|Our Tracks To & From the Bahamas|
Thus, it had been since the April-May 2018 timeframe since we had the pleasures of cruising Bahamian waters (more past blog links begin HERE), and we were determined to give it another shot. Rick had the boat all caught up on maintenance, and Chelle had completed her typically thorough job of provisioning, so it seemed to be a good time….the rapidly rising price of fuel and nearly everything else notwithstanding.
Serendipitously, our local Grady-White boat club had a similar plan, so Ghost Rider and three other boats set off together to head towards Chub Cay in the Berry Islands.
Wed, 8-June, Fort Myers to Key Largo
After departing our dock around 0820 we rendezvoused with our three buddy boats – Fin & Tonic, Grady Lady II and OpenView just off the southern tip of Sanibel Island around 0850, and with Ghost Rider taking the lead headed south towards Cape Sable and the Florida Keys. Weather was typical for a June morning in southwest Florida – already warm at 85F, mostly clear skies, winds from the southwest at around 10-15 knots from the southwest. Seas were a tolerable two feet at short intervals with a slight wind chop on top.
|A Couple of the Other Three Boats Following Us Down to the Keys|
Almost immediately the port engine threw a “water-in-the-fuel” warning….not a great start. The engine was running just fine, so we decided to continue – if it began to stutter then we would stop and diagnose further. As it turned out the Yamaha 425 XTO continued to operate normally all day (well, other than the very annoying warning beep that persisted at 15 second intervals.)
About three hours later, as we were approaching the west coast of Cape Sable, we picked up a building thunderstorm to our southwest, both on our XM weather display and verified by real time radar. It was moving slowly towards the east – directly into our path – and it was emitting some serious cloud-to-ground lightning. We diverted the group to the southwest and scooted around the backside of that cell, and just in front of another one in the early building stages. Overall it was about a 12 mile diversion, but it beat messing around with Ma Nature’s high voltage, and we still arrived at Key Largo just after 1500.
|We Diverted to the West (Right) to Avoid This TRW Cell on the First leg South|
The waterway leading into Marina Del Mar (LINK) is interesting, mainly because it has a 90 degree bend in it – referred to as “Crash Corner” (for good reason) – and is fairly narrow when vessels are moored on both sides, which is the norm. It’s like boating down a bowling alley. And it can get busy, with numerous commercial fishing charters transiting daily along with several dive boat services headed to and from the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park just offshore. It is expected practice for both inbound and outbound vessels to announce an approach to Crash Corner on VHF channel 16, which has cut down considerably on collision incidents there.
|Aerial Shot of the Canals Leading into Marina Del Mar in Key Largo....the Green Arrow Marks|
the Entrance, the Red Arrow Points to "Crash Corner"
Once docked up and after the usual washdown routine, Rick removed the port engine’s cowling and secondary on-engine fuel filter (where the fuel water sensor is also located), and verified there was a trace amount of H2O in the cup. So he removed the primary fuel-water sep filter on the bilge bulkhead and dumped that into a pan, where more water was found. We had spare filters on board, so after a quick swap-out and some dock testing, the water alarm was gone and the system operated normally thereafter. We suspect some sea water entered the main fuel tank through the vent during rough seas on the previous Loop trip….the starboard engine is fed fuel by the separate aux tank, which experienced no water ingress.
|Snapper's Restaurant at Marina Del mar in Key Largo|
Thu 9-June, Key Largo
The next day was mostly a down-day to make final preparations for the Gulf Stream crossing to the Bahamas on Friday. Preps included fueling up the boat, a visit to West Marine for some more spare fuel-water sep filters (just in case), checking the next day’s weather and sea conditions, and getting a Covid-19 test at the local Walgreens; that was required to obtain the “Health Visa” for entry to the Bahamas. (Note – the following week that requirement was discontinued.) We concluded the day with a group dinner at Snapper’s, the marina’s onsite restaurant, and completing the “Click-2-Clear” applications for entry to the Bahamas.
