Saturday, December 5, 2015

Cumberland Island

We are anchored in Cumberland Sound, just north of the Park Service dock at Sea Camp, on Cumberland Island, Georgia (map). Just across the sound from us we can see the submarine base at Kings Island, north of St. Marys. We've been here since Thursday morning, dropping the hook around 10:30 after coming in the St. Marys River Inlet just south of us, skirting past Amelia Island and Fort Clinch in Florida.

Christmas tree at the Plum Orchard Mansion, Cumberland Island, a historic site being conserved by the National Park Service.

The remainder of our ocean cruise after my last post was mostly pleasant and uneventful. We did have some heavy seas overnight, as we pressed southward into weather. And our decision to stay closer inshore had us going right through the Savannah ship anchorage, and I ended up doing a pas de deux with a giant bulk freighter, Lowlands Brabo, who would not deign to answer the radio. We were the stand-on vessel yet would have been happy to alter course and speed to accommodate him, had he bothered to arrange such with us when I started calling 20 full minutes before CPA. I ended up having to do a complete circle and pass astern of him as he came in to anchor.

Heading into weather, taken shortly after my last post.

We had originally set a course for the closest anchorage to the St. Marys inlet, which is on the Florida side of the river north of Fernandina Beach. But with an early ETA of 10am, we decided instead to proceed all the way to this anchorage at Cumberland Island for a visit. The island has long been on my to-do list, but we've never managed to stop, owing to other schedule pressure. Now several days ahead due to our decision to continue past Charleston in the Atlantic, the time was right to finally stop here.

As we came around the corner into the sound, we spotted a familiar boat, our friends Steve and Barb on their Selene 43, Maerin. They were ashore, just leaving on an island tour, but saw us steaming up the channel and dropped us a note. We had them over for cocktails in the evening before dinner.

Sunset over St. Marys, Georgia, across Cumberland Sound.

Louise, having never turned in after I took the conn around 8:30am, went straight to bed after the hook was set, while I spent the rest of the morning closing out the float plan and catching up on email and social media. I tried to start a blog post, but realized I was really too fried from the passage to be coherent. I did manage to stay awake all the way through cocktails and dinner, to try to get back on a normal diurnal rhythm. Having guests over in the evening helped with that, at least for me.

I booked myself onto the all-day Park Service van tour on the island yesterday, which meets at Sea Camp around 9:45, when the first ferry arrives from St. Marys. There are no stores, restaurants, or services on Cumberland Island, and the poop sheet for the tour tells you to pack a lunch and a water bottle. Two of the stops have potable water to refill the bottle, and three stops have rest rooms. At $15, the tour is a bargain; I was the only participant (including the ranger who led the tour) who did not arrive on the ferry.

Vector in Cumberland Sound, from the Sea Camp dock.

I had a bit of a sporty ride over to the dock, with the wind blowing 20kt or so. That increased to 25ish throughout the day, and Louise, in addition to sewing, got to entertain herself listening to various dramas playing out on the waterways during the small craft advisory. It is exactly these conditions that had us targeting an arrival back through the inlet no later than mid-day Thursday, when the seas started building. It's still blowing in the 20s as I am typing, Saturday evening, and it's supposed to keep up throughout the day tomorrow as well.

This was our first solid test of the replacement battery, having come in the inlet after two full days of charging with a full charge and equalization. We're back to normal, with the batteries carrying us from 10:30am Thursday all the way until I awoke Friday around 8am or so. I had figured to have a relaxing morning, with plenty of time to get my lunch and other sundries together before heading over to the dock around 9:30ish to check out Sea Camp before the tour.

On my way to the coffee pot to start the morning brew, I stopped at the helm to start the generator. Crank, crank, crank -- nothing. Again. Crank, crank, crank -- nothing. Phooey. The low battery lamp is on and we're heading down to 50% SOC, and I'm not sure I even want to start the coffee maker like this. I headed to the engine room to have a look. Louise was awake by this point (you can hear the genny cranking from the master berth), and made the executive decision that we both needed coffee before resolving this; it turned out we had plenty of battery left to make coffee without the inverter cutting out.

More or less resigning myself to missing my tour, I got my tools out and put my grubbies on to start working on the generator. At this point I was just hoping to get it running before we had to start the main engine just to charge the batteries. If I could get it going before my tour left, that would just be a bonus.

You may recall that the last thing we did with the generator was to install the rebuilt injection pump, which necessitated bleeding the fuel system. That took some effort, but we had the unit running and ran it for ten or fifteen minutes at the dock in New Bern before declaring success. I had no reason to believe it would do anything other than start right back up, but since it did not, Occam's Razor would suggest starting with the last thing I touched -- the injection system. I cracked open the top ends of the injection lines to bleed them again.

