Couple robbed of their boat in Isla Mujeres

•June 14, 2012 • 10 Comments

I really should have posted this months ago, but I figure it can’t hurt to inform people late.

A friend of a friend’s boat was impounded by the Mexican government a few months back due to not having a Zarpe (exit and entry document used in Central America), even though US Customs does not require one to leave the country.

Anyway, they’ve been fighting for months to get their boat back to no avail

Here’s the link to noonsite where better information is available.

http://www.noonsite.com/Members/sue/R2012-03-26-3

Any help in this situation will surely be appreciated, but if you can’t help, at the very least, consider yourself forewarned about entering Mexican waters without a Zarpe and crew list.

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Decisions, Provisions, and Insatiable Hunger for Cruising

•May 24, 2012 • 2 Comments

A couple days ago, I returned from a delivery up to NYC from SoFla. This one was pretty uneventful. No harsh winds or pummeling seas. Pretty strange.  We lazily docked almost every night ahead of any weather that was approaching, and meandered the port towns of the eastern seaboard.  It was almost boring. A little excitement once in a while is surely appreciated, at least in retrospect. I stayed in NYC for a week, to help train the new crew, and I now find myself back in the Keys, slightly less poor (only slightly) and wondering what to do.

Do I make a mad dash for the Dominican Republic, or head North? Stay where I am, or head over to the Rio Dulce?  I still have to consider that I have no way of steering the boat aside from a piece of shock cord which can be pretty unreliable. All of the wind vanes I see on the old intarwebz are out of my price range, and building the one I’ve designed will be fairly time consuming.  The transom-hung rudder on Mei Nu has burned up two tiller pilots so far, and I think anything short of buying a new one that is rated for a bigger boat will surely have a similar outcome.

So many decisions, and so indecisive.  Right now the only thing I am sure about is that I want to be in the water shooting fish every day. I went out a couple days ago, and nabbed two hogfish and a grouper. Friends and I cooked it all up last night and it was delicious. Poor weather forecasts over the next few days more or less dictates not going offshore to shoot more, so I have resigned myself to staying on the boat and doing projects (I do seem to always have a ton of those).  While it feels great to be back on my own boat, I can’t shake this feeling of restlessness.  I think I will take a good portion of my meager cruising kitty and fill the boat with provisions, and see what the weather does. Hopefully, I will have a decent enough window to get over to the D.R. and wade the summer away in Manzanillo.

Yes, this is a very boring post, but it beats taking shit for never updating this thing!

I’ll post again when I’m feeling less like the weather!

DSBT

Own a Beach House in Key West – 3 Simple Steps

•April 16, 2012 • 6 Comments

Well now. I stayed in Marathon for a day or two, then sailed alongside some friends on a beautiful Camper Nicholson out to Key West ahead of an approaching cold front. Against my better judgement, we anchored off Wisteria. I put out every scrap of chain I own and hoped for the best. It was not good enough, however. When the front hit my friend recorded 52knot gusts out of the Northwest, and I began to drag anchor, as the hook lay fouled and unset on the grassy bottom. I hoisted the iron mainsail, and began collecting my ground tackle. When I got down to the last 30 feet of it or so, I noticed I was no longer going forward. In fact, I was hurling downwind pointed directly at an anchored boat. I popped open the engine room hatch only to discover that the flex pad on the coupling had sheared in half like an oreo cookie, about to be robbed of it’s icing. Quick decision: Smash into the boat, or steer her up on the beach. The latter seemed the best idea. I shut the engine (that was doing nothing anyway, aside from charging my batteries) down, and prepared for the hardest grounding I have ever experienced in any boat. When I finally hit the soft sand I came to a grinding halt, and the boat angrily laid up on her side, getting pounded by the now very significant breaking waves. With each wave I got closer and closer to owning myself a beach house in sunny Key West, until I sat there, in 1.5feet of water. the raw water pickup for the engine and the propeller itself were well out of the water.

