Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Journey, Final leg: Merritt Island to St. Augustine

The final leg of The Journey was to take Windsong from Harbortown Marina in Merritt Island up to Oasis Boat Yard in St. Augustine to be hauled out. I had convinced a few friends to crew for me and to entice them I arranged the final leg to be when one of the last shuttle launches was happening.

I wanted to have a good view of the shuttle launch, and I also wanted the final leg to be easy going so I got a head start by sailing up the ICW about 17 nm to Titusville Municipal Marina. Jenny and I did the sail on a Saturday after my month in Harbortown was done. The weather was great, with Southeast winds at 15 knots. The ride was relatively uneventful but definitely a fun day. It was my first time under full sail in the ICW, something different since steering between the markers under sail was a bit more difficult than steering offshore.

I kept Windsong in Titusville for a couple of weeks until May 14th when the shuttle was set to launch. We all met up on Friday morning before the launch to load up the boat and get ready for the weekend cruise. The crew was Jenny, Jeff (from the first leg) and our friend Brian who flew down from Connecticut. The traffic was getting crazy pretty for the shuttle launch, so we were glad to get an early start. The launch was at 2:20 p.m., but we were ready to go by noon.

We got some fuel from the marina and then decided to wait out the remaining time at anchor in the ICW. The marina is very spacious, but my slip was near the basin wall and I had 15-20knot winds pushing me forward into my slip. I knew when I backed out, we would face some problems due to the wind and the lack of control going in reverse on my boat. Sure enough, when we backed out the boat wanted to turn sideways and slide back into the slip pilings. Thankfully my crew was strong enough to fend us off the posts, and I was able to maneuver well enough to avoid crashing into the wall. It was one of the more nerve wracking times I've pulled out of a dock thus far, but we made it safe to the fuel dock eventually. After fueling we left the marina to start our journey.

Windsong at the slip in Titusville:

I found a spot outside of the channel with a good view of the launch pads and dropped the hook for a few hours. After waiting patiently, we were eventually rewarded with a killer view of the launch. I had not seen a live launch this close since my early childhood and I was glad to see the final flight of Atlantis. About a minute after the launch the sound finally hit us with a massive roar that shook the entire boat.

After the launch we began the 27 nm run to New Smyrna Beach. After only an hour or so of motoring we arrived at the Hallover Canal bridge, a draw bridge which was said to be one of the quickest to open on call. Unfortunately due to the shuttle launch traffic, they weren't able to open for another hour and a half. While I didn't mind pacing around to waste time (there wasn't an adequate area to anchor in the narrow channel), we were already cutting the trip close to make New Smyrna before nightfall. I quickly did the math and figured that we would make it just in time with the delay.

So we paced up and down the ICW at about 2 knots for the remaining time until it was time for the bridge to open. Once we were finally through, the ICW switches from the Indian River to the Mosquito Lagoon. The first part of the lagoon was all park land protected from development in the Canaveral National Seashore so it was a natural beauty. This eventually led to the outskirts of New Smyrna Beach with many mobile home parks right on the water. The channel became very narrow with homes on the port and barrier islands to starboard. Tons of dolphins and fish were seen everywhere giving us a lot of things to look at.

The Hallover Canal:

We arrived at the New Smyrna Beach City Marina with about an hour of light to spare. Our slip was easily accessed so docking wasn't an issue at all. Shortly after tying up we all walked down the road to find some grub and then called it a night. Unfortunately sometime in the night Jenny started feeling ill and had a long night battling a stomach bug. The plan was to go off-shore the next day and sail from Ponce Inlet to St. Augustine. I worried about how her stomach would cope with the seas, and with the rest of my crew enjoying many beers all day I knew the sail might be in jeopardy with a sick crew.

We woke up and quickly set out of the marina and up the river to the inlet. I read on the web that Ponce Inlet was tricky and should only be attempted with local knowledge. I've seen enough large boats go out of the inlet while surfing to know it is possible, and they also say the same about St. Augustine inlet (of which I consider a pretty easy inlet). I studied the inlet as much as I could and felt prepared to make the run out of it. Although a little bumpy due to the swells raising near the inlet, the run out wasn't difficult.

