Sunday, February 18, 2018

Finding Nemo: one step forward, two steps back

We are anchored again in South Lake, Hollywood Florida (map). Observant readers will note that this is north, not south, of where we were when last I posted here. And, yes, at the risk of continuing to recite a litany of setbacks, there is a story here.

Wednesday morning we tendered back ashore to the Intracoastal Mall for (we thought) the last time, got our rental car from the parking lot, and headed out to run a few last errands before returning the car to Enterprise. That included returning what had turned out to be completely unusable snorkeling sets to Walmart, hunting for replacements, and picking up 14 gallons of gasoline in four Jerry jugs while we refueled the rental car.

We ultimately found usable snorkel sets at the Winn-Dixie right next to the dock, and we dropped the gasoline back at the tender before heading to the rental agency. Louise also bought an Instant Pot while we were in Walmart, but with no good way to secure it in the tender we just carried it with us. Once again we had to get a Lyft back to the dock from Enterprise.

After returning to Vector we loaded everything aboard and decked the tender. I spent a few minutes adding fuel stabilizer to the Jerry cans; this gasoline should last three or four months depending on how far we need to tender to shore at each stop. We had filled the tender from our last jug just before heading ashore, so in total we have over 20 gallons.

We checked the schedule for the next bridge south that we'd need opened, at Broad Avenue, and weighed anchor a little before 2:30 pm. Or, I should say, we tried to weigh anchor. In what would prove to be a bad omen for the day, we brought up a two-foot long metal spike impaled on the anchor chain. It was wedged in there pretty tight, and my efforts to free it by hand and by using a four-pound engineer hammer were unsuccessful.

This picture does not do justice. That's a 2+' long wedge-shaped piece of steel impaled through a link in the anchor chain.

We actually put in a call to TowBoatUS for some help with the problem, reasoning that working on it on the deck of a towboat was going to be easier than by having my arms wedged through the hawsepipes. After getting a confirmation they'd be sending someone, we continued working on it ourselves, ultimately getting free by tying the debris off to a cleat using our emergency chain hook, and unweighting the chain using our regular hook. A great deal of shaking and tugging was involved but the spike eventually fell free.

We called TowBoat back to cancel the call and finished weighing anchor. As a side note here I will relate that towboats in SE Florida are cutthroat. We tried hailing the Miami TowBoatUS but were answered by Fort Lauderdale, and I wasted fifteen minutes with them before agreeing Miami had a closer boat and that's who we needed. In this part of Florida you need to be clear about whom you are speaking with and whether or not they are the closest or even covered by your towing insurance.

We motored out of the lake, turned south on the ICW, and cleared under the Sunny Isles Bridge without an opening. The ICW was busy on a pleasant day leading up to the boat show, and we stayed well toward "our side" of the channel (there's really no such thing, but common practice is to pass oncoming traffic port-to-port or "one whistle" on the ICW). It was an astronomical low tide but the ICW is deep here and we were cruising in 12' of water.

So imagine our surprise when we heard the most awful crashing and scraping sounds from the starboard side, characteristic of a hard-object strike, with the sounder still reading 12'. I immediately took the boat out of gear, but we had plenty of momentum, even at the low cruise we were maintaining in order not to be too early for the bridge. I used the bow thruster alone to try to move us to port, and Louise ran out on deck to see what we might have hit, just in time to see what was left of our starboard stabilizer fin pop up behind the boat.

At first we wondered if we had hit some submerged debris, perhaps leftover from Irma. We seemed visually in the channel, lined up for the next set of markers, and our chart said we were navigating in a minimum of ten feet of water. I update the charts regularly; this was the latest NOAA chart, updated in December and not scheduled to expire until November. But it sure sounded and felt like rock, and the shoreline here is rip-rap.

The chart showing our track. Leftmost dark line was our path when we hit; rightmost dark line was the return trip, with the waypoint set as we passed the fin. Lighter lines in between are a track from our previous pass through this area, two years ago. The light blue area is charted as 10'.

Once I was convinced it was safe to re-engage the propeller, I maneuvered slowly while Louise went below to check for leaks around the stabilizer actuator and elsewhere in the bilges. Fortunately, all was bone dry. With the closest safe anchorage being the one we had just left in Maule Lake, we turned the boat around and headed back whence we came. I marked a waypoint on the chart as we passed our forlorn stabilizer fin, bobbing close to the mangroves on the western shore.

Not knowing what other damage may have been done, we proceeded back slowly, with frequent engine room checks. We dropped the hook back in Maule Lake a short distance from where we had been (map), mindful that we did not want to foul on the same spike. As soon as we had the hook set, I picked up the phone and called our insurance company.

