Left Southport heading northerly on the ICW heading to Topsail Beach. Didn’t make it. About 3 miles north of Wrightsville Beach, black clouds started to rapidly develop in the west and rapidly blooming easterly. I started to see lightening in the distance and the decision was made to backtrack to Wrightsville Beach. Though I hurried, I arrived back at the drawbridge about 1:05 pm and the bridge, as the bridge tender reminded, only opens on the hour so I settled in to hold the boat in place till 2pm. The monsoon arrived and the bridge tender took pity and radio’d that he’d raise the bridge. I was grateful but thoroughly soaked. Past the bridge at last, I tied up on the face dock of the marina immediately south of the bridge. Decent spot but not as nice as many previous stops. But the area marinas were pretty full so choice was limited.
So the day was limited to 32.5 nautical miles, the last 1/2 mile and 1/2 hour of which was in drenching rain. After the rain ended, we treated ourselves to dinner at the associated restaurant.
Across the river from our marina, on the face dock of a different marina, were two monster yachts. The largest was 154’ with 4 decks. I found it on the internet and it’s for sale for $11 million. The stern opened up over the transom as they wheeled their motorbikes aboard to take their place next to the jet skis and dinghy. That night it was all lit up as formally dressed guests partied.
The other yacht at its bow was approximately 120’ in length and it had two slide outs (like an RV) on the port side (couldn’t see the stbd side). One was at the waterline and was open. It extended out about 6’ and a dinghy was “parked” in it. The other was one level up, closer to the bow and remained closed so have no idea of its function.
Left Wrightsville Beach in the morning and headed north thinking maybe we’d make it to Beaufort NC. We soon passed a peninsula jutting into the ICW reached by a small isolated road and on the Point was built a very large PINK home. Reminded me of a place called the Pink Store where I ate at a year ago in Puerto Palomas in Mexico, south of Columbus NM.
As we would be passing Camp LeJeune we called to see if the ICW would be restricted due to USArmy firing exercises. The exercises were scheduled for that night so we were cleared to pass during the day. Near Camp LeJeune is the Onslow Beach swing bridge which, unlike the old girder swing bridges encountered before, is a modern new(ish) highway bridge built for all weight of traffic. It was impressive watching, from flybridge height, the bridge open.
A couple miles north of Camp LeJeune there was a significant reduction in rpms on the starboard engine. Scenarios that occurred to us included perhaps a stray line caught in the starboard prop. Shut down the stbd engine. An engine room inspection also showed red fluid from an unknown source in the bilge so we turned off the auto pumps so as to not pump it overboard. Shutdown the port engine and called BoatUS for a tow. We were towed to a marina in Cedar Point NC, between Swansboro and Morehead City/Emerald Isle (extreme south end of the traditional Outer Banks) ending the travel day at 43.5 nm.
The current at Cedar Point is very strong running 5-6 knots and the tow boat had difficulty changing over quickly enough from a stern tow to a side tow to bring us into the slip at Dudley Marina. As a result, the tide took both the Last Resort and the tow boat into the shoals and we grounded. It took the tow boat another 45 minutes to wiggle the Last Resort free. Arriving at the marina we found that there wasn’t sufficient depth (despite the marina saying there was when called on the radio) except at very high tide – twice per day. Nonetheless we were dropped at Dudley Marina’s outside face dock.
At the dock, no longer on the move and no longer up on the flybridge, the smell from the engine room was intense. Suspecting a transmission problem like a disconnected line somewhere, I called to get a diver and a mechanic to see if the problem was in the engine room or under the boat (reduced rpms). Meanwhile our eyes teared and our throats were sore from the fumes. The next morning an old time mechanic came and after some time and testing by starting the engine etc. the problem was found.
Each engine has two fuel filters of diminishing fineness to purify the diesel fuel before it reaches the engine from the fuel tank. There is a large filter (called a Racor) between the fuel tank and each engine and then a smaller, finer particle, spin on filter, about the size of a auto oil filter, on each engine. The port engine spin on filter had a 2”+ vertical split in it and was spewing diesel fuel, lots of it. The reduced fuel pressure caused the port engine to produce fewer rpms/power. Best guess is that the Cummins tech in Savannah used a wrench, rather than hand tighten, and crimping the metal shell caused the failure.
