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.

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