Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Alternators, Alternatives, All Good

First, a maintenance update. The alternator is not fried. Apparently, wiring connection issues are, once again, the culprit. I dug out all of the alternator and voltage regulator manuals this morning and started working through the troubleshooting steps. Measure this, jumper that, switch on, switch off. It was still looking like I had a failed alternator. But it wasn't quite making sense. After about the third time of restarting the engine, I reached across and grabbed the blue field wire on the back of the alternator while the engine was running and gave it a hard twist. Immediately, I heard and felt the engine react to the alternator load and knew I had found my problem. It was not the wire connection itself but the terminal post going into the alternator that was loose. A quick wrenching and we were back in the charging business again! Really good news since a new Balmar high-output alternator runs over $1000 - yikes. BTW, thanks to Bob for the offer of a spare.

So now, a recap of the last few days. We attended the resident meteorologist's, Hank Pomeranz, weather briefing in Southport Marina on Thursday night. We were pretty excited because it appeared that we had days of settled weather down the east coast. We did, however, get a dose of perspective from one of the other attendees. Hank was mentioning what a great window this was for sailing vessels heading south and having so many good travel days for our 6 - 7 knot speeds. One of the power-boaters in the crowd exclaimed, 'Man, that's like walking to Florida!'. We thought, how ridiculous. I can't walk at 7 knots. Clearly, that is at least like jogging to Florida.

We left Southport, NC at 10:00 am on Friday as planned. We were accompanied by 4 other sailboats leaving on the tide. Our friends Bejay and Michael on 'Carolina Moon' led the pack as we all motored out of the Cape Fear River into the ocean. Most of the folks were headed to Charleston but we were aiming, at least, for the Florida-Georgia line and St. Mary's Inlet. We really wanted to go further south than that but our insurance policy, like most boat insurance policies, does not allow travel below the Florida line before November 1. We contacted our insurance company to ask for a waiver so we could keep moving while the great weather continued. There were no tropical systems in sight, the ocean was calm and it was only a few days until November. They responded with a green light so we were free to go as far as we wanted.

The ocean was, as  Hank at Southport described it, 'Lake Atlantic'. We tried to sail a bit at first but it was just silly. By mid-afternoon the boats had spread out over a few miles. Three of the boats, including 'Carolina Moon' were way ahead of us but still in sight on the horizon. We were lagging a bit because of our failed attempts at sailing early in the day. Boat #3 in their pack suddenly seemed to slow and start circling. We heard the radio chatter wondering if they were OK and they were not responding. The two leading boats turned back to make sure they were alright. We called in to say that we were coming from behind. Finally, the boat in question responded to say that they had lost a handheld radio overboard and were trying to recover it from the water. They were OK and thanked everybody for the concern. That's what cruisers do. They look out for each other.

We motor-sailed along for a while and finally just ended up motoring through the night. We motor-sailed most of the next day over a ridiculously calm sea. We passed Charleston and kept moving south.

We had a pod of about a dozen dolphins come along and ride at our bow for 30 minutes. We both went forward and watched as they wove back and forth, inches from the bow and the bob-stay (that's a cable that attaches the bowsprit to the bow down near the waterline). They are so agile and so entertaining. They clearly turn to look up at you as they dart back and forth inches from the boat. Then, as is often the case with dolphins, they left as suddenly as they had arrived. Off to do whatever it is that dolphins do.

The next night, night 2, when I came up to take my watch at 4:00 am, the wind had picked up. Junie says 'Let's get some sails up!' We put up our conservative reefed mainsail and staysail and shut down the engine. We also made the decision at that point that we were not going into St. Mary's inlet. You can see from our track where we stopped pointing into the coast and aimed further down the coast. We were now committed to making it to Port Canaveral and another night offshore. Once daylight came, we put out the full main and the genoa and had hours of just beautiful sailing. Actually making great speed in the right direction!

Junie caught fish! She had assembled a Cuban Rig hand-line and trailed a line all day. She ended up catching 4 Bonita over the next two days. Junie does love to catch fish. But Mahi is really what she wants. More on that later.

Sunset at sea. A really calm sea.