Louise cranked the engine (the switch is in the pilothouse) while I watched for fuel, but after two 15-second cranking sessions, none was coming out. I pulled the shutdown solenoid out, which had seemed like it was giving us trouble during the last priming episode, and tested it. When it tested good, I had Louise hit the bypass switch (normally held closed during the start process) to make sure it engaged, and that's when we discovered the bypass circuit was inoperative. A few more minutes led me to find no power coming up to the remote panel at the helm.

I ended up unplugging and yanking the whole generator panel out of the helm console and carting it down to the engine room, where I plugged it directly into the generator harness. That did the trick, and the genny fired right up after I finished bleeding and tightening the fuel lines. Sometimes, it's *not* the last thing you touched that's the problem.

By this time I still had fifteen minutes to make my tour, and with a working set of generator controls, albeit lying on the engine room floor, and the charger finally charging, I gulped down my coffee, threw a lunch together, and headed ashore. I left everything at the helm and in the engine room as it was, pledging to deal with it later.

Some of Cumberland Island's famous feral horses, with one of the remaining private residences in the background. The clearing is maintained for an airstrip.

I really enjoyed the tour of the island. I will not bore you will all the details, as there is plenty written on-line already. If you can't find it on the Park Service page for the island, you can find it on the island conservancy web site, and hundreds of cruisers who've been here before us have already written up their experience. Suffice it to say that the island has a rich and interesting history that has been preserved in a way not found on other barrier islands because of the unusual way in which the Carnegie estate restricted its development, almost accidentally.

The First African Baptist Church, in The Settlement. Famous in its own right, and made more so as the site of JFK Jr.'s wedding. A bumpy 17-mile ride from the dock.

I was back at Vector just before 5pm or so, and after freshening up we tendered over to Maerin for another evening of cocktails. We enjoy spending time with them and I am sure we will reconnect a bit further along the southward journey as well.

This morning I got the generator panel working in its proper location at the helm merely by cleaning and re-seating the connectors on what amounts to a giant extension cable that runs between the generator and the helm. And then I dug into a long-standing project on the backlog that now seems well overdue -- adding start/stop switches at the generator itself.

New on-board controls for preheat, start, and stop on the generator, along with a "run" LED.

It baffles me that these are not simply built into the generator wiring box from the factory. It's about four dollars' worth of switches, wire, and crimp connectors, on a generator that retails for over $20,000. Sure, the generator comes with a basic control panel as standard (ours has the optional upgraded panel, which includes water temperature and oil pressure gauges in addition to the standard start/stop switches and hour meter), and that can be plugged in right at the generator set, but most installations place that panel in a more comfortable location in the cabin. Dual-station controls require an upgraded harness.

Looking down into the control box, with my new switches at the left.

In any case, after myriad episodes requiring two of us, one at the helm and one at the generator, intercoms in hand, to do even basic maintenance on the generator that could easily be done single-handed, yesterday's failure was the last straw and I resolved to just fix it. I really should have done this the very first time I replaced an impeller. While I was in the control box, I also taped a printed copy of the control circuit wiring diagram inside the lid; the last few times I was in there I needed to have the computer at hand to look things up.

Circuit diagram inside the control box lid, for ready reference. Most generators come like this from the factory.

So today ended up being a project day and we never left the boat. About mid-day I got tired of listening to the dinghy slamming up against the swim platform in the high winds and heavy chop, and it took both of use to hoist it on deck in the 20kt or so. We decided we could officially be done with Cumberland Island for this trip.

Tomorrow we will weigh anchor and pick our way down the ICW to the St Johns. We've never done this stretch; there are several trouble spots where shoaling is an issue. We'll depart here to arrive at the first such spot at mid-tide and rising, which should mitigate any issues. With seas on the outside approaching nine feet, this is really our best option.

Once in the St. Johns we will head upriver to Jacksonville. Owing to the timing of tides, I'm expecting a two day trip, even though we can easily do the 40 miles in just one. We've been to Jacksonville many times, but this will be our first visit by boat. There are three free city docks in town from which to choose. It's possible that our friends from Live Oak, who have roots in the Jacksonville area, will come see us while we are there.

After a couple of days in Jacksonville we will continue upriver to Green Cove Springs, which is where we "live" in the eyes of many institutions. We have some friends who are there right now, working on their boat, whom we hope to see. We'll also stop in to our mail receiving service for the first time in person, and pick up our mail and packages.

The St. Johns is navigable inland for some 161 statute miles from its junction with the ICW, itself five miles inland from the sea. Green Cove Springs is at about mile 50, and at this writing I am not sure how much of the remaining 110 miles we will chose to see. If we do the whole thing, we'll end up in Sanford before turning around, and I expect we'd be on the river someplace at Christmas time. I will post here as the plan develops -- stay tuned.

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