Sunday, December 8, 2019

Nov-Dec 2019: Back to FLA & a Short Cruise

We Sustained Two Deep Gelcoat Gouges on This Area of Starboard Bow During 
Our Throttle Failure Experience.  But After Mike Worked His Magic 
on the Light Grey Gelcoat It Was Hard to Discern.
By the time we returned from our visit to the Midwest to our southwest Florida home the fall season was finally making a debut in Fort Myers.  Within a few days we were seeing highs in the low 70’s instead of lows near 80F, but having just departed single digit temps it still felt blissfully warm.

We spent about a week getting the boat ready for some overdue cruising.  That included getting Ghost Rider detailed once again by Frank at Ultimate Marine (LINK), and Mike Peters of Brightworks completing the gelcoat repairs on the starboard bow, and of course keeping up with the usual routine maintenance items that Wheelhouse would point out to us.  The most significant of those was replacing the raw water pump’s impeller on the wing engine, a once-a-year proactive task. Rick decided to try out one of the Globe “run-dry” soft rubber impellers this time which theoretically will last longer, although to be fair the hard rubber Jabsco that we replaced still looked very good.
Frank from Ultimate Marine Giving Ghost Rider the Spa Treatment

Of course we (meaning Chelle) had lots of provisioning to do since we had mostly emptied the boat of food, drink and personal items over the past year.  But since we were waiting on the detailing and bottom cleaning work anyway, we had time to get that done without getting too rushed.

Then, as soon as Ghost Rider’s monthly bottom cleaning was completed we were ready take advantage of a good weather window to point the bow south.  Instead the cold and flu bug hit us (meaning Rick) and a lengthy recovery pause followed.  By the time we felt healthy enough to get back underway we were into early December and waiting on another weather window.  The delay had another advantage -- Red Tide has returned to the southwest Florida with a vengeance, but by the time we did  get underway it had largely dissipated, at least in the direction we would be going.  (North of us it was still bad.)  We also took some solace in the fact that we had passed the official end of hurricane season with nothing more than a strong breeze affecting us locally.
Ghost Rider is a Dolphin Magnet

We finally departed Legacy Harbor and Fort Myers on the morning of Wednesday, 04-December at around 0915 in fabulous conditions: a very slight northerly breeze, clear skies, temp around 60F and low humidity.  It was jacket weather up on the fly bridge but it was nonetheless quite comfortable, and the outgoing tide gave us a following current heading down-river.

Our destination was Marco Island, about 50 miles to the south.  Even with the pushing current it took nearly two hours to get all the way down the Caloosahatchee River, and while there was only sparse boat traffic we enjoyed multiple dolphin formations on both sides of the boat and in the bow wave.  By the time we entered the Gulf of Mexico our bottle-nosed friends had split off on a lunch-hunting vector and temps had reached the mid 70's.  Winds also picked up a bit, clocking around to the WNW, and after passing south of the Sanibel lighthouse so did the seas.  Forecast was for 2-3 footers but we saw 4 to 5 foot swells most of the way, mostly quartering on the starboard stern and occasionally right on the beam.  Intervals were mostly comfortable but the stabilizers still got a workout.  It was pleasant enough to steer from the fly bridge all day.
Ghost Rider ran perfectly the entire way, loping along just under 1500 RPM and averaging about 8 knots SOG.  Rick made some  minor adjustments to the shaft's stuffing box, tightening its adjusting nuts just a bit to reduce the drip rate, and was very happy with the resulting 95F gland temperature in the 75 degree gulf waters.  Our Wheelhouse maintenance program had been nagging us to "performance test" the water maker's membrane, so we also took the opportunity to run that for a couple of hours in the clean waters of the Gulf; it produced about 27 gallons of good quality (<200 ppm) fresh water in a two hour span, which is pretty much spot on its specs.
Our Track from Fort Myers to Marco Island

We reached the entrance to Big Marco Pass just after 1500, and as expected it was a little adventurous with the 4 to 5 foot rollers on the stern; such wave action in the inlets tends to push around a full displacement Nordhavn like a bathtub without a rudder.  The autopilot isn't particularly useful in such conditions but we've learned the art of manual steering and throttle adjustments, and thankfully the tide and current were going with us.  After we reached the calm of the inner bay Chelle took the helm from the fly bridge station and steered Ghost Rider around the corner to the Marina at Factory Bay (LINK) for a smooth docking maneuver on their t-head floating dock.  We got tied up and cleaned up in short order, with the usual attentive help from Craig the dockmaster.  Temps cooled rapidly again after sunset, making it a good night for Chelle's crock pot chili.
Ghost Rider on Her T-head Tie-up at Factory Bay
We spent the next two days (Thursday, 05-December and Friday, 06-December) just hanging out and relaxing at Marco Island as the idyllic fall weather continued. Chelle got a loaner bike from the marina office and spent time cycling around and checking out the beaches.  Rick got a lot of small projects done on Ghost Rider -- rolling back a bad Windows 10 update on the ship's PC; tightening the hinges on two overhead hatches; exercising & leak-checking the hydraulic davit; and a few other minor tasks.  Thursday night we walked the short distance to our favorite restaurant here, Old Marco Pub (LINK), to enjoy lobster tails and a tender filet.  Late Friday afternoon we hiked a bit farther down to the Snook Inn (LINK) for some early cocktails (the Passion Fruit Mojito is good) and an appetizer (tasty conch fritters which also have shrimp chunks and the mango habanero sauce packs a punch.)
The Old Marco Pub Doesn't Look Like Much from the Street but Inside
It's Comfy with a Good Bar and Excellent Food

