Ft Pierce to Cocoa, FL

Boating seems to be one big lesson. Was going to leave Memorial Day morning. Performed the morning engine room routine checking the fluid levels etc. Check. Unhooked from shore power and started the generator – want to keep the ac running, you know😎. Check. Started the stbd engine. Check. Started the port engine. Click. Wait, that was supposed to be a “Check”, not a “Click”. Engine wouldn’t start. Wouldn’t turn over. Nothing. Starter not engaging. For what reason, I don’t know, but waited an hour or so to try again. Still nothing. Mechanics aren’t going to be available on a holiday so nothing left to do but hook the shore power back up again etc.

By 1 or 2 pm, temp was rising into the 90’s and it sure would be nice to go to the pool. So I walked back to the fuel dock/harbor master to pay for another night, to get the pool key back and to ask for a mechanic recommendation. Explained to the dock hand why I was staying and why I was looking for a mechanic and he asked if I was sure the transmission was in neutral. Like a car, it won’t start while in gear. I hit myself upside my head. Have had electricians on board for the prior 3 days installing navigation equipment at both helms. What would be the odds that the shift lever might have been moved in the process?? It had been and when put in neutral, the engine fired right up. Something I knew but now experience has fortified the knowledge. That won’t happen again!

So after a good nights sleep, I left instead this morning. Since the holding tank was nearing full and the intention is to snchor out for the next few nights, I headed back to Ft Pierce City Marina for a pump-out and once done, back to the ICW north. Had a nice cruise on a very nice day. The breeze on the bridge greatly tempered the heat. Covered 64.9 nm (nearly 75 statute miles) averaging 9.67 mph.

We had fellow travelers a number of times today

Found another nice anchorage on the lee of the West Merritt Island Causeway just off of downtown Cocoa, FL. Probably a dozen boats at anchor. Made some great burgers for dinner, mmm.

Today’s route:


I was a bit concerned about leaving Roland Martin marina. We were tied up to a long face dock rather than in a slip.  The face dock was next to and parallel to the bank of a long narrow dead end canal. There’s room for 20-30 boats depending on boat lengths. It’s sort of like parallel parking next to a curb on a dead end street.  After I had docked another bigger wider boat was docked behind me. Though I can rotate my boat 360 degrees on a dime the canal was not wide enough to turn the boat meaning I’d have to back my way all the way out of the canal and having a big boat behind me meant more maneuvering in an even narrower space.

Lucky for me I’m a later riser than the other boater and it was gone before I needed to leave.  Backing the length of the canal to a point where I could turn around presented no problem and I was soon back though the Clewiston Lock and out into Lake O.  There are basically two routes between Clewiston on the southerly east side of the Lake and Port Mayaca on the southerly west side – maybe 35 miles as the crow flies.  There is the south rim route which follows the southerly shore.  It is a longer route but well within sight of the shore and a good segment within a ‘ditch’ much like the intracoastal.  However it is even shallower in spots and with the Lake level so low, it is too shallow for the Last Resort.

The other alternative is to go “straight” across the lake though “straight” is a misnomer.  There are many significant jogs and turns to avoid shallows, shoals and other obstructions.  The channel is actually quite narrow and shallow and often sand bars rose above water level just outside the channel.  If they didn’t raise their “head”, you could be sure they were still there next to the boat waiting to ground you.  Overall though, never saw less that 2.5’ feed of water under the keel/props. 

The electronics aboard the boat are old, some if not all probably nearly 20 years old.  There is quite a bit of screen burn which makes viewing difficult and I found the depth sounder to be fickle as to whether it worked at all and when it did, difficult to read.  That is complicated by the fact that I haven’t had my cataracts taken care of yet.  So staying in the channel by means other than relying on the depth finder was critical.  Both myself and my navigator have up to date charts on our iPads but while on the fly bridge the iPad glare is too much for me.  So while I ran the boat, my navigator kept an eagle eye on the IPad chart (AquaMaps Pro).  I would set a course on the auto pilot (I love it) and the channel turned my navigator seeing the boat progress on the iPad would tell me to go to port 5 degrees etc and I would just push the auto pilot button 5 times to accomplish it (a total of 6 buttons on the auto pilot 1) On; 2) Off; 3) To Port 1 degree; 4) To Port 10 degrees; 5) To Starboard 1 degree; and 6) to Stbd 10 degrees).  When auto pilot is engaged, the steering wheel is disengaged.

It was a beautiful day and a good crossing.  Came into the channel, marked with the red and green bouys, for the Port Mayaca Lock and requested a lock opening.  While waiting and still well within the marked channel, there was a THUMP, WHUMP, horrid noise and the stern of the boat bucked and the engines shut down.  The lockmaster comes on the radio and says “Captain, I forgot to tellyou that some of the limestone blocks have shifted into the channel right by you”.  I replied “I found them!!! ☹”  The lockmaster complained that they’ve been asking the COE to clear the rock or the USCG to re-mark the channel.  Not comforting to me.