|The Fuel Dock Just Around the Corner from the Marina|
|Our Whole Group Getting Ready to Chow Down at Snapper's|
Fri 10-June, Key Largo to Bimini
At only 72 nautical miles, the crossing from Key Largo to Bimini is not a long one, but it can be miserable (and sometimes a bad idea) in certain conditions. The Gulf Stream runs due north in that area, at anywhere from 2.5 to 5 knots, and if it collides with a brisk wind from the north, it can get very rough. This day, however, we had a good forecast (southeast winds 10K or less) with warm, clear skies, and reality matched. Our flotilla cast off lines at 0800, and with Ghost Rider in the lead, cruised smoothly across 1-2 foot seas at 30 MPH (about 26 knots on the GPS), arriving at the North Bimini entrance channel at 1100.
|Overhead View of the Entrance Channel to North Bimini & Big Game Club Marina|
We were also fortunate to arrive at a low tide and slack current (it can rip through there), and before 1130 all boats were securely tied up at the Bimini Big Game Club (LINK). It took a couple of hours to process through immigration and then customs, but after that we took down the yellow quarantine flag, replaced it with the Bahamas courtesy flag, cleaned up the boat and ourselves, and chilled out with lunch and cold beers.
There was also pool time and another group dinner at the Big Game Club’s outdoor restaurant – fun atmosphere, average food.
|Ghost Rider Docked at the Bimini Big Game Club with Courtesy Flag Deployed|
|The Group Dining at Big Game Overlooking the Marina Basin|
Sat, 11-Jun, Bimini to Chub Cay
We had more decent weather the next morning, at least at the start, for the 85 NM run to Chub Cay at the southern end of the Berry Islands. There were some small storm cells to our east, but moving north, opposite from our initial southerly direction towards the Cat Cays. So, at 0900 we headed out. We made a short diversion to check out a relatively new marina at the far south end of that island chain (might be worth a future visit), and then turned towards the east and Chub Cay.
About halfway through the leg a line of storms began building ahead of us, and while they were moving to the north, the line was long and contiguous enough that we had to pick our way through the least threatening portion. The radar and the XM Weather displays were helpful in determining the best path, and in the end we just got a decent rainwater washdown and no signs of lightning, although the wind chop increased some.
|Chart and Realtime Radar on the Left, XM Weather on the Right After |
We Had Punched Through the Line of Showers
We poked Ghost Rider’s bow into the Chub Cay entrance channel before 1600, and along with OpenView headed straight to the fuel dock, while Finn & Tonic and Grady Lady proceeded to their assigned slips. The Chub Cay Marina (LINK) is fairly new, very modern with concrete floating docks, and quite large, with excellent resort facilities on the grounds. After topping off fuel tanks and giving the boat the usual spa treatment, we had plenty of time to relax, and to tend to one small boat issue.
|Entry Channel to Chub Cay Marina & Resort|
|Layout of the Marina & Resort Grounds|
Earlier in the day, prior to departing Bimini, we had started the generator so we could use the boat’s refrigerated fish box and cooler for some ice and frozen food; but the genset was only putting out 95 volts instead of the normal 120. Rather than delay the departure we opted to do without, and now it was time to troubleshoot it. Fred Grainger, a tech with our local Grady-White dealer back home and crewing on Finn & Tonic, knew exactly what the root problem was. The 5KW Fischer-Panda apparently had a habit of burning out the boost board – basically a PCB that controls throttle and RPM according to the AC loads being applied….all we had to do was disconnect that board and the wires going to the throttle actuator, then zip-tie the throttle lever open to a fixed RPM setting that would maintain 120 volts with the typical loads applied. A more permanent fix would wait until we returned home. (See “Aftermath” below.)
Thinking we were all set for two full days of fishing in the nearby “Pocket” (more on that shortly), the entire group headed for dinner and drinks at the nearby Nauti Rooster, a classically Bahamian dive just down the road. It was actually an easy walk, but the Rooster was also providing golf cart rides from the docks. Our group numbered 14 total including guests, so we rode in shifts; on the last shift the cart was a bit overloaded, the driver was a bit careless and somewhat rambunctious with turns, and as it wheeled into the shell-paved parking lot it rolled over on its side. There were various cuts and bruises among the occupants, but by far the worst was to Candy – wife of Andy, both guests of Ron and Brenda aboard OpenView….she could not stand or walk without assistance and was in considerable pain.
