Tuesday, July 24, 2018

July 2018: Savannah to Edisto to Charleston

Our Track from Savannah to Edisto to Charleston
First to address one of our reader’s typical questions:  during this blog entry’s time frame, as far as we know, nothing new broke or went wrong; nor did any previous fix come undone.  And yes, that might be a first.  We’re not superstitious, so we don't think we're "jinxing" ourselves.  We’ll just put it down to a lot of hard work and diligence….for now, at least. J

As we dallied in Savannah, the weather forecast for the next several days had been looking bleak, with a high probability of rain and thunder (ergo, lightning) for the foreseeable future.  We were anxious to make the run up to Edisto to visit with our good friends there, but finding a suitable window was equally important.  The stationary front that was triggering all the storminess hadn’t progressed quite as far as originally forecast, so Wednesday, 18-July was looking like our best bet….especially if we got an early start.

Edisto Island Beach at the River Entrance
By 0650 we got underway and headed back out the long winding channel formed by the Wilmington River, and eventually steered Ghost Rider into the open waters of the Atlantic again.  Winds were out of the southeast and quite a bit friskier than on previous days, and the current was moving swiftly, so the ride quickly got sloppy.  The channel is a winding path, with the final part of it taking us nearly in the opposite direction of our intended route north – which meant punching straight into the three-to-four footers that were running a two second intervals; we took spray up to the fly bridge on a couple of bashes.

After finally escaping the offshore shallows we got pointed back to the north and put the waves on our stern.  Those square waves at short intervals challenged both the autopilot and the stabilizers, but we wallowed and see-sawed our way at a good pace and still made reasonably good time.  We arrived at the mouth of the South Edisto River around 1500, then wound our way into and up the St. Pierre Creek, and arrived at Paul and Dee Dee’s dock just after 1600…..just as the storms moved in and the rain started.  There was some thunder and lightning in the vicinity, but we had managed to beat most of it.  
View From Paul & Dee Dee's Porch of Their Pier and Dock
and the Rivers That Wind Through the Low Country

Paul was there to greet us and help us tie up, after which we completed our short post-flight checklists, hooked up our small 30 amp shore power cord to keep the house batteries charged, packed a small bag, and made our way up the long pier to the best resort house in the entire southeastern U.S.  This was going to be a nice boat break and visit.

Over the next two days we were mostly just bums, enjoying the spacious and cool luxury of Paul and Dee Dee’s place, and just catching up with each other.  This was also our “package delivery depot” so some of our mail order supplies were waiting on us, too.  The boat got a wash down and a pair of new toilet seats (seriously, that was one of our packages), but otherwise we took a serious boat break.
Partying on the Dock with Friends Dan, Cal and Tim
And with Paul and Dale
From Friday (20-July) through Sunday (22-July) we were joined at Paul and Dee Dee’s home by a number of good friends whom we had not seen in a spell.  Former co-workers with whom we’ve been privileged to form close bonds – Cal, Dale, Dan along with Tim and his whole family – all arrived to spend some quality time, enjoy a wide variety of adult beverages, and to eat copious amounts of fantastic food.  Paul’s “Low Country Shrimp Boil” is a culinary delight and not to be missed.  We had a fabulous and relaxing time together.

But on Monday, 23-July, it was time for us to get moving once again and give our hosts a break; the weather forecast was good enough, so at 1040 local time (a purposeful decision aimed at arriving at optimal tide/current conditions in Charleston) we bid adieu, tossed off the lines, and headed back down the creek and river towards the open Atlantic, eventually turning north towards Charleston.
Pulling Back & Away from Paul & Dee Dee's Dock

Passing By Edisto Beach After Departing Paul and Dee Dee's Place
 Seas were forecast at four-to-six and that was mostly accurate…except for the occasional seven or eight foot wall that slapped the boat….and the intervals were nastily short, as well as mostly beam to the starboard side.  Winds gradually clocked up to 20+ knots, and the stabilizers and autopilot worked hard all day.  But the storminess stayed well west and east of our path, with upper level steering currents that also then took them north of our position.  So overall we weren’t complaining.
Passing Fort Sumter at the Entrance to Charleston Harbor

The entry channel to Charleston Harbor was busy as usual, with several freighters heading in and out as we neared our turn.  We slowed a bit to keep our CPA distance from one of them, and just before 1700 we were between the channel’s submerged jetties heading into the harbor.  At about that time one of those humongous cruise ships (this one a Carnival brand) was also transiting the exit.  Rick hailed them on the VHF and we agreed to a port-to-port pass, although in the end that didn’t matter….they had plenty of escorts, including a couple of pilot boats and an armed USCG patrol.  The latter pulled alongside of us and indicated a 300 yard security zone was required, so we acknowledged and edged just along the outside of the channel, but with plenty of distance between Ghost Rider and the rock jetties, until they were well past.
Or Initial Slip Assignment at Charleston Harbor Marina Was
a Bit Tight to Maneuver Into

After slipping past Fort Sumter we ran without conflicting traffic up to the Charleston Harbor Marina on the Cooper River at Patriot’s Point.  The slip they gave us was not particularly attractive – wedged between two sailboats on one of the rolly outer piers – but we managed to pivot the boat in the tidal current and tight spaces and got tied up without incident.  Alas, their power pedestals were only putting out 208V on that particular dock, so once again we ended up running the damned genset all night so we could have air conditioning in the sweltering humidity and thunderstorms that followed.

