Saturday, May 21, 2016

Hurry Up and Wait

We are sitting at the dock at Snead Island Boat Works, in Palmetto, Florida (map). It's been a very long week since last I posted here, comfortably ensconced in our friends' digs in Seminole. I'm sorry to say we still own the bus, and are some $13k poorer after our little stint in the yard here. At least we have power, and thus air conditioning, for the bulk of today.

Our digs for the night, near the boat shed at Snead Island Boatworks.

We ended up spending just over an entire week with our friends Karen and Ben, which was not our intent, but the collapse of the bus sale ended up making it so. They were very generous to host us for so long... long enough that Angel the cat settled right in and decided the place was hers. She would wander upstairs and crawl under our hosts' bed for hours at a stretch. Uncharacteristically, she would also lie on the sofa with us, inching ever closer to Ben, whom she likes a great deal.

Poor traumatized kitty. Not. Getting her lovies from Karen.

I don't want to bore you too much with all the details of the bus fiasco, but I know some of our readers are interested so I will try to give a brief overview. The winning bidder disappeared without further contact, and I put in a cancellation of the sale to offer it to the runners-up. Those offers went nowhere and I ended up re-listing it on a three-day listing; it is once again sold. In the meantime the original winner has reappeared and is making my life miserable; I've had to pay eBay their full fee for both sales. And, of course, now we are back to having to pay to lay the boat up while we go up to Virginia to complete the sale.

As it stands now, the closing is scheduled for Friday, and we are renting a car Tuesday to drive up there for a Wednesday arrival. That ought to give us enough time to get everything started back up and running before the buyer arrives. Sadly, that means we'll be driving back over Memorial Day weekend, with the traffic and hotel issues that entails.

First coat of primer, looking good.

We made two more visits to the boatyard over the course of the week to check on progress. Also to load all the tools and gear we had offloaded in anticipation of driving up to the bus. The sanding was more of a job than anyone anticipated (accounting for a significant cost overrun), but the boat looked great in a coat of fresh primer. The propeller was also significantly less pink after sanding, so we are hopeful the damage was not pervasive.

Prop looks better, too, but we're still nervous.

Painted running gear.

On our final visit the paint was mostly done, including the propeller, and our new anodes were in place. We had all of the zinc anodes removed and replaced with aluminum ones; aluminum is more effective than zinc even in salt water, but this was an essential step before we head up into the fresh water of the river system in another month. Zinc becomes inactive in fresh water because it builds up a coating of zinc oxide.

New aluminum anode. Unused studs are from old anode's four-point mounting.

Yesterday we loaded up our remaining belongings, cat included, into the car and Ben and Karen drove us back down to the boatyard for our launch. We had a great visit and really enjoyed going to all their favorite haunts with them, but I am certain they are glad to have us out from underfoot. The yard was utter chaos, with two boats ahead of us for the lift slip (on the smaller 50-ton lift), so rather than watch us splash, we said our goodbyes and they headed home.

Improperly seized shackle pin.

Just as well, because it did not take me long to find two problems that needed to be corrected before we splashed. When they reattached our snubber shackle to the bow eye, someone inexperienced in such matters moused the shackle pin to the snubber thimble rather than the shackle itself; if I had not noticed this it surely would have damaged the snubber on our first anchoring. And the thruster propellers were reinstalled improperly, occluding each other rather than offset as specified by the manufacturer.

Two props directly in line with each other, effectively reducing thrust.

This photo from before the props were removed shows them offset, as intended.

Those problems were corrected in short order and we were in the water within an hour of arriving at the yard. The cat seemed not to mind at all being outside in her carrier in the shade of some nearby trees for the duration. I mentioned to the yard manager that we'd need to come alongside a dock after departing the slings so we could load our scooter back aboard, and after telling us where to do that he said we could just spend the night, considering the lateness of the hour and the fact that his guys still needed to wash the boat, included in the service.

After deciding to spend the night, we opted to just leave the scooter on the ground and ride to dinner. We had a very nice meal at Fav's Italian restaurant in downtown Bradenton. When we returned we brought the scooter down the dock, and this morning loaded it back on deck. With our road trip postponed to at least Tuesday, we've decided to just spend tonight anchored near here in the Manatee River, and so we're lingering at the dock today and enjoying the air conditioning while we still can.

Bradenton has a free dinghy dock, just a short walk from the nice downtown restaurant district. When we shove off here, we'll head the two miles or so upriver and drop the hook a short dinghy ride away. Tomorrow morning we will likely head back out into Tampa Bay and head in the direction of St. Petersburg.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Crash pad

Today finds us temporary landlubbers, staying at the (also temporary) home of good friends Karen and Ben, who have been living here in Seminole, Florida as they await the completion of their spiffy Flxible Starliner bus conversion. Long-time readers know we intersected with them in many places when they were traveling in their last bus, a Liberty Prevost conversion.

We have our own quarters here with a foldout bed and en-suite bathroom facilities, and we've even brought Angel along until we figure out what we're doing with the bus. We were hoping she'd hang out with all of us in the main living space, but there is a full-width, full-height mirrored wall in the dining area, and after tentatively coming up the stairs from our quarters to visit, she got all testy when she spotted the "other cat" in the room. I would have loved to have gotten a video but we were all rolling on the floor laughing at the poor creature. She slunk back downstairs and has not ventured back up since.

Sunset over Snead Island from our anchorage in the Manatee River.

