Thursday, May 11, 2017

Streaming North: Cruising Off the Continental Shelf

Article started on Sunday, May 7, 2017 at 6:00 AM

Direct Hingham, MA from Georgetown SC


The two day weather layover in Georgetown allowed a massive low pressure system to work its way north and east. As it did, widespread high pressure from the Midwest took its place. The forecasts for our proposed route at departure from Georgetown on Sunday at 6:30 AM indicated 15 to 20 knot winds, mostly out of the southwest and west, with following seas 3 to 5 feet from Georgetown all the way to Cape Hatteras, some 213 nautical miles to the east northeast. For the rest of the 600 nautical miles to Massachusetts, the forecast called for diminishing winds and seas around 2 feet.  

The deep low working its way north
We are now predicting arrival in Hingham at 6:00 AM on Thursday morning May 11th using existing programmed routes.  If the forecast holds, we will cover a record 813 nautical miles and, for the second time this voyage, run continuously for four days and three nights. This is truly exciting.


We departed Georgetown’s Harborwalk Marina at 6:51 AM and headed 13 NMs south down Winyah Bay to the Atlantic Ocean. Our departure at close to slack tide put us in position for a favorable current.

At 8:44 AM we cleared the Winyah Bay Inlet with an average speed of 8.5 knots and, with full consideration for the forecasted winds and seas, programmed a 220 nautical mile route from that took us direct to Cape Hatteras via Cape Fear (Southport NC) and Cape Lookout (Beaufort NC).

Explanatory Note: This route requires rounding three shoals, Frying Pan at Southport, Cape Lookout at Beaufort and Diamond at Hatteras.  This route can be run close to the coast or offshore. Going close to shore significantly increases the distance traveled as the shoals associated with the capes protrude out many miles (11, 12 and 8 respectively). The near shore route is approximately 268 nautical miles as compared to 220 if run in a straight line.  Those 48 NMs translate into 6 additional hours of travel (and 55 gallons of fuel).

At 5:00 PM on Sunday we crossed the Frying Pan Shoal Slue, a marked shortcut through the shoal with at least 20 feet of water. We noted a following sea, a smooth ride and conditions favorable for continuing to Cape Hatteras offshore in a straight line.

We rounded Cape Lookout Shoals at 3:00 AM on Monday noting a following sea and west northwest winds of 18 to 22 knots and headed direct to Cape Hatteras some 68 nautical miles ahead. We had traveled 167 NMs since leaving Georgetown.

Here’s a question to ponder with regard to the name “Cape Lookout.” Did this cape get its name because it was a good place to “lookout” over the ocean or was the name trying to convey a message – “lookout!!!” The folks who named Cape Fear seemed to be very clear with their message – this is a bad spot. Of course the naming system breaks down at Cape Hatteras, which is without question the most dangerous spot on the Eastern Seaboard. If I were given the naming task I’d call it “Cape Hell,” which it has been on three of our north/south voyages.

Calm waters

Guy at the wheel

Good view of our pilot house instruments
At 11:03 AM on Monday Cape Hatteras was “Cape Easy” with north winds at 10 knots and 2 to 3 foot head seas. Our speed had also picked up slightly owing to the Gulf Stream and our distance off shore. We noted in the log that the head sea we were experience might be standing wave action resulting from the opposing forces of the north wind fighting the Gulf’s northerly flow. Fortunately, the low 10 knot wind velocity only resulted in slight pitching. A stronger wind would have resulted in more violent pitching. We think the lesson is stay out of the Gulf Stream in a northerly wind.

Current sea conditions as we make our decision to go direct Buzzards Bay

Current location of fronts and pressure as we are make our decision to bot direct Buzzards Bay

Conditions 24 hours later. We have a weather window
Decision Time: Earlier this morning Bob, Guy and myself performed our morning weather review. The forecast noted in the overview (above) for 3 to 5 foot waves at Cape Hatteras with an improving trend to two footers both near shore and offshore as we progressed north was still valid.  The forecast for calm seas stretched several days.  We had a weather window. This resulted in yet another strategic route decision and another all-time first. We decided to head direct to Buzzards Bay Massachusetts from the tip of Diamond Shoal at Cape Hatteras North Carolina (429 NMs).  This route takes us 85 miles offshore when we are adjacent to New York Harbor. By taking this route we shave off 71 nautical miles and 90 gallons of fuel.

