To The Bahamas, Part 3: Charlotte Harbor to Key West

2012-04-03, 21:00 — Key West, A&B Marina

We left our little anchorage just inside the Charlotte Harbor entrance at about 09:45 yesterday morning (2012-04-02), planning a roughtly 56-hour nonstop sail (and/or motor) to Miami. Our planned route would have taken us through a pass (Boca Grande Channel) just barely east of the Marquesas (uninhabited small keys between Key West and the Dry Tortugas), then out beyond the outer reef and into the Gulf Stream to help sweep us up to Miami.

Barbara was examining the charts in early afternoon yesterday and pointed out a feature to me that I’d missed — a deep-water channel leading directly to Key West! I quickly realized that this could save us several hours (six to eight) of travel, especially if we ran up the Hawk Channel (inside the reef) instead of out in the Gulf. Quick! Enter a bunch of new waypoints into the chartplotter! Hooray!! Of course, there was a price to pay :) Barbara requested that we not do such a loooooong leg all the way to Miami, but that we stop in Key West overnight. I was secretly relieved and agreed without argument.

But…

Man, this whole trip continues to be a shakedown cruise. We’ve found enough other problems to feel like we’ve been the victims of a shakedown!

Example: The port fuel tank still wasn’t supplying enough fuel to run the engine. The vacuum gauge on our shiny new Racor dual-filter system would show several inches of vacuum whenever we’d run the engine off the port tank (and, of course, the engine would die). I finally had enough and, in midafternoon yesterday when the seas were really calm, I started debugging the port fuel supply system. I started by opening the access port (hidden inside one of the food lockers in the galley) and reaching down to the fuel intake opening to see if something was blocking the intake tube — nope, nothing to show except an arm coated with nice clean diesel fuel! I then disassembled the tubing and connectors starting at the top of the tank…and discovered yet another piece of paper towel jammed into a connector! Sigh… Well, once I removed the debris and put it all back together, at least we can run off the port fuel tank now! [This was not the fault of the fuel polishing company, so I don’t blame them, much less Snead Island Boat Works.]

Example: The batteries won’t reach a decent charge…in fact, they seem to not be charging at all when the engine is running — unless we had good sun and/or wind (solar panels and wind generator)! Repeated tests on the (year old) alternator regulator seemed to confirm that the regulator was working, but I simply do not know what voltage an alternator is supposed to put out. I finally concluded that it should put out more voltage than the batteries currently show, which it isn’t. Conclusion: The alternator and/or the regulator has/have failed. Grrrrr… [This was not the fault of SIBW or anybody else; things like this just happen.]

Example: The manual pump for the Lavac Popular head no longer pumps. OK, OK, so we haven’t used it in a year and a half, and I’m sure that’s related. But we did flush the head with vegetable oil when we put the boat away ‘way back then, so shouldn’t the pump valves be protected from drying out? Who knows? I see no good solution here — I’m going to have to disassemble the pump and probably replace the “joker valve” (a 3-sided valve sort of like the 2-sided “duckbill” valves used on some other manual pumps). Gotta say that disassembling and working on a head pump isn’t my favorite activity! [If this was anybody’s fault, it was ours, but in all honesty it’s just something that happens on boats.]

BIG EXAMPLE: Some time late yesterday, I noticed that the bilge pump had been running a lot more than expected, even considering the prop shaft packing gland. In fact, the bilge pump counter was showing more than 1,800 cycles!! Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?!? Were we in danger of sinking? No, not really. What we discovered was that a steady (but “spurty”) flow of hot salty water was being pumped into the boat whenever the engine was running. In fact, it was spewing out of our brand new, custom-made muffler! (More accurately, it was spewing out of the place where the exhaust hose from the engine is “attached” to a tube entering the muffler.) A large locker filled with (thankfully little more than) engine oil jugs, fuel filters, and the like is soaked with this hot, and slightly oily, salt water, as are several of our settee cushions. This will be a long-term problem, as it’s virtually impossible to get the salt out of such cushions, meaning that they’ll always attract moisture and will feel damp. ARGH!

Well, we arrived in Key West shortly before noon today, got into A&B Marina very easily, and called SIBW to complain…bitterly…about another SNAFU. The failure to re-rivet the boom onto the gooseneck fitting was bad enough (and, yes, could have possibly caused enough damage to sink the boat), but a muffler spewing hot, oily salt water and carbon monoxide could have killed us outright! We managed to talk to Steve, the yard manager, who was somewhat calmer than we were, but clearly concerned.