The perfect weather continued on our departure date, Saturday, 07-December.  We started engines just after 0900, departing the dock shortly thereafter, wound our way out of Big Marco Pass, and pointed Ghost Rider north back towards Fort Myers.  Temps started in the low 60's but quickly warmed to the mid 70's, under a clear cobalt blue sky, with a light northerly breeze that yielded smooth seas.  Waves barely measured a foot with wide periods and only a light wind chop on top.  It was a bit cool on the fly bridge cruising upwind, but a light jacket and Chelle's hot chili for lunch made it comfy enough.  As with the trip down Ghost Rider purred along happily and without issues on the return sortie.
The Snook Inn Located on the Northern Tip of Marco Island

We bucked a light current most of the way but still averaged just over 7.5 knots and made Legacy Harbour in Fort Myers right at 1600.  The light winds allowed for a smooth stern-in docking with minimum fuss, followed by quick post-flight checks and an equally quick hose down of the hull.  Then it was pizza and college football time back at the condo.

We now need to ready the boat and the condo to receive holiday visitors, but also plan to take another short cruise soon.  That should be about two weeks out when we hope to sortie north to Sarasota for a Christmas rendezvous with family.  More on that later.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Oct 2019: A Couple More Boat Projects

Updated Port Side Fly Bridge Seating
Chelle didn’t want to be left out of all the recent “boat business” fun so in parallel with the whole throttle replacement spend fest she embarked on a couple of new projects…as if we weren’t already spending enough B.O.A.T. units.  There is probably a cure for us out there somewhere, but for now at least we are slow learners in that particular area of fiscal responsibility.  The "Sea Notes" continue to flow.

The first of these projects involved updating the vinyl cushions for Ghost Rider's fly bridge seating areas.  We had the helm seat rebuilt and recovered two years ago, but now all the other seat cushions were looking pretty ratty, too. And lately they had been absorbing and retaining more rain water than their covers were repelling.  We bought the new foam filling and marine vinyl from our own sources – with the material and color matching what was used for the helm seat do-over (Sea Oyster vinyl) – and then engaged Cape Canvas & Cushion (LINK) in nearby Cape Coral for the handiwork.
The Updated Fly Bridge Cushions Now Match the Helm Chair

They aren’t particularly fancy, but they are functional, much more water resistant than the old ones, and no longer pockmarked by mildew stains.  We treated with 303 Aerospace Protectant which should help with long term survivability.

Four Sliding Shelves Make The Pantry
Area Much More Accessible
The next project was aimed at upgrading the galley pantry.  Ghost Rider has two tall, narrow and very deep cabinets just to the right of the fridge/freezer.  Each has multiple shelf levels and they can hold a lot of stuff, but they require you employ a ladder and a flashlight and have telescoping arms to reach all of the spaces.  It was a fine place to store food related things that you didn't care a great deal about ever seeing again.

The solution was to install some slide-out shelves.  Having seen Rick’s carpentry skills before – essentially he has none – Chelle hired Dave Purcell for the job, who is something of a maritime handyman with good credentials in this area (as well as a USCG 500 GT licensed delivery captain.) She ordered the shelving units from Slide-a-Shelf (LINK) who custom built them to our measurements.  (Note that discounts are sometimes available by ordering through Costco or Amazon.)  And then Dave went to work on fitment, finishing and installation.  He is a bit of a perfectionist so he even crafted a fascia for each sliding shelf and stained them to match the boat’s interior teak woodwork.  They look good and definitely improve accessibility.

With the Stainless Steel Button Latches
Added to Prevent Movement When Underway
To prevent them from sliding forward and banging against the cabinet doors during lumpy seas we used the same stainless steel "button latches" that we had employed on the fridge and freezer doors.  We just need to remember to engage the latches....which is not a given.

On the lowest shelf in the bottom cabinet we chose to forgo the sliding shelf option and instead went with a false bottom on furniture sliders; that preserved the deeper storage area at the base for larger items.

