A Travellerspoint blog

April 2011

Plan "B"

Blog Sign Off for 2011

sunny 80 °F

After being somewhat overwhelmed by the number of boat issues, we decided to research what resources there were in Nassau. The answer was, some but, maybe, not enough. We then looked at Ft. Lauderdale where there are an abundance of choices and alternatives. So, Plan “B” became getting to Ft. Lauderdale, some 125nm away; Nassau was less than 40nm.

We were not concerned about the engine, since the weather forecast all indicated favorable winds for heading west. At 0720 on Easter Sunday we got underway and had the sails up and the motor off as soon as we cleared the last channel marker, headed for the NW Channel.

The sailing wasn’t great but it was good enough to make 4 knots, a manageable speed for the task at hand. When we hit the tidal bore to cross onto the Grand Bahamas Bank the current was against us so we had to turn on the engine. The boat just labored to make headway, sometimes only standing still. After an hour of going nowhere, I decided to turn the boat around and see how we were going with the current. No change; it was not the current, at this point at least. Then the incandescent light bulb went off. I had cleaned some Sargasso seaweed from the propeller while we were Chub Cay. I did not think that seaweed could be a problem but decided to run the engine in reverse at maximum RPM’s. A miracle! Whatever was clogging the prop unwound itself in reverse and we had a working boat again.

Not too soon after that the weather arrived, a squall line which we could not avoid, XM weather calling them severe storms; we could only get to the edge instead of getting hit full blast with high winds, hail and rain. Not really a problem but we took the sails in as a precautionary measure, which meant more motoring, not part of Plan “B.”

Once we cleared the storms, we hit dead calm, literally no air movement of any kind. Oops, more motoring when the object of the exercise is not to use the motor for fear of another intermittent problem and shut down. And where are the weather guys who predicted such favorable winds? I've made some bad weather decisions on when to leave. This was absolutely the worst; everything was the pure reverse of what I thought it would be.

Some time, late Sunday afternoon, we discovered two stow-a-ways on board. Atticus the finch along with his daughter Scout. Where they came from is hard to figure since the boat was about 40 miles from the nearest land. Unsurprisingly, these two were hunting flying insects; very surprising was that they were finding bugs to eat, even so far from land. The other thing that was weird was that they would fly away from the boat, sit on the water for a moment before returning to the boat. They left well before we were near any dry land. The boat as an aviary is a new concept.

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After a hard night we arrived at the edge of the Bahamas with the Florida Straits and the Gulf Stream between us and Ft. Lauderdale. We have been in and around the Gulf Stream a little bit but this was the first direct crossing we had made. We had to cross 40 miles east to west and had 17 miles we could allow the current to push us north. It seemed simple, maybe that's why I screwed the pooch so badly. When the dust had settled we were 23 miles north and had to claw back those six miles; this cost us a couple of hours. I'm not sure what we should have done differently, but I'll think about it for a while.

The small ray of good news was that the jerry-rigged expansion tank actually worked for the 36 hour trip. En route we added a cable zip tie which I think allows us to compete for at least a Honorable Mention at the next Rube Goldberg convention. The hard fact is that without this we would not have been able to get the boat underway; had it failed en route we would have been dead in the water at least as far as the motor was concerned. The one on the left is the DIY version. It was, in its former life a bottle of Soft Scrub which happened to have had the perfect inside diameter opening.

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The engine itself worked flawlessly, it never faltered or failed. We were very nervous about this and never ran the above 2,200 RPM's in deference to the 2,400 RPM's we ran to cross the banks. This is another conundrum: How to identify and fix a problem that happens maybe happens only once or once in a while. After careful observation of the engine underway, the middle fuel injector is leaking fuel this may or may not be causing a problem.

We came into Port Everglades after 1900 having been underway for almost 36 hours. It struck me that in the past eight days we had made three overnight runs, maybe too many for older folks, now that Carol is, in fact, 65. Maybe it was fatigue, maybe just plain inattention, but we (read the pilot, moi) had two boat handling disasters in about ten minutes, the first almost putting us hard against the piling of a bridge while waiting for it to open ... very strong tide and wind, then repeating the problem trying to get into a slip. No style points for me, but no damage done except to my pride.

Now that we are secure, we'll start to work on Plan "C", whatever that may be. The trip has not ended, but the pleasure portion has. So, we'll leave all of that dull stuff out of the blog and save it for next year, if there is a boating next year.

Carol & Russ aboard the Ziveli

Posted by sailziveli 08:30 Archived in USA Tagged birds boating Comments (0)

A Contender for Worst Boat Day Ever

We are so f.......d

sunny 80 °F

There just seems to be some sort of negative entropy associated with Carol and me, the boat and the Berry Islands. It’s OK for good stuff not to happen; it’s difficult when only bad stuff happens.

