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.