Friday, January 7, 2022

Busy! Busy! Busy!

On our way back to Longboat Key we thought about all the little trips we'd take over the next 3 months. Up to Tampa, down to Fort Myers, maybe a night at Boca Grande. But with the exception of our sea trial and a couple of outings with family members for the holidays, we've done nothing but work. And by we, of course, I mean Russ.

We have a number of project that we've completed but still another batch we're trying to get done in the next month. 

Completed tasks:

  • New speakers - we replaced the old Bose speaker with new Sonos. They are absolutely amazing.
    New lights, new speakers

  • Repair some of the interior walls - Due to logistics the new speakers had to be moved, leaving the paneling with dents and holes from the previous speakers. So we repaneled them.
  • Better lighting in the sky lounge - We have plenty of light up there. But they don't dim well. They also don't change color. Not that we plan on doing any nighttime travel, but having red lights is easier on the eyes. 
  • Better switch for the new house batteries - Apparently, there was not easy way to turn off the batteries AT the batteries once Russ did the upgrade, you just had to pull the cable. Which sparked and was scary. So Russ fixed that with a switch.
  • Replace window pulls - We took videos of Russ doing this which, when he has time, he'll will put on YouTube. It is a process! The entire window has to be removed to put the new pull on. What bozo thought that was a good idea?!
  • Install rub rail end cap - When we bought the boat this particular cap was broken. Eventually it was taken off. Russ put on a new one.
  • New stair covers
    New stair covers - the old ones were worn and constantly dirty, even after a cleaning. So I made new ones. YES! This was my task. Came out pretty nice, considering.
  • New blinds downstairs - turns out the old blinds were store bought from Lowes and nothing special. They never did fit the windows well. So, I order a new set which Russ installed.

In process:

  • Pull out drawers! 2 done, 4 to go.
    Drawer pullouts - we installed a number of these in various condos and we're not sure why we didn't think of it for the boat until we saw friends of our did. 2 are done. 4 more to go.
  • New AC units (2 of 'em) - The upstairs unit never worked. Originally we were going to put in a fancy, diesel run system but we couldn't get the company that made them to commit to anything. Meanwhile, newer units are supposed to be WAY quieter. So we opted to just replace them. Or course once Russ started by removing a unit he discovered mold in the ducts and water in the hoses. The project is on hold while we wait for those parts.
  • Watermaker - Cat-n-Dogs had one but we never used it, largely because it was clunky and required a bit of baby sitting. Newer models don't, apparently. We had a through-hole put in for the anchor wash which Russ knew would also be used for a water maker. This will make visiting the keys and Bahamas way more convenient.
    AC unit, waiting to be installed

  • Anchor markers - When on anchor you need to let out a certain length of rode, or chain. We calculate that every time, and it varies on weather and current and depth, each and every time. That done, you need to know just how much chain you've let out. We marked our chain with ties that marked every 25 feet. But those got caught in the windlass (the motor that lets out the chain and pulls the anchor back up). So we're trying a new tech, colored link markers. Folks say they work, so we'll see. 
  • New Windlass - Russ wants to be able to raise and lower line (rope) in addition to our chain, which our current windlass can't do. The new one will have capstan that fits our line. It's good to have options, in case of emergency.
  • Washer repair - We used the washer a fair bit this past summer. But recently, while in the spin cycle, it's making a horrible rattling. We're hoping a repair can be done, because replacing that will be a major ordeal. It's currently in a cabinet in the shower. The only way to get it out would be through the kitchen, and that would require removing and rebuilding cabinets.
  • New carpet outside - as I typed they were patterning to put some vinyl flooring outside.

In planning

  • Scramble Net - I saw this on a video and fell in love with the idea. We have no easy and convenient way to handle a "man over board" situation. Yes, we have life preservers and a throwable line for anyone to grab, but getting onto the boat might be a challenge depending on the weather and situation. A scramble net looked like a lightweight and useful solution for us. But they don't make them for smaller vessels, only larger, commercial boats. So I'm thinking about how to make one.
    example of a scramble net

Frankly, both of us are looking forward to when we start moving again. 

Monday, November 22, 2021

Sea Trial

A couple of stories converge today.

First, props. After a river cruise like ours most everyone has had some kind of propellor issue. We are no exception. Between wallowing in mud, backing into logs, and hitting things we didn't see, we needed to have the props tended to when we got to Green Turtle Bay. At that time Russ thought the props looked really thin. The starboard prop had to be hammered flat. Moreover, we always had just a little vibration.

Additionally, we've never had them pitched, and we're certain the previous owner didn't either. It would make sense they were due, especially after the 2 years we've put on them.

