Sunday, March 22, 2020

March 2020: Underway Again

We were finally ready to get moving again.  Our initial goal was to get Ghost Rider around to the other side of the state to Palm Beach for a rendezvous with Yacht Tech (LINK), for whom we had accumulated a lengthy punch list of service needs. After that the plan was to head over to the Bahamas where we hoped to deliver some much needed supplies to the All Hands and Hearts disaster relief team in Marsh Harbour (LINK).  Following that we wanted to go explore some of the out islands around Eleuthera.
Our Path from Fort Myers down to the Keys, then Back Up the East Coast
to North Palm Beach and Loggerhead Marina....About 320 NM.

With provisioning largely complete and (at last) a decent weather window opening up after weeks of windy conditions that had been churning up the seas, we made the move to the boat on Wednesday, 11-March and settled in.  Chelle finished stowing the final haul of provisions, and Rick completed our preflight checklists, updated our charts and verified our routes.  It was time to go.  We would go south to the Keys, then "around the horn" and up the east coast...Lake O was too shallow at this point for Ghost Rider's deep draft.

Thu, 12 Mar….From Fort Myers to Marco Island

We finally departed Legacy Harbour Marina a 0900 on Thursday, 12-March, and pointed the boat's bow south.  With an outgoing tide we picked up a nice trailing current and easily averaged 8.5 knots even with a leisurely 1400 RPM setting on the main engine.  We had sunny skies, with temps in the low-to-mid 70’s, a mild east wind and flat water.
Ghost Rider Docked on an Alongside Tie at Factory Bay in Marco Island

Our modest goal for the day was to reach Marco Island, a fairly easy day cruise of 50 nautical miles down the west coast of Florida.  We ran the boat from the fly bridge in perfect conditions, dolphins vectored in and out of the bow wave but without lingering too long, and the boat ran well.  With the light winds and flat seas even the Marco River inlet was refreshingly boring at a high tide.  Chelle wasn’t feeling well most of the day – an apparent reaction to a recent vaccination – so Rick did most of the driving and handled the docking at the Factory Bay Marina (LINK) just before 1600.  Mindful of the emerging pandemic situation we ate dinner on the boat that evening and just chilled out.

Fri, 13 Mar….From Marco Island to Shark River

We did not dally at Marco and got underway the next morning before 0900.  Weather conditions were again near perfect, with light easterly winds, clear skies and low relative humidity.  We thought the outgoing mid-tide conditions would be suitable for exiting the inlet, but as it turned out Ghost Rider’s keel bumped the bottom twice in rapid succession – smack in the middle of the well-marked channel and very near the outer markers.  By the time Rick reacted with a neutral throttle it was over and we were back in deeper water.
We had a Grand Banks Following Us and a Defever in Front of Us On the
Sortie Down to Shark River

Fortunately that was the only “aw shit” for the entire day.  Once again we were blessed with smooth water and a following current, making for an easy cruise around Cape Romano Shoals and all the way down the southwest coast of Florida and into Everglades territory.  Chelle was also feeling much better and handled much of the helm duty from her perch on the fly bridge.  We also had company – a Defever (Inshalah) and a Grand Banks (Tuscarora) were headed to the same destination, so we had a rather loose 3-ship formation for much of the day.  Some dolphins joined in for part of the sortie, and a sea turtle about the size of a truck tire made a brief appearance as well.
Sunset at Our Shark River Anchorage....It Never Gets Old.  But No
Green Flash This Night.

We arrived at the mouth of Little Shark River around 1530, motored a few hundred meters south of there and dropped the hook, letting out 100 feet of chain in ten feet of water, and obtained a good set on the anchor about a half mile off the Glades shoreline.  We figured that would be smooth water for the night (correct) and far enough off to avoid the bugs (incorrect.)  After briefly opening the salon door a moth-like creature the size of a small bird zoomed into the galley, putting an end to that strategy.  We closed up and ran the generator and A/C for a while.  But later we were able to open a few portals and hatches that had screens and shut down the genset for a quiet and comfy night.

Sat, 14 Mar….From Shark River to Marathon

The next morning broke clear and mild once again (we were digging this boring weather) although the easterly breezes freshened a bit and temps eventually warmed into the upper 70’s, topping off around 80F.  The house battery bank was still at 85% SOC which was a very reasonable draw down for the 10 or so overnight hours.  We cranked up the generator to start putting a charge back into the batts, picked up the hook and got underway by 1000.
Chelle at the Fly Bridge Helm

While the wind chop had picked up with the increased breeze it was still a very pleasant ride south towards the Keys.  Inshalah, the Defever 48 from the day before, fell into a trail formation since they were headed to Marathon as well, and together we dodged numerous crab pots for most of the day’s sortie.  We were punching into a head current most of this day, so we only averaged around 7.5 knots.  While enroute we also ran a water maker test for about three hours and it cranked out about 40 gallons, quite satisfactory for our upcoming Bahamas touring.