On Wednesday evening there were several people who decided to leave on Thursday, two motor and two sail, all four boats in a row at the dock. Come Thursday morning it was raining sideways in 30 knot winds as squall lines rolled over Bimini. On the whole east side of Florida there was exactly one area with weather on the radar: Bimini to Cat Cay. The two power boats decided to stay. The other sail left a little before noon. We waited since we could stay until 1pm without paying for another day and kept reviewing the online weather sites as well as the XM weather we have on the boat.

By lunchtime, the skies had gone from ominous to merely uninviting; the rain had stopped and the weather gurus said that things were going to clear. So, Carol and I decided to take off, having been trapped in Bimini last year by strong east winds. This may not have been the most informed decision we have ever made, but we didn’t see too much downside other than the fact that leaving at 1pm meant an overnight run across the Grand Bahamas Bank since the weather would have made it difficult to anchor there.

As we were leaving the channel we saw another sailboat coming into the channel and it looked like David’s boat, he being the early bird. As we passed abreast he yelled that his back stay had broken and that he was returning to work on repairs. Perhaps that was an omen or a harbinger.

We continued around the north end of the island and headed east for Mackie Shoal and, then, the Northwest Channel, a little over 60 miles, with another 30 or so to get to Frazers Hog Cay, one of the Berry Islands with a mooring field. The plan was to wait there for the right wind and weather.

A couple of hours out the sky defaulted back to ominous, the wind grew and the waves got a little taller. Not a problem except that both wind and waves were coming directly onto the bow of the boat; we were going directly into them. We were making very slow way against them, struggling to make 3 knots. This didn’t ring any bells; we expected to go more slowly against nature’s combination. For all of that, it was not a dangerous night, just a difficult one which boat and crew were able to handle.

It was a little concerning that there were not any other boats visible to the naked eye or to radar. Eventually we saw some commercial craft around midnight. And, for a few minutes, we got to see a waxing gibbous moon, an unexpected surprise for the night which was otherwise a stygian blackness.

The first shoe dropped sometime between 0100 and 0300, on Carol’s watch; the autopilot quit, sending error messages that were intrinsically goofy, like there wasn’t enough battery power, with the alternator running all night. This is something that will get attention, but not right away.

We got to the Northwest Channel much later than expected. We still thought that this was the result of trying to punch through the strong winds and waves. Carol went into the cabin and said that she smelled diesel, but that also did not ring any bells as rough as the night had been.

As we cleared into deep water it became apparent that the boat was only going to go slowly, 2 knots being the resulting speed of RPM’s that would normally produce 4 knots or more. This was beginning to be concerning, but there was nothing to be done about it. So, we decided that we would stay at the Chub Cay marina to do some assessment, rather than going to the mooring field on Frazers Hog Cay. The prices they charge here make the stop look like a stay in Ritz-Carlton without the mints on the pillow.

So, as we’re heading into the channel, maybe half way there, the oil pressure alarm goes off and the motor shuts down. Not a good plan in close waters with nearby shoals and coral fields. I jumped down the companion way and opened the engine compartment. I did not see the puddle of oil that I thought I might but I did see a very large lake of diesel fuel under the motor, just shy of a gallon; this is what Carol had smelled. I checked the oil …. we had a full sump. Since there was no visual evidence of an oil problem, I diddled with the two wires on the oil pressure sender, which triggered the alarm. (This unit had been replaced at our stop in Ft. Lauderdale) That may have worked because we got the engine started again and it kept going.

It took a long while to get fuel at the fuel dock and to moor the boat. When we were secure at the dock I went back to the engine compartment to think about the diesel leak and I noticed yet another gift from the boating gods: the engine coolant expansion tank was leaking its last few ounces of coolant into the diesel lake below. The problem was immediately clear to me. Ralph, the diesel technician in Marathon, had shoved the tank down when he was looking at the engine. That stressed the small plastic nipple which connects to the hose. A few more hours of engine vibration and a bumpy ride over the bank completed the job. I have to admit that this one was almost too much, a boat trouble trifecta in just 12 hours.

Anyway, we have a jerry rigged replacement for the expansion tank consisting of a plastic bottle with the bottom cut off, the broken plastic nipple, a hose clamp and some duct tape. Not pretty, but it might work as far as Nassau.