Bob and Guy 
The combined saving in distance, fuel and time from going in a straight line from Georgetown to Cape Hatteras and then to Buzzards Bay is 135 miles, 142 gallons and 16 hours.  The distance from Cape Hatteras to Buzzards Bay is 429 nautical miles.  At 8.4 knots we will cover the distance in approximately 51 hours.

Stow-away. A flying fish landed on the flybridge
At 2:45 PM on Monday we were abreast of Oregon Inlet (just north of Cape Hatteras) running 24 miles from shore. While on this segment the winds became light and variable for almost two hours and the seas calmed to a 2 to 3 foot swell. Time to estimate some arrival times. At that moment, the GPS indicated 396 NMs to the beginning of Buzzards Bay. 

Estimate to:
  • the entrance to Buzzards Bay: 3:00 PM on Wednesday
  • the south end  Cape Cod Canal: 5:00 PM on Wednesday
  • Hingham Shipyard Marina: 1:00 AM on Thursday.
We also noted that the current in the Cape Cod Canal will become favorable at 4:30 PM. It will be fun to see how these estimates play out.

Meanwhile, back to the voyage.

On Monday at 8:35 PM we were 76 NMs east southeast of Cape Henry (Virginia Beach) maintaining an average speed of 8.5 knots thanks to the Gulf Stream. Winds were east northeast at 10 knots. That gave us a 2 to 3 foot quartering head sea and a smooth ride. We were now outside the continental shelf in over 3,000 (three thousand) feet of water.

This photo shows we are outside of the Continental Shelf
As we progressed further north into the evening and early morning on Tuesday the winds and seas decreased to the point where we riding on a beautiful calm sea.  When I took 1 to 4 watch there was very little to do but enjoy the serenity of a moonlit night and listen to James Taylor. Most important, the marine forecasts for our route continued to predict optimum conditions.

Calm waters almost 100 nautical miles offshore
At 4:00 AM, when my watch ended, we were 106 NMs south southeast of Cape May New Jersey (at the north side of the Delaware Bay) and 100 NMs east of Cape Henry (at the south side of the entrance to the Chesapeake Bay) in placid waters with no traffic within 24 NMs (according to the radar).

Explanatory Note: Running almost 100 miles from shore and more than 100 miles from a navigable inlet and shelter of a marina or anchorage is serious business. One should not undertake such a voyage without a weather window that covers the enroute period and even beyond. A “surprise” change in the weather does not leave many options when your boat’s cruising speed is 8.4 knots and its top speed is 13 knots with a 50 GPH fuel burn. Heading for shore/shelter is an 8 hour 400 gallon proposition at top speed (assuming you have enough fuel). Bottom line. A trawler like the 63 cannot out-run the weather. The “good news” (sort of) is that the 63 is rated “Ocean A - Unlimited.” She can handle anything - but why.  The other consideration is mechanical reliability. Alongside of aggressive maintenance, we visit the engine room every 4 to 6 hours to verify the working of our machinery.

We had several visits from dolphins

Dolphin off the starboard side

Dolphins riding the bow wave
On Wednesday, May 10, 2017, when my 1 to 4 watch began, we were 90 NMs southeast of New York City and 119 NMs from the entrance to Buzzards Bay. Still way offshore in perfect conditions. Our ETA to Buzzards Bay was now 4:25 PM (Wednesday). When my watch ended at 4 AM it had improved further to 3:41 AM.

Earlier on Tuesday afternoon (15:10 log entry) our speed continued to decrease. We noted a current speed of 7.0 knots, a drop of 1.4 knots from our 8.4 average (which is also the 63s optimum cruise speed). Sirius’ water temperature chart (called “Fishing”) showed us in cold water off the continental shelf. We hypothesized that we were running against the Labrador Current that comes down from the North Atlantic and which causes the Gulf Stream to veer east northeast past Cape Hatteras. Whether that is true or not, it did not alter the fact that we would not achieve our 3:00 PM ETA to the beginning of Buzzards Bay or the favorable push through the Cape Cod Canal that begins at 4:30 PM.