Amidst these boat projects we also had to tend to some routine maintenance activities.  The first of those was refreshing a few Racor fuel filters.  While we had not reached an engine hour trigger, there is always some concern about filter effectiveness with the passage of time.  Does a filter element not being used much but still soaking in diesel fuel eventually undergo a change in filtering properties?  At some point the answer is likely yes, but exactly when can really only be determined when the vacuum gauge rises above seven inches HG.  Rick would rather not deal with that while underway, so we change ours after a year if we haven’t yet hit the magic 500 hour mark. That’s overly conservative, but at $10 apiece it’s cheap insurance and peace of mind.  So both main engine Racor 900 filters got changed as did the Racor 500 for the genset.
The Dual Racor 900 Units for the Main Engine.  After Installing the New Filter Elements We Label Them with Both Date
and Engine Hours.  Same Goes for the Smaller Racor 500's on the Generator and Wing Engine.
Next up was the six month windlass service.  Our hydraulically powered Maxwell 3500 will probably outlive us, but the above-deck components still require periodic attention – basically dismantling down to the lower clutch cone and crank collar, liberally lubing all accessible parts with a good lithium grease, and then shooting a grease gun into the main bearing’s zerk fitting.  Upon disassembly we found the unit clean and still well lubricated, not too surprising given its limited use and exposure this year.  But we know its ready to go and hoping for some use in the next couple of months.  After reassembly and checking for leftover parts (none, yay!) we exercised the unit to confirm smooth operation.
Disassembling the Windlass Deck Components....Not a Difficult Task But It's a Messy, Greasy One When Rick Does It
Another rather mundane item that our Wheelhouse software reminds us of on an annual basis is checking the integrity of the DC and AC electrical panel connections.  While inspecting for chafing is a part of that, it's mainly verifying that all attachment points are still tight -- and there are a LOT of them.  But with a couple of different screw drivers and plenty of patience it only takes about an hour.  Before checking the AC power side it's highly recommended that you turn off the shore power 240V/50A circuit breaker first.  It doesn't take much of a slip to turn the rear of that panel into a rogue defibrillator; don't ask Rick how he knows this.

To wrap it all up we sortied Ghost Rider a short distance upriver to the Fort Myers Yacht Basin to take on 400 gallons of diesel fuel.  That brings our current tankage up to around 1100 gallons in total, which will get us through the foreseeable future and avoid the (much) higher rates down in the Keys.

Next up:  We'll be heading inland up to Missouri and Illinois for a much anticipated visit with family and friends, plus our favorite annual charity event.  Packing will be interesting as it much cooler there - it's still damned hot here in southern Florida.  But it will still be great fun in the Midwest.  When we return we hope to get Ghost Rider underway again and head down to the Keys for a spell.  More on that later.
Looking Behind the DC Electrical Panel....Lots of Wire Attachments
That Require Integrity Checks Once a Year.
Looking Inside the AC Electrical Panel....More Attachment Points to Check,
and Most of Them Pack Quite a Punch.  It's No Fun to Become a Human Fuse,
So Disconnecting Power is Highly Recommended.
When We Returned from Our Short Sortie to Take on Fuel, We Parked Ghost Rider Nose In at the Request of Our
Fiberglass Repair Tech.  That Gives Him Easier Access to Patch the Scratches on the Starboard Bow Section.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Oct 2019: Sea Trial to Captiva Island

TS Nestor Moved Quickly from the Southwest Caribbean & Into the Gulf
Towards Florida.  But Its Winds Stayed At or Below 50 MPH.
We took a break from boat business from 10-October to 15-October to enjoy a visit from daughter Suzanne…a friend’s wedding and copious amounts of wine were involved. It was a great family break.  During that time Rick was trying to decide between selling the boat and taking it out for a sea trial, with the latter winning out for now.  Besides, our local Grady-White boat club has scheduled a long weekend get-together at nearby South Seas Resort on Captiva Island, and that looked to be a good excuse and opportunity to wring out the systems.

So by Thursday, 17-October, we were back on the boat to prepare for the sea trial.  We packed and provisioned for a short three day jaunt and performed our usual pre-departure checks on Ghost Rider.  The weather forecast wasn’t particularly good for the coming weekend – actually it rather sucked.  A tropical depression was spooling up in the southwest Caribbean and would eventually become a named storm (Nestor), and head in the general direction of the Florida panhandle….just close enough to cause some nearby meteorological chaos, but nothing dangerous in our estimation.  At a minimum we thought our departure and return windows looked reasonably good, even if in between that wasn’t the case.
Our Track from Fort Myers to Captiva Island and Back
So on the morning of Friday, 18-October we steered Ghost Rider out of her mooring at Legacy Harbor – ever so slowly and carefully, paying very close attention to throttle behavior and response – and then chugged down river, across to Pine Island Sound and then north up the ICW to the tip of Captiva Island.  It was a short sortie, just over three hours to cover 25 NM to the South Seas Resort Marina.  We had overcast skies but warm and dry (albeit humid) conditions with a light southerly breeze from the south.  The bottlenose dolphins were plentiful and playful. During our wide open throttle (WOT) run towards the end of the short cruise, five of them flew formation on our starboard side for nearly ten minutes, with one adult in particular enjoying repeated leaps and side flops in the slipstream.  You’ll find one video link HERE (taken from the upper boat deck).  And another taken from closer to the fish and the water HERE.
The Dolphins Put On a Show for Us in Pine Island Sound
And the boat (and its new electronic throttle system) performed perfectly:  docking at the South Seas marina was mercifully boring.

