dinghy expedition, we retrieved the tender and secured it on the boat deck and then made a few final departure checks.  The anchor came up cleanly from the soft, sandy bottom and we were underway by 1500. 

Another Sunset -- This One as We Motored North Through Florida Bay.
You Can Also See Some of the Many Crab Pots We Were Regularly Dodging.
Air temperature was in the low 80’s and while humidity was still a bit soggy, the clear sky, bright sun and pleasant sea breeze made it very pleasant.  We crossed under the Seven Mile Bridge, zig-zagged through the shallow Banks area and pointed the bow north.  Florida Bay was absolutely flat with the only ripples coming from passing boat wakes, a good start to a long overnight sortie without roll mitigation.

The glass-like water surface made the task of spotting and dodging crab trap buoys easy at first – a very good thing as the damned things were everywhere.  A year ago we had previously tangled (literally) with a crab pot line on the main shaft and did not want to repeat that fiasco – on a slow-moving trawler swinging a 34 inch prop it’s amazingly easy to foul the running gear.

With sunset quickly approaching Rick spent about 30 minutes experimenting with the Furuno radar’s gain adjustments, eventually finding a combination of manual gain, rain clutter and sea clutter settings that resulted in a very useful display; the discrimination of the small and generally non-reflective crab pot buoys was surprisingly good.
Our Dual Radar Display.  The One on the Left is Set to Close Range and
the Radar Returns Displayed There Are All Crab Pots.

About 30 minutes after sunset that functionality came in pretty handy.  While we had nearly a 90% illuminated moon, the crab pots were impossible to acquire visually soon enough to take evasive action.  The main challenge was that a line of crab pots generally didn’t generate radar returns until they were within the .125 NM range circle (1/8th of a mile) so you had to be vigilant and pick your penetration path fairly quickly once they appeared.  So we set up our typical night running configurations with dual side-by-side charts on our 15” Furuno screen, and dual radars on our 17” Nobeltec screen, one for close range and one for longer range painting.

It worked quite well, and was a lot like playing the old Asteroids video arcade game,
although when seas started to get lumpy the job of distinguishing between crab pots and wave tops approached sensory overload.  Nonetheless, we continue to be impressed with Furuno’s DRS6AX digital radar array.

Chelle handled the initial watch from the anchorage until sunset, Rick took the first and third night shifts, with Chelle getting stuck with the middle “graveyard” shift from 0100 to 0500.  In the end it didn’t matter much as neither of us slept worth a damn.  We saw and heard almost no other traffic once we were a few miles north of the Keys island chain.  One exception was S/V Grace, who hailed us on the VHF while traveling in the opposite direction, asking if we had any weather data for the western Keys….they had departed Englewood the previous day and were headed to the Marquesas and Tortugas. Rick switched over to our XM Weather display screen, called up the zone forecast for that area and read it back to them.  They were pleased to hear the forecast for surprisingly benign conditions.
Another Shot of the Dual Radar Display....No Crab Pots on the Short Range
Screen But the Longer Range (6 NM) Shows the Rain Showers

Between 2200 and midnight we encountered some small storms and scattered rain showers in mid Florida Bay, easily discerned with the XM Weather and longer range radar displays.  We deviated about five miles to the east to avoid a small thunderstorm but otherwise it was a smooth and uneventful cruise….until we came around Cape Romano Shoals and near Marco Island early on Wednesday, 21-November.  That’s when we lost the land-blocking of the north wind which by then had picked up to near 20 knots and suddenly it went from smooth to waffle iron conditions – only three footers, but square and at nasty one second intervals.  Ghost Rider certainly didn’t care, but we pulled back the throttle a bit and slowed, mainly to allow better sleeping conditions.  Luckily it was all straight on the nose so the lack of roll stabilization was not a factor.
Sunrise Near Naples as We Chugged North to Fort Myers

After putting another 30 miles behind us the conditions calmed considerably as we regained some protection from the west curvature of the Sanibel, Cape Coral and Fort Myers land masses.  Sunrise brought clear skies and a temp of 68F which felt cooler in the 12 knot north breeze plus our 8 knots of forward movement, with one foot seas….an easy approach to and up the Caloosahatchee River.  We finally reached our home port, Legacy Harbour Marina, in downtown Fort Myers just after 0930 and docked up – slowly and carefully, we were tired – without incident.  According to our Garmin inReach tracker on this final leg we covered 134 nautical miles in just over 18 hours.

