Saturday, June 4, 2022

Memorial Day Cruise 2022

Memorial Day Cruise - the good, bad and ugly

The Plan: Sail down to Billy's Point in Biscayne Bay and meet up with some of the HISC Club member's boats over the Memorial Day Weekend returning on Monday/Tuesday. And have fun doing it.

 We had loaded the boat with bedding, food, fuel, water, wine, Rum and Whiskey. We were ready for this trip and the forecast was looking good, any bad weather was expected to stay North of Port St. Lucie.  

We started the day early, up at 5am, breakfast of Cereal & Toast, by 7am, we had the diesel engine running and prepared all of the lines to leave the dock. The morning weather report was for very little wind from the South, so going outside on the Ocean would have been a day of motoring with little to no wind. It was looking better to head down to Miami on the ICW. 

In preparation for the trip with the option to go down the ditch, I had printed out a list of all the ICW bridges between Port Everglades and the Port of Miami.  The list included the bridge names, distance from the previous bridge and it's opening times. The list was at the ready at the helm. So the decision was made to go down on the inside ( sailors down here refer to the ICW as the ditch, or 'the inside' rather than the Ocean route )

The New River bridges close down for the morning rush hour from 7:30am until 9am, so our plan was to leave the dock around 6:15am which would mean that we would get out of the canal within two hours of high tide.

We heard Chris and Kelli on Summer wind call for the Hillsboro Inlet Bridge opening, seems they were going on the outside, we were already down south of Port Everglades, it would be interesting to see how our progress towards Biscayne Bay differed. Later we heard Summer wind call for the Dania Beach Bridge to open, so we figured they had decided to come inside at Port Everglades and continue down the inside. Summer wind is a Catalina 36 and has a larger engine than Eximius, so I expected them to catch up with us by the time we got to Biscayne Bay.

All of the bridges opened as expected except for the Venetian Isle (West) bridge. Our GPS showed our arrival time at the bridge to be at 12:02 which would typically be as it completed it's opining. I called the bridge tender requesting the bridge opening. ( they are not required to open on a scheduled opening time if no vessel has requested it ). At 11:58am, we could see that the bridge was already open. Bridges rarely open early - normally that would be because of a commercial tow or tug or it could be an emergency vessel. In this case it was a Miami Fire Boat, I'm sure nobody would have any issues with the bridge opening early, but I had issues with the fact that the bridge tender closed the bridge before 12:00, noon, instead of remaining open to allow us to pass. We arrived, as expected at 12:02 and the bridge would normally be open fully ( the Bridge tenders routinely remind vessels to stay outside of the 'fenders' until the bridge is fully open.)

So we lost a half hour doing doughnuts on the North side of the bridge, not an easy task as the number of small vessels in the area. That was the third bridge that we missed the opening, due to waterway traffic or just being unable to make the next bridge opening.

Once past Venetian, it was plain motoring past Miami down to the Rickenbacker Causeway bridge. 

We did get a good view of the The Centinela del Río, (The River Sentry) by Cuban Manuel Carbonell

Just before the bridge, over to the East is the Miami Marina Stadium anchorage. We could see it was quite busy and more boats were heading East towards it. Just in case Affection was still there as they planned, we called them on #68, #16 and #9 but no reply, so we guessed they were already on their way to Billy's Point. We could hear Summer Wind catching up to us when they called the bridges which we had already passed. 

Once past the River Sentry, we followed the ICW channel down towards Rickenbacker Causeway bridge

Just before the Rickenbacker bridge, over to the East is the Miami Marina Stadium anchorage. We could see it was quite busy and more boats were heading East towards it. Just in case Affection was still there as they planned, we called them on #68, #16 and #9 but no reply, so we guessed they were already on their way to Billy's Point. We could hear Summer Wind catching up to us when they called the bridges which we had already passed. 

Passing the bridge, we engaged the Auto Pilot once past the bridge and shortly after that Affection showed up astern of us. Able to maintain a higher speed, Jeff & Judy sped off towards the Featherbed channel. We played dodgeball with oncoming vessels, which required us to disengage Otto ( our nickname for the Autopilot) and then reengage it once the power boats passed us. 

