Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Settled in for the season

We are docked at the New River downtown docks, right in the heart of downtown Fort Lauderdale, Florida (map). We're in a good spot, east of the Third Avenue bascule bridge and on the north bank of the river, which puts us just a very short walk from the dozens of restaurants along Las Olas Boulevard. We're also just steps from the Tower Club, and a short walk from the sparkly new Brightline high-speed rail station.

When last I posted here we had just anchored in Vero Beach, at a new-to-us anchorage. Shortly afterward we splashed the tender and rode the short distance across the channel and into a canal, docking at Mr. Manatee's restaurant, on what used to be the causeway to the old drawbridge. There we met up with good friends Alyse and Chris for cocktails and dinner. We had a great time catching up. We filed both the anchorage and the restaurant dock away in our notes for future reference.


Vector on the New River, before moving from the south bank. Lots of new construction to the right.

On our way back to Vector we noticed another sailboat had come in to our cozy little anchorage, well up toward the shoal on the north side. Saturday morning we had a leisurely coffee before getting under way, during which we noticed this same sailboat firmly aground between the anchorage and the channel. We had good water all the way in and out, thanks to the Navionics charts, but if you cut the corner to the north you run out of water quickly. The rising tide would likely have floated him in a few hours, but Towboat arrived to pull him out just as we were weighing anchor.

Stopping in Vero meant there was no way we were going to make it to Lake Worth on Saturday, and the last usable anchorage is in Hobe Sound, north of Jupiter Inlet. Hence the leisurely coffee in the morning. We had a very nice cruise to Hobe Sound, and dropped the hook just inside the no wake zone in the middle of the sound (map). We had a quiet evening, dining on the aft deck and enjoying the clear water of the sound.


Sunset from our peaceful anchorage in Hobe Sound.

The Hobe Sound stop made it an easy cruise to Palm Beach, which is again the last usable anchorage before the long slog through the bridges down to Fort Lauderdale. We dropped the hook in our usual spot north of the Royal Park bridge (map). As I have noted here before, that puts us in Palm Beach, but there is no way to get ashore on the Palm Beach side, and we tendered ashore to the free city docks in West Palm Beach instead.


This party boat, the Pon Tiki, passed us in the evening and again the next morning in Hobe Sound.

As it turned out, WPB was hosting the Supercar Show on the waterfront when we arrived, and I tendered ashore stag to take it all in. All of the Palm Beach socialites had to come slumming in WPB to admire the cars, which meant that the parking, outside of the show, was full of Bentleys (yes, really), punctuated by the occasional Maserati or Tesla.

The chaos of the show meant all the nice sidewalk-dining restaurants were packed and I muscled in to Grease, one of our old standbys, and made a reservation for later. By the time we came back ashore for dinner the crowds had dispersed and it was just another Sunday night on Clematis. We had a nice sidewalk table and enjoyed the people-watching.


Clematis at night, from our table at Grease.

WPB is a very nice stop, and in the lovely weather it was tempting to stay for a few days. But the month spent in JAX made for a late arrival in SE Florida, and we needed to take a full three months at the Fort Lauderdale docks to get the discounted rate. Every day of delay pushes our departure further into the spring, so we bid a fond farewell to West Palm and weighed anchor Sunday morning for Fort Lauderdale.

We had really hoped that the ocean weather would have permitted an outside run from the Palm Beaches to Port Everglades. There is no shallow water or any other serious obstacle to the inside route, but this stretch of ICW has, bar none, the most drawbridges of any single-day stretch of the entire Intracoastal Waterway, which stretches from Norfolk, Virgina to South Padre Island, Texas.


Vector anchored in Palm Beach.

All of those bridges open only at scheduled times during daylight hours, and invariably we either have to putt along just above idle speed and then station-keep for five minutes, or else crank it up to just below wide open throttle to make the scheduled openings. This involves a lot of shifting in and out of gear (on a normal day I shift just four or five times for the entire day), which explains why mechanics in Fort Lauderdale think our transmission damper plate is way overdue, while mechanics elsewhere think we should get a few hundred more hours.

The last thing we want to do after a long day of bridge timing like that is run up the New River, which is narrow and swift and full of drawbridges (which, thankfully, are on demand), and so upon arrival in Fort Lauderdale we dropped the hook in the New River Sound, off the ICW just north of the Las Olas bridge (map). We've anchored here before, but nowadays it is a tight squeeze, ever since anchoring in the Middle River was outlawed a couple of years ago.


A tiny fraction of the Supercar show in West Palm Beach.

One of the benefits of anchoring here, though, is that it is a short tender ride to one of our favorite restaurants in the whole city, Coconuts. We splashed the dinghy and tendered over for dinner and the de rigeur slice of Coconut cheesecake. We'll be back during the course of our stay here, but it's harder to get to from here.

We spent most of Tuesday right there at anchor, because we wanted to arrive at our slip on the New River at slack tide, around 4pm. It's only a 40 minute trip, hand steering and working the throttle the whole way. We've now been up and down the river enough times that I'm familiar with all the landmarks that delineate the wide spots where megayachts and tour boats can safely pass, but apparently the catamaran ahead of us and the tiny trawler behind us were caught off guard by the two giant tour boats coming downriver.

Our initial slip assignment was just west of Third Avenue, so we had to wait on the bridge opening, and on the south bank of the river (map). That made for a short walk to the office to get signed in, and also an easy walk to the Publix supermarket just a few blocks away. It also gave us the chance to meet Nina and Don aboard the sailing cat Enjoy, our neighbors for a few days. We tied up port-side-to, so it was also easy to get the scooters on the ground.

