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.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

October 2018: From Edisto Island to St. Augustine

Our Track from Edisto Island to the Hilton Head Area.
The morning of Saturday, 20-October came damned early for us….we set the alarm for 0700 so we could time our departure from Paul and Dee Dee’s Edisto home at a relatively high tide and an outgoing current.  Temps and humidity were both already in the mid-70’s by 0815 when we thrusted away from the dock and spun Ghost Rider around to head further south.  The ride down-river was relatively quick with the pushing current and it was very smooth, but that changed quickly once we got outside and back into the Atlantic waters. 

Winds were brisk out of the southwest at 15+ knots, producing white-capped wind waves of three to four feet on top of dual swells running two to three feet, all at narrow intervals.  And we were punching straight into it all….for about four hours, with frequent salt water spraying over the fly bridge.  We quickly retreated to the pilot house helm. Eventually, around 1300, we reach our turn point for the entry channel into Port Royal sound, and that more northerly vector put the lousy seas more to our beam – the stabilizers got a workout and the autopilot heading control was sloppy, but we were no longer banging the bulbous bow like a judge’s gavel.
Sunset Got Obscured by the Clouds as Showers Moved Through the Area

About an hour later we had ducked in behind the lee of Hilton Head Island and intercepted the ICW for a very smooth run down to Daufuskie Island and the Cooper River, where we turned off into Bull Creek and dropped the anchor around 1615.  We set the hook on the first try and there was only one other boat in the expansive anchorage, making for a stress-free camping arrangement for the night.  (Tides run +/- seven feet here, but Bull Creek has plenty of depth if you plan for the current swings.) A band of moderate rain showers moved through about an hour before sunset as a cold front approached the area, but we were closed up with generator and A/C running in the moist 85F air, and welcomed the free wash down.

Sunset in the Hilton Head / Daufuskie Anchorage on the Second Night There
After checking the updated weather and seas forecast we decided that we would spend an extra day here – six foot seas were on tomorrow’s menu and we decided we would pass on that (and we wanted to avoid most of the “inside” ICW route in this area.)  After dinner Chelle settled in with a video and Rick vegged out with game seven of the NLCS via the satellite TV….with a Goombay Ghost at the ready.  By late evening the rain had moved out and air temps had moderated with a pleasant breeze, so we opened up the boat, shut down the generator and let the house battery bank and inverter do their jobs while we slept comfortably.

It was pretty obvious that a cold front has transited the region on the morning of Sunday, 21-October.  At 0800 the outside air temperature was hovering in the 50’s and a brisk north wind made it feel even cooler.  We cranked up the genset to recharge the batteries and ran the A/C in heat mode with doors and windows still open – which sounds counter intuitive, but that kept us comfy and the generator happily loaded.

Moonrise Over Hilton Head's Harbor Town in the Distance
Around mid-day we launched the dinghy so Chelle could go explore; she was in search of a local rum distillery but that turned out to be closed on Sundays.  Meanwhile, after shutting down the generator, Rick checked the latest weather and worked on alternative routing in case we had to use “inside” ICW options.   For now it appeared that sea conditions would be tolerable on the outside for the next day’s planned route, but after that it was getting iffy depending on which forecast source we looked at.  The portions of the ICW from Hilton Head down to St. Augustine aren’t very attractive to an ocean going vessel that drafts six feet, but we wanted to know our options and risks.

Shortly before sunset we cranked up the genset again, spooled the dinghy back to its perch on the boat deck, gave the batts another charge sequence, and had a quiet dinner aboard.  It would be another cool night, but moderate enough that we did not need to run the generator for heat.

On Monday, 22-October we arose at 0800 and were greeted by sunny skies, cool temps (upper 50’s) and a brisk northeast breeze.  It took us a while to crank in the 200 feet of chain we had deployed, but it came up clean this time, with only a large glob of mud and shells clinging to the anchor itself where it had dug in for a good set.  By 0915 we were underway, cutting across the Bloody Point Range to the Tybee Roads Channel and out into the Atlantic. 