The diesel leak is another issue. I’m pretty sure that it, in fact, involves the middle fuel injector, one which I have long suspected of being an issue but which the all engine guys tell me is alright. I also believe, at least as a working hypothesis, that the lack of power and the leaking diesel are intrinsically linked. Carol noted that we were lucky that there was not a fire with that much fuel exposed, and maybe we were. The odd thing about diesel is that it has more energy per unit of volume than gasoline does but it also has a much higher flash point. When we get under way we will have a fire extinguisher out and ready.

The goal now is simple: get to some place where there are more resources and try to figure out what a plan B might look like. Nassau is only 40 miles away but it is to the southeast and the winds tend to come from that direction and with our reduced power level 40 miles could be a long trip without some clear assist from the wind, assuming that the engine will get us there at all.

So, I worry about the boat and Carol worries about me worrying about the boat and neither of us are having a whole lot of fun. On the other hand, we talked about this last night and reminded ourselves that there are people we know, people we like and people we love that have real problems and that the boat is not even close to a real problem. Larry, on board the Attitude, has this aphorism on the back of his boat card: The difference between an ordeal and an adventure is attitude. We’re working on our attitudes while working on the boat and working out a plan.

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

If Wishing Could Make It So

sunny 80 °F

On the Sunday before we left, I was watching the final round of the Masters when Carol walks into the TV room and says, “You remember Bob.” And after a moment, I did. The face was not in the right context, that context being dock #4 at Brunswick Landing Marina. There were two Bobs on the dock; since his was on the south side he became, “South Bob.” Bob has the only mono-hull sailboat that excites me to boat envy. Anyway, he and his wife Cheryl had headed south and made it to Ft. Lauderdale. They rented a car to scout out the rest of the trip south and recognized Carol. The boating world gets smaller and smaller.

We were bound to leave on Monday, not a great day, but good enough. We wanted to get to Bimini, by Tuesday, which we did, because another front is coming through and that would have meant another week of the wrong winds.

Neither of us slept well the night before, I less well than Carol; not nerves or anxiety, just two old folks keeping each other awake. So, when 0500 rolled around, we just gave up and got up and started getting ready to get under way. Since the tide was going to be low at 0830 it seemed to make sense to leave earlier than that as long as there was sufficient light. We were moving before 0730 which seemed OK since during both previous departures we needed about 41/2 hours to get to the Gulf Stream. There was a pretty good wind and we made the 10 miles, or so, in just two hours.

As we passed Sombrero Light, things were looking difficult again. The 10~15 knots winds were over 20 knots; the 2~4 foot seas were easily 4~8 feet, but we were cooking, sailing close to the wind and the boat was heeling and pitching. When we hit the Gulf Stream we tacked to the East and Carol made it about 10 more minutes before she was hanging over the side, heaving chunks. Being a, now, experienced sailor she had the presence of mind to pick the leeward side of the boat to the benefit of both her and the boat. Or, maybe, that was where she was when the time came. Sometimes lucky is good enough.

Then one of the cargo straps securing the dinghy slipped at the tapered end; the dinghy was thrashing about, not a good plan. So in the 4~8 foot seas and the over 20 knot winds we changed the lashing points for the forward strap. Neither of us fell into the water while making the change, a good thing.

As we headed south for the Gulf Stream this is the last thing of land based civilization that we saw until, 120 nm later, we saw the Bimini islands. It's Sombrero Light, basically a light house on a metal scaffold. It marks a passage through the barrier reef and if you have the characteristics of the light you can transit the passage at night. However, the reef it marks has a lot of water over the nasty bits even for sailboats like ours. As the light passes through your field of vision from being over the bow to being over the stern, you know you've made a significant transition, moving from inland waters and a certain security to open ocean with all of the hazards that there lie ... Scylla and Charybdis, krakens and dragons, and very deep water that has no mercy. Sometimes it seems that going on water out of sight of land is an unnatural act. It would be interesting to go back in time to talk to the first person who made a conscious decision to do this since, a priori, that person could not have known what, if anything, was beyond the horizon. What was the motivation? What thoughts and fears did he have? Was he a wacko? I have had an immense respect for the power of the sea ever since, while in the Navy, I almost went overboard one rough night in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean. Some things just have to be remembered ... never, ever forgotten.

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The wind lasted to about 1800 and then went away, just as forecast. So, we had the motor on the whole way. The motor, being the proximate cause of the delay, worked like it should …. It kept on running without fault or interruption, a good deal. I have wondered what would have happened if we had just kept on going that first try. I think that the odds are better than 50/50 that we would have been OK, or, maybe not.

