2012-04-30; 21:00 — Clearwater Beach, Florida, Home Dock
Whew. We’re back at our home dock for the first time in nine months — ever since I sailed the boat down to SIBW for what I expected to be a week-long bottom paint job.
Our time in Lake Worth Beach was fairly relaxed. We did a bunch of work on the boat, fixing things that we already knew were broken before we started the trip and things that broke during the trip. Remember, “cruising is just boat repair in exotic locations.” We took advantage of the marina’s showers. Frank and I walked across the beach connecting Lake Worth Beach with Palm Beach on the mainland to a Publix supermarket (and got drenched to the bone on the way to the market). And we generally rested and recovered from the 48-hour sail back from the Abacos.
The second night we were at Cannonsport Marina, the storm we’d been racing to beat back across the Gulf Stream finally arrived. With a vengeance! I have no idea what the wind speeds were, probably not gale force, but the wind was strong enough to overcome some of our dock lines and bash our bow-mounted primary anchor against the concrete dock. When we heard — and felt — that, we all threw on some minimal amount of foul-weather gear and raced up on deck to get the boat far enough back to prevent that contact. It took a tremendous effort, involving me going onto the dock and loosening the bow lines a bit, while Frank and Barbara put a stern line onto a winch and struggled to move the boat aftwards against the wind. We finally succeeded, but the rain was coming down so hard that we were all drenched to the skin. Brrrr…. All’s well that ends well, and we had no more problems of that sort.
On Monday, 2012-04-23, I took a taxi to the airport and flew to Phoenix, then took an actual stretch limousine(!) to the hotel where the INCITS meeting and award ceremony were being held. (No, this wasn’t splurging. It happened that the limousine driver needed a fare and he ended up charging me about $5.00 more than a taxi would have cost. What a strange experience, though!) I checked into the hotel and touched base with my good friend Keith Hare, who was there at the meeting representing the Chairman of our standard committee, Don Deutsch. (Don had to have emergency eye surgery and was — is — not allowed to fly for a while.) Of course, I dressed in my usual formal business attire for such an auspicious occasion; Keith lent me a very conservative, understated tie, as I had none on the boat with me.
I’m also rather proud of the little acceptance speech I gave. Here’s a link to the video for your amusement: Jim’s Award and Acceptance Speech
The trip back from Lake Worth Beach was, unfortunately, the long way around. I checked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers web site dealing with the Okeechobee Waterway the night before we were going to head up to the St. Lucie River to begin that crossing and it said that the controlling depth was 5.77′. As I’ve said earlier, we draw a solid 5.75′, and I wasn’t about to attempt to traverse that system with only 0.02′ of water under my keep. Heck, the ripple cause by a minnow swimming past would cause us to bounce on the bottom! Barbara phoned the Indiantown Marina (on the Waterway) to see if they had any better news to offer, and they said that they wouldn’t even think about doing it under these conditions. (Later on, conversations with the first owners of Dream SeQueL, who are also our “docklords”, informed us that she’ll never traverse the Waterway — either her draft will be too much or her mast height will be too much (or both!), and there’s no compromise depth that would work.) So, the night before we were to set sail to return, we had to revise everything to sail around the southern end of Florida — reversing our trip down, basically.
So, with some disappointment and not a little urgency, we cast off our dock lines on Wednesday morning, 2012-04-25, at around 10:30, motored out of the Lake Worth Inlet, and turned south. The winds were fairly light, so we motor-sailed. In fact, the winds would have probably let us sail at around 5 kt (SOG, or Speed Over Ground), but we really had to make better time than that or Barbara wouldn’t make her flight back to SLC on Sunday. Motor-sailing allowed us to make 6.5 – 7.0 kt SOG, which was much better (but still a bit tight).
There was a ton of traffic out in the Atlantic Ocean that day! I mean, it’s a madhouse compared to the traffic levels in the Tampa Bay area. Lots of ships, going in and out of inlets that I wouldn’t have considered suitable for anything larger than Dream SeQueL. (Have you seen Port Everglades’ inlet? Astounding what goes through there!) Outside of Port Everglades, and then again outside of the Port of Miami, there were several ships at anchor, apparently waiting their turn to be taken into the port for loading. And our AIS “target list” was never empty until we were well, well south of Miami. We motor-sailed deep into the night, feeling the pressure of time slipping away, but confident that the Hawk Channel was well-surveyed and -charted. We finally stopped for the night about 02:30, just off Old Rhodes Key and dropped the hook just outside of the main channel, behind red daymark #22. We figured that few boats would deliberately get outside the channel markers at night, so we were relatively safe; in any case, we had our anchor light on, of course.
