Sunday, October 19, 2014

Homeward bound

Oct 18th - Horn Island to Hollywood Casino Marina

When we woke this morning, the wind was still blowing 20+ mph out of the NW. This was supposed to have subsided overnight. It would end up blowing like this all day, even though the forecast was still 5-10 knots out of the west. There was a pretty good 2' chop running. The good thing is we would be heading directly into it, which is the best direction for Microship. With her high, flared bow and weight of all the anchor chain forward, she slices through the waves nicely.

As usual, we decided to get underway early and then have breakfast along the way. So it was anchor up and heading west by 0745. The ride was not bad at all, and breakfast of homemade Egg McMuffins was easily accomplished. A full tummy keeps the Admiral happy, and if she is happy, we are all happy!  ;)

About an hour after we got underway, there was a bit of excitement on the radio. Apparently a small 15' boat (Miller Time) was a few miles offshore and was taking on water. I was doing an engine room check and Paula heard a panicked voice come on the radio shouting "HELLO, HELLO, can anyone hear me?".  She just thought it was one of the goofballs constantly asking for a radio check, so she responded to him that she could hear him just fine. He then went on to shout "WE'RE SINKING!" to which Paula replied "Well, then, you need to call the Coast Guard!". She is so helpful. ;)

At that point the Coast Guard replied to the boater and started a conversation about where they were located, number of people on board, etc. They were in an area where the tankers wait for pilots to bring them in to the refinery in Pascagoula, MS. There were two pilot boats in the area, so one of them told the Coast Guard they would head over to Miller Time as soon as they finished getting the pilot on a tanker. They estimated an arrival of 5-10 minutes. Miller Time stated the water was almost over their battery so they may not have radio comms much longer. The CG said they were dispatching a boat, but it would be 30 minutes before it was on scene.

A few minutes later the pilot boat (Round Island) called the CG to say they had to boat in sight, and he was down at the stern quite a bit. Shortly after that they reported they had the boat in tow and would take them to shallower water on the lee side of Sand Island. Just in case they sank. The CG rescue boat agreed to meet them there and take over the tow. In the end, two CG boats arrived. One took the boat under tow, the other brought out a gas powered pump to keep the water at bay. Last we heard they were heading into Pascagoula.

I will never understand why someone would go offshore in a 15' boat. Especially on a very windy day, with 3-5' seas offshore.

So we continued west, and settled into our cruising routine. Hourly engine room checks, periodic transfer of fuel from main tanks to day tank, monitoring all the boat traffic on the radar, etc.

Yesterday, we had heard a houseboat call a Biloxi marina about getting a slip there. Now, as we neared the Biloxi Bay channel, we saw a 40' houseboat heading out. Now this houseboat is the type that is designed for the smooth water of lakes and rivers. Not the 2-3' chop we had in Mississippi Sound today. He was heading west, directly into the waves, and having a mighty struggle of it, too. The waves were breaking over that flat bow and spray was shooting all the way over the boat. I was thinking this guy was going to have a very miserable day of it.

After about 15-20 minutes, he started angling over in our direction. I thought he might be heading over to Ship Island to anchor and wait it out. But as he passed 1/4 mile behind us he altered course and fell in behind us. I watched over the next 30 minutes as he slowly closed the gap. I kept waiting for him to come around as he got closer. But once he got about 200' behind us he slowed and matched our speed. It was then I realized what he was doing. He was letting us break the waves and he was riding in the relatively smoother water behind us. He stayed there for the next three hours, until we neared Bay St Louis. He then called me on the radio and said thanks for the smoother ride, but he had to veer to the left to continue to follow the ICW to Slidell. He asked if there was any way to continue straight ahead, behind me, and get to Slidell. I responded no, he needed to stay on the ICW. I have to guess that he had no chart plotter on board. Or charts, for that matter. He said he had purchased the boat in Chattanooga three weeks ago, and had spent the last 19 days bringing her down the rivers to Mobile Bay, and now on to Oak Harbor Marina in Slidell. Sounds like a fun trip, except for days like today.

We said goodbye as he turned SW, and we turned NW to head towards Bay St. Louis. As we got closer I noticed the RR bridge was already open, and got my hopes up that we would be lucky today. I called the bridge tender to see if it would still be open when we arrived in 20 minutes and, of course, he was just closing it for a train. So I slowed down to idle and took my time getting there. 30 minutes later he swing the bridge open for us and we were in home waters.

We pulled into the marina right on time at 1400, and had the boat tied up and hooked to shore power by 1415. Now comes the laborious task of rinsing the salt water off the boat and dink, flushing outboard motor, and cleaning up everything. After a few hours of that, we were well aware that vacation was definitely over!  But also definitely worth it.

Early dinner, and off to bed by 2000. Then we'll be ready to get up and do it all over again! :D

Saturday, October 18, 2014

"The Bay" day!

Oct 17th - Ingram Bayou to Horn Island

I was up at 0500 this morning to check the weather forecast for Mobile Bay. It had not changed, and forecast calm winds and seas through early afternoon, then 5-10 knots after. I wanted to have the anchor up by 0700 so we could get to the bay by 0900.

I had to wait for first light to take Duke for his last dinghy ride to shore for this trip. I prefer to hoist the dink when crossing the bay. Just in case. As the sun came up I could see that we had dense fog. Pea soup fog. I could not even see the other boats here, or the shoreline. I pulled the dink up to the swim platform and Duke eagerly jumped in. Off to his favorite spot on shore and he wasted no time in taking care of business. Almost as though he knew we were waiting on him so we could leave, he did not play around or roll in the sand, but came straight back to the dink.

While I was getting Duke in our dink, I could hear the engines from the big Hatteras start up. He obviously wanted to get an early start, too. I could hear them leaving by the time Duke and I got back from the beach.