We spent our last night on the boat Wednesday, after arriving in the Manatee River from a pleasant cruise down Tampa Bay. We dropped the hook right outside of the boatyard (map), in an area shown on our chart as a designated "special anchorage" (one of the very few places where boats can anchor without displaying lights or day shapes). Nevertheless, we were the only boat anchored here. I called the yard after we arrived to let them know we were ready and to schedule a time for the haulout in the morning; only then did we learn that the 75-ton lift was scheduled for maintenance and they needed us in the slings at 07:30 so they could have the lift back. Ugh.

Vector out of the water. No matter how many times you see this, you never stop worrying.

We weighed anchor at 07:20 and were in the slings at the appointed time, in the narrowest liftway we've seen to date. It was flat calm in the basin and we had no trouble gliding in. By 07:45 Vector was out of the water and headed toward the wash rack. We noticed two things immediately; first, we had an abnormally large amount of marine growth for just two months since our last bottom cleaning. And second, but far more serious, our propeller had a pink tinge to it.

Wow, that's a lot of growth.

After just a few minutes of scraping at the wash rack, it became apparent the bottom paint was just plain done, and would need to be replaced here. Paint was coming off along with the barnacles, and the sheer amount of growth meant there was not enough copper left in the paint to do the job. The yard had initially told us they would not be able to do a full bottom job on this same haulout, but circumstances had changed and we asked them to quote a full sand/spot prime/bottom paint job; the number was a bit higher than the competition, but with the haulout already covered it made sense to just tell them to go ahead.

The propeller issue is more sinister. The propeller is manganese bronze, which is a form of brass and thus has a significant zinc component. Brass turning pink is a sign of dezincification, a form of galvanic corrosion in which the zinc is actually eaten away at the molecular level, leaving the remainder of the alloy with microscopic voids, much like a sponge. The resulting metal is weak and brittle, and we can now be at serious risk of destroying the propeller in any kind of a strike.

Pink coloration to the prop. Not good.

Only metallurgical testing can tell what the damage is at this point. The yard offered to remove the prop and send it to a prop shop for evaluation, but with a replacement prop weeks if not months away, we opted to forego this and continue running the prop until we can source a replacement, which I am figuring to cost in the neighborhood of $5,000. At some point we will replace the propeller and place this one on a mount on the foredeck as an emergency spare. In the meantime, I need to step up our galvanic protection measures.

It's just as well that the yard opted to haul us out early, a full half hour before their normal opening time, because the techs from Stabilized Marine arrived from Fort Lauderdale before Vector was even on the blocks. They got right to work, using a hydraulic pump to pop the fins off their shafts. The fins are a tight interference fit on the shafts -- there is no keyway or other mechanical interconnection. When they finally pop off, the bang resonates through the whole boat, alarming all on board.

The stabilizer guys worked all day; finally wrapping up around 5:30 or so. Fortunately, our bearings were fine, as were the eight Belleville washers that pre-load the fins onto their shafts, so all we needed was removal and replacement of the contaminated grease, cleanup, new outer seals, and new fasteners on the retainer plates. We also had the port fin adjusted to be a bit more proud of the hull, something that should have been done at the yard where we first had the interference addressed after tipping over on that fin in Toogoodoo Creek.

Stabilizer seals done. The fin is turned only by friction with this very smooth shaft.

Mid-afternoon Louise picked up a rental car in Bradenton, and we made it up here to Seminole by 7ish to enjoy some hors d'oeuvres and cocktails, graciously provided by our hosts, before heading off to a nice dinner. We left the cat aboard Vector for the night, until we had a better idea of next steps.

Yesterday we headed back to the yard after a relatively leisurely morning, in separate cars, to include one that Ben and Karen lent us. I had to unpin the fins and clean up a bit after the stabilizer guys (we didn't want to keep them, or ourselves, at the yard any later than needed Thursday), and we had to secure the boat for our absence, including taking the cat. We also needed to pack bags for a potential week-long trip, and we offloaded three tool boxes, a shop vac, and the pressure washer, all for a potential visit to the bus.

Mid-day the eBay auction for the bus ended. The good news is that it fetched 10% more than our rock-bottom price, however, disturbingly, I have not since heard from the buyer, and more than half of the allotted time in which to pay the deposit has now passed. At least the second-place bidder has already offered to complete the sale if it falls through.

Since the boat will be on the hard for nearly a week anyway while they sand and paint the bottom, I was really hoping for a fast close. If we had left for Virginia today, for example, I think we could have been back just in time to pick the boat up at the end of its yard visit, and we'd save a few hundred dollars of dockage while we made the trip. To that end I even reserved yet another rental car (since cancelled), and, as noted, we offloaded our gear in the hope we'd be departing before the yard re-opens Monday morning.

As it stands now, we are in limbo, heading for the least desirable of all outcomes, one in which we end up leaving for Virginia while the boat is on the hard, but not returning until well after it is splashed. That would mean yard personnel having to move the boat into a slip, and us covering storage fees for the duration. Plus we'd have to worry about making sure they plug it back in before the batteries run down and the fridge goes off.

Speaking of which, the yard would not take any responsibility for ensuring that the power remains on and the fridge stays running. So we made sure to get the boat on-line to the Internet so we can monitor it remotely with our whizzy new camera system. I left the fluorescent lights on in the engine room, and I'm checking on it daily. If I see those lights go out I will know the shore power is out, and I can make some calls to have someone look into it. Not ideal, but the best we could do.

For now, we are settled in comfortably with our friends, and trying not to be too much in the way. Until I hear from the buyer on his plans for picking up the bus, we really can't make any further plans ourselves. When I know something further I will try to update our plans here.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016


We are under way in Tampa Bay (perhaps you've detected a theme here) to Palmetto, on the Manatee River, where we will be hauled out tomorrow at Snead Island Boatworks for our stabilizer repairs. We dropped lines this morning from the yacht basin to leave on the ebb, and are basically retracing our steps back through the bay.