Roseate Spoonbills. Love these birds.
We see them occasionally on LBK.
Second, engines. We have 2 315hp Yanmar diesels, 1 in the each hull. These are the kind of engines semi trucks use. Annually, once we get back to Longboat Key, Russ has a Yanmar engine expert come out and give them the works. He tighten belts, flushed the raw water coolant system, replaced the zincs -- normal marine engine service stuff. But we like a professional to give them a good eye. Btw, they got a clean bill of health.

Russ and the engine guy had conversations about props and speed. Sure we could go faster if pitched differently but unless we could get the boat to plane we might as well be dumping fuel into the water, since we'd burn through it so quickly. 

Sarasota, across the bay.
Side note: The engines are on the back of the boat. The faster you go, the harder they push, and the more the nose of the boat comes up. "Planing" is when you hit a speed where the nose comes down and the boat levels out. Theoretically, you'd burn less fuel because more of your hull is out of the water. In fact, you should be able to slow the engines a bit and keep your plane. We just don't think inQuest has it in her. She's very heavy.

Another engine topic was how many rpms could we do and for how long. The mechanic believed we could run the engines at 3400 rpm for hours. The Endeavour people thinks we could run them flat out for hours. After some chat it was clear we needed to know exactly what performance we were getting before we changed anything. We really had no clue how fast the boat would go with the throttles pegged and the engines wide open. That is something they checked on sea trial when we purchased the boat, and at that time she achieved 15 knots. But she had little or no water in the tank, little gas, and absolutely nothing on board like what we carry now (tools, spare parts, etc.) We were sure we were too heavy to get on plane but had no idea what our top speed would be.

Hey, I made Toad in the Hole.
Those are vegan sausages, btw.
Today we decided to find out. Our water tanks are mostly filled (150 gallons max). We added fuel so we were about 1/2 our carrying capacity (we can hold about 600 gallons max). Yeah, that can weigh us down!

There was a weather front coming in so we wanted to get this done before it hit. (Turns out it was nothing, but better safe, yadda yadda yadda). That meant, however, we were doing this at low tide, so clearance would be minimal -- the most we saw under the keel was 7 feet, and that was in the ICW channel. Shallow water can also impede performance; being so close to "land" you get a slight suction affect that drags. The path we decided to take was from south to north, which meant we were going against the tide and the wind. So, lots of forces acting against us.

We started slow out of our marina's channel, the sped up to our normal speed, 2300 rpms, which got us around 8 to 8.5 knots. Once we reached the ICW we turned northward (a very tight turn to get into the channel) and started stepping up our speeds. 2300 to 2600, then 3000, then 3200, then 3400. All the while I watched our course and speed while Russ watched the engine information, oil pressure and temperature. Everything was holding steady and, as we predicted, were traveling about 10.5 knots. 

Not so much about Sarasota, altho it's very
pretty in this picture. But the dots in the 
mangrove bush, just beyond the covered
bike. Those are pelicans. They perch!
Then we pegged the engines, pushing the throttle to the helm panel. Given how we have the helm panel laid out there's a tablet (that runs our navionics) on a suction device in the way of the throttles, so they couldn't be fully flat (meaning we might go faster). As I pointed that out to the captain he said the engines were already at 3800, which we understood to be "top speed" so it didn't matter.

Then I looked at our speed. Then I looked out of the window. We were absolutely flying. The nose had come down and this boat actually planed. We were just over 15 knots. Both of us were stunned.

We kept her in that state for 5 to 10 minutes, which was as long as we could before the channel turned. No overheating, no vibrations, no oil pressure issues, nothing! She ran beautifully.

Fully shocked and awed we turn back home and docked her. 

It's not a bad idea to have a spare set of props ready, just in case. We can store them here should we need them. But for now we're no longer thinking we need to do anything with the props. We'll just wait and see how things go.

But this opens up a bunch of options for us. We might be able to cross the gulf the long way in the day. Or a quick trip to the keys. Or the Bahamas...

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Anclote Key to... home, marina

When we retired for the evening we were thinking of a place nearby where we could hunker down for the next storm. Lots of rain and wind was predicted for the next 4 days to a week. (Secretly, Russ had this idea about just getting to Longboat Key, but kept it to himself).

When we woke Russ calculated the run to Gulf Port, which was about 4 1/2 hours. However, if we went outside, we could be in LBK in 5 1/2 - 6 hours.

So, guess what we did.

Winds were up, higher than predicted, but they came largely from the E of NE, and since we ran along the coast they got almost no fetch. The whole way down was very smooth and very comfortable. Gone was the sun and blue sky, but the water was kind.

