Thursday, May 20, 2021

Trumpet Involuntary

We are under way outbound on the Savannah River, bound for Fields Cut and the ICW after a lovely week in Savannah, Georgia. We had near-perfect weather the whole week, but today it is blowing 25 knots, which would keep many boats in port, but for us is a good time to hunker down in the pilothouse and make some way.

Sunset over the Talmadge Bridge from Vector at the Savannah city dock. "Power plant" smokestacks are bathed in purple, as the post-Panamax MSC Bosphorous passes us upriver.

After my last post, we had a nice push into St Catherines Sound, and with lots of time on the clock, we rode that push all the way to the "top of the hill" where the currents meet, at the confluence of the Bear River, the Florida Passage, and Cane Patch Creek. We dropped the hook in a familiar spot on Cane Patch, just past the ICW turn (map). Other than a towboat late in the evening, we never saw another soul.

Wednesday we weighed anchor when the tide became fair in the Florida Passage, and got under way toward Savannah. The notorious Hell Gate has been recently dredged, and we had an uneventful cruise to the Wilmington River and upbound toward Thunderbolt. We had figured to anchor in a familiar spot on the Herb River, and, with big rain coming, eat aboard.

Vector and Division Belle, together again,at Thunderbolt Marina.

Our friend John turned out to be aboard his boat, Division Belle, at the Thunderbolt Marina as we turned on to the Wilmington, and we went back and forth a little on the radio. Realizing that we'd get soaked if we tried to head over to see him by tender, we decided to splurge on a night at the marina, and we tied up for the night right behind Divison Belle (map).

John came aboard for a visit and we spent perhaps an hour catching up, before he had to drive home to Richmond Hill to walk the dogs. It was pouring rain when he left. The rain was done by dinner time, though, and I power-walked to Tubby's Tank House and picked up take-out. It was too cold and wet to want to sit on their nice deck. We had a quiet evening aboard.

Mmmmm. Donuts.

Checkout is 11 am, and we used the morning to catch up on laundry, fill the water tanks, and get the trash off the boat. Thunderbolt Marina normally delivers a box of Krispy Kreme donuts direct to the boat in the morning, but due to rain I had to march over to the office to get them. It was all so familiar, because it all started for us right here at this very marina.

On our way into Thunderbolt, I had also called their yard to see if they could fix the stabilizer, but their hydraulic department is short-handed and booked out over a month. I also called Hinckley just a few doors down, but they could not do the work. They did tell me that a stabilizer outfit in Fort Lauderdale was sending a crew up to replace a fin on another boat, and gave me the contact information in case they could work on ours on the same trip.

Dinner on the deck at Wyld.

We did not want to leave Thunderbolt until we resolved that question, and so we dropped lines and headed over to our usual spot in the Herb River. John had reminded us that there was a decent dock-and-dine restaurant at the end of the river, and so at dinner time we splashed the tender and ran a full three miles to Wyld. We ate on the deck overlooking the marsh. The food was decent but the bugs were fierce.

I had spent most of the afternoon continuing to make phone calls about the stabilizer situation. One of those calls was to Stabilized Marine in Fort Lauderdale, who have serviced our system several times. We discussed the possibility of me doing the replacement with them supplying the parts. They needed to check their inventory.

Post-Panamax container ship Cape Akritas coming upriver, to try to give you a sense of scale. Westin Resort at left.

Thursday morning they called me back with an offer I couldn't refuse: a rebuilt cylinder plus fresh trunnion bushings, with the expectation I would return the old cylinder as a core. Sealing the deal was the loan of the special tool I needed to remove the torque arm pin. They are not in the business of loaning out tools, but they sometimes make exceptions for well-established customers. The whole package cost me $300 with shipping. We gave them John's address, and UPS gave me a delivery date of Tuesday by ground.

With that matter settled, and free of the need to remain in Thunderbolt, we decided to go to downtown Savannah for a few days, where I had heard the city docks had just reopened after a closure of several years due to storm damage. Long-time readers may remember we spent our very first Christmas on the water on this very dock, vowing to come back in warmer weather to enjoy more of the city. The dock closed before we could return.

Approaching downtown Savannah. Historic waterfront at left, Talmadge Bridge center, Westin Resort at right.

