Monthly Archives: February 2016

A safe voyage to Bimini

Bimini Sands Marina, South Bimini, Bahamas
Position: 25 42.602N, 079 17.947W
Posted by Bill

Finally a last minute window of weather…and we are up and moving at 6 AM. Once in the Atlantic Ocean, we took a 120 degree magnetic heading. You have to head south east to correct for the Gulf Stream current, which can be as high as 3.5 knots. We use an average of 2.5 knots to calculate the correction. The winds were as forecasted and mostly around 10 knots. The seas were really rough for the first couple of hours and very uncomfortable, mostly 3-4 footers every 4 seconds, and hitting us on the beam (side of the boat) which caused an uncomfortable roll. After the first few hours, the seas calmed enough to ease the boat motion and we put up a scrap of sail which also helped some. We held the 120 degree heading until we were about an hour from landfall and we didn’t have to back track south at all, and were in fact south of our target, so we rode the current for the last hour. Yay!! We pulled into Bimini Sands Marina on South Bimini around 2:45 in the afternoon, cleared customs at the airport after a short taxi ride, and went to the beach club restaurant here at Bimini Sands Resort for dinner.

This is a nice place, especially for Bahamian marina standards. They have really nice floating docks and the marina is well protected. The water around the docks looks like a fish aquarium, clear as one, and full of tropical fish.

The weather for the next week looks very settled (finally) so we will get our boats in order tomorrow and head out the next day for Nassau, then on to the Exuma island chain.

The internet connection here is so slow that I could not post pictures. I’ll get some posted when I find a better connection, or when our Bahamas phone has the cellular data activated.

Finally a window of weather to the Bahamas

Key Biscayne, FL, Outside No Name Harbor
Position: 25 40.371N, 080 09.930W
Posted by Bill

We left Tarpon Basin on the 26th and took a short hop up Florida Bay, anchoring off of a well known bar called Gilberts. It is on the road that runs from the mainland to Key Largo, and has a reputation for insane parties on the weekends. We took our dinghies in to take advantage of the rib dinner special. Gilberts has a great waterfront setup. A small beach and several large tiki huts, and tables all over, both outside and inside the tiki huts. We chowed the rib special (not very good ribs, but acceptable) and really enjoyed the drink specials for happy hour. As we departed to return to our boats, the wind had kicked up and we got pretty wet riding back. Here are some pictures.
The gang at Gilberts:
Our boat, Island Bound, at anchor off of Gilberts:

Then yesterday, we motor sailed up into Biscayne Bay, into Dinner Key marina and took a mooring ball. Dinner Key is in the town of Coconut Grove on the south side of Miami, and is a great place to go ashore. One of our favorite restaurants is there…Flannigans…and we enjoyed a great meal. Our buddy boats, Island Bound, followed by Sea Lyon, sailing up Biscayne Bay:
Miami skyline coming into view:

Today, the winds shifted and kicked up some nasty waves in our mooring field, so we decided to move across the bay to Key Biscayne and No Name Harbor to get some protection from the winds. This is also a popular place to stage to jump to the Bahamas, so we figured we would hang there and watch the weather for a few days. Any of the weather windows that looked good in the forecast seemed to fall apart, but the week ahead held promise. We went ashore in No Name Harbor and had dinner at the small restaurant there. The harbor was packed with boats and people, more than I have ever seen in there. The latest weather shows a good crossing to the Bahamas tomorrow, so we will plan on a departure at first light, checking again in the morning before we go. The plan is go head to Bimini, and if the weather is good, continue on to New Providence Island. If the weather is not good, we will stay in Bimini until it improves.

Picture of the mass of boats in No Name Harbor:

Chillin in Key Largo…anchor drag blues…toilet seat pass

Tarpon Basin, Key Largo FL
Posted by Bill

After arriving 2 days ago, we ventured into Key Largo by dinghy. There is a nice public dinghy dock, with trash drop off, and a short walk to stores, restaurants and bars. The first order of business for us was to get a new hose for the anchor wash down. We bought a new one in Beaufort SC in November, but when I plugged it in to the wash down system I found that there were dozens of holes (or cuts as it turned out) in the hose, resulting in a salt water shower that covered the entire boat! We really need the anchor wash down as it is used to hose off the anchor chain and anchor when we pull the anchor up. Otherwise, the crap on the chain goes into the anchor locker, eventually finding it’s way into the bilge and stinking up the boat. We hit a hardware store just across the street from the dinghy dock, bought the hose, and then proceeded to happy hour a couple of doors down at D-Hookers. Great wings, and stiff drinks!!!! Here is the gang:
Everyone came over to our boat for a nightcap when we returned, and we enjoyed a great evening at anchor until a short sprinkle chased everyone home.