View of the USS Yorktown from Our Slip at CHM
We got most of the salt hosed off of Ghost Rider, and numerous storms that moved through after sunset took care of whatever we had missed.  Dinner and drinks followed that and we called it a wrap.  The next day (Tuesday, 24-July) the marina electrician came out to pronounce the pier’s transformer needed repair, so we moved the boat to the other side of the marina where we finally found solid 240V shore power.

We’ll spend the next several days in this area to enjoy the many activities and great restaurants here, and also visit more good friends who we have not seen in a while (Ron and Mercedes, who recently purchased their own Nordhavn).  We’re not sure what our next port will be once we get underway again – other than it will be north of here – but we have time to figure that out later.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

July 2018: St. Augustine to Savannah

St. Augustine and Conch House Marina at Our 6 O'Clock

We got underway just before 0900 on Tuesday, 10-July under sunny skies and with air temps in the low 80’s.  Egress through the St. Augustine inlet turned out to be a bit dicey….the charts aren’t marked at all in that area, and for good reason – the bottom in the so-called channel is constantly shifting and shoaling, so they don’t bother with permanent markers.  Can buoys are used to mark the best path, but when heading directly east into the sun those things are not easily seen, even with binoculars.  The current was also ripping on the outbound tide.  We managed to pick our way through it, but you wouldn’t want to try it in any kind of other limited visibility – it is definitely a VFR operation.  We were very happy to get out into the open Atlantic and deep water about 30 minutes later.

The seas were as forecast, with long period and gentle swells from the northeast, initially at three to four feet, then gradually diminishing to a bit less.  The big intervals made for a very pleasant ride.
Ugly Looking Rip Line from the St. John' River....Four Miles Offshore

As we cruised past Jacksonville and the mouth of the St. John’s River we noticed the water color turn a murky brown – even four miles offshore the outflow of the river was very noticeable.  A few miles north of there we encountered a distinct rip line and a color change back to the more pleasing blues of the Atlantic.  At about that same time the winds also picked up noticeably, stirring to around 10-15 knots from the east with a scattering of whitecaps to go with it.  Nevertheless the wind chop was quite mild on top of the long, slow swells, so it was still a good ride.
Fort Clinch on Our Port Side Heading Into Cumberland Area

Around 1600 we entered the long but well-marked and deep St. Mary’s Channel with a three knot pushing current accompanying the incoming tide (which swings about seven feet in this area.)  One of the primary landmarks you pass as you enter here is Fort Clinch, originally a Confederate stronghold at the beginning of the Civil War, but which later became a Union stronghold during the bulk of that conflict.  Chelle was manning the helm from the fly bridge and she surfed Ghost Rider down the strong current to steer us to the inside, then turned us north about three miles to tuck in behind Cumberland Island.  We entered the wide, deep anchorage there slowly, but without issues.

We dropped the hook in about 15 feet of water (actually lowered it with the windlass this time, as the free-fall clutch seemed to be frozen….our punch list never seems to get shorter.)  But the anchor set on the first try once again, and we had a peaceful night at anchor.  We ran the generator and A/C until morning as it was hot, but the breeze up on the fly bridge was quite pleasant.  And we were no longer in Florida.
Another Nice Sunset at Anchor Lying Near Cumberland Island

The next day, Wednesday, 11-July, we had a lazy morning on the boat catching up with a few chores, but around noon we launched the dinghy and motored over to the small public dock at Cumberland Island. 

Cumberland is a barrier island on the far southern coast of Georgia and is now an uninhabited national park, with the St. Mary River on its west side and the Atlantic Ocean on its eastern shoreline.  The south end of the island where we went exploring is known mostly for its nature trails, wild horses and as the former site of the Carnegie winter mansion.  Actually the ruins of that mansion still stand, and while deprecated quite a bit (it burned in 1959), it’s obvious the place was huge at one time.  We walked for nearly three hours touring the area (in 95 degree heat) and enjoyed another history lesson, while avoiding the occasionally rambunctious horse.  Before the Carnegie family purchased and further built it up in the 1880’s, the land was previously occupied at different times by native American Indians, Spaniards, the British, slave refugees, and Nathaniel Greene (a Revolutionary War hero.)  There are whole books written about this area.
Dungeness Ruins....a Former Carnegie Residence on Cumberland Island

By the time we had dinghied back to the boat we were definitely ready for the modern convenience of air conditioning and some fruity rum drinks.

