Our home for the last 3 weeks has been the Miami Marine Stadium. Apparently, it was once a great place to watch powerboat racing and had lots of marine entertainment. And for the week prior to our arrival it was home to the Miami Sailboat show
When we arrived, there were only a few other boats in this incredibly protected anchorage. We couldn’t believe it. With a stunning backdrop of downtown Miami our new home had quite the view. As the days became weeks the floating docks from the boat show disappeared and as though part of some anti-gentrification migration they were replaced by derelict boats. A few were clearly long term local liveaboards but most were in terrible shape with no evidence of ownership or occupancy. Each morning we would awake to a few new boats anchored as though a few of them had mated during our slumbers.
One of our favorite visitors were the pod of dolphins that joined us most mornings. We watched them feed and school fish into bait balls as well as training a very young dolphin to hunt.
Another constant in the stadium is the crew and rowing teams. There is a boat house and rowing club on the South end of the stadium and as the area is so protected it is a great place to practice. Every evening they would bring their boats out and train. It must be hard work, but what I noticed was how much yelling there is. It seems rowers are not very keen to row. they have to be constantly told when to do it and how many more stroke to do. Their coaches would motor around with megaphones and speakers yelling. It didn’t sound very encouraging, mostly just a countdown to when they would be finished. In some of the larger boats they even had what we called the lying yeller. You could just barely see their head above the waterline, but man did they have some lungs.
You may ask how we came to choose this particular place. Mostly it was because it was protected, but more importantly it was because it is shallow and when we arrived our windlass wasn’t working. After we put the boat in the water at Key Largo everything broke (well all the expensive bits). Here is a not entirely comprehensive list of the systems and items that failed in our first 24 hours back at sea:
- Anchor Windlass (with all chain rode and a Bruce 55 lb anchor we rely on our windlass like Disney Princesses rely on Prince Charmings) at only 15 feet of water depth it is like pulling up over 70 pounds hand over hand…sub optimal.
- Wind indicator transducer and Mast head cable. This would mean I would have to spend hours up the rig yelling down at Jessie to “Pull Harder”. We had to run all new cable through the mast and I had to mount and install a new mast head windvane.
- Tachometer: this (when working) tells you how fast the engine is turning. It’s pretty important.
- Alternator: This lets us charge the batteries when we run the engine. We like being able to use our lights and phones and computers so this is a good thing to have working.
- The battery charger / inverter. This is a pretty big deal. Mostly we run the generator to charge our batteries (when we are anchored for days at a time without running the engines) without the inverter/charger we are pretty much dead in the water. The inverter lets us turn our 12v batteries into 110v power to charge phones, make our water supply, and heat water so Jessie stays married to me (I promised her a hot water shower every day) it also is the high output battery charger so when it stops we stop.
The last 3 weeks have been mostly a lesson in logistics, or rather how hard it is to procure things from across a large city without having a car. It took us almost a week to get up the courage to even leave the boat and head to shore and we only did it then because we had ordered a new Raymarine Wind Transducer from a place just around the harbor called Nautor Marine. They sounded very nice on the phone and were less than a mile away at the Rickenbacker Marina so we decided to give them our business.
Our first day in Miami was spent calling around 15 different business for the parts we needed. Unfortunately, there is not a one stop shop for boats. Even West Marine only had a couple of the parts we needed and even they would have to special order them and it would take more than a week. We ended up sourcing all the parts from different places and having to Uber all over town.
Finally, after almost a week we decided we needed to head ashore. We went to Whiskey Joe’s the local bar and grill at the Marina and had dinner. The food was great, but the service was inattentive at best, but hey with a view of the downtown Miami skyline all was forgiven.
The next day we heard from the Nautor Marine guys that our Wind unit was in and they invited us up for coffee, or Espresso to be specific. Jessie was smitten. Captain Gerry and Leo were partners and became our adopted family. They could not have been more helpful and supportive.
They got us one of the many parts we needed and said we could use their address to have parts and mail shipped. Over the next 2 weeks they got many packages from Amazon and other parts/ supplies in our names. Leo took us out to lunch and for a beer one night. They could not have been more friendly and I think it was because of their patronage that we were able to use the marina dinghy dock with no questions asked. Even the marina staff were all very nice to us even though we were not paying customers.
Just a couple days later we met the crew of S/V Finally a Hunter 49. David and Emily and their two kids Faith, Kayden along with two cats (Billie Joe and Yoyo) and a precious dog, Stella, had been working their way South since early late summer and would also be heading to the Bahamas very soon. They invited us over for ‘sundowners’ and what turned into a fun game of cards against humanity. That evening we also met Jaime and Behan from S/V Totem. They along with their three kids have been making their way around the globe having already crossed the Pacific and the Atlantic. Jamie was a sailmaker and racer and was part of a few Americas cup programs and we immediately got to talking about high performance sailing and cruising. They have been aboard many years and sailed many miles. It was nice to meet other cruisers and swap stories.