The next day, after breakfast in the cockpit, we went ashore again and walked to several stores about a mile away, and then worked our way back as we checked out the bars we came across, hit happy hour at a couple of them, and beat it back to the boat to ride out an impending storm front. Around 9 PM it started and around 11 or so, the wind shifted. The winds picked up into the mid 20’s after midnight and I checked the anchor about every hour. When the wind shifts, the anchor will pull out of the sea bed and reset most of the time, but you have to keep an eye on it to make sure that it did set properly. We held fine until my 5 AM check, and I noticed that we had dragged about 500 feet toward shore. The anchor had reset, but it looked like I didn’t have enough chain out (scope) to take the winds we were getting. I started the engine and let out more chain, and we were sitting nice and tight in the sea bed. This is the first time we have dragged like that since we left the Great Lakes. Today we are planning to move up into the next basin, Blackwater Sound, and anchor next to a really great bar called Gilberts. It is very well known and regarded as a great place to eat and party.

As promised, here are some pictures from Toilet Seat Pass that we checked out a couple of days ago:

On the move again…another window slammed shut

Florida Keys, Tarpon Basin
Position 25 07.416N, 080 25.863W
Posted by Bill

Well, building up to yesterday, we saw a weather window to get to the Bahamas for this Wednesday and we left the grip of Harbour Cay Club yesterday morning. A bit of a false start though. We are traveling with Mark and Jan on Island Bound (same that we traveled with to the Bahamas last year), and Bob and Cat on Sea Lyon (friends we met a year ago at Harbour Cay Club. We all fired up our engines around 7:00, said our goodbyes to the many friends we have at Harbour Cay Club, and started to untie the dock lines. Then I noticed that the alternator light was on, meaning that the alternator was not charging the batteries. If you remember from previous blog posts, we have had intermittent issues with this system and I isolated it to the voltage regulator. It was behaving until we got ready to shove off. So, we told the other two boats to go on ahead and we would hopefully resolve the issue and catch up. We helped them with their lines, and after 20 minutes or so of troubleshooting, I decided to replace the regulator. Fortunately, we bought a spare, and after figuring out which wires went where, we started the engine up and had a working charge system! Yay! I did the rest of the install and we got off the dock just and hour and a half later than our friends.

Our original destination was an area called Tarpon Basin, about half way to Key Biscayne where we will cross to the Bahamas, but due to our delay we wouldn’t make it before dark. The others were good enough to take their time so we could catch up, and we opted to anchor on the Florida Bay side of Tavernier. Position 25 00.287N, 080 32.900W. It was a delightful anchorage, calm and quiet. DSC_0035

Next to where we anchored there is a cut called Toilet Seat Pass. People have taken decorated toilet seats and hung them on poles all along the sides of the cut…it was hilarious. Of course we had to check it out in the dinghy, and when I get time to download the pictures I will post them in another post.

Waking today, we saw that the weather window we thought we had, had slammed shut…too rough for our liking, so we decided to slowly work our way north through the Keys and Biscayne Bay until another opportunity presents itself. We made our way to Tarpon Basin and anchored just in time to escape a major squall. After the fronts move through we will launch the dinghy and find a Tiki Bar on shore!

It is nice to be on anchor again and moving. Our stay at Harbour Cay was really nice except for the crazy weather, but we like being on the move after sitting at dock for 2 1/2 months. Nothing like a beautiful protected anchorage to renew the soul!

Solar update: The panels are performing very well and it will save us from using the generator to charge the batteries every day as long as we get adequate sunlight!

