July 4th, 2015

Ok, one last lengthy post to get this blog up to date. So hang on…

After weighing anchor at Titusville, we made a rather lengthy push north for Daytona Beach, arriving in the later afternoon at Loggerhead Marina where we’d stayed for a month on our way down. We discovered that Tom, the marina manager who had been so welcoming during our first stay, had moved to Costa Rica to manage a resort there. Too bad for us (though the new staff was just as helpful) but what an awesome opportunity for him! We were glad to see that our friend Caroline was still living at the dock. Caroline owns a trawler that she bought at a charity auction after her husband passed away and she’s been at Loggerhead for several months. Catching up with her we found out that she’s had the boat out twice since we left in February, both times with an experienced captain beside her to show her what to do. Glad to see she is learning how to handle her boat! We had a great time visiting with her and letting Missy play with the other dock puppies in her combination wading pool and fish repository.

Our plan had been to leave Daytona early on Saturday morning to push on to Palm Coast but once again upon starting our engines no cooling seawater was flowing from our starboard engine. This time however, blowing out the saildrive did not solve the problem. The raw water cooling system has only one moving part, the pump, so if there is no clog in the lines the problem must lie in the pump. The belt that drives the pump was moving so my next guess was that the pump’s impeller wasn’t functioning. Since the impeller, which is made of rubber, does wear out this was quite feasibly our problem.

Pulling the impeller wasn’t going to be that easy though since the pump was located on the front of the engine and not easily accessible. Fortunately, I’d bought an extensible mirror as part of our toolkit and with this and our special impeller-pulling pliers (a tool I’d invested in after taking our diesel engine class), I was able to remove the pump’s faceplate and pull the impeller. Imagine my disappointment when I found that the impeller was fine.

OK, now I was stumped; like I said the cooling system only has one moving part. It had to be the drive belt. I looked at it again more closely and – oh crap! I’d looked at the wrong belt. There were two, one driving the generator and the other lower belt that I’d overlooked driving the pump. A quick check showed that yep, it was very loose. I loosened the adjusting bolts on the pump housing, pulled the pump back to tighten the belt using a long screwdriver as a lever and then re-tightened the bolts. I said a quick prayer and asked Cindy to fire up the engine. The pump belt started rotating immediately and I was quickly rewarded with a fountain of water bubbling up into the seawater strainer and through the cooling system hoses. A look over the side verified water was indeed flowing out of the exhaust port.

Honestly, it was a simple problem to diagnose and an easy fix, but I have to tell you at that moment I felt like Mike freakin’ Rowe. After cleaning myself up, Cindy and I headed up to Caribbean Jack’s for a celebratory beer and some of the most kick-ass Bananas Foster I’ve ever had.

We spent one night at Palm Coast marina, unfortunately missing the live jazz music at the nearby 727 lounge due to our delayed departure from Daytona and then sailed on to Jacksonville, stopping for the night at the Sister’s Creek public dock. We had found out about this free Jacksonville municipal dock (stays are limited to 72 hours) from our friends Sonny and Jean. The floating dock is fairly new and has free water though there are no electric power hookups (fine with us since we like to sleep with our hatches open). The dock sits along a wide expanse of peaceful grassy marshland. Gnats are a bit of a concern if there is no breeze. You also have an excellent view of the nearby St John’s River Power Park, which looks deceptively like a nuclear facility but is actually coal fired power plant.

Nuke Plant Sisters Creek

St John’s River Power Park at Sunset

After we had been tied up at the dock for a couple of hours there was a knock on the side of our boat. Cindy and I stepped out into the cockpit to meet Captain Brown Altman, the semi-official ambassador of Sister’s Creek dock. Brown is a dock legend, a sailor himself who has made it his mission to repay the kindness that other sailors have shown him over the years by paying it forward. Each day, Brown shows up at the Sister’s Creek dock, welcoming new arrivals and asking if there is anything they need…a lift into town, help securing a mechanic or whatever he can help them with. There being nothing we were in need of, Cindy and I simply enjoyed chatting with this extraordinary gentleman for a few minutes. These are the kind of people you meet in the boating community.