We had passed through the Featherbeds by the time Summer Wind was visible astern North of the beds. She was sailing to the South East trying to spend some of the trip under sail. Meanwhile we continued motoring with the wind on the nose headed to Billy's Point.

Affection had anchored and we prepared to raft up on their Starboard side, Fenders out, Lines at the read and we approached them with the plan to drop our anchor to the south west of Affection's and drop back to come alongside her. That pretty well went as planned. It took a couple of tries, it's difficult to gauge small distances and we were trying to drop our anchor 90' in front of Affection. But we came alongside without a bump, lines passed over, more fenders hung by Jeff & Judy and before long we were secure alongside. Time for a Shower (hot water curtesy of 12 hours under motor) and a Rum.

Chris and Kelli on Summer Wind arrived and anchored off to the South West expecting that Lady Gray will be close to them the next day.  Chris had an issue with his dinghy and spent a while getting that fixed.

Later, early evening, Jeff &Judy came over to share some Cheese & Wine aboard Eximius and so the Socialization began.  It's always a big part of the club cruises and always a pleasure to share personal stories.

Friday night was a pleasant period, cool enough to have the hatches open but only if they had screens to keep  out the mosquitoes. Jeff complained about them on Saturday morning which was surprising as I'm normally the mosy bait. 

Saturday morning we launched 'Special T' our new Dinghy, that was a game! Jeff came over to Eximius and helped up maneuver it over the lifelines. Lesson learned - It's easier to push the boat rather then pull it when launching. I had made up a 20' long 4 to 1 Utility Hoist which we connected to the Spinnaker Halyard. The top block was hoisted to about 16' above the deck, the lower block was attached to the Bow Ring on the Dinghy. It was easy hoisting the dink, but awkward getting it over the side, Jeff helped with that and the Dink was in the water in just a few minutes.

The next challenge was  to lower the engine off the mount on our Port stern quarter, the challenge was to get the dink between the two boats rafted together. But again, we got it done and before lunch, Special T was in the water with her engine and I was able to take it for a spin. Special T is no longer a virgin! By the time we were all done, Lady Gray was at anchor off to the North East about 200yds from Affection flying here beautiful flags, they flew straight from the mast as the wind had picked up.

The plan was for the Cruise BYOG (Bring your own grub and something to share) aboard Affection that evening. Judy did us proud! We had eight people at the party and food enough for another eight. Of course the social ranked high among our cruising history. We all wore colored glow in the dark necklaces. Discussions covered everything from the trip down to the Bay, how the boats performed and the weather. We solved several of the world's problems. Jeff & Judy brought 'Tam Tams' a chocolate cookie that few of us had ever heard of. (( Barry was due to work the following week and reported back that he had found Tam Tams in South Africa, while Chris reported that they were available on Amazon

There were a lot more stories that evening, but they are best left for the original story teller to share.

Saturday night was not so comfortable.

The boat off our Port side Stern is Summer Wind - I know, Ironic. 

So sleep on Saturday night was troubled to say the least, I was up after midnight looking to see what the noise was. Jeff was up doing the same thing and he eased our stern line to allow the boats to sterns of the two boat to be set further apart. Back to sleep for a couple of hours and then dawn came through.

There was an informal plan to share breakfast on Lady Grey. We confirmed with them. the old fashioned way 'Just holler from one boat to another'. With food ready to go, we all arrived on Lady Gray where Barry & Jamie were preparing a breakfast spread. Before breaking our fast, Barry played the Star Spangled Banner - by Madison Rising. We all stood in respect of Memorial day and all of those that have given sacrifice to the freedoms we have today. 

After breakfast, with the Sun out, power boats were arriving at Elliott key and Billy's point (which was about a mile from our location) Jeff & I snorkeled out to where we expected our anchors to be dug into the sea bed. We were able to find Jeff's but Eximius' was dug in so well that we could not see it. Jeff did give me some pointers on how to snorkel effectively, so I learned a new technique that did make snorkeling much more pleasant. During the snorkel, I had let go of a large plastic noodle and, once back at the boat, Peggy and Judy pointed out that the noodle was moving rapidly towards the horizon astern of us. 
Chris was at our stern and quickly motored away in the direction of the noodle. By that time an arriving boat had spied the noodle and picked it up from the water. Chris was able to catch up with them and retrieve the noodle. Thanks Chris.