All of that said, it's a much longer walk to Las Olas Boulevard from that side of the river. You have to cross on one of the drawbridges, which means first walking a full block in the wrong direction. Adding two blocks and a three-story climb to the walk limits how far along the street we can wander comfortably, and so we immediately started working on a way to get to the other side of the river. The dockmaster was going to have to move us from that spot by today anyway, and we lobbied for the move to be to the north bank.


West Palm Beach from our anchorage.

Since our last time here, the dead mall that fronted the river along the train tracks has been razed, and construction is well under way on two new high rise towers on the site, as well as one adjacent to the Third Avenue bridge. So most of the north riverfront is a noisy mess all day long. We asked to be east of the bridge to be away from the construction. We could see 150' of open dock here, so we asked about it.

The dockmaster explained that the service pedestal for these slips was taken out by the storm, and there was also a shoal somewhere in the middle. We paced it out and determined our 100' of power cord would reach one of the pedestals for the adjacent spaces in either direction, and I set about sounding the bottom with my 12' boat pole. We found 70' of wall with enough depth for Vector, even though there was, indeed, about 20' of shoal right along the spot where we had tied up a few years earlier.

While we were still on the south side, we enjoyed walking to dinner at Tarpon River Brewing just down the street from Publix. I also enjoyed having a massage at a new day spa in the NuRiver Landing condo building. Monday we dropped lines, came back through the bridge, and tied up where we are now. A tree overhangs the very aft end of our boat deck, making for a bit of a mess, but otherwise it is a perfect spot. We've already walked to three different joints along Las Olas.

Also while we were still on the south side, we ended up walking to the Brightline station for a trip to Miami. On our way south from Jacksonville, I learned my cousin, the very same one we visited in New Hampshire, was flying down to Miami to exhibit at Wodapalooza. He was there over the weekend, and was able to take time out for dinner with us. I bought round-trip coach tickets for a total of $70.


Fancy Brightline station waiting room, centered right above the tracks.

The Brightline system is brand new, just having commenced operation last year. The trains travel on the Florida East Coast railway right-of-way, and they constructed three shiny new stations, one each in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and West Palm Beach. There are no other stops, although there are plans to extend the system to Orlando. The stations and train sets are so new they still reek of new, outgassing vinyl furniture. Unlike most train systems, passengers and luggage are screened basically the same way it's done at airports.

What took me nearly an hour on a bus last year from Maule Lake near Sunny Isles took just 35 minutes on the train. We then walked over to the free MetroMover system for the five minute ride to Bayfront Park. It was an expensive ride, but it was certainly fast and convenient, and I will likely do it again if I go down to the Miami Boat Show again this year.

A side note here for the boaters following along: This is the system, known during planning and construction as "All Aboard Florida," about which there has been so much sturm und drang in the boating community. You may recall hearing a lot of doomsday predictions about the FEC railroad bridges being down more than up, and enormous, untenable backups on the rivers as traffic jammed up waiting for the bridges.


We passed this derelict ship at the park docks in Fort Pierce. No idea why it's there.

The FEC bridge is just upriver from us, and, while it is, indeed, closed frequently (about twice an hour, corresponding to one train per hour in each direction), the Brighline trains clear the bridge in less than a minute, and the entire closure runs perhaps five or six minutes. The schedules are published and so it's pretty easy for Steel Towing, who pulls most of the megayachts upriver to the yards, the Jungle Queen, and the other three big tour boats to just work around the schedule. Our observation is that it's really been a non-issue.

The same hue and cry has been raised about the FEC bridge in Stuart, which will become part of the system when Orlando is added. I think what people worry about is that each train will be just like the thrice-daily FEC freight trains, which generally have the bridge closed for close to twenty minutes, including long lead and lag times because the bridge is automated and unattended. But the Brightline agreement says the bridge will get a full-time tender, and I expect it will close for five or six minutes twice an hour just like this one does, and will also be a non-issue.

Just before we left the south quay, an unfamiliar center console pulled up behind us with a familiar couple aboard. It was friends Brad and Lorraine from the Nordhavn 55 Adventure, which turned out to be upriver at Lauderdale Marine Center, where we spent a couple of months last year. They were just wrapping up a refit; today they passed us heading out of the river for Bahia Mar. We'll try to connect with them for dinner later on, and compare notes, since we've each now had refits at the same two yards.


Adventure coming through the 3rd Ave bridge.

Monday evening we met up again with Nina and Don for dinner, along with their daughter whose name I can not spell who is interviewing for sous-chef positions on yachts. We landed the hottest deal in town, five dollar burger night at Township, with two-for-one drinks since we arrived during happy hour. I think we have our Monday night go-to place.

During our very brief move from one side of the bridge to the other, our main engine hour meter rolled to 5,000 hours, where it sits today. As a matter of curiosity, I went upstairs to the flybridge, to find the hour meter there on exactly 5,003 hours. The meters are always on simultaneously, so either the flybridge one is fast or the pilothouse one is slow, but an error of just 0.06% is actually pretty good. We will continue to use the pilothouse meter as the "true and accurate" engine time.


Rolling 5,000 hours. Number on label is last oil change.

We keep the radio on channel 9 here, which is the official channel of the river traffic, rather than 16, and we've been enjoying the free entertainment, watching Steel Towing and Cape Ann Towing bringing the big girls up and down the river, and even watching the neophytes coming upriver for the first time. Weekends are busy with a constant parade of round-trip pleasure cruises. We've put our extra fenders out on the river side of the boat, since we trust no one and everybody stops right here to wait for the bridge.


Upstairs hour meter. Slight discrepancy.