Normally with something like this, we debate considerably whether or not to file a claim. Our deductible being what it is, damage has to be significant before it even makes sense, and even then, having an allision or grounding in the file can cost more in the long run. But in this case, we had no choice, because of the fin. With no way to retrieve it ourselves, and being responsible for any damage it might cause, we needed our insurance to accept responsibility for it and take care of it.

I also placed calls to Naiad Marine, the manufacturer of the stabilizers, and Stabilized Marine, the company in Fort Lauderdale who has been servicing them for us, to find out if there was any reason we would need any part of what fell off the boat. Those calls were returned much later, confirming that the debris was not useful. I never heard what the insurance company did about the debris, but we gave them GPS coordinates and a full description. I'm only sorry we did not think to take a photo of it in the post-incident chaos.

What we did photograph, or attempted to, was the part of the fin that remained with the boat. In an unexpected christening I set up my as-yet unused underwater camera to take video, attached it to the mount I bought for it at deep discount at West Marine, attached that to our 12' boat pole, and went on something of a fishing expedition. The water here is too murky to see much, even in bright sunlight, and the camera does not view a wide-enough angle, but what came back at least showed the metal innards of the fin and its shaft still intact and probably not bent.

The metal backbone of the fiberglass stabilizer. White areas are probably bits of fiberglass still adhered. What remains is a fraction of the size of the original, sort of like Nemo's lucky fin.

The insurance company informed us that it was up to us where to go for repairs and to arrange the parts and labor. When we heard back from Stabilized Marine, though, we got some bad news: There were no fins in stock at Naiad, and a fin would have to be fabricated in Connecticut and shipped down. The fab lead time was two weeks and ground freight would make it a third. It looked like we were going to be here in southeast Florida for another month.

Our romantic Valentine's dinner ended up being leftovers, with rice cooked in the new Instant Pot. And we self-medicated with plenty of wine. But we were afloat, with all systems operational, if a bit impaired in the stabilization department, and we counted our blessings. It was not the Valentine's Day Massacre, and we had to remember that just that morning, less than an hour away, 17 people were in fact massacred, just a mile from where friends of ours live. Our problems are insignificant in comparison.

You may recall that our plan for Wednesday had been to head south to Virginia Key in Biscayne Bay so I could go to opening day at the Miami Boat Show. Ironically, one of the things I was hoping to get there was software which can display more kinds of charts, and it's possible that having access to those charts might have helped us avoid this grounding. Now that we were safely anchored and not going anywhere until I could get more information from the insurance company, I decided to continue with my plan to attend the show.

Thursday morning I tendered ashore at the docks next to the Blue Marlin Fish House in the Oleta River State Park. It turns out the restaurant is closed for renovations, along with that entrance to the park, neither of which is apparent when arriving at the dock. I ended up having to walk around the end of the vehicle gate to get out of the park; a North Miami Beach police cruiser was parked there but took no notice of me marching out of a closed park.

From the dock it's a ten-minute walk to the bus stop, and a single express bus brought me to American Airlines Arena in Miami. I bought my show ticket online while on the bus, thus was able to immediately board the "water taxi" to Virginia Key for the show. The water taxi is a series of boats chartered by the show to shuttle attendees back and forth, and the one I ended up on was a Skipperliner dinner boat of the sort that often passes us with a wedding reception in progress aboard. Complete with bar, which was doing a brisk business at 10:15am. The one right after mine was an open pontoon boat, and I was happy to be more comfortable for the half hour ride.

I spent the whole day at the show, and I won't bore you with the details of all the booths I visited and engineers with whom I spoke (Thursday is the day the vendors send tech personnel alongside the sales and marketing folks.) Suffice it so say I came away with a couple of free parts for broken things on the boat, the information I needed about chart software, discounts for the software, charts, and other items, and a key piece of information that was worth the price of admission and the three-hour round trip to the show.

My very first stop at the show was Naiad Marine, where I found the VP of Service, Vic, manning the booth, which was devoid of customers. We've dealt with Vic on a number of occasions, once even having him aboard to make an adjustment to our system. I laid out what had happened, hoping to get some reassurance that we'd only need a replacement fin and not much else, and lamented the fact that we'd have to wait two weeks for a fin to be made.

