Saturday, December 1, 2018


We are anchored in the St. Johns River, near Jacksonville, Florida, more or less right where the ICW crosses (map). We dropped the hook here yesterday just before cocktail hour after a pleasant overnight passage from Charleston. I did start this post underway, but made little progress due to numerous interruptions.

Sunset at sea over the glow of the instruments.

Sunday morning we had plenty of water to make it past the last skinny sections of the ICW, near Isle of Palms, South Carolina. With our slip in Charleston not available until Monday morning, and facing the prospect of having to anchor in a less-than-convenient spot in the harbor, we opted instead to turn up Inlet Creek, just east of the Sullivan's Island Bridge, and anchor for the night, even though it was just half past noon.

The ebb was running strong in the narrow creek, but close to high tide we had little trouble negotiating the entrance and dodging around a couple of crab floats that only made their presence known by the wakes they were creating. We dropped center-channel between the crab floats and an anchored sailboat that appeared to be vacant (map). The afternoon's entertainment was listening to the VHF traffic from other cruisers picking their way down the shallow ICW and across the busy harbor.

Our "neighbor," a small sloop stored on anchor in the creek.

The anchorage was quiet and serene, even though it is not remote by any measure. From here you can see the IoP and Sullivans causeways in the distance, and the top of the Ravenal Bridge in the harbor. As the tide ran out we learned we were just fifty yards from a wreck, a dismasted sailboat that was completely submerged at high tide, but a good four feet high and dry at low. No one ever showed up to the sailboat upstream of us, so it was just "stored" there.

This wreck appeared from the muck before cocktail hour.

We had a leisurely morning Monday, planning for a 9:30 departure so our one-hour cruise would land us at the Charleston Maritime Center right at the 10:30am slack water. The current at the marina entrance can be wicked otherwise, as we know from experience, and we wanted a drama-free entrance and docking. As we sipped our morning coffee a half dozen sailboats stacked up in the ICW just outside the creek, stopped cold by the rush-hour restriction on the bridge, which did not open till 9am.

That same spot at high tide - not a trace (different angle because we are at the other end of our swing).

At 9:20 we commenced weighing anchor in heavy flood current, even stronger than the ebb on which we arrived. It looked to us like the vacant sailboat had actually dragged upriver a bit. What was worse, though, is that the pair of crab floats we passed on the way in, which should be dead ahead of us, were nowhere to be found. Until, that is, Louise looked over the bow before starting the windlass, to see one of them tangled in our snubber line.

This float is still attached to a pot, but is tangled in our ground tackle.

Apparently the same spring tide and high wind that was dragging the sailboat also picked up both crab pots and sent them right into Vector. We never spotted the other one (and worried the whole time that it was already under us and caught on the running gear), and this one we untangled with a boat pole but then had to maneuver aggressively to avoid overrunning it and sucking it into the prop.

After a bit of nail-biting close-quarter maneuvering, including drifting upriver, sideways, toward the sailboat once the anchor was off the bottom, we finally cleared the crab float and headed out of the creek into a blissfully empty ICW, the bridge having already cleared the backlog. Somehow the anchor came up upside down with a half twist in the chain, so we stopped before the bridge to drop it back to the bottom, untwist the chain, and bring it back up and on deck. We cleared the bridge without needing an opening, and soon were in Charleston Harbor.

Sunset at Inlet Creek.

The southeastern quadrant of the harbor was miserable, with 20-knot winds and 2-3' of heavy chop, which sent spray over the pilothouse. But by the time we arrived at the marina, the peninsula provided enough protection from both wind and wave to let us glide right into the basin and back easily into the slip (map). By the time we were tied up and plugged in, it was nearly 70° outside, and we lowered a scooter for errands.

Vector at Charleston Maritime Center. Ravenal bridge in the background, with a schooner between.

Chief among those was a trip to the auto parts store, where I needed to pick up a set of lug nuts (really) for the injector project. That's all the way out in Avondale, across the Ashley River, and as long as I was there I picked up a gallon of oil for the main engine. I stopped at West Marine for dinghy oil and filters and the Harris Teeter for groceries on the way back. The ride both ways and all the stops felt comfortable and familiar after our extended stay here last year.

We might also have ridden the scooter to dinner, except that it turns out there is a great hole-in-the-wall sushi place, Shi Ki, a short walk from the marina, and we had a lovely walk on one of the warmest evenings in recent memory. Louise says the sushi was perfect; I don't eat fish but I enjoyed my teriyaki alongside a large Sapporo.