Other than having to move the boat occasionally back to the south bank for pumpouts, which only work on that side of the river, we expect to be right here in this spot until at least mid-April. I will try to post here every few weeks with our latest goings-on, and when we have some clue what we plan to do after Fort Lauderdale I will update you on that, as well. At this writing that is past our planning horizon. Posts here will be sporadic until we are back cruising again.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Full dance card

We are under way southbound in the Indian River, part of the ICW, after a nice three-night stop in Eau Gallie, FL (which is really part of Melbourne). The stop there was occasioned by dinner engagements with three sets of friends.

After last I posted here we had a calm overnight passage. I did not see a single other vessel on my watch, even though we were only a few miles offshore. We were close enough to have Internet coverage the entire passage.


Arriving at Port Canaveral. Disney Dream is center frame.

When I came back on watch around 8:30 am we were offshore of the massive Kennedy spaceflight complex on Cape Canaveral. No rockets were on the pads, and the northeast door of the enormous Vehicle Assembly Building was, uncharacteristically, open. No rocket was behind that door, either, so perhaps they were just equalizing temperatures. The building is tall enough that it forms its own weather inside.

We were steaming into Port Canaveral a little before noon. As we approached Jetty Park to port, a well-used campground, we spotted a Flxible Starliner bus conversion, and I could not resist sending a photo to our good friends Ben and Karen, who have been living in their nicely converted Starliner, the Creative Cruiser, for a while now. You can see their conversion on this page.


Flxible Skyliner in the overflow area of Jetty Park. The destination sign read "Margaritaville."

We also left Royal Caribbean's Enchantment of the Seas to port, as well as the small collection of waterfront restaurants and tiki bars that are the dining and entertainment hub of Port Canaveral. We arrived at the west end of the harbor, across from the main cruise basin and the Disney Dream, to find the free quay at Rodney Ketcham Park available and mercifully devoid of fishermen. On our last stay I caught some unfortunate lady's line as I was spinning around to dock.

We were tied alongside by 12:30 (map), using the last four remaining cleats, large and rusting, leftover from the quay's previous life as a commercial berth. I spent part of the afternoon walking around the south side of the harbor, stopping in at the swoopy Exploration Tower, which houses an interactive museum as well as an observation deck. From the top, the port looks like it could be part of the wide Banana River, which literally surrounds the port on three sides, but the two bodies of water are separated by a lock and the river is very shallow.


Looking west from Exploration Tower. Vector's flybridge is barely visible center frame. From here the water all looks the same, but it's not.

I briefly considered dropping a scooter so I could ride down to Cocoa Beach and look in on our friend Dave-the-hotelier, and then maybe scoot over to Fiesta Mexican Restaurant, a long-time favorite of ours (and former astronaut hang-out). A quick Internet search, however, revealed that he sold his hotel last year. This was our top-secret Cocoa Beach parking spot when we stopped in Odyssey, just steps from the beach and right next door to the Ron Jon surf shop. Dave installed a 50-amp power outlet and water and sewer connections for his RV friends.

Louise was not up to walking nearly a mile to dinner, and we didn't want to drop a scooter just for that, so we had a nice dinner aboard. In the evening we strolled up to the head of the lock and back. We had a quiet night in the port, dropping lines in the morning for the run west to the ICW.


On my walk I passed "Jade II" from Brazil, on the hard in one of the local yards. We met these folks and toured the boat at a Trawler Fest years ago. Their web site is gone and the boat appears to be for sale.

We cleared through the bridge and the lock and crossed the Banana River to find some sort of skulling event blocking the Barge Canal just west of the river. Fearing I would have to thread my way through the skulls, we slowed down and tried hailing their support boats on several radio channels. Finally I had to resort to the Kahlenbergs. Tootle them melodiously. They started their westbound race just before we arrived, and the sad reality is that a well-rowed skull is faster than Vector at cruise. They stopped and re-started several times before turning off the canal, but we never caught back up to them.

Having slowed down for them initially put us just a couple of minutes behind for the 401 bridge mid-canal. As we arrived, just ahead of 11am, the tender tried to tell us we were too late for an 11am opening and we'd have to wait to 11:30. This despite the fact that we could easily make an opening started on-time at 11. Even when you are right there already waiting, the published time is when they actually start lowering the traffic gates.


Passing Enchantment of the Seas on our way into Port Canaveral. Their sail-away party when they departed was so loud I could hear it from the Exploration Tower.

After a bit of back and forth she agreed to open the bridge. It turned out that there were maintenance workers who needed to clear out of the way, and so she was late getting it open anyway, and we actually had to slow down rather than rush to make it. Imperious bridge tenders are the bane of Florida boaters.

We had a bit of nervousness approaching the exit of the Barge Canal into the Indian River and the junction of the ICW. Numerous notes on-line in Active Captain and Waterway Guide informed us that the channel has been shoaling, and at least one skipper with a six foot draft said he was unable to get through. Moreover, the "sonar chart" function of our Navionics chart program on the iPad said there was just 4.5' of water mid-channel in the worst section.


This one's for Harvey: I snapped this photo of the VAB, some dozen miles away, while we were in Canaveral Lock.

There was a time when all that information would have given us enough pause that we would not even attempt this. The alternative being to remain at Port Canaveral and wait for another outside window.  Experience is a great teacher, though, and we know now that, while there is no tide at all in this part of the Indian River, the water level varies with the wind. Steady winds out of the north for several days will drive a lot of water out of the river, which is constrained to the north by the tiny Haulover Canal. We were guessing, or maybe that's "hoping," that both the comments and the crowd-sourced sonar chart data were derived during a sustained period of northerly wind. We were just through here a year ago with no issues.