Vector in the Vinoy yacht basin.

We've had a lovely four-night stay in St. Pete. We connected with Ben and Karen another couple of times (and will see them again tomorrow as well), wandered the waterfront, and had several nice meals ashore. Most of the time spent aboard was given to answering bus questions on the eBay listing, and planning logistics for the upcoming sale.

At the indiee market street festival at Green Bench Brewing with Karen and Ben.

Speaking of the bus listing, we now have three bids from two bidders, with just over two days left on the listing. The listing has had nearly 19,000 page views and has over 320 watchers. I suspect most of those are just interested in following along and not actually interested in bidding, but really all we need is one or two more to get the party going.

With at least two bidders already, we're fairly confident the sale will close. Since eBay's terms require that to happen basically within one week of deposit (they have 48 hours to make the deposit), we've been scrambling to make arrangements for the boat and the cat, as well as to get ourselves up to Lottsburg to close the deal.

At this writing it looks like we will return to downtown St. Pete after we're done in Palmetto, so we can tie Vector up to a secure dock with access to power. Unlike Odyssey, there is no autostart system on Vector's generator; it's easy to add, but not a great idea since certain kinds of failures can actually sink the boat. Consequently, leaving the boat for more than two or three days means we either need a shore power connection, or we need to empty the fridge and turn it off. That's probably cheaper than a dock for a week, but the hassle factor is enormous.

Sunset over St. Pete from our deck.

St. Pete has a decent weekly rate, just $7 per foot plus power, and secured docks, so it's really the easiest option. I've already booked a car for the week, with unlimited mileage and no state restrictions, which will let both of us get to and from the bus, along with tools and cleaning gear, in the most cost-effective way. It also gives us a way to get the rest of our personal property off the bus while we figure out what to do with it.

That just leaves the cat, who will, sadly, have to be kenneled for the duration. We're working hard to keep the entire round trip down to less than a week, so it won't be too hard on her. We don't want to over-run our weekly rate on dockage or the rental car, either.

For the moment, our attention has returned to the boat and its systems. Tonight we should be anchored in the Manatee river near the boat yard, and tomorrow Stabilized Marine will arrive from Fort Lauderdale to take care of us. It will cost a bit more than the local yards but we have more confidence in their abilities. I don't want to speculate on a relaunch day until we get hauled out and see how everything looks.

Saturday, May 7, 2016


We are again under way in Tampa Bay, running on one fin, which we've dubbed "Nemo." This morning we left our lovely anchorage just west of Davis Island in Tampa (map), and this afternoon we will pick up a mooring ball in the Vinoy Yacht Basin in St. Petersburg.

Shortly after I posted here Tuesday we made our way up the Seddon Channel, a former ship channel leading to downtown Tampa and the mouth of the Hillsborough River. We had hoped to anchor in the former turning/connecting basin there, which was dead calm on our arrival, notwithstanding fairly rough seas in the bay itself.

In hindsight it was quite doable, but as we circled the basin it looked as if anywhere we dropped would be in the way of either a channel or a busy water taxi service. After ten minutes of circling and scratching our heads, we decided instead to go five miles around to the northwest side of Davis Island, where we knew we could anchor without question, at the expense of another half mile of dinghy ride to get ashore.

Downtown Tampa from our deck, taken in the calm of this morning.

In stark contrast to the basin just a few hundred feet away, this anchorage was quite choppy, with winds out of the south traveling the whole length of Hillsborough Bay. We tucked in as close to shore and the bridge as we could for the best protection, and despite the chop we were able to launch the tender for dinner.

Once we crossed under the two low bridges in the tender things were again dead calm, and we decided to explore the channel a bit. Our guide said the city dock at the Convention Center was the place we could get ashore, for a landing fee of $2 per hour (this same dock, which can accommodate Vector, is $2 per foot for overnight use, power included). As we explored the old Garrison Channel, though, we found another dock, on the north end of Harbour Island, that was free for up to two hours. Immediately ashore of that dock are three restaurants and a convenience store serving the residential community there.

We opted for Italian-themed That's Amore, which was good if a bit odd, rather than the more highly-rated Cafe Dufrain, which probably would have been a better choice. Next time, perhaps. After dinner we strolled the island a bit before stopping in the c-store to restock the beer supply. I added the free dock to the on-line guide.

Wednesday was our anniversary, and we had hoped to go out someplace nice, possibly our affiliate club in town. We both joked that apparently, thirteen is the "stabilizer seal" anniversary. Alas, the forecast for all Wednesday was high winds and heavy rain, and we prepared ourselves to just spend the whole day aboard and eat in. In anticipation of winds and seas, we hip-tied the tender for the night, rather than trailing it as usual.

Sunset over our anchorage and the Interbay Peninsula. The calm before the storm.

Sure enough, we awoke at 6am to the first winds of the incoming storm, and had a mad scramble to secure all the loose items on deck and inside. The forecast had deteriorated overnight, and was now calling for winds of over 35 knots steady with gusts to 70. We brought the snubber in and increased our scope, paying out another 30' of chain to put us at 10:1. By the time the winds hit, they dropped the forecast to gusts of 50, and I'm going to say we saw at least a few that high. Nothing was lost overboard, but we took a couple of ten degree rolls and we would have lost items from the fridge and the cabinets had we not dogged them.

I ended up manning the anchor watch for perhaps 40 minutes. The whole storm had passed in a couple of hours, and the rest of the day it was just garden-variety windy with incessant rain. A good time to clean house and get some online projects knocked out before a delicious meal aboard.