It was 0710 by the time I got the engines started. While waiting for them to warm up Paula and I hoisted the dink. The bottom was already covered in thousands of tiny barnacles! Wow, these things grow fast!

Thousands of tiny barnacles covered the entire bottom and lower motor.

By the time we got the dink hoisted and secured, and the anchor up, it was 0735 before we were heading out of Ingram Bayou. We turned west and headed for the bay. 

Since it was early, foggy, and a weekday, we were blessed with a very quiet morning. We saw only a small handful of boats about. An hour later, as we approached Lulu's restaurant, we saw the big Hatteras (name was Princess Grace) at the fuel dock there.  I can only imagine how much fuel he took on in an hours time. He pulled away from the fuel dock as soon we passed, and fell in behind us. He was initially about 1/4 mile behind us. I started tracking him on radar, and could see he was doing 8.9 knots, while we were only doing 6.5. He was going to catch up and pass us in no time. I hailed them and got an instant response. I requested that he let me know when he was ready to overtake me and I would slow to idle speed so he could come by without throwing a big wake. The captain replied that he was in no hurry, and would just hang behind us. That lasted all of about 5 minutes!

As I watched his radar target, he continued to gain on me, never slowing. He eased to port so he could get around me. I kept waiting for him to call to say he was ready for me to slow down, but he never did. I could that big wake rolling along just behind us. I called again on the radio, and in no uncertain terms (while mentioning the name of his boat), demanded that he pull back so as to not wake me. This time he apologized and throttled back, and I did the same. He eased by and I called to say thanks. He complimented us on Microship, then as his stern move past our bow, opened it back up again. 

By this time we were nearing Mobile Bay, and could see that this was going to be a fine day to cross. It was as calm as it gets, and we even lucked out to have the current give us a nice push all the way across, until just past Dauphin Island. 

Since it was such a beautiful day, we decided to push on to Horn Island. This would result in a 9-hour run, but it would mean only a 6-hour run to get home tomorrow. Since the wind was forecast to pick up out of the north Saturday night, I did not want to take any chances on that forecast getting moved up to earlier in the day.

As we cleared the west end of Dauphin Island, the wind started building. It was supposed to come up some, but in no time was blowing 20 mph out of the west. It started getting choppy as we passed north of Petit Bois Island. By the time we reached our desired anchorage, it was 1630 and we were more than ready to stop. 

The anchorage we chose only had marginal protection from a west wind, but it was the best the island had to offer. The wind really kicked up overnight and it got bouncy, but not uncomfortable. Called it a night by 2000 so we could get an early start tomorrow.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Oh, so blah!

Oct 16th - Big Sabine Point to Ingram Bayou

That word says it all. This was an extremely benign day, which is always a good thing when cruising on a boat.

The weather was nice, and we had a fairly short run of around 3 hours to get from Big Sabine to Ingram Bayou. Since it was a weekday, there was not much boat traffic at all. At least, not until we got in the Orange Beach area. We did pass a horde of trawlers, coming out of Big Lagoon in the Pensacola area and heading east. I figure they had all been holed up in Ingram Bayou for the last couple of days waiting for the wind to subside. It was like someone had opened the trawler floodgates!

As we came through Perdido Cut and motored along behind Ono Island, the boat traffic started picking up. There was a Mainship 40' trawler that blasted past us throwing a big wake. Most trawler owners are more courteous than that, as they know what it is like to get waked and have your stuff thrown all over the boat. I hailed  him on the radio so I could thank him, but got no reply, of course.

As we neared Ingram Bayou, and just past Bear Point Marina, the AIS alarm went off. No boats were in sight, so I checked the plotter screen. Sure enough, around the point up ahead where we could not him, was a target moving fast. AIS reported his boat name as "Gear Up", and he was doing 30 knots. I started hailing to request a slow pass, but got no answer. A few moments later he came around the point and we could see that it was a 50'+ sport fisherman, and he was throwing the monster wake of all time. At least, that is how it looked from our vantage point. I tried calling repeatedly but still no response. There was really no place for me to go, so I just started thinking about how I could minimize the effect of his wake. When he was no more than 200' away, he suddenly pulled back the throttles and slowed down. Not as much as he should, but at least enough to make his wake survivable. As they came by I saw the captain was a young guy, perhaps early 20's. Someone needs to teach that boy how to drive!  Of course, he did at least slow down some. Most of the older captains just blast past you.

Just a few minutes later we reached Ingram Bayou. As it was only 1300, we did not expect to find any boats here. We were surprised to see that there were already four boats here, one a very large Hatteras, probably around 65'. The big boat and a couple of sailboats were anchored around the mouth of the bayou, so we had to pick our way through them to get further back. Our favorite spot was already taken by a large sailboat, so we just split the difference between him and the others at the mouth. Still left a nice amount of space between us all.

So we settled in for a relaxing afternoon, and enjoyed the gorgeous weather. Forecast for tomorrow is calm wind and seas until the afternoon. So we'll get an early start and get across "The Bay" while the gettin' is good.

Sailboat in our usual anchoring location

Sunset at Ingram

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Reprovision day

Oct 15th - Spectre Island to Big Sabine Point

As much as we did not want to, it was time to start working our way back home. The wind was supposed to abate some today so it should be a calm ride. Our next anchorage at Big Sabine Point just east of Pensacola, and was only a short 3-hour ride away. We also wanted a few things from the grocery store, and there is a Winn Dixie in Navarre Beach right off the ICW. So we could stop there on the way.

The wind was out of the north this morning, which was a good thing. We could run west on the lee shore and stay in calm water.

We were lazy and got a late start around 0900. Since it was a short distance to our next stop there was no reason to get in a hurry. So we had time to make a real breakfast, one of our favorites, Egg McMuffins. Yum!

