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.

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