But, before we could reach the crystal-clear waters of the Bahamas we still had a lot of projects to finish. After weeks of Ubers we finally did the math and realized it would be much cheaper to just get a week long rental car. As the inverter had to be taken to Fort Lauderdale and it weighed almost 60 pounds and Uber would be both prohibitively expensive and problematic do to the size and weight of the unit and as I also had to take care of a certification for my job that required in the end two trips to Doral; it was a huge benefit having our own wheels.
On Friday the 17th of March I got the call from my College friend Sean Myrie that his mother had passed. I knew I wanted to support him and attend the service in Atlanta, but I was very nervous leaving the boat at anchor so far away. Jessie agreed to stay with the boat and I agreed to only be gone one day. In the days leading up to my departure she got a crash course in Ojigwan 101. She learned to start, drive and tied up the dinghy. I showed her how to monitor the battery and water levels and I even taught her how to start and run the generator. By the time, I left I had made myself obsolete.
Being away from Jessie and the boat was tough. A storm was predicted to come through Sunday night and my flight was delayed. It was great to see Myrie and meet some of this close friends from New York and LA. They really enjoyed learning about getting Iced. Though all soon targeted Myrie. It was an inspirational service attended by Sandra’s many friends and family. Sean delivered a powerful Eulogy befitting his Mother who battled stage 4 breast cancer for over 20 years. I was glad I could be part of the experience and let Sean know how much I love him.
Back at the boat Jessie was having her own adventures…but that’s her story to tell 😊
Over the past two weeks I had gotten all the repairs done and problems troubleshooted and for a brief moment I started to think we were ready. A few new ones had popped up and I put a few on a separate list to do ‘down island’ but overall, I felt we were finally ready to cross the gulf stream.
Crossing the Stream
The Gulf Stream is a river within the Atlantic Ocean, a conveyor belt moving warm water from the Gulf of Mexico to the North Atlantic . It is what makes the South of England so mild and the races to Bermuda so challenging. It runs North along the Florida coast at up to 3 nautical miles per hour. It is a very warm current and known for great sport fishing. It is also well known as very dangerous in the wrong conditions. Even seasoned sailors who have crossed oceans wait for the right weather window to cross it. From Miami, it is around 30-40 miles wide, but as the water temperature is much warmer than the coastal waters there is a potential for many Thunderstorms and as it pushes Northward at 3 knots with a Northerly breeze against it the waves can get very big and steep fast. Most guidance about crossing the stream says if the wind is out of the North don’t go. This was the advice in our chartbooks and on our cruising nets. Unfortunately, this time of year the wind is almost always out of the North. Our planned route would be taking us just under 50 miles roughly due East from Key Biscayne to North Bimini. Since we would be heading East and we prefer not to sail to windward our weather window would be pretty specific and short lasting. Finally, our Predict Wind weather models lined up and I felt we had a decent window. Although the wind would be from the North it had been light all day and was predicted to shift to the North West and not build to more than 12-15 kts. As this would be a broad reach and not too strong I felt we should take this window.
I tried to go to bed last night at 11. Jessie and I had moved Ojigwan to an anchorage much closer to the ocean inlet. We were just outside a small, crowded, but very protected anchorage called no-name harbor on the South side of Key Biscayne Miami. I use the term anchorage loosely as we were pretty much in the main channel and all evening and through the night would get tossed by the enormous wake from some sport fisher or mega yacht. We dropped the hook in around 13 feet of water over good mud just outside the main inlet channel. I dove the anchor and made sure it was set well and then took Jessie ashore for our final shopping trip before we headed to the Bahamas. Our plan was to be up at 0400 and underway by 0500. With full cupboards, fuel, and water tanks we were ready to finally leave Miami and the US and get started cruising. Jessie dozed off around 10 and I tried at 11. By 12 the current had changed and the wind had built earlier than predicted. The result was a situation I have never before encountered. The wind had started to build waves as it backed to the West. To the West of Ojigwan was The Biscayne Bay and a fetch of at least 4-5 miles. I guess as the current changed the boat started to move and as the wind picked up the boat was caught unsure which to follow. At midnight, I started to hear the waves slapping the hull and by 0100 the boat was rocking. I went topside to see what was going on and I realized the boat was now beam to the wind and waves. As we sleep on the Port side and the wind was more Westerly than predicted the waves were slamming against the hull. It felt like being inside a drum inside a washing machine. The wave period and size were just right to keep the boat rocking. Needless to say, I was unable to fall asleep. Somewhere around 3 am I was thinking about just going early, but I felt exhausted and Jessie convinced me to delay the departure to 0600 so I could get at least an hour or two of sleep.