Of course, overnight, our two rafted boats swung at least 360º which created a bit of Macrame on our anchor chains.  We spent a while discussing how to unwind the chains. First option was to try and use Affection's dinghy to to swing around the anchors in the opposite direction from the storms effect and thus release the knot in the chains. That just didn't work, despite our best effort. Next we tried to untie the knot by using Affection's engines to swing the boats around, again, didn't work. Finally we decided with myself  and Chris aboard his dinghy, to pull up the chains and then Eximius' anchor allowing us to untangle the chains. That worked, but only because of a heroic effort by Chris. The water was only about nine feet deep and Chris dove several times to free our anchor but it worked.  I feel that I owe Chris at least a Noodle.

With the anchors separated, we made the decision to just leave Affection's anchor holding both boats overnight. That worked for us as we planned to haul anchor before 8am Monday (Memorial Day), so now we could leave the raft up a lot easier.  

The wind was to high for us to raise the dink on Sunday evening. Just after dawn on Monday, it had reduced sufficiently that we tried, successfully to hoist it out of the water. I had made a modification to the dink's painter ( a rope that is attached to the dingy to help control it when it's moving it around from outside the boat), the change involved putting a loop in the painter such that I could reach the loop from the deck of Eximius. That allowed the connection of the lower end of the utility hoist to the loop without having to reach below the water to attach the hoist to the bow eye of the dinghy.

With the hoist attached to the dink, we were able to easily hoist Special T up on deck, as soon as it cleared the lifelines, it swung in front of the mast and we could lower it down onto the foredeck. It went surprising well with very little effort. Special T - a Zar 9HDL dinghy weighs about 160lbs and the 4 to 1 ratio of the utility hoist meant we were pulling down on the hoist line with about a 40lb force, easily done when pulling in a downwards direction from the top block on the hoist.  So we quickly secured the dinghy on deck and went below for breakfast.

Around 7am we had Eximius' engine running and the boat set for departing the raft up. Jeff appeared on the deck of Affection and quickly assisted in us casting off from his boat, we motored astern to clear the sides and then Veer around to the North West and head for our planned route up the ICW channel of Biscayne Bay towards the Featherbeds channel. We saw that Summer wind had left a while before us and was at least an hour ahead of us.  We set the autopilot to follow the route back to the North end of Biscayne bay with the plan of deciding if we were going to go outside via Stiltsville or continue North on the ICW and head home via the ditch.

Peggy was not for us going outside. We had just gone through some heavy rain and could see the clouds dissipating on Radar, Summer Wind was already out on the Ocean and reported there was a slight swell and light winds about 45º off the Stbd bow, so it should be a nice comfortable ride home. In addition to being able to sail home, there was the advantage that we would not have to deal with all of the bridges between Miami and Port Everglades. For me the choice was obvious. The weather had improved and the Bay was nice and flat, we were sailing with just the Genoa out doing about 4 to 5 knots on under 1900 rpm of the engine, and with the wind 45º off the bow outside, it really should be a faster ride if we put out the Main sail as well. So I was for going outside. Peggy was not, quite adamantly so. Captain made the decision, we turned towards the channel entrance at Stiltsville.    -- MISTAKE --

As we motored along the Stiltsville channel, following many other boats, both sailboats and power boats, the sea was very calm but I had furled in the Genoa and we had a very gentle journey to the Ocean, it was quite relaxing.

Once outside of the Channel, we started our slow turn North, my plan was to ride the gulf stream and reduce our trip time back to Port Everglades. We headed about 33ºM keeping an eye on our ground speed, looking for a knot or two lift to the North when we reach the gulf stream. That happened around Noon so at that time I turned North, we were outside of the route to Miami channel and so I put in the Port Everglades Outer buoy as the target destination. Skies were clear, not much wind but I put out the Genoa and we kept the diesel running, still below 2000rpm. 