After the storm passed and all the way through this morning, winds clocked around to the north and west, and our previously choppy anchorage became very calm, making for a very pleasant stay. North winds also brought welcome cooler temperatures, and Thursday we decided to explore Tampa a bit.

We took a very lovely tender ride up the Hillsborough River, turning around just before MLK Boulevard. We could have gone at least again as far in the tender; the river is navigable almost to this point even for Vector, although the drawbridges require two hours' notice to open. We found a nice dinghy dock at Water Works Park, adjacent to Ulele Springs, and spent a few minutes exploring the park and the spring.

After returning back down the river we tied up at the Convention Center docks to explore downtown. We checked in with the dockmaster to pay the hourly fees, but when he saw the size of our tender and that we had put it around the back of the dock rather than into a slip, he just waved us along.

On the trolley to Ybor City.

A short walk through the waterside plaza, complete with open-air bar, art work, and even a self-service bicycle repair stand with tools, brought us to the trolley station. For $5 apiece we bought day passes to take the "historic" trolley out to Ybor City. These trolley cars were actually built in 2000, but have the look of much older rolling stock, right down to old-fashioned trolley controls. It was a pleasant ride and we enjoyed strolling historic Ybor City and having a beer at one of the many sidewalk bars.

Our trolley at the end of the line. Somehow we got this same Coors-wrapped car both ways, looking rather un-trolley-like.

This car, going the other way, was more representative of the fleet.

Good friends Ben and Karen, whom we did not expect to see until later in the week, when we moved to St. Petersburg, texted us mid-day to say they'd be in Tampa for some shopping, and after we returned to the waterfront on the trolley they picked us up at the Convention Center and took us to dinner. We had a great evening to cap off a very pleasant day.

Yesterday, after much rumination and many false starts on my part, Louise suggested we spend part of the day finishing up the eBay sales listing for our bus, Odyssey. It took us all morning and into the afternoon, and with the weather still very pleasant and the anchorage calm, we decided to just spend an additional night in Tampa. I'm happy to report that the listing is up on eBay and we are getting quite a good bit of interest at our bargain-basement opening price.

Deciding to stay gave us the opportunity to take the #30 bus out to the Centre Club for a nice dinner, which we declared to be in honor of our anniversary. We discovered that we could dock the dinghy at yet another free dock adjacent to the Tampa Museum of Art at Curtis Hixon Park; not only did this eliminate any issue with hourly fees, but it was a good deal closer to the bus stop, and we got to enjoy another section of the River Walk.

The River Walk from the drawbridge as we waited for our bus. Scalar is at the dock to the right of the railroad bridge.

This morning we weighed anchor on a rising tide to pick our way back through some shallow soundings out into Hillsborough Bay. Ben and Karen have invited us to a street fair this afternoon and we need to be in quarters and squared away by 2pm. Fortunately, we left plenty of extra time, because it took over twenty minutes to weigh anchor, one foot of chain at a time, as we washed some of the thickest mud we've ever seen off the chain. Coming up out of the water it didn't look like chain at all, but rather some brown, slimy tube monster with the occasional embedded mollusk.

Mud-caked anchor chain. All 100' of it looked like this.

Now that we are beam-to the seas, Nemo is working hard, but all is well and I expect to be secured to a mooring in the Vinoy Yacht Basin in plenty of time to get signed in and meet up with our friends. I can see from here, through the phalanx of sailboats out for a weekend day sail, that the metal-munching moon mice have demolished all the structures on the controversial St. Petersburg Pier, which was already closed and awaiting its fate when last we were here.

Update: We are moored in the yacht basin (map), just a short distance from our last mooring here, and we had a great time out on the town with friends. I had to set aside typing to get secured here, and then ended up answering eBay questions on the bus listing until it was time to leave, only now returning to my keyboard. In the interim, the bus has had nearly 8,000 page views and we even have a bid, so I guess it will be sold by next weekend.

We'll be right here until Wednesday sometime, when we will drop lines and head to Palmetto, across the bay, for a haulout there Thursday morning. Stabilizer repairs should be complete by the end of the day Thursday and, unless we find additional problems, we should be back in the water Friday. And I suppose I will shortly be making arrangements to get back to Virginia to close on the bus.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016


We are under way in Tampa Bay, northeast of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, bound for Tampa. I have about three hours in mostly open water, a good time to post an update here. This morning found us anchored just east of the filled portion of the south causeway (map), with some protection from the southwesterlies we had yesterday.

Vector moored at Sarasota, with sunset over the Ringling Causeway.

We had a nice cruise Thursday from Manasota Key to Sarasota, where we took a mooring ball at the city moorings (map), managed by Marina Jack, just one ball over from where we stopped last year. That cruise took us through Venice, one of the busiest and shallowest sections on all the ICW on the west coast. At the one known "trouble spot" we had just over a foot under our keel at mid-tide, right where we remembered.

Downtown Sarasota and Marina Jack from our mooring.

Even though it was mid-day on Thursday, the waterway around Venice was chock-a-block with runabouts and patio boats, both private and rental. A long stretch is steerage-speed-only, but at 48' of waterline and a single screw, our steerage speed is considerably higher than those smaller boats, and we ended up taking center-channel and passing a few boats along the way. One rental patio boat skipper, who was well outside of channel as we passed, decided at the last second to try to move inside of an upcoming daybeacon; our presence in the channel so flummoxed him that he nearly hit the daybeacon support, and in the process of missing it he ran over a pot float. He later passed us, only to be waylaid in a few hundred feet by having his prop wrapped in a line.