Sure enough, the least depth we saw on the sounder was 7.3', which by itself would have been alarming if we were not armed ahead of time with the shoaling reports. We putt-putted through at an idle speed of 4.5 knots just in case, prepared to stop, back out, and about-face at any point. The 7+ foot depths we blissfully short-lived, and we made it out of the canal uneventfully without so much as kissing the bottom.

Once in the Indian River we were able to set the autopilot and have a very relaxing cruise the rest of the way to Eau Gallie. En route we had a visit from a very curious dophin, who swam alongside us for several minutes. Normally the dolphins who swim with us like to run up front, playing in our bow wave. This one instead chose to pace us amidships off the port side. Periodically he'd curl his whole body to point his snout at us, a behavior we'd not seen heretofore.


Curious dolphin swims alongside.

We arrived at the Eau Gallie causeway by 2pm, and dropped the hook north of the causeway just offshore of the library (map).  Our last visit we had anchored south of the causeway and tendered in to the basin, but there's no public dinghy dock there and little to walk to. Though less protected here, we could get ashore at the public dock next to the library, and the waterfront restaurant Squid Lips also has a courtesy dock.

Our friends Pauline and Rod from Australia picked us up at the city dock, and after cocktails at the home of the friends with whom they are staying, we went out to a nice dinner at nearby Chef Mario's restaurant in a historic bank building near the causeway. We met them on the water years ago in their trawler, Two by Two, and more recently they also traveled the US in a Marathon Prevost bus conversion. They have since sold both and are continuing their travels by auto and hotel. It was great to catch up.

Wednesday I spent some time ashore strolling around town. In addition to Mario's and Squid Lips there are perhaps three other restaurants an easy walk from the dock, including a new brew pub. There is also a nicely stocked Ace hardware, a post office, an art museum, a funky little arts district with several shops, and the aforementioned library which has free WiFi and several nice seating areas.

We met friends Gayle and Bill from the sailing cat Spiraserpula for cocktails and dinner at Squid Lips. We last saw them in Oriental, NC, a few months ago, and it was nice to catch up again. They have family in the area and keep a car here, so they spend their maintenance downtime at nearby Waterline Marina in the basin. They're in the process of closing on some waterfront property with a dock in Punta Gorda, which will be their maintenance base moving forward. We look forward to visiting them there.


Vector anchored in Eau Gallie. City dock/fishing pier is at right.

Yesterday I again wanted to get off the boat, but it was cold and choppy and, aside from that, I got a morning email from our insurance agent, and needed to spend the whole day working on moving our business elsewhere. They dropped our previous underwriter, and the only replacement coverage they could find for us was literally double the cost and had too many restrictions. Quotes have already started rolling in so I am hopeful we will have this resolved before our current policy expires later this month.

Around 4:30 we braved the steep chop to head back to Squid Lips for a farewell pitcher of beer with Rod and Pauline before we were joined by good friends Cherie and Chris, known to many of our followers as Technomadia. They're currently docked in Sanford at the head of the St. Johns, which is a good 90-minute drive, but we all really wanted to catch up, and Cherie has family in Melbourne, making the trip double-duty. It was great catching up and discussing cruising plans as well as the vagaries of boat maintenance; they are in the middle of re-installing overhauled turbochargers, among other work.

This morning we decked the tender and weighed anchor to continue south. Tonight we should be in Vero Beach, and we've arranged a quick meet-up with long-time friends Alyse and Chris. They are working the Stuart Boat show for the weekend, the very place where we met them exactly nine years ago. They'll have just a few minutes before they have to get home to let their dogs out. This will make four couples visited in four nights, which might be a record for us.

Update: We are anchored in Vero Beach, just south of the bridge (map). We'd bypassed this anchorage many times because the NOAA chart says it's two feet deep here, but in reality it's ten feet and we were able to navigate in using our Navionics Sonar Charts. In the morning we'll weigh anchor and continue south. Now that we are in striking distance I have made a reservation with the marina in Fort Lauderdale. With a little luck we should be there on Tuesday.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Having an epiphany

Happy New Year, everyone. As we begin the final month of our sixth year living aboard Vector, we are underway outbound on the St. Johns River, bound for sea and thence to Port Canaveral. After two hours of climbing uphill, the tide has turned and we have the current behind us. We should arrive in Port Canaveral sometime after noon tomorrow (Monday), dependent on ocean current. I expect it will take me much of the afternoon to complete this post, and we''l be offshore off the northern Florida coast when it finally posts.

It has once again been nearly three full weeks since I posted here. Normally, that would leave me with, if you will pardon the expression, a boatload of things to update. But in actual fact, we were not even on the boat. Now that we've left Ortega Landing in our wake, I can share that a key reason why we took a month at a marina here was so that we could secure the boat and fly to California together.


Approaching Jacksonville on a gorgeous day, coming down the St. Johns from the Ortega.

We flew out on the 19th, the very day of my last post, and in fact, most of it was typed on the flight out, continuing a long tradition of typing blog posts under way. And we returned in the wee hours of yesterday morning, arriving back at Vector around 1:30am. Fortunately, our bodies were mostly on Pacific Time where that was just 10:30pm. And while revealing this only after our return makes it sound like we were on a cloak-and-dagger mission, the reason is much more mundane: we did not want to advertise to the world that our boat would be unattended for a little over two weeks.

Long-time readers who followed us during our adventures in our 40' motor coach, Odyssey, may recall that anytime we had to leave the bus unattended for several days, we simply did not announce our location until we had safely returned. That let me announce all manner of upcoming trips, wherein I usually wrote that the bus would be at "an undisclosed location." Similarly, we never posted a map link or a detailed location when we parked on the private property of friends or certain businesses, in respect for their privacy.