Hmmmm... what do they say about red
sky in the morning again?
We knew that meant a bit of bump on the Tampa Bay, since it's a large body of water that runs NE. Once we turned the corner we definitely got some stiffer waves right on the beam. So we tacked a bit, taking them on the quarter bow, then tacked back once we got to the official ICW path across the bay. We rocked a little, but overall it was a great ride. And it lasted about 30 minutes in total.

Once back on the ICW the biggest challenge was getting under the 2 bridges that blocked us from our home port, both of which we could get under without hailing the operators once we dropped our antennae and radar mount.

There you have it! The Great American River Cruise is officially over. 

Most of the day was like this.
Gray, with buildings on the shore.
We plan on taking some shorter trips around here, maybe to Boca Grande, or Fort Meyers, or Tampa. But our next big cruise will start sometime in February. Currently we're thinking loop #2 of the Great Loop -- get that fancy platinum burgee. But it depends on how Covid shakes out, and if we'll be welcome into Canada by that time.

Right now it just feels good to have made it back. We got to New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Nashville, Knoxville, and Chattanooga. We call that some successful boating.

MOVIES! (from yesterday)

We've gotten comfortable with a night run. Good thing, too, with the shorter days of winter. This is a bit jiggy getting out. Then about 3 miles of straight before we can turn. And you CANNOT turn sooner.

You can tell it's "beamy" from the jiggy horizon. It's not our favorite way to travel.

Sadly it doesn't show too well in the vid, but if you watch the sun you'll see us constantly changing course. Crab pots are mentally exhausting.

From today!

We're in a narrow channel and this guy passes us at speed. No radio hail, no horn. We hailed him to ask why the fast pass, and he didn't bother to answer. So, don't be this guy.

Arriving and docking in Longboat Key. The End.

Steinhatchee to Anclote Key, anchor

The red means we did
over 10 knots.
It starts at the reef,
when things got bad,
we put the spurs to her!
Growing tired of these crazy long days. But a big chunk of the Gulf travel is now behind us.

Left in nearly darkness again. This time it was an interesting challenge since, unlike the Apalachicola channel which is straight, this one twists and turns, and any wrong move puts you on the call list for Sea Tow.

The day ahead was 10 hours long. It broke down into chunks like this:

7am to 8am: getting out of the channel. Mild winds, calm waters

8am to 10am: The further we got from land the more wind we encountered, the more wild the waters. They were supposed to be NE winds, but they tuned out more easterly, which made for some uncomfortable beam sea. We abandon the Navionics route and head more inland, which made the waters wonderful.

10am to 11am: Waters are so good we believed the winds have died down for the afternoon (which was predicted). We realize there is a reef coming up, near Cedar Key. Rather than deal with the shallows we decide to head west, around a lighted marker. THAT was a mistake.

Sunset on the key
11am to 1pm: We managed to get around the marker but winds have increased and water became rougher. Not the worst we'd ever been in, but not comfortable either. We head back inland, hoping to decrease the wind's fetch. It's supposed to become a north wind, which would be perfect for us. Then we could turn due south and take the following seas. We love that.

1pm to 2pm: Wind turns north. Seas calm, and we're off! Woo hoo!

2pm to 4pm: While we thought it would be smooth sailing from here on out, we did not get a chance to relax. For whatever reason this section of water was riddled with crab traps (we call 'em crab pots). The time was spent dodging and weaving in between and around hundreds of these things.

Dolphin off the bow
4pm to 6pm: Few traps, more wind, but all on our stern. But the day was getting long and we were looking forward to a quiet anchorage. After dropping the hook (sandy bottoms make for easy, easy anchoring) Russ took Lizzie on a tender ride to the island while I started some dinner.

Why the long day? Weather, of course. We know we're going to be stuck someplace starting tomorrow afternoon for possibly several days. We'd like that to be within striking distance of Longboat Key, rather than know we have more gulf days ahead. So, we pushed.

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Apalachicola to Steinhatchee, marina


10 hour day today, which is really long. But we got across the gulf. So yay!

Out before sunrise
While on the dock another vessel joined us for the night (no name on the vessel and we failed to ask). They weren't familiar with the area and didn't want to traverse the dark but were happy to follow us out. That was the plan -- go time, 7 am.

We got up at 6 am (which was 5 just the day before). Sunrise would happen closer to 8 am. Which means it's quite dark around 7, not quite nautical twilight. That gave us enough time, however, to get a couple of biscuit sandwiches from the bakery next door, who opens at 6:30. We mentioned it to the other boaters who happily got a couple for themselves. Bake Apalach! They close once they're out of biscuits which, in our experience, is around 9 am.

