Oh, boy. Sometimes you just have to wonder if it is meant to be.
We got the outboard engine back from the mechanic and he said it is running great. Diane suggests that I should actually try it on our dinghy so I mount the engine and launch the dinghy into our canal near high tide. No sooner did the dinghy enter the water that I noted a lot of water coming into the boat. I stared incredulously for a full five seconds, then hauled the dinghy back out onto the dock. I turned to Diane with a look of disgust and despair and then took the engine back off. Turning over the dinghy revealed that the glued seams that hold the rubber tubes to the hard fiberglass portion of the boat had simply come undone in one section. I simply could not believe this was happening!
This is where we had some good fortune. I called the local West Marine store where a guy works who does repairs on inflatable boats. he was working that day and called me right back. He said he could not make such a repair, but recommended a local company that could. Amazingly, the owner answered the phone at the shop on Sat afternoon and agreed to come down and pick up the boat with his trailer by 3pm! Even trying his best, he said he could not re-glue the seams until Tuesday and then it needed three days to cure before the dinghy could be used.
I have just checked with him (on Tuesday) and he said it is ready for gluing in the morning as afternoon temperatures are not conducive to quality work. He promises it will be ready by Friday. It is incredibly bad to have your dinghy fail at any time, but having it fail with just barely enough time to get it repaired before a cruise is still better than having the failure during the cruise.
Let's hope that is the end of the drama for a while.
My last post indicated that one of the last major tasks before the cruise was to check out the dinghy engine. Well, it is a good thing I did not let that go much longer. It started right away and then failed to idle properly as before, but the plan was to let it run and draw the gas from the tank, into which I had poured a generous amount of fuel conditioner. The hope was that jets in the carburetor controlling the idle might be cleaned.
Well, it stopped running after a short bit and then would not restart at all. Fortunately, I looked at the clear filter inline with the fuel hose and saw a murky emulsion of what I knew to be fuel and water, so my troubleshooting did not take too long. It was nearing the end of daylight, so I took the tank off to the garage. The next day after work I drained the tank into a clear container and got fresh gas for the tank.
I added the proper amount of 2-stroke oil, shook the tank, and then hooked up the tank to the motor. With the carburetor draining onto an absorbent rag, I squeezed the priming bulb until clean gas flowed out and then replaced the drain plug. The engine started right away, and ran just as before the water incident. I resolved at that time, after some impromptu and unpleasant "discussions" with Diane, that I would never hear the end of it if I didn't get the motor fixed by a professional, and very soon!
As of yesterday, the motor is at the local shop with a promise to be ready by Monday at the latest. Diane is quite right that having a very reliable dinghy is critical to the enjoyment and safety of a cruise.
Another unexpected chore was to track down a water intrusion problem. Despite being told that the forward hatch leaked and me never being able to confirm that, we did discover after a massive rainstorm that water can get past the windlass and drip into the bilge. The problem is that on the way to the bilge it hits a teak veneer panel at the foot of the v-berth and allows water to seep in.
I remedied that temporarily by affixing a plastic sheet behind the panel as a piece of "flashing" to allow the water to go directly to the bilge "without passing go or collecting $200". A proper fix will entail stopping or slowing the leak and then replacing the wooden panel which has started delaminating. I will add the plastic sheet to the new panel anyway as a precaution.
On a different front, the massive oil spill in the Gulf has spread to the point where some may be picked up by the ever-present Loop Current and brought quickly to the Keys. The repercussions go far beyond what it does to our little cruise, of course, but it will surely be sad for us to have to abandon the Dry Tortugas visit after waiting so long.
So far, both the known issues requiring attention and preventive maintenance tasks have been minimal compared with the two longish cruises of the past few years. Mostly that is because we have already installed all the gear upgrades we think we want aboard. We also just took Diva Di out for a weekend cruise a few weeks ago, so we got to test many of her systems - and they all worked!
The preventive maintenance and inspections included: thorough check of all belts, hoses and wiring on the engine and cooling system; replacing the propeller and heat exchanger anodes (zincs); cleaning the prop, checking the transmission and engine oil; checking the refrigeration; testing the solar panel and controller output; testing the windlass operation, inspecting the primary and secondary anchor rodes; testing the head flush; testing the VHF and HF (SSB) radio operation; testing the stereo system, battery performance monitor, and all lights on the boat (interior and exterior).
