Monthly Archives: March 2015

Adios Harbour Cay and Marathon

Key Biscayne, FL
Position: 25 41.623N, 080 11.063W
Posted by Bill

The last week has been a mad dash to get fully ready to push off at the first available weather window, we were working till late the night before we left, and we were as ready as we were going to be. Included in the preparation buying and filling jerry cans of diesel, gas and water. Most cruisers tie them to the side rail with a support board installed, but we hadn’t done that yet. I made a trip to Home Depot via clown bike (one of many), and delivered an 8 foot 1×6 to the boat.
With solar and jerry cans, we look like an official cruising boat. Tricia, with some of my help and help from our friend Cat, got 2 coats of Sikkens Natural cetol on the cap rail…looks great!
Lot’s more left to do at some point. It is a lot of work.

We left Harbour Cay Club at 7:30, bound for Angelfish Creek, which is just north of Key Largo.
IMG_3803 IB leaving Harbour Cay
It has a really shallow entrance on the ocean side but we figured we could time the tide and make it in. From there we planned to transit to Bimini in the Bahamas. We had a great send off from the folks at Harbour Cay. Great bunch of people and we made many new friends. It was really hard to leave. The wind was forecasted to be strong in the morning but die down in the afternoon, so we decided to take the “inside route” (the ICW in Florida Bay) for the first 3 hours, as it offered better protection from the southeast wind. Then we would use the Channel Five Bridge to exit to the ocean side the rest of the way, because the “inside route” was too shallow for us. It was low tide and we dragged the bottom through the sand for a bit at the Rachel Bank, ICW mile marker 1190. Other than that, we had a good passage to the Channel Five Bridge. When we got on the ocean side we got the brunt of the wind and had 3-5 foot waves at a 3-4 second period…not fun! We were getting our asses kicked. I almost opted to turn around and anchor inside Florida Bay and conjure up a plan B, but we pressed on and the seas quieted down 3 hours later when we got to Key Largo. We got nervous about going in to Angelfish Creek as it was half tide and falling, and there is a rock ledge at the ocean side of the inlet that is only 5 feet deep at low tide, so I called Tow Boat US to ask for local knowledge. The guy told me to absolutely not transit at this tide level…great…nothing left to do but push on to Miami, but that would mean entering Biscayne Channel and anchoring at night, which is less than desirable.

I followed on the chart plotter using the track we did coming out of Biscayne Channel to go to Marathon, and we made it into Biscayne Bay without a hitch, and turned north to anchor near No Name Harbor. I thought I made it around the shoal area near the anchorage and turned too soon, landing us on a sand bar. Tried as I could, I could not get off the bar, so we called Tow Boat US (whom we have towing insurance with) and they came and pulled us off. This was the first time we have had to be towed. We anchored among large pleasure craft around 10:30 PM, several that blasted load music and partied until 5 AM. We traveled 96 miles and it was a long, long day!

The good news is, we are now only 5 miles away from the friends we wanted to travel with going over to Bimini, Bahamas. They will go right by us to head out in the morning and we can join the group.

Adding solar power

Marathon FL
Posted by Bill

We debated back and forth about adding solar to our boat. We have a Honda 2000i companion generator that we use to charge our battery bank when we aren’t tied to a dock and shore power, but with our current battery bank, we need to charge at least once a day and can’t leave the boat for longer than one day. There is much debate as to the economics for solar, but after dealing with battery issues for 5 months, anything that keeps the batteries happy is worth consideration. We opted with flex panels rated at 135 watts. We purchased 3 panels, which generate 8-10 amps per hour each at optimum condition, and normally will give us a total of around 120 amp hours per day. This is close to what we use each day, so at best, we will only have to charge the batteries a few times per week when we are not attached to shore power. We got the one panel in stock and backordered the other 2.

