Buying a boat in Ft Lauderdale presented certain logisticalproblems. How do you prepare andtransport a boat that you know very little about from a remote location? I made many lists, drove down for manyweekends, and employed a lot of wishful thinking. As it turned out, the wishful thinking wasn’tquite enough.
There were multiple lists with items including getting a headworking, cleaning the fuel, replacing an exhaust hose, measuring the mast, findinga captain, planning the route, buying gear, buying linens, buying food… lots ofbuying.
I envisioned a 5-day trip, stopping each night. Some days would be longer than others sincegood places to spend the night don’t occur regularly along the way. The longest day I planned was 10 hours basedon the expectation of being able to motor at 8 or 9 knots. There was some doubt about whether we’d beable to break through the Keys chain, or if we’d have to go all the way aroundKey West due to our mast height being higher than the standard intracoastalbridges.
A licensed captain was required by the insurancecompany. Insuring the boat was by farthe most difficult and frustrating part of the purchase process. I feel competent to handle the boat, but itis understandable that an underwriter may not share my confidence. A captain was not unwelcome, however, and I’msatisfied with how it turned out. My dadwent along, so we had a crew of three.
The first surprise came seconds after leaving the dock. No steering.
The boat has hydraulic steering and apparently a large amount of thefluid had leaked out and been replaced with air. This may have had something to do with theriver currents pushing on the rudders while she was at the dock. I know it was okay when the boat was out ofthe water and I heard no complaints from the broker when he moved her from theyard back to her dock. At any event, wewere now travelling down a winding river lined by boats and crossed by bridgeswith a stiff following current, and were unable to use our rudders. Fortunately, we have two engines which can beused very effectively to maneuver the boat.
With one forward and the other reversed, she can spin like a tank.
I relinquished the helm to the captain immediately, hopinghe could do a better job keeping us from hitting something. He didn’t hit anything, but my pre-departurejitters mounted to full-blown anxiety a few times as the boat clearly was notunder control. After navigating the mostdifficult part of the river under a constant state of tension, we stopped at a fueldock before entering Port Everglades.
Adding hydraulic fluid and spinning the wheel back and forth bled thesystem and the steering didn’t give any more trouble for the rest of the trip.
The captain directed some criticism at me during thisepisode, and I’m still not sure whether he blamed me for the steering problem,or for letting him take the helm, or both.
I recall that he stepped in as soon as I discovered the steering problembut before I went for the engine controls.
It could not have been long because we only had 100 feet before we wouldbe swept into another boat. Would I havegone for the engines in time? I thinkso. I think I probably could havemaneuvered out of the river with the engines, too. But he wanted the helm, and I was happy togive it to him.
It is interesting to me how I can be deferential andunassuming in some situations, quietly accepting criticism that I think isunwarranted, even being yelled at during moments of tension with noresentments. But in other situations, particularlyprofessional situations, I can be aggressive and territorial, harboring agrudge against the slightest affront to my ego.
I’m not sure what the difference is.
In all cases I expect a quiet competence of myself, but sometimes Idemand individual recognition despite the overall outcome, and in others I linkmy satisfaction with the result and ignore criticism. I don’t see my giving the wheel to thecaptain and not challenging his declaration that he was disappointed in me asany weakness on my part. A job needed toget done and he seemed the most qualified to do it. Isn’t that a good thing?
The next disappointment came as we entered the Atlantic andthrottled up to cruising speed. Mylow-end estimate of 8 knots under power was off by a bit. With a 20-knot headwind and the accompanyingchop, 4 knots was more achievable. Theboat is underpowered for my tastes.