After breakfast we pulled in the anchor. This took a while, as it had really dug in after a couple of days of high winds. All that can be done is to pull in all the chain until it is vertical and wait for the anchor to work itself out of the bottom. It is one of the things that I love about our Supermax 20 Rigid anchor. It will dig itself half way to China and hold like nothing else. It has never failed to grab as soon as it we drop it, and has never dragged. The company that makes them is up for sale... I wish I had the $$$ to purchase it. These are one of the finest anchors ever made. They are butt ugly, but are definitely SWAN (sleep well at night) anchors.

As we headed east, the wind slowly clocked around to coming out of the west, and increased in velocity. By the time we reached the Navarre Bridge, where the Winn Dixie is located, it was blowing 25-30 mph again. A serious chop had developed and the boat was bouncing around pretty good. As we pulled out of the channel to anchor by the bridge it was apparent this was not going to be a fun stop. The current was going in the opposite direction of the wind, which caused two problems. First, it made the chop worse, much more steep sided waves. Second, the boat could not decide which way to lay, as the current was pulling it in one direction, and the wind was blowing the other. The end result was it swung back and forth between both extremes. We made the decision that someone had to stay with the boat. Plus, I usually wait on shore for Paula, but the wave action would make that impossible. There is an abandoned boat ramp here that we use to get ashore, but it is concrete. With the 2-3' waves it was going to bang the dinghy up pretty good if I had to wait there.

So, the plan was for me to run Paula ashore and drop her off, then return to the boat. She would call me when she was ready for me to pick her up. We have a small, collapsible shopping cart, with wheels, that she uses for these grocery runs. It makes it easier for her. The Winn Dixie is just across the street here, so about a 1-1/2 block walk.

As we were getting into the dinghy, Paula asked if I was going to bring Duke alone. I told her no, as I did not want to have to deal with getting back aboard Microship with the boats bouncing around like they were. So I held the dink at the swim platform for Paula to board, and before I could stop him, Duke followed her. Oh, well. He can keep me company on the ride in and back. So we headed in to the boat launch. It was a wet ride, but blessedly short. As we approached the ramp I could see that I was not going to be able to pull all the way ashore, as usual. It was just too rough. I was going to have to stop a few feet short to keep the dink from pounding on the concrete ramp. Once we got close, I hopped out to walk the boat to an appropriate landing point. The lower ramp is coated with green slime, and very slippery. I maneuvered the dink over to one side of the ramp, where there was some sand and broken concrete chunks. I helped Paula out of the dink and on to dry land, and handed her the shopping cart. The Duke and I headed back out to the boat.

Sitting in the dink, and looking at the back of Microship, it was obvious the getting Duke back aboard may be a problem. But I eased up to the swim platform to give it a try. Just as I got close, a gust of wind pushed me to the starboard side, so the bow of the dink was not lined up with the boarding gate on the stern. Duke hopped off the dink, anyway, onto the swim platform. But he was not sure what to do from there. I pulled back up and called him, and he hopped back into the dink for another try. The second time around was more successful, and I was able to approach in line with the boarding gate. As the dink bumped the swim platform, Duke was out like a flash and climbed the step up through the opening in the stern. Now, it was my turn. I won't say that I was any more graceful, but I did get aboard. :)

While on the way in to drop Paula off, I noticed there was a rental boat operation a short distance away. They were almost directly across the street from Winn Dixie. They had a nice sand beach, and a pier. I wondered if they would allow us to utilize either for me to pick up Paula. I called her and suggested she return via that route and ask them if I could pick her up there. As it turns out, they were happy to allow her to come down to their beach. The pier was still under construction.

Picking Paula up from the beach was much easier that fighting the concrete ramp. I was able to pull the boat up on the sand, load the groceries and get Paula aboard, then slide off and head back out. We had some fun getting the groceries from the dink to the big boat, but it all got done. Nothing dropped in the water!

I wasted no time in getting the engines started and the anchor up. I was ready to get the heck out of there. We have stopped there before, but never in these conditions. I think we won't repeat it if the weather is like this.

From Navarre it was only about 45 minutes to our anchorage for the night, Big Sabine Point. Since we would be arriving there around 1330 I hoped there would not already be any boats anchored. As we approached, I could see that was the case. So we could anchor in our favorite spot. But, as soon as I thought that, I saw a small sailboat heading towards the same area. But I had the lead, and was anchored a good 20 minutes before he came in. Of course, he anchored only about 75' away. Just the two of us, in huge anchorage, and he drops the hook just about on top of us. Within the hour another sailboat came in, but he anchored much further away, well on the other side of first sailboat. But, they were both quiet, and caused us no issues. It was a very peaceful night.

We thought about staying here an extra day, as it one of our favorite locations. But, the weather forecast for Friday is perfect for crossing Mobile Bay. So we are going to take advantage of that. That means moving to Ingram Bayou tomorrow night to stage for our crossing Friday. This is the closest anchorage to Mobile Bay, but is still 1.5 hours away.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Wind & Rain

Oct 13th-14th - Spectre Island

When we woke up Monday morning, the wind had increased considerably. My jury rigged shade tarp on the top deck was flapping terribly, and I thought it might blow away any moment. So the first task of the day was to get it rolled up and stowed. It got a bit exciting a couple of times, but I finally got the beast rolled up and tied down. Good thing, too, as not long after the wind climbed to 30+ MPH.

We had breakfast, then I went out to adjust the anchor chain. I wanted to let out enough for 10:1 scope so we would be secure in whatever the storm threw at us. I also extended the snubber lines out to 30' so we had plenty of line to act as shock absorbers, and take the load off the anchor roller and bow pulpit.

Not long after doing all this the wind alarm on the Davis weather station went off. The wind was gusting up to 42 MPH. Even in our protected anchorage we were getting some small waves. But with the boat all buttoned up it was hard to tell anything was going on outside. The boat is heavy enough that it just does not react to high winds very much.

