Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Life in a DIY Boatyard

White Pepper made it to the travel lift safely and was hauled and blocked in the work yard of Green Cove Springs Marina. This marina is DIY (do it yourself) boatyard and one of the few such in Florida. We were able to stay aboard and work on the boat. We caught a break with the weather as an unseasonable spell of cool and dry air made for pleasant working conditions. Usually at this time of year northern Florida is a misery. .Living aboard was pleasant enough with cool nights. The days were always busy with noisy activity everywhere. The only aggravation was having to climb down the ladder to go to the head.

Jan varnished the bright work to perfection. She also waxed the metal stanchions and winches. She completely cleaned the interior with vinegar and furniture wax. I compounded and waxed the hull which took four days. We installed an oil lamp on the port bulkhead.

Also I cleaned and greased all of the winches. I have posted previously about the amazing Barient 726's which are White Pepper's primary winches. What I did not post was that I had lost the low gear on the port side to corrosion last fall. We no longer need low gear as we no longer have to grind in a large genoa in a breeze. But still I felt responsible. These old winches are museum pieces—relics of an older and perhaps better era of sailing in the 1960's and 70's. I took the rusted piece and soaked it overnight in acetone and ATF fluid. I bought a propane torch and heated it. Marvelous flames of burning ATF came out of the gear. Finally, I took that most delicate of tools, the ball peen hammer, and whacked it hard 4 or 5 times. It moved! Ten more whacks and the pieces were freed. Then I sanded and cleaned the gear for hours. I had purchased new paws for the gears. Despite the promise of a universal fit, the paws were too fat and too short for the ancient gear. New springs and new high tech Teflon grease finally got the paws to work again. Originally, I had imagined that if I succeeded in reviving the gear my joy would be unbounded. However, with success I felt more relief and anxiety than joy. The gear had failed more because of lack of use than anything else. I would have to deliberately exercise the winch regularly from now on.

Other chores included replacing a failed battery selector switch. We negotiated a deal with Yanmar to purchase a new motor. This will hopefully happen in 3 or 4 weeks. We ordered new lifelines from Julian at Sparcraft.  Both of the upper life lines had parted on the cruise.

We changed the zincs on the keel cooler of the FrigiBoat refrigerator. I serviced the anchor windlass.  It was frozen and also needed the ball peen hammer treatment.  I exchanged the primary and secondary chains on the bow.  Also I shortened the secondary chain from 100 feet to 40 feet.  This will remove 100 pounds from the bow.  In October I will ask Julian to redo the chain to rope splice.

Finally, we have run out of time and have to leave for Texas. Many more chores remain to be done. Re bedding the windows to prevent leaks which should take about a week, re bedding the mast step, replacing the rudder which is leaking, and replacing the potty with a composting head. The hot water heater was damaged with the overheating and needs service. Of course the bottom needs to be sanded and painted with antifoulant. We will do these chores in October before heading out again for another adventure

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

70 miles plus 100 yards

Some times the last 100 yards are the most difficult of a 70 miles trip.  On White Pepper's trip from St. Augustine to Green Cove Springs Marina each and every of the 100 yards were difficult, but the last 100 yards was perhaps most difficult.

Jan and I started out Tuesday from Rivers Edge Marina on the San Sebastian River on a beautiful morning in calm conditions.  We cleared the Bridge of Lions bascule bridge in downtown St. Augustine on the Matanzas River near slack water. Later we  were able to use the tidal currents of the Tomatoto River to good advantage.  We could boost the boat speed of 2.5 knots under motor to 4 or more using current and wind.  In Palm Valley we saw a manatee and cub.  This is one advantage of travelling so slowly.  The manatee was able to keep pace with us.  We cleared the treacherous Pablo Creek Bridge at slack water.  This bridge carries US 202 across the Pablo Creek and the ICW.  It lies in the shadow of the Mayo Clinic at Jacksonville and is notorious for impassable currents at max ebb and flood tides.  We docked at Beech Marina in Jacksonville Beach at 5:17 pm.