We slept in the next morning since we had a relatively short sortie planned, getting back underway around 1000 on Thursday, 12-July. It didn’t turn out to be one of our better days on the water.  First off the hydraulic leak returned after the new o-ring blew out as we retrieved the anchor, spraying the aft part of the engine room with copious amounts of hydraulic fluid.  Rick spent the next three hours down there while we were underway, cleaning up and experimenting with various o-ring sizes and torque adjustments before we finally found a sweet spot that allowed thruster and windlass operations without too much leakage.  But we didn’t have a lot of confidence about how long this next repair would last, so we decided to proceed cautiously.

Thus, after we had traversed the channel into St. Simon’s sound and approached our anchorage, we paused and did a thorough leak check while running the hydraulics under stress – both bow and stern thrusters, as well as the windlass, at high RPM.  That exercise revealed the new o-ring (smaller than the previous and original ones) was holding its own, so we proceeded to the anchor site and dropped the hook.  That’s when things got uglier.
The State of Our Anchor After We Made it to a Dock

We could not get the anchor to take a set, which is rarely an issue for our ground tackle, and by that time the wind and current had also picked up considerably.  We found ourselves drifting back at a high rate of speed and it took considerable effort to get the boat stopped before it would drift into a nearby sailboat.  We recovered in time, but as we retrieved the chain while moving forward to prepare for a second attempt, we discovered why we could not get the anchor to take hold – it had been gored by a 15 foot long railroad tie, right through its balancing rollbar.  While our anchor weighs in at 100 pounds, that chunk of water-logged and creosote-soaked piece of wood probably weighed another 400 pounds.  We would never get it to grab the bottom in such a configuration; the only good news was the damned thing wasn’t still attached to a railroad track.  Now we had this humongous hood ornament dangling from the bow, making anchoring impossible and docking at the nearby marina a dicey proposition at best. 

While Rick hung over the how attempting to dislodge the timber, Chelle made a call to BoatUS, who suggested all they could do was cut the anchor chain.  We passed on that.  The sailboat captain dinghied over to us and helped attach a line to the longer end of the railroad tie, which we then tied off to a forward bow cleat to stabilize the swinging anchor and lumber.  We then lowered that mess back into the water to try and break it loose again, with zero effect.   
Neighbor Mike Sawing on the Damned Thing

So we called the nearby Morningside Marina and asked for an alongside tie on their outer docks and they were able to accommodate.  We had to approach slowly and at a shallow angle in the zipping current to avoid damaging our hull or their docks with the swinging mass on the bow, but we pulled it off, finally tying up at the marina’s fuel dock at about 1700. It took two other guys plus Rick to haul the anchor and log up onto the dock, but the timber was still hopelessly lodged in the anchor’s rollbar.  We finally decided we would wait and rent a chain saw the next morning, but about an hour later we heard a buzzing sound on the dock and walked out to find a fellow boater chewing away at the log with an electric hand saw.  Rick joined in to help and after about another 20 minutes we had the thing sawed through enough to bust off part of it and were able to dislodge the big stick.  Our Good Samaritan – Mike, a retired fire chief – said he likes helping fellow boaters.  Bless him.  We owe him a couple of new saw blades.

After sleeping in again the next morning, the remainder of Friday, 13-July, was dedicated to recovering from and cleaning up the messes of the previous day.  That included mopping up residual hydraulic fluid in the engine room and lazarette, hosing the salt off of Ghost Rider, and then several hours of only somewhat successful scrubbing to remove or at least reduce large splatters of mud and creosote stains from the foredeck, bow and anchor.  After that we retrieved the anchor from the dock and parked it on the bow pulpit once again.  Chelle took an e-bike ride into town to scout some places to tour the next day, but otherwise the evening was just socializing with dock neighbors and a quiet dinner aboard.
A View of Morningside Marina @ St. Simon's From Landside

That same evening we received a reminder of how minor our little incident had been….as a 45 foot cruiser entered the marina basin that boat lost power and steerage, and the strong current took it at a fairly quick pace down the fairway, whereupon its anchor and bow pulpit buried itself into the starboard side of a nice looking 55 foot Fleming.  Now that’s a bad day.

On Saturday, 14-July we were just tourists, hopping a short Uber ride over to St. Simons Island and taking a guided tour that lasted most of the afternoon, and reacquainted ourselves with the rich history associated with this unique geography.  Not too surprisingly, that historical narrative is related to that of the eastern coast of northern Florida, as it encompasses the areas contested by Britain and Spain over the centuries leading up to the American Revolution.  Eventually the Spaniards realized that trying to dislodge the Brits in the summer heat and humidity that goes with these barrier islands was futile, even with numerical superiority. American colonialists eventually took control, after which it became one of the many Civil War battlegrounds along the eastern seaboard.  It was here that General William Tecumseh Sherman ended his “march to the sea” (before he veered to the north) that slashed, burned and ultimately destroyed the Confederate capacity to wage war.
View of St. Simon's Lighthouse from the Town Pier

We enjoyed an early dinner in the charming town square at Iguana’s – the place to get healthy helpings of delicious Wild Georgia shrimp – and returned to the boat for a pleasant happy hour and cocktails with Laurie and Mike (our Good Samaritan.)  We turned in early as we knew we had a long sortie the next day.

