A Travellerspoint blog

March 2011

Oops! Back to Marathon

sunny 71 °F

Our stay in Marathon this year lasted two weeks and a day while we waited for the right weather to cross to the Bahamas. Boot Key Harbor is a good marina, good facilities and good enough proximity to essential stores. This year almost every shower was at least tepid with one that approached hot. It was a good visit: we got to see Sue and Jay a second time this past weekend, we got a lot of projects completed, we met some nice people and renewed some old acquaintances. We are probably leaving with a few more books than we had when we arrived.

The weather has been great ... warm days and comfortable nights. The only raindrops were the few that fell when that front went through; clouds were few and far between. With a steady easterly wind it's been perfect for solar and wind power. Two weeks and we never came close to having to run the engine to charge the batteries.

We solved a dinghy mystery. The things runs well but we didn't seem to have the speed that should have come from doubling the horsepower. There is an angle adjustment for the stem of the motor and I, I guess, had it in the extreme position away from vertical. This caused much of the thrust to point down and to raise the bow. Changed that; now all the thrust is forward. Big difference. It is, though, harder to start than the old one when cold. I think that it requires more zip pulling the cord than my right shoulder can deliver.

Cruisers are interesting. There were a couple of meetings of people headed to the Bahamas, to get acquainted. but mostly to try to self-arrange little flotillas of boats to travel together. There were, maybe, 15~20 boats represented, many plans, lots of talk, and finally, most folks, including us, will do their own things, traveling alone. Two ships may pass in the night but that will be a coincidence.

Tuesday was a busy day. Carol went shopping and did laundry; I schlepped jerry cans of water and scraped the water line. Warm temperatures and moderately clear water mean an efflorescence of stuff, animal and vegetable, growing on the boat which is slow enough without the added drag.

The moon has been quite spectacular the last several days, seeming to fill the entire sky. The other thing about this rare moon is the effect it has on the tides, higher highs and lower lows. There have been islands in the harbor where none existed before. This was a concern since we got underway two hours after a very low tide.

We got underway at 0720, a few minutes before sunrise. Surprising for us is that we were the 5th boat underway, not the first. Our boat neighbor, Paul, got underway at the same time. The tide was low and, since he draws 6-ft. to our 5-ft., we figured that if he was OK we would be also. In the next half hour it looked like masts on parade, the departing traffic was so heavy. The difference was that we were the only boat of 15~20 that was heading for open water; all the other boats bore east to Rodriguez Key, to anchor there on Wednesday and cross to the Bahamas on Thursday, making it a two day trip.

Most of the through sailors are getting underway at about noon, bigger boats, deeper drafts, higher tide. Most also have the ability to motor at 6 knots or above, well beyond our imagination. I think that several will leave later and still arrive well before we do.

We headed south of Sombrero light to the 100 fathom line at which point I figured that we were well into the grip of the Gulf Stream, so we headed East, making good time despite very little wind and all of that from the East and on the bow. The southerly component had not yet arrived. I had been noticing that the engine RPM's were a little bit variable, not at all the norm but not very concerning until the engine just up and died. Having noticed the engine acting up my immediate thought was FUEL SUPPLY! So I rushed down to the rear cabin, tore it apart and replaced the fuel filter, which could have caused the symptoms, and topped off the fuel level in the fuel filter. The engine started right up and in about three minutes .... nada!. So, next guess, clogged fuel line, which could have caused the symptoms. Out comes the Honda generator to power the air compressor to blow out the fuel line which I had just replaced. The engine started up and in about one minute .... zilch!. The secondary fuel filter being clogged did not support the symptoms but replacing it was worth a shot ..... zero! The engine never even caught.

So, out comes the satellite phone to call TowBoat US and let them know that we may need help, all the while getting pushed farther East by the Gulf Stream. The TowBoat US guy in Marathon must have been seeing big dollar signs .... a 25-mile open sea tow. No money out of our pocket but it would have made his numbers for the month. Carol was getting ready to cry thinking that I was getting ready to sell the boat. That probably would have crossed my mind if I hadn't been so focused on the engine and what to do.

Then I remembered that the previous owner had made some hand written notes in the Westerbeke Operator's Manual on how to prime the fuel lines, which supported the symptoms, something I had never yet had to do because someone authoritative, I forget who, had told me that the engine is self-priming, which for 3.5 years had been true. I held not great hope for this; the instructions were fairly cryptic; but, I went through the several steps and voila! The engine started and ran and ran.