I wanted to dock port-side-to in the event we wanted to lower a scooter, and so we weighed anchor to have the flood upriver but arrive just at the start of the ebb. The tide tables turned out to be off by a half hour or so, and even though we left fifteen minutes early to have some leeway, we ended up pushing against a bit of current most of the way. Before weighing, I checked the web cam to make sure there was room for us on the dock; the only boat I saw was a sailing cat that had been there every time I checked over the previous three days.

It was a pleasant cruise upriver in any event, if a bit slower than planned, and we were tied up at the city dock (map) just a bit after lunch time, just downriver of the aforementioned catamaran. We found the power working but the water disconnected, so we were glad we had filled up at Thunderbolt. I'm not sure what repairs were need to reopen the dock, as it looked more or less exactly as we had left it seven years ago, right down to the signage. I called the number on the sign to check in, and got the voicemail of the same person we dealt with back then, who manages the city's parking.

Vector at the Savannah city docks, from the ferry across the river. Sailing cat Infinity in front of us, and then the enormous tour boat Georgia Queen, complete with fake paddlewheel.

The outgoing message said the offices were closed, they were not charging for the dock, and they were not taking overnight dockage. Hmm. I marched over to the catamaran that had already been there a few days and asked if they knew what the deal was. It was a foreign boat and their English was broken, but they related they had reached someone at the office and had been given permission to stay a few days. I called the parking manager back, left a detailed voice message about the boat and our intentions, and left it at that, figuring I'd hear back at some point with how long we could or could not stay.

Without a clear answer on how long we could stay, I put the e-bike on the ground right away and rode down to the nearest hydraulic shop for some flare caps and plugs to cap off the stabilizer and keep it from leaking any further, no matter how long it would take for the repair or where we might have to move to do it. I also swung by the grocery store to stock up on some essentials while it was convenient. I capped the hydraulic lines before dinner.

The counter at every hose and hydraulic shop everywhere. This one is Savannah Driveline & Hydraulics.

As it turned out, no one ever called me back and we spent a full six nights at the dock. City employees including police officers merely waved at us as they passed by. The docks are basically off the radar at the moment. In normal times, they charge $1.50 per foot, an amount we'd be happy to pay here. We certainly spent more than that each day in town.

The Rousakis Riverfront Plaza, of which these docks are a component, was more or less as we left it, only busier, pandemic notwithstanding. With the weather pleasant the plaza filled with tourists and other visitors daily, and on the weekend, the dock filled up with small boats on day visits. We were, once again, the backdrop for many vacation photos.

The Georgia Queen passes Vector on her way back to her berth.

It was a wonderful place to be, right in the thick of things, other than for the busker who arrived nightly with his trumpet, pointing it at tourists passing by and playing the first few bars of whatever theme song he thought appropriate -- or insulting. We were quite tired of it after about the first hour. Even though the weather was perfect to have all the windows open, we ended up closing up the boat and running the A/C most evenings until he quit.

Since our last visit, the waterfront has expanded upriver, to encompass the old powerplant, complete with smokestacks, which has been redeveloped into a mixed-use complex comprising residential, retail, dining, and a J.W. Marriott hotel. Much of the riverfront dining, known as the "Plant Riverside District,"  is best described as "high end food court" -- small to medium kiosks with limited menus and patio tables. We ate at two slightly larger venues, Graffito pizza, and Savannah Tequila Company.

For some reason I was expecting this one to end up sideways, blocking the river.

We also ate at some of our previous choices, such as Corleone's, Moon River Brewing, and Tubby's, and we also tried out the rooftop at The Grove. We are still sticking with outside dining, especially in popular tourist areas. In Georgia, fewer than one in three has been vaccinated, and many people, it seems, failed to notice, or are willfully ignoring, the part of the CDC guidance that said those vaccinated no longer need to mask.

When I wasn't working or running errands, I tried to get off the boat and do a little exploring. The downtown riverfront area feels to me like it has expanded and become more vibrant in the last few years, with several new hotels and trendy eateries. I took the free ferry across the river to revisit the Westin as a dining option (nothing outdoors, unfortunately) and check out the convention center. On my visit the home show was running, and it was so empty, in such a lofty space, that I decided to swing through. It took me just four minutes to see the whole show.