The forecast of two to three feet seas was overly optimistic as it didn’t take long before we were in three to six foot seas. The southeast heading required to exit via the channel gave us considerable spray with waves quartering on the port bow; Rick reworked our planned route so that we could make a turn to the SSW a bit earlier, and after that it was still rolly but at least we were then sledding mostly downhill.  There was no bow banging but you needed at least one hand free to hold on to something when moving about the boat.
From Our Anchorage in Sapelo Sound Looking Back Towards the NE
and the Atlantic....Which Earlier Had Been a Boiling Mess

Later in the afternoon conditions got a bit worse rather than improving as the other part of the (largely inaccurate) forecast had predicted, and we saw an occasional eight footer.  After turning in towards Sapelo Sound one of those big ones broadsided Ghost Rider – things went flying back in the salon, including the weighted pedestal table and Chelle’s laptop….which fortunately landed on the settee cushion instead of the floor.  To top things off, as we got nearer to land and seas started to let up just a bit, directly on the nose about a mile out we saw a churning mess of ripping white water in the middle of the channel – in what was supposed to be 20 to 25 feet of water according to our three sets of charts.  Clearly it wasn’t that deep, as there was a boiling rage of breaking water going on there.

Sunset Partially Obscured in Our Sapelo Sound Anchorage
We saw good water to the south, so we slowed down and took a 40 degree detour in that direction, leaving the churning mess (and the useless red daybeacon #6) a good 200 meters to our north; we corrected back to course shortly thereafter and had an uneventful ride to our chosen anchorage site.  We dropped the hook in 10 feet of water and, given the now 20 knot northeast wind and seven foot tide changes, let out nearly 200 feet of rode; we backed down at a robust 1300 RPM to confirm a good set, attached the anchor snubber and finally were able to relax.  We had a quiet dinner, checked the forecast (in which we now had no confidence) and called it a day.

At just after 0700 on Tuesday, 23-October, Rick checked the forecast and current weather conditions – it looked the same as the day before and the wind was already at 15 knots from the northeast.  We also had a solid overcast and (unpredicted) light scattered showers just off the coast.  In other words we didn’t trust the forecast. We had a high tide coming up and lasting through most of the morning so we decided to head down the inside ICW route towards St. Simons, departing at 0815.
Welcome to the SC / GA Stretch of the AICW

This ICW region is a spider web of interleaving rivers running through flat, low and featureless grassland.  With nearly constant twists and turns you have to be alert the entire way – being vigilant for shoal areas, but also for current flows and turbulence at the intersections that can alter your heading when you really can’t afford much weaving about.  We were happy that we had a healthy tide under us, as we saw as low as three-to-four foot depths under the keel even with a six foot tide.  Initially we had a pushing current in which we averaged eight to nine knots chugging downstream; that switched around late morning and we saw less than six knots SOG for a short spell; and then after passing yet another river feeding into the channel we regained another three knots.

We arrived at Morningstar Marina in St. Simons just after 1300, and since the current was still running hot we nosed into it and docked port-side-to at their outside face dock.  Chelle went for a long walk and Rick gave Ghost Rider a much needed wash down, topped off water tanks, took care of some routine maintenance checks and then rested for a spell.

That evening we walked up to the marina restaurant, the Coastal Kitchen, and were glad we did.  Chelle had the blackened Redfish, which she pronounced better than any she’d had in Florida; and Rick devoured a truly gourmet Angus beef cheeseburger; we’d definitely recommend and go back to this place.  We returned to the boat in time to fall asleep watching the first game of the World Series between the Dodgers and Red Sox.

Ghost Rider Tied Alongside at Morningstar Marina Near St. Simons

Because of the nasty sea conditions on the outside (six to eight footers) we were stuck with once again taking the inside route further south.  So once again we rose early on the morning of Wednesday, 24-October to take advantage of the high tide level to compensate for the skinny water in this part of the ICW.  The current wasn’t too hot so we got Ghost Rider off the dock without needing to sound the collision alarm.  Weather was pleasant – mostly sunny, a tad cool with temps in the low 60’s.

