Sunday, May 15, 2016

May 11th-15th : Marco Island to Key West

Chelle Maneuvering in Close Quarters
We spent Wednesday (the 11th) hanging out at Marco Island (The Marina at Factory Bay….nice place with floating concrete docks and friendly staff, but the Wi-Fi was a bit dated and the cable TV feed appeared to be tango uniform).  We had a few maintenance items to tend to in the morning, and then in the afternoon we spent a couple of hours doing donuts in the marina – Michelle got some good practice maneuvering the boat in close quarters, including back-and-fills as well as stern-in and parallel docking maneuvers.  The admiral is getting quite good at it.  Afterwards we got cleaned up and we walked to one of favorite restaurants, the Marco Pub & Grille, and enjoyed a great evening meal there.

Black Simmer in Action
For the 2nd consecutive evening on the fly bridge we witnessed the grace and precision flying of the Black Skimmer…these sea birds fly fast and low to the water, so low that they dip their beaks into the water as they fly at speed, just millimeters above the water, and in close formation to boot.  Makes us old USAF pilots a bit jealous.

On Thursday (the 12th) we continued our journey south, making our way across Florida Bay to the Little Shark River….we departed at 0900 and had a smooth sortie to the south with flat seas, temps in the mid 80’s and reasonable humidity.  Once again we piloted the entire leg from the fly bridge.  At one point we were joined in close formation by a trio of dolphins who decided our bow wave was a good place to cruise for about 10 minutes.

Dolphins in the Bow Wave
Anchored Near Little Shark River
We dropped the hook at 1700 about a mile offshore from the mouth of the Little Shark River to avoid the bugs that are overly abundant in the Everglades this time of year.  The westerly sea breeze died out shortly afterwards and winds resumed from the east, and we had a pleasant night at anchor.  We were even able to spend an evening happy hour on the fly bridge with only an occasional bug strafing the bridge.

As for boat stuff: 
·         The water maker (an FCI Aquamiser with a 480 GPD rating) initially would not power up; on a second try later in the day it came back to life, but then it started to cut out at frequent intervals; it turned out to be a loose wire in the unit's control box back in the lazarette, which was an easy fix, although it took me a while to find it.

·         The #2 battery group in the house bank (Lifeline GPL-8DL, located in the lazarette) had temps trending up again even though they are new.  While still within theoretical limits, we are concerned about the trend and the delta vs. the other batts.

Anchored Near Boot Key Harbor
On Friday (the 13th) – we are not superstitious – we sortied further south, this time another short hop (6 hours) to Marathon.  Weather again was excellent, and Florida Bay was absolutely flat, so it was another drive-from-the-fly bridge day.  And we once again were intercepted by a formation of bottlenose dolphin that enjoyed cruising along with us in Ghost Rider's bow wave.

Marathon Marina never returned our calls for a slip reservation request (something about dock renovations), so we blew them off and just dropped the hook a short distance from the entrance to Boot Key Harbor.  It worked out well, as we spent a comfortable evening at anchor, albeit in some fairly shallow water (for us.)

More boat stuff:
·         Nobeltec Odyssey, which is our primary nav software (runs on the ship’s PC separate from the Furuno chart plotters) was doing a very poor job of calculating ETA…turns out it was receiving an erroneous (low) STW signal & once that was turned off, its SOG and ETA calculations returned to normal.  An easy fix, but it took me a whole day to figure it out.

·         The #2 battery group in the house bank is still a sore point and source of concern….after 13 hours of continuous charging its temp (for batt B) was @ 95F….within specs but well above the other batt temps; we have no clue as to why, and continue to monitor.

·         In troubleshooting the battery heat problem I changed some settings on our Xantrex LinkPro battery monitor (trying to get a remote temp readout) but pretty much FUBAR’d the damned thing in the process; will be re-reading the owner / operator manual in my spare time trying to get it back to ops normal.

On Saturday (the 14th) we departed Marathon and headed down-chain towards Key West, pulling the hook at 0915 and cruising down Hawk Channel.  It was another perfect weather day with nothing more than a light chop inside the reef.  For the third day in a row we flew formation with dolphins in the bow wave.

We made Conch Harbor Marina by 1500, squeezed into our assigned slip with no issues, and gave Ghost Rider a thorough fresh water shower.

Luna -- a Very Big Boat
As an aside, we passed a yacht named Luna on our way into Key West harbor (see pic); the thing is monstrous at 377 feet LOA.  Its beam exceeds Ghost Rider’s length.  It even has its own Wikipedia page:

Conch Harbor is Crowded
Today (the 15th) we hung out at the marina while tending to some boat chores -- topping off fresh water, pumping out the holding tank, and loading routes into the computer for the Dry Tortuga legs.

And more boat stuff:
·         That irksome # 2 house battery group peaked at 105F and then backed down to 99-101F at the end of this last sortie; today it had settled in at around 95.  We will continue to monitor.

·         The LinkPro battery monitor is now dead, with no power to the gauge.  Checked all fuses.  
Maybe we're better off without the damned thing.

Tomorrow we plan to head further west out to the Dry Tortugas National Park, assuming we don't have any more battery issues.  That means we'll be off the grid until the end of the week.  Weather looks a bit spotty but good enough for us.  We'll check in via the Spot tracker each day, plus will be cranking up the single side band radio.