The only project which got thrown into the mix was a request from the Admiral to make a screened replacement for one of the companionway hatch boards. What I thought might be a daunting task too only a few hours and came out looking pretty good. It is large enough to allow decent air flow, but small enough to prevent even a child from crawling through the frame should a would-be thief attempt to gain access. Not only will it be helpful for us if we need airflow and protection from bugs while aboard, but it will allow us to leave our cat aboard in more comfort when we need to leave the boat for a short bit.
Left to do is a thorough test of our dinghy outboard engine - a recently purchased 1994 model Johnson 9.9 HP. It seems like a sweet motor when it is running right; we just need to get it to idle more reliably.
Mike, a friend in my home port, suggested I post some of our planning and preparatory efforts, rather than just the actual cruising log, so here goes:
Still in the ranks of the fulltime employed, I am fortunate to have an employer that understands how life can often prove too short. While I know I am very valuable to my company, I recognize that no one is indispensible, so it was with some trepidation that I asked for a 4 week sabbatical to take another cruise. The last major cruise was two years ago for four months to the Bahamas, which started this blog.
So, knowing we could take four weeks off, the question became "to where." It was quickly decided to attempt to visit the Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas, right in our own backyard, so to speak. Someone looking at a map and not very familiar with travel by sailboat, would be tempted to say that four weeks is a long time to spend so close to home. They might not realize that if you want to travel no more than 8-10 hours a day and anchor somewhere protected at night, it takes five-six days to hop down the lower keys at 5 kts. - and that doesn't leave much time to enjoy the places you stop. I have had "newbie" sailors (or at least new to SW Florida) mention that they had a week's vacation coming up and were going to take the boat to Key West and back. I always try to find a way to explain the facts without dampening their zeal.
Anyway, the plan is to go no farther northeast than Bahia Honda in the lower keys, visit as many of the reefs for snorkeling as we choose, and spend a nice bit of time on the way from Key West to the Dry Tortugas. For those not familiar, the Dry Tortugas is a group of small keys (islands) about 70 miles west of Key West. There is a National Park there at Fort Jefferson, a tremendous brick fort which was designed to guard the sea lanes in and out of the Gulf of Mexico. It was never completed due to two structural issues: it was sinking from its own weight, and its walls were obsolete for stopping the latest advances in artillery shells.
There is great fishing and snorkeling in the area and we hope to have good weather to enjoy it all. We made our first attempt in May of 2007 with another couple (Dan and Sharon), great friends who had recently moved to the area. Despite the wonderful companionship, the visit was mostly unsuccessful because the high winds kept the ladies from enjoying any snorkeling, and our forced return schedule put us at sea for 32 straight hours of very uncomfortable (but not dangerous) conditions. This year, we have no intentions of letting a schedule force us to endure foul weather.
Speaking of schedules, it makes sense to try to get the Dry Tortugas portion of our cruise completed early on. It is possible we could have great weather to get there and enjoy a few days, then be stuck for many more days before a comfortable return. If that winds up consuming 12-13 days, it is better to have it occur during the first half.
My friend, Dennis, posed was an option whereby he and I would deliver our boat from home to Key West in one passage, perhaps 30 hours. My admiral, Diane, would drive down in Karen's car, along with our cat, Clyde. At that point, we would all spend a few days and nights anchored out at Key West and enjoy the town. Then they would depart for their upper Keys home and would continue to the Dry Tortugas. We will see if that option is acceptable to all parties before long.
It appears that I cannot create a new and separate blog for our next mini-adventure, so it will just get appended to the previous one.
Our plan is to depart near the end of May for 3-4 weeks to visit the lower Florida Keys and the Dry Tortugas at a more leisurely pace and leave time to account for any bad weather we may encounter.
We have been home for about 7 weeks now and the work and home life is like we never left it. Fortunately, we have our memories and hope to make many new ones in the years to come.
Feel free to email any questions or comments to us: firstname.lastname@example.org