Upon arrival we were met by good friends Bill and Terri from our Grady-White boat club, who had arrived the previous day in their gorgeous Marlin 300.  The remainder of the GW boat club contingent had cancelled out due to the deteriorating forecast, understandably so.  But the four of us enjoyed an excellent dinner at the marina’s Harbourside Bar & Grill, and then gathered on Ghost Rider for Goombay Ghost citrus rum drinks to conclude a good day.  As expected we got plenty of rain overnight and into Saturday morning, along with gusty winds from Nestor.  But by midday the storm’s rain bands had cleared out and allowed for some pool and beach time.  The ocean was all commotion (video link HERE). Unfortunately the strong southerly winds also brought a red tide algae bloom into the area, so we spent much of our remaining time in Ghost Rider’s air conditioned salon to avoid the respiratory impacts.  
Bill & Terri

A frontal passage dragged some more rain across the area early Sunday, 20-October, but that too cleared out rather quickly, and by 1130 we were back underway and heading back to our home port in Fort Myers. Winds continued to die down as the day progressed, with some sun peeking through a broken cloud layer, although the red tide aerosol lingered enough to tickle the throat.  The egress channel between the marina and the ICW was a little sporting at low tide, with barely a foot of water below the keel at one point, but we stayed off the bottom.  As expected, boat traffic was very light on the waterway and Ghost Rider continued to run well and without any issues throughout the warm and humid day.  Less than four hours after departure - punching into a current the whole way - we were back home at Legacy Harbour in Fort Myers, and the stern-in docking maneuver proceeded smoothly.

So overall the sea trial went well and the short journey was enjoyable.  It was a good reminder that the boating between breakages can be good fun.  Now to see how long that lasts.
Bill & Terri's Grady-White Marlin 300, Starship, Docked at South Seas.
Ghost Rider Docked Up at South Seas
The Gulf of Mexico Was a Boiling Mess Even Though Nestor Was a Good 200 Miles Away

Sep-Oct 2019: Maintenance Wrap-up

Ross & Jerry in Ghost Rider's Engine Room Working on
Installing the New Transmission Cable and the New
 ZF MicroCommander 9110 Brain Box.
We have noted before, and not without some humility and embarrassment, that experience can be a tough teacher.  And within that realm of education, that failure is the absolute best instructor.  Based just on failure frequency alone we're now thinking we should be at genius level by year end.

At 0815 on the morning of Friday, 27-September, Ross and Jerry of Classic Yacht Service showed up at the boat with a new throttle control brain box.  The ZF 9110 – the latest edition of the “MicroCommander Marine Propulsion Control System” – was identical in size and proportion to the old unit, so it dropped right in.  Jerry worked on attaching the small lead wires from each of the three throttle stations while Ross ran the new cable to the transmission.  Calibration of this unit is done with electronic programming vs. the old style dip switches, and that takes time and patience (as well as two people.)  But three hours later we were dock testing successfully.

After another inspection of the fly bridge throttle station we all agreed that it warranted a new replacement unit.  Ross’s normal supplier had a six week lead time (ZF bought Mathers years ago, thus it's mostly an overseas operation now), so Rick went hunting online and found one in Tennessee (through Marine Parts Source, LINK) and placed an order for the last one they had in stock.  The new 400 Series control head, a Mathers 453-3R, arrived via FedEx a few days later.  On Tuesday, 01-October Ross called to say he had found a sudden hole in his schedule, so that afternoon we rendezvoused at the boat, uninstalled the old fly bridge throttle, installed the new unit (with seven new crimp terminals and heat shrink sleeves), and got it all tested out. 
The New MicroCommander 9110 Brain Box.  In Addition to Upgraded Mother Board Electronics It Also Provides
an LED Digital Readout (Yellow Arrow) For Status & Error Codes.
The New Fly Bridge Throttle Control Station (Red Arrow).  It Isn't Easy to Access the Underside but We Found
Removing the Instrument Cluster Panel (Yellow Arrow) At Least Made That Possible.
Shortly thereafter Mike from Brightworks stopped by the boat to take a closer look at the port side rub rail damage.  As expected he was not very optimistic….it’s an extremely thick and heavy duty piece of stainless steel hardware; it will require special cutting tools to remove the damaged segments, and then it’s likely the replacement strips will need to be custom machined to fit.  We decided that was a job for a yard more experienced with the beefy build of the Nordhavn, so that will get deferred until we can get the boat back over to the east coast.  We'll discuss further with Yacht Tech in Palm Beach, but that will be a next year thing.  Rick spent a couple of hours each day during the first week of October sanding and polishing the deep scratches in the rub rail and was at least able to make it less ugly in the interim.
Accessing the Mid Bilge Drain is a Royal Pain,
But the Arrows Point to its General & Well
Hidden Location.

