Monday, December 21, 2020

Deck the Deck with Boughs of Holly


Division Belle with her wreath and Christmas lights
We are home for the holidays this year and will not be seeing any of our family members because of Covid 19. We will be having dinner outdoors Christmas Eve with four of our friends here at Ford, but the festivities will be subdued. We did put a wreath and some lights on Division Belle and plan to spend this evening with friends at the marina hoping for a glimpse of the "Christmas Star" at around 6:30 pm.

One would think that traveling on a boat like ours would be the perfect way to quarantine and stay safe, but it has turned out to be a very difficult year for boating. It started when we headed south in January, bound for the Bahamas. Our idea was to get the boat into the Exumas in the southern part of the Bahamas, and fly down for several two-week stays during the spring. Given our two beloved dogs and the Lovely Laura Lee's work, we need to be able to travel back and forth to wherever the boat is located. 

Things did not go as planned. Weather was uncooperative for ocean travel on the way south and we were mostly confined to the Intracoastal Waterway. The boat was left at a boatyard in Jacksonville for about two weeks for some minor repairs, and at a marina in Stuart for most of a month we needed to be at home. We finally reached Fort Lauderdale near the end of February. Without good weather to cross to Bimini, my bride came home and I finally got an acceptable but rough crossing day to Bimini with a hired mate on March 4. I left the boat at Brown's Marina in Bimini, took a small seaplane back to Fort Lauderdale, and drove home in a rental car. In those days, it was all about wiping things down and using hand sanitizer. Covid 19 was not thought to be transmitted through the air.

As March progressed, lockdowns and travel restrictions began to be implemented. Everyone recommended no unnecessary travel, and by the end of March the Bahamas had closed their borders, meaning I could not get there to return the boat to the US. It was July first when we were finally allowed to re-enter the country and depart on our boat the next day. By mid-July the borders were closed again, so we were fortunate to get out of there. The boat was a little worse for wear, but we have gradually been getting her back in good shape.

We had a good trip back up the east coast in July, and in September we took the boat up to the Oriental, NC area where we spent some time before heading back home with her. But some things have changed for us about cruising because of the pandemic. For one, we always enjoyed stops where we could walk around and go out to dinner. Now we only dine at restaurants with spacious outdoor dining where the staff wears masks, or we get takeout food and eat on the boat. Second, because of our need to get home and back to the boat, we will now only venture as far as we can go and rent a car back home in some sort of reasonable driving time. River Dunes near Oriental was about the northern limit and was a 6 1/2 hour drive from home. In the coming year we are considering a cruise up the St. Johns River from Jacksonville, and perhaps taking the boat to the west coast of Florida within some kind of reasonable driving distance. Thoughts of the Chesapeake Bay or New England in summer or the Bahamas in winter are banished for now.

As the year comes to a close and the holiday season is upon us, we are mindful of how fortunate we are and how many individuals have lost their lives, their loved ones, or have suffered medical or economic distress from this pandemic. We are doing what we can and we urge everyone to support the organizations of your choice that are assisting the most vulnerable among us.

Our best wishes to you all for a joyous holiday season and a happier new year than this one has been.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Messing About on the Way Home

Grove River Ogeechee River Connector

 When I first brought a boat to The Ford Plantation in 2000, there was only one winding route from the mouth of the Ogeechee River approximately 17 miles to the marina basin here. There was a spot, shown above, where the Ogeechee flowed very close to the much smaller Grove River. Sometimes, when tides were especially high, water flowed over this low-lying bridge of land, temporarily connecting the two rivers. One weekend, about 15 years ago, a group of kids with boats went to the spot with shovels and sped up what Mother Nature already had in mind by digging a small trench connecting the two rivers. Because of uneven tide levels between the two rivers, water poured through the trench as the tide came in and out twice every 24 hours. Soon, the rivers were totally connected, and the cut had grown to a depth that small boats could pass between them. The cut continued to grow and the mud bottom continued to wash away. Today, as I passed through this cut at high tide, it was 55 feet deep and perhaps 50 yards wide. The cut has not only opened a navigation route, it has changed tides and currents throughout the network of rivers here.

This new cut created a shortcut for me if I am moving the boat north from Ford or south to Ford. Coming from the north, miles are cut off as I turn up the Little Ogeechee River north of Hell Gate, turn up the Grove River, and cut over to the Ogeechee. From Thunderbolt, what could be a two-day trip to catch the tides right has turned into an easy five hours timed to arrive at Ford close to high tide.

