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Northbound 2018: Playing the Weather to Hingham

As noted in the previous article, we arrived the Morehead City Yacht Basin fuel dock at 0815 hours on Wednesday morning. Our goal was to take on fuel, top off our water tank, offload garbage and, since the forecasts looked favorable for following seas …

Northbound 2018: Express to Morehead City

As noted in the previous article, we departed Venice at 1140 hours on Saturday. Our goal was a fuel stop in Morehead City North Carolina, which is approximately 900 NM from Sarasota.By early Sunday morning we were off Everglades National Park when we f…

Northbound 2018: Overheat Alarm Out of the Gate

Reader Note: This blog has been silent since the last trip south from Hinghan to Sarasota, which, incidentally, set what I believe will be an all-time record for cooperative weather and running time (i.e., 7 days and 7 hours).  My lack of activity resulted from being heavily involved in editing my daughter, Lesley’s, doctoral dissertation and a bit of laziness. Lesley successfully defended her dissertation in March and graduated from Northeastern University’ College of Professional Studies with an Ed.D on May 10th.

Now to our story. As usual, the process of transitioning our residence from Sarasota to Hingham involves preparation including crew, maintenance, food, weather and, most critical for this trip, the route out of Sarasota Bay.

The crew decision came early in December when Morgan Watt decided to do another journey. Morgan crewed with me in 2017 with Guy Aries so this would be his second time. Morgan is eminently qualified as second in command as he has both a pilot’s and captain’s license. Morgan flew jets for NetJets for 17 years. Needless to say, he brings considerable experience with navigation, communication and weather. Morgan nominated his father, David, as the third member of our crew. David too has boating experience and has taught boating safety classes.

David Watt, Morgan Watt and myself at departure.
My friend, Jim Lampl, in the background cam to see us off

Food for the journey north is a “no brainer.” Morton’s Gourmet Market provides prepared entrees, called “Gourmet Meals To Go,”and their executive chef, Fernando, prepared some special dishes including mushroom ravioli; Dijon chicken with fingerling potatoes and Brussell sprouts; and chicken pico degallo with fingerling potatoes and green beans. Add to this their standard fare including grilled salmon, meatloaf and mashed potatoes, veal cannaloni and eggplant rollatini and you have the makings of gourmet meals. The rest of the provisioning process is outlined on an Excel worksheet. The key to provisioning is to have food for 9 days. That requires 27 dinner entrees which are frozen and stored in the freezer. When we depart Sarasota or Hingham the freezer and refrigerators are stocked close to capacity. Fortunately, the 63 has a full size GE Monogram side by side refrigerator.

Maintenance. Dealing with repairs and maintenance during the winter of 2018 in Sarasota proved to be an exercise in frustration and considerable expense. Needless to say, almost every repair required multiple visits by my service personnel. They literally could not fix anything it right the first time. I may treat this a separate blog article, perhaps as a way of venting my frustration. We finally finished all maintenance and repair tasks on day before departure.

Now to weather. As of Friday morning at 10:45 AM we had favorable conditions all the way to Cape Hatteras. Winds off the Florida Keys were forecasted to be around 10 knots with seas 2 to 3 feet on Saturday. Heading north off Cape Canaveral the forecast called for north winds 10 to 15 with 2 to 3 feet seas on Sunday. Farther north on Monday, at Jekyll Island Georgia, NOAA was calling for east north east at 10 to 15 knots with seas 3 to 4 feet. Waters off Cape Fear on Tuesday showed winds less than 10 knots and seas 2 to 4 feet. Finally at Cape Hatteras they were calling for west winds 10 to 20 with seas 3 to 6, which for us would be mostly a following sea.

The next important decision is how to depart from Sarasota Bay. This decision involves tides, winds and seas. The easiest way is via Sarasota Big Pass. But this route comes with a tricky ever shifting shoal at the mouth of the pass. The slowest and safest way is south on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GICW) to Venice. This route, however, involves four (4) bridges and several no wake zones.

This year I chose to map the route through the Big Pass shoal by following the fishing party boat on on its daily run out to the Gulf fishing grounds. My AB RIB is equipped with a depth sounder and Garmin Chartplotter. What I found was a controlling depth (i.e., the shallowest spot) of 6 feet. This strongly suggested that the best time to traverse the route was at high tide. “High tide” in Sarasota adds 2 feet of clearance. So, at the shallowest spot we would have 3 feet of clearance. The high occurred on Friday, August 27, at noon time and that fact and the forecasted seas of 2 feet of less dictated our departure time.

The crew arrived on Friday, April 27 at 11:45 AM and by 12:21 PM we were on our way. At 12:51 , one hour after high tide, we traversed Big Pass. Seas were less than a foot, largely to due to protection of the 2 mile sand bar to the west. Our depth sounders lowest reading on the planned course was 1.5 feet. We were now successfully in the Gulf and headed south.