Things are a bit different on the boat, inasmuch as we simply can't hide our location. The same transponder that keeps us safe in major harbors, around blind corners on rivers, and in limited visibility also makes us easy to track. And so it is that we felt discretion to be the better part of security in this case.

Regular readers will also know that it is very rare, indeed, for us to both leave the boat together. Between the ongoing demands of the boat (which, unlike the bus, can't just start its own generator should the power go out and the batteries get low, for example), and the demands of having an 18-year-old cat with only one kidney, we usually find it simpler for one of us to remain aboard. Thus it was that Louise went to California for three weeks without me back in October, and I deployed alone to the Virgin Islands the previous year.


The cat is so love-starved from two weeks in "jail" that she's spent an uncharacteristic amount of time on my lap. Here she is interfering with route planning last night.

Like the October trip, this one was necessitated by family medical issues. And while Louise could have again gone on her own, that would have us spending the holidays apart. Beyond that, we had already been planning to make a quick pilgrimage to the SF bay area in late January, after first getting settled in someplace in South Florida for a long-term stay, just to tend to business there and catch up with our many friends from two decades spent there. So we opted to just go together and roll that visit into this trip.

We booked ourselves into the Hilton Santa Clara for the holidays, because it required the least number of points from my Hilton HHonors balance. I was expecting to have to buy breakfast every day, but on check-in they upgraded us to the Executive floor, which has a complimentary hot breakfast in the concierge lounge every morning, and hors d'oeuvres each afternoon. The lounge also had a great view of all the holiday lights of WinterFest at the Great America amusement park right across the street. Both the Hilton and Great America have been there for years, but now that landscape is dominated by Levi's Stadium, where the 49ers play. On game days, the hotel has to clamp down on parking.

We had an excellent Christmas dinner of roast beef with all the trimmings at the home of our good friends and nieces in Menlo Park, opting to leave the car at the hotel and ride-share so we could imbibe. It was a great evening. And then, like clockwork after a long airplane trip, I came down with the crud and was down for the count. It's a good thing our room was nice, because I spent the three days we had carefully budgeted for bay area visits in bed, watching a Godfather marathon. Leave the gun, take the cannoli.

I did drag myself out for a pre-scheduled meeting with our financial planners, who are in San Jose, and to do a quick walk-through of the building where our condo, which we rent out, is located. The afternoon hors d'oeuvres, which we had expected to miss entirely during our stay, saved me from having to drop thirty bucks on a sandwich and beverage in the business-hotel-priced restaurant in the lobby.


My in-laws changed all their ceiling lights to LED without realizing the dimmers also needed to be updated. Ever the good son-in-law, I replaced six dimmers with LED-compatible ones while we were there.

I was mostly recovered enough to drive out for a previously scheduled visit with our good friends John and Linda in Cameron Park in the Sierra foothills, who moved there this year after a long time in San Jose not far from our place. From Cameron Park we continued over the hill to Sparks for a brief stay at the home of good friends Julie and Jim and a visit with my dear friend Dee, all of whom we have not seen since before we bought the boat.

New Years Day fell on a Tuesday this year, and we had a great time catching up with our many motorcyclist friends from our "Tuesday Night Dinner" crowd, hosted for the occasion at the home of our good friends Kevin and Angela. A big shout out to everyone who came down to see us. In the course of the two weeks we also got in visits with all of Louise's parents as well.

Trying to cram lots of visits and errands into a limited budget of time always makes the visiting seem too short. But by the same token, after a bit more than two weeks we were very ready to come home to the comfort of our own bed, our own stuff, our own food, and our own cat. We spent the entire day Friday traveling. We were very relieved to find all well aboard Vector when we returned, and a big thanks to friends Steve and Barb aboard Maerin for keeping an eye on her for us while we were gone. It also helped my peace of mind to be able to look in on things daily with our camera system.


Sunset offshore of the First Coast.

Our one-month booking at Ortega Landing was up yesterday, but between having to pick up the cat and my scooter, and the jet lag, we were ill-equipped to depart. We extended one night, to this morning, to get everything done. From there we were prepared to just head downriver to our familiar anchorage or maybe one of the free docks, but by pure chance today through tomorrow happens to be a perfect window for an offshore passage.

The window is actually good enough to have gotten us all the way to Fort Pierce, or maybe even Palm Beach or beyond, but also by chance we have three sets of cruising friends who are in or near the Space Coast at the moment, and as long as we are going right past we did not want to miss them. So we are coming back in at Port Canaveral, and we'll proceed down the ICW from there, have our visits, and if conditions permit we can go back out again at Fort Pierce.

This morning we decked the scooters and dropped lines at the peak of high tide, 11am. There is less water overall in the river right now than when we arrived, and even with the high tide departure. our sounder registered as low as 5.3' crossing the bar on our way out of the Ortega. We never even slowed down, so the sounder was reading the top layer of some very soft silt.

Ironically, today is the nicest weather we've seen since arriving, although we heard there were several very nice days while we were away. The marina has a very nice pool and hot tub, but until today it was never warm enough to want to walk the full length of the dock in a robe to try them out. Still, it was an absolutely gorgeous cruise down the Saint Johns. Leaving right at high tide meant we had a knot of current against us for the first couple of hours (the current does not reverse at the same time as the tidal maxima), but by the time we were passing the container terminals our fortunes changed, and at one point we had three knots behind us, whizzing downriver at close to ten knots.


Today is Epiphany but we have not had a chance to put away the decorations since returning. I turned the tree on for the evening in the salon; one last hurrah.