By this time, I noticed my friends with whom I had traveled from Marathon were having issues of their own, and a very small man in a shit-kicked Carolina Skiff approached my boat and shouted “Use the motor!”. “You Sir, are a genius! I hadn’t even considered that tactic! Seeing as the prop is sitting a foot above the water, that should work just splendidly, I’ll bet!!!”  Later he returned and offered to tow me off the beach for 500 dollars. I told him to get the fuck away from my boat and retired below to pump the bilge and scheme myself off the beach. Funny how bulkheads quickly become the cabin sole in situations such as this.

After some bone chilling thoughts of my boat being swamped with water from the pounding waves if I tried to kedge the boat over to windward and drag it off abeam, I searched through the piles of my belongings now on the floor for my chart. Some time after finding it under my now smashed netbook, I noticed a spot on the chart that was about 8 feet deep about 50feet, 3 points off my starboard bow. 50feet is a long-ass way to drag a 13,000lb boat across the sand but I figured it was my only option, unless I wanted to resort to asking the brainless wonder for his help, or call SeaTow. Two extortionists that I’d rather not talk to. I got out all of my chain, and both anchors and shackled them together in a long string of heavy steel, then attached about 300ft of nylon 3-strand. I brought my little Trinka around to the leeward side of the boat and flaked about 460feet of ground tackle into the dinghy. In the chop and around 40-45ish knot sustained winds, it took me roughly an hour to get to a suitable spot to drop all of that steel. I looked around at the other anchored boats, with faces peering out at me, and their big highpowered inflatables lay bobbing up and down behind their boats. I’m sure they were all waiting for me to give up and abandon the boat so they could go strip it.  After some serious rowing in an overloaded Trinka, I had my way out, and returned to my beach house. I ran the nylon rode back around the leeward anchor line chock and back to my little cockpit self-tailing winch. I had given thought to the fact that the boat is very heavy, and if this process done too quickly, I could easily snap the line, or worse, rip the winch completely out of the deck and send it hurling forward like a bola, or a wrist rocket propelled ball bearing. With each big wave, the boat would lift ever so slightly then slam back down on her side, and I would get a half of a turn or so on the line.

After a good while of grinding on the winch and not moving, it seemed fruitless(but really, in retrospect, this was just the anchors setting deep into the sand). I went below to empty the bilge of seawater that had been entering the boat via various places rather quickly. Mostly from on deck when getting slapped by the waves. I continued taking turns emptying the bilge and cranking down hard on the winch. It was working. I was moving a 13,000 pound cruising boat with a winch no bigger than a travel coffee mug. After about 3.5hours of this cold, wet, painful and exhaustive process, I was in enough water to have the propeller at least mostly submerged, so I bolted the shaft coupling directly to the transmission (with a big gap where the flex coupling used to be), and used the overheating engine (the raw water pickup was still out of the water) to help with the tugging. Eventually, I ended up in that little spot with 8 feet of water, and the boat was hobby horsing with the still significant chop.

The dude in the Carolina Skiff that offered to tow me off for 500$ by this time was just coming back from shore, and noticed I had got myself off the beach. He gave me the thumbs-up. I had fantasies of rigging up a big piece of surgical tubing off my mast and hurling blocks and drill bits at his head. After this I went straight to bed.

The next morning I moved Mei Nu into deeper water and sat there for a couple days patching leaks and taking an extensive damage report. This was going to be pretty expensive, but at least I saved 500bucks, right?!

A few days after that I had the flex coupling jury rigged with some thru-bolts and S/V Kay Tee, and Mei Nu moved about 3/4 of a mile north of where I had originally intended on anchoring. Northwest Flemming Key. Great spot. Open to the West and Northwest, but protected from Northeasterlies, and the Easterly trades.There are also a few nice wrecks for free diving and spearfishing within half a mile.

Over the following few weeks, I spent a lot of money and time fixing the boat and doing projects, but Alex and I went out spearfishing a few times a week or more and life was good. I also met up with old friends who were hanging about the harbor, and generally had a good, albeit expensive time. Due to this expensive mishap, my crew’s Cuban visa had run out, and they had to leave on another boat. With my autopilot now burned out, and no money, I was forced to look for work. I steamed back to Marathon without a breath of wind, where I now sit, lying in wait for a delivery up North in a week or so. That should make me enough cruising funds to get somewhere other than Florida for hurricane season. I’m still thinking Panama, but am now considering a different route, seeing as the trades will be blowing steadily, and I’d like a bit more of a reach than a hard beat against the Gulf Stream and the Equatorial Current.