Solar panel upgrade, and waiting for a window

Harbour Cay Club, Marathon, Florida Keys
Posted by Bill

I haven’t had much time to blog lately…too many things going on. We have started the watch routine for the big window, a window of good weather to cross to the Bahamas. We usually like to have at least 2 days of decent weather to cross the Gulf Stream. This winter has brought the worst weather in a long, long time to south Florida. Lots of north winds, strong winds, and rain. Typically, these come in short spurts and maybe once a week, but this year it has been almost constant except for the rain, which has been much more frequent than normal. Everyone here and in the Bahamas is pretty much weathered in. A couple of days ago we saw a window for next Tuesday so we have been working like crazy to get everything done that we need to get done to depart. The forecast has been changing drastically every day, and the window has opened, closed, opened again, closed again, and opened again. In the last day, the forecast for next week went from 45-50 knot winds to less than 10 knots…who knows! At any rate, we need to be ready to go, so we can take advantage of a possible window. Every day, we need to ride our bikes to the grocery store to haul back what we can carry to provision the boat, and we need to get our projects completed.

In the last week we knocked a few projects off the list. One of them was putting on new solar panels. Last year we ordered 3, 135 watt panels, 2 on back order, installing 1. The ability to get the other 2 fell through, so the company we bought them from took back the 1 panel and got us 4, 100 watt panels. We figured out the best way to sew them into the bimini canvas and Tricia did her magic. 2 of them had zippers sewed into the panel, so she had to devise a way to sew the other half of the zippers into the bimini, and the other 2 we decided to do velcro since it worked so well with the one we did last year. First, Tricia made pieces of backing canvas to sew the zippers and velcro on, which would then be sewed to the bimini.
At least we had a good work area in the lanai at Harbour Cay Club! The zippers took a couple of attempts to get the alignment just right, as it changed when the bimini was installed on the boat frame, but she nailed it! It was a very tedious job because there were a lot of zippers that were part of the bimini that were in the way, and it has a lot of material to wrestle with while sewing. After 3 days of work we installed the panels:

In the mean time, I set out to get the Honda generator running again. It would only run if the choke was fully open, so I knew it was not getting the proper amount of fuel. I overhauled the carb, finding the jets plugged:
I put it back together and it wasn’t any better. Next I tore open the end of the case to get at the fuel filter…no problems there…so I broke down the carb again, finding it was plugged again! The second overhaul solved the problem and it runs great again! It only took one bike ride to Home Depot to get some carb cleaner. It took the better part of a day, but I had this view while I was working:
Not so bad!

This week I also tested the macerator plumbing for leaks. The first check was opening the under water overboard discharge valve that leads to outside the boat, and I’ll be damned if the new diverter valve that I installed leaked like a sieve…not good! It was late in the day, and I just closed the overboard discharge valve, thinking it would stop leaking as soon as the water ran out of the hose. It leaked all night, meaning the overboard valve was leaking too! Really not good!! To fix the discharge valve we would need to haul the boat out. Asking our friend Mark to double check my logic, we decided to pull the hose off of it and put things back the way they were before the macerator work, and we discovered that the overboard valve did not seal completely, but it was a very small drip…something that could be contained if the diverter valve was fixed. We could then fix the overboard valve the next time we hauled the boat for a bottom paint job. I took the diverter valve apart and found that an O-ring was not seated properly and pinched, then spent the better part of a day riding around looking for a new one to no avail. The next day, I figured I could try to seat the existing O-ring properly, reassemble the valve, and try it again…no leak…yay! I let it sit for a day to make sure it didn’t leak and reinstalled the hoses, and today I will check out the rest of the plumbing.

We spent some time with Matt, Shirley, Kurt, Sharon, and the moms over the week; but Matt and Shirley left today to head back home. So sad! It was great getting together. We also had breakfast with our friends from Columbus, Dave and Cindi, and Cindi’s parents. Dave and Cindi are here for a week, then back to Arizona until the weather improves in Columbus. Now back to our rush to get ready to leave. As it looks now, we will be leaving next week.

Boat projects part deux and the big reunion

Harbour Cay Club, Marathon, Florida Keys
Posted by Bill

A few days ago we finally got a break in the weather and took a day off of boat work. We gathered with several other boats here and took our dinghys over to Boot Key Harbor (close to where we did the mangrove caves). We went all of the way out of Sisters Creek for a peek at the Atlantic Ocean, then back to several bars on the water for an old fashioned dinghy pub crawl. A good time was had by all!