Morning at the marina

Last draw bridge before inlet

NSB lighthouse

Once out of the channel we hoisted sails, turned North and began the 60 nm run to St. Augustine. Raising the sails became quite the rodeo ride with the short period swells lurching high near the inlet. Both Jeff and I almost fell out of the boat trying to raise the main, and Brian was struggling to steer and control our overturned cooler with beer and ice flying around the cockpit. Jenny was still feeling pretty ill from the night before and resting in the cabin, I felt bad for her as the motion was not fun at the start.

If we averaged 5 knots it would take us 12 hours, anything less would be cutting it close to a nighttime entrance - something I wanted to avoid once again. The winds were very light out of the Southeast and we were only making 3.5 knots sailing. In order to assure our arrival on time, I figured we would motorsail until the winds picked up as expected in the afternoon. I started the engine and we began to make speed averaging 7 knots. Eventually we figured out how to steer with the waves more to our stern quarter rather than beam on, and the motion became easier to cope with.

Soon after we were motoring I went downstairs to get some breakfast., and while gathering food I noticed smoke coming out of the engine room. I opened the room and what I thought was smoke or steam was rising out in a cloud. I yelled for Jeff to cut the engine and I started to search for the source of the smoke. I soon realized that it was exhaust, not a fire thank goodness. The entire engine room was covered in water with exhaust smoke billowing out. I went to the cockpit to let the room clear of exhaust and for the engine to cool some. We were barely sailing at 3 knots, and I feared if something was serious we were definitely in for a long day if the winds never picked up.

Dejected and worried, I knew I had to try to figure out what was wrong and fix it if I could. So after a breather I went below and had a look. I diagnosed the issue to be a loose hose clamp on a section of the large exhaust piping. After tightening the clamp, we cranked the engine and it was evident the issue was resolved. We were motoring comfortably once again at 7 knots and making great time. With the engine and schedule back to normal, my spirits returned and I was finally able to enjoy the morning.

The rest of the crew, however, weren't feeling the same. Jenny spent the majority of the day sleeping away her sickness either in the cockpit or in the cabin while Jeff and Brian both sent their breakfast back to the sea after getting motion sickness shortly after the engine was fixed. Over the next few hours all three of them caught up on rest, and luckily Jeff and Brian both came around and were feeling better. I steered for a couple of hours and then Brian took the wheel and stayed there for the majority of the day.

It was exciting sailing up this part of the coast, since I was very familiar with every patch of beach and was able to identify where we were based on landmarks I knew. The majority of the day was spent finding these landmarks and just chilling in the cockpit. Once we passed Matanzas Inlet, I celebrated with a beer (and sacrificed one to Poseidon for thanks) and began to feel the sense of accomplishment that we were close to the end.

Matanzas Inlet

My family's old condo in Crescent Beach:

Nice boat

Jeff had found information about a spring off of Crescent Beach that we were aiming to pass and check out: click hereto learn about it. The coordinates on the website did not match the charted location of the spring, so we followed the chart. Unfortunately we didn't see it, but we did see two huge sea turtles we wouldn't have otherwise.

The winds finally picked up in the afternoon, and shortly before reaching the spring we cut the engine to sail the final 2-3 hours of the trip. Motor-sailing all day ensured we were going to make landfall in daytime, so the final hours of sailing were extremely enjoyable with no worries whatsoever. We arrived at the channel entrance around 5:30 and navigated our way inside. Once in protected waters, we lowered all sails and found a good spot to anchor right in front of the fort in downtown St. Augustine.

Ecstatic of our accomplishment, finally home after this long journey, we took some shots of good rum and jumped into the water for a rinse. The remainder of the night was spent drinking and celebrating the end of the journey. The view of St. Augustine at night is beautiful, and was better than any TV show I could have been staring at back at home. If I could have changed anything it would be to have had Jenny feeling better to join in the celebration. Unfortunately her stomach was still giving her problems and she had to rest the evening out.