The new injectors and other miscellaneous parts arrived at the Komatsu dealer on Monday as well. I can't say enough good things about Linder Industrial Machinery in Ladson, which is a bit of a haul from downtown Charleston. For the second time, the parts manager actually brought me my parts on his time off, meeting me just outside the marina on his way to dinner with his family. Nice guy.

With injectors and lug nuts in hand Tuesday was show time. After breakfast I changed into work clothes and started tearing into the engine, removing the injection supply lines for the #3 and #4 injectors at both ends. The lines are clamped together in pairs, so removing them in pairs is faster, easier, and less stressful on the lines than removing all the clamps. I also removed the return banjo bolt and crush washers from the leaking #4 injector and loosened the bolts on #3 and #5 to rotate the return pipes out of the way.

This post-completion photo shows the two supply and return lines I needed to move. #4 is center frame. It also gives you an idea how tight it is in there and how difficult to get tools in there.

Removing the clamp that holds the injector down proved something of a chore. The bolt refused to yield to my wrenches, even when I brought out the big guns and adapted the 9mm socket to my longer 1/2" drive ratchet. My electric impact driver also could not extract it, even after two full minutes of hand-numbing effort. I finally had to drag the air hose down from our flybridge compressor and use my pneumatic impact driver, which took only a few seconds.

Next came the real challenge, getting the injector out. The last time I did this myself, the injector had only been in place for perhaps ten minutes of engine operation and slid right out. Now, a year and some 900+ operating hours later, that was not going to happen. Thus the need for the lug nut.

This shot of the new injector in place shows the clamp and bolt, just below and to the left of the supply line.

Last year when I had a Lugger mechanic help me with the 4,000-hour service, he brought with him a homegrown tool for removing the injectors. It was a small slide hammer with an old 12mm compression nut matching the injectors welded to the end. Each injector came out with just a couple of taps of the slide. I don't have this tool, or even a spare compression nut.

The threads on the injector are 12mm, but regular 12mm nuts you might find in a hardware store are 1.75mm pitch, whereas those on the injectors are 1.5mm, or "fine" pitch, stocked by almost no one. I never knew this until I started hunting for 12x1.5 nuts online, but apparently there are a number of subcompact cars that use this size on their wheel lugs, and so 12x1.5 lug nuts are commonly available in auto parts stores. I bought the cheapest ones I could find, a set of four for $9.

The removed injector with my shiny new lug nut still attached. Old crush washer to the right, near the tip.

Fully aware that I might have to go find someone to weld one of my new lug nuts to the end of a slide hammer, there was little to lose to try a few other things first. I threaded one of the nuts fully onto the leaking injector, and then gave it a few sharp taps into the engine block with one of my heavier wrenches. Much to my relief, this had the effect of immediately loosening the injector to the point where I could wiggle the end. I still could not just pull it out by hand, however.

Tying a string around the injector neck just under the lug nut, and the other end to a heavy wrench, I was able to give the injector a sharp jerk away from the block, and it popped right out, hitting me in the right ear and dousing me with a bit of diesel in the process. At least the string kept it from flying across the room and damaging the tip against something hard.

Close-up of the leaky spot. The leak is not visible to the naked eye.

The replacement injector slid right in, after first cleaning out the seat, and pressing the new copper seating washer onto the tip of the new injector. This latter task involved heating the washer with my heat gun to expand the hole a bit; it's a tight fit by design. It took me all of perhaps ten minutes to seat the new injector, clamp it down, and reconnect all the fuel lines. I was done before lunch time, a project for which I had budgeted from one to two days. After lunch, a ten minute static test revealed proper operation and no leaks.

With the injector repair behind us, we could return our focus to making our way south. A near-perfect passage weather window would arrive Thursday, and we made plans for an outside run at least to Jacksonville if not to Canaveral or even Palm Beach. And we extended our marina stay to three nights, for a Thursday departure.

When all was said and done this is how much fuel we leaked. Perhaps an ounce or two in 40 hours running.

Tuesday evening we met up with fellow cruisers Dorsey and Bruce of Esmeralde, whom we had met in Portsmouth and with whom we'd been leapfrogging down the inside since. We had a nice dinner, much laughter, and good conversation over some excellent drafts at the Charleston Beer Works right downtown. Notwithstanding having spent four months in Charleston last year, this was our first time on one of the free downtown DASH shuttles. One of the stops is a short walk from the Maritime Center, at the Aquarium, whereas no stop is close to the City Marina across town.