What did we learn today? We learned that when you have a gut feeling that what you’re doing is wrong, you’re usually right. I knew where I was anchoring was a bad idea, but decided to roll with it…. right up on the beach. Trust your instincts. They know more than you do (sorta).

Well, enough embarrassing myself for one day. It’s now time to go replace that jury rigged flex coupling with a used one that Alex and Andrea of S/V Kay Tee so generously have given me. 

Row hard or go home.

DSBT

Underway or Underthumb

•February 26, 2012 • 2 Comments

So, I left Stuart over a week ago. I’m not making very good time. Right now I’m lying just offshore Key Largo, just East of Rodriguez Key, while the boat rocks violently in the chop.

I had AJ go up the mast and attach my new rigging (i’m fully capable of doing so, but am slightly afraid of heights, so if you can get someone else to do it, go for it!).
I terminated the mechanical fittings, cleaned up the boat(kinda), and prepared to leave the next day.
I got AJ to throw my lines after a longer than expected stay at Sunset Bay Marina, and headed for the St.Lucie Inlet. I had full canvas set and the motor running. The wind was around 15-20knots, straight South. Fan-fucking-tastic! Once I shot out the inlet, I noticed a fairly steep chop. I also noticed that my engine was overheating. I shut the engine down and resigned to sailing into Lake Worth Inlet and trying to figure it out there, as opposed to heaving to and pissing around in the chop. Mei Nu’s belly and propeller were horribly barnacle laden from being in a nasty brackish water port for 7 or 8 months. I tried to get a local diver to scrape the bottom, but he quoted me half a day at 75$/hr. I couldn’t honestly see how it could take nearly that long, so I promptly told Diver Dave to piss up a rope. I’d do it myself with a snorkel in Lake Worth, where I could actually see something. Anyway! The bottom being encrusted in marine life, coupled with winds now up to about 25knots South and choppy confused seas didn’t really agree with my plan to sail South. I tacked nearly in the same spot for hours and hours. After about 4.5hours, I noticed I was only near Hobe Sound. This is bad. I said “fuck it!” and brought the boat about. Now surfing downwind, doing roughly 7.5knots over ground, I had to quickly develop a plan to sail into the St.Lucie Inlet with no engine. This inlet is notoriously shitty, but it actually sounded kinda fun. I jibed on broad reaches just South of the jetty, and brought her to a beam reach, and began hauling ass toward the buoy (paying close attention to leeway). I was going about 6.5knots and gripping the tiller with both hands, trying to keep her on course with the following seas. A head boat full of eager-to-hit-the-dock offshore fishing patrons under my lee. The person at the helm either thought I was nuts, or was just extending an uncommon courtesy as they backed down and passed me at a crawl. As I got past the rocks, the wind began to die very fast and continued to do so until I reached the crossroads where the inlet channel meets with the ICW. There it died almost completely. Close to 4knots of wind on the port quarter and a 1-2knot ebbing tidal current. Looking at the sand bar off to starboard, I kinda got a little nervous. I planned to put into Manatee Pocket for the night and fix the engine. It was the closest anchorage, and had been recently dredged. It’s only roughly 1.5nautical miles from the crossroads to the Pocket, and it took me about 3 hours to get there. Sometimes making half a knot against the tide. Sometimes stalled completely, and sometimes going backward. Kind of comical at this point, so I dropped the hook and peered longingly into the engine room. After figuring out that I was merely heeled over to the point that the raw water pickup was occasionally out of the water, and the pump had just lost prime, I kicked myself a little, and closed it up.