Next project: Macerator pump. If you follow the blog or you are a boater, you know that normally when you use the heads (bathroom), the waste goes into a holding tank. At some point you need to pump it out, and most marinas in the US have pump out stations that suck out the waste and dispose of it legally and safely. When you are at sea, or in most areas of the Bahamas (or the Caribbean), you turn a couple of valves and pump the heads directly overboard. Several areas in the Bahamas have changed the laws and will not allow you to discharge overboard at port, however they don’t have a pump out system. If you are in the Bahamas any longer than 3 weeks or so, you don’t have enough capacity in the holding tank to get back to the states for a pump out. Most boats that travel the oceans have a pump out system on board that will pump the holding tank out and discharge overboard. This is called a macerator pump and it is used in open seas or areas outside of port where pumping overboard is allowed. We did not have one because our boat was a Great Lakes boat, and it is not legal to have a macerator. We learned that we needed one last year when we were in the Bahamas, so we put one in. The project involved taking off old hoses, putting in a new pump (with the electrical work), a bunch of new hoses, and several new valves. Working with hoses, especially old ones, really sucks bad…especially waste hoses. Needless to say, I was dreading this project quite a bit. Here is the holding area where we had to work…a before picture. Here I temporarily added a new valve (on the left) to start the planning process:
The thick black hose running down the middle was one that had to be removed. It was the original overboard discharge hose from the heads, and was over 20 years old. It was fused to the fittings. It took several hours to remove it, finally having to be cut off. It took every bit of strength from my arms and left horrible black and blue marks. That was a full day’s work. Prior to that effort, I spent a couple of days planning the install, then a day to wire the electric components for the pump. Then a couple of days to cut the other existing hose, add all of the hoses and valves, including re-engineering the install when we ran in to some unforeseen problems. But now we are done!!!!! Here is the after pics:
Sanitation hose is very stiff and difficult to work with, so we used a more expensive new hose called Raritan Saniflex that was very flexible. It really saved the day! Hats off to Raritan.

On Superbowl Sunday, Matt and Shirley from Sofia Jeanne drove down here to Marathon. They are staying at a house that Kurt and Sharon from Byrd Ketcher rented on Duck Key. Mark and Jan on Island Bound are here at Harbour Cay Club with us, and we all went to Duck Key for the Superbowl. It was a great reunion of all of us who traveled the Bahamas last year together. Everyone has become extremely great friends, and it was really fun to be back together again.
We got together again on my birthday, and will try to spend more time together before Matt and Shirley leave.

We only have a few more projects to get done before we are ready to cross to the Bahamas. Now we just need to get some favorable weather. People we know that have been in the Bahamas are getting their asses kicked over there, and we have had our share of rough weather here too. The next 10 days do not look good, but we will keep our fingers crossed.

Boat projects

Harbour Cay Club, Marathon FL
Posted by Bill

Except for a recent trip to see family in Bradenton Florida, we have been either dealing with the weather or working on the boat. Cruising boats are like houses in that there is pretty much constant maintenance work that needs to be done. Some of it is just daily minor things, or just plain cleaning, but there are also larger tasks and projects. The major differences seem to fall into these areas:
1. A house does not move (unless you’ve got serious problems). Many times stuff breaks while you are underway and it needs to be fixed to keep moving, or keep from sinking. Sometimes at anchor or even at a dock, the waves can bounce you around to the point that you can hardly work on something.
2. Most things that need working on in a boat are tucked away in a small locker, or are hidden behind a bulkhead or liner. You have to be nimble and sometimes a contortionist to work on something. Many times you cannot see what you are assembling or dis-assembling, and you are blindly feeling around as you work.
3. Most of the parts you will need can’t be purchased at a hardware store or a Home Depot. More times than not, there will not be a store within an hours drive that has what you need.
4. Replacement parts are three times more expensive than a home repair item.
5. As a cruiser, you usually don’t have a car, so you need to walk or ride a bike to get something from a store.
6. All of the tools and spare parts are stored somewhere in a locker, with everything else that you have stowed away. For most projects, just finding and getting all of the tools and parts out of storage takes at least an hour.
7. Weather makes more of an impact on when you can work on some things in a boat.