Our destination was Fernandina, Florida.  It was less than a 40 nautical mile run but once again involved winding, narrow and shallow waterways in addition to a couple of stretches open to the outside where we could tell the Atlantic waters had to be an absolute mess….we saw three footers crossing Jekyll and St. Andrews Sounds.  By sheer coincidence our timing and path put us about two miles behind another Nordhavn, N40 Kemo Sabe.  We had passed them going in opposite directions back in Chesapeake Bay in mid-September.  Kristin on Kemo Sabe kept us informed about certain depth areas where charts were noted to be inaccurate and where the use of third party tracks was recommended (Bob Sherer, aka Bob423, is the source for guidance in those cases. LINK.)
Passing Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay

Eventually we made our way down the ICW and towards Cumberland Sound, where we passed by the US Navy’s Kings Bay installation, home port to the U.S. Atlantic submarine fleet.  The ICW runs extremely close to that base, and the squids always have at least two patrol boats cruising the perimeter to eyeball passing traffic as a precautionary measure; we proceeded slowly at no wake speeds per their regs and avoided their high caliber attention.  About an hour later we arrived at Fernandina and the Port Consolidated fuel dock, by which time the winds were clocking hard from the northeast at 20 knots and the tide / current was running hard, but now in the opposite direction. 

The fuel dock was exposed to wind, waves and the current but at sub-three dollar pricing for diesel fuel we decided to give it a go; Chelle arranged fenders for a port-side-to approach downwind but into the current, and Rick eased Ghost Rider to an offset position parallel to the tall fixed dock.  Using a combo of engine thrust and opposing thrusters to brake the approach rate we got tied up without event, took on 720 gallons of fuel in about an hour, wrote them a big check, and then got the hell out of there without any fiberglass damage.
Submarine Repair Pen at Kings Bay

During the fueling process we had been eyeballing the local anchorage options and were not impressed – it was an unattractive industrial area, and quite exposed to the brisk north winds.  Since it was still only mid-afternoon we decided to back track a few miles to the north and return to the protected Cumberland Sound area where we had anchored some months before.  By 1530 we had dropped the hook there but were not comfy with its set….Chelle, from her vantage point at the fly bridge helm, thought we were dragging. 

So we winched the chain and anchor back to the boat for a second attempt.  But as the big Manson anchor came back to the bow pulpit the anchor’s shank managed to wedge itself between the roller and anchor guide.  The nut on the end of the big stainless bolt upon which the anchor roller rotates had sheared it cotter pin and partially backed out, creating a perfect space for the anchor shank to wedge between the roller and the guide.  It was stuck and going nowhere.  Shit.

Rick scrambled down to the engine room to grab a handful of tools – including a hammer and crowbar – while Chelle turned Ghost Rider around and kept her in deep water while we noodled a solution.  Eventually Rick managed to dislodge the anchor from its wedgie, removed the mangled cotter pin, over-tightened the bolt/nut on the roller, and we found another nearby spot to drop and set the anchor without shedding any key ground tackle parts.  In the calmer aftermath we determined we had no spare cotter pins aboard (oops), so Rick fashioned a workaround using stainless steel seizing wire to keep the bow roller and pin from backing off and falling into the seas.
A Nice Sunset at the Cumberland Anchorage

So we finally settled in for the day, and while it was a little lumpy in the anchorage with the still-stiff northeast breeze, we relaxed comfortably that evening