We worked with a company called SALT – Solar, Air and Land Technologies, here in Marathon. They have a great reputation in the cruising community, and one of the owners keeps his boat here in Harbour Cay Club where we are staying. Double bonus. We looked at fixed panel solutions and flex panel solutions, both using Sun Power cells. Sun Power has a 23% efficiency rating and will work at better angles to the sun than most other panels which have an average 18% efficiency rating. They cost more but the price per kilowatt hour per square inch of panel is better than anything else out there. The fixed frame panels were going to require major modification of our bimini frame with substantial cost involved just to mount them. Flex panels can be mounted directly to the canvas bimini cover and can be bent to a moderate curve radius. We chose to sew industrial grade Velcro to the bimini with a wrap around flap to velcro to the top of the panel. The panel is attached with velcro to the top and bottom of the panel. In addition, we installed grommets to the corners of the panel and anchored them to the bimini, if for some reason the velcro doesn’t hold (overkill in retrospect). Here are pictures of the process…..

First Tricia sewed strips of canvas for the base velcro and velcro flaps:
At each corner, she sewed a tab where shock cord can be run through to anchor the panel to the canvas:
This is how it looks installed on the bimini frame:
Here is the back of the panel:
And the final installation:
There is a Morningstar Tristar 30 MPPT controller that controls the charge power to the batteries. This is the remote meter that shows how much amperage is being generated:

The total cost of the system is around $2,600. I’ll report later on how much power we are seeing on average. If you want more information or detail, just leave a comment or email me.

More manatee visits, and a new weather window

Marathon FL
Posted by Bill

We have been here around 7 weeks and we have gotten very comfortable. The Keys are very laid back and we can ride our bikes or walk to anything we really need, avoiding any interaction with “the Real World”. Let me tell you…it is very hard to motivate ourselves to get moving. We have tried several times to leave to get to the Bahamas, but the weather has closed the window to make the move each time. The latest weather forecast shows this up coming weekend as a possible weather window to move back up to Miami, and several days later a window is open to cross to the Bahamas. We have figured that as long as we can make the Bahamas by the first of April, it is worth the effort to cross over. The plan includes a jump from just south of Miami (Biscayne Bay) to Bimini in the Bahamas, a little over 40 nautical miles, and easily doable in daylight. We need to get to landfall in Bimini by afternoon to navigate the reefs and channel entrance. We need a 2 day window to get to Key Biscayne, so we will jump there at first opportunity and wait for a window to cross to Bimini. The later in the season, the better the weather for making passage. This year has been a strange year by all accounts, with high winds and north winds for extended periods of time. To cross to Bimini we want winds under 15 knots, and no northern component of wind direction. Winds with any northern component will oppose the Gulf Stream and the 2-3 knot current that moves north, and will create a very nasty sea state that we don’t want to deal with. So we wait…..

In the mean time we work on the boat, and enjoy the paradise that Marathon and the Keys have to offer. After provisioning (buying everything we need to sustain life aboard for several months in the Bahamas), the boat was loaded with all kinds of crap and very disorganized. Thanks to Tricia, she figured out where to put everything in an organized fashion, and the boat is looking like a home again.

We also had another manatee visit today. This one was a small one and had a large chunk of its tail missing. It is so sad to see these animals damaged. They are very tame and love to come and get a drink of fresh water (even though it is illegal to give it to them. This one was pretty persistent about getting a drink and hung around for around 20 minutes. This is the 2nd visit in a week from a manatee.

While waiting, we have been working on stowing all provisions, getting the teak ready to paint, putting in the solar system (part of which we paid for and part of which we did ourselves), and generally getting ready to make passage again. This afternoon, we took a little break and went to The Sunset Grill for some happy hour food and rum. It was a great break and a beautiful view as always….

I have also been spending a few hours each morning to work on our taxes…not a fun task at all, however, I have never had this view as I have done the taxes, so I won’t complain!

Happy birthday Bradley, and another window slammed shut

Marathon FL
Posted by Bill

Happy birthday to our eldest grandson, Bradley! We wish we could be there to celebrate with you. Glad we got to FaceTime at least. We can’t wait to see you all in May.

The solar installation guy, Dave, came today and we got the system wired up. We got the first of 3 panels delivered and hooked it up late in the day, and viola…turned dwindling sunlight into electricity. When we aimed the panel at the sun directly, we were getting 7 to 8 amps, and 1 to 2 amps when it was laying flat…and this was at 5:45 PM…very impressive. I’ll dedicate a post to the installation with pics so other boaters can see in more detail. The other 2 panels are on back order so it will be a few weeks before they arrive. Tricia is going to sew the bimini with velcro flaps to hold the panels down.

