In August 2018 I started searching for a boat pretty much full time. After looking at a couple of dozen boats and traveling over 4-5000 miles; after making several offers; and after having a boat under contract only to have it fail on survey and sea trial, I found a great boat near Sarasota, FL. Under contract, it passed hull and engine surveys, lab fluid analysis and sea trial with flying colors. The sale was closed by the end of Feb 2019. Also that month the sale of my condo, my motor home and car closed. I was officially a water rat ready to embark on AMERICA’S GREAT LOOP!
America’s Great Loop, in my case, has a starting place near Sarasota and heading south to the cross state Via the Okeechobee Waterway; then northerly via the intracoastal waterways and the Atlantic to New York, thence westerly via the NYS canals to Canada and then south via Lk Michigan to Chicag, west along the Illinois River to the Mississippi and south to the Tennessee/Tombigbee Rivers and Mobile, AL. Then across the Gulf back to the beginning (known as ‘crossing one’s wake’. Total distance approx 6,000 miles with an estimated trip time of 1 year. Many side trips are available – the Chesapeake, Erie, Trent Severn canals, Maine, St Lawrence Seaway, Lk Superior, Nashville, Chattanooga, New Orleans, The Keys and the Bahamas, to name a few. How much or how little of this trip is to be done will be boat, weather and myself dependent.
The month of March was spent at Longboat Key Club Marina moving aboard, provisioning, learning boat systems and a 2 day training class aboard with two training captains. The boat is a 1999 McKinna 48 Pilothouse. It 54’ long overall and is powered by twin Cummins diesels-450hp each. Living quarters include a large salon and galley, 4 steps up to a pilothouse/lower helm. Seven steps down towards the bow are 3 staterooms, 2 heads with showers and tub and a washer/dryer area. Above the salon/pilothouse is the upper helm and flybridge. The boat also carries a center console RIB/25hp outboard lowered by a davit
April 1, 2019 was “D Day” and it started with uncertainty. It was quite windy such that I didn’t want to leave the safety of the dock but by late morning the wind laid deown and the Last Resort cast off southbound. Went thru my first, followed by more, drawbridge and that evening anchored at a quiet spot on the ICW – Don Pedro State Park off Venice, FL – 32.9 nautical miles (nm).
Tuesday April 2 voyage began @10am and ended @4pm (55.7 nm) east of Ft Myers just past the I75 overpass. We tucked into the west end of an oxbow on the north side of the Caloosahatchee River. The oxbow is a semi circle waterway off the main river with west/east entrances about 1.5 miles apart. This was a recommended anchorage (Waterway Guides) and was very nice. But about 5 am – pitch black – the anchor alarm went off indicating an anchor drag. Wind had picked up to 25 mph so another boat drill -hoist the anchor with the windlass, reposition the boat and reset the anchor with more chain out (anchor system = windlass, 60# anchor and 300’ of chain). From there the anchor held just fine.
Weds. April 3rd. Pulled anchor in the morning and returned to the main river and headed east. It was a cold and windy grey day and after a few miles decided to turn around, go back and spend another night at the anchorage. Went back past the east entrance until I recognized the west entrance which has been left behind less than an hour before. I recognized the Manatee Zone sign with a white crab pot bouy about 30’ away at the west entrance and passing that on the starboard I headed to the familiar anchorage. What I didn’t realize was that there was a midway, non navigable channel also with a Manatee sign and a white bouy and I was at the wrong channel. I went aground in mud and not realizing it and believing I knew where I was, I powered forward a bit more till the boat stopped and the stbd engine shut down.
The boat was more than stuck and a call to BoatUS, my towing service, resulted in their arrival in an hour. It took them 2 hours but they finally got Last Result free and started the tow to a nearby marine yard – Owl Creek Boat Works, a small yard with 3 large travel hoists and numerous boats hauled and being repaired. BoatUS Ins at $165/yr paid off as the tow was $2,200.