The next morning dawned with a light shroud of fog that coated the boat with a thick layer of dew.  But as we pulled away from the dock at 0750 on Sunday, 15-July, the sun had burned off most of the gloom and we had good visibility in the channel leading back out into the Atlantic.  That was a good thing as we found ourselves dodging a few floating logs while punching into a serious current (the tidal range here is around eight feet) for the first hour or so.

After finally exiting the long channel and getting the bow pointed northeast again, we found very pleasant sea conditions with widely spaced two-to-three foot swells.  Winds were around 10 knots from the east, and broken cloud cover kept air temperature in the mid 80’s most of the day.  Midway through the sortie the skies began to clear, warming the temps a bit, and the swell laid down giving way to a short two foot chop which still yielded a very comfortable ride.  Rick chose to futz with packing gland a bit more as he wasn’t happy with the its hovering in the upper end of the acceptable temperature window, and later in the day had it back to his preferred ambient +25F.

As we neared the entrance to the channel formed by the Wilmington River, which would eventually lead us to the Thunderbolt Marina and the Savannah area, we encountered a widespread debris field of tree limbs, an occasional log, and all sorts of other floating detritus.  At the same time the depths shallowed to less than five feet under the keel.  And this was nearly four miles offshore.
Coming Into Thunderbolt Near Savannah...Not Hard to See They Are
Used to Eight Foot Tides Based on the Dock Elevations

But we managed evasive actions to thread our way through all that, although the channel still presented another 14 nautical miles and hefty tidal currents to navigate (eight foot tide swings here).  But traffic was light and most of the channel was wide and deep.  We pulled alongside Thunderbolt’s outer dock just after 1800 without incident, gave the boat and ourselves thorough washdowns, and called it a day.

It Isn't Difficult to Tell That Thunderbolt Marina is Mainly a Repair Yard.  But
They Delivered Fresh Crispy Cream Donuts Each Morning!
Monday, 16-July was mostly dedicated to boat business, some of it planned (routine maintenance and minor provisioning), some of it unplanned (that damned hydraulic leak, plus a new fuel pump line leak on the wing engine.)  Rick called out a local diesel mechanic to help with the recurring hydraulic o-ring issue and the fuel pump issue, and also spent some time disassembling, lubricating and reassembling the windlass to solve the freefall clutch issue.  Chelle used the marina’s courtesy car to do some shopping and scouting for the next day’s plan of touring Savannah, so overall we were pleased with the day’s results.
And the Concrete Floating Dock with Alongside
Ties Make Docking Easy in the Current

The next morning (Tuesday, 17-July) was about more boat business – but all routine stuff, including weather and routing checks for the following day’s planned sortie up to Edisto.  We were also able engage a local diver to perform our preferred monthly below-the-waterline duties for Ghost Rider – checking the thruster blades, both props, all zinc anodes, and removing any scum or barnacles that had accumulated; since we'd also had some close encounters with one sandbar and a couple of logs, we also wanted assurance we hadn’t incurred any scars down there.  The diver’s report was excellent.

So that afternoon we both got away from the boat and toured the river and historic districts of Savannah.  Our first stop was the City Market, which we decided was a good place to stop for a late lunch when a storm cell started dumping buckets of rain on us; the spiced baguettes and stuffed mushroom dishes were excellent, as were the unique south Georgia sangria's.  The rain passed quickly so then we took a stroll down the old riverfront area, which has been admirably preserved and restored with its centuries-old architecture and cobblestone streets, while providing plenty of pubs, restaurants, shops and open markets within easy walking distance.
Savannah's Riverfront District

From there we hopped a tour trolley and took a narrated tour of the city’s old historic district.  From the earliest days of its British settlement by General James Oglethorpe in 1733, to its colonial days when it flourished as a cotton and rice production center (meaning plantations and slavery), and then its embattled Revolutionary War days, much of the city’s layout and original structures have been preserved.  That’s at least partially due to the fact that when General Sherman marched his Union army up here from south Georgia during the Civil War, he was so impressed by its charm and beauty that he decided not to destroy it; instead he wired President Lincoln and General Grant in late December of 1864 and offered the intact city of Savannah as a Christmas present.

Tourist Traffic on the Savannah River
Savannah had its ups and downs from then until WWII, but has recently flourished again not only as a tourist destination, but also as a bustling seaport, now one of the busiest in the United States.  It has also been a popular spot for movie-makers – famous scene spots from “Forrest Gump” and “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” are among the interesting stops on the trolley tour.

We were pretty much spent by early evening and returned to the boat for a light dinner and a good night’s sleep before the next day’s long sortie to the Edisto area.  We're really looking forward to that stop and spending time with good friends Paul and DD.

Monday, July 9, 2018

July 2018: Heading North

We Reached a Smoking 11.3 Knots of Ground Speed Courtesy of a
Gulf Stream Current Running in Close to the Shoreline

Finally Underway

On Tuesday, 03-July at 0900 we steered Ghost Rider out of Old Port Cove, down to the Lake Worth Inlet and out into the Atlantic.  We took up a northerly heading a few miles offshore, with air temperature in the low 80’s, sea temp at 86F, with a 10 knot breeze out of the east and mostly clear skies.  Sea surface was tame with a two foot chop on top of a slow gentle swell, so the ride was good.