Boat speed under power is a complex relationship of hullshape, engine torque and rotational speed, and propeller size and pitch. I don’t understand the relationship wellenough to say that the boat needs bigger engines to improve her boat speed. They don’t seem to labor, and they achievepretty close to their wide open throttle revolutions, which may indicate thatthey can bear larger propellers. At thesame time, with their placement in the hulls, I can easily see that the enginesmay have been selected for their physical size more than their horsepower. A similar sized boat that I’m familiar withhas twin 60hp engines and is clearly overpowered. But as most will agree, power is a safetyfeature, and I think my twin 30hp Volvos are at the wrong end of the range.
It was a long day of motoring into the wind and waves toreach our first night’s destination at the southern end of Biscayne Bay. Going into the bay was my decision and I madeit somewhat unilaterally. We haddiscussed it, but the captain would have been happy to push on through day andnight, and my dad was concerned about being able to get out through the shallowpasses at the bottom of the bay. I wastired and demoralized from the slow bashing in the Atlantic and just wanted toget into some sheltered water. We founda quiet spot to anchor near Pumpkin Key.
Everyone was tired and the planned meal did not materialize.
The next morning we motored out through Angelfish Pass verynicely. The boat draws 4 feet and we didsee some fours on the depth sounder, particularly on the Atlantic side of thepass, but I think the depth is calibrated from the transponder, not from thewaterline, so the four foot readings were probably closer to six feet. There are some good-sized boats docked in adevelopment inside the pass, so the channel is probably privately maintained.
The morning was uneventful as we motored south in HawkChannel between the Keys and the barrier reefs offshore. The wind had clocked southwest overnight andcontinued move west throughout the day in order to stay on our nose as we camearound the bottom of Florida. Our nextwaypoint was Snake Creek which is the only opening bridge in the Keys chain.
Snake Creek does not seem to be a common route for sailboatstransiting the Keys. Nobody I talked tohad heard of it. This may be because thechannel is somewhat shallow and the fixed spans at Channel Five and Marathonare conveniently nearby. The spans areout of consideration for me because they’re only 65 feet and my mast is68. I wasn’t sure about Snake Creekeither, because it has overhead cables and we couldn’t find a publishedheight. We called the Coast Guard, thebridge tender, and the power company, but nobody knew. In the end, we got right up to the cable andstopped. From our perspective it wasimpossible to tell, but there was a guy on the bridge and he let us know byhand signals that we had plenty of room.
In retrospect, if we were that unsure, we should have sent someone upthe mast.
The Gulf side of Snake Creek is shallow. We saw fours again, but didn’t touch.
We transited Snake Creek at about 2pm and our next goodstopping point was Naples, about 12 hours away.
The timing was awkward and we never seriously discussed stopping tospend the night in the Keys. Inretrospect, I wish we had, because by not stopping we put ourselves out of syncwith our anchorages and kept ourselves out of sync with the wind. Had we stopped, the wind would have clockedaround to the NE that evening and given us nice sailing the next day.
The Florida Bay was pretty stirred up with lots of sand andsea grass suspended in the water. Afterawhile we noticed that the engines weren’t making the same RPMs that they hadbeen. We worried about this for awhile,thinking we might have clogged fuel filters, until we hit on the idea ofbacking down to try clearing grass off the props. It worked, but soon afterward the starboardengine overheated. We shut it down,emptied the strainer, then restarted it and changed the port strainer. Before long, the starboard side overheatedagain and this time the strainer was empty.
It was night by now, the engine was smoking because it was hot, and itwas hard to tell if there was enough water in the exhaust. Hanging under the boat with a flashlightbreathing the exhaust seemed to be my job.
We shut the starboard engine down to rest for awhile.
The autopilot has a handy feature that allows it to followthe wind. This enables us to trim thesails as we like them and then sail a wind angle that suits our trim instead ofa specific course. This had been workingfine, but with the starboard engine shut down and the boat having a bit ofweather helm, our port rudder control was a little sluggish and we got tacked afew times when the autopilot couldn’t keep us off the wind. Stupidly, we had been sailing with the frontwindows open. During one of these accidentaltacks a jib sheet wrapped around the port window and ripped it off, leaving shatteredglass inside the boat and on deck.