The day remained overcast, with lots of dark scudding clouds. But none of the forecast rain. We just hung out doing our normal boat stuff; relax, read, internet, tinker with boat projects. Then I remembered that the Shelter-rite cover on the framework over the flying bridge had opened a seam a few days ago when we had some high winds. I decided it would be prudent to do something to prevent it getting worse. I have some tarp repair tape and thought I could use that to seal the seam. It requires that I climb up to the top. Since this seam was on the front edge there is no way to get a ladder there. I can no longer crawl across the top since I added all the solar panels last spring. This means I have to balance on the top rail of the windscreen and try to hold on with one hand while applying this super sticky tape with the other. I did manage to get a double wide strip along the entire seam, and just hope that will be enough. This top is over 20 years old and all the thread on the seams is dry rotted, and falling apart. I know it is time to replace it, I've just been putting it off. It will require that I remove everything; solar panels, radar, satellite dish, weather station, spotlights, antennas, etc. Quite the job. But, I don't think I can put it off much longer.

After all that prep, all we could do is hunker down and wait. The worst of the weather did not arrive until late that night, after we had gone to bed. We were awakened by all the lightning and thunder, as well as the pounding rain. Since we had to button up the boat for the bad weather, this is the first night we have had to run the generator so we could stay cool. I ended up shutting it down around 0300.

By Tuesday morning the worst was past. There were a few showers until around 0900, then the sun came out. The wind was still howling, and it was much cooler, but it was a beautiful day. I watched the sailboat with the kids head out around 1000, and wondered if that was a good idea. They made it a short distance out of the anchorage, then raised the jib all the way. This was crazy with the wind gusting to 40+.  There was an immediate problem. A strong gust knocked the boat over a good ways, and proceeded to blow the boat sideways across the channel. The channel is very narrow here and they were getting blown towards some private docks. The gust also ripped a huge hole in the sail. They let the lines on the sail go and it was flapping madly in the wind, with the lines cracking like a whip. He finally got his engine started and headed into the wind long enough to get the sail furled. Those poor children must have been scared to death. He motored on down towards Ft. Walton and then I lost sight of him.

I went up to check on my tape job, and found it had failed miserably. The seam had opened quite a bit more. We were contemplating heading west to Big Sabine Point later today. Since the wind was coming from the west, we were going to be heading directly into it. Combined with our forward speed we may see wind speeds up to 50 mph. I needed to get this seam repaired somehow. I ended up using some monofilament fishing line as thread and a corkscrew to punch the holes. It took a couple of hours balancing on that top rail, but the end result came out pretty good. It's not pretty, but it is functional. It will do for now.

While I was doing my seam repair I saw a couple of trawlers heading our way from the direction of Ft. Walton Beach. It turns out it was the two trawlers that passed us in Panama City, on the way to the Ft. Walton Yacht Club. I waved as they passed by, and decided if they could head west, so could we.

I finished my repair job and climbed back down. Much to Paula's relief!  We started getting things ready so we could get underway. We decided to have lunch before departing, turns out the delay was a good thing. We had noticed earlier that the Air Force commandos were out training. They had several of their black stealth RIB's buzzing around, and a bunch of guys swimming in the rough seas, dragging some stuff behind them. Once the guys got ashore all the RIBs started heading back to base... except one. It seemed to be heading towards us. As I watched it, I noticed the guy in back was trying to pull start the engine, with no success. The wind was blowing 30+ and the current was quite strong, too. So they were heading at us at a good clip. As they got close I walked out on the bow and asked if they would like me to tow them back to base. I really expected them to decline, and for all of them to jump in and swim back, while towing the RIB. But the senior guy glanced up at me with a look of gratitude, and said "that would really be appreciated".  I hopped into the dink and caught up with them. They were actually moving away at a pretty good clip between the wind and current... just in the wrong direction. They threw me a line and it ran it through the u-bolt on the stern. The plastic cleats on the dink won't stand up to towing. I started towing them upwind and up-current. This was not going to be a quick trip.

Ken "rescuing" the Air Force commandos!

Once I got around the island, it got really rough. I was taking a lot of spray over the bow and was getting yanked all over the place by the RIB I was towing. As we approached the ICW they called out that if I could just get them to the nearest dock on the base, they would be fine. That was okie dokey with me, because I was getting my butt kicked fighting the wind/current while pulling them. Once we got close to the dock a line of vans pulled up pulling trailers with RIBs. Apparently they had been looking for the missing crew and were happy to see they were okay. I pulled them within a few feet of the beach, until one could jump out and stand. I cast off the line and they all said thank you as I drove off. It was a rough and wet ride back to the boat, but I had a true sense of accomplishment. How often do you get to rescue commandos?

Once I had seen how rough it was outside our anchorage, we decided to wait one more day before departing. Tomorrow has to be better, doesn't it??

Changed plans

Oct 12th - Panama City to Spectre Island

We awoke this morning to pea soup fog. It was so thick I could not even see Microship from the beach 50 yards away, while taking Duke for his walk. I had started the engines to allow them to warm up, so I was able to follow the sound back.

There is a cold front due to pass through the area tomorrow night. The winds forecast during the day tomorrow, preceding the front, are supposed to be in excess of 30 knots. So this is going to be a long day in order to make it all the way back to a good protected anchorage west of Ft Walton Beach. We skipped breakfast for now and got underway immediately. The anchor was up and we were heading out by 0645.