Departing from Sister’s Creek the next morning, we pushed on for Fernandina Beach, timing our departure to avoid arriving at Fernandina at low tide. There is a tricky spot just before you reach Fernandina where many a boat has run aground so we made sure we arrived on a rising tide. We tied up at the facedock at Fernandina Harbor Marina, recalling how cold it had been when we stopped there on our way down the coast. We spent three days at Fernandina, visiting with our friend Rich and touring his almost-completed house, getting a haircut, meeting up with Sonny and Jean, going to the local Sunday farmers’ market and eating entirely too much for lunch at a local Mexican joint.

Fernandina Sunset

Fernandina Harbor at Sunset

Monday morning we shoved off for Jekyll Island, both of us marveling at the fact that we were about to complete the round trip we set out on almost five months earlier. Our course took us along the scenic shore of Cumberland Island where we strained to see the herds of wild horses again but only managed to spot a lone horse grazing near the shoreline. We crossed the choppy waters of St Andrews Sound and headed into the mouth of Jekyll Creek. We had to chuckle as we looked at our GPS chartplotter, which still stored our tracks from the way down, and saw the old tracks from our two initial aborted attempts to depart Jekyll back in January.

We hailed Jekyll Harbor marina and were soon tossing lines to our old marina friend Jeff and tying up in a very familiar spot. We chatted with Jeff for a while about what changes had taken place during the months we’d been absent, noting that a lot of the long term boat owners that we had gotten to know had left for other marinas. We went up to 685 Seafood to grab a sandwich and a drink for lunch and then borrowed one of the marina’s golf carts to drive to the island’s liquor and grocery store to resupply.

I took advantage of the time at the Jekyll dock to try and tighten the seawater pump belt on the port engine. It also felt loose but proved to be much more problematic. The issue was that, due to the position of the adjusting bolt relative to the pump pulley and belt, I couldn’t get a socket or wrench head over it. Numerous attempts just led to the bolt corners starting to round. Rather than stripping the bolt head completely I decided to leave well enough alone and let the folks at Thunderbolt Marina deal with this since we were just three days from the boatyard.

We pushed off again on Tuesday, anxious to reach our ultimate destination of Savannah. We navigated through the hazardously shallow and shoaly northern part of Jekyll Creek and emerged into St. Simmons Sound, a wide expanse of water we needed to cross to continue up the ICW. As we’re traversing the Sound, a Coast Guard patrol boat pulls up behind us with its blue lights flashing. As we slowed our boat, they pulled up alongside us and politely informed us they would like to board our vessel and conduct an inspection. We invited them on board (what else are you going to do) and in short order three armed and extremely young looking Coasties stepped onto Just One Dance.

Honestly, they couldn’t have been any nicer or more polite and neither of us were very worried because we knew we had everything in order. Cindy brought up the blue binder containing all of our ship’s papers, which we knew were up to date, and I showed them the boat’s oil and garbage placards and our required life vests. Cindy let them inspect the boat’s bilges and in about 10 minutes they were handing us a copy of their report (no violations!) and telling us that if we get boarded by the Coast Guard again within the next six months to just show them the report and they would probably skip the inspection. We bid them farewell and later that evening I even sent their station commander an email commending his crew for their professionalism.

Our home for the night was an anchorage we found on ActiveCaptain called Buttermilk Sound, a peaceful site at the north end of St Simmons Island. We were the only boat at the anchorage and that evening Cindy and I sat out on the deck and marveled at the darkness and almost total silence. The only sounds we heard were from the local birds and frogs, the only light from the moon. There are so few opportunities nowadays to get away from the light and noise pollution of civilization and we felt so blessed to be in that spot.

Sunset View

One More Sunset

The next morning we were preparing to get underway and fired up the engines. Oh crap – no cooling seawater from the port engine. A quick look confirmed my worst fear; the belt on the water pump wasn’t moving. We were in a bit of a fix here, given the remoteness of our anchorage. If we couldn’t fix the problem, our best alternative would have been to call BoatUS and get towed back to Jekyll.