It's been a perfect afternoon and evening on the ocean, nearly flat calm. There is little current to speak of and we are doing our normal cruising speed of around 6.5 knots. As I wrap up typing we are just abreast of St. Augustin and we can see the many lights of the city some ten miles off our starboard beam. We had a very nice dinner on board and I am about to take the evening watch, with Louise turning in. She will relieve me at 03:00.

At our current speed our ETA is around half past noon. With any luck the free dock at the west end of the harbor will be available, otherwise we will proceed through the lock and anchor in the Banana River. We should have a relaxing (and sleepy) afternoon aboard, and we'll work on connecting with friends on Tuesday or so. My next post here will likely be after those visits.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Putting a damper on things.

It's been nearly three weeks since I posted here, and I have some catching up to do. With no long days under way I actually have to make time to write, and it's been very busy here. Not to worry, though, from the travelogue standpoint, as we've been in the same spot for over two weeks and we haven't left Jacksonville.

Shortly after I last posted here we weighed anchor and rode the flood upriver to downtown Jacksonville. We were pleased to find plenty of room at the free city docks at Jacksonville Landing, even though the docks have still not been repaired from the damage of hurricane Mathew two years ago and, with large swaths of the docks closed off, room for cruising boats is limited.


The tree at Jacksonville Landing, with a Reggae band playing one of the numerous free concerts.

With the flood now running swiftly, I spun the boat around to head into the current and come in port-side-to. It was a picture-perfect approach and we would have made it in a single shot if not for Louise reporting through the headphones in a somewhat alarmed voice that there was a large line in the water threatening to foul our running gear. I quickly abandoned the approach and turned back out into the very deep water of the river with as few control movements as possible.

We always have the windlass on and the anchor ready when approaching a dock, in case of emergency. With the river 70' deep in this swift-moving bend, it would be a challenge to get the anchor on the bottom before the current could sweep us into the railroad bridge. I stayed as far downriver of the bridge as I could while we did circles clockwise and counterclockwise to see if the line in question was already fouled on the boat. We could not see it in either direction and so we made our way back to the dock and tied up (map).

Apart from the docks, which the city owns and makes available for transient boaters and the water taxi service, Jacksonville Landing is actually a shopping mall with a heavy emphasis on dining and nightlife. That said, it is dying on the vine, with fully half or more of the storefronts vacant. In the five years we've been coming here at least four restaurants have closed, and the nightlife venues are dead. None of what's left has more than three stars on Yelp, and several places have fewer. An Irish pub and Hooters bookend the place and appear to be the only truly going concerns.

All of that said, what they seem to do well here is run public events in the massive, semi-circular waterfront courtyard, and they always have a spectacular tree at the holidays with dancing lights. Long-time readers may remember me writing about this in years past; we've spent both Christmas and New Years (and Thanksgiving) in Jacksonville before. This year was no exception, and on a lovely Saturday afternoon we enjoyed strolling the courtyard and taking it all in.


Vector at Jacksonville Landing. You can see the hurricane damage on the docks.

When we returned to Vector we found the mystery line floating alongside. It was about a 1" or so diameter poly hawser, and so it floated to the surface once the current slackened enough to keep from towing it under. After tugging on it for a bit we concluded it was well jammed under our port stabilizer fin. Well secured at the dock, we decided to head off to dinner and not worry about it.

The Irish joint right next to the boat did not call us, so we hoofed it a few blocks to an old favorite, Casa Dora, an Italian place downtown. It's right next to the Florida Theater and on performance nights they forgo the regular menu in favor of a buffet service. This Saturday night turned out to be a concert with, umm, not our music, and while we might have just put up with the buffet, the fact that the very business-savvy proprietor was blasting the band's latest album at volume setting 11 throughout the restaurant drove us right back out.

That turned out to be serendipitous, because it sent us down the block to Cowford's Chophouse, a very nice place that heretofore we have skipped because we are seldom both in the mood for expensive steaks and chops. But with few other options, we reasoned we could find something lighter and more reasonable on the bar menu, and we were not wrong. We even caught the tail end of the happy hour menu, and everything was delicious. Next time we stop, if the weather is nice, we'll try to eat at their very nice rooftop bar.

The line caught under the fin aced out the transmission rattle to take first place on the must-fix list, and I spent a good bit of Sunday working on it. There was no way I was going to don dive gear and jump into a 60-degree blackwater river to put eyeballs on it or try to cut it out, even if I timed it for slack. So instead I manipulated the fin hydraulically while Louise tugged on both ends of the line to see if we could free it. No dice. In the process I could see the hydraulic actuator struggling, and so, not wanting to risk any further damage to the fin, I pinned it in the center position and disconnected it, a fiddly undocumented procedure that I learned the first time we had fin difficulties offshore.

Having conceded defeat, but not wanting to move the boat with the line still attached unless they booted us off the dock, we resigned ourselves to another couple of nights at the Landing (one or two is plenty, especially with the daily accumulation of foul river foam between the boat and the dock). I spent Monday calling around to find a diver willing to have a look and maybe free us of our hitchhiker. At least one diver, who was recommended by a number of other boaters, after initially saying he would help us, called back to say he had reconsidered and that he didn't want to jump into a cold, swift, industrial blackwater river either.


This mess of foam accumulated during every ebb, and made a mess of the hull that required scrubbing.

When I wasn't getting recommendations for or making calls to divers, I continued to work on the transmission problem, which, from the symptoms and the number of running hours on the unit, I had concluded was a worn damper plate. I spent an inordinate number of hours just trying to get a part number for the damper; it's not called out in the transmission service manual, nor is it listed in the engine parts book from Lugger, who put the two together to begin with.