We had studied the weather forecast the night before, and on the morning of Thursday, 25-October we confirmed our thoughts – we would not see pleasant conditions inside or outside for the next two days; so we decided to stay right where we were until this next front passed.  Cumberland isn’t a bad place to hang on the hook.  We had a laid back morning tending to some basic boat chores and administrative items, then launched the dinghy.  Chelle took the tender to shore to join Wayne and Kristin (from Kemo Sabe who were anchored nearby) for some walking exercise and beach strolling over on the Atlantic side of Cumberland Island while Rick placed some Amazon orders (including cotter pins) and started his search for the now defunct exhaust motor fan for the master head…with no success after pulling five panels.
Walking the Beach on the Atlantic Side of Cumberland Island

That evening Wayne and Kristin joined us aboard Ghost Rider for an extended happy hour so we could swap sea stories and other lies over good drinks and light snacks.  We also shared our experience at the Port Consolidated fuel dock down in Fernandina since they were hoping to head there tomorrow to top off their tanks as well.  Some light rain moved in that evening, so we closed up the boat but still had a peaceful and comfortable night at anchor.

The morning of Friday, 26-October dawned with weather as predicted – overcast, windy, with light rain.  The winds had finally subsided somewhat so the anchorage was smooth enough for comfort.  We cranked up the generator per our standard routine and gave the house batts a good charge, then checked weather forecasts for the coming days.  Atmospheric conditions were looking good beginning the next morning, but the sea forecast was ever-changing and not in a good way.  It was looking like yet another inside run tomorrow down to St. Augustine.

So we went to work on the route, carefully cross-checking with hazards noted in both Active Captain and the Waterway Guide’s resources (where Bob423 also posts), and made route modifications accordingly.  We also checked tides all along the way, and decided upon a Saturday departure time between 0900 and 0930 to take maximum advantage of the higher tides as further insurance against the many shoaling areas we would be traversing.
An Ohio Class Ballistic Missile Sub Departing Kings Bay for the Open Ocean

Around mid-day Chelle went for a spin in the tender but she had to cut it short due to another approaching line of showers and the potential for thunderstorms.  The rest of the afternoon was spent on administrative items, and between rain showers Chelle did her best to clean up the dinghy which was looking pretty sad after plenty of use over the past month.  We did have one interesting distraction around 1300 when a small flotilla of U.S. Coast Guard patrol boats headed out from Kings Bay to start clearing the area for the imminent departure of a warship.  A short while later we saw an Ohio class ballistic missile submarine rapidly moving down the channel and heading towards the Atlantic,with a pair of USCG escorts leading and trailing.  The Navy calls those boomers “boats” but with a length of 560 feet and a beam of 42 feet, it is definitely not a small vessel.

By 1730 the ugly weather had cleared out so we hopped into the tender and zipped a few hundred meters over to Kemo Sabe for a reciprocal happy hour event.  We had not been on a Nordy 40 before and besides enjoying the company of Wayne and Kristin, who are eminently welcoming and charming, we also got a tour of a classic Nordhavn design.  The N40 circumnavigated the planet back in 2002 as one of Nordhavn’s marketing efforts, so while on the smaller end of the scale, it is a sturdy vessel and capable passage maker.  Its interior layout is also amazingly efficient and spacious.

Wayne & Kristin's Nordhavn 40, Kemo Sabe, at Anchor Off of Cumberland Island
Chelle, Kristin & Wayne Aboard Kemo Sabe Having Some Fun
Just after sunset we returned to Ghost Rider for dinner and a ball game (game three of the World Series) which eventually went eighteen innings and over seven hours….we did not stay up for all of that.

On the morning of Saturday, 27-October we retrieved the dinghy, started engines and after spooling in the anchor got underway just before 0930.  Since it was lumpy again on the outside, our timing was planned so as to ride down the inside ICW route on good tides most of the day to help us negotiate some of the shallower stretches, and there were many.  Using guidance from Active Captain and the Waterway Guide (Bob423) we chugged through the nasty areas without incident.

Passing Fernandina Headed South to St. Augustine....Very Industrial
But the strangest stretch was down near Port Jax as we crossed the St. John’s River; Kemo Sabe had hailed us earlier (they had departed about an hour before us) and warned us to disregard the charts in that area and follow the ATONs visually.  That turned out to be very good advice, as all of our charts were extremely inaccurate in that particular area….at one point indicating we were boating on top of an island.