I had the radar running, and the automatic fog horn going. I did not expect to have to worry about boat traffic this early. But no sooner had we turned NW to head out of our anchorage I picked up a slow moving boat coming straight at us. He was a little over a mile away, and only going 4.1 knots, so I had some time before it became an issue. I figured he would see me on his radar and we would both adjust course. As he got closer I altered course to starboard, and expected him to do the same. He changed course so that he was heading directly at me again!  I altered back to port, and he did the same. What the heck is going on here??  We were now down to 1/2 mile and my radar started to alarm about an imminent collision in less than 5 minutes. I slowed to idle speed, and tried to figure out what the other boat was going to do. He just kept on coming. I called on the radio and got no response. At 1/4 mile I started blowing our big triple trumpet air horns. You can hear these things a mile away. I know this guy could hear them in the absolute silence of the morning. As the distance dropped to 1/8 mile I made a 90 degree turn to starboard, and goosed the engines to put a little distance between us. Just as our radar blips merged on the screen I saw a sailboat appear out of the fog, less than 100' away. No radar, and apparently no radio. Or it was turned off. But the guy was oblivious. What was he doing running in this kind of fog with no radar??  I stepped out of the pilothouse to say something to him but he just waved as he faded back into the fog. That sure got my adrenalin going!

After giving it some thought, I had decided not to run offshore today. Not due to the fog, but rather due to our fuel issue. The forecast was for calm seas, but even the slightest rolling motion was going to stir up the water in the main tanks. I really did not feel like having to battle that all day, so opted for the inside run. It would take us longer, but worth it to not have to worry about changing filter elements all day.

As we approached the main part of St Andrew Bay I saw an AIS target on the radar and chart plotter. It was labeled as the Sea Fighter. I figured it was some Navy ship, but then remembered they typically don't run AIS. As we got closer, and fog started lifting, I could see the ship. It was a Navy vessel, and a very unusual one. The first of its kind, apparently, and experimental. It is labeled as FSF-1, or Fast Sea Frame. You can see pictures and read more about the Sea Fighter here. Really cool looking vessel, capable of doing 50 knots!

As were getting ready to pass under the Hathaway Bridge and enter West Bay we were hailed on the radio. There were two trawlers overtaking me and wanted to pass on my starboard side. I slowed down to allow them to pass. One was a Grand Banks 42, and the other I did not recognize the make. Both were out of Punta Gorda, FL. We had a short chat on the radio and found they are doing sort of the reverse of our trip. There were going from Punta Gorda to Pensacola for a month, then back home. They were doing a bit over 8 knots, and I was jealous. While Microship can run that fast, I don't feel like burning the extra fuel. At 6.5-7 knots I burn no more than 3.5 GPH, but at 8 knots I burn 5-6 GPH. Not worth it for the extra knot or so, IMHO. In any case, both boats were headed for the yacht club in Ft. Walton to ride out the cold front there.

So we putt-putted our way west. The wind definitely was picking up. It got too windy to run from the fly bridge, so we went down to the pilothouse. Just like we like it, it was an uneventful trip. At least, that is, until we neared Destin around 1600.

This is my worst nightmare. Florida boaters on a weekend. I had hoped since it was late in the boating season, and the wind was really kicking up, that it would not be too bad. Boy, was I wrong. As we neared Destin there were hordes of smaller go-fast boats, jet skis, pontoon boats, etc. These are bad enough, as I have to keep an eye on them since they will turn in front of you with no warning. But the problem boats are the big sport fishermen and Sea Ray type boats. These guys throw huge wakes, and and have no compunction of blasting by you at full speed. And they did just that! One huge Sea Ray was running at top speed and coming straight at me. I tried hailing him on the radio to request a slow pass, but got no response. I then resorted to blowing the air horns, still no response. As he blasted down my port side less than 50' away he waved!!!  It took all my willpower not to respond with the single finger gesture. Anyway, I was preoccupied with trying to get turned into the wake in an attempt to minimize the effect. I was only partially successful since he had passed to close.

Once we made it into the ICW at Ft Walton Beach, we entered a very short NO WAKE ZONE. It ended just past the municipal docks. Since we had more trash to dispose of I decided to make a quick stop at the municipal docks. Since most of the boats were ignoring the no wake zone I did not want to moor at the dock and have our boat bashing against the pilings. So we just pulled out of the main channel and dropped anchor, and I took the dink in to the dock. I was back aboard in less than 5 minutes and we were back underway. As we were leaving the Ft Walton area I looked ahead and saw a huge motor yacht running at high speed toward us. Then, amazingly, he slowed down for some smaller boats and ran a no wake speed. I was proud of him. Then, just as he was approaching us, he started to ramp up his speed! Yikes!!  I quickly hailed him on the radio and requested he slow down. Even more amazingly, he replied, and complied!  I think I may have used up all my good luck on this pass!

From there it was only about 30 minutes to our anchorage at Spectre Island. The wind was really kicking up now. As we pulled into the anchorage there was only one other boat anchored here, a 40' sailboat. We had to pass pretty close by them to get to our desired spot, and saw they had three young children aboard, probably ranging from 8-12 years old. We got the hook down, let out 7:1 scope in preparation for the projected winds, and settled in for the evening. Unfortunately, there were still a few local weekenders out, and we had to tolerate boats pulling skiers and tubes blasting up and down both sides of the boat. But it was only an hour until sunset, and then they all went home.

Tacos and beer for dinner, a special treat!

The saga continues!

Oct 11th - Land's End, Shell Beach, Panama City, FL

Just another day in paradise!  :)

It was very quiet here most of the morning. Only three other boats anchored back here, none closer than 1/2 mile. The pontoon boat activity did not pick up until almost noon. We had expected the weekend boat traffic to be crazy, but it was starting off slow.

I did have some work to get to, though. I spent another 1.5 hours scraping barnacles off  the port running gear, then scrubbing the slime and growth off the entire bottom. Or, at least, most of it. I will let a diver finish it once we get back home. I also need to spend some more time on our fuel issue. While we have not had any more major problems, the suction reading on the port Racor fuel filter is still reading around 5-6", which would normally mean the filter is dirty. I usually change them when the reading reaches 7". But I get this reading with a brand new filter element. The starboard unit reads normal at around 2-3". Something is causing a restriction in the line, as best I can figure.