At about 2:00 pm, the wind began to settle down. Then lighten some more. Then died entirely. It was fun while it lasted. But the ocean was just incredible. We spotted several turtles, mystery splashes and weird floating things. Somewhere between St. Augustine and Daytona Beach we came across huge schools of fish, chased by the predictable flocks of seagulls, that went on for miles. Since the ocean was so calm, you could really see nature in action as the bait-fish were herded and hunted by bigger things.

Check out the crescent moon.

As night came, it turned out that some of the weird floating things were even stranger than imagined. They lit up in florescent green flashes as the boat startled them in the dark. It was like green ball lightning under the sea. I can imagine, now, how some of those old sailor stories of spirits under the water originated.

Night #3. The section of the Florida coast from Daytona south to Cape Canaveral is some of the most boring we have seen. Especially at night. We were miles from shore as we headed out to avoid the shoals. There are no inlets so nobody goes there. The shipping lanes are even further out so there aren't even any big boats to keep your attention. You start to wonder if your instruments are still working. Nothing shows up on radar. Nothing on AIS. Because there is nothing out there. Glad to see the sun rise at 7:29 am.

We rounded Cape Canaveral to make the approach into the channel. It takes another couple of hours to reach the entrance. Port Canaveral has a huge cruise ship terminal that serves Royal Caribbean, Disney, Carnival and Norwegian. It also has a Navy docks (submarines, maybe?), a Coast Guard station and a lot of recreational boats. On this day, other than a few Navy security boats, we have an easy entry. By 1:00 pm, we are at the fuel dock at Ocean Club Marina. When we stopped the engine for refueling we discovered our batteries had not been charging for a few hours.

Up to this point, we were seriously considering this a pit stop. Like some kind of really slow NASCAR racer, we were going to refuel, turn back around to sea and keep heading south. But, with this new discovery, combined with the sudden onset of seriously tired from a three-night offshore run, we decided to park at the marina for two days. This would give us a chance to sort out our issues and decide what our next steps needed to be.

Cabo Rico 42 'Whatever She Wants'
Not SeaClearly but every bit as pretty
As we were tying up at the fuel dock, a couple came up to look at our boat. With more interest than the usual boat-lookers. Turns out they had good reason to look. They are the proud owners of Cabo Rico 42 hull number 2, 'Whatever She Wants'. One of our sisterships! Once again, strange coincidences abound as we travel on SeaClearly. This is the fourth time this year that we have been in the same location as another CR42. Considering that there are only 18 of them in the world that is quite a number. There is also a CR38 in the marina. This almost qualifies as a rendezvous!

We had already logged our longest offshore trip to-date, covered hundreds of miles south and are halfway down Florida. And, it was only October 26th. It was time to take a rest. So we left SeaClearly on the fuel dock and, in typical cruiser fashion, walked two miles round-trip to get lunch. Outside table? No thank you. Inside, AC, ice cold soda. We came back stuffed and moved SeaClearly around the corner into a slip.

Not a bad place to rest!

We have met more wonderful people, shared stories, been amazed at the small world we live in and the likelihood that we have probably passed a lot of these folks before somewhere in life.

Fish - fear the Junie...
With our alternator fixed, a potential improvement for the watermaker in mind (provided by a local technician), and a new batch of fishing tackle - Oh, wait!- the fish story! As we approached Port Canaveral, Junie hooked into something big with teeth that bit through the 50 lb monofilament leader on the handline and made off with her trolling rig. Probably a Wahoo, say the locals. We stopped by a tackle shop on our way back from lunch at Fishlips. Junie got herself four custom made rigs, specifically designed for Mahi, hand-constructed by the shop owner and designed for use with a handline. Can't wait to get them in the water.

So, alternator fixed, water-maker potential fix, time to move on. Tomorrow we will pull out of here around 2:00 pm and head south to Miami. Well, actually, Dinner Key and Coconut Grove. It will be another two night offshore trip with arrival planned for afternoon on Friday. Halloween in the Miami area. That should be interesting. We will pick up a mooring ball at Dinner Key and sit for about a week as a weather front moves through. After that, we start planning the leap to the Bahamas!

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