The next morning, I awoke with the Sun and opted to steam down the ditch to West Palm and scrape the barnies’ off the hull and prop. A long and boring ride, but somewhat relaxing after the asskicking I recieved the previous day. Got in, hooked up, and launched the dinghy. West Palm is not the most hospitable place for cruising boats. There are only a couple of dinghy docks, none of which are well advertised, and cost quite a bit considering you’re just tying a small tender up for the day. I went ashore, paid the monies, and got some provisions. I returned to the boat, hauled up the dinghy, and went to sleep.
Waking up with the Sun, I checked the weather. Light South winds becoming 5-10kts in the afternoon. I opted to not scrape the bottom, and leave, instead of wasting daylight time doing something that would have helped me get there faster… I’m so fucking lazy sometimes… I steamed out the Lake Worth Inlet and looked at the glassy sea. I shut the engine down and waited for the wind. It finally became Southeast at about 4kts. I know the West wall of the Gulfstream is supposed to be well offshore here, but if you go out to the sea buoy, you can see that there is at least 1-2kts ripping past the buoy. Not exactly conducive to making good time. Perhaps if the bottom wasn’t still so infested with critters, I might have been able to motor to Port Everglades. But alas, time to turn around again. Of course, as soon as I make it in the inlet, I get South winds around 12 knots. Just enough to make anchoring a bit choppy with an opposing tide. The prop came out of the water a couple of times while I was trying to set the anchor. Oh well.. Sleep and try again.

There was a weak cold front predicted to push through that day. Finally! North winds! Fuck yeah! I picked up the anchor and put the engine in gear. Oh look! You’re not going anywhere! No! Wait! you’re actually going sideways toward the spoil area! Nice! I opened the engine room hatch and saw that the shaft coupling was spinning independently from the prop shaft. Ruh roh! I raised the mainsail and sailed back to a suitable spot to anchor. After disassembling the shaft coupling, I noticed that the keyway was completely stripped out. Shit! I don’t have a problem sailing out of the Lake Worth Inlet without an engine. That I’ve done many times. It was more the thought of sailing into Port Everglades among heavy small boat and ship traffic, that made me a little weary. I called around to local prop shops, searching for a new coupling. I found one at Stuart Propeller for 90 bucks, and it just so happened that my friend Trent was coming to West Palm the next morning! huzzah! The following day, I met up with Trent, went to West Marine, and returned to the boat. I replaced the coupling and scraped the bottom, finally.
I set out the next morning. Light Southerly winds and 5-6foot seas? What the fuck? Small craft advisory in effect due to a Northeasterly swell up to 4 feet. Bah! I tacked along all day at a semi-decent speed until around 5pm. The waves getting steeper, and the boat speed falling to around 3knots. With 12nautical miles to go, I pushed the boat harder and harder and still got nowhere fast. I ended up tacking in between container ships and commercial fishing boats that refused to answer my hails on VHF 16 and 13. I’ve decided that from now on, when dealing with commercial traffic, I will no longer hail vessels as Sailing Vessel Mei Nu. It’s going to be Motor Yacht Mei Nu. People seem to answer you more when they think you’re a boat that might get them in trouble for not answering. An AIS reciever would really be nice, honestly. I dropped the hook in Lake Sylvia around 9pm, exhausted and soaking wet. It took me roughly 2.5seconds to fall asleep that night.

I awoke in the a.m. and checked the weather.. More shitty Southerly winds, but promise of a cold front the following day, bringing 20knot winds out of the Northeast to East. I figured that would be a rocket ship ride, so decided to stay a day in Fort Lauderdale, and visit Bluewater Books and Charts and a grocery store. Not really a whole lot of dinghy docks advertised in Ft.Liquordale either. A catamaran that I recognized from Stuart was anchored in Lake Sylvia, so the owner pointed me toward Southport Raw Bar. There they had a dinghy dock, for which it costs 10$ a day to tie up, but you can redeem that 10$ piece of paper for 10$ worth of food or drinks. I just looked at it like this: I can tie my Trinka up there, and get a dozen oysters for 2 bucks! It’s also within a couple blocks of Bluewater Books, a Winn Dixie, Publix, and a West Marine. Good enough.
I spent the next day or so, devouring raw oysters, spending over 500bucks at BW Books on charts and pilot data, and working on the boat.