The Gulf Stream current was running in close, and there were plenty of near shore fishing vessels trying to take advantage of that.  The current had to be something close to three knots as we were clocking as much as 11 knots SOG on the GPS at some points even at a loping 1400 RPM.

The boat performed well, including its stuffing box (yay!)  As the new packing settled in we initially saw a gland temp of 110F, which climbed during the day to near 120F, but then settled back down to a steady 111F.  We’ll take ambient plus 25 as a victory.  We did encounter a minor drip from the front of the main engine (not the oil pan) so that will require some sleuthing in the coming weeks.
Good Looking Weed Line

Just before mid-day we came upon a very wide, long and consistent weed line in about 100 feet of water.  It looked like a runway made out of sargassum seaweed.  So Chelle deployed a trolling rod dragging a Rattle-Jet lure and we slowed a bit to see if we could tempt anything hiding under the weeds to come out and bite.  That weed line was so long we could have followed it all day, but that probably would eventually have landed us in Bermuda….so after a while we had to turn away and continue our planned course to Fort Pierce.  We kept the rod out for a few hours but nothing hit it.
We Expected Fish Out of This Weed Line....But Got No Bites.

At around 1500 we entered the Fort Pierce Inlet, by which time the seas had calmed even more, so it was a smooth and uneventful run into the inlet.  By 1530 we had maneuvered into the City marina, backed Ghost Rider into her assigned slip, tied securely, and hooked up shore power – only to find we could only get 208V from the pedestal.  We don’t (yet) have a boost transformer, and we need at least 220-225V for the inverter and A/C to work; the marina electrician mucked with the dock wiring for about an hour with no success.  So eventually we moved the boat over to a nearby t-dock where we found a healthy 240V shore power feed, tied up and fendered again.  After a quick hose-down of the boat we called it day.

We got back underway on Wednesday, 04-July at 0900, with Chelle at the helm to keep her close quarter maneuvering skills sharp.  It was another pleasant day as we departed through the Fort Pierce Inlet, although to the north and east we could see storm cells forming and moving generally to the west.  A few were between us and our Canaveral destination, but they were far enough away that we were hopeful they would move to the east or diminish by the time we got there.  The resultant high cloud cover kept air temps in the mid 80’s, and seas were mild and gentle once again. Even the stuffing box was running cooler now, fairly steady at 102F, which is downright chilly in today’s 83F waters.
A Bottlenosed Dolphin Enjoying Our Bow Wave

Late in the morning we got some company.  First we were strafed by a CBP patrol boat who apparently wanted a close look at us, but once alongside they peeled away quickly and sped off to the northeast in search of something that looked more menacing.  Shortly after that we were joined in close formation by a couple of bottlenose dolphin, who enjoyed riding the pushing pressure wave just forward of our bulbous bow for about ten minutes.

We didn’t have quite the Gulf Stream boost that we had encountered the day before, but nonetheless made decent time, entering the Port Canaveral channel around 1700 in a mostly calm ocean.  Unfortunately one of those humongous Disney cruise ships was heading out to sea at about that same time.  One of its pilot boats hailed us and said if we kept to the “red” side we’d be fine – and that’s what we did, hugging the north side of the channel.  Unfortunately whoever was driving that massive ship decided he wanted our side of the channel, too, and we ended up taking some rather drastic evasive maneuvers to prevent being run over by the damned thing.  Chelle was of the opinion that we should have just waited for that oversized hulk to egress the channel, while Rick was just pissed off at whoever was manning its helm.
A Few Minutes After Taking This Shot of the Outbound Disney Cruise
Ship, the Damned Thing Try to Run Us Over.

Anyway, once we got past that ugly, oversized floating hotel the remainder of the approach was uneventful, and we nosed into our assigned slip at the Ocean Club Marina at 1730.  By 1830 we had Ghost Rider and ourselves hosed down, and we settled in for more relaxation with drinks and dinner.  We were hoping for some July 4th pyrotechnics that night, but rain showers dashed that hope.
The Port Canaveral Canal...Ocean Club Marina is on the Port
Side Just Before the Bridge

The morning of Thursday, 05-July brought pleasant and dry weather with air temp in the low 80’s, a nice breeze from the east and thin high clouds filtering the sun.  We backed Ghost Rider out the slip at 0915 and made our way back out the long canal and then aimed her north again.  Seas were a bit more rolly, on the beam at about three feet on average, but with decent intervals.  Still, the stabilizers had to work a bit harder.  It was also obvious the Gulf Stream was considerably further offshore as we were no longer getting the benefit of its northward current, and ground speed hovered between 7 and 7.8 knots.

We placed a phone call to BoatUS shortly after departure to get the benefit of their local knowledge of the Ponce Inlet, in particular the area north of the inlet where we hoped to anchor later in the day.  The local captain gave us a quick briefing and gave his blessing to our rough plan, along with a couple of visual reference tips.