Crossing the St. John's River....Note Where the Channel is Depicted vs. Where
Our Boat Symbol Ended Up to Stay in the Real Channel
Even though the weather was still cool (low to mid 60’s) and with a stiff westerly wind blowing, you could tell it was a weekend; the Jax area in particular was busy with runabouts, ski craft and fishing skiffs.  But they were all well behaved.  South of Jacksonville the ICW actually sported some scenery, that is if you count rows of one, two and three story docks and big custom homes in that category.  We were also seeing numerous pods of bottlenose dolphin all the way from Cumberland down to St. Augustine.

The ICW is Like a Big Canal Just South of Jacksonville with Some
Nice Homes and Docks
This was the first time we had approached the St. Augustine inlet from the north on the ICW….and it was confusing as hell in a couple of areas.  Just like the Jax area the charts do not match the ATONs, and on top of that we had sailboats making life a little challenging.  First, as we approached the Usina bridge where Kemo Sabe had just warned us 30 minutes before that the depths got a bit skinny, a vessel under sail suddenly angled in to the bridge, crabbing at an odd offset going in the opposite direction and under the bridge span.  Rick quickly backed Ghost Rider down and made a 180 turn to let it have the channel, then re-positioned us for a another approach in the ripping current. 

Shortly thereafter we encountered the St. Augustine inlet area, where constant shoaling is cause for relocating the floating channel markers at frequent intervals: we followed those and what our eyes told us, not the charts....very similar to the St. John's River experience earler.  Then as we came up on the Bridge of Lions yet another sailboat approached from the opposite direction and at the last moment was given right-of-way by the bridge tender; Rick backed Ghost Rider down once again to stand off the bridge, but by this time we were past the inlet and the current was now on our nose, so it was a much easier maneuver.

Ghost Rider Approaching the St. Augustine Municipal Marina Just
South of the Bridge of Lions....Photo Courtesy of Kemo Sabe

After that (just past 1700) we had nearly an hour to burn – we did not want to enter the Municipal Marina with the current running at two to three knots given our tight slip assignment, so we went down-river for a spell, got our WOT run accomplished, then turned back to the marina as slack tide/current approached.  As we approached the marina we passed by Kemo Sabe which was hanging on one of the city's mooring balls.  We got docked up just before 1800 without any issues, and other than accomplishing some basic post-flight tasks we deferred clean-up until the next morning…it was time to relax.

By daybreak on Sunday, 28-October the skies were a clear and crystalline blue with a bright sun but a brisk 55F temperature.  It was a perfect fall day in northeast Florida.  After coffee, donuts, email checks and a depressing news fix, we spent the morning catching up on boat chores.  That included picking up packages, recharging our SpotFree fresh water filter canister, some laundry, topping off water tanks, putting a stainless cotter pin back into the anchor bow roller (from one of our packages), and adding some oil to the main engine to compensate for some of the main seal leakage over the past month.  Kristin and Wayne from Kemo Sabe also stopped by after they had ferried in for a walk through town.
Ghost Rider Sitting Comfortably and Now Cleaner in Her Slip at the Muni Marina
By early afternoon temps had warmed, so for lunch we walked across the street to OC White’s Seafood & Spirits restaurant and enjoyed shrimp melt sandwiches on their open air patio; there’s no shortage of excellent eateries in this charming waterfront town.  After that, though, it was time to head back to the boat and give Ghost Rider a much needed shower followed by a soapy brushing in several areas; she was getting rather gritty in spots.  What she really needed was another detail and wax job, but that would have to wait until we returned to Fort Myers.

After all that we cleaned ourselves up, performed some final route checking for the next day’s run down to Daytona, and relaxed with some Goombay Ghosts, wine, and a casual dinner aboard the boat.
Our Track from Edisto Island Down to St. Augustine