For the next hour, first I and then Cindy tried to loosen the adjustment bolt on the pump but no amount of trying worked. I called Kevin, the W. W. Williams technician who serviced our engines a year ago (fortunately even is this remote spot we had good cell coverage) to see if he could suggest any good way to get the bolt loose, but no dice. His best suggestion was to try to use something to tighten up the belt. I suggested tying a piece of cord over the belt along both pulleys to squeeze the belt tighter while Cindy favored using rolled up pieces of gorilla tape (sticky side out) on the pulley track to grab the belt.

We went with the tape idea, wondering how long the tape could possibly last with the pulley spinning at a couple of thousand rpm. At first, the belt didn’t move but once I poked it carefully with my finger, the belt grabbed and turned and the cooling water flowed out of the exhaust. I theorized that the belt mainly needed to get started; once it was rotating at the speed of the driving pulley, it wouldn’t slip enough to keep the pump from functioning.

We motored throughout the day, checking the water flow from the port engine every few minutes but it performed like a champ. We crossed the wide Sapelo Sound and then paralleled the edge of St Catherine’s Island, keeping one eye on the engine and the other on the weather which was slowly clouding up. To the north, we saw flashes of lightning on the horizon, which worried us since that was the direction that we were heading.

We reached Wahlberg Creek, our anchorage for the night, on the northern tip of St Catherine’s as a wall of angry black clouds was building just to the north of us. It looked uncomfortably familiar, much like the storm front that slammed us at Titusville and we are anxious to get anchored and battened down for the approaching storm. The anchorage was well reviewed on ActiveCaptain but the reviews warned of a very shallow bank we had to cross over before getting to the deeper water where we could safely drop anchor.

As predicted, the water depth diminished rapidly as we entered the creek but as we pushed further upstream it just kept getting shallower. JOD has a very shallow draft (around 4 ft) but when the depth meter displays less than 2 feet under the keel its a little hard not to start puckering up. Eventually though we did get more water beneath us and after one abandoned attempt to anchor we found a comfortable spot and got a good set on the anchor. What’s more, though the storm front remained ominous, it stayed just to the north of us and we got little more than a fresh breeze at our anchorage.

As we prepped to leave the anchorage the next morning on June 4th for our last 30+ mile push to Savannah and Thunderbolt Marine, I went into the port engine hold to check the belt on the seawater pump and found no trace of the gorilla tape wads Cindy had applied to the pulley the previous morning. I was in favor of starting the engine and seeing if we could get the pump started without any more tape but out of an abundance of caution Cindy reapplied wads of tape. We fired up the engine and were rewarded with a steady flow of water out of the exhaust port.

Thunderbolt Marine

The Barn at Thunderbolt Marine

The rest of the trip Thursday along Ossabaw and Skidaway Islands was peaceful and beautiful, the blue skies belying the threatening clouds from the previous night. Even the horseflies, which had been tormenting us in droves the past two days, were almost entirely absent. By early afternoon, we spotted Thunderbolt Marine’s massive boat shop building ahead of us and within 30 minutes we were safely tied up at their face dock.

We met up with Kevin, the project manager for the work being done on JOD, a couple of hours later to introduce ourselves and get the ball rolling on our boat work. Then Cindy and I headed to Tortuga Jack’s, a nearby Caribbean themed restaurant, for lunch and a celebratory beer. It had been 5 months, almost to the day, since we left Jekyll Island for parts south. We had traveled over 850 miles, enjoyed the beauty of the southern east coast of the United States, successfully overcome some harrowing (at least at the time) situations and met a slew of great people.

Red Stripe

A Celebratory Toast

Now we will be hitting the pause button for a few weeks while we prepare JOD for sailing to The Bahamas at the beginning of October. Since I’ve caught my blog posts up to where we are now, I’ll be trying to post updates more regularly to keep everyone informed of the work we’re having done. Stay tuned…