Today it took about a half hour longer than usual because I had two tasks to accomplish along the way. First, my autopilot compass had been acting up on my last trip and I asked Mike King of Coastal Marine Electronics to see if he could find where the compass is remotely located and determine what was wrong with it. Mike tracked the wire and found the compass mounted low in a cabinet under a shelf in the pilothouse. Since you can't see the compass without lying down on the floor and looking up under the shelf, I had no idea where it was. Stored low in that cabinet right beside the compass was a set of headphones I use with my sideband radio. Speakers, including headphones, contain magnets. So it was no wonder the compass was not acting right. Since the autopilot heading was stable but different from the regular compass heading after moving the headset, Mike suggested I go through the sea trial setup procedure which involves "swinging the compass" by putting the autopilot into sea trial mode and turning in a few circles slowly until it figures out its deviation by itself. I went through the procedure today and, presto, the autopilot is working great. In calm waters it is aligned with the course unless the boat is "crabbing" because of wind or current.

Compass heading perfectly aligned with GPS course over ground

My other task was to adjust the readout from a new speed transducer that has been installed on the boat. This is a little paddlewheel that measures the boat's speed through the water as opposed to GPS speed over ground. I knew it was off because at my normal cruise setting, it showed I was doing only 5 knots through the water. With the current behind me, my GPS speed over ground was around 8.5 knots so I turned around and went the opposite direction where I had a speed over ground of 6.5 knots. This meant that the speed through the water was actually the average of these two readings, or 7.5 knots. I made the adjustment and all is well now.

Departing Thunderbolt single-handed at 7:30 this morning, I arrived back home at Ford at 1:00 pm. The boat will be resting here for awhile where it serves as my man cave. It is docked here (just trying this out).

Our cruising choices are limited right now by our need to get back and forth from the boat to home and our unwillingness to fly during the Covid 19 pandemic. Thinking this through, we have a few ideas for interesting trips all within a few hours drive from home. We'll keep you posted when we head out in the new year.

If I don't post again, best wishes to everyone for a happy holiday season and a wonderful new year. It won't take much for 2021 to be better than 2020.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Lesson Learned

I generally avoid talking much on this blog about boat maintenance, but in this case I thought I would share an incident that could have been much worse, and what I learned from it. It could be helpful to someone.

Before purchasing Division Belle two years ago I had it inspected by Steve D'Antonio. Steve is widely respected in the marine industry and his pre-buy inspections more than pay for themselves in safety and in negotiating the purchase price. He's extremely thorough. You can see Steve's website here. 

One of Steve's recommendations for my boat read as follows: “Junction box above batteries, a loose connection is arcing and has caused heat damage.” The dealer/broker where I bought the boat has electricians, carpenters, etc. for commissioning and maintaining customer boats, so I gave them an initial repair list including this item to be done before I used the boat. They checked it off the list as complete. Shame on me I never opened the junction box to check. It couldn't possibly have been done at all with the result that happened to me.

So last week the main engine large alternator quit charging the house batteries when underway. On my stop in Georgetown I did some basic troubleshooting at the alternator and regulator but could not find an issue. So when I arrived at the Hinckley yard in Thunderbolt I asked them to check it out. When the electrician came up from the engine room he said “Your alternator is working fine but your problem could be the melted junction box on the aft bulkhead of the engine room.” "Wait", I asked, "Did you say melted junction box?" 

The junction box is where the wires from the alternator connect to the house batteries. You can see above that the wiring had remained loose and the entire connection burned up and melted the junction box. I'm lucky it didn't start a real fire. Wiring needs to be very tightly connected, on a boat or in your house.

All is fixed now, but I have learned the hard way to inspect work I am told was done. Lesson learned.

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

Home Again

Log 22234

Hinckley Yacht Services -- Thunderbolt, GA

I was delayed leaving Beaufort yesterday by strong current and 30-knot winds at 7 am. No one was stirring until the marina opened at 8:30. Single-handed and parked with boats close to me forward and aft, I could not easily get away without someone handling the lines for me on the dock.

While winds were strong and cold heading down the Beaufort River, I was snug in my pilothouse with no problems at all. Planning to be in the ICW all day, I did not think to batten down as I would going to sea. So I was somewhat shocked at the severity of the wind and seas when I entered Port Royal Sound. The seas were only about three feet, but with a short period and mostly right on my nose. I heard cabinets and drawers flapping around and the sounds of everything falling off the counters in the galley and saloon, but there was little I could do single-handed, especially since my autopilot has not been functioning well.

Nothing was harmed, but it was a long bashing ride across the sound until I reached the calm behind Hilton Head. From the south end of Hilton Head I normally go out a ways into the ocean and then turn into the Savannah River ship channel to come in and rejoin the ICW. Given the wind and seas, I opted to stay in the waterway route that goes behind Daufuskee Island and through Walls Cut and Fields Cut. Following Bob423's tracks (discussed in my 11/29/20 entry), I had no trouble, but it was nearing low tide and I found a couple of areas with just seven feet of depth. It was a little close with my six-foot draft boat, but I never touched bottom.

I arrived in Thunderbolt at 2:45 pm, where the boat will stay for a few days for finishing up some of the recent electronics work and fixing a few other squawks. There's always something.

It's good to be home with my bride and dogs. I should get the boat back up to The Ford Plantation sometime next week. Thanks for following along.