This powertrain is rare enough that few boaters post about it online in the various boating and maintenance forums, and I was beginning to think that no one has yet replaced the damper, even though it seems to be common knowledge among Nordhavn 50 owners, who have this same combination, that the damper needs replacing at 5,000 hours. None of the N50 owners I asked had done it or knew the part number. Ultimately I called Lugger, gave them my serial numbers, and asked them to look it up. It was not in their computer, and they told me it might be a few days while they asked around.

By the end of Tuesday morning I finally had a diver committed for the afternoon, and no real progress on the damper. I did find a number of nearly identical transmissions with Vulkan Torflex dampers, and the good news was that those are fail-safe and can be run at lower power output even when the rubber has disintegrated without fear of parts going all over the bell housing and threatening to get caught on something.

The diver and his assistant arrived as planned mid-afternoon, and it took him less than five minutes, including gearing up, to cut the line and free it. He reported that it was caught between the fin and the "diverter," which is a little post ahead of the fin intended, ironically, to deflect lines so they will not get caught under the fin. That five minutes' work (well, plus probably 45 minutes of travel round trip) cost us $200, which we were glad to pay after another experienced professional had refused the job altogether.


The line we had caught, after the diver removed it in three sections.

Technically the limit at Jacksonville's free docks is three nights in any 30 days, and by this time we'd used them all in one fell swoop. But this is seldom enforced when the docks are not busy, and it was late enough in the day that we decided to take our chances and spend another night at the Landing. We finally made it to Casa Dora, which is dark Sundays.  We had enjoyed the bistro next door Sunday night.

Somewhere in all of this I had started making calls to marinas in St. Pete, Fort Lauderdale, and a few second-choice options for an extended winter stay. But trying to book a marina stay over the holidays when already into December is challenging, and none of our preferences was available until January. It did not help that we were reluctant to make a major financial commitment to a holiday marina stay without a more definitive answer about whether or not we should run the boat another 300+ miles before fixing the transmission.

At some point in the process I ended up calling the Marina at Ortega Landing right here in Jacksonville to see if they had space. Jacksonville had been on our C-list for winter stays, falling short on a few of our criteria such as having a number of restaurants in walking distance and a wide array of marine vendors and services available. A little to my surprise, they had a space just open up for over the holidays and indefinitely beyond that. And then we realized that even if we spent the rest of the winter further south, spending a month in Jacksonville would take the pressure off on the transmission front and get us through the busy holiday period, so we booked it.


Vector at Riverside Park with the Jacksonville skyline in the background.

We've been up the Ortega River before, and we know there's a hump at the entrance we can just barely clear only at high tide. High tide Wednesday would have put us there before they opened, so we agreed to arrive Thursday morning instead, which left us with another night to spend elsewhere. We were well past ready to leave Jacksonville Landing, even if the city was not asking us to leave, and so we shoved off and headed less than a mile upriver to the Riverside Park dock (map), another free city dock where we often landed the tender when we anchored in the "suspicious boat" anchorage in front of the hospital.

The dock has good depth and is plenty sturdy for Vector, with room even for another boat or two. And it's conveniently located within walking distance to the lovely Five Points neighborhood, with many decent restaurants. I enjoyed a nice walk around the area, including a stroll through the Olmstead-designed Memorial Park, and we had a nice dinner at one of our old stand-bys, Hawkers Asian Street Fare. On our way back we stopped in to the Cummings Museum of Art, which is free on Thursday evenings. We've walked past it many times and it was nice to finally stop in. If the city would rent us this dock for the season, Jacksonville would ratchet up a few notches on our list.


Winged Victory statue in Memorial Park, dating to the end of World War I.

Friday morning we dropped lines early for the 40-minute trip to Ortega Landing, with a fair current the whole way. We cleared the hump with four inches to spare and sailed right through the Ortega River Bridge which happened to be locked in the open position for maintenance.  We drove right up to the dock and were secured alongside shortly after 9am (map). I think I surprised the dockmaster by walking into his office at 9:30; few boaters arrive without assistance.

It turns out our good friends Barb and Steve aboard Maerin are spending a month here, and they showed up within minutes of us getting settled to inform us that we were coming over for dinner. We last saw them in the Bahamas and we had some catching up to do. We've since gotten together several more times, including two full games of Mexican Train dominoes, which we have to divide across two evenings if we don't start early enough.


New Maerin crewmember Joey stands in front of long-time stalwart Molly.

Moving the boat to Ortega Landing quite fortuitously caused the damper plate to stop in a different position, and when I went down to measure the bell housing again to inform Lugger's investigation into our build sheets (it turns out they had the wrong one listed), I could see a label on it through the narrow vents in the housing. A closer inspection with a flashlight and moving my head around copiously allowed me to read it in its entirety, and it turned out not only to list the model, part number, and serial number of the damper but also the original purchase order number, order date, and date of manufacture. It is the original damper, in there since the power train was assembled in Seattle.

Armed with a part number I could get availability and lead times, and I found one in stock at the ZF distributor in Fort Lauderdale. I was also able to call three itinerant transmission service specialists who could help me change the damper out, most of whom thought the job could be done without hauling. Disturbingly, however, all three, along with the distributor, thought the sound should vary with engine RPM more than it does if it was really the damper.

That did not disturb me very much until one of them suggested it sounded a lot more like the bearings were going than a damper issue. That turns an in-boat plate replacement into a major project to remove the whole transmission from the boat and send it back to ZF for a rebuild. Yikes. He asked me to pull the filter screen out of the unit and see if there was any metal debris in it. A simple enough task except I needed to run out and buy a 36mm socket and use my impact wrench to free the stubborn screen cover plug.


Transmission screen and cover plug with magnet.