During the late afternoon we saw something unique, at least to our eyes. The seas were fairly calm, at least not frothy with whitecaps. Ahead of us was a band of heavy, solid whitecaps, stretching from horizon to horizon, that looked like water breaking over a shoal, except that we were 15 miles off shore and in more than 600 feet of water. The rational mind says, “Don’t worry, it cannot be what it seems.” The lizard brain says, “Danger! Danger!” The band was about ½ mile wide, and while we were in it, the ride was very rough, indeed. On the other side …. calm seas, again. We have no explanation for the cause.

As we headed East, we were, first, in and then crossed some very busy commercial sea lanes. Mostly, this is not an issue, occasionally it is. We keep our radar set on a coverage radius of 6 nm, keeping just shy of 40 sq. miles on the screen. We saw container ships, cruise ships, bulk carriers, tugs with tows. It’s a big ocean but it’s amazing that in those 40 sq. miles, two boats can try to occupy the same space at the same time. We had two very big vessels that just seemed to be aiming at us. We have good running lights and a good radar reflector up very high. I assume that we can be seen, but do not know that for a fact. Regardless of which vessels had the right of way, and we were under sail, since we had the most to lose, we had to maneuver defensively to avoid the crunch of steel on fiberglass which would not have ended well for the two of us.

Carol is getting better at standing night watches. She’s never really grokked the radar, but after much corrective comment, now seems to be able to use it. She does still get a little edgy when large vessels are in the area but, generally, doesn’t need to come get me for answers about what to do. And her watch standing habits have also improved. Her beginning concept was that when the watch began, it was time to get up, start drinking cokes, going to the john, changing shoes, drinking more cokes, dealing with makeup and locating and placing all of the necessary appurtenances for her creature comfort. My concept was based on hundreds of watches in the Navy: show up early or you're late. Her sole concession to sailing: when we’re underway she will wear a digital watch that actually tells time and, now, can show up for a watch on time.

One of our complaints about this boat, and all Beneteaus in general, is that there is no provision, good or otherwise, for sitting at the helm when underway. We have tried various things from bean bags to flat fenders to provide the height to see over the bow. None worked well, if at all. Since I have the second greatest number of wood working tools in Spring Creek, after Ben, of course, I decided to do something about it. I just did not know what a long term project it would be. First I built a box; it didn’t fit so I had to build another one. Then we installed what seemed like a pretty good seat; it didn’t work well, so we bought another one. The new seat worked well, but it was not in the right place on the box, so I moved it. Next it became apparent that in heavy seas we needed a lap seat belt. Didn’t know where to get one of those so I found a divers weight belt, cut it in half and secured it to the box. That worked well but the bungee cord that secures to a deck pad eye stretches in heavy seas and can pitch us forward. So, we need something that doesn’t stretch but still has adjustable length. Don’t quite know what that is but we’ll figure it out, eventually, maybe, if we don’t sell the boat first. Regardless, the seat works way better than anything else we’ve tried, especially on long passages.

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Night sails are wonderful in good weather. Moon rises and moon sets can rival any sunrise or sunset. The air over the open water is very clear, unlike the air at our mountain fastness … too many coal-burning TVA generating plants. On starry, starry nights you can see every star in the firmament and the many shooting stars are a constant delight. It can make staying awake when you’re beat worth every minute. When we were in Ft. Lauderdale, I replaced the bulbs in several of our gauges, including the fuel gauge which we had never seen at night. This was our first night passage where everything was lit. This sunset wasn’t too bad.

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So, with a lit gauge it was interesting to watch our fuel consumption. When we first bought the boat, I tracked that at about 0.65 gallons per hour. Since we filled up in Mid March, we’ve put on about 40 engine hours and have used about half of our 25 gallon tank, plus an additional 5 gallons, which seems way too little, under ½ gallon per hour. But, with marine diesel at more than $4.00 a gallon we will not question the good numbers.

So, 129 days after we arrived at the boat in December 2010, 75 days after we left Brunswick, GA, 19 days after our first attempt to cross to Bimini, and 12 days after our second, storm tossed attempt, we arrived in Bimini on April 12th, 2011. Last year we arrived on April 9th, 2010. Hopefully, our stay here will be much shorter this year.

This is what the crew does after a few hours of night watches. Captains, unfortunately, don’t have this luxury.

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Posted by sailziveli 14:42 Archived in USA Tagged boating Comments (1)

A Month in Marathon

sunny 84 °F

Well, I was half right, not too bad for a a not too bright older guy. Everything could have happened as I thought. In addition, the engine mechanic thought that, maybe, the check valve on the Racor 500 fuel filter was sticking. This also could have caused the symptoms. So we did a rebuild of the filter housing and sundry parts; not too complicated, if I can remember all the steps. Then I got a mechanic's lesson on how to prime the fuel system; I may be too old and slow for that. Anyway, the fuel filter rebuild is now a line item on the maintenance schedule for yearly action. On the other hand, the whole thing might just be an intermittent problem that will occur again. Who can tell? We can only hope that the Earl of Occam's premise is right. Regardless, at this point the choices are two: go or quit. Not a lot of quit in either one of us. Or, maybe, it's just old fashioned stubbornness pretending to be principled persistence.