Yesterday morning I motor sailed out the Port Everglades Inlet and steamed South into the light winds. By the time I got to about Government Cut at Miami, the wind freshened out of the Northeast, and I shut down the engine. By the time I sailed past Biscayne Channel, I was reaching in 15knot winds at about 5knots. An hour later, the wind was East North East at 20 to 30mph. It became increasingly difficult to keep the boat on course, using both hands on the tiller. Mei Nu’s mainsail needs a third reef very badly. There’s insane weather helm, and it sucks. It became dark, and I surfed down the 7-8foot waves at over 8knots at times. I was pelted with rain, my GPS kept losing satellite reception, and visibility was occasionally down to less than 2 miles. This made it hard to navigate by GPS, and by coastal navigation with landmarks. I had to just look at the chart, and trust the compass. Beaten, exhausted, and feeling rather accomplished for the day, I decided to drop the hook in Key Largo to sleep, around midnight. I found a small lee West of the shoals that cut the chop down to around 3 feet, so decided to anchor there. That chain has never flown out so fast. I actually had a hard time stopping it to tie it off. Now I sit here, bouncing up and down to the sound of waves hitting the hull, and rain hitting the cabin house. I’m going to do a couple wiring projects today, and set out for Marathon in the morning, then off to Key West, then Havana to pick up my crew who is waiting very patiently there, and has been for over a week.

I should change my online name from Darrin SailboatTrash to Darrin SmallCraftAdvisory!
Who sails to a schedule, anyway?
Idiots. That’s who.

Let’s dumb it down a bit, then!

DSBT

Boats Not Ships!

•February 8, 2012 • 4 Comments

Vehemently adhering to my tradition of not posting for months on end, I return once again after a long stint of silence. I’m unreliable. You’re welcome!

My mind has been in much better states than it is currently, due to a month on yet another ship, but I won’t get into that just yet. I figured I might as well give a little update, as the next week will be full of spending money and sailing my ass off.

Let’s see… What have I been up to? I guess I could talk about the bronze chainplates that I fabricated. They’re pretty awesome. A couple friends from S/V Robin ordered some bulk Aluminum Bronze from onlinemetals.com for the sole purpose of never worrying about stainless chainplates rotting from the inside out. I took two beefy chunks of rough bronze and milled them down to 13″ x 2″ x 7/16″ slabs of peace of mind. The painstaking process took about 12hours altogether, if you count the time it took to drill the holes and pretty them up a bit.  Oh look! Pictures and stuff!

A few non-ferrous metal cutting wheels, and a couple drill bits later, I had some bad ass solid chain plates. …not to mention 170$ USD for the bronze itself. It wasn’t fun, but massively cheaper than paying for electro-polished stainless plates to be fabricated that would likely have to be replaced at some point.

It ended up lookin’ pretty nice when strapped to the outside of the overbuilt hull:

I spent pretty much every penny to my name refitting this old Cheoy Lee, so it was time once again, to go take a ship ride. Yes, yet another soul-sucking drydock.

I flew to Long Beach, CA, and boarded the Sapphire Princess. Not my best day ever. It’s a strange feeling, stepping on to a ship of that size when you would rather be bobbing around the Caribbean on your little bucket-sized life sustaining travel device. I brought my tools and personal effects to the atrium, and tried to figure out where my crew was. After locating them, I helped haul in the great many crates that were necessary to gut and rebuilt a massive three story room, and went to dinner.

We were assured the next day that this dry dock would not be the absolute clusterfuck of the previous atrium job. This was nice to hear, but I don’t take what people say when they want you to bust your ass on a ship for a month very seriously. Things can go tits-up at the drop of a hat, and they most assuredly would. We took on a pilot, tugs, and threw the lines. This was our first evening at sea:

Pretty serene, right? A fair wind and a calm sea. I had a personal little chuckle under my breath when I realized that I was likely the only person on our crew who looked at the weather charts for the area we would be entering in the North Pacific. 20+ foot seas were forecast, and I was pretty excited. 20footers on a 900ft ship is a bit bumpy at worst, but I knew we’d be seeing some green faces soon, and sure enough, the cookies got tossed. I felt right at home with a smile on my face and I had never slept as good on a ship like I did that night. It moved right. Almost felt like home. The bumpy night was left behind and we pulled into the Victoria shipyard. They crammed us in the drydock.

