Wednesday, March 4, 2020

March fourth, to foreign shores

We are under way in the Straits of Florida, crossing the Gulf Stream on our way to the Bahamas. Miami is some 13 nautical miles behind us as I begin typing, and we are off-line, so I will be uploading this later. We are approaching the average location of the principal axis of the stream, and we are crabbing by 40°, steering a heading of 140° (magnetic), but making a course-over-ground of 100°. Our speed-made-good is just 4.5 knots (making turns for 6.5), which has us arriving after 5pm.

Sunday afternoon my parts arrived, and I used the Hollywood Circuit service to go down to the Amazon locker at a 7-11 near Hallandale Beach Boulevard to pick it up. This free service, utilizing what amounts to oversized enclosed golf carts, replaced the fixed-route free trolley service. You hail one with an app and they will take you anywhere in the service area. My driver was kind enough to just wait for me at the locker for the minute it took me to get the package.

Miami Beach from our anchorage last night.

That package contained a new pressure switch for the air compressor, as well as a new relief valve and a few miscellaneous couplings. I had discovered a small leak in the old pressure switch, which I was hoping would prove to be the problem. Of course, there was no way this thing was just going to thread right on. In fack, I had to bend parts of the housing of the old pressure switch to get it off, and the new one was a slighly different design where that was not an option.

I found a 45° elbow in my plumbing box, which let me thread the new switch on, and then I moved the relief valve, pressure gauge, and outlet fitting over to the other three ports on the switch housing. That's a lot of pressurized parts to be moving around, and tracking down leaks becomes a lot like playing whack-a-mole -- as soon as you stop one leak, another one pops up someplace else. I spent hours reconfiguring and tightening parts until I got no more soap bubbles in my leak testing.

Still the system was leaking down every 25 minutes or so, a number that had varied up and down by no more than five minutes no matter what I did. Now, with no leaks detected by soap solution, I had to conclude the problem was in the compressor body itself. This model has an internal check valve inside the body, so my options were to open up the cylinder head, or else just add an external check valve. The former entailed the risk of needing proprietary replacement parts to even re-assemble it, so I decided on the latter, a $7 item on Amazon Prime.

Tied up in my secret spot in Hallandale, between the last slip in a marina and an accessible bulkhead.

In the meantime, a new crossing window opened up for today, and Louise came down with some kind of crud that trapped her on the boat for two days straight. I had a medical need of my own, with a stye on my eyelid that has stubbornly persisted for months, and we both thought it best that I get it looked at and some meds prescribed before we left. So Monday afternoon I took the tender down to Hallandale Beach, tied it up at one of our old stand-by stealth landings, and walked a few blocks to the University of Miami clinic located in Walgreens, where I was able to make an appointment online.

The nurse practitioner wrote me up for some serious antibiotics, both internal and topical, and sent the script over to the Walmart near where I had left the dinghy. I had a short provisioning list of items that were out of stock at the last Walmart, so it was a productive trip. I passed two grocery stores, too, but we had not yet committed far enough to do final fresh provisioning, and it would have been a challenge to get it all to the tender.

We were still in Hollywood on Monday, but in order to catch today's window, we'd need to move down to the inlet by yesterday afternoon. After digging around a bit, I found I could order the check valve on one-day delivery if I had it sent to an Amazon locker or counter, and there was a counter in Miami Beach, where we could stage for a departure from Government Cut, rather than from Cape Florida a few miles further south.

The wonderful Lincoln Road Mall in Miami Beach. I love this town, but the feeling is not mutual.

I really wanted to get this horn fixed before we left the US, so I ordered the part to Miami Beach, and yesterday morning we weighed anchor for the 15 mile trip. We stopped in the middle at our old friend the Intracoastal Mall, where we tied Vector directly to the dock we normally use for the tender when we anchor nearby (map). That made easy work of our last-minute fresh food provisioning, where I could roll the grocery cart right up to the short flight of steps leading to the dock. After checking the passage weather one last time, Louise took her sick self to bed while I ran around the mall doing errands and the final shopping.

I came back with a grocery cart loaded to the gills with fresh food, and we spent another 15 minutes at the dock getting it all stowed. It was a two hour stop, and we arrived in Miami Beach at 4:15 after a pleasant cruise down the fidgety eastern channel. We had to anchor 20 minutes to wait for a bridge that our chart indicated was on demand, but turned out to be on a half-hourly schedule. We dropped the hook south of the Venetian Causeway, carefully avoiding the two charted cable areas and a half dozen ratty-looking boats (map).

With Louise still zonked out, I splashed the tender and headed up the Collins Canal to the dinghy dock adjacent to the vintage Publix store. A half dozen boats were tied up, notwithstanding the ominous tow-away signs they city has posted on literally every possible place to land. They really want the anchored boats out, and since they can't regulate anchoring, they're blocking shore access instead. It's a shame, because Miami Beach is otherwise a great town, with trendy outdoor eateries in pedestrian malls, and even a free trolley system that takes you all over town. Apparently, the only boaters who are welcome are those who will pay $7 per foot for a dock.