At 0530 I got up and got the boat ready. Although the wind was a little stronger than predicted, it was a more favorable angle and I was confident we would have a great crossing. I did my normal offshore checklist and checked all the engine fluids and Jessie made sure gear below was secure and all the hatches were closed. Even though the conditions weren’t bad we always prepare for the worst. I got all the lines and sails ready and started the starboard engine. It turned on fine and the alternator even worked a little. As I turned the Port Engine over…. nothing. I could hear the starter engage, but it wouldn’t light up. For the next hour, I lay on the cold, sharp, hard engine block bleeding the fuel system and trying to troubleshoot the fuel pumps. A more accurate description would be that I huffed and bathed in diesel while sharp metal bits cut my hands. As the many many boats that passed waved good morning, quite literally, I was thrown around the already cramp and foul smelling room. As each wave tossed me and diesel sloshed around I spurted a litany of profanity that would make George Carlin waggle his finger at me. I felt my dream slipping way. These weather windows come only about once a week this time of year and I was not looking forward to spending another week in Miami. Perhaps it was the lack of sleep, perhaps it was yet another catastrophic failure of an equally critical system, it was the vertigo or the maybe it was the miasmic fumes I had been breathing. Whatever the case I yet again felt overwhelmed and not cut out for this life. I admitted defeat around 0900 and shed my malodorous clothing and tried to nap away the disappointment.
As an unending procession of boats (all Bahamas bound I told myself) tousled us with their massive wake I realized I would not be able to work on this issue in our current location so I got up and we raised the anchor and headed back to our home…the Marine Stadium. I knew there would be traffic, but at least there would be much less chop in the protected anchorage. After an hour transit (on one engine) we tried to anchor. I have driven on one engine before and did alright, but it was quite a different matter trying to anchor and then back down with only the one. I was really good at turning left in forward and right in reverse, but not much else was easy. After an embarrassing amount of attempts we finally got the hook set. I then geared up to do more battle.
I though more and more about the problem. I called my dad and my old neighbor Jon Bergman for advice. Both agreed it was probably a fuel pump or air in the fuel system. It just didn’t make sense. I have worked on this engine a lot and I understand the basics of what it needs to run. Air and fuel, and by virtue of all the fuel that came pouring out as I disconnected the hoses and filters I didn’t think that was the problem. Every aha moment would quickly lead to an equally disappointing realization that I had in fact worked backwards. As I removed the fuel line in order to access the lift pump I realized that not only would it be impossible to remove said pump without first removing the whole engine as a wrench could not turn enough to loosen the nut holding it in place, I discovered the fuel line had become dry rotted and now leaked continuously. I also stumbled upon another broken part, though unfortunately it had nothing to do with the issue at hand. The air intake/silencer had managed to work itself loose and cracked along its side, perhaps from the vibration beating it against the block. Like all the Kings horses and all the Kings men it become painfully evident that I would be unable to put things back together again. The fuel hose was run out and refused to seal once it was reunited with its nipple. As Jessie dutifully turned the key each time in vain. I methodically moved along the parts I thought could be the issue. After reading my engine shop manual, troubleshooting guide and finally looking at the parts diagram to see what possible parts could have failed, I gave up on active troubleshooting and came inside to ask google the answer.
It was at this moment that my formerly furry face became a source of discontent. I had let my pseudo beard grow for the last 5 or so months and the mustache had begun to hinder my ability to stay clean during meals. I had begun to comb it after showers and stroke it as I was thinking. It was grizzly Adams meets one of the not famous Duck Dynasty crew. In a last-ditch effort to change the momentum I decided to make a drastic change. I shaved off most of my beard. I certainly would not call it an improvement, but that was not its purpose. This facial hair configuration was meant to lift my spirits; a furry facial Feng Shui if you will. I periodically forget and catch myself in the mirror and am reminded of the absurdity of this mustache. It makes me smile and my other failures don’t sting quite so much. This was an investment in my sanity. But back to my fuel problems.
While watching someone way more qualified than me on YouTube breakdown the injector pumps I had an idea. An idea so bold, so simple that it must be true. As a likely drunk Aussie disassembled the injector pumps on his diesel tractor engine it occurred to me that it must be incredible unlikely that all three pumps would go at the same time. By this point I had pulled everything apart down to the injectors and no matter what I did I could not get the fuel from the injector pumps out to the injectors. It was as if some magical switch had been thrown between my lift pump and fuel filter and the pumps that actually push fuel to the engine. As the engine had been working fine last night it seemed unlikely air had gotten into the system. A little embarrassed I walked over to the helm and looked at the emergency shutoff plunger. I was a little worried it would be out in shut off mode, but though it would have been a little demoralizing to have missed something so simple it would at least be the solution. Nope the plunger was pushed in in what should be the correct configuration. Just on a whim I pulled it out. As I did the whole plunger and the backing plate all came out. When I took the panel off on the inside I could see as plain as day what had happened. The plunger looked like it was pushed in from the front (meaning the engine should be ready to start). But what had happened behind the scenes was that the whole mount had come off and it all moved back inside the bulkhead so what looked correct from the outside was actually preventing any fuel from getting to the engine. Essentially the shut off valve looked off, but was on.
After one final bleeding of the air in the system the engine mockingly came to life. What should have been a moment of triumph became instead a reminder of my misspent day. What took me 5 hours, vertigo, nausea, and untold emotional trauma to solve, could have easily been resolved in under 10 minutes if I had thought to check there first. Tune in next time to see If we ever cross the stream!