If you don’t need an explanation of the underside of a boat and how it might be affected by a grounding, skip this paragraph. Besides the two holes in the hull for the propeller shafts, mine has 4 more holes for seawater intake. One thru hull provides cooling water to the two engines, turbos and shaft seals. Another provides cooling seawater to the generator and two more provide seawater to cool the 4 air conditioners. Hoses from the thru hulls carry the water to big strainers to filter out weeds, dirt, crustaceans – stuff you don’t want in your engines, ac units etc. The prop shafts exit the hull thru tight metal holes and since the are quite tight, the rapidly turning shaft produces both friction heat ( a lot) and minimal water leakage. Newer technology, 20-30+ yrs, has produced various types of dripless shaft seals. Eliminating the drip eliminates some of the water cooling so the entire area where the shaft penetrates the hull is enclosed inside a bellows and cool water from each engine is piped via a hose to its corresponding side bellows which then cools the spinning shaft. Heated water from the shaft seals, from the engines and generator is expelled via the exhaust system with the ac units having their own above water line exit.
So back to Owl Creek. The boat was hauled and a work order signed to check the props, check the shafts (not bent), clean the strainers, blow out the hoses of mud and sand (so intake and exhaust water can freely flow) and check the impellers (little plastic fan like devices which help propel water thru the hoses. That took place on Thurs/Fri and the boat was cleared to leave Sat morning. About two hours after leaving and after clearing the first lock of the trip (about 150 more to go), the cell phone rang. It was the Owl Creek mgr who said they forgot to city the dripless shaft seal hoses and please go below deck and check. Did that and the boat was taking on lots of water. The stbd seal hose was plugged and as a result ripped in two and spraying water thru the bilge. The shaft running hot now had melted the bellows to the shaft till finally the engine strain ripped the bellows in half. Turned around back towards a little Corps of Engineers dock by the locks and took the boat there on one engine. Though closed, Owl Creek sent someone out to bail and pump 30-40 gal of water out and run a shore powered bilge pump aboard. Monday the marina again camp out and piloted their mistake back to the haul out. It took nearly a week to remove the welded on shaft seal and replace it. Fri took the boat out to sea trial it and make sure nothing leaked.
The new shaft seal was fine but the stbd eng developed an exterior head gasket leak and so that needed to be repaired. Another week. The last day for that, their electrician below decks was hooking powered back up when there was reverse polarity, several pops (the toaster oven arc’d itself into oblivion) and billows of smoke from the engine room followed by choking mechanic and electrician. The electrician first said it was a tool dropped on wires. (Over the next 10 days or so the reason/excuse shifted to a bad shore cord, maybe a city power surge, bad toaster oven, bad old original inverter – not so new inverter in 2016, bad general wiring etc. etc etc.) The marina started tearing things apart and I filed a claim with my Ins company. The Ins co hearing this tale of screwed up work ordered the work to stop while they hired a surveyor to check out the events, look at the old parts, determine competency of the marina to fix and satisfactorily repair everything. The other alternative would be to tow the boat across the state (@$8,000) and start over at another yard. That Ins investigation took another2 weeks
So here I am, Ins claim approved, boat fixed (2 ac’s still acting up), sea trialed and ready to leave again Sat morning but now it’s May 18 rather than the 1st week of April. I’m told that when boating one needs to be patient and flexible but….? Also learned the meaning of ‘boat bucks.’ B.O.A.T. = break out another thousand.🤑
6 weeks later – Saturday May 18th
Finally left Owl Creek this morning heading eastbound on the OWW. Five miles later passed through the Franklin Lock. Had been thru it twice before – once several Saturdays before when we got the check your bilge cause you might be sinking phone call and then back thru that Monday on the way back to Owl Creek for them to screw up the boat some more. Anyway we got thru this time for good and continued thru the Ortuna Lock (camped there two weeks in January to watch boats lock thru and learn) and the Moore Haven lock and finally the Clewiston lock. The Moore haven lock was a very short lift and the lock operator forgot to close the eastern lock door the last 18” and so created a significant current during a time we are supposed to have engines off – too much current by far to hand hold a 45000 pound boat by the lock lines. The Clewiston lock made up for it as there was no lift and it was just a straight pass thru
Staying at Roland Martin marina for the night. Added 100 gal of diesel. Didn’t want to fill up as Lake O is at a very low water level with some channel depths reported at 5.5’ to 6’. The boat draws 4.2 feet so don’t want to add unneeded weight to get across. It will be a slow crossing – shallow and narrow channel.
Looking forward to a better experience. Next stop will be Ft Pierce for about a week. Have a new suite of electronics there, since early April, awaiting installation. Then to get out of FL waters by month end to stay legal from the FL tax man (boat is owned by my Montana LLC which imposes no sales tax).