From: The Captain –
Conditions: Clouds and sun, cold, winds from the North 15 – 20 mph
Distance traveled: 58 nautical miles + .3 nautical miles
Time underway: 7 hours 32 minutes + 15 minutes
Average Speed: 7.7 kts
Max Speed: 18.3 kts
Fuel used: 73 gallons
Boating is not always just about margaritas and cracked conch and warm sunny days. It can be challenging, unnerving and dangerous. Even when everything is seemingly going well everything can change in an instant. And you have to have plans in place and a general awareness that you may be forced to react to the most unexpected situations at any time. And that is how our day began.
Backing up… we had a terrific experience in our week at Hinckley Yacht Services in Stuart where we had our new davit installed by a team of caring professionals. The job wrapped up in time for OLOH to get a good wash-down just in advance of the arrival of my Dad and his wife who were joining us for a few days and we were right on track for our intended departure for Florida’s Gulf Coast the next morning. We had planned to wake up by 7am to be underway by around 7:30.
It’s pretty normal for me to wake up well in advance of the scheduled alarm on a travel day, particularly when it’s been more than a few days since we’ve run the boat. So at 5:30 I laid in bed running the day’s impending trip through my head, thinking about the fact that it was going to be blowing 15 to 20 and tossing around all of the other details that get your brain cranking. I had done my pre-departure engine check before going to bed – and I always take one last look around before firing up the engines. Everything on my list was checked off and all systems were dialed in. Or so I thought.
We shoved off from the docks at 7:36 am with a strong north wind blowing to begin what was expected to be a straight-forward day of cruising. About five minutes into our ride something was wrong. We were pointed towards a channel marker and OLOH was not responding to my helm input the way she should have. Then I realized I had an alarm sounding (the Detroit electronic alarms are not as loud as they should be). Glancing down at the helm I see the starboard engine showing 000 RPMs and the display telling me that the engine had stopped. I went to neutral on the port engine and attempted to fire the starboard engine. It revved for a moment but did not light up. Uh oh. At slow speeds most of our steering is done by moving the engines in and out of gear and allowing the thrust of the props to turn the boat. When just the port engine is engaged in forward the boat will turn to starboard and the opposite in reverse. With the strong wind blowing my now-limited control was severely diminished. It was clear that I couldn’t count on re-gaining the starboard engine and we would have to return to the dock. The dock that we had just left also had another 50ft boat on it, but it was too small for both of our boats so they had us hang off our end by about 8ft. To dock into the wind meant our stern would be past the docks so the Admiral would have to jump off closer to the bow to get a line tied quickly. But, remaining calm, with a combination of the port engine alternating between forward and reverse, a bit of throttle and rudder movement and our very powerful, reliable thrusters, I was able to bring OLOH around and dock into the wind at the dock we had departed from moments earlier. We have never lost an engine before and it was good to have all of the theoretical practice we’ve done pay off with a smooth resolution to what could have been a very bad situation (there are a lot of multi-million dollar yachts in the area where we were under very limited control). It was 7:51 am and we were ready for a cocktail.
So… what happened? Once we were tied we cranked the ill-fated engine and, while it turned vigorously, it wasn’t starting. Hmmm. Seems like it’s not getting fuel. Down to the engine room again… So, as thorough as I am with my daily engine checks there was something I didn’t catch. As demonstrated by our experience anything can change between one day and the next and it is imperative before running the boat that you look everything over to see if anything doesn’t look as it should. One thing I do not typically check is the position of the manifold for our Racor filters.
OLOH is equipped with two Racors for each engine. They are secondary fuel filters in place to help ensure that the fuel moving from the tanks through the engines is as clean as possible. The manifold allows you to switch between the two filters so if one becomes clogged while underway you always have a backup. I am the only one who moves those levers so checking their position is not something I typically include in my “pre-flight.” But now it will be. During our davit installation, the electrician wiring in our new system was working in the exact location of our Racor manifold. It’s a fairly tight space and it’s not surprising at all that he must have knocked into the lever at some point. It was in the near-off position. That equals little to no fuel going to the engine and exactly the kind of symptoms we experienced. Whew. It wasn’t something bigger. And BIG lesson learned. That valve is now on my daily checklist. Onward…
With our new guests on board retreating from the snowy, cold northeast, we were naturally disappointed that we were relegated to running from the interior Pilothouse as it was around 40 degrees when we again got underway at 8:38 am. Fortunately, they don’t care and it is quite comfortable running from inside.
We meandered our way out of the Manatee Pocket, back into the St. Lucie River and proceeded on our way to the Okeechobee Waterway. When you arrive at the St. Lucie Canal it is much like the many narrow parts of the Intra Coastal Waterway as it is a man-made “ditch,” fairly narrow with a controlled depth.
To get out to Lake O we were going to have to transit two locks, the first of which, The St. Lucie Lock, is fairly early in the journey. Unfortunately, when we first entered the narrow canal we found ourselves behind a tug moving four barges just ahead of us.
As there was really no safe place to pass and because commercial traffic is always locked through before recreational traffic, we had no choice but to maintain virtually idle speed behind the tug for around seven miles before arriving at the first lock. Then we listened as the tug operator explained on the radio that he was going to have to disassemble his tow setup and move the barges through one at a time. Each lock-through takes around 15 – 20 minutes and for each lock-through they have to return from the other side. Another 15 – 20 minutes. This could have been hours of waiting. Fortunately, the good-natured tug Captain suggested to the Lock Tender that he send us through while he began disassembling his tow. Thank goodness. We had already had a pretty long morning and keeping in position in a relatively small “arrival area” for the long time it would have taken could have been torturous and difficult.
We had our first successful lock-through of the day, around a fifteen-foot rise in this case, and moved on through. The waterway has long stretches of middle-of-nowhere nothingness intermixed with some mildly populated areas. We had it virtually to ourselves and the day was getting better. And then… “THUNK… THUNK.” Ugh. Neutral. A glance behind the boat. The appearance of a previously submerged log. Throttle up… will there be a vibration? Not at 1000 RPM’s, not at 1800 RPM’s, all the way up… nothing. Whew. Dodged a bullet. It probably hit the keel and bounced back onto the hull. Hadn’t we paid the piper already today? Oh yeah, it’s a boat. All good… onward…
We were well-behind our anticipated schedule but that really didn’t matter.
We cleared the Port Mayaca Lock where the Tender amused us with stories while we locked-through and then we were on Lake Okechobee, the second largest lake entirely in the United States. We had it all to ourselves and despite the strong winds it was only the forecast moderate chop for the two-plus hours we had on our transit across.
After arriving at the southwest corner of the lake and the town of Clewiston we proceeded to our stop for the night, Roland Martin’s Marina. Seemingly in the middle of nowhere but, much like Coinjoick in North Carolina, Captain Sam and their crew know what they’re doing and there’s wonderful charm in the place’s simplicity and people.
They’ve got a great ship’s store and a Tiki Bar/restaurant that will be our destination as soon as I’m done typing. Oh yeah, Jasper was excited to get off the boat after over eight and a half hours since our original departure – once Captain Sam removed the large snake from our dock.
The Gulf Coast is next. See you out there…