The dinghy landing near Publix, and unwelcoming signage.

I locked up the dink and hoofed it fifteen minutes to the GNC store in one of the aforementioned trendy outdoor malls, which is the local "Amazon Hub Counter." Spoiled by a couple of excellent experiences with the lockers, which are fully automated, I was disappointed when the staff at GNC could not find my package. I was in the store a good fifteen minutes while they hunted around, scanning Amazon packages with an app on a smartphone. Never again -- I'm sticking to the lockers from now on.

I stopped at the Publix on my way back to the tender and picked up an Italian deli sub for dinner, along with a couple of items that the Winn-Dixie at the Intracoastal was out of. We would have braved the tow-away signs to go out to dinner if Louise had felt better, but I was happy to have a Publix sub, the likes of which we will not see until we return to the States.

The Publix across from the dock, old school. There is a much newer, larger, and nicer Publix just five blocks away, but this one manages to hang on.

That left me working on the air compressor after dark, but I am happy to report that the check valve did the trick, and we once again have a working horn that does not leak. It's quite possible that the check valve alone would have cured the problem, and I replaced the pressure switch needlessly, but it was badly corroded when I took it apart, so that's probably 20 bucks well spent.

We rose early this morning for passage, but the first check of the weather showed the forecast had deteriorated. Oddly, tomorrow's forecast had improved, and it looked like we'd have a better ride by waiting a day. Given that the forecasted windows have, of late, often been disappearing altogether, we decided to poke our noses out and see for ourselves, with an option to retreat and wait for tomorrow.

A shot of the anchorage before departure this morning. Many of the boats look half-derelict.

Things started out auspiciously, once we were clear of Government Cut, and we had an acceptable if not perfect ride for the first two hours. But as we got into the more forceful part of the Stream, things got bumpy, and Vector pitched, sometimes violently, for the next few hours. The cat expressed her displeasure with various bodily fluids, and Louise, who is still recovering from her cold, spent part of the day in bed. It's possible we'd have been better off waiting, but it's also possible that wait would have been a week or more rather than a day.

Not long after we lost Internet coverage, we crossed paths with RocketShip, formerly known as the Delta Mariner. We came within a mile, crossing just astern of her as she carried rockets to Cape Canaveral. We've crossed paths with her before, on the inland rivers -- many of the rockets come from Decatur, Alabama. She's very squat, to clear under the inland bridges. At least, when she uses the correct span.

RocketShip from our CPA about a mile away.

No sooner had I finished snapping a photo of Rockethip than the US Coast Guard Cutter Bernard C. Webber overtook us off our starboard side. Those two vessels were our closest contacts, with several cargo ships crossing ahead or astern at much greater distance.

One of our contacts late in the day was good friend John aboard Division Belle, who also left this morning, but from Port Everglades. Starting that much further north meant he had to push against even more current, on a longer rhumb line. His boat is a fair bit longer than ours, with a correspondingly higher cruise speed, so he still arrived in Bimini a little ahead of us.

Update: we are docked at Browns Marina, at the southernmost end of North Bimini (map). Normally we prefer to anchor, but wind and sea state over the next few days will make our usual spots untenable, and there's not really room for us inside the harbor. As luck would have it, we ended up in the slip right next to Division Belle, and we'll have dinner with John tomorrow. This evening he took his hired crewman to dinner; his wife had a work obligation back home and could not accompany him on the crossing.

USCGC Bernard Webber overtaking us fairly close aboard.

Of course, we ran into them at the one restaurant in stumbling distance from the dock, Big John's. None of us felt like going much further, especially after John and I hiked all over town to clear in -- Customs is a half mile from the dock and Immigration is another block further.

We're both pretty beat, as it has been a long day and a physically exhausting passage. Tomorrow we will sleep in and have a leisurely coffee before tidying up the boat, and seeing exactly what fell over in all the cabinets on passage. We'll probably do a quick rinse with water from our tank, as well, as the boat is encrusted with salt from the rough seas. There are spigots on the dock, too, but dock water is 30 cents a gallon here, more than it costs us to make our own. At 50 cents per kWh, electricity is also more than it costs us to make, but not by much.

It's not clear when we will get a window to continue east, probably to Andros. Whenever it comes, we'll jump on it. My next post will likely be typed under way and uploaded when we arrive.


  1. Hey Sean, I worked in ophthalmology and if you get another stye the best treatment is hot compresses for 5-10 minutes, 5-6 times/day as soon as you feel one coming up. The antibiotics you were prescribed may not help given the length of time you've had the stye so it might need to be drained if you want to get rid of it. Or just wait it out as it could take months to go away. Good luck!

  2. Interestingly, we've had *exactly* the same experience with Amazon lockers/GNC pickup locations..... lockers, no problem. GNC? It's a struggle. Crazy.


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