Back to Very Familiar Territory

Again a pretty strong wind out of the East today so no running on the outside. At this point though the FL ICW isn’t too bad. There were probably 15 bridges today but only one required opening. The rest could be passed without waiting – just a brief slowdown as bridges are always “no wake’ zones. It was a nice sunny day with many sections of the ICW where I could just set the auto pilot and sit. There is less concentration of housing at this point but what there is is very nice to look at. Left before 9 am and ended at 4:30 pm including a half hour wait at the fuel dock for boats ahead of me. Took on 409 gallons of diesel. The Middle East oil war with Russia is paying dividends. Fuel was down to $2.15/gal. There was one fuel dock in Ft Lauderdale that was down to $1.89 for diesel but I didn’t want to make a separate special stop.

Have traveled 150 miles so far since leaving Marathon and just passed ICW S M 970 so there’s 970 more miles to Norfolk (S M 00). The intention is to go some distance north of Norfolk In the Chesapeake to find a location for marketing the boat this summer.

Jupiter lighthouse
Jensen Beach

On to Riviera Beach, FL

A relatively hard day. A definitely tiring day. Have I said before that boating is hard tiring work? Today was only 42 nm but it took nearly 7 hours. Didn’t do an actual count but had to pass under at least 20-25 bridges today and 1/2- 2/3 had less clearance than the 21.5’ I need. That means they need to lift for me. They are for the most part “timed” for a specific non specified speed. Some bridges open on the half hour and on the hour while others open on the 1/4 and 3/4 hours and there was one that open every twenty minutes and the lowest one, a 10’ clearance if I remember, opened on demand. But you have to call the bridge operator and request an opening or it may not happen. So the exercise is to check the charts for the next bridge for which you will need an opening, then calculate how far away it is from your current position, check the charts to see it’s opening schedule and then you can calculate what your average speed needs to be in order to arrive at bridge opening time.

Problem is you can’t count on boat traffic that might slow you down. The ICW is quite narrow and the channel can be even more narrow. A boat in fron of you out ‘for a Sunday drive’ with oncoming traffic may mean you can’t pass. You are stuck. Then there are the slow No Wake zones past marinas, slow manatee zones, bridges you can clear but the zone before and after is “idle speed”. For probably a half dozen openings I had a ‘pack’ of sailboats about mile behind and strung out another half mile. So I’d arrive ‘on time’ for an opening but the sailboats would be late and the bridge operator seeing 4 boats coming a mile away would decide to wait on opening till the first arrived. So now if the next bridge is 1/2 hour away, you’ve only got 25 minutes to get there. That would be fine if the next bridge operator was also a soft touch but odds are it is a bridge operator Mussolini trained. It is a real PITA to miss an opening and have to hold position in front of a bridge for a half hour. Likewise it’s a pain to hurry and arrive 10 minutes early and have to hold in place for 10 minutes. Best to have your between bridge plan calculated accurately and executed well. When trying to make time, it’s a little stressful as is holding your position in the wind and current. It nice now that the worst is behind as there are fewer bridge crossings from the mainland to the barrier islands as populations diminish.

This video is really slow but shows a fairly typical scene north of Ft Lauderdale
This private marina is on the south side of the ocean inlet in Riviera Beach. It is full. Note that the white hulled yacht at the end of the video is actually in the ICW and is rafted off an even bigger yacht that is at the dock.

Also note the marina I am in is immediately north of the same inlet and it is a municipal marina. None of these pictured yachts could squeeze into the municipal marina even with a shoehorn.
The private marina is so full that this poor fellow had to anchor out with all the sailboats that don’t want to pay marina fees. Guessing its slip fee in a marina would be about $1,000 per night plus electricity and water at a substantial rate.
Made the reservation by phone this morning and 10 minutes later this photo and message was texted to me showing the channel marker at the marina entrance and directions to my assigned slip. It’s nice since it tells me in advance that if I stern into the slip, the finger pier will be on the starboard side and therefore the primary tie will be a starboard tie. Their message also included an advisory that the ICW current runs thru the marina (no breakwalls). That gives me a chance before entering the confines of a strange marina to stand off at slow to no speed to see how the current will affect my docking. I think I remember two other marinas that had their act together like this. Marlin Bay and I think one in GA. Then there were marinas like Bill Bird in Miami that didn’t have even one staffer who could tell which side the finger piers were on or actually, in their case, tried to put a 15’ beam boat in a 14’ wide slip.
Step off the docks at Riviera Beach onto a nice shopping promenade. This picture was taken on the South in mid-December. Today, due to corona virus restrictions, it’s pretty much closed.
One of the things I like to watch are reflections. In Ft Lauderdale, in particular, there are many modern home with acres of plate glass windows facing the ICW. Here you can see the reflection of Last Resort passing by.