The hull of the boat was above the rock but the lower part of the props were touching as they would go around.  The lockmaster described to me where good water was just to my stbd.  I could restart the engine and engage the transmission and as the next prop blade touched rock, the engine would shut down again (4 blades on a prop = 4 shut downs per full revolution), So by first running one engine one blade forward and the the other engine one blade backward and using the bow thruster to stbd, the boat crab walked itself back to good water.  Crew verified we were not taking on any water and all appeared well below decks.  Through the lock and tenderly run the boat to speed, then reverse.  With relief, all went well with no vibrations or hiccups and so we now entered the St Lucie Canal which connects the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) to Lake O.

Compared to the tightness and skinny water of Lake O, the St. Lucie Waterway was a breeze and very relaxing though for the most part quite desolate.  About 15 east down the SLWW we saw a house on our stbd side.  Not a very big or fancy place by any description but at a dock in front was a large old yacht.  What a surprise.  It was Kennedy yacht – the Honey Fitz.  Beautiful old boat but it must be an immense amount of work!

Another 15 miles or so came Stuart, FL where apparently the boaters are unable to either read or comprehend No Wake signs or practice courteous boating.  Just beyond the FL Tollroad, I-95, US 1, A1A and all the other bridges lay the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway but before that is the St Lucie Inlet.  The St Lucie Inlet to the Atlantic is a very treacherous inlet.  I remember it well from 40-45 years ago taking water over the boat going through the inlet.  The boat was only 22’ but it made sense to find a local fishing boat and follow it in or out of the inlet.  Just a tremendous amount of shoaling (Ft Pierce is so much safer).  The routing through the St Lucie inlet is best described as circuitous – where you need to go due south in order to go due north!

And finally, we were in the ICW – generally on the route which will be followed for the next thousand plus miles.  Running out of daylight, we abandoned the plan to get to Ft Pierce and a strange marina and instead anchored on the north (lee) side of the Jensen Beach Causeway bridge.  Have seen this anchorage for years between Jensen Beach and Nettles Island RV Resort.  We joined another 10 or so boats just offshore of popular Conchy Joe’s and Hoffman’s waterside restaurants.  It was a great place to anchor/sleep.

Morning found us leaving the anchorage and heading the final 20 miles north to Ft Pierce where I was going to have the new electronics, I had ordered 2 months before, installed.  I pulled into the Ft Pierce City Marina to fuel up and get a pump out. I wanted to fill up the tank so I am able to get a better sense of the accuracy of the fuel gauge and tank sight glass.  630 gallons later, I had a full tank (total capacity = 850 gal).  I’ll have to do the math later. It was just a short 1 mile hop from there to Pelican Yacht Club on the Ft Pierce channel and ‘home’ for the next week.  Rec’d a great sunset reward that evening!

Within an hour of docking, Island Marine Services of the Treasure Coast came aboard to look at the scope of their electronics install, cable routing etc.  It’s amazing all the panels that come of the walls and ceilings revealing cable paths forward, aft, up and down. 

This is how the lower, pilot house helm looked before

Lower helm within the “Hump”;  Lower left small grey square is the depth sounder display; upper left grey rectangle is the VHF radio. Upper right grey rectangle is the GPS, lower right small grey square is the autopilot display and middle large grey square is the chart plotter

New install

New “Hump” layout:  Black panel background, Mid left is the new VHF Radio, Mid right is the new auto pilot display and mid panel is the new 16” muli-function touch screen display incorporating charting, depth finderr, engine room and stern camera displays and much more

Buried out of sight is a new larger auto pilot pump, micro card readers, an AIS transponder and receiver (it receives identifying signals with exact location of all vessels that also have AIS – all commercial vessels must have it and many pleasure boats  well – and displays the vessel on the chart much like radar but clearer and transmits my signal to all other receivers.  Helps you “see”, for example, a tug and barge around the bend and out of sight and vice versa.  Similar upgrades were installed on the fly bridge. 

Our iPhones and iPads have apps that connect them to the entire system and can communicate commands to the system and receive all the info from the system.  For example, I can be in my stateroom at night and pull up on my phone or iPad the live images from the stern of the boat or from down in the engine room.  Not sure why one would want to do it, buy could sit in the salon and send an instant signal to the auto pilot to turn the boat.  It is easy to plot your route for the next day including all waypoints and course changes on your iPad and Bluetooth it to the plotter at the helm and the boat can execute the plan.  Need to keep awake though lest you make a mistake and plot your course over land.  Still have to watch for other boats, for low bridges etc 😊  Touch a location on the chart plotter and it will pull up the marinas available, whether or not they have fuel, phone number, prices etc.

Have been living with a broken air conditioner compressor for the pilot house.  The other three AC systems (salon, main stateroom and the two other staterooms) have been replaced in the last few years and the pilot house compressor which was original to the boat, finally failed several weeks ago.  Fortunately, was able to find a replacement unit in stock and an installer put it in the next day.  So the boat is under full air again!! 😊   After all the workman that have been in, out and around the boat in the past few weeks, it was filthy.  Had Stanley Steemer come Friday and clean the carpets and the boat got a good bath today.  It’s been a busy week in Ft Pierce with pool time only twice.

So how have I spent the past 2 1/2 months?

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).