A new filter was purchased, spun on and the problem was solved. But the bilge in the boat still had all that diesel sloshing around and out gassing. So we borrowed the loaner car and went a bought a hand bilge pump and a couple of 5 gal buckets. Since the buckets needed to be moved along the length of the engine room and then lifted up and out of the lazarette and from there up and over the side of the boat to the dock and then carted to shore and up up a set of steps to the giant marina waste vat, we only filled the buckets half full. We pumped out and disposed of 40 gallons of diesel fuel. Then came a couple hours sopping up more with special diesel absorbing towels and disposing of those. That was followed by mixing up about 12 gallons of water with a gallon of Dawn dish soap (it chemically breaks down diesel rendering it safer and prevents it from floating with a sheen on the water. Topped all that off with a gallon layer of pine scented bilge cleaner to rid the boat of its truck stop smell. The Dawn and piney solution was left in the bilge for a couple of days to slosh around cleaning the area even more thoroughly and then that was hand pumped out and disposed of. Following that another sopping up by special absorbent towing. Dirty stinky job but clean engine room, no smell and far cheaper than some other possibilities.
The diver also came. He spent about 45 min under the boat and provided a 15 minute underwater video. There was a long line (not from a crab pot) around the starboard shaft and props which certainly would negatively impact the starboard engine effectiveness. The starboard prop also has a lot of nicks on the blade edges. The port prop was a different story. It took the bulk of the beating from the limestone at the Myakka lock on Lake Okeechobee (see blog post “Lake Okeechobee to Ft Pierce” some 600 miles ago). Though I really did not feel vibration etc while piloting on the bridge, the dings, broken out pieces and bends to the blades, certainly caused imbalances and strain. So I had the diver remove both props to be taken to a computerized prop shop to be fixed. The work could only be done at high tide due to shallow water at the slip so removal etc took two days. It was interesting to see all the tools used under water for removal – sledge hammers, large pipe wrenches, hydraulic press, and a prop removal tool which is attached to the prop and to the strut and using the hammers applies opposing force to remove the prop off the shaft. Once off, the prop is attached to a float bag which is then inflated from the scuba tanks to help lift the prop to the surface. Each prop, made of a nickel and bronze alloy (Nibral) is slightly larger than 30” in diameter and each weigh over 150 pounds. I’ve seen them twice before attached to the boat when the boat was hauled but, in place and in context, they don’t appear nearly as huge as laying on the dock.
Once removed, the diver took them to a prop shop in Morehead City to be repaired. We borrowed the loaner car a couple of days later to visit the prop shop. It was quite interesting. The specs of the boat make, model, from the mfr are entered into the computer as are the same for the engines. Boat mfr specs for wide open throttle rpms etc are also entered as are the prop types – # of blades and size – and the computer calculates the ideal prop – size, complex curvatures etc. Then the computer calculates by computerized measurement exactly the curves (pitch) etc of the current props on the table. The props are manually with a press and primarily hammers (no heat) re-fashioned to match the ideal computer model and in the port prop’s case new material welded in in the one blade. Actually the starboard prop was more out of spec in terms of pitch than the more severely injured port prop. Both props are set up to be identical (though reversed) and balanced. There are three variations of “perfection” with the least perfect match to the computer being for a work boat ant the best for a high performance boat. These are tuned to the mid range. Each prop takes a full day with extra time needed for welding.
Our waiting time was used for provisioning as well as for bilge cleaning described above. One afternoon a very interesting Navy, I presume, boat went by. It looked very little like a boat. About 100’ in length, of stealth design and powered, I’m told, by four 1650 hp diesels. Bet it can fly.
Other interesting sights was the approach of the cold front Tuesday evening accompanied by brief (2 minutes) of violent sideways rain. A calm and most pleasant Weds midnight provided a distant shot of a shrimper heading back into port.
So finally get the call the props are ready and the diver picks them up and in a couple of hours, at high tide, he gets them reinstalled and then cleans the boat bottom. Since next high tide comes at 2 am, departure will have to wait till mid afternoon the following day (per the underwater videos from the diver, the props are buried to the hub in the hard bottom at low tide with the keel resting on the bottom) so the first travel day will be short – to a marina with sufficient depth. Last Resort nominally has a 4’3” draft and as loaded with gear, fuel and water it probably draws closer to 5’.