Key Largo to Fort Lauderdale

Made good progress today (61 nautical miles). Boat ran like a top (for those younger than me that means it ran fantastic). The breeze of yesterday stayed constant overnight and waves in the ocean were building so decided to continue running the inside route. Have not done this part of the route before. 6-7 miles into the run depths increased to the point of pretty much always having 3-4’ under the keel. By the time I got into Biscayne Bay depths generally increased to 6-12’ under the keel and crab pots disappeared. Was able to make good speed all the way to the Government Cut in S. Miami which is where I went offshore three months ago heading southbound.

It was a bit eerie. Passing thru Miami there are many places where you are close to the edges of the ditch (ICW) and there were virtually no people walking the waterfront sidewalks. Passing some of the waterfront hotels, saw some common areas such as pools, ‘barricaded’ with yellow tape. OTOH, passing other less ritzy appearing hotels, the pools and pool decks were jammed with kids- spring breakers who don’t have a sense of responsibility? Passing to the east of the Miami airport, I was struck with the lack of arriving/departing planes though there was plenty of such activity in Ft Lauderdale. Both the Port of Miami and Port Everglades (Ft Lauderdale), major cruise ports, were filled with floating petri dishes, a/k/a cruise ships. One item of possible concern were postings on various boating forums that I frequent of marinas that are closing down for both slips and fuel. Not a lot of them but hoping it’s not the beginning of a trend. Cruising on the boat is a pretty good example of social distancing. Some of those closing are governmental marinas like the Fort Pierce Municipal Marina. Presuming counties or cities are making decisions to close govt operated facilities (schools, city centers etc) and unable to differentiate, they close the marinas as well. Wait till they shut down their other modes of transportation (subways, planes, buses, barricaded roads and interstates) and see how that goes over.

Today’s scenes

Miami skyline comes into view on Biscayne Bay. To the right is the bridge to the Port of Miami followed behind by the MacArther Causeway (A1A) to ritzy Key Biscayne. Cruise ships stacked up are visible beyond the bridge.
Ultimate in social distancing
See all the people?

Islamorada to Key Largo

The mechanics arrived about 8:30am to go with us on a sea trial. Underway before 9am and out the long channel. Tide was going out and we touched bottom going over the bar. Sea trial was about 5 miles. Two clamps needed to be tightened and that was it. Tried a slightly different route back to the marina and with the additional falling tide, went aground. Since it was going to be another 4 hours before the tide bottomed out and then returned up to the current level before we might have floated off, I called BoatUS. I am a member and they are like AAA for boats. Provided my GPS position and within 15 minutes we saw their boat coming. Tied a line to each stern corner and in 5 minutes we were off the bar floating free. He radio’d how to get past the bar (outside the channel marker) and we headed back to Postcard to drop of the mechanics. Pulled in at their fuel dock and got a needed pump out as well. The boat runs like a top.

Left the marina again at 10:45 am. Started heading north and quickly started to call for reservations. There were no vacancies on the ocean side so we decided to go inside – in the ICW on the Gulf/Florida Straits side. We’re charting this change ‘on the run’ and when we charted to go inside by crossing at the Snake Creek Cut, the charts showed a max 3’9” depth. Last Resort draws 4’2” so we turned back south about 7 miles towards a different route to the inside. On the way, we called BoatUS, told them where we were, where we wanted to go and our draft. They told us to go to Snake Creek Cut and cross over that way. When we asked about the less than 4’ charted depth, they told us we’d actually find 6’ at that point. So we turned around again and headed to Snake Creek Cut, went under the Overseas Hwy and into the Gulf.