Amidst all the throttle system work we also encountered more standing water in the mid bilge area.  By this time Rick was getting thoroughly irritated.  The previous water leaks we had found and fixed were still fixed….no leaks from the new Whale fitting on the accumulator tank, ditto for the tightened water maker line on the water manifold.  But after once again tearing into that mid bilge area Rick did find an A/C condensate hose (from the pilot house unit) that was steadily dripping into that bilge cavity.  That part of the puzzle is actually normal – the issue had to be with a plugged limber hole or drain, preventing a flow back to the aft bilge (where the pumps are located.) 

It took some taxing boat yoga to locate, but eventually Rick found a plugged drain in that small bilge recess.  Fortunately and eventually we were able to snake a hose from the wet-dry shop vac down there and suck out the clogging debris.  If you look at the picture to the right, you can gain access to that drain via the removed panels noted by the yellow arrows -- from the top if you have five foot long arms, or from the backside if your arms and hands are less than two inches in diameter.
Yes, Seriously, There is a Drain Hidden in There.  How to Access It is Not At All Obvious or Easy.  Eventually We Were Able to Snake the Shop Vac Hose in There & Suck Out a Variety of Clogging Debris.
Next up is a sea test out the new throttle system components and find out if we broke anything else.  We'll cover that in the next blog.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Sep 2019: More Boat Business

The "Brain Box", a ZF/Mathers MicroCommander 585;
Servos & Physical Cable Connections Are Behind
the Printed Circuit Board.
In the days following the electronic throttle (and gear) failure we began pursuing answers…but we weren’t finding anything definitive.  Immediately after the event Rick had tested the electronic throttle station in the pilot house and found it nonresponsive – dead, unable to take control at that location.  But by the following day (Tuesday, 17-September) ALL THREE throttle stations were operating normally once again.  He ran the engines for a few hours to heat up the engine room – wondering if the “brain box” for the electronic throttles, which is located in the engine room, might be succumbing to heat related issues.  But after retesting the throttles following the heat soak, all stations again worked normally.

The next day, Wednesday, 18-September, Rick called on Ross Lund of Classic Yacht Service to visit the boat and assess the electronic throttle system, but absent any active misbehavior that would not be an easy task.  No electrical issues were found….voltage checked out at 13.3 volts at the control box, there was no corrosion there, and all but one of the wire terminals were tight.  The bare ground wire for “station 1” looked a little ragged, so Rick removed & trimmed it, then re-attached it more securely.  Ross and his helper Jerry found one potential issue with the physical cable running from the control box servo actuator to the transmission – the cable length was about a quarter inch too long, which theoretically at least might cause the servo control to keep trying to push it further and issuing a fault when it couldn’t.  They adjusted the cable appropriately.

The more common failure in these types of electronic throttle controls is loose or corroded connections at the throttle station(s).  Given we experienced failures at both the fly bridge and pilot house stations, Rick didn’t think that was the likely cause – a fault at one station is isolated from the other stations.  But to be cautious he spent some time examining the seven wire leads on the bottom side of each throttle.  The pilot house and cockpit units checked out tight and corrosion-free; the fly bridge station looked a little weathered and will require further evaluation and possibly replacement.
The Wiring on the Underside of the Throttle
Rather than just hope this 17 year old system wouldn’t fail again we had Ross order a whole new brain box.  The estimated price tag hurt (about three BOAT units once a new cable and labor were also factored in) but we were not going to be taking chances with such a mission critical system.  Having your 80,000 pound boat ping-ponging around the marina isn’t our idea of fun.  There was a gremlin hiding somewhere in that throttle system and we were determined to exorcise it.

While waiting on those parts the next step was to coordinate repairs to the physical hull and rub rail damage Ghost Rider incurred when it crunched the concrete piling following the throttle failure.  One of the go-to folks in this area with good references for fiberglass and trim repairs is Mike Peters with Brightworks.  Mike inspected the damage and thought the first pass should be wet sanding and buffing, so now we’re just waiting on an opening in his busy schedule to see how that turns out.  We were also concerned that the boat’s bulbous bow might have made contact with the docks; but on Friday, 20-September, our diver took an underwater spin around the boat and found only a minor abrasion in the bottom paint there.  That can wait for the next bottom paint job.

The Water Accumulator Tank with a
New Whale Fitting
In the midst all of this unplanned maintenance activity we encountered yet another repair opportunity.  During his routine below-deck checks Rick discovered some standing water in the mid bilge area.  The slope of that area isn’t ideal and thus does not fully drain to the aft bilge where the pumps are located.  Regardless, water doesn’t belong there, and the “taste test” revealed it was fresh water.  Tracing such leaks back to the origin is usually a frustrating treasure hunt – the source is rarely at or even near where the stuff ends up.  But after using a shop vac to suck the mid bilge dry Rick was able to trace a slow tell-tale water flow back to the water accumulator tank on the port side of the engine room.  The Whale compression fitting at the bottom of that tank had a steady dribble – which of course turned into a wild fountain fest when Rick fiddled with it.