Vic, who seemingly knows everything there is to know about stabilizers, allowed that he was almost certain there were two fins in stock in south Florida. He picked up the phone, made a few calls, and by the time I left the booth there was a fin with our name on it and I was to expect a call back from Stabilized Marine. They called me shortly thereafter, and we agreed to have them pick up the fin and do the work, to include a prophylactic changing of the seals and inspection of the bearings, even though we literally just did that last month.

I left the show shortly after 4pm on, by happenstance, exactly the same boat. With the brutal Miami afternoon traffic, it was 6:15 by the time I was pulling back up to Vector. I offloaded my cache of brochures, parts, and miscellaneous items and we tendered back to the mall for dinner.

As much as I like that anchorage, by this time we were quite done with Maule Lake and the rather tedious 15+ minute dinghy ride to get ashore. But with no real repair schedule in place and lots of phone calls to be made on the Friday before the holiday weekend, we opted just to stay another day so I could line things up.

The insurance adjuster had called me during my water taxi ride Thursday to say they had assigned a surveyor and I would be hearing from them shortly. When that had not happened by late Friday morning, I made a few calls trying to track him down. It turns out that he had turned down the assignment, and we spent the rest of Friday, to no avail, trying to get a new surveyor. We were hoping to learn whether they would send a diver to inspect before haulout, or if they could just meet us at the boatyard. With no answer, we had to proceed with plans without that information.

After a day on the phone we now have scheduled a haul-out for first thing Wednesday morning right back at Laudedale Marine Center, where we'd already spent three weeks. They had availability, a decent rate for haul-block-and-launch, and their bottom crew would be the best choice to touch up whatever damage we did to the bottom paint they applied in January. We also arranged for Stabilized Marine to do the repair starting Wednesday or Thursday, depending on the surveyor.

With all thus arranged, we headed ashore one last time, to put some eBay sales in the mail, have a beer at Duffy's, and a nice dinner at the very upscale Sea Grill, where we counted ourselves lucky to get a table on a Friday evening. We decked the tender as soon as we got home.

Yesterday morning we weighed anchor before the weekend shenanigans got into full swing on the ICW. We made the hour-long trek back here to Hollywood, where it's easier to get ashore and there is a wider variety of options. We'll likely stay right here until we head up to Lauderdale Marine on Tuesday, where we hope to spend the night in the water before our early-morning haul-out.

This is by no means a slam-dunk. We have yet to inspect the hull and propeller to determine what, if any, other damage may have been done. If we're very lucky, we'll need only the fin and some paint touch-up. But there is a chance that the hull plating has been dented, or that the propeller struck either the same rock(s) or the debris from the fin itself (although we noted no unusual vibration en route here at any rpm). And there is still a possibility that the actuator shaft is bent or otherwise damaged. Our remaining good fin was more than adequate on the ride up.

Once we're back in Fort Lauderdale we'll put a scooter on the ground and I will have to make the trek down to Miami Beach, which is where we had our mail sent for pickup right after the show. And we've signed up for training Thursday afternoon on the new chart software, delivered by the same person I talked to at the show.

Angel looking much more alert in the comfort of her cube.

In other news, Angel is still with us, although she is not really drinking on her own, and the only thing she'll eat is the kind of store-bought cat food we like to call "crack." We're giving her subcutaneous fluids daily and she is gaining strength a little at a time. She's also acting more like herself, albeit a little unsteady, than she did while she was crashing. We remain hopeful that she will resume drinking on her own and start to eat the prescription kidney diet that she needs.

When all this is behind us we will make haste to Biscayne Bay and possibly further south to the keys so we can make our crossing to the Bahamas. The season is slipping away and it's not clear how much farther, if at all, we will get this year.


  1. You really need to abandon that east coast and get to the PNW. Those depths that you routinely run in are what we consider too shallow for an anchorage. I liked to set my shallow alarm at 50 feet and 100 was better.

  2. Wow Sean, one thing after another. Sorry to hear of the latest issue. Hitting a "submerged object" has always been one of my greatest fears. Amazingly when I lived on Long Island I managed to damage a prop and later a complete outdrive but now living in Charleston, S.C. to date we have been relatively incident free other that a few touches on a mud bar in one of the rivers. Hoping for good news that you just need the fin replaced. Sure would be great to know what it is you actually hit. My bet would be some debris floating slightly submerged.

  3. Sean, I looked at my tracks [5' draft w/ stabilizers] through there and they are nearly identical to yours. Both my raster and vector charts are up-to-date and I see nothing to avoid. Are you sure it was rip-rap? I suspect that it was Irma debris as Larry posed. Anyway, hope that the repairs are completed quickly.

    M/Y Travis McGee
    Islamorada, Fla. Keys


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