The question then was East and onward or West and back to Marathon. We opted for the latter since I did not want to leave the country for two months relying on our engine based on my non-existant skills as a diesel mechanic. In the event, the engine worked perfectly for about five hours to get us back to Marathon.We have a Westerbeke diesel mechanic coming by on Thursday to take a look. Unfortunately, they don't come out to mooring balls so we are in a marina. The mechanic will, almost certainly, confirm that the problem was caused when I changed the fuel line and was solved when I got the lines re-primed. It actually was the fuel supply.

About 1300~1400 we saw about a dozen, or so, sailboats all heading East into the Gulf Stream for the Bahamas, white sails set against the deep blue of the sea and the bright blue of the horizon. Seeing them was discouraging but not nearly so much as it would have been if we were being towed back. However, I will not mind sailing alone; the VHF chatter among several of the boats was making me crazy. I suppose that there was a purpose to it but there's something semi-cosmic about being alone with the tranquility of the sea's and the wind's music, undisturbed by boats hailing each other.

Our other task for Thursday is to drain and clean the water tanks. One of the 5-gal. jerry cans that I put into the tanks on Tuesday may have been tainted, Carol saying that the water tasted bad. Not too complicated, but a lot of work. Better to do that here than in the Bahamas ... the water's free in Marathon.

So, by Friday we should be ready to go if the weather will accommodate us. Quien Sabe?

Posted by sailziveli 21:02 Archived in USA Tagged boating Comments (0)

Still in Marathon

sunny 74 °F

Today is our seventh day here, having arrived on Tuesday, last. We've been occupied, if not exactly overwhelmed, with boat stuff. The "To Do" list seems never ending but boat rules do apply, working hours being from 0900 to 1500, or so, with an adequate allowance for lunch. The weather here has been great. A front blew through last Wednesday afternoon; when the wind had calmed down a little I turned on the anemometer .... over 35 knots. The weather reports had gusts of 50~60 knots, hurricane force. The front also brought cooler weather, mid 50's at night .... good for Carol, but I demanded, and got, the recently stored blanket back on my side of the bed.

The cruising world has gotten considerably smaller this past week.

  • Case #1 We have a friend, Debbie, who keeps her boat in Oriental, NC, when she is not cruising, Oriental being where we first met her. We knew that she had not headed south this year. I was over at the common room in the marina using their electricity to recharge the batteries for the cordless drill, needed for an up coming project. Some lady on the other side of the room jumped up and started saying my name; I did not recognize her from the distance so walked over to see her and then .... Debbie. She, literally, had been reading the blog at the table to find out where we were when she saw me walking by. What an unexpected pleasure. Jeanette had invited her to "crew" on her boat, it was cold in Oriental, so Debbie flew to Florida and got to Marathon. Good plan! Anyway, the four of us went out Saturday night to the Sea Food Festival. The two of them are also headed, generally, in the same directions so we may travel together some of the way, or not. But we'll definitely be seeing them along the way. Jeanette has a dog on board so I may offer to swap Carol for the dog, but only for an afternoon. I've been missing Wile E and could use a doggy fix.


  • Case #2 Our friends, Bruce and Dawn, who recently sold their boat and moved to Arkansas, emailed that they have some friends in Marathon that they wanted us to meet, no details given. So, Saturday, I was watching the ACC/SEC tournaments and met two very nice people who are from Raleigh, NC. It turns out that their boat is moored, maybe, 100-ft. or so from ours and that these are the two folks that we were supposed to meet. They are also headed on a similar course so we may sail with them or see them along the way. Go Figure!

Saturday night Sue and Jay were feeling a little better so invited us to join them for supper, which we, of course did. The four of us with Opie and J.T., friends of Sue and Jay.


The evening plan was to see Fiona Molloy, who was playing at the clubhouse at their campground. We enjoyed listening to her Irish music in Key West two years ago (01/17/09 blog) so this seemed like a great idea. The last time we saw her, she was performing by herself; this time she had just played at an Irish festival in Key Largo and had a supporting cast. She was great, and entertaining, as usual. She also had a piper with her, who treated us to three bagpipe pieces. Never having heard the pipes in person, I was surprised that they actually sounded really good but, maybe, three songs was about the right number. What blew us away were the Irish folk dancers, Riverdance, was right there in front of us. Having seen the folk dancing on TV was no comparison to seeing it live, 20 feet away. The only other similar experience I've had was the Taiko drums in Japan; they stirred the blood in person in a way that no recording ever could.