After scrambling to close off the water manifold valves and cutting the circuit breaker to the water pump Rick got the wild spray under control – and then toweled himself and the engine room dry.  It was then simple enough to drain the accumulator tank into a bucket and replace the 15 mm Whale fitting with one of the spares we kept on board.  Re-pressurizing the system revealed a good fix.  To be on the safe side Rick also checked the starboard side of the engine room where the fresh water manifold resides and found the water-maker feed line leaking over there; re-tightening its connecting nut resolved that.
The Arrow Points to the Cheap-Looking Water Maker Line Nut

Coincidentally we were also in the middle of cleaning and draining the FRP water storage tanks.  This is the first time we’ve had to do that, as up to this year we had been on board and turning over the water supply often enough that it couldn’t go stale.  But after several months of non-use a mild odor made it obvious that water quality had declined.  A shock treatment of chlorine, followed by draining, followed by three gallons of Camco’s Cleaner-Deodorizer and two more fill & drain cycles got the job done.  That routine took most of a week, finishing up on Monday, 23-September.  We would leave three of the four tanks mostly empty (with a little of Camco’s Freshener product added) until we began more active use of the boat in a couple of months.
The Tropics Were Still Very Active But Not in Our Immediate Vicinity

In the meantime our weather had turned and stayed stunningly good.  While the tropics were still chock full of named systems, none seemed to be threatening our area, and the same upper level air flow that was keeping them away from us had brought us dryer than normal air.  It was a tad breezy and still warm, but we were enjoying abundant sunshine and reasonable (for us) humidity levels. 

It would have been fabulous boating weather.  Alas, that will need to wait until parts are procured, and repairs have been made and sea-trialed.  Hopefully we'll have more on that in the next blog post.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Sep 2019: After Hurricane Dorian

Ghost Rider's Bottom Paint Getting a Much Needed Waterline Touch Up.
Rick didn’t visit RFYC and Ghost Rider again until Tuesday, 10-September, when he made the drive to check on work order progress and to coordinate logistics for splashing the boat once it was again ready for sea duty. 

The RFYC crew had been busy….they were about 80% complete with the bottom paint touch-up job, and had already torn into the two raw water intake seacocks for the main engine.  The one on the port side checked out OK – we visually verified the ball valve was moving to the closed position, plus they removed a hose end and poured water in to verify the ball valve wasn’t leaking.
Where the Starboard Side Seacock Used to Be.
The starboard side seacock definitely had a problem, though.  While we could visually verify the ball valve was moving to the closed position, when we performed the same leak check it was a veritable sieve.  Under pressure it would produce the scary flow that Rick had observed last time he tried to clean out its strainer basket.  Our guess was either there was upward play in the ball valve mechanism away from the sealing surface, or the Teflon sealing seat between the ball and housing was shot, or both – either way it would no longer serviceable.  The Groco replacement unit was due to arrive the following day.  (As it turned out, during bench testing of the removed seacock Rick discovered that the handle was traveling beyond the 90 degree closed position to a partially open condition - the mechanical stop had broken off the handle.)

Rick attacked a few new Wheelhouse maintenance items during this visit and also reconnected the boat’s WiFi system and camera network to the marina’s hotspot.  Along with the previously reconnected Monnit remote sensors, we now had our full remote monitoring solution back in service.

Two days later on Thursday, 12-September, after John (the yard manager) had called to verify they would be completing the work that day, Rick returned to RFYC and the boat.  This trip was to inspect the work on the bottom paint and the seacock, and to insure the boat was ready for splashing the next morning.  Everything looked good – the bottom paint touch up job was neat and thorough, and all seacock plumbing, hoses and clamps passed ready-for-sea inspection.
Bottom Side of the Removed Seacock.

Except for a few closed thru-hulls in the lazarette (mostly cooling circuits that tend to cavitate later if not closed off when on the hard) Rick also completed the engine room and laz preflight inspections.  That way we would be ready to startup soon after relaunching.  He also spent a little time wire brushing some barnacles off of some thru-hull trim rings and strainer slots; after that the bottom looked very good indeed.  The rest of the boat, however, was a dusty, grimy and bug-stained mess, so before leaving it for the day Rick gave Ghost Rider a quick hose down.

While we were hoping to splash the boat the following morning (Friday, 13-September), the weather forecast was changing quickly and not for the better.  The NHC was now calling for a tropical system of some sort to approach south Florida as the weekend neared, so we decided to leave Ghost Rider parked on the RFYC pad for the weekend.  Once again the models behind the NHC's cone of probability diverged significantly, with a wide gap between the GFS and Euro model path predictions.  The good news was that neither was calling for anything beyond tropical storm strength locally.  But with the likelihood of increasing TRW coverage along with windy conditions we decided to wait until this one passed.
By Saturday Tropical Storm Humberto Had Formed But Was Already Turning North & Staying Away From Florida.  A New  Disturbance Started to Spin in the Gulf but Was Moving Away Towards Texas.  We Would Need to Keep an Eye on the Other Three in the Middle of the Atlantic, but They Wouldn't Delay Our Plan to Splash Ghost Rider.
By Saturday morning, 14-September, NOAA's 5-day tropical outlook map was looking more like a game of tic-tac-toe with the number of potential hot spots it was tracking.  On Saturday night, caught between two low pressure systems, it rained like hell here. But as one (Hurricane Humberto) began to pull away to the north, and the other to the west towards Texas, they had sucked away most of moisture with them by late Sunday.