Wednesday brought the challenge of the ICW intersection with the St. John's River.  This is known to cruiser's as Sister's Creek and is also  known for treacherous currents.  White Pepper was 45 minutes late for low tide.  Instead of slack water we had 1.5 knots of cross current. But with full sails and a favorable wind, she handled it beautifully.

Successfully in the St. John's River I expected a flood tide but found ourselves caught in the last of the ebb.  This made for a long slow slog upriver.  Currents in the St. John's are mystery to me.  I have at last come to view them as great hills  and valleys of water travelling up and down the river. Thus you can visualize why the river can be ebbing and flooding at the same time--just as a hill has an up and a down slope at the same time. Anyway we got to Jacksonville after the valley had passed through and now were in a rip roaring flood tide. This made landing at the Metro Marina something of  a fire drill as the current tried to sweep us past the marina.  We made it; literally crash landing into an empty slip.

The Metro Marina is our favorite spot in Jacksonville.  It is a free marina for the first 72 hours and also empty.  It lies in the shadow of Jaguar  Stadium and is used by the city for special events.  In between these events it is available to the transient cruiser freely. Our only company for two days was a hippie commune of sailing gymnasts who give exhibitions from the rigging of their Thames River Barge. (I can not make this stuff up.)

I had planned the events of the next day Thursday so carefully.  Slack water at the Main Street Bridge downtown was at 9:30.  If I left Metro Marina at 9 am White Pepper would cover the mile to the bridge in 30 minutes. A quarter mile further on was the FEC railroad bridge that was unpredictable, but at slack water I could deal with the issue.  A fair East wind was predicted that would carry us by sail all the way to Green Cove Springs.  I called the Main Street Bridge at 9:15 to request an opening.  He responded that the bridge was under repair and would not open for 2 hours.  There was NO WAY.  The next opening would be near max ebb and we could not make it through as crippled as we were.  Tomorrow slack water would be at 10:30 but a brisk South Wind would make the trip up the St. John's an impossible beat.   Defeated we returned to the Metro Marina before the tide changed.

We called Sea Tow and accepted a scheduled tow on Friday to Green Cove Springs Marina.  "Big Jeff" was the captain of Sea Tow 7 and did an excellent job taking us through downtown Jacksonville and up the river 25 miles to Green Cove Springs were we grabbed a mooring ball in the marina late in the day.  Nominal cost for the tow of 7 hours was $3200, but it was fully covered by our Sea Tow policy. Somehow I was reminded of the economics of medical insurance while remaining very grateful to Sea Tow and captain "Big Jeff." I was particularly grateful because by this time the water pump had again lost its prime. No water was flowing through the exhaust so even minimal propulsion was not available.

Green Cove Springs Marina is very cheap and VERY busy.  We could not schedule a haul out until the next Wednesday.  That was not a problem as Jan and I had many chores to do, not the least of which was resuscitating the car.  It had been in storage for 7 months and did not come back to life easily.

Finally the day of the haul out arrived on Wednesday.  We had bagged the sails, stored the dingy, and prepped for the worst.  There was 100 yards between the mooring ball and the haul out slip.  We were number 6 of 7 and due to haul out at 1 pm.  There was limited space at the slip.  The sea breeze had picked up to 16 or 17 knots, a river current was flowing, and a huge thunder storm was brewing to the West.  I seriously doubted if White Pepper could even make it these 100 yards. Then as our number was called out over the VHF radio, the thunder head swung around and blocked the sea breeze. It went flat calm for 30 minutes. Dropping the mooring line she chugged ahead at 1/3 to 1/2 knot getting hotter by the minute.  But we made a perfect landing at the haul out slip.  A hour later we were hauled, washed, and blocked safely in the yard.

Readers my see this episode of the Adventures of the White Pepper as another sorry tale of woe on the high seas.  But Jan and I view today  as answered prayers from a God who listens.  I  can not imagine any other explanation of why a dangerous thunder storm would block the wind for the very 30 minutes White Pepper's motor needed to make her last voyage.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Retreat from George Town, Part III

Do you think that you are a good enough sailor to sail 240 miles up the Florida coast without an engine. I thought I was. I wish I had never had that thought.