There were four young people, three women and a man. The first dance was with soft shoes, akin to ballet slippers. It was good. Then they started with the hard soled shoes and the metal taps on front and back and it was great. Being that close, we got the feel for how strenuous the dancing is ... a lot of physical work. And, the kids were really good, very well choreographed, very well practiced together; they made it look kind of easy, which it is definitely not. During a break, one of them came over to talk and Jay tried some of the moves; I did not try knowing full well that white men in their 60's cannot jump and they also cannot dance. These are the girls and each of the dresses is unique, hand made and very beautiful. It was a wonderful experience.


So, mostly, we are waiting for packages to arrive while we wait for the weather to arrive. I remember talking to Rodney in Ft. Lauderdale about boat projects. We both agreed that the logistics of acquiring all the parts and pieces for a project was harder than the actual work involved.

We had a minor miracle the other day. Probably the most well known guy in the Caribbean area is Chris Parker, who forecasts the weather and broadcasts his prognostications over the SSB radio six days a week. For most cruisers that are outside US waters, listening to his forecasts is a daily event. We've been trying, literally for several years, to listen in to his broadcasts but have never succeeded until Thursday when we finally heard him loud and clear. This, more or less, answers the question we've always had: does the SSB radio work properly. It will be nice to know that this resource is available when we get to the Bahamas. The Bahamas also have a meteorology department that runs a website with good weather information if you can get an internet connection.

Today, Tuesday, a small disaster struck. The foresail had slack along the luff (forward) edge which pretty well messed up any sail trim aspirations for the bottom third of the sail. After having gone up the mast to check the top end of the mechanism, we decided to take down the sail to check out the halyard and the hoist car. It was way too windy, well over 10 knots, to do this but there was no better day in the forecast. Carol released the tension on the line and ..... BOING! Down comes the sail into a pile on the deck, but there's only about one foot of halyard attached, the rest having fallen inside the mast. The halyard had, quite literally, shredded in two. The problem area was inside the mast, behind the sheave where I could not see it on the trip to the top of the mast. Not a good deal but, after a long while, when I had stopped swearing at things, it dawned on me that this was going to happen the next time we put out the sails. Having the problem happen at a secure mooring, not under way and with a West Marine a mile away was not such a bad thing. So with the help of Paul, a boat neighbor who offered help, we got me back up the mast, ran a pilot line through the mast and fished it out, and installed a new halyard. When we got the sail back up there was no slack on the luff edge so the problem was cured, just not the way we thought. It takes a few minutes to get the sail up and while it was exposed to the wind, still too much wind to be doing this, the boat was moving hard enough that I thought that we might tear out the mooring ball. In the event, we did not, but a boat close to us was leaving the mooring field and Carol said that they were startled by the raised sail. If you're that high up you ought to take a picture, so I did. We'll probably replace most of the old running rigging in the next few days.


After that the only preparation will be topping off the fuel and water. I was talking to Jack, a motor vessel guy, and he said that with marine diesel above $4.00 a gallon he wasn't enjoying filling tanks where consumption was measured in gallons per hour. We last fueled in Vero Beach, maybe a month ago, have traveled a couple of hundred miles, run the motor a few hours to charge the batteries and have used about 12 gallons of diesel. I'll try to remember that the next time I gripe about how slowly we motor.

Now, we're just waiting for a weather window, which always seems to be just around the corner. First it was going to be Monday, 03/21; now it may be Wednesday or Thursday, 03/24~25. Or, it may be in April. So, we'll get everything stowed to await the lucky day. Last year all the possible boat companions wanted to make the trip in two days, going back east to Rodriguez Key and from there to the Bahamas. So, we traveled alone. This year it seems quite a few boats want to go directly from Marathon to Bimini so we may have some company. That would be an interesting first for us, never having traveled with another boat.

The next blog entry will be from the Bahamas, whenever we get there.