When I installed the day tank, I also installed new fuel hose between the tank and the Racor filters. I am beginning to suspect that that hose may not be the quality I thought. Perhaps the inner liner is collapsing,  resulting in constricting the flow. There is a short piece of hose that connects the port filter to the primary feed line from the day tank. I have enough of some older, but much higher quality, fuel hose and decide to replace it. So back to the process of draining the filter housing, then removing and draining the hose. I did get a small slug of water out of the hose. Apparently is was captured in spot where the hose sagged a bit. I would have thought the fuel flowing through the lines would have pulled it into the filter. But, each engine only uses about 1.5 gallon per hour, so there is not much flow. After draining the hose I blew through it, and then blew through the hose I was going to replace it with. It did seem as though the higher quality hose was a bit less restrictive, but that could have just been my wishful thinking. Anyway, long story short, I replaced the hose but it did not make any difference. Still reading high. I guess I will just have to wait until we get back home to really dig in to this. For now I will just monitor it on an hourly basis. I can always turn on the boost pump to push fuel through the filter, rather than have the engine fuel pump pulling it through.

The other fuel issue is that we definitely have water in the main tanks. I am having to drain the big GF-1 filter after every time I transfer fuel from one of the main tanks to the day tank. The fuel pickup on the main tanks is about 2" above the bottom. So the fact that I get water tells me that 2" is probably nothing but water. There is a bacteria that grows at the water/fuel interface. I believe it lives in the water, but feeds on the fuel. These bacteria eventually die, and fall to the bottom of the tank. They become this nasty brown sludge, with a gel consistency. This will gum up a filter in short order, as I already witnessed when I changed out the filter element in the GF-1 several days ago. This is a problem I will have to deal with at home. The tanks will need to be drained, then I have to open the big inspection plates on the side so I can suck out the water and crud and clean the bottoms. Then I need to figure out how water is getting in there in the first place!  Ahh, the joys of boat ownership!

Enough work, time for play. Paula and I took the dink into the dand & grass flats near the beach. We anchored in about 3' and hopped in. I had my snorkel gear and swam around enjoying the marine life there. Swarming with schools of bait fish, baby Redfish, Sunfish, mullet, and more. I found a large area of scallop shells and though I had hid the mother lode!  Alas, all of the shells were empty. I first thought someone had been here before me and harvested the scallops and tossed the shells back in. But I realized that all the shells were partially buried in the sand, in the exact orientation as they would be if the scallops were alive, It is as though they just died in place and the little fish had a feast. Oh well, I don't even know if it is scallop season right now. Probably not.

Back to the boat and spent a little while getting everything ready for our early departure tomorrow morning. Top off day tank, check engine oil and coolant levels, top off water in batteries, etc. Then it was time for sunset gazing and relaxing on the foredeck again.

Weather forecast is looking perfect for tomorrow, so I am considering an offshore run from here to Destin. It will save us a little over 20 miles, and three hours. Plus I would get to pull some fishing lines in blue water. Can you say Wahoo, Mahi Mahi, or perhaps even a shark. Yum-oh!  :)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Inquiring minds... continued.

Oct 9th - Harrison Bayou to Shell Island

Had the anchor up and we were underway by 0815 this morning. Anxious to get down to Shell Island and get a good spot. This is a very popular place with the locals, we we hope to be able to get there early and get a prime location. There was quite a bit of boat traffic for a weekday here. I think a lot of the boats we saw heading out St. Andrews pass were charter boats, but there were also a fair number of recreational boats, too.

As we pulled into the bay behind Shell Island, around 1000, we saw many, many boats there already. Uh-oh!  Then we noticed that almost all of them were rental pontoon boats. Since these have to be returned before sunset at least they would be gone tonight. We continued east behind the island further than we had on our last visit, and ended up in an area called Lands End. There were hardly any boats back here, and we had our choice of anchorage locations.

The spot we chose proved to be a good one. Since we are all the way at the back of the bay, there was very little traffic here. After around 1600 everyone had gone home, and the we had the entire area to ourselves. We witnessed a glorious sunset, and sat on the bow for hours watching the stars come out, listening to the waves on the beach, and watching shooting stars. The water was crystal clear, and every little disturbance caused little explosions of bio luminescence, like fireworks. Just beautiful!

 Oct 10th - Land's End, Shell Beach, Panama City, FL

We expected the boat traffic to increase a bit today, with it being Friday. To our surprise it was actually quieter. Around midday another trawler arrives, a Grand Banks 36, I believe. It was a local boat, coming for the weekend. They were the only boat to stay overnight, but they were anchored about 1/2 mile away, and were very quiet.

I took Duke to the beach around 1100 for his late morning constitutional. As we returned, I noticed something hanging down from the bottom of the boat. I got my mask, snorkel, and fins and hopped in to check it out. It was a long, black, polyethylene rode wrapped around the port prop!  I don't know when we could have picked it up, most likely it was a line from a crab trap. Fortunately, it had not wrapped around the shaft, but was just trailing behind the prop. It was twisted into a long, tight mess, but was easily cut free from the prop. While down there I noticed a fair amount of barnacles on the props and rudders, as well as some slime on the boat bottom. Well, what better place to do some bottom cleaning.

I got a scraper and brush, and went to work. It took the better part of two hours to clean all the barnacles off the starboard running gear, and clean the growth from the waterline all the way around the boat. I could have done it quicker with scuba, but since I could only hold my breath for a minute or two at a time, this was slow going. After a couple of hours I was winded, and tired. I decided I would continue tomorrow. All work and no play makes for a miserable vacation!

We spent the afternoon lounging, reading, and just relaxing. Around 1700 it was time for sun downers and we moved to the bow to watch the sunset and stars again. Then time for dinner and then bed. This vacation stuff is hard work!

More tomorrow, time for bed!

Inquiring minds want to know....