We awoke reasonably early on 2012-04-26 and actually weighed anchor by 10:30 and started motor-sailing farther on down the Hawk Channel. Some time during the day, the port fuel tank went dry, so we switched over to the (much larger and still full) starboard tank. The sail was very pleasant, nothing to do but watch for other traffic, which was really quite light. In fact, we saw only a very few sailboats and a handful of larger power boats the whole day. At about 21:00, we decided we’d done enough that day and dropped the hook in the lee of Boot Key (in the lower middle Keys). There was just enough of an east wind to make anchoring out in the open uncomfortable, so being in the lee of the Key proved to be a very good idea.
We set sail again bright and early (09:00) on 2012-04-27, planning to make it at least to Key West, where we could refuel and might even spend the night anchored out with all of the other sailboats. The engine behaved rather badly, pretty much all day. It stalled a few times when we started it, and we noticed a fair amount of white smoke coming out of the exhaust through-hull. Maybe we picked up something undesirable (like water) when we last filled the starboard tank? There are a number of possibilities that can cause the white smoke we were seeing, so we hoped that switching back to the port tank after refueling in Key West would make the problem go away.
When we got to Key West, we hit a fuel dock right away and refueled, filling both tanks. The port tank was, of course, nearly empty, and the starboard tank only took a few gallons! The man operating the fuel pumps told us that we shouldn’t be surprised that we’re using so little fuel. He said that his experience in similar-sized (to ours) sailboats with similar-sized engines was that 0.5 gallons/hour to 1.0 gallon/hour is pretty typical. Once we were fueled and both of us had used their head, we decided that we needed to keep on going and couldn’t afford to spend the night anchored or moored or docked anywhere. So, we switched back to the port tank and off we went, heading out Key West’s NorthWest Channel.
The engine seemed to behave a bit better for awhile, but we started getting larger rolling seas (actually, four-foot swells from the south) and winds were hitting 25 kt or so. Naturally, that’s when the engine decided to stall. It would start losing RPM and then stop entirely. Repeatedly. Each time, we would hit the engine-start button in the cockpit, and would be relieved to have the engine start immediately without problem. But this was certainly worrying…would we lose the engine when we really needed it?
Some time on 2012-04-28, I noticed that the engine water temperature gauge was showing 200°, a full 50° higher than its normal operating temperature! Clearly, the engine was having problems keeping itself cool, because we weren’t pushing it hard at all. In fact, we were motor-sailing with the engine running about 2200 RPM and the sails picking up the rest of the load. I first slowed the engine to about 1800 RPM, which of course reduced our SOG, but we can’t afford to destroy the engine! When that didn’t help enough, we killed the engine and let the boat lie ahull (meaning that it had no ability to be steered — losing forward speed means losing steerageway — and was just doing whatever the sea wanted it to do). And then we started trying to find out what the problem was and fix it.
With all of the patches of sargasso and other sea grasses we’ve been hitting, I suspected that the raw water intake was probably fouled. Unfortunately, I was completely unable to get the cap off of the raw water strainer with any of the tools we had on board! Frustrating! Since we couldn’t do anything about that, we checked various other things. We opened up the raw water pump to check whether the impeller was in good condition and whether the pump had debris in it. (It was OK and there was no debris.) Barbara remove the air filter and washed it thoroughly, dried it, and replaced it. But none of this helped. We decided that the wind had picked up enough for us to sail for a while and not use the engine at all. But we were making only about 4.5 – 5.0 kts SOG, which was threatening our timely arrival back at our home dock.
When we were about 10 or 11 hours away from good old Egmont Key, late that afternoon, we decided that we had to run the engine and make better SOG. The engine still stalled every now and then, but we were surprised to see that the engine temperature was really holding to 170°, even when we raised the RPM to 2200. So we motor-sailed through the night. At 01:40, while I was on watch and Barbara was asleep, I wrote the following in the log:
I’ve been on watch since about 22:00. I feel so lucky to be here tonight. There is a strange sort of not-quite-fog enveloping everything. I can see shore clearly to starboard and I can see the moonlit sea clearly to port. But forward and aft are dark and invisible. The sea is oily, glassy, with slow, gentle waves, but utterly calm. There is but the tiniest breath of air movement — a cat’s sigh. It’s the most incredible night. Earlier, around midnight, the moon was literally green! Is it because I’ve been reading my Kindle using a red LED headlamp? I don’t know. It all feels so strange.
