Saturday, March 10, 2018

Cayo Hueso

We are docked at the municipal Key West Bight Marina, in the harbor of that name on the northwest corner of Key West (map). It's a familiar stop, and at this moment we are docked just three slips down from our "home address" that appeared on our very first Florida driver licenses. We're into our second week here.

We arrived here uneventfully, not long after my last post. We spent our first week on the face dock closest to the entrance to the bight, which was a great spot for watching the conga line of tour boats coming and going each day. We were amused to see that the live band on one of the boats is still playing Southern Cross every evening just as it leaves for the sunset cruise; I'm sure the entire band as well as the entire crew has changed over since then but the set list lives on.

Coming down here overnight was our first real shakedown of the new chart plotting program and charts. We're still climbing the learning curve, and while it has some capabilities beyond what was available to us before, it is not nearly as configurable as the old software and that is taking some getting used to. Still, we have no choice, as it is the only way we will have accurate charts for the Bahamas and Caribbean.

And so it is that I spent a good part of our first week here tweaking the new software as well as transferring all of our waypoints, tracks, and routes over from the old software. They don't really play well together, so it's been quite a chore. As part of that process I had to comb through four years and 16,000+ nautical miles of tracks, cleaning them up for import into the new software.

Vector's travels over the last four years in one chart.

Before I started deleting superfluous tracks, I decided to make another image of all of Vector's travels on a single chart. I did this once before, after we finished our Mississippi River transit, but since then we have extended the westward reaches of our travels all the way to the Mexico border. I think it nicely captures the overall scope of our cruising over the past four years.

If you look closely (click to enlarge), you can see some "tendrils" off the main route, which are the various river side trips we've taken over that time. Starting in the northeast you can see where we went up the Hudson to Albany and Troy, and up the Delaware to Philadelphia. A small stub represents the few trips we made up the Patuxent to Baltimore, and you can see our trip up the Potomac to the heart of Washington, DC.

A short extension in Virginia highlights our visit to Yorktown, and in the northeastern part of Florida you can see our cruise "up" the St. Johns, south into the heart of Florida.  Towards the southern end of the state you can see our several passes around the tip of the peninsula through the Keys, as well as three trips across the state on the Okechobee Waterway. East of that is our figure-eight route through the Bahamas, crossing itself at Nassau, with the upper loop in the Abacos and the lower loop through the Exumas and Eleuthera.

The excursion west of the Florida Keys was our visit to Fort Jefferson on Garden Key in the Dry Tortugas, before heading north to Tampa Bay. Our big inland river cruise in 2016 dominates the middle of the chart, with the side trip up the Tennessee to Chattanooga and Knoxville. And our cruise west through the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway through Louisiana and Texas, with return legs through the Gulf of Mexico, are some of the most recent tracks on the chart.

You've seen me write here that we have now done every single mile of the Intracoastal Waterway from its beginning at mile marker 0 near Norfolk, Virginia, all the way to where it ends at Port Isabel, Texas, near Brownsville and South Padre Island. Notably absent from this chart are the ICW legs from Morehead City (near Beaufort) NC, south to the Florida/Georgia state line. There is a simple reason for that.

Vector on the face dock at Key West Bight.

All the tracks captured on this chart were generated by the chart plotting software we installed in Cocoa, Florida in January of 2014. The log of our travels before then, an entire year from January 2013, were recorded by a dedicated chartplotter that failed on our way to Cocoa. I was eventually able to resuscitate that plotter and we used it on the flybridge for another year, but there was really no way to extract our track logs from it in any usable way. Those tracks comprised some 2,000+ nautical miles and included our first cruise, up the ICW from where we bought Vector in Savannah, Georgia to the boatyard in Deltaville, Virginia, and the subsequent return cruise that brought us all the way to Florida for the first time.

It is worth noting that in order to make this snapshot, I had to turn off the display of all chart objects other than land masses and the tracks themselves. State boundaries are not part of the base chart, and names of bodies of water do not display at this scale. But this is the actual chart display from our plotter showing real-time tracks, not something put together after-the-fact.

You may recall that on our way here I garnered two additional high-priority projects, to wit, repairing both the watermaker and the davit crane. While the watermaker is arguably more important, our on-island transportation depended on the davit crane, and as that was an easy fix, I tackled that one first, the very same day we arrived.

The only powered component of the entire crane is an electric winch, not unlike the one your cousin Bob has on the front of his jacked-up Land Cruiser to extricate himself when he gets wedged in a ditch. I completely rebuilt the winch while we were in Charleston (and I have pictures for a post about that one of these days), as it was already 15 years old, and it should be good for another 15 now.