Okay, so I have been a bit lax in updating the blog. To be honest, I have been pointedly avoiding updating it in preference of just relaxing and enjoying vacation. But, I received a text from friends who were worried about us since we had not updated the blog in several days. So in order to put everyone's mind at ease, I will bring y'all up to date.

Oct 7th - Redfish Point to Spectre Island

After a very restful night we were up by 0700. A quick check of the engine room showed everything was okay, so I started the engines so they could warm up while I made coffee. Paula came up from the stateroom as the coffee finished brewing, and we had our first cup. Nothing like sitting on the top deck and listening to the waves crash on the beach over on the gulf side of Perdido Key. It was a quick cup of coffee, though, as it was time to get underway. We had the anchor up and were on the move by 0735.

The weather was perfect, and we were even getting a push from the current for a change. Since it was a weekday, there was not too much boat traffic. We did get waked by a couple of smaller sport fishing boats, but not enough for anything to fall off the counters.

Overall, this was my kind of day of cruising. BORING!  Nothing broke, no malfunctions, no fuel issues, just several hours of putt-putting. We got to Spectre Island, just off Hurlburt Field (part of Eglin AFB) by 1300, and had the anchor down by 1315.  This is how we like to cruise, 5-6 hours, then anchor early so we can relax and enjoy the rest of the day.

Due to all the fuel issues, we had a couple of trash bags full of fuel soaked pads, old filters, etc. It was leaking all over the back deck, so I needed to dispose of it. There is a municipal dock in Ft. Walton Beach, with an adjoining public park. I figured there had to be trash cans there. So I took the dink and made the run to town; about a 20-25 minute ride each way. When I got there, I found the docks to be fairly new, and very nice. The city allows you to stay for one night only, but it is free. Unfortunately, most of the slips have silted in and are not deep enough for us. We would only be able to tie along side the end pier, where the pump-out station is located. I'll pass. But I was able to get rid of our trash, so at least that was successful.

Spectre Island is a pretty cool place. It it located within the boundaries of Eglin AFB, and Hurlburt Field is adjacent. The end of the runway is less than 1/4 mile away. Hurlburt is home to Headquarters Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC), the 1st Special Operations Wing (1 SOW), the USAF Special Operations School(USAFSOS) and the Air Combat Command’s (ACC) 505th Command and Control Wing. So we get to see some pretty cool aircraft coming and going here. Like the MV-22 Osprey and the AC-130H Spectre gunship. This is where the island got its name. It is also home to the Air Commandos, and they can often be seen training on and around Spectre Island. I used to think they were Navy Seals, but just learned different today.

There is also a gunnery and bombing range at Hurlburt, and it is used almost daily. You can hear the bombs and M-61 Vulcan Gatling gun. The M-61 makes a very distinctive sound.

So with all this to watch and listen to, this can be a fun stop. And it was... for the first several hours. When we have stopped here before, flight operations normally would end by 2200. But not tonight, then went on until 0300. With many, many MV-22 take-offs and landings. These things are very loud and we did not get much sleep. We had thought to stay here for a couple of days, but decided to move on in the morning.

Oct 8th - Spectre Island to Panama City

Since we did not get much sleep last night, we were up early again. After a leisurely breakfast on the back deck, we had the anchor up and were underway by 0800. This was going to be a long day, as we hoped to make it to Shell Island south of Panama City. The trip through Ft. Walton and Destin area was uneventful. Again, since this was a weekday we did not see all the crazy boaters that come out on the weekends.

It is a long ride across Choctawhatchee Bay. We did not get to the "Canyon" until 1315. But, it was worth the ride. This is one of our favorite areas to transit. The scenery is just gorgeous.

We had three hours of this scenery, and did not see another boat for the entire trip through the area. We had on little issue when we neared the eastern end, though. I suddenly heard a high pitched whine, and thought it was coming from the engine room. We throttled back, and I opened the engine room hatch. The sound was definitely not coming from there. Now it sounded like it was coming from the back deck, and I was concerned that it may be one of the cutlass bearings. We had to replace all the cutlass bearings back in 2005 and the symptom was a high pitched whine like this. I walked to the back deck and had Paula put the engines in gear. I heard the whine for a moment, then it went away. Then it came back louder then ever! At that point we had drifted further along and I realized the sound was now coming from behind us. There was a structure on the bank that housed something making the noise. Whew!  What a relief!!!

By the time we exited this part of the ICW it was getting late and we were tired. I abandoned the idea of getting to Shell Island, as that was at least another 1.5 hours away. We decided to anchor just off Harrison Bayou, which is well protected from the southerly wind we had. It was a pleasant evening, bug free, with a beautiful sunset.

I will pick this up again later tonight. Time for sun downers and supper right now! :)

Monday, October 06, 2014

Fuel fiasco

The plan was to get an early start on the fuel issue. So even though I awoke with a horrendous headache, I headed to the engine room. Well, after my first cup of coffee. I would be dangerous without at least that much caffeine in me!

First task was to disassemble the Racor to see if there was any crud in it. I could see a little silt in the bowl, so I wanted to thoroughly clean it. I did find some gunk in there, and got it completely cleaned out. Put it all back together and filled with fuel. But, the fuel did not look right. I drained some from the bowl and found a little water in it!

That is supposed to be next to impossible to happen. Several months ago I added a day tank, and all the fuel for engines and generator comes from there. The day tank is filled from the main tanks through a very large Gulf Coast filter system. There should be no way for water to get in the day tank. I took the inspection plate off the top of the day tank and was horrified to see a large amount of water and sludge sloshing around in the bottom of the tank. Yuck!

I pumped out as much fuel as I could, leaving mostly water and crud. My hand was too big to fit through the inspection opening, so Paula had to come down and put her delicate hand in the tank to wipe it out. That was truly some nasty stuff that came out of there!