Ghost Rider was coated bow to stern and top to bottom with three days’ worth of salt, and while we were pretty much worn out we gave Ghost Rider a thorough wash down of her exterior, wiped down the windows, covered the fly bridge and dinghy, and double-checked the fenders and dock lines.  We packed some bags and headed home to our condo.  It had been 8 months, 1 week and 1 day since we had departed from the same dock.  4,000 nautical miles later we were happy to be back home.
Ghost Rider Back Home at Legacy Harbor in Fort Myers

** Footnotes on Boat Business

** Rick replaced the generator’s raw water pump….it had developed an intermittent water leak that only manifested after shutting the unit down, but it would have eventually failed.

** Alex Graham, our diesel tech, repaired two main engine oil leaks, one at the front bearing oil seal, the other at the base of the dispstick housing….Alex graciously did both gratis by extending his warranty period on his previous work.

** Randy Brenner replaced both the A/C compressor and air handler for pilot house…Randy is Yacht Tech’s preferred Cruisair tech, & he got this done with surprising ease…albeit expensively...not Randy's fault, it's the Cruisair parts that are pricy.

** As for flushing the A/C system with “Barnacle Buster”….Randy pressure tested the system and talked Rick out of this for now.

** The repair of a leaking line connector on the water maker turned out to be easy….it’s some kind of proprietary quick connect joint that we had “fixed” with a  wrap of rescue tape….turns out all we had to do is reseat the inner o-ring.

** Yacht Tech performed the annual hydraulics maintenance….replacing the cooling pump impeller & return filter, and lubing u-joints in the drive mechanisms & topping off the fluid.

** Yacht Tech also took care of the wing engine coolant flush & hose replacements, plus pencil zincs. (Rick will handle the same for the genset after we’re settled in Fort Myers.)

** As for the stabilizer actuators oil leaks….while we contemplated getting the Naiad techs to inspect and assess, we just decided to add some oil (that part is cheap) and see if there are any real performance issues…see next new item.

** New (Open) Item: The starboard stabilizer fin started making clunking / knocking noises on the leg to Marathon; we pinned and disabled the system for the last leg and now have to figure out what the hell needs to be done.

** Another New (Open) Item: The throttle lever for the wing engine fell apart; Rick wants to get the entire assembly replaced with a new unit if we can find one.

Our Final Track From Marathon North to Fort Myers.
That Little Jog to the East in the Middle of Florida Bay Was to Skirt a Small Thunderstorm.

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Oct/Nov 2018: From St. Augustine to Palm Beach

Our Track Capture from St. Augustine to Palm Beach & OPC
We experienced another beautiful fall morning on Monday, 29-October, departing the St. Augustine Municipal docks at 0900 to chug further south.  Air temp started off around 60F with low humidity and light winds, and sea conditions out in the Atlantic were actually pretty good. That would have been a nice change for us, but the longer term forecast out there wasn’t so attractive, so we stuck to the inside ICW route.

Once you get south of St. Augustine the tide variations and attendant currents taper off quite a bit, and that results in fewer shoaling areas in this part of the ditch….although the depths rarely get much more than about 15 feet.  Still, it made for a fairly relaxing run, with only a few bridges to negotiate openings; at one we were able to lower the big antennae and squeeze under its 23 foot span by carefully keeping Ghost Rider in the middle of its channel.  Temps rose to the low 80’s by mid-afternoon, it was a really nice day on the water.

Halifax Harbor Marina Near Daytona
We arrived in the Daytona area just after 1500 and Chelle handled the helm duties for the alongside tie at the Halifax Harbor T-head dock.  We didn’t bother with hosing down the boat this time as the smooth ride down the ICW didn’t result in any salt spray, so we had ample time for Chelle’s walk and general relaxation.  We enjoyed another laid back evening on the docks and boat.

It was another delightful sunny morning when we arose just before 0800 on Tuesday, 30-October, although we could detect a warming trend as we plied further south, with temps eventually getting into the lower 80’s.  Winds were light out of the north and there wasn’t much traffic on the ICW….unless you counted the numerous pods of dolphin, who apparently like to hunt this entire stretch of narrow waterways.
Numerous Bottlenose Dolphin Flew Our Wing on the Way Down the ICW

From Flagler Beach all the way down to the Canaveral area we had flurries of Bottlenose action going on around us, and they frequently flew formation with Ghost Rider for long spells, both on the bow and alongside.  At our leisurely 8.5 knot pace, they didn't have any problem keeping up.  (Video LINK HERE.) We did have several bridges to negotiate, but we could scoot under all the low ones without waiting for an opening by lowering the big SSB and VHF sticks.  One in particular was a bit tight – the George Musson bridge’s sideboards showed just over 21 feet at the edges (we need 23 feet with antennae down) but there was an extra two feet in the middle that provided just enough clearance.