We were fortunate to have a medical doctor among our gang – Julie Langer on Finn & Tonic – and while medical supplies were a bit lacking, expertise and attention were not. Julie suspected a fracture in either the hip or pelvis, but regardless it was obvious Candy’s boating days were over for a while. A day later, along with Andy she was flown on a private plane to Nassau, thence back home to the States, where she is recovering from a busted pelvis – and will fully recover.
Sun-Mon, 12-13-Jun, Chub Cay
It was time to go fishing, specifically trolling for mahi, tuna, maybe a Wahoo or Marlin. Ron, from OpenView, and Tony and Julie from Finn & Tonic jumped aboard Ghost Rider, and on a perfect summer day in the Bahamas (sunny, warm, seas 1-2 feet), we were trolling in the “Pocket” by 0930. The Pocket is a roughly triangular shaped body of deep water just southwest of Chub Cay where depths drop to thousands of feet in very short order, and is known for being very productive fishing grounds. We ended up proving that there also can be some occasionally poor conditions that produce few fish.
|Chelle at the Helm, Julie & Tony Trying to Be Patient While We Hunted Fish in the Pocket|
On both Sunday and Monday we spent hours on troll patrol and ended up boating only two Blue Runners and two barracuda, both of which make decent bait but lousy eating. The local charter experts were reporting similar results, with blame generally placed on poor water clarity and high flows pushing the bait and pelagic fish much farther to the east than normal. In any case, Chub Cay was a very nice place to hang out, but the fishing experience was totally unimpressive.
|Docked at Chub Cay....OpenView on the Left, Ghost Rider on the Right with Outriggers Up|
Tue, 14-Jun, Chub Cay to Bimini
It was time to start making our way back home, so by 0915 on Tuesday, 14-Jun we were underway, backtracking towards North Bimini so we could clear outbound customs there. Ghost Rider took the lead again for a very smooth return ride in very pleasant conditions. A few of the boats stopped off at the old Sapona shipwreck (LINK) on the inside of South Bimini to do some snorkeling, while we poked our nose out into the Gulf Stream to the west of Bimini for one last shot at trolling – but with no luck.
|The Sapona Shipwreck Remnants Just East of South Bimini|
By 1330 we were back in the North Bimini entrance channel and shortly thereafter we were again docked up at the Big Game Club in Alice Town….after dealing with some hefty current flow on a swiftly moving outgoing tide. We cleaned up the boat, cleared customs, grabbed another meal at the marina restaurant, and rested up for the next day’s sortie back to the USA.
|Tony & Julie on Their Marlin 30, Finn & Tonic, along with Crew Fred & Julia Grainger, |
Getting Squared Away at the Bimini Big Game Club
Wed, 15-Jun, Bimini to Key Largo
Conditions were about perfect the next morning’s 0900 departure…warm temps, light winds, flat seas and clear skies. Even with briefly pausing at a gas dock (very briefly – they were out of fuel) in the Largo canal, we were docked up again at Marina Del Mar by 1230. The problem was both fuel docks in that immediate area were out of gasoline, and lacking sufficient reserves to make the next day’s run back, we went hunting via the Web. Eventually we found one just a few canals over, albeit at a premium price: $7.49 per gallon at the Pilot House (LINK)….where we took on only enough for the leg back to Fort Myers.
The group has its final supper together at nearby Sharkey’s Sharkbite Grill (LINK…good food and drinks there) and called it an early night after checking the next day’s weather forecast – which again looked quite good.