Venice might be a nice stop, but there is no place to anchor, and with all the shenanigans on a weekday we can only imagine the pandemonium on the weekends. We were glad to leave it in our wake. None of this was helped by my state of mind, worrying, as I was, about a mechanical issue on board.

For the previous day or two, we'd noticed the autopilot having great difficulty keeping course. We'd already fiddled with the autopilot settings, and next we turned our attention to the stabilizers, which tend to fight the autopilot in certain conditions. On this cruise, the stabilizers also seemed to be struggling, and so Louise went down to visually inspect them in operation.

What she found was not good -- grease was oozing out of the bearing seal on the port fin, an indication that the outer seal had failed and seawater was making ingress to the bearings. With really no place to stop along the route to pin and disconnect that fin, we ran most of the rest of the day with the fins centered hydraulically, so at least we were not continuing to rotate the bearings and help even more grease migrate out of them. Even in calm inland waters, Vector becomes much less pleasant with the fins off.

Grease oozing from the seal. The color suggests seawater emulsification and bearing deterioration.

We made it to Sarasota without further incident. With an unscheduled yard visit looming, and the weekend boat chaos coming up, we paid straight away for four nights, through Monday morning. That would give us a few days of calm to work on the problem in very pleasant surroundings.

We had a very nice stay in Sarasota. The $25 nightly mooring fee provides access to a nice dinghy dock, WiFi that reaches the mooring field, and the usual array of marina amenities. It's a bit steep for what amounts to a dinghy dock fee, but there's really no easy place to anchor with the mooring field in the way.

One of several boats at Marina Jack listed for sale by our friend and broker, Curtis Stokes. The man is a selling machine, which is why he never has time for dinner. Are you listening, Curtis?

The shops and restaurants of downtown Sarasota are an easy walk from the marina dock, and we enjoyed walking the town to dinner each evening. There is no grocery within easy walking, but a ten minute dinghy ride under the Ringling Causeway Bridge and past the event center gets you to a boat ramp and park dock right across the street from a Publix, where we stocked up on some necessities. I also got gas for the tender at the adjacent Sunoco station; much cheaper than marina prices.

I spent all day Friday calling boat yards and trying to arrange a haulout for repair somewhere in Tampa/St. Pete. Saturday ended up being a day of rejiggering all the route plots to accommodate the yard detour to various yards. And Sunday I went down and pinned the port fin, so we can at least run on the starboard one alone. A single fin will actually provide 60%-70% of the performance of both fins together -- much better than just having them centered -- a fact we learned when we had to pin the starboard fin in the Chesapeake a couple of years ago.

On our final evening Sunday, as we were enjoying a beer on the aft deck before dinner, I noticed a large orange buoy near the marina channel to our west. At that moment a small sailboat was passing it, and I thought it was a race marker. Except it was moving, making way inexorably toward the marina docks. While we watched, perhaps a half dozen boats passed it, some dodging it, without a second thought. I jumped in the tender and went to fetch it -- it clearly came loose from a barge or something similar (the line had chafed clean through) a very long way away, and had probably spent several hours making its way to Marina Jack. With no identifying marks, we've taken custody of it; now all I need to do is figure out where we're going to store it.

Our "new" buoy/fender. It's the largest one on the boat, by a skosh, and will probably see service as a storm fender or marker buoy.

Yesterday morning we dropped lines early enough to catch a favorable tide upon reaching Tampa Bay. The boat ran just fine on a single fin, and other than a really inconvenient bridge schedule at Anna Maria Island (two bridges on half-hour openings are just a mile apart) we had a pleasant and uneventful cruise. We arrived in Tampa Bay at the very end of the flood and made our way to the Sunshine Skyway in mostly slack water. We had the hook down by 1pm, plenty of time to make it all the way to Tampa, but there was no sense in battling against the current all afternoon.

We had anchored just a few hundred feet away, on the southwest side of the causeway, last year, with winds from a different quadrant. With our heavy displacement it is a pleasant enough anchorage, in 11' of water (deeper than charted), and we enjoyed a nice sunset over the bridge with our steak dinner on the aft deck.

Sunset last night over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

This morning we got under way at peak flood, so we have a good boost for most of the trip and a mostly slack arrival. Our destination is an old turning/connecting basin for a pair of now-decommissioned ship channels in the port of Tampa, across from the city docks at the convention center. The docks will accommodate Vector, but overnight use is $2/foot. Instead we'll use the $2/hour day rate to land the tender as needed. I expect we'll be in Tampa at least two nights and perhaps longer; plans after that are a bit fluid until I get commitments from some of the yards we've contacted. For certain, we will be in the Tampa Bay area for at least two weeks to repair the fins.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Cruising the west coast

We are anchored in a quiet bay off Manasota Key, in the community of Englewood, Florida (map). This is a new anchorage for us, on an otherwise familiar route. We passed by here a year ago in the other direction.

Sunset over Cabbage Key.

Monday afternoon we steamed into San Carlos Bay, leaving the Sanibel Lighthouse to port, and arrived off the landward side of Sanibel Island. We dropped a "dinner hook" just east of the Sanibel Island Causeway's "C-Span" (map). Not to be confused with the TV channel of that name.

The Sanibel Island Causeway connects the island to the mainland, at Fort Meyers, by means of three separate bridge spans and two man-made islands. Together they span the entire mouth of San Carlos Bay, some three miles. The A-Span, closest to Fort Myers, crosses the main navigation channel and has a vertical clearance of 70'. We can easily pass under this, of course, but the main navigation channel leads to Cape Coral, Fort Meyers, and the Okeechobee Waterway, whereas we wanted to continue north along the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway.