Vector as seen from the Westin, about to be eclipsed by the Maersk Sembawang. In addition to being enormous, this Maersk puts our rust issues in perspective.

I was hoping to get some Amazon deliveries, but all the nearby lockers turned out to be behind locked doors at SCAD, the Savannah College of Art and Design. Not worth putting a scooter down; we once again opted to leave them on deck, not only because I could get most of what I needed on the e-bike, but also because we were waiting on an official answer about the dock that never came.

Tuesday afternoon the stabilizer parts arrived, and John very generously dropped them off before bringing pizza home to his wife, who is neck deep in an interior design project right now, her day job. She could not break free long enough to catch up with us, but John himself returned downtown last night to join us for dinner.

I passed police HQ on my way about town, where they have a '53 Chevy police cruiser parked with the "which ride do you want to buy?" car.

As soon as I had the parts in hand I started in on the stabilizer replacement. Tuesday night I got as far as loosening all the bolts, ensuring the torque pin would come free, and removing the position sensor, but I got stopped cold at a step where I was supposed to loosen the rod-end jam nut, recommended to be done before removing the entire assembly. I left a message with Stabilized Marine for advice.

Yesterday I resumed work after coffee, having been advised to remove the actuator first so I could get bigger tools onto the rod end. That was the correct strategy; I was able to chuck the rod end into my heavy adjustable steelworker's spud wrench, and whack the other wrench on the jam nut with a mallet. The rest of the project went smoothly, although I did manage to whack my finger with that same mallet while driving the trunnion bushings in. Right out of the cartoons.

Stabilizer, mid-project, with the cover plate removed.

I had the work done mid-afternoon, and did a functional test at the dock. The current is so swift there, that as I rotated the fin up and down to test and work the bubbles out, the boat rolled quite a bit, to the extent that Louise came downstairs to find out what I was doing to make the boat roll. I finished in enough time to run some final errands before meeting John for dinner.

This morning we dropped lines on the last of the ebb, so we would have a rising tide in the tricky parts of Field's Cut and Ramshorn Creek. That's had us pushing against the current most of the day (I had to stop typing before we turned off the river, and picked back up in Calibogue Sound). As I wrap up typing we are approaching Beaufort, SC, having opted to pass right by Hilton Head this time. The stabilizer has performed flawlessly with no leaks, although the outside weather was not conducive to running offshore for a real workout any time soon.

Vector at Rousakis Plaza dock, behind the Georgia Queen, as seen from the Hyatt.

Update: We are anchored in the Beaufort River, across from Spanish Point and just downriver of the city of Beaufort, South Carolina (map). We had a nice dinner aboard, and in the morning we will continue north toward Charleston. Right now our friends Martin, Steph, Bob, and Dori are all there, and while we are not specifically trying to catch up to them, if the passage weather continues as it has been, we will likely do just that in a couple of days. We had a very nice time in Savannah, but it feels good to again be on the move.


  1. Looks like I'm the lucky one to be your first comment. Sorry for your troubles with the stabilizer, but sounds like you're back on track. We've enjoyed several nice days walking the Riverfront there in Savannah, always a good time. Years ago we sailed into several of the places you mentioned. Our little sailboat looked like a dingy compared to the yachts we saw; but we were only day sailing. Hilton Head is one of favorite places to go, so sorry to hear you passed by this time. We always walk the Harbour in Harbour Town to look at the boats. Generally we stay there in Harbour Town at Heritage Club, a Marriott Timeshare. They have free golf which hubby loves. Enjoy your travels, stay safe. Swing by for a visit.

    1. Sorry for the delay; I am way behind on comments. We do enjoy Hilton Head, but we spent a full month there early on, and feel we've seen it. The docks are very expensive, and there are not a lot of good options for getting ashore from anchor. We're hoping to stop again when the pandemic is not dictating so much of our behavior.


Share your comments on this post! We currently allow anyone to comment without registering. If you choose to use the "anonymous" option, please add your name or nickname to the bottom of your comment, within the main comment box. Getting feedback signed simply "anonymous" is kind of like having strangers shout things at us on the street: a bit disconcerting. Thanks!