The Cape Canaveral Coast Line
The restricted area around Cape Canaveral wasn’t active so we were able to make a fairly close pass to get a view of the launch towers and antenna arrays.  The typical Florida summertime thunderstorms started popping late morning and through the afternoon, but stayed west of us over the peninsula.

By 1630 we had negotiated the Ponce Inlet to the planned turn towards the anchorage and quickly found the charts don’t match the actual nav markers or the actual depths in that particular side channel.  We quickly went to zero water under the keel and had to reverse aggressively to regain buoyancy.  Perhaps this was the area where the BoatUS advice was to ignore the channel marker guidance….but we couldn’t visually determine a safe path.  To hell with this, time for plan B.  
Aerial View of the Ponce Inlet....Where the Charts and Markers
Do Not Match Reality

Rick maneuvered back into the main channel and south towards the ICW intersection while Chelle got on the phone to secure a slip reservation at Halifax Marina – about ten miles north, near Daytona.  We pulled into there around 1830; but their sole remaining slip that would hold Ghost Rider had only 208V power, so we ended up running the generator all night anyway.

We also found during our post flight checks that we had developed a signficiant hydraulic oil leak in the vicinity of the wing engine PTO and hydraulic pump.  More on that later, but after cleaning up the mess of leaked oil we decided we would wait until we made it to St. Augustine the next day to troubleshoot that further.

We’ve had better days.

On Friday, 06-July we departed Halifax Marina in Daytona and headed up the ICW towards St. Augustine.  We were careful to minimize use of the bow and stern thrusters to avoid exacerbating the hydraulic oil leak (which was manageable with the hydraulic pump off.)  We don’t particularly care for cruising in “the ditch” but once we had decided on Halifax in Daytona for our alternate the evening before, we were committed to the ICW – there are no navigable inlets between there and St. Augustine to allow us to get back on the outside.
The Ride Up the ICW to St. Augustine Wasn't Too Bad, Plenty of
Interesting Docks and Homes to View

But it wasn’t too bad of a sortie – traffic was light, the storms stayed just to our west, and all but one of the bridges were on “open on demand” schedules, so we made reasonably good time.  By 1700 we had docked up at the Conch House Marina, again minimizing use of the hydraulic thrusters.  We cleaned up the boat and ourselves and called it a day.

Saturday, 07-July was mostly dedicated to boat business – some standard preventive tasks, topping off water tanks, repairing a burst dock water hose.  And, of course, tracking down the hydraulic leak….which Rick isolated to the small (but apparently quite critical) solenoid switch on the topside of the hydraulic pump just aft of the wing engine.  It took some experimentation (and several texts with James Knight) to figure out how to disassemble that thing and verify the cause, but eventually we determined that a small o-ring on the solenoid valve shaft had deteriorated and no amount of torqueing it down could stop the leak.  As a temporary measure Rick had put down some oil absorbent pads and a catch pan to contain the mess; he also removed the o-ring and wrapped some Teflon tape around the valve threads so we could go “match-shopping” for a replacement o-ring the next day.
This is the Leaky Culprit -- With the Coil Switch Pulled Off the Hydraulic
Pump, the Solenoid Shaft is Visible & Removable.

Chelle managed to get off the boat for a spell during the day and tool around St. Augustine on her e-bike, taking in some sights and procuring a few supplies as well.  That evening we walked the docks together for another boat break – we had stayed here a couple years ago, but the place had changed a bit:  Hurricane Irma did a number on them last year, ripping apart a good portion of their floating docs.  While much has been restored, there is still a gaping hole between the “C” and “E” piers, where the “D” docks used to be, but are now removed for refurbishment.  So while the Conch House Marina is back in business, they’re short quite a few parking spots.
The Conch House Marina is Still Missing Some of Their Concrete
Floating Docks as a Result of Hurricane Irma

We did a late dinner at the marina’s Conch House restaurant, enjoying some good seafood and rum punches on their outdoor deck as the evening weather was quite pleasant after the sun went down, and the stormy weather remained inland.  We both slept very well that night….or maybe we just passed out.

The next day, Sunday, 08-July, was mostly a down-day, reserved for touring St. Augustine once again.  We first caught an Uber ride to the nearest NAPA parts store where Rick was able to procure a match for the bad o-ring.  But after that we spent the bulk of the afternoon on a guided tour of this history-rich city, using Segways as our transports. 
Getting Ready to Launch Our Segway Tour

St. Augustine is only 50 miles south of the Georgia border, and is generally considered to be the oldest settlement in the continental U.S., after being “discovered” (code for invaded) by the Spaniard Pedro Menendez back in 1565, kicking out the French and subjugating the native Indians in the process.  Interestingly, there are also several statues of Ponce de Leon here, although there exists no historical evidence he was ever here except by accidental navigation (ditto for the so-called “Fountain of Youth”.) 