We could have simply continued up the main navigation channel to the Caloosahatchee River entrance and then turned left into a dredged channel that carries the ICW across San Carlos Bay. That route was four miles out of our way, most of it against the current. Moreover, it would take us across one of the most unnerving stretches of waterway we've ever traversed, a narrow, shallow channel with so much recreational boat traffic it is known locally and throughout the boating community as "The Miserable Mile" -- even guidebooks call it that. We traversed that stretch last year on our way up the Caloosahatchee and found it lived up to it's name; we were not eager to repeat it.

Instead we opted for the shorter route, which crosses the causeway at the C-Span (the B-span, between the man-made islands, has a ten foot air clearance across shoal-draft water, and is only navigable by very small boats). The C-Span has a full-draft navigation channel under a hump in the bridge with an air clearance of 26'.

The C-Span, from the west, with the tip of Sanibel seen through the navigation channel.

Vector's "air draft" is 27' with the antennas down, which means we can not pass under this bridge at high tide or any time within a foot of it, and it was high tide when we arrived. Consulting the tide tables we learned the low tide in the morning would not be low enough, either (the tide is bi-modal here) and we'd need to pass through at the evening low or close to it, hence the dinner hook.

Another issue with this bridge is that the tide board, which informs mariners of the actual clearance of the bridge accounting for tide, is missing on the east side. (Fortunately, we knew this before arriving.) We wanted to double-check the clearance, and so when slack tide came, not long after we anchored, we launched our new inflatable kayak for the very first time and paddled through the bridge and over to the west-facing tide board. The clearance turned out to be even lower than published, so we're glad we did. The kayak worked surprisingly well for something that cost just a hundred bucks, and we foresee using it to reach places the tender simply can not go.

Sunset over Sanibel Island.

We had a very nice dinner and enjoyed watching the comings and goings at Sanibel Island throughout the afternoon. We spotted quite a few dolphins all around us, also enjoying their dinner. Just a little before sunset, we weighed anchor to move literally just a few hundred feet, to the other side of the bridge. We dropped the hook just west of the bridge (map) and settled in for the night. And what a night it was.

Just after twilight a huge storm cell hit us, with lightning, torrential rain (nicely cleansing the salt spray from the boat), and 20-knot winds. No problem at all for Vector, but just a few hundred yards from us we could see several small pleasure boats, 20-odd-foot center consoles, who were having the proverbial "worst day fishing."  Everyone in these open boats was drenched, notwithstanding some of them trying to take shelter under the bridge, and we watched as one small boat tied up to a bridge support and everyone got off onto the abutment. We got no answer from them on the radio and ended up calling the Coast Guard in case we were witnessing an abandon-ship (there was no way for us to reach them). When the storm let up they got back in the boat and left, so apparently they were just trying to escape the swells.

Vector in front of Useppa Island, as seen from Cabbage Key.

We had a quiet morning at anchor Tuesday morning, as we waited on a favorable tide to continue north. After only a short distance, we rejoined the ICW and our track from our previous visit, retracing our steps back to Cabbage Key, which we quite enjoyed last year. We could easily have made more distance, but we wanted to enjoy dinner there in their quirky restaurant. I described this anchorage last time through, so I won't repeat it here; we anchored in very nearly the same spot (map).

Cabbage Key.

Last year we had made the run from Sarasota to Cabbage Key in a single day. At 47 nautical miles, with several bridge openings, that makes for a very long day, around eight hours under way, all of it requiring constant attention to the helm. This time we wanted to break the trip up into two sections, but anchorages for our draft are few and far between here. We set our sights on Manasota Key, which looks from the chart to be inaccessible, but notes from other cruisers said otherwise. We weighed anchor yesterday fairly late in the morning, so as to arrive here on a rising tide of at least a foot.

It turned out to be no trouble at all, and we could easily have made it at low tide, too. It's a calm, quiet, and spacious anchorage, and other than a few local boats being stored here on the hook, we had it to ourselves. We dropped the tender and rode to local favorite Flounders Beachside Restaurant for dinner. We also walked across the street to the beach where we had a Manasota flashback -- long-time readers may remember we had a bit of an incident here in the bus.

Today we will proceed the rest of the way to Sarasota, where we will most likely take a mooring ball again at Marina Jacks. We enjoyed our last visit there and are looking forward to returning. Ahead of us on today's route is one of the shallowest spots on the ICW, so we are timing our departure with the tide.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Neapolitan Cruise

I am again typing underway, just a half mile off the west coast of Florida. We are just passing Naples; we've visited there more than once in the bus, so it is not worth making a very challenging shoal-water entrance to access the extremely limited anchorages there. We'll continue north to the protected waters behind Sanibel Island instead.

Naples from offshore. No sign of Sorrento or Capri...

Friday afternoon we dropped the hook inside Everglades National Park, at the mouth of Ponce De Leon Bay and the Little Shark River, nearly a mile offshore (map). We had planned to travel another mile and a half to a protected anchorage in the river, marked on our charts. We certainly could have done that; depths are 8' MLLW all the way in, and 11' or so in the anchorage, and we arrived at nearly high tide with another three and a half feet under us.

Leaving the keys for Shark River. That's Moser Channel and the Seven Mile Bridge behind us.

What stopped us in our tracks offshore was bugs. Had we arrived here even a month or so earlier, we probably could have spent a lovely night among the mangroves. But the bug season has started, and numerous reviewers related that they are plentiful and vicious. We have screens, but many of the worst bugs here can pass right through them. I would probably fare OK, but Louise, who is considered a delicacy in the bug world, would be eaten alive, or possibly carried back to the nest.