The Marathon Anchorage Just Off of Boot Key Harbor Was a Bit Crowded
After crossing under the Seven Mile Bridge we curved around to the east and headed into the anchorage just outside of the Boot Key entrance channel – and the place was already packed by 1545.  We squeezed Ghost Rider into a rather tight slot between the channel and a small sailboat, dropped the hook, let out 100’ of chain and set the anchor rather hard.  We spent the first hour verifying the set with range finder readings and monitored our swing room, but it all worked out.  The only downside to the location was nearly constant boat wakes from vessels going in and out of Boot Key.

We ran the generator and A/C for a few hours, enjoying another nice meal on board, and another lovely sunset.  The mild temperature and stiff breeze allowed us to shut down systems again for the overnight period with just a few hatches and portals open to the night air.
Sunset at the Marathon Anchorage with Seven Mile Bridge in the Foreground.

Sun, 15 Mar….From Marathon to Rodriguez Key

Weather-wise Sunday morning looked a lot like Saturday evening, which was a good thing, although we anticipated the 15 knot wind from the east would be chopping up the Atlantic side of the state.  By 0930 we had retrieved the anchor and snaked our way out of the crowded anchorage; an initial southerly heading brought Ghost Rider into Hawk Channel and there we turned her east.

Another Anchorage and Another Sunset, This One at Rodriguez Key with
the Key Largo Area in the Background.
Once we had left the lee of the Boot Key land mass, the wave action got a bit more frisky as expected and predicted, generally from two to three feet but rather square and at narrow intervals.  But we weren’t pounding and regardless the boat didn’t care.  Crab pot avoidance was the order of the day again, but surprisingly they weren’t as numerous as we’ve historically seen in this area.  Wind and waves backed off a bit the final few hours of the sortie, and with air temperature reaching into the low 80’s it was another fine day of helming from the fly bridge.

By 1600 we had tucked in behind Rodriguez Key and set the anchor in ten feet of very clear water; the anchorage was somewhat crowded but there was still plenty of room to find a comfortable slot with plenty of swing room.  We repeated our generator and A/C routine from the previous two nights, able once again to shut everything down for the overnight period – after appreciating another gorgeous sunset.  That just never gets old.

Mon, 16 Mar….From Rodriguez Key to Fort Lauderdale

This would be our longest single day run (70 NM) so we got an earlier start, pulling out of the peaceful anchorage at 0815.  It was another typical south Florida day in mid-March – sunny sky, brisk easterly breezes, temps approaching 80F with a moderate humidity level.  For the first 30 or so miles we were still running (mostly north now) with a reef to our starboard, so the seas were quite reasonable and comfortable at around two feet.  But as we approached the Miami area and left the reef protection behind, the washing machine action started.
We Had to Dodge This Departing Cruise Ship As We Came Into the Port
Everglades Inlet.  Notice the Empty Decks.

Seas were now running 3 to 5 feet with plenty of vertical wind chop on top, and the wind clocked a bit to the northeast, so Ghost Rider started to pound into the head sea component.  The boat didn’t care, but we did.  We had also picked up a stiff following current and speed-over-ground (SOG) was showing 9 to 10 knots.  So we backed the RPM down to just under 1400, still got nearly 8 knots out of that, and the ride improved considerably in the sloppy seas.

At Fort Lauderdale’s Port Everglades inlet an outgoing current was bashing into the inbound wave action making it a real mess; Rick hand steered to negotiate the inlet entry as the autopilot’s counter-rudder response just isn’t up to that task, and we got between the breakwater jetties without incident.  About that time we also encountered two large cruise ships departing and heading out to sea – and they were both empty of passengers, looking like gigantic ghost ships.  It was a very weird sight, indicative of the pandemic panic that had started to sweep the globe.
Chelle on Ghost Rider's Forward Deck After Docking Up at Pier 66.

After some evasive action to avoid those big boys we passed under the 17th Street Bridge and then turned into the Pier 66 Marina basin (LINK).  That turned out to be more challenging than normal as the place was packed with enormous vessels parked in odd and inconvenient places, and Rick had to be careful during the five 90 degree turns it took to get Ghost Rider sterned in to her assigned slip.

