December 7, 2019
Home Free was unloaded around 4:00pm yesterday (Friday). With a quick check of key systems, the engine was started and Andrew and I were underway by 4:15 . . . It all seemed so easy.
The boat is a bit dirty, but not as bad as some of the horror stories I have been reading on various blogs, and most importantly, (almost) everything works as expected. As always it’s the marginal bits that make the story interesting.
It occurred to me on Thursday as I lay in bed that I don’t have electronic charts for North America. Chart books, yes, iPad and phone charts yes, but Home Free is driven most times from the autopilot, and that depends on me putting ‘waypoints’ on a chart to tell the boat where to go, at least in open water. I hadn’t purchased those charts yet.
Knowing that the boat was going to be very late unloading, Andrew and I passed by a West Marine in Fort Lauderdale and I picked up a memory chip containing the Navionics charts for all of North America. Phew.
I made sure that I had my fuel system setup appropriately, did the necessary engine checks and then got to navigating through the Port Everglades channel (after a big cruise ship pulled out). I was expecting 6 knots of speed and therefore about 9 hours to make the trip. Luckily James Knight from YachtTech told me to get out a few miles to grab as much of the Gulf Stream current as I could/wanted. Soon we were flying along at 7.5 knots (yee haw).
At that point, the sun was dropping quickly and my chart problems were staring me in the face. I had a blob on the screen that was the coast and a blob on the screen that was the Atlantic Ocean and no meaningful information about either of those blobs anywhere to be found.
I quickly got my new chart chip, took out the old chip, inserted the new chip and restarted the system. No matter what I did, it refused to come up with a chart, it just kept restarting over and over (and over) again. At this point I am 3-4 miles out in the Atlantic with almost no traffic and I don’t really need the navigation information, but my chart plotters kept alarming and restarting (over and over and over again). It was quite frustrating. After about an hour I realized that the chart chip I bought was a 16Gb chip, and my chart plotters are 13 years old . . . they can’t handle the data.
There are two solutions here, and one of them is to shut much of the system down and try to load the charts. Yesterday evening I was successful at this. I got one plotter working enough to get me up the coast and into the harbour.
As this is all unfolding, I realized that I hadn’t yet checked to make sure my propeller shaft temperature was okay, so I went to check the shaft temperature . . . it was way, way too hot. The shaft is cooled by a constant drip of ocean water that seeps into a ‘stuffing box’. For whatever reason, it wasn’t and isn’t dripping. The easy solution is to create a drip with a hose or something of that nature, but before that I grabbed a water bottle and turned on the tap to fill it. Only to discover that I have no water.
At this point the boat went into neutral a few miles off the coast, and we started drifting with the current (about 1.5 knots to the North). Andrew’s first question was ‘are we stranded?’ No, we are just getting started on problem solving!
For those of you who remember the boat’s equipment, you know we have a water maker, so the first thing is to start the generator (which is needed to run the water maker) and start making water. About 20-30 minutes into that process, water was available to cool the prop shaft with a water bottle, and so we put the boat back into gear and off we went. The tricky question (I will deal with much later), is what happened to the water? I put about 200-300 litres of water in my tank the day before the boat loaded in Palma, and I had none aboard when it arrived; yes the bilge is dry. Hmmmm. I need to work on that a bit later.
Getting the chart plotter up and running was only possible running ONE plotter, not both, but my radar is connected to the second plotter, so without ‘Radar 2’ on, I have no radar. Oh well, it’s flat seas, a half moon and few clouds, and AIS is still working fine. Now that I am cooling the shaft manually, I ramped up the speed a bit and Andrew and I were running at 8.2-8.5 knots right at the edge of the Gulf Stream. That’s nice after so much time at 6 knots!
In the end we made it to Lake Worth inlet by around 11:30pm, much faster than I thought, and were immediately ‘stopped’ by the coast guard who wanted to know where the boat was from, was it cleared into customs and so forth. Yes all around, but please don’t stop me in the middle of a channel with an oncoming barge at night with navigation equipment acting up . . . that’s just scary. Really we just yelled across to each other for 60 seconds and it wasn’t a big deal, but hey, I’m new to the ICW and have no clue what’s going on.
A few moments later I failed to make a left turn and ended up in 6 feet of water; distractions can be hazardous to your boat. I knew something didn’t seem right and we were only going 2 knots, but Andrew caught that I was in 9 feet of water and I knew I should be in 40 feet, so putting those two bits together, I hit reverse quickly. Around here it can go from 9 to 2 in a very short distance.
It didn’t take long from there to find a spot to drop anchor and settle in for the night.
This morning started early when fishing boats were zooming past. I guess things are just busier here. Or, I could be right on the edge of the anchoring area, maybe even a little bit in the channel. Bah, whatever. Okay, so I got up and decided to get the boat started, perhaps I was a little too close to the channel. Before I do that though, I should put on that UK flag so that everyone knows I don’t belong here.
Knowing that my charts are less than perfect I didn’t start up my chart plotters. I lifted anchor and started on my way. I’m used to doing that before anyone else is up; it’s a bit of a family tradition.
Wait a second . . . why am I not showing depth? My depth reading must be tied to my chart plotters and not on the central NMEA bus. Okay, start up the plotter that was working yesterday. Nope. No luck on that front. I’m now crawling at about 1 knot in an area that I know is full of shallows, trying to get my chart plotters working. I have charts on my iPad, but they don’t show my specific GPS coordinates so I have to watch my location very carefully. So exciting!
In the end, I ripped the chart chip out of the chart plotter so that I could see my correct depth and approximate location (remember those two blobs? An orange blob is the land, a blue blob is the sea, there is NO other information) while I translated that onto an approximate location on my iPad. It’s okay; I do well in trial by fire situations.
Around 10am, I was safely tied to a dock at North Palm Beach marina (see picture above) and have a berth for a few weeks while the folks at YachtTech give Home Free some TLC and Andrew and I return home for Christmas festivities.
There is more to come in the next few days, but hopefully things are less exciting for a few weeks at least.