The first few days were chilly, but I felt ok, seeing as the nights had fallen to the 32F range in Florida when I had left. A few days later we began to see snow, and the atrium got very very cold, even during the day. You know life is fucking with you when you’re cutting a one-of-a-kind piece of stainless steel with a grinder while shivering and are able to see your breath. I looked over at the gun port door, and snow was drifting inside. The deck, being made of steel, offered no warmth or comfort. I relished the moments that a mig welder was thrust into my hand for some productive heat procurement.

This was the beginning of a snowstorm. I hadn’t even seen snow in a couple of years, let alone touched it. Still as shitty as I remember it.

The next few weeks were full of sickness, ship food, and adult beverages that were grossly overpriced due to the Canadian government, taking their cut for the first time on a ship in port. This was quite upsetting seeing as half the allure of doing these jobs is the cheap beer and cigarettes waiting for you in the bar at the end of the day. There was also sudden spurts of meticulous, careful joinery and cabinet making.  Our crew is always the same bunch of knuckleheads that are really really good at what we do. My friend Alan compared it to the crew of miners they assemble to blow up an asteroid in some movie. After the movie was explained, it did actually make sense. We’re a contingent of fools that can not only get the quality of work these companies are looking for, but also withstand one of the worst work environments known to man. If you keep us knee deep in cheap beer, the job will get done. What is not always done is convincing the authorities to let us all into the country. Miraculously, we all made it somehow… Thanks Canada!

I guess I’ll throw in some pictures of things I built and some inherently out of context drydock photos. That’s how I roll.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

(I hate the wordpress slideshow, and so shall you. deal)

 

We made it back to Long Beach with only one night of 12-15ft rollers throwing spray onto the side decks (incidentally where our job boxes were sitting, so you got a little salty when you went to get a handful of screws), and made port in decent time. It was sunny when we arrived and we took the time to spend the last day drinking beer in port after passing immigration.

Now two days has passed since returning to my own boat, and I sit here waiting for my paycheck to make it’s way to my bank. I have this sitting in front of me, waiting to be installed:

For those of you that don’t know what this is: this is a picture of brand new stainless steel standing rigging which I purchased from Mack Sails in Stuart, FL for a laughably cheap price. Colin at Mack Sails is a great guy, and I look forward to working with him again in the future. I figure I will commission a new badass main sail from them at some point.

I have a few projects to do on the boat, then, as soon as my check arrives, I can fill my boat with food, water, spare parts, a few more tools and a shitload of charts, and set sail for Havana, Cuba.  There I will pick up my awesome crew and head down to Guatemala to see what kind of stragglers are still kicking around the DIY boat meet-up.  I plan to hang out in the Rio Dulce for a few weeks, taking small inland trips to visit select Mayan sites, fishing spots on the coast, and seek out the fine ales of Central America. I would really like to spend a small amount of time in Honduras after that, and see if I can procure some affordable lumber to trim out my interior and turn it into a piece of jewelery.  After that, I figure I will base my operations out of Isla Linton, Panama for the next little while.  I can still work on the ships out of there, and build small sailing craft in my spare time (when I’m not spearfishing in the San Blas Archipelago, or drinking 35cent beer).

The last 5 years of boatyards, shipyards, dry docks, yacht deliveries, and general shitty labor have all been about what is about to unfold in the next week. Once I make port in Havana, my stress level will decrease, and my schedule will melt away. With a decent amount of cruising kitty in my pocket, a brand new standing rig overhead, and a brick-shit-house of a new boat beneath my feet, I will claim a goal completed in my life, and can then look forward to the next more enjoyable goals. This is exactly what I wanted even before I first began this blog, and it will be a sweet victory to finally attain it, and finally nurture the hunter/gatherer lifestyle I have been cultivating.

To anyone, to whom I stated these goals, and replied with snide comments, disbelief, or stating that I should grow the fuck up and do something normal with my life, all I have to say is this:

NEENER NEENER NEEEEEENER!

Keep it weird.

-Darrin SailboatTrash

Florida Pilot Program Resources

•November 25, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Just relaying some info sources to keep up to date on this project/stripping of rights.