It was a smooth ride all the way down the ditch to the Canaveral area, although depths did diminish a bit in a few areas, showing less than four feet under the keel.  We were riding a bit low after taking on that load of fuel back in Fernandina, so we were pretty religious about keeping to the center line of the channel.  Around 1715 we approached our planned anchorage just west of Merritt Island, dropped the hook in 12 feet of water, and got a solid set on the first attempt.  As the sun dipped below the horizon temps cooled to a very pleasant range and we were again able to open up the boat and sleep without running the generator.
Another Fine Sunset, This One at Anchor Just West of Merritt Island Near the Cape

Wednesday, 31-October brought us another fine morning, sunny with mid-70’s and just a tinge of humidity in the air.  After cranking up the genset for some battery charging we tended to our usual weather and email checks, picked up the hook right at 0900 and continued motoring south down the ICW, with Fort Pierce as our destination today.

We found slightly deeper water on this sortie and about the same number of Bottlenose dolphins as the day before….not exactly a swarm but on occasion it was close to that, and once again they seemed to enjoy the formation flying.  ICW traffic was a bit heavier today, and most seemed to have no passing etiquette whatsoever – we got rolled around a few times by big cruisers digging big holes in the water.  We would just arm the stabilizers while Rick imagined firing a post-pass stern shot torpedo.  We had several bridges with which to deal once again, but we were able to squeeze under all of them after lowering the big sticks.
One of Many ICW Bridges -- This One is on the Haulover Canal

Along the way we got pinged by Ron and Mercedes aboard N47 Moonrise, who had departed Charleston a few days earlier and were now running long on the outside about 20 miles ahead of us.  They were looking for a port to get some rest, so we recommended the Fort Pierce City Marina if they cared to hook up….and that’s how it played out.  They arrived there mid-afternoon and we pulled in around 1600, both of us fortunate to get easy alongside slips on the concrete floating docks.

After tending to post-flight duties and a quick hose down of the boat from the rub rail down, we cleaned up and relaxed a bit.  We met Ron & Mercedes at the marina restaurant around 1830 and enjoyed a tasty Halloween dinner on the deck with them, then moved the party to Ghost Rider's salon for a nightcap.
Rick, Chelle, Mercedes & Ron Celebrating Halloween with Dinner & Drinks
Ron & Mercedes' N47, Moonrise, Moored Just Across from Ghost Rider at Fort Pierce City Marina
We slept in the morning of Thursday, 01-November waiting on a good (incoming) tide cycle before starting our final leg down the ICW.  The sea forecast out in the Atlantic was rather confusing….nearby they were calling for four to six feet but at 12 second intervals, which sounded just fine; but for the next zone to the south the prognosis was for five footers at five second intervals – that would be no fun at all.  By 1030 the winds were already up to 20 knots out of the south, and that cinched it for us – it would be another day running down the inside.

By 1100 we were back out in the channel motoring south and doing our best to keep to the centerline; we expected several shallow stretches today.  By noon we had an air temp of 80F, humidity back up at 61%, and that stiff southerly breeze even churned some open parts of the ICW with a short, square chop up to a foot.  As long as we didn’t start bouncing off the bottom the decision to run inside was looking good.

The Stretch of the ICW Passing Jupiter Island Features Some
Monstrous Estate Homes
Just after 1300 we reached the St. Lucie Inlet / Stuart area where we knew we would encounter the skinniest water depths; the combination of the St. Lucie River intersecting the ICW and the ocean inlet made the area notorious for currents and shoaling.  At one point we saw 1 ½ feet of depth below the keel but that was the worst of it and we slipped through that dicey area without incident.  The remainder of the trip was uneventful other than having to negotiate numerous no-wake zones and a lot of bridges, but once again we found we could squeeze under them by lowering the two 23 foot antennae.  We arrived at the entrance channel to Old Port Cove just before 1700, but took a slight detour south into the big Lake Worth channel for about 15 minutes – this was the only stretch where we could put Ghost Rider through her wide-open-throttle (WOT) paces.  Once that was completed we turned back north to OPC and were docked up shortly thereafter.