As we approached we could see boats in the anchorage upriver, but we resisted the temptation. Reviewers had said that the bugs started a full mile offshore and recommended remaining at least that far for the most bug-free experience. With steady winds out of the east, we figured they'd have trouble detecting us (although a free ride to catch us), so we took a chance on coming in another quarter mile. With only three quarters of a mile of fetch, we had relative calm at anchor, and it was nearly flat overnight. I'm sorry we did not get to see more of the Shark River; perhaps we'll pass this way again outside of bug season.

Marco Island from sea.

We awoke to a bit of pitching as the seas picked up in the morning, and so we prepared to get under way without delay. Our next planned stop was an anchorage in Russell Pass, just off the Indian Key Pass channel leading to Everglades City. As we looked at the charts and read anchorage reviews, we realized we would face the exact same bug problem there as well. We had no plans to go ashore at Everglades City -- we've been there before and there's not a lot to see, plus it's a loooong tender ride. Realizing our anchorage offshore at Ponce De Leon cut at least a half hour off our route, and with an early start, we opted to press on ahead to Marco Island instead.

That made for a long day Saturday, with a 54-nm cruise. Bypassing the Russell Pass stop did cut twenty miles off the total, as the enormous Cape Romano Shoals make for a circuitous departure to the north. We made Capri Pass, the inlet to Marco Island, by 5pm, and dropped the hook off-channel at the entrance to the Big Marco River (map), across from the Snook Inn and Pelican Pier, by 5:30. Before arriving I had forgotten that it was Saturday, and it was boats akimbo from the sea buoy all the way to the anchorage. Seas in the gulf had picked up to three feet with a short period by the time we made the inlet, and we were happy to be in protected water.

Vector anchored at Marco Island, as seen from the Snook Inn. The heavy current makes her appear under way.

We splashed the tender and rode over to the Snook Inn for dinner. In the time it took us to anchor and get the dinghy ready, the sheriff's patrol pulled over two boats for speeding just a couple hundred yards from us -- dinner and a show.  The restaurant has customer dockage, busy at lunch but nearly empty at dinner time. We enjoyed a nice meal in the dining room, opting to skip the hour-long wait for the patio. We had a window table and could see dolphins coming right up to the docks and hamming it up for the tourists gathered there; we might as well have been at Sea World except these were wild animals that had figured out how to fleece the tourists all on their own. Dolphins are incredibly smart.

The courtesy docks at Snook Inn. These people are watching the dolphins frolic while waiting for their tables.

The forecast for Sunday was more of the same, short steep waves, and we decided to just sit it out right where we were. We both enjoyed a day of downtime after our full-day cruise. In the evening we made the half-hour tender ride through the canals and bays of Marco Island to tie up at Winn-Dixie's very own dock. From there we walked to Gino's restaurant for a nice Italian dinner before stocking up on a few necessities at Winn-Dixie. Grocery stores are seldom this close to a dock.

This morning's escort.

We returned to Vector to find a couple of other boats in the anchorage, which we had all to ourselves Saturday night. This morning we weighed anchor in time to catch the last of the ebb, clearing the Coconut Island bar by just under two feet at low tide. Seas in the gulf today are calm, and we've already had a two-dolphin escort for part of the trip.

I would be remiss if I did not mention here that Louise has started her own blog to cover her quilting activities. I think she did not want to expose her quilt followers to my endless droning about boat repairs. She's already copied over the relevant posts from here (they're still here, too) so interested readers can find all her quilt-related posts in one place, at Quilt Odyssey (natch).

I spent a half hour Sunday driving around Vector taking pictures for Louise's new blog about pretzels quilts.

This afternoon we should be anchored in the protected waters behind Sanibel Island. From there we have the option of traveling a protected inside route along the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. (There's an inside route from Marco Island to Naples, too, but it's too shallow for Vector.)

Friday, April 22, 2016

Boot Key Harbor

We are again under way, after a week-long stay in Marathon, Florida. We have crossed the Overseas Highway and are now on the gulf side, northbound for Shark River with following seas. I still have some cell signal from Marathon; we'll see if I have anything when I'm done typing. Otherwise I will have to upload it tomorrow when we get back to civilization.

Vector at anchor off Knight Key, with the Seven Mile Bridge in the background.

We arrived outside of Knight Key, the westernmost part of Marathon, last Thursday, after a very nice cruise from Key Largo. We dropped the hook not far from where we did on our last pass through, just a bit further north and closer to the Sunset Grille and Raw Bar (map). We splashed the tender and rode there for dinner across some chop. The "inside" portion of this restaurant is really a giant palapa, and we chose that shadier option over the poolside patio where we ate last time.

The Sunset Grille from our anchorage. Lots of people walk out on the bridge for the sunset.

Friday morning we tendered all the way in to the city docks in Boot Key Harbor to see about getting a mooring ball. There are 216 moorings in this enormous harbor, but only 15 are for boats longer than 45'. We lucked out and snagged the last open ball, Victor-3 (map), which had me thinking "what's our vector, Victor" our whole first day. The ball next to us, V-4, while rented out, remained empty for our entire stay.

We had planned on taking just four nights, with the possibility of extending to a fifth. As long as we had a good address, we placed some Amazon and eBay orders, including the repair carcass for my laptop, and had our mail sent, which was scheduled to arrive sometime Tuesday. When we checked in, though, we learned that a full week was the same price as five nights, so we just signed up for a week instead. That gave me the chance to place another Amazon order as well.

This manatee was in the canal when we stopped at the office. Covered with the same growth that Vector has on her bottom.