This caused us to consider the impact of the speed decrease in relation to the current at Buzzards Bay and the Cape Cod Canal. Basically, we would reach Buzzards after the current began to flow south, which would result in an average 3.0 knot speed reduction over the 25 NMs to the east end of the Cape Cod Canal. We pondered an immediate increase to our speed. To counter the lost 1.4 knots we would have to increase RPMs to 1700 (9.9 knots). However, the fuel burn at 16 gallons an hour shot that idea down as it almost doubled fuel consumption. 24 hours are needed to cover the 194 NMs to reach Buzzards at 3:00 PM. This would result in an additional fuel burn of 216 gallons (over $500). We concluded that it did not make sense given our projected arrival in Hingham in the early morning hours and the fact that we were not up against a deadline. Further, we again hypothesized that our speed might just increase as we crossed over the Continental Shelf and returned to shallower water.

So back to 4:00 AM and the end of my watch. Our ETA was now 3:41 AM. Was our hypothesis correct? Who knows. But the result is the same. As of this moment, we traverse Buzzards Bay and the Cape Cod Canal on a favorable tide.

We made our first landfall in days when we visually spotted the wind farm off Block Island at 10:35 AM. It was 19 NMs west of our position.  At 12:30 PM we were adjacent to Block Island, 11 NMs to the NW. Winds were west at 10 knots and seas were less than 2 feet.

Bob watching a pusher tow overtake Guided Discovery

As we approached Buzzards Bay we began seeing fishing buoys and lobster pots. We used these "obstacles" as an opportunity to practice spotting and dodging small objects with our FLIR night vision. Great fun - kind of like a video game.

At 3:51 PM on Wednesday we reached the the entrance to Buzzards Bay and the beginning of the home stretch.  Best of all we arrived just as the tide turned to a northerly flow giving us an increase in speed.

Tide Turning Positive just as we enter Buzzards Bay 

By 6:40 we had reached the Hogs Island Channel, which marks the beginning of the Cape Cod Canal. We saw a 4 knot increase in speed to 12.5 knots and a top speed of 13.5. Note: The 63 can barely reach 13 knots and when it does it is burning 50 gallons an hour. The current was pushing us at our top speed while are fuel burn remained 9.1 GPH. Life is good.

Railroad lift bridge at south end of the Cape Cod Canal

12.8 knots current speed and 13.4 top speed in the Cape Cod Canal

3.2 knot current at the Sagamore Bridge
Current moving toward 92 degrees (a northerly flow)
The Sagamore Bridge as viewed on FLIR night vision
At the east end of the Cape Cod Canal we turned north and headed for Hingham. Five and a half hours later at 1:00 AM on Thursday Guided Discovery was sitting at the dock. We had hit the arrival time that we predicted three days earlier to the minute.

Heading north from the east end of the Cape Cod Canal to Hingham
Moon rising over Cape Cod Bay 
This amazing voyage was over but, clearly, it was one for the record books. 

Segment Statistics:
  • Total Segment Distance: 745 NMs
  • Average Speed: 8.4 Knots
  • Top Speed: 13.5 Knots        
  • Engine Hours: 91
  • Engine Fuel Consumed: 872 gallons
  • Fuel Efficiency: .85 GPNM
  • Generator Fuel Consumed: 93 Gallons
  • Total Fuel Consumed: 964 Gallons
  • Fuel Remaining: 336 Gallons (186 usable)
Trip Totals
  • Total Distance: 1,513 NMs     
  • Engine Hours: 174
  • Engine Fuel Consumed: 1,667 Gallons
  • Overall Engine Fuel Efficiency: .91 GPNM
  • Generator Fuel Consumed: 211 Gallons
  • Total Fuel Consumed: 1,878 Gallons

Written by Les.