Around 14:00 I noted an alarm on the stabilizer control panel that read as follows”High Oil Temperature / Warning Only / Check Cooling System.”  This alarm indicated that the hydraulic fluid was overheating. This is a precursor to a full overheat would could damage the system. Catching it early was good news. The bad news is we had to shut down the stabilizers and would not be able to continue the voyage until the problem was resolved.

Fortunately, winds out of the northwest at 10 to 15 and seas under 2 feet were favorable to a complete shut down of both engines. Now adrift approximately 5 NM south west of Venice, Morgan and I began to process of trouble shooting the problem. We immediately noted no water flow at site glass and that hydraulic fluid level was full.  This indicated a blockage somewhere in the cooling system.

Fortunately we were within cell phone range. This facilitated contact with Randy Ives, Outer Reef’s Warranty Manager, and Robert from ABT TRAC, who at the time was located in the United Kingdom. We decided to work with Robert since he was the expert.

We first checked the sea strainer basket. It was clear and this was no surprise and I had verified that all six sea strainers were clean the day before departure. With the sea strainer cap off we opened the through hull fitting and verified the water was flowing freely. We then removed the hose leading from the sea strainer to the impeller. It was clear. We then removed a housing at the impeller and checked that the impeller was spinning. Then we verified water flow from the impeller to the site glass. Water was flowing up to the site glass and this suggested a blockage in the head exchanger.  We then removed the zincs from the heat exchanger and noted that the lower zinc was broken off from the plug and jammed in the hole. The broken zinc was a problem but not sufficient enough to block the water flow.

At this point we had narrowed the blockage to the heat exchanger. If this were the case, we would need, at a minimum, a mixture of hydrochloric acid and water to clean the strainer. Unfortunately we had none aboard. We decided to head for Venice and called the Crows Nest Restaurant for dockage, which was available. The Crows Nest is located just inside the Venice Inlet.

Guided Discovery at the Crow’s Nest

Venice was approximately 5 NM to the northeast and we headed for the inlet. This put the seas, which had build 2 to 3 feet, on the port side. As we traveled northeast we noted that engine bilge light on the annunciator panel (over the helm) was indicating that the bilge pump was operating. We appeared to be taking on water. Sure enough, that was the case. I discovered that the port side engine room port hole was open. Worse, the 24 volt battery charger that sits just aft of the port hole has shorted out due to salt water entering through the cooling vents (a $1,300 loss). I have never opened any port holes. Hence checking for open portholes is not on my Engine Room Checklist.

I surmised that when Master’s Touch Marine Services technician, Joey, replaced the 220 volt ISO Boost transformer he had left the port hole opened. I then notified Master’s Touch’s owner, Jeff Quattlebaum, of the error only to learn that Jeff, himself had opened the port hole when he was painting the 16KW generator. Jeff forgot to close it.

He then refused to take responsibility.  First he claimed that it was my responsibility to check for an open porthole. I showed him the engine Room Check list and pointed out that checking for open portholes in not part of my procedure as I do not open the engine portholes or any portholes for that matter. Then he claimed that he verbally had told me that the window was open, which was blatantly untrue.

I found Jeff’s response to the problem regrettable on several counts. The most troubling was that he had driven to Venice to address a problem with my hydraulic heat exchanger (although he was planning to be there anyhow). As a concession, he agreed not to charge me for the trip to Venice and the 90 minutes to clean the heat exchanger. Unfortunately, the cost of replacing the MasterVolt charger was $1,315, which is what Jeff charged me a rear sgo when he replaced the same unit as the result of an internal failure. However, he also terminated our service relationship and threatened that I would not be able to get service in the future from Marina Jack Services. I found the whole transaction totally unacceptable.

This was not the first time that Jeff’s was careless. During a repair to a hydraulic leak at my stern thruster in December 2016 he mistakenly shut off my hydraulic steering ball valve located immediately above the thruster to stop the flow of hydraulic fluid. It did not stop the release of fluid as the two systems are unrelated. Unfortunately, he did not reopen the valve. The result was that weeks later I pulled out of my slip only to discover I had no steering. Fortunately I was able to return to my slip using engines and thrusters. Had I damaged another boat we would have had a serious legal problem related to Jeff’s negligence.

Doing business with Jeff has always been a bit of a challenge. He does not answer his phone and does not communicate. That said, Jeff has done many projects successfully and I regret that we will not continue working together. 

As noted above Jeff fixed the problem (by pouring acid into the heat exchanger) and by 11:40 AM on Saturday we were on our way.

Bottom line: We had lost a full day.