We are at a marina so that the mechanic could come on board. It seems strange after having spent most of our recent weeks time at anchor or on a mooring ball. When at anchor or on a mooring ball the boat is always orienting itself into the wind and we are always aware of that relationship to the wind, sometimes consciously, sometimes not. Now, that awareness seems conspicuous by its absence. The other difference is shore power; we can run everything all the time with no concerns. On the minus side, being in a marina just seems to demand that work must happen; this stop has honored that perception. Work has been hard on Carol; the daytime temperatures have been in the low to mid 80's, well above her sub-zero, red headed Nordic Princess comfort range. She has to wear the SPF jillion clothing which has all the comfort of Saran Wrap and then slathers herself with oily sunscreen. The net effect of this is about like basting a turkey and putting it in the oven. But, she sweats, she wipes and she labors on. Finally, she broke down and accepted the offer to power up the AC; warm days are OK, warm nights are a problem.

Having easy access to fresh water we decided to purge, clean and refill the water tanks and jerry cans. When I was transferring water from the jerry cans it appeared, too late, that one may have had some contamination. The mechanics of all this were not too difficult; the details were ugly. Both cabins had to be completely emptied and the deck plates removed. The rear cabin was not too much of a problem since we do that regularly to access the engine area. The front cabin was an issue since it's the store room/locker/pantry/et. al. and under Carol's pervue. Carol was not amused. Since it's her mess I let her deal with it. Anyway, things are now disinfected, we hope, and the water is potable if still redolent of bleach.

The marina in which we are moored is very narrow, not much room to maneuver, so on Friday we moved the boat around the corner of the face dock so that we could get underway in the morning without crashing into boats and concrete sea walls. Mostly we did this by hand with bow and stern lines to turn the corner. Bob and I were on the dock with the lines and Carol was Captain for the Day. She did OK, with a little guidance from the dock. Of course, the total distance traveled was less than 100-ft.

While at the marina, on Friday, March 25th, Carol turned 65. Another milestone, and her second birthday, spent in Marathon and not in the Bahamas.

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The principled persistence was put to the test on Saturday morning. We were ready to leave, the perfect weather window to the Bahamas had arrived. So we powered everything up, stowed all the shore power cables and hoses, and fired up the engine to give it a few minutes to warm up before we put it to work. Big Problem! There was a steady flow of blue/gray exhaust that, when it touched the water, created an oil sheen. Pretty clearly this was incomplete burning of diesel fuel, probably an injector problem and, probably the middle injector. We shut down the engine and called the repair guys. So, Carol went to pay for a few more days at the marina. On Monday, Ralph showed up again and we talked about the problem, then we fired up the engine. It purred like a satisfied cat. Everything was as it should be, not a bad answer but now we're wondering about intermittent again. So Tuesday we left the marina early to run the engine, never getting too far from Marathon so that if things went south again we could get a tow back to the harbor. We ran it hard, we ran it easy, we ran it for six hours and it was great, no problems.

So, once again, go or quit. There was a weather window for Wednesday that was going to close out sometime Thursday night. It was not much of a window, pretty windy, but at least the wind was from the right direction. So, we gave it a shot. As we headed south the wind was, as forecast, in the 15~20 knot range, about the upper end of our comfort zone for a prolonged passage. When we cleared the reef, it was 20~25 knots. When we hit the Gulf Stream the wind was sustaining over 25 knots. That just seemed too difficult ... the boat was hard to handle since we had to steer manually, so we headed back to the marina, where we are, now, on the monthly rate. When we returned we found that several other boats had made similar decisions and returned to the marina. Just a bad deal.

So, now, we have no good prospects for traveling east. Fronts are coming which will whip up the Gulf Stream; the we'll have to wait for the waves to diminish and the wind to clock south of east. That won't happen for at least several more days. The good news is that we've met some nice people. The cocktail hour has included a German couple who live in Knoxville, a Canadian couple who live north of Toronto and sundry American couples. This makes for some interesting conversation. Lots of people here have cars, so a ride is no problem. It's a great place to be but we'd still rather be somewhere else.

Posted by sailziveli 07:57 Archived in USA Tagged boating Comments (0)

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