Now we had a clean filter housing, and clean day tank. Next step was to take a look at the Gulf Coast filter to see if I could figure out why it was allowing crud and water to get through it. I removed the top of the filter, and immediately saw a problem. The top of the filter was covered in gunk and sludge. The fuel enters at the bottom and flows through the filter and exits at the top of the element. I should only see clean fuel on top. I removed the element and it was coated in this gunk, and the bottom of the housing was full of it. I cleaned the filter housing and put in a new filter element.

Apparently, at least one of the four main tanks, if not more, are contaminated with this stuff. I just took on a full load of fuel a couple of weeks ago, and am wondering if I got a bad load of fuel. In any case, this may be a problem for us on this trip. I am going to have to check the Gulf Coast filter after each time I transfer fuel to the day tank. I have two more filter elements on board, I hope that will be enough.

As if all of that weren't enough, we ended up with several gallons of fuel in the bilge. While working on the GC filter I inadvertently bumped a valve on the fuel manifold which allowed fuel to run into the bilge. It drained for several minutes before I saw it. What a mess!  On top of that, I realized I only had a handful of fuel spill pads in the lazarette. I usually keep several dozen, but did not realize how low I had gotten. So I had to use a plastic Mardi Gras cup to scoop the fuel into two 5-gallon buckets. Then use the fuel pads to sop up the remaining fuel. The fuel is contaminated with water and gunk from the bilge, so I don't want to pour it back in the tanks. So now I have two open buckets of fuel sitting in the cockpit. I have tied a couple of plastic garbage bags over the top to keep anything else from getting in there. And, to hopefully prevent the fuel from sloshing out if we get waked.

All of that took from 7:00 am until 2:00 pm, so we finally got underway at 2:30 pm. We did not make it more than 5 minutes and the port engine quit again.  Back down to the engine room. Suction looks okay, filter looks okay. Hmmm.  Tried bleeding the injection pump, and there was air. Perhaps I did not get enough fuel in the filter housing when I topped it off. Back upstairs and the engine started right up, then quit again in less than 5 minutes. Now, this is getting aggravating!  Back down to the engine room, bleed injection pump AND secondary filters. More air. Where is it coming from??? Start engine again and rush back down to the engine room to watch the Racor filter. I could see air bubbles in the bowl, and they appeared to be coming from the drain valve at the bottom of the bowl. I had Paula shut the engine down. Then drained the Racor housing, and removed the drain valve. Disassembled and cleaned that, especially the gasket that seals against the bowl. Screwed it back in, tightened as much as I dared. I had visions of cracking the bowl. I think I have a spare, but not sure where I have it stashed. Refilled with fuel, tightened lid well. Start engine, hold breath.... Yay!  No more bubbles!!

So we made a grand total of 12 miles today.  But, better than sitting still. We are currently anchored at Redfish Point, near the Pensacola Naval Air Station. Hopefully, tomorrow will be a very boring day.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

The "Bay"

We were up at 6am so we could get an early start for Mobile Bay.  The forecast was for light winds all day, but I have learned to take those forecasts with a grain of salt. All I knew for sure was the wind was light at the moment, and we were going for it.

We had an hour ride before getting to the the bay, and it was uneventful. As we passed under the Dauphin Island bridge we were thrilled to see the bay was as calm as forecast. I was looking forward to a less than exciting ride across. Exciting on a boat is not something you want. We made it two thirds of the way across before things started going wrong.

All of a sudden, the port engine abruptly shut down. I went down to the engine room to check it out, and found the suction gauge on the Racor fuel filter was reading very high. I assumed that the filter element had gotten clogged, so grabbed a spare and changed it out. The filter element I took out did not appear to be very dirty. Strange. After bleeding the injection pump I was able to get the engine running again. But, the suction reading was still very high, right at the limit of what the engine could handle. We were able to get the rest of the way across the bay, and into the ICW, before it shut down again. This time I just bled the injector and turned on the electric fuel pump to help push the fuel through the filter until I could have more time to work on it.

We finally made it to Ingram Bayou around 2pm.  There were no other boats there, so we were able to drop anchor in our favorite spot. We love it here, and it is tempting to spend several days here.  But the game plan is to relax here this afternoon, then do some troubleshooting on the fuel issue tomorrow morning before heading east again.

Did I mention the definition of cruising?  Working on your boat in exotic locations!

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Rough ride

Unfortunately, as the day progressed we had to move further offshore to get around some shallow areas. This meant the seas were much larger, and we got tossed around a good bit. We ended up stopping a little short of our planned anchorage, as Paula was unhappy with the ride. I was pretty tired, too. So we turned due north and anchored within 1/3 mile of the coast, just off Bayou La Batre, AL.

I thought about finding an anchorage a short way up the bayou, but decided against it. There is a steady stream of commercial boat traffic coming down that way, and I did not want to have to worry about getting in their way.

Forecast for tomorrow is good, with light wind and clear skies. Hopefully, we will have an uneventful trip across Mobile Bay.

Vacation officially starts today!

We finally got underway for Florida this morning! Yay!

The wind is howling out of the north, so we are having to hug the coastline to stay in calmer waters. This is going to add a few miles to the trip today, but worth it to not have stuff falling off counters and out of cabinets. Just means we will have to run an extra hour or so. Well worth it.

Progress was slow when we left this morning. Between wind and current we were only making 5 knots!  Fortunately, that has crept up to 7 knots now, which is pretty much our normal cruising speed. We can go faster, but I much prefer the fuel consumption (3.5GPH) at this speed.

We are currently just SE of Biloxi, and have another 5 hours to go to get to our planned anchorage for the night. That is just north of Dauphin Island, which will allow us to scoot across Mobile Bay (our arch nemesis) first thing in the morning. It is supposed to be calm all day, but I want to get an early start and get across before that changes.

Well, it is time for an engine room check, so I will post more later.