Explanatory Note

Southbound 2017: We Set Another Record

A normal trip takes 9 days, weather permitting. The plan is to depart Hingham at 7:00 AM, cruise non-stop for three and a half days to Morehead City where we refuel, hopefully in two hours or less. Then it’s back on the road for three more days with a …

Southbound 2017: What a Difference a Day Makes

This is the first in a series of articles chronicling our annual trip south to our Sarasota winter haven. It starts with weather, most important consideration.
A little background. The United States Weather Service ( only provides weather forecasts for 6 days out.  Hence, a week before our official November 1 departure, I start to focus intently on conditions. At that point, the only useful data is for October 31, and that data is highly subject to change. NOAA does a great job and over the years their forecasts have become more and more reliable. The science seems to be improving.

This year, the forecast did not look good. There was a tropical depression in Central America that was predicted to become a tropical storm and perhaps a hurricane. The predicted track, after the storm moved offshore, took it over Cuba and then south Florida. That track increased the potential that the storm might follow the coast to New England, and at one point, NOAA had the storm pointed directly at Massachusetts. Not good.

NOAA overview page showing dismal East Coast weather

From there the weather story gets worse. As the week leading to departure progressed, NOAA was predicting a very deep (i.e., tropical storm deep) low forming southeast of New York. That low was predicted to track north slowly into northern New England and then into Canada. Powerful 25 to 30 knot southeast winds with gusts to 60 were forecasted for Sunday at Hingham. 

Monday’s forecast called for a frontal passage in the morning with strong sustained winds out of the west, with again, 60 knot gusts. Forecast for the coastal waters south of Buzzards Bay along the south shore of Long Island were for 15 to 20 foot seas. Additionally, high winds were predicted for Tuesday with high seas along our route diminishing toward evening. This did not bode well for a Wednesday 6:00 AM departure even though NOAA was predicting calm winds.

NOAA got it right, literally to the hour. Sunday we saw sustained southeast winds as predicted and gusts to 40 knots. Monday saw the frontal passage at 10:00 AM with 50 knot gusts and a 12 degree temperature drop.  Tuesday was breezy. Then we woke up Wednesday to calm winds and flat seas.

Now to the tropical depression lingering on the east coast of Central America. It freed itself from the mountains, accelerated to 40 knots and became tropical Phillipe. It then tracked north to Cuba and then out to the Bahamas and finally out to sea just south of Florida, where it died. Threat eliminated.

With the deep low far north and Tropical Storm Phillipe no longer a factor, a weather window opened up along the entire east coast. We departed Hingham at 5:42 AM on Wednesday, hit the Cape Cod Canal at 11:09 AM with a favorable 4 knot current, and then reached Wings Neck at the west end of Buzzards Bay at 2:40 PM. A glorious cruise on flat water.

Decision time. Should we proceed south along the coast to our Morehead City destination, some 643 nautical miles south, or take a straight shot from Wings Neck to Cape Hatteras’ Diamond Shoal, a distance of 431 nautical miles and then another straight shot to Cape Lookout and then on into Morehead City? Drawing the straight lines knocks approximately 6 hours off the trip. That represents approximately 50 nautical miles and 54 gallons of fuel saved.

The direct line option takes us over 100 miles off the coast for over two days. This option requires a favorable offshore forecast, the right equipment, a well maintained boat and a crew comfortable with an element of calculated risk. Those of you who follow this blog know that equipment and maintenance are not an issue. So now it come down to weather and crew.

This year’s crew consists of Captain Guy Aries and my friend Jim Eisenhauer. Guy has made three trips with me (Nov 2015, Nov 2016 and May 2017). He’s experienced the full range of cruising situations from calm seas to raging storms. Jim is new to the experience but a fast learner. Again, as readers know, I fully discuss weather considerations and associated risks and make go/no-go decisions democratically.

Jim grabbing a sunrise photo
One of 5 spectacular sunrises

The weather forecast for the offshore waters between Montauk Point (Long Island New York) and Cape Hatteras showed 2 to 4 foot seas with a worst case of 3 to 5 footers and winds from a low to 5 knots to a high of 20 knots. Most important, no storms were in the forecast through Monday. Given that we would reach Morehead City on Saturday morning we had a two day margin of error. Our decision. Let’s go for it.

Again NOAA’s forecast was dead-on accurate.  On Wednesday night we saw seas reach four feet and then subside on Thursday afternoon.  The result was smoothest ride I’ve ever experienced in the four years and seven runs up and down the east coast.  We witnessed beautiful sunsets and sunrises and mostly smooth seas.  What a pleasure.

Before Sunrise on Wednesday morning
We pass Minot’s Light, Cohasset, Massachusetts.
Minot’s sits in open water
Speeding through the Cape Cod Canal on a favorable current (4 knots at times) 

We arrived at Cape Hatteras’ Diamond Shoal on flat water at 4:56 PM on Friday. That is a rare occurrence.