Sleepy sun. St. George Island is on the right.
Having done that stretch a couple of times, not only did we have a Navionics route to guide us but we hand precious routes (we call them breadcrumbs) on Aquamaps. It's a 2 1/2 hour run along St. George's Island before you get the the East Inlet and hit the gulf.

All predictors said 1 - 2 foot seas on our nose until noon, then calming to still, then coming back to 1 - 2 feet on our stern around 4. It was about an hour later to get calmed, and an hour earlier to return, but we are really comfortable with stern seas. So overall the day was good to wonderful.

Pretty much the view today.
Getting into Steinhatchee is skinny and only doable for us thin boats. That said, we saw 4.5 feet beneath our keel as the lowest, which means the water is about 8 feet deep. That should work for most looper.

A pleasant surprise was the new docks at the Sea Hag. We stayed here on our way across last spring and were not impressed. The docks were rickety and a balancing act was needed to walk on them. The new docks are solid, and very easy to dock on. Last time we were here we didn't think we'd consider staying for any length of time. Totally would, now!

Utica pizza!
We ate some dinner (homemade pizza) and will get engine checks done before we go to bed. Tomorrow we'll repeat the process, heading south along the coast.

Fun fact: Between our last crossing in April and this one Russ updated our wi-fi. Last time we didn't have internet for about 2 hours. This time, I was texting my family and playing my game while 20 miles off shore. So, yay for Russ!

inQuest docked at the Sea Hag.

From Pearl Bayou --> Apalachicola

Getting up the anchor at Pearl Bayou.

You'll see a number of wrecks on either bank occasionally. This section was creamed in Hurricane Michael in 2018.

Getting on the dock at Apalachicola, in front of "The Icehouse"

Apalachicola --> Steinhatchee

Leaving Apalach in the dark. There are clusters of ivy. They weren't there when we docked.

The crossing. Just put it on repeat for 8 hours....

...then we get to Steinhatchee. Follow the skinny, narrow channel up the river, getting waked by fishing boats. Just a small looper challenge.

Monday, November 1, 2021

Destin to Pearl Bayou, anchor

After watching the weather for the last few days it looks like there will be fabulous weather to do the crossing on Tuesday, and an equally lovely day for gulf travel on Wednesday. Since we think we can get across the gulf in 2 days (recall it took us about 3 weeks last time), we'd like to take advantage of that. We are not dilly-dallying. 

Up early and out at before dawn we put in a solid 7 hour day, which got us anchored by 3 pm. The first body of water we had to cross was the Choctawhatchee Bay, which we know from experience can be tough. I'm happy to report it was just wonderful. Then it's back on cut canals for a while which connect you to the West Bay by Panama City. This particular anchorage is a favorite -- this is our third time here. 

Sun peeks over Destin.
If, weather wise, things remain the same for the next day, we'll be Apalachicola tomorrow (which isn't too long a day) then we'll get to Steinhatchee on Tuesday and Anclote Key on Wednesday -- that will be the seriously long day. 

From there it's a hop, skip, and a jump from Longboat Key. Fingers crossed, but we should be back by next weekend.

Hey, look! A bald eagle!
Of course we gotta cross the Tampa Bay... we may have to wait for the next weather window for that one.

inQuest in Pearl Bayou.
The others are residents, as far as we can tell.

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Ocean Beach to Destin, marina

Technically, Destin is on the other side of the bay from us but near enough. We came to Two Georges, our marina, when we left Destin Harbor on our way up, 5 months ago. Normally we anchor out at Fort McRee (between here and Orange Beach) but we decided to make it a longer day, hoping to get to Apalachicola in 3 days. Cheaper fuel at Two Georges, so we tanked up. 

Also, Lizzie took a fall a couple of days ago so we're letting her leg recover a bit before dinghy rides.

inQuest at the Wharf.
Russ is on the top stern, and a
blue heron is on the pier.
The winds finally died down (2 days of bluster!), which was key for getting out of the slip we were in. The small fairway made maneuvering difficult in stiff winds. We were able to back inQuest out, winding our way backwards, right into the fuel docks where we pumped out. That got us underway around 7:15.

Then east! Following the ICW, mostly bounded by Santa Rosa Island, we made our way toward Destin.

When were reached the marina we fueled up before docking. The winds had returned, over 10 mph, so getting onto and off of the fuel dock was more exciting than normal. Thankfully, getting docked was less so. The wind was on our stern, and the slip was a straight shot in, and far from any other boats.

Moving from our slip to the pumpout, all done in reverse.

Then heading out on the amazing morning.

Oh, and we have dolphins again!