It's hard to paint a picture of Boot Key Harbor for anyone who has not been there. It's a sea of boats; from some angles it looks as if you can walk across the harbor without getting your feet wet. Outside the margins of the city-run mooring field, another several dozen boats are anchored. Rules for both the moorings and the anchorage require the vessel be able to navigate, but many appear not to have moved in years. The landlubber image that comes to mind, with no disrespect to some of the nice folks we met there, is "trailer park." (I've lived in trailer parks, also with some very nice folks.)

I don't really grok the popularity of these kinds of anchorages (neither did we understand similarly crowded RV parks), but to be fair, we came to understand some of the reasons. The city marina provides some very nice and well maintained dinghy docks, and decent shoreside facilities. The WiFi does not extend to the harbor, but there is a large room with tables and power outlets that can accommodate a couple dozen folks using laptops or tablets at the same time. There are two theater-style TV rooms, a large exchange library, and even a "workshop" room with cruiser-contributed equipment such as a drill press. Rentable lockers in the workshop area allow for longer-term repair projects.

The larger and less popular of the two enormous dinghy docks. Usually it was more crowded than this.

The marina also provides recycling for motor oil, fuel, oily rags, coolant, and lead-acid batteries, in addition to the more traditional single-stream household recycling. Mooring or dinghy-dock tenants also get parking privileges and use of the enormous bicycle rack; coded tags are provided for dinghys, cars, motorcycles, and bicycles. And, of course, there are bathrooms and showers, as well as a nice, if pricey, laundry facility.

On top of all the services at the marina, a half dozen or so restaurants are in walking distance, as well as a Home Depot, a gas station, and a few other conveniences. A bicycle or a $5 cab ride will get you to almost anything else in town, including a West Marine and other chandleries, two nice grocery stores, and yet more restaurants. A morning radio "cruisers' net," similar to the one we experienced in Georgetown, provides announcements and a buy/sell/trade/assistance forum.

Tiki hut at the marina. Cruisers organize events here on a regular basis.

On Saturday we rented a car from Enterprise to make a Sunday run back up to Fort Lauderdale. Louise's folks were embarking on a cruise and we thought it would be nice to see them off over lunch, and I wanted to pick up a few things. We even thought about a Costco run, but waved that off since we did not want to have a bunch of meat on a ~2 hour car ride (the closest Costco is in Miami). Ironically, the cheapest thing Enterprise had on the lot, which is at the minuscule Marathon International Airport, was a full-size pickup truck, so new it still had the dealer sticker in the glove box ($38,400, in case anyone wonders what a four-door Dodge Ram with amenity package runs; gulp).

Sailorman marine salvage, one of the stops we made in Fort Lauderdale.

On our way back from Fort Lauderdale we stopped in Islamorada for dinner; having already sampled the more famous establishments there, we instead tried a Mexican place that proved disappointing. Monday morning I ran some errands, including picking up some hard-to-find fasteners at the well-stocked local hardware store, before returning the truck to the airport. Enterprise is very laid back here, with a one- or two-person staff. They pick you up and drop you off as a matter of course, and Saturday's "pick up" was in the form of sending a taxi, then knocking the cab fare off the total bill.

As long as we had the car, we went a bit further afield for dinner Saturday, to the Marathon Ale House, an unassuming joint in the corner of a strip mall. Off the tourist-beaten path, it was one of the best deals on the island. Without a car or even a bicycle on the ground, we walked to Keys Fisheries one evening and Keys Steak and Lobster another, and we also took the tender down to Burdine's Waterfront, which has a dock. All were quite good, albeit at island prices. At Keys Fisheries we got our food at the window (how it's done there) and carried it up to the tiki bar, which had a better view as well as better people-watching.

Enjoying a beer upstairs at Keys Fisheries. It was trivia night.

With the remains of the week, and the newly acquired hardware, I got a few things done around the boat, including securing the flybridge compass and replacing a sheared machine screw on the now-spare macerator pump. I never did get to swapping computer parts around (a big job), but I did get the new hangar queen up and running, and tested it with Linux. I'm proceeding carefully; I don't want the parts swap to invalidate my software licenses, or scribble a bunch of hard-to-reverse setting changes on my disk.

The other project on which I made great progress is the rebuild of the main engine raw water pump, which I started back at the dock in Fort Lauderdale. You may recall I was stymied by some recalcitrant bearings; as it turns out, one of the cruiser-supplied tools in the shop at the marina was a 12-ton shop press. With the help of some PB Blaster the shop press made short work of those bearings, and I now have the shaft, with the bearings attached, out of the now-empty pump housing. I'll need to pick up a bearing separator to get the bearings off the shaft, probably in Tampa/St. Pete.

Sunset from the deck at Keys Fisheries, across the highway from the marina.

Our full week was up this morning, so we dropped lines and headed out of the harbor just as the radio net was starting. We had figured to go around the north side of the islands and anchor again if we had to wait on weather, but today turns out to be a great day and we're ready to be moving along.

We're now about halfway to our planned stop at Shark River. As I predicted, we left cell range before I could finish the post. But I am happy to report that our macerator pump is now working; we're in a very short 20-minute stretch of offshore water that is outside the nine mile environmental zone (it's three miles everywhere else, but the gulf coast of Florida is an exception), and we just successfully emptied our tanks. We had deliberately shunned the free pumpout boat in Boot Key Harbor just so we could test; by the end of the week the pumpout skipper was giving me the eye (a pumpout is mandatory after ten days in the harbor).

I expect we'll have the anchor down somewhere in the Shark River area, inside the boundary of Everglades National Park, by around 4pm. I don't expect to have any cell signal there, so you will likely be reading this after we come back in range somewhere near Everglades City tomorrow afternoon.