Posted by sailziveli 09:03 Archived in USA Tagged boating Comments (0)

Getting to Marathon

Or, Not

sunny 62 °F

We got underway from Dinner Key Marina will before sunrise on Sunday morning. It's 7~8 miles to the open water through Biscayne Bay and the Biscayne Channel, which we have always used. This morning, our luck was not so good, making very poor time against strong headwinds and a filling tide. In almost three hours we were still a short ways from the open water. Along the way we heard some talk on VHF 16 between sailboats that had tried to go outside and had said that the weather was just too much, very high seas, and those boats were bigger than ours. I was less concerned about the waves than our speed. There was no scenario that got us to the next anchorage in daylight; some had us there well after midnight. So, we turned around, doubling our speed, and headed through the Cape Florida Channel, something we had never done, and checked out No Name Harbor; having seen and heard that several boats had left, we thought that there might be room for us, which there was.

Anchoring in this small place is like anchoring in a Wal-Mart parking lot without the benefit of white lines and arrows. You have to swing on a short scope, not ideal, in order not to bump into other boats, poor boating etiquette. As soon as we had anchored, and I thought a good job, the four boats closest to us left leaving us with, relatively, an embarrassment of room. I doubt that this place is as large as our 18 acres but, being small, there's no need for the motor on the dinghy; we just rowed the 100-ft. to the sea wall. It is also a very sheltered anchorage which is unusual in these parts.


This has been an interesting, unplanned stop. We knew about No Name Harbor as a departure point for cruisers going to the Bahamas and had assumed that cruisers were the only visitors; not so. There is a small restaurant, where Carol had lunch, and we probably were the only people there using English. There has been a constant stream of local boaters over for the day, to eat at the restaurant, to go to the park, just to hang out. There must be 30 or more boats tied to the seawall, and several more rafted two and three deep to those boats. There were some sailboats that had spent Saturday night before leaving on Sunday afternoon. Lots of families with kids. We would not have guessed that this place was as popular a destination as it seems to be had we not been here on a weekend.

The other thing that was novel was to be around this many casual boaters. Our whole experience has been interacting with dedicated sailors, either serious boaters with lots of experience or, folks like us, who want to learn to be serious boaters. There was no damage done that we could see but there could have been a lot of funny videos of the clueless and the incompetent. I was probably the only nervous guy around. For all the traffic during the day, when the restaurant closed at 9 pm, there were only 7~8 boats that stayed the night in the anchorage.

A front is due through the area later today which will shift the winds from south to northeast, perfect for sailing to the Keys from here. Maybe Monday will be the charm. That does not, however, mean that we can expect any room in Marathon. The Gulf Stream has been in a boil for over a week now and there is little prospect that boats will have been inclined to leave.

On Monday, before sunrise, we had the anchor up and were underway for the keys. The day was delightful; sunny and calm, placid, i.e. no wind. So we motored the 40 miles to Rodriguez Key. Two other sailboats from No Name Harbor, as usual, passed us along the way. If our boat ever had to develop a descriptive motto it would be: First to Leave, Last to Arrive, but Who Cares. It was interesting. On Sunday night all three boats were anchored within 100 yards of each other; ditto for Monday night as the three of us all anchored in the lee of the island.

As is our wont, we were the again the first to leave on Tuesday and were rewarded with this beautiful sunrise. It was a little disorienting after the other anchorages to poke our heads out in the morning and to see at least half of the horizon as open water; it really felt like were were on a boat.


Tuesday there was wind, the sails were all the way out and no other sailboats overtook us. We made it to Marathon in good time and there was room at the inn; maybe more like the stable as we are at the end of the mooring field, a long way from the the showers. But it's secure and the dinghy ride is no big deal.

The Tuesday leg of the trip was notable, for me anyway, in that I overcame a bete noire. For three and a half years there has been water accumulating on the port side of the engine compartment; the sources have been deviling me. The first layer of the onion was a seeping through hull; fixed that. The second layer was the leaky shaft seal; fixed that, too. I could find no hose or connection that was leaking until Tuesday when I finally saw the drip. This is like a headline saying, "Wile E. Coyote Finally Eats the Road Runner." The problem flowed from an antisiphon valve through a small hose, so buried among other hoses and power cables as to be invisible. A new valve is going to arrive today, maybe, and I'll extend the hose several yards to the bilge sump. After three and a half years .... a dry boat.

We have yet to see Sue and Jay; they are both under the weather and it sounds a lot like what Carol and I had in January. I really hope that's not the case so that they can enjoy the rest of their stay in Florida. We have projects galore, stuff for the boat as well as doctors and tax preparers, so we'll be here a while longer. If the weather permits, we might be ready to leave mid to late next week.