Going inside was not a favorite. Very shallow and lots and lots of crab and lobster pots. I would guess that probably half of the run was done with a foot or less water under our props. At one point I came too close to a pot (hard to dodge them) and cut the line with my prop. Big vibration at above 1000 rpms on the stbd side. But some miles later had to use reverse and unwound the line. No problem from then on.

Stopped for the night at Anchorage Marina at the base of the US1 bridge that leaves Key Largo and heads towards Homestead. Following are some pictures along the way:

Key Largo
Numerous channels through the mangroves
My crew got this shot. Followed from side to side for quite awhile. Speed about 12 mph.

Islamorada to, well, Islamorada

As my Scottish good friend Rabbie Burns would say “The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men, Gang aft agley”.

The approach to Postcard Inn Marina is a mile + long, idle speed, channel much of which is quite shallow. Alongside the channel, maybe 1-200’ away there were 50 or more speedboats, pontoons etc in the flats with people wading around. Obviously a real party gathering place. At times there was only a foot of water beneath my keel and a few places, less. At one point I felt the boat touch very lightly and very briefly.

This morning, Thurs 3/12, planned to leave around 9 am which would be mid tide and more depth. I was hoping for a long travel day to Miami. Pulled out of the slip and out into the channel. Once past the last channel marker I advanced the throttle and whoa… The port engine responded running up to 2000 rpms but the starboard engine would go above 1200 rpm with vibration above 1000. Discounted fuel as I have a single tank and the fuel filters have just been changed. Discounted trans problem as those filters have just been cleaned, new fluids put in and they were checked, as they are every travel day, and were full. No leaks detected on the new white absorbent pads beneath the engine and trans. The dripless shaft seals which had just been adjusted, were in fact dripless. Most obvious possibility was that I picked up some line/rope yesterday coming in or this morning going out and it wrapped around the starboard prop and shaft.

I turned around and idled back to the marina and pulled into the slip and called a diver. While waiting, I found that I needed to vacate the slip by 2pm as it was reserved for another boat. The diver arrived and told me that there was nothing wrapped around the props or shafts. Best case scenario was that the line had untangled and gotten free. Worst case was that though there were only some minimal nicks on the props, there was evidence of some sand abrasion at the edges so it’s possible that one of the 4 blades was knocked out of line (pitch). Since the props blades are tuned via computer with 1/1000 of an inch, such misalignment would not be visible to the naked eye, especially underwater.

The props, with each blade at a precise angle and cup, act as two big counter rotating port and starboard corkscrews. The cork is the water and the corkscrew propels itself through and pulls the boat with it. Each of the 4 blades per prop must follow precisely the path of its predecessor blade in order to work. As in the case of a drill, try drilling a straight and clean hole with a bit that is malformed and imagine that scenario moving 44,000 pounds through heavy solid water. It was time to do a sea trial and determine which of the two scenarios was correct. So out of the marina I went, down the channel to open ocean and found that the issue remained. So it was time to shut down the use of the starboard propulsion. (Even though I couldn’t feel vibration at 1000 rpm or less, doesn’t mean there wasn’t vibration below and the vibration was being absorbed by bearings and rubber. It’s just not worth loosing a shaft or other expensive parts just to use two engines.)

Knowing that Postcard Inn Marina was full, crew started contacting nearby marina in ever increasing distances. The closest found that had availability was 25 miles away. Then my phone rang. It was the owner of Props & Bottoms, which had dived the boat, asking if the problem had been solved. Advised him “no” and that the nearest marina with a vacancy was Gilberts. He didn’t want to have to dive Gilbert’s as the water was too dirty and had many crocodiles. He said he’d call me back. He found one marina but my draft was too deep for it. But, he said, he had gone to school in NC with the Postcard Inn dockmaster and that he’d talk to him.

Received a call back that Postcard Inn had an opening in the charter fleet section (not as nice) and if I would bring the boat to the fuel dock, they’d help me get into the single vacant charter slip. And so once again I turned around and on one engine limped back to port. Within an hour, the divers were back and pulled the props. I gave them a printout of what the prop specs should be and should hear tomorrow if indeed the starboard prop was a problem. If so, the props should be reinstalled on Saturday. Based though I what I saw of the props on the dock, I seriously doubt that the props were the problem. Whatever – Woohoo. Get to sleep in tomorrow.