St. Augustine Lighthouse

Bouy marking the entrance to St. Augustine inlet

Breakers on both sides of the channel

Pirate ship tour

Sunset at anchor

We raised the hook and crossed under the historic Bridge of Lions at 8:00 a.m. the next morning. We only had to go about 2 nm to Oasis Boat Yard, where I was scheduled to be hauled out the following morning. We motored to the yard and tied up to the dock shortly thereafter, and my parents met up with us to deliver my car. We didn't linger long, loaded the car and were off back to Titusville to drop everyone off and retrieve their cars. I came back to the boat after dropping them off to give Windsong an oil change before her long sit on land.


Heading through the Bridge of Lions.
Note: the shoe is our friend Shoe. We stole it from a buddy many years ago and sent him ransom pictures of Shoe in random places. It eventually started travelling with us so we could take pictures of it all over the place, even international. Think of it like the roaming gnome. Shoe now resides on Windsong and will travel with us.

Yours truly. Haggard from a long weekend.

Brian and Shoe

On Monday morning, after a long days rest, I went back to the boat yard with my Dad to watch them haul out Windsong and get a first view of the bottom. It was extremely wet that morning, and I was all dressed to go to work after the haul. Bad decision on my part, since they expected me to drive the boat into the lift. So we got drenched, but seeing her get hauled out was a joyous occasion for me. Though we couldn't get much of a good view of the bottom as they were still pressure washing it before we had to leave, it didn't look too bad! Not many barnacles had begun to grow with only a couple of months in salt water, but a lot of slime had to be blasted off.We left after one side was almost done being washed as I needed to go to work.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Journey, Leg 4. Stuart to Merritt Island

We left Windsong in Stuart on its mooring ball for a week before I was able to get back there and begin the fourth leg with my Dad. I was concerned while it was there because the stuffing box was leaking worse than it ever had, and I couldn’t get it to stop dripping before we left. I did my best to stem the flow by tying some torn up towels around it, but knew that would help little. The bilge pump could keep up with the flow, and would run a few times a day I think. However, I didn’t know how long my batteries would last with the pump running frequently. Luckily I remembered to change the battery switch to the house batteries rather than its default setting of house + starter batteries. I realized I left it like that when Windsong was in Ft. Myers, and made a mental note to never leave the switch on both when not charging or motoring.

The plan was to motor up the ICW to Harbortown Marina in Merritt Island. We arrived in Stuart on Thursday evening (April 1st) a few hours before dark. First order of business was to dinghy all of our gear out to the boat, which wasn’t nearly as exciting as the nighttime ordeal we faced in Ft. Myers. After the gear was loaded (only took one trip) we enjoyed a beer then paddled back to shore to get some dinner at the marina restaurant. After dinner we had to paddle back in the dark and crashed quickly soon after. As usual I didn’t get any sleep, mind racing about what the next couple of days would hold.

The first day’s ride would be 2/3 of the trip, making progress all the way up to south Melbourne. I knew it would be a long day, some 60 nautical miles; but I wanted a shorter day on Saturday so we could have time to pick up cars and make it home at a reasonable hour.

The morning started off routinely and we were off the mooring ball by 7:45 a.m. After only about 20 minutes of motoring the engine, once again, started to choke up. I knew instantly it was the air intake silencer again so I went below to mess with it. After some adjusting of the silencer the choking stopped and the engine ran fine for a while longer. The first part of the day was continuing along the Okeechobee Waterway until it merges with the ICW. As we approached the ICW the St. Lucie inlet became visible and I was ecstatic to finally see the Atlantic Ocean! It was a great milestone and almost an overwhelming feeling to finally see familiar waters.

First look of the Atlantic:

The tide was coming in, and as we approached the inlet the current was pushing against us and at times slowing us down to almost 4.5 knots. I was freaking out, thinking the engine was fouling up but it sounded fine and the instrument panel wasn’t indicating a problem. I then realized what was going on as I checked the tide table and stopped worrying about it. The intersection of the Okeechobee waterway and the ICW at the inlet was very narrow, shallow, and crowded. If you ask me it was a much worse place than the Miserable Mile on the West coast. I was well prepared thanks to Cruisers Net and navigated us safely until we finally were able to turn North. It was a grand feeling to be finally going North.