This is the FWC’s rendition of what is happening. Their website doesn’t seem to get updated very often, but here it is anyway:

http://myfwc.com/boating/anchoring-mooring

 

Here’s the deal from the perspective of various cruisers in the form of a blog. They seem to be keeping up to date on all their information, and have some opinions as well.

http://anchorsawayinflorida.blogspot.com/

 

I will hopefully be gone from Florida by the time any of this gets implemented, but if you plan on cruising and going through Florida, you would do well to stay informed about where you’re going to get hassled, and where you’re not.

I wash my hands of the whole affair, but writing an email to officials doesn’t go unnoticed, so if it effects you, speak up.

Now I shall go drill a hole in the deck for my chain locker. …in the rain. Joy!

DSBT

Procrastination Fuels Half-assedness.

•November 5, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Well, I’m back.
Sorta. I went up to Cape Cod briefly to help deliver a 90ft Burger to Vero Beach. Was pretty fun, as always. Aside from long hours at the helm, at night, in pea-soup fog, around Cape Fear with some sizable rollers. But I learned the wonders of Assateague ponies (I still have yet to actually see them, so I’m not convinced they’re not an internet joke!), and generally had a good time. Next time I’m in Ocean City, I’m going to have to visit the island and seek out said elusive ankle biting ponies. The Captain said they used to chase him when he went there to surf. “Do the ponies tell you to do things?”, I asked condescendingly. “I bet you don’t believe in flying fish either!” he replied. Well, those I’ve actually seen, so I pretty much have to believe in them, unlike the owner of said Burger, who still to this day, thinks the Captain is pulling her leg. …but that’s a whole other story on it’s own, which I won’t get into.
The weather was pretty shitty, as always so we ended up hugging the beach for a good portion of the trip after Cape Fear. I finally found the sweet spot in the pilothouse where I can reach the wheel with my feet so I didn’t have to stand up for many many hours on end this time. Quality of life +1000. After we returned to Stuart, I sat on my ass for a few days trying to catch up on much needed rest and prepare to go out on another delivery.
This one I was intending on doing solo, but a friend in the harbor seemed like he wanted to go too. He didn’t have much experience, but is knowledgeable and learns fast so he jumped on board. This was supposed to be a 6 or 7 day milk run, sailing a tricked out Catalina c-34 down the Treasure Coast, around the Keys, and up to the Venice area. Well….
I was told by the broker that the boat had just been surveyed and was in great shape. After spending about 3 minutes on board, I found a cracked chainplate, and one lower swage fitting also had a crack, and two more were pretty suspect as well. I called a local rigger and had him go take a quick look at it. I talked to him on the phone and asked for his thumbs up or down, and got the answer that I had been expecting – “I wouldn’t sail that boat”. Well, that figures. I agreed to just motor the boat around the state. So, this is what passes for a sailboat survey these days, I guess. If you’re going to buy a boat, do some research, and do your own surveys, because this snag wasn’t the end of the clusterfuckery that was about to ensue.
The first day was beautiful. We shot out the ever-shoaling St.Lucie Inlet and into the blue. I hugged the beach a bit, and rode the counter current to the gulf stream at a decent speed over ground, and ended the day early in Riviera Beach.
The next morning the seas were up and the onshore wind had the ebbing tide breaking in the Lake Worth Inlet. That’s just lovely, I thought. So! 30 draw bridges later we were sitting on a mooring ball in Miami waiting out a tropical wave promising gale force winds and steep shitty seas. I still think I could have made it to at least Islamorada that first day, but it wasn’t worth the risk of smashing up this guys new boat. We had a good window to make it to Marathon, where I planned to cross the 7mile bridge in Moser’s Channel to make my Northerly course across the Florida Bay. Somewhere around Key Largo, after stopping for fuel, I decided to try to secure a place to stay for the night, as I knew we would be arriving in Boot Key Harbor around 12:30am and would be tired. I called the harbormaster in Boot Key. He notified me that I would not be allowed to enter the harbor at night, and I would have to find somewhere else until the office opened the next morning. I couldn’t comprehend what he was telling me. Why wasn’t I allowed to enter the harbor? Was he scared I was going to hit someone’s boat? In retrospect, I should have just omitted the phone call, and just came in unannounced and grabbed a ball. Luckily, the person working at Pancho’s Fuel Dock allowed me to tie up for the night, if I got fuel in the morning and left. So nice!
Shortly after dark, the stone crab and lobster pots began to dot the horizon. I love making the mate maniacally spotlight forward and fuck up my night vision while I steer a course that changes every 20seconds or so! Honestly! Although it did keep me alert at the end of a really long day, I really would have rather set the autopilot and put my feet up.
We tied up 2 and a half minutes after the arrival time I had predicted 6 hours earlier. I shoulda gave it some extra throttle on the way in the Inlet, damnit! I grabbed fuel in the morning, and went to grab a mooring ball. We stayed the day, had lunch, dinner, and prepared to set out in the morning.
Steaming along in Moser’s Channel at 6knots, the RPMs dropped, the cooling water temperature soared, and white smoke began billowing out the exhaust.. I immediately backed down, came about, and brought her out of the channel, where we dropped the hook. Awesome! The mate offered to go down and check the prop, shaft, and raw water intake thru-hull. I tied a couple of lines to him and let him break in his new swimming goggles in no less than a 3knot current. “Don’t let go”. He reported a bit of crap on the prop, but everything looked fine other than that. Well shit.. I checked the strainer: clean. Impeller: perfect. When you don’t know, ask someone who does! No sense in wasting time and attempting to satisfy the belief that you should know everything about everything in some kind of ego-powered debacle. After consulting with the Captain that I’ve probably learned the most from over the years on the phone (cell phones are so goddamned useful), I checked what I had overlooked: the thermostat. It definitely looked pretty rough, and kinda seemed like it had been repaired with some solder at some point… Who repairs thermostats??? Crafty mother fuckers! That’s who!
I pulled the thermostat out and reconnected the housing without it. We were running at about 120degrees F, so I decided not to push it, and limp back into Boot Key Harbor at 2.5knots.
I sent the mate home, as he has his own boat and needed to get back to the onslaught of projects that awaited him, not to mention saving myself some money. I scoured the auto-parts stores and diesel mechanics stock until I found a place that could order the 75dollar thermostat for the Universal M-35 diesel… No wonder the previous owner repaired the damn thing!
I set out alone the following day on the same course, and whatdya know, the same thing happened. This time I was definitely smelling burning coolant in the exhaust which was now pluming with white smoke, not steam, like I had originally thought. Back to Boot Key again! Wooooo!