Over the following centuries the Spanish, French and Brits beat the hell out of each other in various wars, with the Brits eventually claiming victory and possession of this area, which then became a safe haven for Loyalists during the American Revolutionary period.  But after losing that war the Brits gave it back to Spain, who later gave in to growing U.S. expansionism on the North American continent and finally signed it over to the United States.  As a result of all that tumult, you will find a wide and disjointed variety of architecture in St. Augustine….but some of it is historically significant and quite charming.  By the time Henry Flagler got here with his railroad, it was primed for the beginning of winter migrations.  But like the rest of Florida, it wasn’t until the invention and spread of air conditioning that the real year-round occupations began.
On Our Tour of St. Augustine, Taking a Break from the Segways

With all that history in its background, however, St. Augustine is just as important historically for what took place here during the civil rights movement in the early 1960’s.  Doctor King and Reverend Abernathy took peaceful stands here (including against the KKK) that eventually led to the Civil Rights Act and desegregation.  The place is loaded with historical site reminders around those efforts.

So while St. Augustine is dripping in history, its waterfront downtown area is also just a great place to hang out – it is dense with pedestrian friendly pubs, bars, eateries and hotels, all within stumbling distance of each other.

Back to Boat Business

When we returned to the boat late that afternoon it only took Rick a few minutes to make the o-ring repair to the hydraulic system’s solenoid switch, and just a few more to top off the hydraulic fluid lost during the leakage.  Initial leak checks were good, but we would also be testing more thoroughly the following day.  The weather forecast was erratic at best, so another day at the docks in St. Augustine, verifying systems and just hanging out, fit our expectations just fine.  The seas would be a bit lumpier the following day, but we’ll take that over lightning bolts any day.
The Solenoid Shaft Removed...the Faulty O-ring is at the Base of the Threads

The morning of Monday, 09-July brought another typical summer day in Florida – warm and humid, with a few storm cells hanging just off the coast in open waters.  We were keeping a close watch on various tropical developments out in the Atlantic, including Hurricane Beryl and Tropical Storm Chris.  The former was well southwest of us and dying out, but had a potential to redevelop over the next few days.  The latter was closer, meandering off the Carolina coast and slowly strengthening.  But for now the only impacts we could ascertain were increasing wave heights over the next couple of days, so we were sticking with our plan for a Tuesday departure.

A View of the Conch House Restaurant from the Marina Docks
First, however, we wanted to stress test the hydraulic system repair, so we spent some time running that system and exercising thrusters at the dock for a prolonged period, and finally were satisfied it was back to ops normal.  Chelle took her e-bike into town again and bought shrimp fresh off the boat, while Rick conducted fuel transfer operations, moving the remainder of the aft fuel tanks into the forward tanks where we could keep an eye on the respective sight gauges.  There were a few other pre-departure items that we tended to while occasional showers moved in from the northeast intermittently during the afternoon.  Overall it was a good day to be in port, and we were ready to get underway again.

Our next planned stops are the Cumberland (Georgia) area for an anchorage and some exploring, and then likely Savannah.

Our Track-to-Date
At Port Canaveral, the US Navy Ship Waters....a 450 Footer that Supports Missile Launches
Another View of the Missing Docks at the Conch House Marina
We Found the Missing Docks Piled Up on the South Side of the Marina Basin
Flagler College in Downtown St. Augustine
A Couple of the Old Hotels / Museums in St. Augustine
Back on the Segway Machines....These Were a Lot of Fun.

Monday, July 2, 2018

July 2018: Time To Depart

Wrapping Up Boat Business

RTV Silicone Sealant...It Works!
During the past week or so we’ve been focusing on wrapping up several maintenance issues while still moored at Old Port Cove in North Palm Beach, Florida.

The main goal was to resolve the minor but perplexing oil leak at the front of the main engine.  We conducted a two hour sea trial with the front of the engine “naked” (stripped of its protective belt and pulley guards), with Alex Graham, our diesel guru, on board.  That exercise confirmed that the leak was (still) indeed from the oil pan gasket – no other seal showed any seepage.  So a few days later we once again drained the oil and removed the pan.  This time, however, instead of going with the rather flimsy OEM paper gasket we decided to make our own rubberized seal from a tube of Motorcraft high temperature RTV Sealant.

After the oil pan work was completed Alex also walked Rick through the procedure for adjusting the generator’s intake and exhaust valves.  That is supposedly a routine to be conducted every 600 hours, although Alex opined that would be extreme overkill.  As it turned out (after 1900 hours) the valves did not require much tweaking at all.  Alex could probably perform this relatively simple procedure with his eyes closed, but it was still a good education for us.

Generator Valve Adjustments....a Fairly Straightforward Exercise.
Next up was solving the fuel tank sight gauge leak.  The sight gauge concept is one of those primitive but very effective mechanisms for determining how much fuel you actually have on board….much more reliable than relying upon electrical sending units and remote dial gauges, especially in large fuel tanks.  The downside to the sight gauges, however, is that as the plumbing and gaskets age they can wear down and develop small leaks.  The good news is that you can only leak out the small amount of fuel that the sight gauge tube can hold (provided, of course, you keep the tube’s feed valves closed until you need to check fuel level.)  Glen, from Yacht Tech, handled the repair to the port side main tank – replacing the tube as well as the o-rings at both the upper and lower fittings.  We decided to do the same to the starboard side tank even though it wasn’t currently leaking, as we figured it would soon follow suit.