Probably around midnight we went through another backingdown procedure to clear the port propeller, and something went wrong. The engine raced. The captain seemed to know what this meantand told me to go check the prop shaft.
I thought he was crazy, but dutifully went to check. Imagine my surprise when there was no shaftin the stern tube and water was coming into the boat. I reported this and we began the holeplugging exercise. Having water comingin your boat is never a good situation, but I had the plugs and the tools to takecare of it, so all in all, I think it went pretty well.
With both engines out of commission now, and the wind stillout of the north-northwest, we were sailing pretty much west, giving up theadvantage we gained by cutting through at Snake Creek. Stopping for the night was out of thequestion. It was at this stage that Isuccumbed to seasickness.
I’ve always battled with mal de mer and it wins most of thetime. Intellectually, I think it is largelya psychological phenomenon, but that hasn’t helped me much. It always seems to be multiple conditionsthat collude to defeat me. Was itexhaustion from several days of preparation and lack of sleep that weakened me? Was it that cigar I had after dinner, or thediesel fumes? Working below on theengines certainly didn’t help, and it being night there was no horizon toorient myself against. And theaftereffects of stress can be enough to make a person nauseous on dryland. Whatever it was, it was blessedlyshort, and I was back to normal in about 12 hours.
We had a great sail overnight in the wrong direction and bymorning we were about 40 miles off Marco Island. Not a great place to be with no engines. The captain went over the side to investigateour port shaft. It was still therethankfully. The zinc anode stopped itfrom sliding through the strut. It justneeded to be pushed back in. He tied itoff in case it managed to break free.
Why he didn’t try to push it back in, I don’t know. I think I had suspended independent thoughtby this point.
The wind died around mid-morning and we started thestarboard engine to see how it was feeling.
It started getting hot and we shut it back down. We talked about what the problem could be,but didn’t do much. The captain wentover the side to inspect the intake, but it was clear. We discussed the possibility that the intakehose was clogged, but didn’t take it off to look.
We spent all day sailing slowly back toward the coast. We discussed putting in somewhere forrepairs, but decided that as long as the wind held, we would try for Bradenton. It did, and so we did.
Shortly after nightfall, the wind clocked around to theeast, allowing us to tack and resume heading north. It built until I decided that it was prudentto reef and we went right to the second reef.
It continued to build until we had gusts to 35 knots. It was a beautiful clear night, but colderthan any of us had packed for. We wereclose enough inshore that the seas were relatively light for the wind strength.
The captain called for relief at about 4am and I went ondeck to relieve him. It seemed that theautopilot was having trouble controlling the boat and he had been hand-steeringfor the last couple hours and was now exhausted. As I took the wheel he told me that he hadbeen trying to keep within 40 degrees of the desired course and to be carefulof a gybe because we would lose the rig.
This was not at all acceptable to me and I decided we would take themain down. We rolled the jib and shewent right up into the wind very nicely.
The drop went just as smoothly as the reef. We unrolled the full jib and made a nice 9knots with the autopilot steering.
We were off Englewood when dawn broke clear and chilly. The breeze slackened and we put ourdouble-reefed main back up, shaking out the reef by late morning. The breeze continued to clock until we had itoff our starboard quarter. I put up thespinnaker for a little while, but my crew was not as enthusiastic about it, soit was short-lived.
We started to see other boats off Sarasota. The solitude of the previous couple days hadmade us lazy and we were not keeping a proper watch. I went on deck at one point just in time tosee an anchored boat with a diver down flag bob down the side less than 6 feetaway. I think that shook us all alittle.
We made it through Southwest Passage into Tampa Bay around 2pm. The captain called a friend to bring his fishing boat out to us, and he towed us in to the dock. Docking was relatively uneventful and the delivery crew dispersed by 5pm on the fourth day. None of the five planned dinners had been eaten.