But we got tied up without incident and then spent a full hour hosing the salt crust off of the boat.  Continuing to respect the unknowns around the viral outbreak, we dined in and relaxed onboard for the remainder of the evening. 
Pier 66 Marina Was Packed.  This Nordhavn 120, Aurora, Parked at the Entrance to Our Fairway, Didn't Help Matters Any.
Tue, 17 Mar….From Fort Lauderdale to North Palm Beach

By the next morning you could not tell that we had given the boat a decent bath the evening before.  The marina had a lot of construction in process and the boat had a layer of dusty, dark grime on it; a brief although light rain shower then turned that into a layer of pasty mud just as we were preparing to depart at 0915.  We delayed that plan by about 15 minutes to let the rain pass, but we only had 48 NM to our Palm Beach destination, so the pause was not a concern.

Chelle at the Helm in the Pilot House En Route to Palm Beach.
Rick carefully maneuvered Ghost Rider through the tight turns to get out of there and shortly thereafter we were outbound in the Port Everglades shipping channel; and it was rough.  An another outgoing tide was bashing into waves driven by easterly winds that were clocking 15 to 20 knots, and the boat was doing its best imitation of a poorly designed roller coaster, with the bow diving into 7 and 8 foot holes and throwing spray well above the boat deck level.  Rick retreated from the fly bridge and down to the much drier pilot house.

At the end of the channel we saw half a dozen ships in the deep anchorage area – basically quarantined – and maneuvered around them to finally get Ghost Rider pointed north.  That put the rough seas on the beam, where the stabilizers could at least mitigate some of the bouncy action rather than the bulbous bow pounding directly into the turbulence.  Seas were steady at four to five feet with the occasional six footer, and at least one eight footer that rearranged some furniture and a variety of other small gear.  But again we had 80F temps, mild humidity and sunny skies.
Our XM Weather Display Reporting Sea Conditions

Nevertheless, Ghost Rider kept fairly steady on her northerly heading, slowly passing by mostly empty beaches at Lighthouse Point, Deerfield, Boca Raton, Delray and Boynton Beach, and Mar-a-Lago – where Rick was dreaming of launching a cruise missile or two.  By 1500 we were transiting the Lake Worth inlet inbound, where an incoming tide made the channel fairly tame, and shortly thereafter found ourselves in the welcoming calm of the ICW.  We had to wait on two bridge openings (Parker and PGA) because of a high tide that gave us less than the needed 23 foot clearance (with the big sticks lowered) but still made Loggerhead Marina before 1630. 

Our assigned slip was a roomy one that required a bow-in approach to keep our boarding door oriented correctly, but it was also a fairly high fixed dock that made getting on and off a gymnastic exercise.  But Paul (from Yacht Tech) and two other Nordy owners were there to take lines and help us tie off, so overall it was quite uneventful.  Ghost Rider got another much needed wash down to shed all the dirt and salt, then we settled in for a quiet and air conditioned evening, and slept very well.  It was a good St. Patty’s Day night.  Erin go Bragh.

Wed, 18 Mar….At Loggerhead Marina in North Palm Beach

The next morning we were happy that we didn’t have to go anywhere and just relaxed.  Bob and Paul from Yacht Tech stopped by as promised to review and discuss our punch list – with us adding a couple of new items that had developed the night before – and we began to flush out a rough work schedule.  We’ll have more details on all of that in the next blog post.  From the news we’re getting on the developing virus scare it seems we’ll have both the need and perhaps some time to figure out what’s next.

Stay tuned.

Ghost Rider at the End of "B" Dock at Loggerhead....All Cleaned Up and Ready for Some Maintenance


  1. Obviously a good run around the Bend and up the East Coast. Vid was interesting; it was kinda weird to observe limited beam roll considering the seas accosting your stbd side. I'm assuming the stabs were deployed; if so, they're worth the money.

    This Update came at an opportune time. We're running short on excitement around here being mostly indoors for obvious reasons. So,it was the highlight of the evening with the possible exception of my golf cart ride earlier. I'd end this post with the oft-mentioned "stay safe" but you guys already are. I know that. Hope the maintenance items are smoothly dealt with.

  2. Hey Bill,

    Yes, we had the stabilizers on/active; they’re the old/mechanical gyro model, generally leak some oil, but work well enough. Going into big water without them isn’t a good idea unless you like being tossed from one side of the boat to the other.

    Most reasonable people are obeying the isolation rules, spring breakers being an obvious exception. Am guessing Fort Myers Beach is a Petri dish. Right now we’re lucky enough to be self-isolated on a very well-stocked boat.

    Making progress on the punch list, at a minimum it’s a good distraction. Tmo is valve adjustment day, should be interesting :-).

    Rick & Chelle