Sunday, April 23, 2017

Key West boat trip 2017

Since I now have unlimited data on my phone plan, I am finally able to listen to a good radio station vs the nonsensical commercial radio offered in the Ft. Myers area. On this Sunday evening  I'm in my pickup truck headed north on Burnt store road. WNKU is streaming on my radio, and "Drowned" by the Who is powering out of my speakers as I make my way towards the airport to pick up my two college age children. Myself, my two children, and one of their friends are shoving off for Key West on this warm Spring evening, so this is by and far the happiest day of the year for me. The music seems more crisp tonight, and memories, like the flood tide, were pouring all around me.

                                            " There are men high up there fishing
                                             Haven't seen quite enough of the world
                                             Ooh, I ain't seen a sign of my heroes
                                             And I'm still diving down for pearls
                                             Let me flow into the ocean
                                             Let me get back to the sea
                                             Let me be stormy and let me be calm
                                             Let the tide in, and set me free"
                                               "Drowned" by the "Who"- Quadraphenia

A short while later after arriving at the airport with hugs that I for sure didn't want to stop, Conall Jr., Carrie, and their friend Sacco stowed their bags in the bed of my Tundra so we could begin heading south on SR 41 to the yacht basin in Fort Myers, and the beginning of what would be a great boat trip to Key West.
As we stepped onto our boat, the smell of oiled Cherry wood, cork flooring, along with the other senses one encounters when stepping on to our boat, put smiles on my kids faces as I hoped they felt like they were coming home in one sense. Stowing all their gear away in various drawers and cabinets, we went over the basics of our trip to Key West along with some important safety issues. The engine rumbled to life, the dinghy was pulled tight to the swim platform, and we cast off with 135 miles to go to Key West on this moon lit Sunday night.

Fort Myers Yacht Basin lays 15 miles up the Caloosahatchee River, and with it's narrow channel and shoal waters, this was for sure the most dangerous part of our trip given we were making way in the dark. Having already loaded the route from the yacht basin to Estero, it was just a matter of engaging the auto pilot, and fine tuning the radar gain as we cleared the first bridge past the yacht basin. I've never been a big fan of night travel on a river, but I can say that the new auto pilot made me feel much more at ease as I was able to focus on keeping watch ahead. Standing in the wheelhouse door, I was able to easily see ahead in the moonlight along with seeing the radar and chart plotter. The Garmin auto pilot I purchased is the newest software Garmin has, and along with many other features, the auto pilot follows the route I plotted including making all the turns. With this new auto pilot, there's a good chance I won't have to touch the steering wheel until we arrive at Key West 18 or so hours later. Not having to touch the steering wheel for 18 hours proved to be wishful thinking, as I soon discovered I had cut it a little too close on my route plotting in regards to channel markers, forcing  us to hand steer away from a few channel markers as we headed south down the river.
Two hours after leaving Ft. Myers Yacht Basin, we passed under the Sanibel bridge, opened the route to Key West, and engaged the auto pilot. The moon was almost full, and with the 15 knot fresh breeze, San Carlos bay was twinkling and winking at us as we plodded along our route. The forecast for our passage was not what I'd hoped for with a stout 15-20 kt wind out of the east along with seas of 3-5 feet also out of the east. Given we are headed south, the seas would soon be hitting us port beam making for a sporty ride. Five or so hours later, we cleared Cape Ramano, and with the amount of fetch the wind would pick up, the sea state changed to 3-5' on the beam, and would remain that way until we turned into the north channel on our final approach to Key West.

The following morning we awoke at A@B marina in Key West harbor. A weather system had planted itself in the Atlantic, so the wind was forecast to remain out of the east in the high teens and low 20's all week. Snorkeling at the reef, and other day trips to various Keys were shelved as we agreed to spend our days and evenings enjoying what the city Key West has to offer. Key West is a great place with lots of history and more interest than one could possibly experience in the short week we had together. Because I don't get to see Conall Jr. and Carrie enough, I would have been happy staying anywhere just as long as I could see them every day, but because I wanted this to be a trip they would remember, I chose Key West, and this gem of a city didn't disappoint.

Before we left, I had decided to service the Twin Disc transmission with an oil change and new filter. While the transmission has low hours on it, the oil didn't look as good as I'd like, hence the reason for service. While changing the oil I noticed the oil had a burnt smell to it. I pulled the transmission screen and it was clean so no worry there. I also checked the operating pressures which also were good.  On our short day trips around our harbor, I've noticed the transmission was getting to 190 degrees of temperature, so I made the decision to change the oil viscosity to 40 weight as my owners manual recommends. During the engine room checks on our 20 hour passage, I was seeing transmission temperatures of 205 - 207 degrees, and this got me concerned. The keel cooler was for sure not doing a good enough job circulating coolant around the transmission, so something had to be done. Because of a previous issue I had misdiagnosed, I happened to have a high quality in line cooling pump ( German made ) designed to help cool hot rod car engines. A trip to the local marine hardware store and six hours later got this pump installed into the transmission cooling circuit along with wired into the engine electrical power circuit. Spending an hour of running the engine in gear at a high idle tied to the dock saw the transmission temperatures staying below 140 degrees. This was for sure no comparison to running for 20 hours straight, but I was confident I'd get the cooling I was lacking. On the passage home, I checked temperatures hourly, and was happy to see the operating temperature holding steady at 160 degrees. I honesty feel as if I averted a catastrophic failure of the transmission by adding this pump. While I also feel this pump is of the highest quality, I for sure will have to get a spare pump as this is now a critical piece of equipment. In the near future, I'm going to check with my local mechanic about getting a mechanical temperature gauge run to the helm so I can keep a closer eye on the transmission.

