Thursday, March 1, 2012

The Hardest 180 Miles...

We dropped the mooring ball in Dinner Key and made it over to No Name Harbor to go south down Hawk Channel.  Our estimated mileage for the day would be 67 nautical miles which is a long trip in the winter, with only 12 hours of sunlight.  We found an anchorage called Indian Key which would set us up to go through the Channel 5 bridge the next morning and then onto Yacht Channel.

We anchored in Indian Key about 5:45 p.m. - just before sunset and made sure to set the anchor hard, just like we do every time we drop it.  We had dinner and sat down to relax when our anchor alarm started to go off, indicating our anchor was probably dragging.  There was only one other boat in the anchorage and they were about a mile away, so that wasn't a concern, but if we dragged to shore and ran aground, it would be bad.  By this time it was pitch black outside and we were surrounded by crab pots.  If we moved the boat and ran over a crab pot, it could get wrapped around the shaft and could damage the prop, engine, etc - its not good, but we didn't have a choice, we had to reset the anchor.  Baxter went to the bow while I stayed at the helm (no, I couldn't even see him because it was so dark).  We pulled up the anchor and started moving guided by the chart plotter.  Baxter yelled for me to turn and I did, but the wrong way.  He ran back to the stern and said we had just run over a crab pot, at which time we both looked back to see bits of styrofoam and line being spit out of the stern.  UGH!  However, no time to deal with that as the anchor was not down.  We found a place to drop it and as we reversed to set it, it just bounced across the ground.  About this time I am really missing the crystal clear water of the Bahamas where you know what kind of bottom is below the boat.  Apparently, we were trying to anchor on old dead coral that was now just rock and our wonderful Rocna anchor wouldn't grab.  We proceeded to give it a try four more times.  We were not sure our next move if it didn't set.  On the fourth try, it appeared to hold.  We set the drag alarm again and went below.  I hesitate to say we went to sleep since I was awake every 10 minutes looking outside to see if we had moved.

The next morning we woke up, glad to have that anchoring experience behind us and on to a new beautiful day.  We went through Channel 5 bridge and had plenty of depth on the other side (Everglades National Park in Florida Bay.)  There were crab pots everywhere but since we could see them, we could deal with it.  The channel was charted at 6 feet and we saw between 7 to 9.  Yay!  Then we found a section that was a bit shallower at 5.9 (depth alarm starts beeping).  Then another at 5.6...I won't bore you with the continual decrease in water depths.  Basically, the alarm went off for about 30 minutes and we got as low as 4.4 feet - don't forget our draft is 4.2.  I think I could have reached over the edge of the boat and picked some grass off the bottom!

Well, the depth sounder stopped going off and all was good.  Until I heard the noise from the engine.  At first I couldn't figure it out - bilge?  No.  Pots in the sink?  No.  Hmmm...I took the engine cover off and YEP, there it is.  Baxter heard it now too - loud and clear.  I took the helm while he examined the damage.  There were bearings that were very unhappy and it seemed to be near the water pump.  So - our options at this point are 1) Go back the way we just came and risk running aground as the tide was now going out.  2)  Call Tow Boat U.S.  - oh wait - no, that wasn't an option we were in the Everglades.  3)  Sail - oh wait, not an option, there was zero wind.  4) Keep going.  So we chose option #4 and continually monitored the engine gauges (which were all normal at this point.) hoping that we could make it another 150 miles to Port Charlotte. We decided also to keep going through the night, despite the crab pots.  We didn't want to depend on the engine any longer than we had to and there were no ports within 80 miles of where we were and we had not seen any boats for hours.

We made it through the night on very little sleep and continual scanning of the water with a Q-Beam to see whatever crab pots we could.  As the sun rose, we were only 35 miles south of the entrance to Port Charlotte, scheduled to arrive at 1:30 p.m.  We had some breakfast and coffee and were pretty happy to be getting closer to our destination.  Kala had been on the boat since Tuesday (it was now Thursday) and was a bit ready to get off.  Baxter opened the engine cover to check on it, and all I could see was a cloud of smoke and then I heard him emphatically telling me to "TURN THE ENGINE OFF", so I did.  I asked if the engine was on fire and he said "Almost."  As he had opened the engine cover, the alternator belt flew off and apparently the alternator had seized.  Baxter was able to "McGyver" a bypass of the alternator using some line around the fly wheel and water pump, then running our Honda 2000 generator to power the electric fuel pump.  It worked - he is a genius!!  But, we were reluctant to push the engine above idle speed and we were going into a harbor we had never been.  Also, we had Tow Boat U.S. - GOLD UNLIMITED.  We called and they said they would take us to any marina we would like at no charge.  We were going to Charlotte Harbor Boat Storage that was inside locks and canals with a small dock.  No problem at all.  If your engine ever dies on you, I hope you have the same circumstances we did.  It could not have been any better - we had 7 knots of wind on the beam with relatively calm seas and we were about 8 miles offshore.  We decided to sail to the sea buoy and from there Tow Boat U.S. would meet us and pull us in to the harbor.

So, they pulled us in going about 6.5 knots and we went through the lock system and the canals as two boats tied together.  We arrived at Charlotte Harbor Boat Storage around 4 p.m. and were so tired.  Kala had been on the boat for 72 hours straight and was happy to go to shore.  We didn't have the energy to cook so we ordered a pizza and went to bed early.  We would figure out what to do with the engine the next day.

Flat waters of Florida Bay and my personal nemesis, a crab pot.
The make-shift solution Baxter rigged.  It worked!
Baxter folding the mainsail right after we hooked up to the tow.

Tow Boat U.S. after shortening the bridle to take us around corners and through locks.

In the lock (View of the stern) Tow Boat U.S. is on the bow.


  1. I would like to second your great hatred of the crab pots. They litter the lake where we sail and I worry constantly about them. I've gone as far as considering installing a line cutter on the prop.

    Glad you both made it in alright.

  2. We have a line cutter, which I think was the only reason that crab pot in the anchorage broke off. When we hauled out, the suspense was high to see what would be on the shaft and we were so fortunate - not a single bit of line.

    It would be nice if there was a designated fishing area for crab pots. I know the fisherman are just trying to make a living, but the cost of repairs to the boat can be significant and the crab pots are damaged as well. Surely, there is a better way than the gamble that everyone is taking.

    Also...I think the black/dark floats are just ridiculous - really - why would anyone make that choice?

    Can you tell I have put a lot of thought into this?

    Thanks for the comment! Take care and fair winds.