A great example of a project that requires good weather, wind and waves, is when you have to ascend the mast. Our friends Mark and Jan on Island Bound (great boat name…isn’t it) set out to repair their wind transducer recently. The transducer is at the top of the mast. Most crews that have to hoist someone up will sent the female up the mast (lighter and the guys have more muscle for the winch grinding).
Of course, you can’t have a good project unless you have some bystanders to supervise…lol…freinds Jeff, Bob and Tim:

Marathon is a good place to be when you have to do boat projects. Most marinas or anchorages are within walking distance to the West Marine store and Home Depot. There are also specialty service providers for any boat system (canvas, sail making, engine repair, plumbing, air conditioning, solar, wood working, pipe and metal work, electrical, etc…) within walking distance or a bike ride. We get most of our parts on the internet and have them shipped to our marina, but typical project will involve several trips to West Marine and Home Depot.

This season, the weather has been crazy. It is the dry season here in the Keys, but it rains about every 3 or 4 days this year. Also, the fronts that bring strong north winds have been rolling in about every 5 days, which is much more frequent than normal. They have also been stronger and last longer than normal. It has really impacted our ability to get our projects done in the month of January, and we are way behind schedule. This is normally where we prep the boat for our voyage to the Bahamas, and we have several things that are “must do” to make the trip.

The first project we tackled was putting a stern light on our dinghy davits. The davits hoist the dinghy up and down, and hold it in place when it is not being used. When raised, the dinghy obscures the factory installed stern light, which means boats behind us cannot see us at night…not good! So we ordered a bracket and the wire to put one on the davit cross bar. In the first attempt to install the new light we found that the mounting bracket came with the wrong diameter clamp. We had them send the correct one, waited another week for the weather to cooperate and then tried again.
I ran the wire down the davit arm and through the stern cap rail where the solar panel wire goes through the deck. This was the easy part, and I was glad to not have to make another hole in the deck.
Then I had to wire the light in. This involved emptying the cockpit locker. It holds a lot of stuff and takes 20 to 30 minutes to unload. It can’t be raining when you do this. Then I climb into the cockpit locker, locate the wire to the factory installed stern light, and locate the best spot in the wire to splice in the new light. This took the better part of 90 minutes, along with much contortionist efforts. Then I splice in the new light and re-tie all of the wire ties to make a secure installation….another 90 minutes to 2 hours. Then another 30 minutes to reload the locker.

Next, we tackled replacing one of our air conditioners. The boat has 2, one smaller than the other. The evaporator coil on the larger one started to disintegrate, and based on age and cost considerations, we decided to replace it. The factory that makes our brand is in Fort Myers Florida, so we picked it up on the way to Bradenton. It was virtually identical to the old unit which we hoped made an easy replacement. The old unit was installed behind the port side settee, taking up the better part of 2 storage areas.

The de-install involved draining the hoses, removing the wire ties that hold the wires and hoses down, and removing the electrical box (on the right in the first photo). Then disconnect the AC and thermostat wires from the electrical box. Then remove the screws holding down the air conditioner and pulling it out of the locker. It was heavier than shit and had rusted really bad (not quite sure why). Every stainless steel component in that locker had rusted, including wire tie screws and hose clamps. It made a huge mess:

Here is the new unit:

Tricia did a great job of getting the locker prepped and then we put in the new unit, attached the hoses, attached the electrical wires, and then turned it on. It started up and I realized I didn’t open the through hull valve to let the cooling water in, so we shut it down. After opening the valve and trying again, the unit wouldn’t start. I tried a few things to no avail and since it was happy hour time, and I was exhausted from a full day of working in the lockers, we quit for the day. Yesterday (the next day), I started by tracing the power. I de-installed the electrical box and found a loose AC wire. I got it back on, but the unit would not start. Now I do not like dealing with AC current. I am very comfortable working on DC systems, but not AC. I asked our friend Mark (who is very skilled with electrical stuff) to double check my wire connections and show me how to measure AC current with my meter…we had power to the box. We took the cover off of the box and found that a 30 amp fuse had blown. Mark had a spare (we did not), and after replacing it, the unit fired right up and generated cold air!! Yay! I tied all of the hoses and wires down and checked for water leaks…all good. The second day only took about 2 1/2 hours to get to a completed project.

With most projects, when you get one done, you find two more. When we were in Bradenton, a front with very high winds blew in, slipped one of the fenders on the boat, and slammed the side of the boat into the dock piling, resulting in this mess:
This one is beyond my skill level and we will have to get someone to repair it.