The other issue we had was one of those cases of if it's not broken, don't fix it. When I plumbed the oil cooling line into the transmission, my guy who sold me the hydraulic lines recommended these lines that had built in swivel fittings. The problem is these lines need about 1000 psi to seal, and our transmission only operates at 300 psi, so we slight drip of oil. Because I  had some time on my hand, and the drip annoyed me, I decided to replace the line while at Key West. A cab ride to the local hydraulic shop and 50 dollars later, I was installing the new line in to the transmission. This is hydraulic pipe thread fitting, and my standard install has always been to wrap the threads with tape, then apply Gasoila thread sealant ( I've never had a leak ). On this particular job, for some reason, there was no tape on board, and I went ahead and did the install anyway. I tested the line while tied to the dock and a high idle and found no leak. The morning we left to head back home had us dealing with a down right crappy weather forecast. The forecast was so bad that I had made a decision to head to Shark River one day, then hug the coast the next day to hide from the weather to get home by Tuesday ( a three day trip home ). With my daughter keeping watch as we headed up the north channel at 0700, I went below to do an engine check and found a substantial drip coming from the just replaced oil cooling line. I made the decision to shut the engine down to take the line apart and re do the paste sealant. After that the line was still dripping and given the crappy weather forecast and a serious doubt I had enough oil on board to keep the transmission happy, I made the decision to turn back so I could properly repair the line. An hour and a half later we were anchored in the bay, and I was headed to town in the dinghy to get what I needed.

The wind was an honest 20 and the anchorage was rough and white capped as I headed to the Key West dinghy dock. As I motored towards the harbor, I noticed someone in a dinghy a 1/4 mile away pulling like crazy to get his engine going. He'd pull a few times...get it 50', the engine would die...then get back to pulling on the starter...he was obviously having problems. I watched him as I passed, and looked over my shoulder a couple of times to see him continue to struggle. Given the stout wind, there was no way he was rowing in so I made the decision to turn around and see if he needed help. He for sure needed help and 10 minutes later we were in the calm of the harbor where he told me he could row the rest of the way.

An hour later I was back in the engine room with proper tape, and after re doing the hydraulic line install, and topping off the transmission, we pulled anchor to take her out for a proper test ride to verify the repair. An hour passed of cruising speed and temperature, the repair was indeed verified so we headed back to the anchorage, and tucked in as close to Flemming Key Cut as we could to drop the anchor and hide from the wind as best as we could. Putting out a 6:1 scope I backed down hard on the anchor making sure it was buried deeply in the poorly rated bottom. The best way to describe this anchorage is a crowded. Setting an anchor alarm and marking some way points as to our location, I watched things closely for an hour before my stress level began to abate.

The day spent anchored turned out to be a good day as the kids were happy, the sun was shinning and we were together. I had some cut squid in the freezer so we spent the day doing some fishing, listening to music, and enjoying being together while the crew enjoyed a few adult beverages. As the day winded down, we all sat together on the back deck taking pictures and laughing as we watched our last ( of this trip ), beautiful Key West sunset.

While the weather forecast for the next day was still not good, it was better than what it was on our turn back day. Given the forecast, I was sticking with the plan of pulling anchor at first light and heading to Shark River. Even with losing a day of travel, this route was still a doable way home as the seas were forecast 4-5 feet on a three second period, but still out of the east. My thoughts on this course was to stay out of beam seas, and have a relatively short run of 60 miles to Shark River.  This plan would have us in Shark River by mid afternoon where we'd anchor for the evening. The following morning we'd have to pull anchor at 0500 the next day in order to get to Ft. Myers late in the evening. The long run from Shark River to Ft. Myers would be tough, but at the present moment, it still appeared to be our best option.  The Key West anchorage was crowded, and not wanting any mishaps we waited until it was light enough to see before we pulled anchor.  Key West was coming to life as we passed Mallory square, engaged the auto pilot and headed up the north channel pasts Tank Island. A couple of mega yachts were anchored out by Tank Island, and as I passed them enjoying the view I couldn't help but notice that the waters were calm and the wind was only blowing 10. Four or five miles later the conditions were still great as fishing boats skirted past us and we got closer to making the turn towards Shark River at the bell buoy marking the beginning of the north channel. When the auto pilot made the turn towards Shark River, I for sure realized what a great day we had woken too.  The seas were 2-3' out of the north east, the wind was blowing 10, and the sky was cloudless and blue with an air temperature of 70 degrees. Given our tight schedule, and much improved weather condition, I made the decision to change course towards Marco Island. The route to Marco was 90 miles, but a great anchorage and restaurant was waiting for us. The real benefit of getting to Marco was that the next day would only be a 50 mile trip to Ft. Myers, in protected waters close to shore.  So the decision was made, 2-3' seas and 10 kt wind were out of the NE as the auto pilot was engaged and we made way to Marco Island.

