It was a very short trip!
29 April 2017 | Temporary Anchorage- Overheating, Uncle Henry's Marina Channel
Sunday April 30 to Tuesday May 2
Our destination for the day was Venice, while only about 20 nm via the GIWW we planned for a 7 am departure to take advantage of the high tide since the water in the channel is "so skinny." We got away early as planned and were proceeding in the circuitous channel with adequate water depth until the "s... hit the fan"....the engine overheating alarm began to sound! That's a pretty serious issue because damage to the engine is possible if the condition persists. A check of the raw water exhaust indicated excellent flow of sea water through the heat exchanger, so the issue must rest be with the fresh water pump which circulates coolant through the engine and is then cooled through the heat exchanger before beginning another circuit through the engine. However, at the time, a greater concern was to anchor the boat since we were in a pass "guarded" by a bridge to the west of the channel with an outgoing current. Whereas the horizontal clearance between the bridge piers was more than adequate for passage, we were quite sure the vertical clearance was not. We later learned the vertical clearance was 35' - our "air draft" is about 46'- so we were in a potentially serious circumstance- not life threatening but nevertheless serious. Having had an engine failure, albeit for a different reason, in Pine Island Sound, our initial response was to deploy the anchor. Thus, I went forward and deployed the anchor in about 10' of water, then released about 30' of chain rode before cleating the chain to set the anchor. Once set I released another 30' or so of chain to provide a scope of approximately 5:1 which should be adequate for our situation. During this process, Jean and Gerry had wrestle the boat around a channel marker to allow the boat to swing naturally on its anchor. Believing the anchor to be set, it's still important to take sightings of local objects to judge whether the anchor is dragging or not. Whereas from all indications our anchorage appeared to be stable, it was nevertheless uncomfortable because the stern of our boat was less than 50' from one of the bridge piers. Next step- call Seatow! Which we did and were told it might be as long as 60-90 mins before anyone could get to us. So- can we "save" ourselves?
We had already identified that the problem was most likely the fresh water pump but why? We replaced the freshwater pump shortly after we purchased the boat some two years ago. Failure seemed unlikely but not impossible. Opening the engine locker, the answer became obvious- the belt (similar to your car's fan belt) that provided power to the pump had broken. No rotation of the pump, therefore no circulation of the coolant equals an overheated engine. That was the bad news. The good news- we could fix it! Diving into the spare parts which we purchased in advance of our departure and brought along for such circumstances, I found a spare albeit previously used belt. Had I dug deeper in our spare parts I would have found a new belt which might have changed the rest of the story but we were "grabbing at straws" at the time considering our dicey anchorage. Upon installing the used belt, it was evident that it was stretched, thus making it difficult to achieve adequate belt tension. Once the belt was in place, Gerry started the engine noting that it had cooled significantly and, after a period, reported that the engine temperature was being maintained at a stable and satisfactory level. Now- time to make our escape but we weren't happy with the squealing noise coming from the engine- no so serious-slipping belt? Serious-alternator bearings? Or water pump bearings? And very serious- engine bearings?- we couldn't be sure so we decided to try to reach a full service marina nearby (luckily less the 0.5 nm away)- Gasparilla Marina near Placida, FL.
Not wanting to be stranded again in an untenable anchorage, we decided to motor back into Gasparilla Sound and anchor near the entrance to the channel into Gasparilla Marina and wait for Seatow to arrive. Having done so, it was only a short wait until Seatow arrived on the scene. While waiting, we had contacted the Marina via cell phone and made arrangements for a transient slip. Believing we could make it into the Marina and our slip under our own power, the Seatow operator agreed to lead us into the Marina which turned out to be very straightforward. In short order, we were securely moored in our slip, connected to shore power, AC on, having the breakfast we had delayed to achieve our early start from Uncle Henry's and discussing our options. We weren't particularly concerned about the delay per se because the National Weather Service forecast for the NE Gulf didn't project an adequate sea and wind state for crossing the Gulf until the following Sunday and our departure location, Clearwater Beach, was only 2 or 3 "sailing" days away. The important matter at hand was to resolve our engine issues to ensure, to the best of our ability, a reliable and safe Gulf crossing.
Given a less stressful set of circumstances, I located a new belt among our spare parts. Could the installation of this belt resolve our problems? Once the new belt was installed, we started the engine-success- no squeal, so we concluded that the alternator bearings were fine and that belt slippage was responsible for the squealing. However, we were concerned with the amount of "belt dust" the previous belt had produced. This indicated significant abrasion of the surfaces of the belt in contact with the three sheaves (pulleys). We experienced a similar problem with the engine belt on Last Dance and resolved it by effectively sanding the surfaces of the sheaves in contact with the belt- another project for sure-and sooner rather than later. Now we had no spare belts, so we made the decision to stay at the marina until new spare belts could be secured. As it turned out, that took most of two days- Monday and Tuesday so we had to extend our stay and plan for an early departure Wednesday am.
Despite this unplanned stay, it really didn't affect our schedule to any great extent for the reason cited earlier. The restrooms and showers at the marina were the best ever and within a reasonable walking distance from the boat. The Marina actually provided us, free of charge, with a golf cart to navigate the significant distances between the boat, the service and marina offices and the on-site restaurant. Of all the marinas we have been in, this was probably the largest and most comprehensive we have experienced providing dry storage (over 700 boats!), wet slips, an on-site restaurant, and full services- engine repair, hull repair and bottom painting - even a Captain's Lounge with TV. In addition, the marina personnel were very friendly and accommodating. So despite the fact that this was neither a planned or necessarily welcomed stop, it nevertheless proved to be an excellent and memorable experience. More importantly, we felt confident that we had resolved our overheating issues and belt performance problems. (RKS)