We opted for a slightly earlier start on the final day since the other boats had a longer way to go to RTB than we did (anywhere from 10 to 25 miles further north.) But once again the flotilla had ideal conditions, mimicking the previous day’s weather. Ghost Rider led the formation down Hawk Channel to the Channel Five bridge, cutting north there to the bay side, through the dogleg turns at Yacht Channel, and then north paralleling the west coast of southern Florida. We had nearly flat seas the entire sortie, arriving back at our home dock by 1415.
|Our Small Fleet Making Its Way Out of the Largo Canal to Head Home|
|Finn & Tonic Flying Our Wing on the Last Leg Home|
Aftermath (Boat Business)
Generally the boat performed well. The water-in-the-fuel issue on the initial leg actually caused no performance issues and was easily resolved with filter changes. On the final leg home we also got one of those transient (and very generic) error codes again on the port engine, also causing no operational issues – we continue to suspect poor error handling by the Yamaha computer software.
The generator was a slightly different story. While the workaround fix for the low voltage output was simple enough to implement, the permanent repair required ordering both a new boost board and an actuator (they work as a pair). Rick was able to effect the replacements in short order, and the in-water test verified proper operation. (The old board looked deep-fried.)
|Old Boost Board on the Right...Not Too Difficult to Figure Out Why It Quit Working. The New Boost Board (Left) Appears to Be a Much Different & Beefier Design.|
|New Actuator (Far Left) to Replace Old One (Green Arrow.) The Yellow Arrow Points to the|
Boost Board Housing...the PCB Board Just Slides In/Out.
Finally, Rick had grown weary of the poor quality Garmin VHF radio – the microphone had developed transmission issues (the second one in a year), it lacked AIS, and even when working properly produced lousy audio. So that got replaced with a new Standard Horizon GX2400. The old Garmin 215 model will make a good doorstop.
|New Fixed Mount Standard Horizon GX2400 VHF Radio Installed with the Standard |
Horizon HX870 Handheld Unit to Its Right as Backup
|Now We Have AIS Tracking on The Chartplotter & Radar Displays via the New VHF|
Looking at the Tropics
It appears that we will have at least one new tropical system spool up in the next week or two (currently named Invest 94L), although the long range models so far are taking its track well to our south, so not likely a factor. The good news in this realm is that we’re past the early season where such storms tend to originate in the Gulf or Caribbean, and into the summer phase where waves coming off of Africa are the threats to watch – meaning there is a lot more warning time.
We plan to head back down to the Florida Keys (Marathon area) in the middle of July for a week, and hopefully (finally) put plenty of keeper mahi in the fish box. Assuming the tropics continue to cooperate, we’ll post an update on that towards the end of July.
|Heading South on Day One|
|Fred Destroying a Yellowtail Snapper for Dinner in Key Largo|
|Ghost Rider at the Fuel Dock in Key Largo|
|The Crew of Grady Lady II...John, Theresa, Ellen & Brian|
|Brenda Aboard OpenView (Ron Hiding)|
|The Crew on Finn & Tonic....Tony, Julia, Julie, Fred...Along with Theresa|
|Chub Cay Prices @ the Fuel Dock|
Fun reading as always: Jealous of the pancake-flat sea state in the pics...GR looks great; from what I can see, the Sea-Dek seems to be holding up nicely. If it makes you feel any better, I topped off Starship at Onekama Marine on Portage Lake when they splashed me for the season and paid $6.67/Gal for Non-Ethanol. Sucka took approx 75 gallons and cost me darn near $600.00. AyeYiYi....ReplyDelete
Hey Bill….so far SeaDek seems to be holding up OK….like the traction, but doubt I’d opt for it or recommend it; can’t recall last time we left a fuel dock for less than $1200; makes for pricey fish, eh?ReplyDelete
This was such a great read !!!ReplyDelete
Miss you all & miss traversing on the water !!
Have a wonderful Summer & hope we can get together in the Fall if you will be in the area come October .., or maybe when Hurricane Season is officially over ??
Fair winds & following seas 💕☘️
Eileen…thanks for the comments & good wishes….we’ll be around, so ping us any time you want to gather, best to Burt.ReplyDelete
I like these fast boat stories ! :-)ReplyDelete
(That was from Kristin Kinan)ReplyDelete
KK -- come on over, we'll go for some fast spins....ReplyDelete