Posted by sailziveli 09:32 Archived in USA Tagged sunsets_and_sunrises boating Comments (0)

Miami Beach, Part Deux

sunny 73 °F

Monday night the high winds started and with the winds came high seas. So, we are still sitting in Sunset Lake waiting for better weather, which probably will not arrive until late Saturday. This is still a pretty good place to wait things out: reasonably sheltered, particularly from east winds which we are now having; very good holding, no problems to date with the anchor dragging despite the winds; South Beach is just a short dinghy ride away; there is a Publix and a Walgreen's very close by.

Not too much activity going on. Carol has done laundry and shopping; I repaired the toilet which was working but not right. After the great lipstick inspired toilet rebuild I noticed that a valve unit was working OK but not working as it had before; in addition we had an irritating leak around the piston seal, salt water, not as bad as some other possibilities but it required running the shower pump every couple of days to remove the accumulation ... not very shipshape. The Raritan toilet is a sufficient mystery to me that we actually have hard copies and PDF files of the parts list and the owners manual. Unfortunately, in this instance I had to consult the manual on how to repair both problems. On the down side, I have broken faith with generations of men, past and future, who all eschew instructions of any kind; on the plus, side the thing now works right and does not leak. Not a bad trade off, except for the fact that in fixing two old problems I created at least one new problem, maybe a gasket that didn't seat properly.

Carol has proven beyond all doubt that she is a Spring Creek kind of woman, and thoroughly grounded in the middle class. We went out to dinner the other night and were walking along Alton Road at about 5 PM when traffic was getting heavier and the traffic backed up at stop lights was getting longer. In the long line of stalled traffic Carol saw a two seater, white convertible which caught her attention. After cursorily looking at the two young women in the car, moderately attractive but extremely well kept, she noted the car which was very stunning. Being a regular lady she saw the silver horse logo and started rambling on about the newly designed (Ford) Mustang and how much she liked it. She had the horse part almost right, except for the small fact that the horse was rampant, not galloping, and the car was a Ferarri, not a Ford. She can be forgiven this, I guess, since we have owned both '64 and '71 Mustangs. (the one on the left is Ferarri)


Anyway, we had a nice walk along South Beach, Collins Avenue, and a good dinner. I got to do a little EMT stuff; a chef had cut his finger severely and I told him to keep the hand elevated, above the heart. After eight months of being rigorous in my diet, I was abetted, enabled even, in stopping at Epicure on the way back to the boat and getting a pot pie sized key lime pie which Carol and I split. Delightful to the max!


On Saturday morning we decided to move, positioning ourselves for a quick exit from Biscayne Bay. Given our choices, Carol opted to go to Dinner Key Marina, as we have the past two trips. This time, however, she also told me how much we pay to stay there. Ouch! It's sort of like checking into the Ritz-Carlton but not getting the Frango mint on your pillow; in fact they don't even give you a pillow. On the plus side, we actually got to use the big, sticky-up part in the middle of the boat for about a second. Once we cleared into Biscayne Bay we had about 2.5 miles to the marina channel, so we ran out the sails and flew in 20 knots winds.

This is race week in Miami, some sort of Bacardi Cup event for smaller, 20~24-ft. open cockpit sailboats, of the type that might race in the Olympics. We saw these boats out practicing as we headed to the marina. They are very, very fast for having not very long water lines. In the heavy winds this morning they were actually getting a little bit airborne as the leaped over small waves. But the fastest sail on the water belonged to the sail boarders. With the high winds they may have been going 20 mph.

So, on Sunday we head south hoping to hit Marathon on Monday and, also, hoping that they have room at the inn. As we did not move during the high winds neither did any boats in Boot Key Harbor head for the Bahamas. If that doesn't work, we'll head to Newfound Harbor roughly halfway between Marathon and Key West. We will see cousin Sue and Jay, hang out for a while, and hope for an early weather window to head for the Bahamas. Key West may not be on the trip plsan this year.

Postscript: I was, perhaps, insufficiently generous in words in describing Steve. I should have said that he has a graceful charm, an amusing and gentle wit and a perspicacious insight into all things social, political and philosophical, all of which is actually true.

Posted by sailziveli 19:12 Archived in USA Tagged boating Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 4 of 4) Page [1]