After draining the transmission oil and removing the screen I was very, very relieved to find it clean as a whistle. A small magnet embedded in the cover had a few tiny flakes on it, but those could well have been in there since initial break-in some 5,000 hours ago. Nothing looked to me to be consistent with bearing failure in progress. The oil was a bit dark, though, and so just to be safe I ordered a sample kit on Amazon Prime and sent a sample off to the lab.

The sample analysis came back yesterday and it read normal on everything including wear metals. The oil was due for change anyway so no harm, no foul, and now I have the wrench I need to inspect and clean the filter screen at every change. It did, however, cost nearly a full two weeks, during which we could have made progress on the damper (it makes no sense to change the damper in-place if the transmission needs to go out to the shop).

The holidays are upon us, when shops are either closed or ridiculously busy, and we now know that the transmission wear is normal and the damper plate is the fail-safe type that can be operated, carefully, in its current state. And so we will defer the damper plate replacement until we reach Fort Lauderdale, where more assistance and resources are available.

I'd love to tell you that we've spent our days lounging by the pool and soaking in the hot tub (this is actually a pretty nice marina), but of course I've mostly been busy getting other projects done. Opting to spend a month here gave us a good address for Amazon and eBay, and so several projects that have languished for lack of materials have moved forward. And, of course, something new breaks every week.

Shortly after arrival we set about lowering the scooters so we'd have wheels for around town. Other than a Publix grocery store and three half-decent restaurants, not much is walking distance. I usually start each scooter while still on the boat deck, because I have access there to a 12-volt supply for charging or jump-starting. After months of sitting unused, and especially with Louise's bike, they can often be difficult to start, and more than once I've run the battery down trying.


Jacksonville by night: Vector at Riverside Park.

Mine started right up and we lowered it to the dock, but Louise's would not start at all, and shortly I traced the problem to a blown fuse. When the spare blew instantly I knew the problem was deeper, and we left it on deck until I could work on it. I was still hip-deep in the much more critical transmission issues at that point, and we could get around two-up on my bike easily enough, albeit in less comfort.

Getting the scooter working ultimately took me several hours spread over multiple days; it turned out to be a burned-out voltage regulator, which would blow the fuse even with the ignition key off. I found a used take-out on eBay for 12 bucks and, once installed, it started right up. We enjoyed riding separate scooters for several days, but the warranty on my "new" Kymco expires on Christmas Eve and so yesterday we took it down to the nearest dealer, in Orange Park, and dropped it off. Riding back two-up on Louise's much smaller bike was definitely not comfortable.

In the middle of dealing with sending things out, like the oil samples and Louise's unending stream of charity quilts, our ancient el-cheapo Brother multi-function printer decided it would no longer print all the black pixels. I'm certain that Brother would say it's because of all the cheap aftermarket ink I've been using instead of their branded items. I paid just $50 for this thing seven years ago - like razors, they practically give them away to sell you the ink - but everything else was working and I didn't want to have another monstrous piece of e-waste around the house. So I found a YouTube video on how to deep clean the print head and ink plumbing. I used generic window cleaner rather than the mystery cleaner that everyone who makes these videos wants to sell you; it worked like a charm and the printer is printing like new, better than it has in years.

After five years of use we needed a new toilet seat, and I've had the order just sitting in my Amazon cart for weeks waiting for a good delivery address (you can't just run down to Walmart or Lowe's -- household seats don't fit). An easy, five-minute, slam-dunk project. LOL, no. The marine-standard-sized seat I had ordered and which looks identical, in the photos, to the one that came with the head, right down to the "Bemis" brand name, is actually a half inch or so smaller in diameter than the head itself. It turns out that Tecma uses a custom size and has Bemis custom make the seats just for them. It's not in the Bemis catalog and can't be ordered except through Tecma.

That was going to take another week and cost about a fifth of what I paid for the whole head, seat and all. It took me a couple of hours of research to figure out that the seats that Dometic uses on some of its Vacuflush models are almost exactly the same size, and while it was still four times as expensive as the "marine standard" one I had originally ordered, this one was available on Amazon Prime. So now we have a nice new seat with "Dometic" stamped on top.


New toilet seat. A perfect fit but with the wrong brand name on it.

The main engine coolant was also due for change after two years. The pre-charged stuff we use is hard to find in stores and so I ordered six gallons of it on eBay. Another dirty project that takes the better part of a day, but we're good for another two years. Now I have six gallons of used coolant I need to find a way to dispose of.

The new dinghy crossed its 20-hour break-in mark before we reached Charleston, and I finally got nice enough weather to do the 20-hour service up on the boat deck. That includes changing the engine oil and filter as well as the transmission oil, and lubing the mount. My first time for everything on this motor, so there was something of a learning curve. I had to use a pipe wrench to get the diminutive oil filter off; I've since run out and bought the proper filter wrench for it.

While I've been very busy, it has not been all work and no play. We did get out a couple of times to the massage school right around the corner from here, where student massages are just $30 for an hour. We discovered this place when we were still on the bus, where it was a much longer scooter ride from the Elks Lodge. In the last year they've expanded into another building and the facility is much nicer. We've also enjoyed going down to the quaint Avondale neighborhood for dinner a couple of times, and the marina threw a holiday party with a nice spread as well as a dock crawl of holiday lights.


Sunset over the Ortega River.

Our month runs to January 5th, and we have the option to extend a few days on a pro-rata basis. After that I expect we will make our way to Fort Lauderdale for a few months. Most likely my next blog post will be after we shove off, and so we wish all of our family, friends, and readers a safe, comfortable, and joyous holiday season and a happy new year.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Florida!

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.