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.