The ride was uneventful for a few more hours until the engine started making very strange sounds. This time it was not a familiar one that I have dealt with before, it was a loud POP POP POP POP with white smoke coming out of the exhaust. I tried to assess the situation but failed to conclude what the problem was. I referenced all of my diesel books and eventually became overwhelmed with what the problem actually could be. To test some things out I revved up the engine and immediately the popping and smoke stopped. My guess was either piston blow-by or maybe some water in the engine. Any ideas? Regardless, the problem stopped and never returned thank goodness. It was a scary sound and seemed pretty serious, definitely something I need to investigate when the big overhaul begins.

I hoisted the main and staysail so that we could motorsail and have at least some propulsion if the engine failed. Sure enough, about an hour later, another terrible sound erupted from the engine room. This time it was a high pitched squealing, so loud we couldn't tell where it was coming from. The sound would come for a few seconds then disappear for a while, then come back a few minutes later. Both my Dad and I tried to assess the problem, but couldn’t figure it out since it kept disappearing. After a while of staring at the engine waiting for the sound, it finally came and kept going for about 30 seconds. My dad, who was looking at the engine while it happened, honed the sound to the shaft near the stuffing box. His words to me were “come look at the stuffing box and tell me if it looks right”. Sure enough, the packing nut had loosened itself all the way off the threads and was hanging onto the shaft and causing the sound. Even a layer of the packing from inside the nut had come out, it was a mess. We cut the engine and I did my best to re-pack the flax and tighten the nut back onto the threads. After doing so something magic happened, the leaking stopped completely! Re-packing the loose flax seemed to do the trick and from then on the stuffing box was no longer an issue and to this date (about a month later) it is still leak free. It drips when running to cool the shaft, but doesn’t spew water in like it used to.

I spent the rest of the day being a nervous wreck about the engine, but it never gave us any problems after that. The ICW was a pretty ride, but the day was getting long and I was dead tired at the end. At around 7:00 we arrived at the anchorage and set hook for the night. It was a neat spot with a few other boats and well protected from the winds and wake. We had some beers, made some sandwiches and I got to work rigging up my poles to fish. I threw out some dried chum I had bought for inshore saltwater fishing, and it seemed to work. Unfortunately the only fish interested in it were catfish, not my ideal catch. We ended up hooking catfish over and over, some decent sized ones that gave a good fight, but nothing worth keeping.

The anchorage:

Ship wrecked at the island next to us. Picture taken through the binoculars:

Lots of catfish:

We hit the sack early, and after a long day and lack of sleep from the previous night I was able to get some Z’s. It was my first night on the hook with Windsong, so while I was nervous about our holding I was so exhausted that worrying couldn’t even keep me up.

The next morning we raised the anchor and set off soon after sunrise. The engine behaved and the ride was fun leading up to Cocoa. I considered this stop to finally be home, since I was still living in Orlando at the time and Cocoa was the closest spot to keep it. Of course, Windsong’s final resting place will be St. Augustine, but Cocoa would be its home for the next month until I was settled at my new job in St. Augustine. So while technically the Journey wasn’t over, this leg felt like the end of it to me. I was finally done with unfamiliar territory, finally done having to park cars in two different cities to do a leg, finally done with the stress of having the boat far away.


Arriving in Cocoa was a fantastic feeling, particularly going under the 528 bridge that I had crossed hundreds of times while driving to the beach. Docking at the marina proved difficult as the waterway was very narrow to maneuver into the slips. Thankfully all of my practice on this trip had prepared me and I was getting pretty good at maneuvering the boat by now. My new marina neighbors were very helpful while docking and proved to be great folks over the next few weeks I was at the marina.

Approaching 528:

Crossing the line

As of now, Windsong has been there for almost a month and it is finally time to move her further North. I could take her straight to St. Augustine, but I have a friend flying down from Connecticut who wants to enjoy a sail before Windsong goes to the boat yard. This weekend I will be moving her up to Titusville, some 17 nm up the ICW from Cocoa. I wanted to keep her in Titusville until my friend comes down so that we have a good spot to view the shuttle launch scheduled for the Friday we start the final leg. So two more weeks in Titusville then its time to bring her home and finish the Journey. Then its onto the next journey – the boatyard and complete refit/repair/rebuild of the boat.