That made the weather forecast for Monday, 16-September pretty good for the slow slog down river back to Fort Myers.  So we dropped one car at Legacy Harbour and drove the other to RFYC.  We splashed Ghost Rider around 1030 and after leak-checking the new thru-hull seacock we were ready to take the boat back down river to Fort Myers.  The sortie down the big ditch was mostly uneventful -- both locks and the two low bridges were prompt in opening and we were the only traffic heading west on the Caloosahatchee this day.  We had good weather, with temps reaching the low 90's and just fair weather "popcorn" cumulus clouds.

Ghost Rider ran perfectly again -- right until we were attempting to dock at Legacy Harbour.  That's when the electronic throttle for the main engine failed.  Shit.
The Scarred Rub Rail on the Port Side Where Ghost Rider Crunched the Concrete Dock Piling After the Electronic
Throttle Failed in Forward Gear.  Use of the Bow Thruster Avoided a Direct Hit on the Anchor & Bow Pulpit, Which
Would Have Been Really Nasty.
And it failed (died...totally dead) while in forward gear, so Ghost Rider crunched the port side bow rub rail on a concrete piling before we got the main shut down and backed off using the wing engine.  We had a 15 knot crosswind for the stern-in docking maneuver, and that wasn't going to work with wing-only propulsion, so we backed down to a side tie near the entrance to the fairway.  

To say that Rick was torqued off would be the understatement of the decade.  More about troubleshooting and repairs in the next blog post.

A Close-up of the Rub Rail Scar.  There is Another Just Aft of This One.  And a Couple of FRP Scars Opposite
 on the Starboard Side.  This Won't Be a Cheap Repair.
Head-on View from A Distance at Our Temporary Slip....Ghost Rider Still Looks Good.  Up Close - Not So Much.
The Damage is Not Obvious Until One Gets Close.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Aug-Sep 2019: Hurricane Dorian

The Early Path Predictions for This Storm Covered a Huge Area.  Marinas &
Boat Owners Had to Make Decisions Early.
From August through October hurricanes are an annoying but normal part of life in Florida.  The damned things are inevitable, and with climate change accelerating at an alarming pace they are also getting more frequent and stronger.  And that’s why we always give ourselves a bailout option.  This year we knew we would be stuck in Florida for the tropical storm season, so we signed up for the hurricane club at the River Forest Yachting Center (RFYC) in Labelle, Fl.  That facility is 40 miles up-river from our Fort Myers (Legacy Harbour) mooring, with two locks (meaning no storm surge) between it and the open ocean, and with an expansive apron of concrete dotted with embedded tie-down anchors.  It was designed specifically to offer safe harbor from big blows.
Our Satellite Tracker Path from Fort Myers to River Forest Yachting Center
Near Labelle, Florida.
When the forecast for TD5 suddenly went from a dissipating tropical storm to a major hurricane named Dorian in the span of a couple of days, it definitely got our attention.  And when the Euro model’s forecast track had it going from Palm Beach on the east coast and straight over Fort Myers on the west coast of the state at formidable strength, we decided to move the boat to RFYC.  We had been intending to take the boat there for some maintenance attention anyway, and this was a compelling trigger.

A Nordhavn 55, Fusion, Heading in the Opposite Direction....for Good Reason.
Thus on Friday, 30-Aug, we were up at 0600 and underway just before the 0700 sunrise, chugging eastward up the Caloosahatchee River at a steady 7.8 knots.  In spite of the two locks (Franklin & Ortona) and a few bridge openings to negotiate, we covered the 40 NM in just five and a half hours, arriving at RFYC by 1230.  Surprisingly there was only sparse boat traffic along the way, one of which was a westbound Nordhavn 55, Fusion, who via VHF told us “no way we were staying in Palm Beach” and were headed to Twin Dolphins Marina on the Manatee River in Bradenton.

We did not have to loiter for any openings; both locks had their western gates open when we arrived, and the two bridge tenders were prompt and courteous.  At the Alva bascule bridge the attendant inquired via VHF: “Aren’t you guys headed in the wrong direction?”  We mentioned our RFYC destination and haul-out intentions and he congratulated us on a good plan.  

Waiting on the Fort Denaud Swing Bridge & Hoping it Wouldn't Get
Stuck in an Intermediate Position.
The only real angst we had was at the Fort Denaud swing bridge (9 foot clearance); that thing is ancient and rickety, and has been known to fail in the closed or partially open position….but not this time.  Even the weather cooperated, with the usual thunderstorms holding off until much later that afternoon.  And Ghost Rider ran perfectly; we even managed to squeeze in a short wide open throttle (WOT) run as we hustled to make the final lock opening at Ortona.