Direct Cape Hatteras
Notice that we are off the continental shelf (deep water)

All is not gold that glitters. The time savings had a consequence. It resulted in our arriving into Morehead City at 3:00 AM. Fuel docks usually open at 8:00 AM. Hence, we would have “blown” our entire time savings sitting on their dock. Not efficient.

Decision time again. Do we sit at the Morehead City dock or continue further south? For me this is always an easy decision. Why waste good weather sitting at a dock? You know that eventually it will change for the worst.

This time the decision was easy. We already had a forecasted two day favorable weather margin and that situation had not changed. NOAA was now predicting northeast winds with 3 to 5 foot seas all the way to Florida. That that translated for us into a following sea with a tail wind.

We also had more than enough fuel. On Friday afternoon I had transferred 248 gallons to the main tanks. Adding that to the fuel remaining resulted in 735 gallons of fuel on board, with better than 95% usable (based on actual experience during the record 2017 run north in May) we easily had 695 gallons of usable fuel.

Next concern. Where to get fuel? This is actually a tricky question. Yes, there are plenty of fuel stops on the way to Florida but some, like Georgetown, where fuel is incredibly cheap, are way off the beaten path (i.e., add 2 hours of travel time to reach the marina, 2 hours to fuel and 2 hours to return to our course). Others are eliminated by time. We have to arrive during business hours if we want fuel. And, finally, there is the fuel cost consideration. Some marinas think their fuel is very valuable and charge accordingly. For example, I saved over $1,300 this June between the price at Rose Marine and the local marinas in Hingham ($2.00 versus $3.29 per gallon).

Fernandina Beach Florida to the rescue. Its 400 nautical miles from Cape Hatteras, well within our remaining usable fuel range (including generator use), easy in and easy out, and its fuel is reasonably priced.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The weather window to the north had already closed when we reached Cape Hatteras.

Before I continue, let me briefly highlight our incredible 5.5 day journey (using military time):
  • Wednesday 05:41 depart Hingham
  • Wednesday 11:09 arrive at the Cape Cod Canal – zip through canal at 12 knots
  • Wednesday 14:40 arrive west end of Buzzards Bay – straight line to Cape Hatteras
  • Friday 16:56 arrive at Cape Hatteras’s diamond Shoal – straight line to Cape Lookout
  • Saturday 00:36 arrive at Cape Lookout – straight line to Cape Fear
  • Saturday 09:49 arrive at Cape fear – straight line to Fernandina Beach
  • Sunday 12:46 arrive at Fernandina Beach Inlet – straight line to St John’s River Inlet
We make a straight line down the coast. A first
Approaching St Mary’s Inlet and the Fernandina Beach Municipal Marina

At 12:46 PM we turned southwest into the St Mary’s River and called the Fernandina Beach Municipal Marina to alert them of our intention to take on fuel and our arrival time. Oops. Big Surprise! The dockmaster informed me that they had “still” no fuel thanks to Hurricane Matthew (September 2016).   The dockmaster stated that Port Consolidated had fuel but they were closed on Sunday. When I asked if we could stay the night he informed me the Matthew had destroyed their face dock and that besides being “no room at the inn” there was not enough depth for the 63’s five foot draft.

This posed a bit of a problem. A quick check of the site glass on our tanks showed fuel remaining of 290 gallons, with 250 usable based on experience. That translates into an absolute range of 250 nautical miles. So while the situation is not desperate, it did suggest that we find fuel close by or anchor out at Fernandina.

Fortunately, the St John’s river approach to Jacksonville was 20 nautical miles south and there are several marina’s just west of the inlet (read as easy in easy out) and, most important, Morningstar Marina, the first one we called, had fuel and dock space. Time for a course change.

We pulled into Morningstar Marina – Mayport at 3:46 PM, took on 1,105 gallons of fuel at $2.79 per gallon ($3097.71), and in two hours we were back on the road.

This trip set new records:

Longest distance: 936 nautical miles (previous 766 NM – Spring 2017)

Fastest average speed: 8.8 knots

Longest passage: 5.5 days and 4 nights (previous 4 days and 3 nights – Spring 2017)

Longest passage without rough weather

Longest running time: 107 continuous hours

Distance from shore: Over 100 miles

Time without phone or internet connectivity (Wednesday evening to Sunday afternoon)

Factors that contributed to the unusually fast average speed of 8.8 knots
1) The Labrador Current (track from Buzzards Bay to Cape Hatteras
2) We close to the coast and west of the Gulf Stream’
3) A low pressure trough east of Florida and parallel to the coast set up the northeast winds

All trips should be so easy.

Stay tuned. We’re about to break another record.

PS. Yes, we had some adventures and those will be the subject of the next few articles.

Written by Les.

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