Well, that didn't last! We were about 7 nautical miles south of Port Everglades, wind started to pickup and I furled in the Genoa to just a handkerchief. We were motor sailing with the wind backing more to the North, Seas were starting to pickup. Peggy was not happy, that's putting it lightly. We normally wear our life jackets when on the Ocean, but at this point we put on our Tethers and, with Peggy below, I hooked my tether near the helm. The wind increased. Sorry, but our wind data was not working ( more on that in the next post), however, we received a VHF call from Summer Wind advising that the winds near the Port Everglades Entrance were sustained at 20knots and we knew it was gusting, but we were doing 6 - 7 knots through the water but only 4-5 knots overground despite the Northerly winds. I furled in the sail completely.

All of sudden, while dealing with the significant wave action and the gusting winds, our speed through the water dropped to 2knots! We're less than two miles off shore, waves wanted us to go that way and the wind was not steady North but gusts seemed to veer to the East. 

I guessed we had picked up something on the Prop and instead of it pushing water astern of us thus moving us forwards, it's now probably just a ball spin with virtually no propulsion. I also noted that there was smoke or steam coming out of the exhaust. I slowed the engine to Idle speed, shifted to Neutral, then into reverse and revved up with the intent of dislodging anything on the prop. We've picked up Poly bags before, same feeling, same process so it might work this time too. But when I put the engine in reverse, Peggy could head a 'whomping' sound from inside the cabin and the engine shut down. Again, this not a good situation. I checked the raw water strainer first, it was not totally clogged with Sargassum but close. Cleaned that out. Then I checked the Raw Water thru hull, just a few seconds to release the hose clamps with the handy tool that I keep near to that thru hull, water squirted in and so that was clear. Time to try and restart the engine before I considered calling for a Tow Boat. When I tried to start, it didn't! Ok, maybe there's a problem with the start battery - I asked Peggy to switch the battery selector to 'Two' tried to start again, nothing! Grrrr. Ok one more time, switch the selector back to normal and let's try - DUH! - the engine was still in gear! I put it into neutral, tried to start it again and it instantly started without any issues. We're moving again! 

Worried that the steam/smoke was another indication of a problem with the engine colling system, I keep the rpm below 1800 and we continued the bumpy ride up to Port Everglades. 

We both agreed that we could anchor in Sunrise Bay for the Monday night and catch the High Tide Tuesday morning , so we anchored in the Bay.

Before we took a break, I pulled the engine covers off and started checking the engine. Coolant levels - OK, Raw Water impeller pump, OK, Oil OK, Drive belt OK, we're looking good.  Clean up and take that well earned break.

We heard from Summer wind and Lady Gray that they had got back to their docks safely, things were looking better.

After a hot shower, we had Shepherds pie for dinner along with wine for Peggy, and a glass of rum on an Ice Ball for me.

We both slept well!

Tuesday morning we caught the 8:30am Sunrise Bridge opening, then the Las Olas Blvd bridge and turned up the New River. 

The New River bridges are locked down from 7:30am to 9am and 4pm to 6:30pm weekdays for the rush hour traffic. Our arrival at 3rd Avenue bridge was timed so that we would get there just after 9am. Of course, it's never that easy, the FEC Railroad bridge went down before we got past the 'Tunnel' ( that the tunnel that allows US 1 to pass under the New River. ). I decided to stay downstream of 3rd avenue bridge rather than risk getting stuck between 3rd and Andrews Avenue bridges, the wind and current would not make that an easy place to hold station. On the other hand we were near the Tunnel, the River is quite wide there, and much easier to hold station. The bridge was down for about 20 -25 minutes. As soon as it was rising, we turned upstream and called 3rd avenue bridge for an opening. As we passed under 3rd, we could see there was a 70' motor vessel under tow between the two bridges. Good decision not to pass 3rd any earlier.

Once past 3rd avenue bridge, Andrews Ave bridge opened, the downstream heading vessels held back while the upstream vessels, and the Tow, cleared, then we turned and followed the Two through 7th avenue bridge, we then turned onto the North fork of the New River and headed back to our dock.

As always, it was a memorable trip. Thanks Jeff, Judy, Chris & Kellie, Barry & Jamie, we really enjoyed the trip, even the challenges. Looking forward to next year.

Of course, I would be totally remiss if I didn't acknowledge Peggy's better choice for the trip home. 

Humble Pie

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