We didn’t even have to wait for the haul-out upon arrival at RFYC….we were directed straight into the well, got Ghost Rider all strapped in, and we were out of the water in short order.  We shut down everything – all AC and DC circuit breakers, plus the inverter.  Except for the battery monitor and a few electrical panel LEDs, Ghost Rider was electrically dead.  There would be no shore power connection, so that was necessary to preserve the house battery bank.
Ghost Rider Hauling Out at River Forest Yachting Center.

It took us about three hours to get the boat prepped after the travel lift had positioned us on their tie-down apron.  We had been through this preparation routine once before with Hurricane Irma in 2017, so we had a good checklist to follow.  We stripped canvas, lowered antennae, stowed loose items, and tied or taped anything that might move or leak.  In the 90+ degree heat it was an exhausting afternoon.  The RFYC staff placed plenty of blocks and jackstands to support the boat’s 80,000 pounds, then ratchet strapped 4 of our beefy corner cleats to their equally beefy concrete-embedded hurricane eye bolts.  We were storm ready if needed.

While there Rick sat down with John, the yard manager, and we wrote up a work order to replace or repair the two faulty seacock through-hulls we had discovered back in the spring.  We also added some remedial bottom paint work to the order – upon haul out we noticed excessive ablative wear all along the water line and some on the bulbous bow.  Below that, however, the bottom paint was in excellent shape. 
The Bottom Paint Along the Waterline was Looking Pretty Sad, Although
Below That It Still Looked Very Good.

By 1600 we called it a day.  RFYC is in the middle of nowhere, with no good transportation options available locally.  Fortunately we had dropped one of the cars at RFYC the day before (by automobile it’s only an hour’s drive from Legacy Harbour) so we weren’t stranded.  Coincidentally we had met another Nordhavn couple the day before, George and Christina, who were transient berthed at Legacy; they also took their N35, Sophie, to River Forest, so we gave them (and their cat) a lift back to Fort Myers to retrieve their rental car.

We slept like corpses that night and then spent the next few days relaxing at our Fort Myers condo while tracking Dorian’s progress (or lack of it) across western Atlantic waters.  By the time it reached the hot-tub-temperatures of Bahamian waters (Sunday, 01-Sep) it had spooled up to a Cat-5 storm with sustained winds at 185 MPH and gusts to 220, pushing a surge around 20 feet.  The Abacos and Grand Bahama – places like Hopetown, Marsh Harbor, Green Turtle Cay, West End, that we had so enjoyed during last year’s cruising – got absolutely walloped by the storm as it plowed westward, stalled, and spun a sustained and devastating attack on those small islands.
Ghost Rider at RFYC After Being Relocated to a Covered Spot on the Apron.

Dorian had slowed so dramatically that it wasn’t until Wednesday, 04-Sep that RFYC was able to start unstrapping and splashing boats.  Chelle went shopping for groceries and supplies to drop off for our area’s Bahamian relief efforts, and Rick drove back to RFYC to visit Ghost Rider and to get an estimate of how long our repair work order would take.  The boat was pretty dirty but otherwise in good shape.  Rick began reversing some of the storm preps, ventilated the engine room and got shore power hooked up (to re-charge the house batteries) after the RFYC staff relocated Ghost Rider to a work slot on the apron that was also under cover.  

Rick made one more trip back to RFYC and the boat on Friday, 06-September, to complete reversal of our storm preps and to take care of some interim maintenance to-do's that our Wheelhouse program was nagging about.  The RFYC staff indicated they intended to start on our work order the following Monday, so for now we were done with boat business.

In the interim Chelle had kept extremely busy with the storm relief efforts for the northernmost islands in the Bahamas.  In addition to her shopping trip we posted signs in our condo complex and collected more non-perishables from our neighbors.  One of our local Fort Myers boat yards, Stokes Marine (LINK), was a nearby and convenient site coordinating supplies and transport.  (Owner, Brent Stokes, was interviewed by CNN, a clip is available at the THIS LINK.)  While Rick was distracted with Ghost Rider Chelle spent more of her time helping load up trucks and boats. Their initial flotilla and private plane formation delivered a significant payload to Lucaya, Grand Bahama, today -- it's the only port capable of receiving materials at this point.  But the hope is to keep it going and include the Abacos sometime next week.

Overall they’ve done a fabulous job collecting and transporting a huge amount of critically needed below. Fortunately the weather was cooperating, as Dorian had sucked all the moisture out of our atmosphere like a gigantic wet-dry vacuum on its journey north.  If you want to help and are not sure how, there is a safe GoFundMe site at this LINK.  Or just head over to the Red Cross web site HERE.

Just Some of the Relief Supplies Being Collected at Stokes Marine.
Loading Up the Boats.  Some Would Sortie Across Lake O, but Many Were Trailered Over to
Fort Lauderdale and From There Headed to Lucaya, Grand Bahama.