First trip out this morning


Second (sea trial) trip out

Wow. Two trips in one day for a total of 10.9 nautical miles!

Friday morning I got a call from the tech at the prop shop. He was very surprised with the props. To paraphrase, ‘few boats have props with blades that thick. These props are ones you’d normally find on a tug. They aren’t going to bend with a small hit so he doubted the props were my problem. But they hadn’t been sand blasted yet and run on the computer so this was just a heads up that he thought I should look at other sources for the problem.

As busy as it is down here, not even finding an overnight slip within 25 miles, I figured some transient old fart like me calling around for mechanical help wasn’t going to get the time of day. So I enlisted the help of the dive shop owner who, based on charter fishermen’s greetings and comments, seemed to be well respected and I asked Him who I should contact. He gave me a couple names and a recommendation and then he offered to call the guy and ask him to take my call. He also had us drain some diesel fuel from the bottom of the starboard racor filter onto a white clean cloth.

Each engine has two fuel filters. The Racor (above) is the primary filter between the fuel tank and engine. It is a coarse filter (10 microns) which then passes the fuel to a second, finer (30 microns) spin on filter before the fuel is sent to the fuel injectors. The diesel fuel must be clean or it may clog the microscopic injector hole.

Though the red dyed diesel fuel looked good through the bottom glass (above), unscrewing the bolt at the bottom allowed some fuel to drain on the white towel and the red fuel had numerous eraser sized black spots that were a bit gritty. Undoubtedly one or more injectors (one injector for each cylinder) are fouled and though the computer would ship more fuel to the remaining cylinders it wouldn’t be enough to replace the power lost by the fouled cylinder(s).

Diesel fuel is literally food for microbes which live their lives in the fuel, multiply and die. The engines hadn’t run in over 2 months so there were probably many dead microbes settled to the bottom of the tank. Those were probably stirred up by the addition of 400 gal of fuel added Weds morning (I’m assuming that fuel was fresh) and then further stirred up by the rougher morning sea conditions. While running at speed Weds, these ‘carcasses’ were probably forced through the system but then clogged after the engines were shut down Weds night causing the problem Thurs morning. This hasn’t been proved yet but is my best guess based on what I saw.

The mechanic stopped by late Fri afternoon and confirmed it as his best guess as well. He will be back and all the filters will be changed and injectors checked and cleaned as needed (both engines). I will keep my spare set of filters on hand in case another change is needed while underway. Hope to be ready to go early next week. Hope the nice weather and calm seas hang around.

Meanwhile the prop tech has called and the props are done. Some very minor welds, a little tweak and a polishing – definitely NOT the problem. Divers should reinstall the props on Saturday.

Saturday evening. The prop shop and diver came mid afternoon and in about 1.5 hours the shiny polished props are now re installed under the boat. I’d sure hate to have to horse around 150# props down from the dock to the harbor bottom and then lift each up to the shaft, line it up so the key bar lines up in the shaft and prop channel and then install the 2 big nuts that hold it together. It is a precision install even when the boat is hauled on land to say nothing of underwater.

CJ, the mechanic called and confirmed that he’d arrive Monday morning and that he had all the requisite filters and equipment. Will be paying close attention in the event it might be needed to do the filter changes and re-priming while underway somewhere else.

Not a bad place to hang out while waiting. The marina is smallish – maybe two dozen slips for the charter fishing and dive boat fleet and 15 or so slips for pleasure boats. Hotel, pool, a really nice Italian restaurant, a large tiki bar, an elevated raw bar, lots of scattered out door seating areas with gas fire pits and a clothing boutique. Across the Overseas Hwy channel bridge within easy walking distance are two more large restaurants. Put in an order to Publix to supplement the groceries on board and for the more perishable fruit etc. plus another 5 cases on bottled water to be delivered via Instacart. That was Friday morning and the soonest it could be filled was Friday @10 pm or Saturday noon. Opted for the latter as 10 pm would be well past my bedtime😴😴😴

Sun is gone and the marina lights up.