After cooling down overnight from all of the excitement of anchoring under sail in Lake Worth I phoned the US Customs to clear in. We had prepared extensively before leaving the US in order to participate in the Florida Local Boater's Option. By visiting the Customs office ahead of time and doing considerable work on the internet we hoped to be eligible to clear customs upon returning to the US with a phone call. The process worked well and within 20 minutes I had a clearance number. We had never even stepped off the boat. Jan worried that our border security seemed weakened somehow. But I think that by streamlining the routine stuff, Customs can concentrate on the bad guys.

For the next two days I fiddled with the exhaust system. I called our new mechanic, Al, and got several suggestions. Somehow the cooling system started working again. I was not quite sure how or why, but the engine purred along for 20 minutes and water poured out the exhaust. We canceled plans to haul out in West Palm Beach. We would try to make Green Cove Springs on the St. John's River. The St. John's River entrance is 240 n. miles north of West Palm Beach.

The weather forecast was perfect. Four days of dry moderate SE breezes were predicted. Within 30 minutes of making the decision White Pepper was motoring out the Lake Worth Inlet. The afternoon was perfect with moderate quartering breeze and seas. With the edge of the Gulf Stream pushing us along we were making rapid progress north. Rounding Cape Canaveral that night, the wind lightened (NOAA said it would strengthen) and the seas became lumpy for some reason. I turned on the motor to get some more forward motion and hopefully allow the off watch crew to rest. After 3 hours the motor overheated. We were once again a pure sailboat.

The next two days were difficult. We slowly gybed the boat down wind as the wind became weaker and weaker. I did not want to set the pole in the lumpy seas or if the wind were really going to build. I downloaded the GRIB files and sure enough it was supposed to be blowing 20 knots. The radio was calling for breezy conditions which would have easily blown us up to the St. John's River. Looking out from the cockpit what I saw was 6-10 knots of wind and 3 knots of boat speed. The atmosphere was clearly unstable and despite dry predictions thunderstorms were building over the coast 15 miles away.
We tied down everything on the deck. I put the electronics in the oven which can act as a “Faraday cage”. We took down the main sail and lashed it to the boom. About 8 pm when the first rain drops were falling, we rolled up the Genoa to flag size, sheeted it tight and went below.

The line squall struck hard about 2010 with 35 knot winds and gusting rain. Fortunately most of the lightning was cloud to cloud. About 2020 NOAA was warning of a major line squall moving off the coast. We stood watch from behind the dodger and by watching the AIS display below. The little flag of a foresail caught enough breeze to pull us along at 4 knots and keep the motion reasonable. It was all over within an hour.

By midnight when my watch started the SE breeze was back in force. The St. John's jetties were only 65 miles away. At 6.5 knots we would be there by late morning, just in time to catch the flood tide. Things were looking up! However, by 4 am the wind had died for good. Boat speed was under 3 knots. It looked like we would have to spend another night at sea. At dawn there were ominous clouds over the shore and another evening squall seemed like a sure bet. Even NOAA had caught on and was calling for thunderstorms. Jan and I decided to throw in the towel, and divert to St. Augustine 26 miles away, and call for help.

Arriving at the St. Augustine sea buoy about noon, Captain Dan on the Sea Tow 4, came out to meet us. There was no way I was going to try the treacherous St. Augustine Inlet without power (or even without wind).

 Capt. Dan and Sea Tow to the Rescue

Dangerous Inlet and Gathering Clouds.  Made the Right Decision

Captain Dan did an expert job with the tow, negotiating the Bridge of Lions lift bridge and putting us gently on the dock at the River Edge Marina on the San Sebastian River. Another thunderstorm struck just as he was casting off. Getting a Sea Tow membership seemed like the smartest thing I had done all season.

St Augustine is the end of our retreat from George Town. I am going to call a proper mechanic to look at the motor.

Being forced to sail without a motor for 3 days was a humbling and instructive exercise. Dealing with the really light airs for hours and days was trying. With a working motor, just a push of the button takes all that misery away. I believe that just sitting there waiting to be run over by a tanker or a thunderstorm was the worst part. Finally, my previously high confidence in the GRIBs and modern weather forecasting in the supercomputer era has been shaken. I never would have started off on this voyage if given an accurate forecast.