After we got the boat and ourselves cleaned up James Knight and Jay Flaherty from Yacht Tech (our preferred service center – LINK HERE) stopped by for a drink, but more to chat about the “punch list” we had sent them a week or so ago, and just generally catch up on Nordy community news.  Later we placed a to-go food order with the marina’s Sandpiper restaurant and enjoyed a relaxing dinner on the boat before crashing into our comfy bunk for a good night’s sleep.
Our Track from Baltimore, MD to Palm Beach, FL, Covering About
1,000 Nautical Miles from 30-Sep to 01-Nov.

Friday, 02-November was a transition day for us, as we were about to take a two week break from the boat.  Chelle rented a car and by mid-day had departed for Fort Myers to pick up our car and prepare the condo for our imminent arrival.  Rick spent most of the day on boat business, retrieving a load of packages that were waiting on us here at OPC and then whittling down the long list of Wheelhouse maintenance items that we had deferred over the past week or so.  That catch-up would continue into the weekend, plus we had that big ticket punch list for Yacht Tech (and others) to work through beginning the following week (see the “Boat Business” footnote below.)

During this break we’ll fly to the Midwest to visit with family in St. Louis and Quincy, and also attend an annual charity event about which we’re passionate; and hopefully by the time we return the boat business will be largely completed.  After that we’ll find a weather window to bring Ghost Rider around the state and back to her home in Fort Myers, where we’ll spend the winter and enjoy the holiday period with friends and family.

So while we do not yet have the boat back to her home port, we are close and at least back in south Florida.  We seemed to have survived this tropical storm season without much drama and were able to make every region and port we had set out to visit.  Since March we had covered over 3,700 nautical miles, burning approximately 1,900 gallons of diesel fuel in the process, going as far north as Baltimore, MD while also diverting to the Bahamas for over a month along the way.  We visited old friends and made new ones, and largely managed to stay in good health the entire time.  Overall Ghost Rider performed brilliantly, although we learned that a 16 year old trawler can get somewhat expensive if you are serious about keeping its systems in good tactical condition.  Lastly, our own acts of occasional stupidity were relatively few and recoverable, while we continued to learn a lot along the way.  And we don’t believe we damaged or injured any humans, animals, property or the environment in the process.

** Footnotes on Boat Business

We generally plan on visiting the Yacht Tech service center about every six months to tend to periodic big ticket maintenance items – some being scheduled recurring preventive services, others qualifying as “break/fix”.  The major items on our punch list this time around are:

** Replace the generator’s raw water pump….it had developed an intermittent water leak that currently only manifested after shutting the unit down, but would eventually fail.  Rick already had the new part on hand and actually completed this one at the bottom of the page.

** Fix two main engine oil leaks, one at the front bearing oil seal, the other at the base of the dispstick housing….we have been dealing with these since purchasing the boat and we want to get them permanently addressed.

** Replace both the A/C compressor and air handler for pilot house…only the compressor is actually dead (frozen piston) but unfortunately at 16 years old Cruisair no longer makes a drop-in replacement and a new R-410 refrigerant system is required…which involves a new & compatible air handler, too.

** At the same time we want to have the entire A/C system flushed with “Barnacle Buster”….in the warm waters where we travel that’s simply a must-do every few years.

** Both stabilizer actuators have oil leaks….Rick’s guess is the feedback valves are scored (again), with the starboard side being worse (we’ve already replaced that one twice); we want to get the Naiad techs aboard again to inspect and assess.

** Repair a leaking line connector on the water maker….it’s some kind of proprietary quick connect joint that we had “fixed” with a  wrap of rescue tape.

** Annual hydraulics maintenance is due….generally that involves replacing the cooling pump impeller & return filter, and lubing any u-joints in the drive mechanisms; Rick wants to observe and learn how to do it himself in the future.

** Both the wing engine and generator are due for a coolant flush & maybe a couple of hose replacements, plus pencil zincs; Rick wants to observe and learn how to do these himself in the future without flooding the engine room with antifreeze solution.

** Then there is the standard spare parts refresh, including some miscellaneous zinc anodes plus air and coolant filters for the main engine, and some new weather stripping so Rick can repair the fly bridge hatch rain water leak.

The Old Raw (Sea) Water Pump on the Genset Just Before Removal....It Had Started a Slow & Intermittent
Leak of Seawater & We Didn't Want to Wait for a Catastrophic Failure
After Removing Four Bolts and Two Hoses the Old Pump Came Out Fairly Easily.  But That Sprocket Gear Has to Be
Removed and Installed on the New Replacement Pump, and That Turned Out to be a Chore.
The New Pump Installed & Operational.  We Ran the Genset Under Load for 45 Minutes Afterwards
 to Confirm No Leaks and Normal Operating Temps.  All Good.