Monday, November 30, 2020

Brisk Weather

Log 22194

Beaufort, SC

I was awakened at about 5 this morning by the boat rocking and rolling in the wind at anchor. The anchor did indeed hold through it all. It was raining and a couple of severe storms were headed my way. As luck would have it the cold front was fast-moving and took the severe storms off the coast while they were still south of me. As a result of the weather, my plans to get away at 7 am were dashed, so I had a leisurely morning before hoisting the anchor at around 8:30.

The delay left me pushing hard to get through the shallow areas while the tide was high enough to avoid dragging my bottom. I finally got through the last tough spot at 12:30, just in the nick of time. I saw a couple of areas with depths of under eight feet. My draft is six feet so I had little room to spare. 

One of the results of this race to avoid low tide this morning was my arrival in Beaufort at precisely dead low tide this afternoon around 3 pm. I had planned on spending the night at Lady's Island Marina but the charted 9-foot channel to its dock proved to be only about five feet deep today. This was likely caused by both the low tide and the very strong winds driving water out of the area. I made three probing passes at the entrance but ran into mud each time. So I am instead at the Beaufort Town Docks, right downtown.

The ride was comfortable on my 50-ton ship, but there were winds gusting to 35 knots all day. In the open areas of the large rivers the chop kicked up a lot of spray. I ran the windshield wipers nearly all day, and the boat will need a bath as soon as weather permits. The low tonight in Beaufort is expected to be 36°. Right now the wind is at about 15 knots, so the wind chill is, well, chilling.

Having dined last night on sardines and crackers at anchor in the rain, I was looking forward to the onsite restaurant at Lady's Island Marina. Unfortunately everything I would like in Beaufort proper is closed on Monday night. I do have the makings of a cheese omelet on board, which will have to do tonight.

I will shove off early tomorrow and expect to be in Thunderbolt by tomorrow afternoon. There are a few loose ends that my electronics guy, Mike King of Coastal Marine Electronics, needs to deal with before I bring the boat back home to Ford probably next weekend.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Far from the Shallow

 Log 22151

Church Creek Anchorage, Wadmalaw Island, SC

I started today moving the boat back home from Tolers Cove Marina near Charleston. The planning for this trip was complicated by low tides near mid-day and the need to pass through some notoriously shallow spots on the Intracoastal Waterway. I can usually make it from Charleston to Beaufort in a day and from there to Thunderbolt in Savannah on the second day. This time, I decided to travel a few hours today in fairly deep water so I can get through the shallows tomorrow when tides are high in the morning. 

I travelled today from Tolers Cove at statute mile marker 462 for 26 statute miles in 2 1/2 hours to Church Creek Anchorage. Where I'm anchored right now, high tide tomorrow morning will be at 9:19 and the next low tide will be at 3:01 tomorrow afternoon. I am anchored near statute mile 488 of the ICW and Beaufort is at mile 536. It should take me around six hours to Beaufort and, with a start around sunrise, I should easily get through the shallows before noon.

I am helped enormously these days by a man named Robert Sherer. He goes by the name "Bob423" and has written a book, updated annually, which is currently named the "2020 ICW Cruising Guide". I keep a copy handy on Kindle. Bob also hosts a private Facebook Group with more than 9,000 members, It is a gathering place for the many boaters moving up and down the ICW to share information, ask questions, and be made aware of various bits of information such as bridge heights, lock closings, etc.

But by far the most helpful thing Bob does is share the tracks he saves on his annual trip from Virginia to Key West in the fall and back again in the spring. These tracks are amazing and can easily be downloaded and displayed on chart plotter apps such as Aqua Map and Navionics. Once I discovered these tracks, I wouldn't travel the ICW without them. Here's the track I will be using in the first shallow area tomorrow, shown with colored survey data from the Corps of Engineers. You can see that the blue dotted line of Bob's track is nowhere near the red and green ICW markers. I've learned to have faith.

The weather was rainy today, off and on, but I managed to dodge the biggest storm that passed nearby offshore. There is more to come and a Gale Warning is in effect for offshore waters nearby tonight and tomorrow. It says: 

GALE WARNING IN EFFECT FROM 2 AM TO 7 PM EST MONDAY...Southwest winds 20 to 30 kt with gusts up to 40 kt and seas 6 to 9 ft expected. 

So I'm glad to not be at sea tonight and buttoned down in my anchorage. Here's hoping the anchor holds.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Day Five

 Log 22118

Mount Pleasant, SC

We had an uneventful day Monday and arrived in Mount Pleasant (Charleston) at 3:20 in the afternoon. We cooked a last meal on board Monday night and spent this morning packing up and preparing to leave. We rented a car around noon and I am safely back at home.

A special thanks to my friend Paul Hamilton for helping me out. He is great company and extremely helpful with anything that needs to be done. Driving the boat in the Intracoastal Waterway can be wearing, but having someone who will alternate two-hour shifts breaks up the day nicely. This is the "Bosun's" third trip on this boat and he is welcome back any time. Thanks Paul.