Once again, the window we had to make the trip to Key Biscayne and then cross to the Bahamas has been slammed shut. If we had been ready to go, we might have been able to get to Key Biscayne, but the winds pick up to 20 to 30 knots early next week, and why would we subject ourselves to that ass kicking when we can stay here in Marathon! Not to piss anyone off up north, but the weather here has been incredible the last week and a half. Wind out of the east, highs in the low 80s, lows in the mid 70s, and clear skies. The last couple of days have been really hot, and I have been getting into the water to clean the underside of the boat to cool off. It is really hard to motivate ourselves to leave. We have a couple of trips to the grocery and Home Depot to finish provisioning and we give the car back to Shelly tomorrow, so we will get ready to go and leave when the weather allows a safe and comfortable passage.

Here is a sunset pic. We haven’t posted many since we got to Marathon because our at our marina, the sun sets behind land and the pictures have not been as good as we are used to. In a week, the sun will begin setting over the water again and we can step up the pictures (if we are still here).

Another trip back to “The Real World”

3/3/15 Marathon FL Posted by Bill On Sunday, our friend Shelley that lives in Key West came and picked us up, drove us back to Key West, and we spent an afternoon at the beach at Fort Zachary Taylor. It was a really nice beach and a wonderful day to chill out there. Then Shelley gave us her car for the week…wow, an amazing act of kindness! On Monday we were supposed to have a solar powered system installed to keep our batteries charged and to reduce battery consumption during the day. As it turned out, the installer had a different sense of reality than the person who put the quote together, and we had to regroup. We went with a different type of panel (more to come later on that) and agreed to try again on Wednesday. We also noticed that a weather window was opening to make the crossing to the Bahamas over the coming weekend, so we started to get our act together and see if we could make the window. To make the window we needed to get the solar installed, put some diesel fuel in the big boat, buy some gas for the dinghy and generator, buy (provision) enough food and liquor to sustain us for 2-3 months, fill the water tanks, clean the bottom of the boat, return the car to Shelly, and get everything ready for passage. When you have sat in one place for 6 weeks like we have, it is hard to get momentum to achieve such a goal, but we had the car and it provided us a perfect opportunity. Today, we set out early in the morning for Miami, venturing into what we call the “Real World”. This is only the second time since we started cruising that we went into the “Real World”, and the first time was a shocker. The second time was even worse…. We started by taking the batteries back to Walmart. If you recall from previous posts, our new batteries died in 4 months, and I have spent far too many hours trying to get our money back, setting the stage for the actual visit to a Walmart store. I was fully expecting to choke the life out of some poor innocent clerk when they told me that the batteries were fine. I also expected the charging and testing of said batteries to take 4-6 hours of my day. We walked in, took the batteries to the automotive section, told the clerk we wanted our money back and that we had talked to the store manager. She promptly hailed an assistant manager to approve the transaction, and we got a full refund…in less than 30 minutes…no testing, no charging, no choking. Awesome!!!! We then loaded up the cart with crap we needed to provision the boat, went to lunch, went to Costco, went to a liquor store, went to a dive shop, and then drove home. The “Real World” was full of traffic, crazy drivers, crazy people…most speaking no english, packed stores, and total stress. I was so glad to get back to the Keys and park the car…double martini pronto. We decided (for the second time) that we don’t like the “Real World” and don’t want to go back there. However, we did get most of our supplies and provisions, and at a better price than we can in the Keys. Thanks again Shelley…you really helped us out. On Monday, I got into the water and used a hookah rig that we borrowed from our friends Matt and Shirley on Sofia Jeanne. The hookah is a 50 foot long tube attached at one end to a scuba regulator (that you breathe with) and the other end attached to a compressor or scuba tank. It works just like scuba diving but you leave the air source on shore. It allowed me to stay under and clean the bottom of the boat. Now the rush is on to get all of the other work done so we can leave.