Finally we still needed to re-attack the main shaft’s stuffing box.  We decided to repack the gland, this time using only two rings of PTFE impregnated flax rather than the normal three rings – the theory being that we knew we had great water flow with no rings inserted, but questionable flow with three rings installed.

A Leaky Fuel Tank Sight Gauge
On the morning of Friday, 29-Jun, we were joined by Rob Etheridge of Yacht Tech for what would hopefully be our last sea trial before starting our east coast cruising.  After more than two hours of running time we found the sight gauge repairs and the new oil pan gasket to be solid.  The damned stuffing box was another story.

Initially the gland temperature was in the acceptable range (with ambient sea water approaching 90F in the shallow ICW, we’d take anything up to 120F.)  But the two rings of packing were wholly insufficient for moderating water flow.  So Rob inserted a third packing ring (using flax with PTFE), but after a few adjustments we lost water flow into the shaft’s gland altogether and the temp started to spike.  Rick joined Rob in the engine room and we removed all three rings and “burped the shaft log” to restore water flow; then yet again inserted three new packing rings – pausing after each one to confirm we still had water around the entire shaft.  By the time we finished that up, with very slow and careful hand tightening, we finally got to a steady state of 110F.  And it remained that way even at wide open throttle.  The water flow might still be a tad strong, but we’re going to let the new packing settle and break in before attempting any more adjustments and rely on the bilge pump to handle any excess sea water.

Then we experienced one of those “WTF” moments.  Just after the final adjustments to the packing gland, we decided to make one more run down the ICW to confirm its temp readings.  As the boat neared an intersection there was enough crossing traffic that Chelle – driving from the fly bridge helm – had to back off the throttle and then back it down as it wasn’t clear that the other boats were going to yield.  At that exact moment the main engine shut down.  Uh-oh.  By chance Rick had just come up from the engine room to the pilot house at the precise second the motor died.  Nordhavn owners joke about things not to do so as to avoid the “sudden sound of silence”, but to be honest, the decibel level of the low oil pressure horn is deafening when that engine stops. 
The Obligatory Shot of Ghost Rider Again Docked at Old Port Cove,
Our Home-Away-From-Home on the East Coast of Florida.

Rick immediately started the wing engine, put it in gear and took control from the pilot house helm (there are no wing engine controls on Ghost Rider’s fly bridge.)  That took all of 5 seconds.  There was no drama or close calls as it turned out.  Chelle came down from the fly bridge and took control of the boat from the pilot house.  In about a minute Rick had checked the obvious things – fire suppression status, battery switch, fuel valving, etc. – and found nothing amiss.  Following that, the first attempt at relighting the main engine was successful.  It purred like a kitten.  No matter what we tried we could not reproduce the failure.  We even ran at WOT for a full 5 minutes with nothing but ops normal.  We returned to the dock and tied up without further incident.

Our working theory is that we experienced a transient fuel system hiccup.  Which, if true, means it was probably our fault.  Rick had changed ONE of the two (primary) Racor fuel filters back in March, but had left the selector valve on the other older Racor.  While both that Racor and the on-engine (secondary) fuel filter had less than 250 hours on them, they were each also about a year old.  Time can be as important as hours when it comes to any fuel filter – at the core they are basically paper elements and can take only so much soaking in fuel before they begin to lose some effectiveness.

So once back at the dock Rick changed both fuel filters, and as a precaution partially filled the new on-engine filter with Stanadyne PF to give the diesel injectors a short cleaning burst of that magical stuff.  We will be monitoring closely.

Time To Get Moving Again

Over the weekend we made our final preparations for departure:  taking our car back to its garage in Fort Myers, putting the engine’s pulley and belt guards back in place, topping off water tanks, reviewing and loading planned routes into the ship’s computer, some final provisioning, and checking weather / sea forecasts.

Generally we intend to mosey up the east coast of the U.S. and eventually into Chesapeake Bay for some exploring.  But along the way we’ll be making plenty of stops, initially Fort Pierce, Canaveral, Ponce, and St. Augustine in Florida.  In Georgia we’d like to check out Cumberland and Savannah.  Of course two of favorite stopovers are in Edisto and Charleston, SC, to be followed by Oriental and Coinjock, NC, and Great Bridge, VA.  After that we’ll head up the Chesapeake.

We’d like to be in the Baltimore area by the end of September to attend the Trawler Fest there (LINK), where Rick and Chelle are enrolled in some technical and cruising oriented classes.  But that’s the closest we want to get to a “schedule”.  From there we’ll reverse course and work our way back south, eventually landing back in Fort Myers in late October or early November.

So that’s the plan, will let y’all know how it goes.  As usual, you can follow our progress at our tracking site (LINK Here.)