The course change to Marco had us traveling 90 miles that day vs the 60 to Shark River. In order to get to our anchorage by daylight, I had to increase our rpm to 1600 in order to be making about 7.2 kts speed over ground. This speed had us getting to the anchorage by 1900 which was plenty of time to get secured while still light out. As the day wore on, the wind and seas built, and by 1300, the seas were almost out of the east and 3-5'. Both myself and the kids were now use to the boat motion, and while for sure lively, nothing felt threatening. I just jammed myself into corner of the wheel house settee, and read a book as we rumbled and rolled towards our way point. The auto pilot ran great, the engine room checks showed all as perfect, and other than a sporty ride, life was good. The kids spent most of the time sleeping, as eating and drinking was pretty difficult with these conditions.

Because things got a little rougher, our arrival time started to get later. I decided to again increase rpm to 1750 as to still arrive during daylight. The miles to the next way point slowly decreased, and as we got closer to the coast, the sea state improved.  By 1500 things had laid down to where the ride was fairly decent. The sun dropped below the horizon as we set the hook in the Marco river by green 15, directly across from the Snook Inn restaurant.

I've been in this anchorage before, and while the current can be strong, the holding is good. Once confident of our set, everyone got cleaned up and we took the dinghy to the Snook Inn for a great dinner. It was good to get off of the boat, and better to have a fine hot meal as our boat pantry was getting thin.  As I watched my kids enjoy their food and evening, my heart was a bit heavy as I knew our time together was coming to an end, and soon they'd back in Ohio living their lives, and I'd be in Florida living my life.

The next morning the sun came up and found us under a blue sky. Since this day had the promise to be an easy ride and relatively short day, little Con and I had some coffee while we watched a few crab boats head out into the Gulf to tend to their traps. Letting the girls sleep, we pulled the anchor, and headed back out the Big Marco Pass into the Gulf on our way to Ft. Myers.

This day turned out to be spectacular with a 5kt breeze, and seas of 2' out of the NE. With the smooth ride, I was able to play with the auto pilot adjustments, and by tuning the rudder gain, get the slight roll out of the boat. It was really a perfect day in all regards: The kids were laying out on the front deck in chairs listening to music and snap chatting our day. The conditions were benign enough that I got out the hose and started washing the salt off of the boat to help speed up our departure from Ft Myers once we got back to the harbor. I still had the Who song "Drowned" stuck in my head for some reason as we chugged up the SW coast of Florida. The Quadrophenia album uses water as one of it's main themes, and maybe I was making this connection is some way... or maybe I just like kick ass music. Either way, I popped in the disc for one more listen to the tune.

                                                   "I'm flowing under bridges
                                                   Then flying through the sky
                                                   I'm traveling down cold metal
                                                   Just a tear in a baby's eye
                                                   Oh, let me flow into the ocean
                                                   Oh, let me get back to the sea
                                                   Let me be stormy and let me be calm
                                                   Let the tide in, and set me free"
                                                       "Drowned" by the "Who"- Quadraphenia
Soon the water turned from the blue green of the Gulf of Mexico to the tannin stained waters of the Caloosahatchee as we passed under the Sanibel bridge and back into the river. A small pod dolphins rode our bow wave for ten minutes giving the kids one more great experience as our passage was soon to end. The wind was barely a breeze as we idled into the harbor and stopped the boat in front of our slip. Conall Jr. and Carrie were on the bow and had lines ready to drop over the  pilings as we backed into our slip. This landing was one of my better performances as one line quickly found its mark, then a short kick ahead with rudder over had the other bow line over the piling. Putting her in reverse with the rudder over, we easily handed a line to our neighbor waiting on the finger, and just like that the journey had come to an end. Sacco, Lil Con, Carrie, and myself did some high five celebrating on the back deck, with smiles all around.
We had landed in Ft. Myers around 1430, and were pretty much ready to go once we got tied off as far as boat cleaning goes. Shannon had made a big ham dinner for a belated Easter meal, so we quickly loaded the truck and beat feet to our house. Having everyone together as a family unit eating a meal was a great way to end a great trip.
This was a pretty long post for me and I didn't really even begin to touch  on how emotional a week this was. This is blog about a boat I built, but I also use the boat and sleep well knowing I just imprinted some great memories in the hearts of two who mean so much to me. I've got lots more to say regarding what I learned of the boat on this trip, and the adaptations and changes I have in mind to get her where I want her to be in regards to the intended use, but that will be for later posts. Until then....