I put the boat in a slip and called the owner, letting him know that this was beyond the scope of my diesel mechanic abilities considering it wasn’t my boat, and I didn’t want to go tinkering, the way I would on my own boat. I called a mechanic and scheduled an appointment for him to come pull the head and check the head gasket and a few other things like the mixing elbow and heat exchanger. However! Hurricane Rina was brewing and intensifying extremely fast off the coast of Honduras and most of the predicted tracks had her forecast to cross right over the Keys, so the mechanic refused to disable a boat right before a storm, which does actually make sense, because I was still able to limp around for short runs. I prepared to weather someone else’s boat through a possible category 2 or 3 hurricane. A couple days later a lovely little cold front swept down and put that fire out quick and had Rina retreating to the mountains in Cuba, where it was surely going to fizzle out and die.
Nice 6 day milk run, right!
That’s the nature of the beast though, so I didn’t think much of it. I put the boat in a cheap slip where the mechanic could get on and do his thing, and caught the greyhound back to Stuart after sitting in Boot Key Harbor for a week, looking after the boat and hanging out with the locals. There’s a great bunch down there in Marathon right now. I recommend stopping there if you have time on your way wherever it is that you go. I’ll likely stay there for a few days on my way to Cuba to pick up crew before heading to the Rio Dulce for that DIY sailboat summit type thing in February.

That plan has also changed as of late. I won’t be able to make it out in early January, like I had hoped to, as I will be slaving away the entire month on the Sapphire Princess cruise ship in Victoria. That will keep me away from my boat and my awesome crew (first time bringing crew on my own boat. I’ll get to sleep!!!) until early February.

Here’s some pictures of the boat and of my 20dollar autopilot project.
Not much else to say at the moment other than it’s nice to be back on my mildewy little Cheoy Lee, and sleeping in my own bed once again.

DSBT

p.s. the new wordpress interface sucks

 
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