These sorts of winches are operated by electrical solenoids that allow the high-current motor to be operated by a low-current up/down switch on a wired remote control. The solenoids have a limited lifespan and they don't fare well in the salt air. I've had to repair them before, and I know the previous owner did, as well.

Old solenoids with interconnecting bus bars. Corrosion is bad on both units.

The last time I fiddled around for over an hour disassembling the relay pack to replace the single bad solenoid, from spares I had on hand, I discovered that more modern winches use a newer, single-piece sealed solenoid unit that is much easier to replace. I bought one of them to have on hand for the inevitable future failure.

The mounting holes on the newer solenoids are closer together than the ones on the older units, but they are also smaller and lighter and I was able to secure it well enough with just one of the two former mounting screws. The new unit is working like a champ, and, as a bonus, the whole crane is performing better. I think the old solenoids were inducing quite a bit of voltage drop in their aging condition.

Modern monolithic replacement. Smaller and encased in plastic.

In a continuation of the same theme, the watermaker problem proved to be essentially the same issue. With the pump heads having been recently serviced, the watermaker guy suggested the problem was likely electrical in nature and had me start the diagnosis with the pump. When I went to remove the pump wiring, a pair of mid-run crimp connectors that I did not even know existed came right off in my hands, a poor splice from some previous service, from before we bought the boat. Removing those crimps from the picture immediately restored 90% of the expected performance.

Nevertheless, having removed the motor, I decided to go ahead and inspect the brushes, bearings, and windings. The brushes were in great shape, although I damaged one of the springs getting it all apart and I had to expedite a replacement. Cleaning the carbon dust out of the housing and tightening up the brush assemblies fixed it the rest of the way, and I think we are back to full production, although only a good multi-hour run out in ocean water will tell us for sure.

I also ordered some parts to go with the whizzy iPad mount that I virtually stole from West Marine at their clearance sale in Fort Lauderdale, so we now have a much more robust mount for using that as a backup chart source at the helm. And I made an expedition to the bowels of the helm console to add wiring for a foward-facing camera addition to our security video recorder (sort of a dash-cam setup) as well as to finish the antenna wiring for the TV in the guest stateroom and the hookup for the DVR to the new screen at the helm.

Spring Break at Dante's. Hoping they use lots of chlorine in the pool.

In and among all this, we've been catching a bit of Key West each evening. One of the principal reasons to add this stop en route to the Bahamas was to catch up with good friends Erin and Chris on Barefeet, and we had several nice meals with them as well as cocktails aboard and about. Their weather window arrived before ours, and they shoved off yesterday for points north.

Spring Break started last week and the town has been overrun with college students. Local watering hole Dante's, which sports a pool surrounded by bars, is right at the end of our dock, and the place has been absolutely packed in the afternoons with hormone-fueled revelers listening to music loud enough to be heard in Marathon.

Standing room only. If you dock at the marina next door, this pool is included in your slip fee.

When not up to my elbows in repairs or wandering around town dodging spring breakers looking down at their cell phones, I've been making phone calls or writing emails to wrap up some insurance business. I'm happy to report that we finally scored a non-owned auto insurance policy, after many months of trying (thanks to USAA, courtesy of my father-in-law's military service). And we also got a more acceptable quote for boat insurance in the Caribbean, which we are evaluating now.

The marina here has comprehensive recycling, including used motor oil and filters, and so I changed the generator oil so we could get the used oil off the boat before heading offshore. And today we made our final grocery run, stocking up on perishables at the local Publix.

We're paid up to Wednesday, since the weekly rate here is more attractive than the daily rate. However, a brief window has opened up for a departure tomorrow afternoon, to arrive in Bimini on Monday. The window is short, and the forecast has been fluctuating, so it's not yet a done deal, but if this forecast holds through tomorrow morning, we will very likely drop lines around noon and make a run for it. That should put us in Bimini sometime Monday morning, depending on how much of a push we get from the Gulf Stream.

If we do head offshore, I will try to post a brief update here before we leave cell coverage. Once we are are out of range, we will be offline until I can find my way to a Bahamas Telco office to buy a SIM card. My new T-Mobile phone should work for limited service like text messages and maybe some email, but it is low speed service in most of the islands other than Nassau.


  1. I was on that face dock for a month two years ago and "Southern Cross" was a daily event at 5:06 pm. Brings back fond memories.

  2. It looks like you are still weather bound in the Keys. Hope you get a break soon.


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