Wednesday was an extra, unplanned day in town, and it might have been nice to get out a bit. Monday's warm weather was short-lived, though, and it was too cold to want to ride anyplace beyond another grocery store run for some items I could not carry on Monday. I did do a bit of walking and caught up a bit around the boat, and we braved the cold for a mile ride in the evening to the Harbour Club for a nice dinner.

When RoRos land in Charleston this is where they disgorge their cargo. From here they will be loaded on rail cars (upper left) and semitrailers to go to their destinations.

Thursday morning's forecast check revealed that Jacksonville was as far as we could get in benign conditions, and with a 27-hour projected passage time, we opted to wait until the 1:30pm slack to depart the marina, giving us a fair tide on departure. I spent the morning walking around the neighborhood before decking the scooter and making ready to depart.

We made our way through the harbor and out the inlet into perfect conditions, Turning southwest with some current behind us showed a projected arrival here of 3:30 on a flood tide, which, had it held, would have been just right to continue all the way upriver to the downtown docks. Of course,  things seldom work out that way and we were lucky to be making the inlet on the last of the flood, with our fair tide running out just as we made the anchorage.

Another view of the Maritime Center, with the USS Yorktown museum ship in the background.

Throughout yesterday afternoon, Louise had been hearing a new rattle below decks, metal on metal. My less keen hearing could only pick it up at certain times and places, but she assured me it was constant. When she turned in at the start of my night watch, she had to don earplugs to quash it. Throughout the day we had discussed various possible sources, including perhaps the mystery crab pot from Inlet Creek perhaps caught on a fin and banging against the hull, unlikely given the speed we were making through the water.

We decided to run through the night and stop the boat in the daylight when I came back on watch to see if we could figure it out. When Louise turned in, the seas were still quite calm, but by the end of my watch they had picked up to short two-footers that made for a bit of a bumpy ride; Louise was a bit bleary-eyed when she took the conn. By the time I came back on watch at 9am, all was again calm and another perfect day on the ocean.

Sunset over Georgia, from the ocean.

After coffee we did, indeed, stop the boat. While not exactly crystal-clear, we reasoned we could at least mostly see the running gear with the underwater camera if we needed to. It did not come to that; after some brief testing of running at different engine RPM and boat speeds we finally isolated it to the transmission, which rattled in gear regardless of boat speed or RPM but not in neutral. This is the tell-tale sound of the damper plate beginning to fail, and so it looks like we will need to haul out soon to pull the transmission and replace the damper.

I had plotted our route to generally follow inside the Territorial Limit, 12nm out to sea, which kept us in Internet coverage through most of my watch and parts of Louise's. The extra waypoints added a little under three miles to a 175nm passage, or about a half hour, worth it for the Internet access as well as slightly calmer seas and a bit less contrary current.

Warship 82 headed for the jetties. The sailboat in front of us needed to adjust course for him.

We came in Jacksonville Inlet just behind a warship headed for Mayport. The river was busy, and we dodged a 700+' oil tanker and one of the ubiquitous dredges in their never-ending battle to keep the channel at full depth. We briefly had a trio of dolphins on our bow; Louise snapped a photo as I was too busy on the bridge passing the tanker.

Dolphins in the St. Johns. This never gets old.

We had the hook down just in time for beer, and spent a very quiet night here. The occasional ship wake rolled Vector gently; at one point, two giant RoRo's passed each other just abreast of us. Our old friend the river cruise ship Independence passed us on its way to Jacksonville Landing, our own destination, for the night.

Ships that pass in the night. This photo does not do justice to the immense size of these car carriers.

In a few minutes we will weigh anchor and head upriver on the flood to downtown. If there is room at the Jacksonville Landing free docks we'll tie up there; otherwise we will continue upriver to the anchorage. It's a rainy miserable day so I'm hoping the docks are available. Even so, I am back in short sleeves for the first time in weeks.

Passing a dredge on its unending mission.


  1. Ah..... welcome back to the Sunshine State! How far south do you plan on staying this winter? We left Key West after spending a month there, and it was quite the experience. Wintering in Orlando this year and enjoying the House of Mouse. Although we are still in the RV mode, your boating experiences are a treat to follow. Thanks for the detailed, easy-to-understand descriptions of repairs and logistics - just wanted you to know we're still out here reading your travels!

    1. Thanks, Debbie. We're planning on wintering in Fort Lauderdale this year, although we will not be down that way until early January. We may make a brief excursion to WDW while we're here in JAX, although no firm plans yet. Thanks for following along!


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