I’ve encountered such oily, glassy seas on wee-hour watches previously, but I’m always astounded at how beautiful it looks by moonlight or starlight. The sea can be so violent at times, but it can also be incredibly peaceful. Lucky, lucky, lucky!
Shortly after I made that log entry, the engine started acting fuel-starved again, so I hopped below and switched back to the starboard tank again. She started right up, and didn’t stall a bit for the rest of the night.
By 03:00, we’d reached the green marker/light/horn that marks the SouthWest Channel into Tampa Bay. I’d been seeing the flash of the Egmont Key Lighthouse for a long time and was looking forward to the end of this multi-day sail. I awakened Barbara shortly after passing through SouthWest Channel and let her know where we were. We decided to go all the way into the Manatee River and, if at all possible, right into Snead Island Boat Works’ little tiny “harbor”, where we’d been told we could use our good old slip #86.
If you’ve sailed in that part of Tampa Bay, you’ll know that the marker light situation can be awfully confusing. The approach to the Manatee River (and, indeed, the route within the river) requires several turns and great care, as there is very shallow water on one side or the other — or both! Our electronic charts showed two fast-blink red markers to guide us along one particular leg of the entrance, with a 3-second iso marker (meaning three seconds illuminated and three seconds dark) between them. We saw one fast-blink marker from a long way out, but simply couldn’t find the second one, nor the iso marker. When we actually got there, we figured out that the iso marker had been replaced by a fast-blink light and the two charted fast-blink lights were simply not there at all! Now, we’re entering a shallow river with a narrow channel, so the fact that our charts were completely wrong about the markers gave us quite a bit of indigestion!
But we muddled through without running aground. We soon spotted SIBW, but it took us a good 10 minutes of creeping around and using our very bright LED spotlight to locate the entrance to their private water. (Now that we’ve done this, we can recognize it much more quickly the next time — it’s marked with a green light to starboard and a red light to port!) We ghosted in through the opening in the seawall and slid quietly into our slip. It took only a few minutes to tie us up — we weren’t planning to be there for more than a few hours, after all — and then we headed off to use their head. Once that chore was behind us, back to the boat and to sleep by 04:45 or thereabouts!
The heat of the morning awoke us fairly early (09:30?), so we headed up to the head again to take showers. We cheated and both went into the women’s bathroom to shower together. Ahhh…how nice it was to actually have plenty of hot water in which to shower. Feeling all clean and somewhat rested, we started back to the boat. Along the way, we encountered good old Steve, the SIBW yard manager, who welcomed us back and wanted to know how we liked the Bahamas and how the trip went. We told him about our engine overheating problem and asked if we could borrow a pipe wrench (a/k/a Stillson wrench) so I could remove the cap off of the raw water strainer. With wrench in hand, we went back to the boat and, with one quick movement, removed that cap! Sure enough, the strainer was clogged with grass, so we used a probe and screwdriver to get some of it out and loosen the rest, then opened the through-hull and let the water pressure force the rest out. Once this was done and the cap back on, the engine ran at normal temperature at all RPMs that we tried! (Yes, we’ll buy a pipe wrench right away and keep it on the boat for future use!)
After all that was taken care of, Barbara got into the Honda (which we’d left at SIBW for the month we were gone) and headed towards our home dock. I fired up the engine, backed out of the slip, eased out of SIBW’s inlet, and single-handed Dream SeQueL all the way back through familiar waters to her home dock. The last time I was here, back in late July 2011, I single-handed her to SIBW, thinking what progress I’d made in being able to single-hand my boat all that far (25 miles or less). This time, it didn’t feel even the littlest bit noteworthy that I was single-handing her or that it would take five or six hours before I’d have her docked. It was just routine. I’ve come a long damned way on this trip!
I got to our home dock just as it was getting darkish. The sun was down, but there was plenty of twighlight. Barbara met me on the dock and tossed some lines to me. We got her tied up nice and snug and went below to fix dinner, which we’ve just finished. Needless to say, Barbara didn’t make her flight back to SLC today! Conveniently, which I neglected to mention earlier, she’d figured out that we would probably not make it in time and booked a separate one-way flight back on Tuesday. I think she did this even before we left Palm Beach! Smart lady!
So, now, we’ve got tomorrow and half of Tuesday to put the boat back to sleep until our next trip to Florida (probably not before late July) and get any absolutely necessary work done on her. Barbara’s flight is Tuesday afternoon and mine is Wednesday around noon. And there’s a lot of things we have to do! And we’ve just discovered that the air conditioner isn’t working — it’s not getting its raw water for cooling! “It’s always something,” right?
<<Photograph Copyright © Keith Hare, 2012. Used with permission.>>