Monday 3/16. The mechanics came this morning as promised. They are finding evidence of contaminated fuel pretty much throughout the stbd engine. Apparently the filters on the port engine did a better on. Not sure why. Crew walked a mile to West Marine this morning and bought all 8 of their Racor filters. I already have 2 spares and the mechanics will be installing 2 fresh ones from there supply so I’ll have enough for 5 filter changes once underway. The filters that came out were pretty black.

The injectors on the stbd engine needed attention as well. So they were pulled, taken to the shop, bathed twice and all cleaned up and tested for pressure and spray. All A-OK. They arrived back around 5pm and are being reinstalled.

One of the hindrances to me changing out the filters has been the engines losing their prime when changing filters. The last time they were changed it was by a Cummins authorized service center. After installing the new filters, they could not restart the engines.

Schematically, the fuel exits from near the bottom of the fuel tank and flows to the Racor filters which are located very near the floor of the engine room. From there, the fuel is taken by the fuel pump to a secondary filter on the engine and then all the way to the top of the engines where the fuel is injected into the cylinders and exploded. So the fuel flows from low to high and the elevation distance probably exceeds 4’. So the problem is when you open the Racor canister and remove the filter, the fuel in the lines, by gravity, flow down and the lines are filled with air or vacuum rather than diesel. When that happens, the engines won’t start and the system needs to be re-primed.

Fuel flows from the forward (red) wall (fuel tank) along the floor level to the Racor (blue) filters where it is then pumped to the injectors (yellow).

I don’t have a clue how to do that. What I’ve read is that there is a little finger pump somewhere which when you push, forces fuel up the lines to the fuel pump. The fuel pump takes over but the non-compressible air in the lines between the fuel pump and injector makes flow to the cylinders totally or nearly impossible. Engine won’t run. You need to slightly loosen an injector, crank the starter until the air is pushed out by fuel, retighten the injector and repeat individually for the remaining injectors till the engine starts. Repeat for second engine.

The mechanic has now installed a simple shutoff valve between the Racors and the fuel lines up to the engines. Want to change filters? Close the shutoff so the diesel won’t flow by gravity back down, open the canister, pull the old filter, install the new trying not to displace any fuel in the canister. After being sure the canister is still full, close the canister, open the shutoff valve and start the engines.

Mechanic is telling me that as I head north I should again change filters in St Augustine, then again in Savannah, maybe again in Myrtle Beach etc until it’s obvious with the white rag and clean filter that the fuel has been cleaned (it’s called polishing the fuel).

Far more fuel is pumped through the filters and into the engine than is needed and the excess fuel not needed for combustion is returned via another line back to the fuel tank. In this way, cycling fuel over and over through the series of filters, the fuel is polished/cleaned. You can also hire companies to come and run lines from your tank to their equipment and they will polish the fuel.

Eight pm Monday and the job is finished. The mechanic will be back in the morning and we’ll do a sea trial to make sure all is well. Then, after a pump out, I can resume heading out to points North. Hoping when I am able to get out, that the Coast Guard doesn’t close ports to pleasure boating!

Marathon to Islamorada

Left Marlin Bay this morning about 8:30am after a very enjoyable 70 days.

LONG FIRST LEG. Traveled about a 1/4 mile to Keys Fishery to fuel up. Keys Fishery is strictly a marina for crab and lobster boats plus an area for commercial charter boats (plus a so so restaurant, tiki bar and fish market with great Key Lime pies). Waited for a half hour or so for a crab boat to finish fueling and then took my turn. Took on an even 400 gal. Keys Fishery has the lowest diesel price in the Keys $2.46/gal plus 7.5% sales tax so that was good.

It was a nice cloudless day. Still breezy but down in the 15-20mph range. Seas were still running 4-5’ out of the East so it was a bit bumpy heading East. By noonish the wind was dying down and by 2pm the seas has laid down to a foot or so. Had intended to make Key Largo Pilot House Marina but on contacting them they advised against it with my draft. They were experiencing a negative tide and I’d probably ground in their channel. I stopped there in December and their channel is nearly a mile long with two blind turns (use your radio to announce yourself to oncoming traffic). While the channel is wide enough, barely, for boats passing each other it’s not wide enough for me to turn around should I not be able to make it. So instead I stopped short and pulled in at Postcard Inn Beach Resort and Marina, just east of the Whale Harbor Channel, Islamorada.