Steve thought that perhaps the exhaust hose from the water riser muffler (just downstream from the exhaust mixing elbow, where hot exhaust gasses are cooled by injection of the raw — salt — water used to cool the engine) might have developed a “hernia” that was allowing the gasses and water to start breaking the hose apart. I tore into the hidden compartment where the muffler lives (along with two bilge pump hoses and their anti-siphon loops) — which has roughly enough room to slip one or two playing cards and a grain of rice — to investigate.

What I discovered was that whoever installed the new muffler slipped the exhaust hose onto the muffler’s “in” port, slapped a couple of hose clamps onto it, and tightened the hose clamps as tight as they would go. And then didn’t bother to check whether the job was done right. The hose clamps were, indeed, tightened as tight as they’d go, but it wasn’t because they were clamped tight onto the muffler — it was because they were too large and had been tightened to their own limits! This left a 1/8″ gap between the muffler tubing and the exhaust hose! I called Steve back and told him — including telling him how unhappy I was, that we trust SIBW because of their superb reputation, but that it was inexcusable for two such safety-related problems to have happened. I also implied that we might require SIBW to replace — or, minimally, pay to thoroughly clean — our damaged cushions. Steve was suitably apologetic, quite happy that we’d figured out what the problem is and could fix it, and hinted that he (personally) might help out financially if we need to replace our cushions. We don’t think it’s proper that Steve pay for this, as it wasn’t him personally who created the problem. In fact, I don’t care who the actual worker was — this is Gary’s problem, because the boat yard is his responsibility as the owner.

Barbara and I spent hours fixing this problem. The “fix” was to cut a couple of strips of rubber gasketing we have on board to slip into that 1/8″ gap, coated with 3M 4000 Fast Cure Marine Adhesive, apply more 4000 liberally to the interface between the muffler and the hose, and then put proper-sized hose clamps onto the hose to properly clamp it into place. It all seems OK now, but we have to wait for the 4000 to cure completely before we test it.

Jeez!

After getting all of this done, we headed off to a nearby (3 or 4 blocks only) West Marine store, where, upon walking in the door, I shouted “I’m home!” A few customers smiled, but the cashier didn’t seem to know what to do about it. We wanted new (replacement) packing material for the prop shaft gland and needed a packing removal tool — you know, one of those things with a teensy corckscrew at the end of a flexible shaft with a handle. WM didn’t have one in stock. Happily, though, they pointed us to another marine store, just another block away, that did have one. Now, I can do a proper job of replacing the packing. For now, the dripping has been reduced by my inserting one layer of new packing material to supplement what’s already in there.

Oh, one more thing: While the boom was un-riveted (to repair the line clutches on the mast end of the boom), we replaced the two reefing lines, which were both too large for the clutches and getting rather long in the tooth. When we raised the sail after leaving Egmont Key a couple of days ago, we discovered that I’d measured incorrectly and installed a too-short line for the second reef, which meant that we couldn’t raise the sail properly. I had to disconnect the second reefing line from the sail entirely in order to sail at all. [My fault, obviously!] While here in Key West, we have to buy a new line for that second reef; we’ll do it tomorrow morning before we set sail.

After all of this work, we decided that we really, really wanted to be “on vacation” at least a little, so we headed out to find decent food, a repectable margarita (shouldn’t be too hard in Margaritaville, should it?), and some music. Well, one out of three ain’t good. We found a nearby place with nice-sounding music and went in to snag a table upstairs (where the guitarist/singer was doing his thing). I ordered “the biggest margarita you can make”, to which the response was a bland “we only make one size”. Not a good omen. Not a good margarita, either — in fact, one of the worst I’ve had in a long time. And the food was tolerable, but not a bit more than that. Terrible place. The Rum Barrel Bar and Restaurant. Yuck, what a disappointment. Oh, well, to bed, and then back to work and to sea tomorrow.

I don’t want to forget to mention that coming into Key West was a little intimidating. We came down the North West Channel and kept trying to correlate what we saw out there in front of us with what the charts showed. All we could see were two huge cruise ships blocking our way and a whole bunch of little islands with trees. As we got very close to the “ship channel”, we realized that we would make our turn less than a hundred meters short of the cruise ships, then rather quickly turn off to starboard to enter a side channel, followed by yet another starboard turn into a small bay in which several marinas were located. No problems, of course, but those cruise ships were BIG!

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