Streaming North: Downtime in Downtown Georgetown


Well it's the Great Loop all over again. Well, at least in terms of activity. During our Great Loop adventure we visited 135 cities as part of the experience. Our visit to Georgetown on this trip was necessitated by the need to stop to wait out a massive low pressure system that brought high winds and big seas to the coast between Charleston and Norfolk.

Back in the Great loop days our first action when visiting a new city was a get a feel for the area. We did this by visiting and

Georgetown has a population of 9,054.  Median income is $25,481 as compared to South Carolina's $47,238. Estimated median condo and home value is $121,514 versus SC's $148,600. The data suggests a small town with a low cost of living.

Georgetown is the third oldest city in South Carolina and the county seat of Georgetown County. Located on Winyah Bay at the confluence of the Black, Great Pee Dee, Waccamaw and Sampit rivers, Georgetown is the second largest seaport in South Carolina, handling over 960,000 tons of materials a year.

The principle employer is a paper mill. A steel mill originally owned by the Kork company of Germany opened in 1973. The steel mill was subsequently financed in 1993 by Bain Capital and was called Georgetown Steel. It declared bankruptcy in 2001 and closed the plant in 2003. The plant subsequently reopened under new ownership but closed in 2015 due to the influx of cheap foreign steel.

Tourism has become a booming business. In addition, many retirees have chosen to settle in this area of beaches, plantations redeveloped as residential communities, and pleasant climate. This was evident by a downtown that had restaurants and tourist oriented stores.


Saturday, May 6, 2017

Streaming North: Confidently Cutting Close on Fuel

So it’s 1:00 AM on Thursday morning and were headed for Charleston as I take over the 1 to 4 watch from Bob. We had been watching the weather closely throughout the trip and suspected that we may run into stormy weather as we headed north. After making the 1:00 AM log entry and performing an engine room check, I focused on the weather for Cape Hatteras, the most challenging stretch of water on the entire 1600 NM voyage. Below is what a saw:

The forecast for Cape Hatteras to Ocracoke Inlet showed that starting on Thursday night wind and seas would continue to increase pretty dramatically. This was due to the formation of a deep low pressure system over Alabama and high pressure over New York that was drifting slowly east into the Atlantic.  This combination coupled with a frontal passage at Cape Hatteras foretold extremely rough seas over a wide area.

Deep low pressure over Alabama drifting east with high pressure over New York slowly lifting into the Atlantic
Cold front approaching the coast in 48 hour
As noted in the forecast photos above, the conditions at Cape Hatteras would not improve until late Sunday. Monday's forecast called 2 to 4 foot seas, which is great for traversing Cape Hatteras. Stopping and waiting for the weather to clear was clearly in the cards,

Explanatory Note: My decision to head further north on minimal fuel reserves is based on three years of experience with the 63. That experience includes two ECU adjustment by Caterpillar to correct a discrepancy that showed fuel consumption readings below the actual amount of fuel consumed. It also includes fill-ups after runs in excess of 600 miles where I was able to predict the amount of fuel added with 20 gallons in each 500 gallon tank (A .04% error rate).

Decision Time: At 9:25 AM on Thursday, Bob and I (yes, again, Guy was sleeping) made a decision to head for Georgetown South Carolina where we planned to stay for at least two days waiting for the weather to improve. This decision, which put us at or below the 10% fuel reserve, had several major components:
  1. At 9:22 AM we were sitting on 220 gallons of fuel as measured by the site glasses on the fuel tanks. The tank tender's "worst case" measurement was 126 gallons (see Explanatory Note below).
  2. The additional distance to Georgetown was 65 nautical miles. That translates into approximately 75 more gallons of fuel consumption.
  3. A forecast for 4 to 6 foot seas in the late afternoon between Charleston and Georgetown.
  4. Current wind conditions were southeast at 22 knots. This would produce a sea on the starboard forward quarter and a relatively stable ride owing to the stabilizers.
  5. The 13 NM run up Winyah Bay would be on calm water reducing the risk of an engine stoppage from unporting a fuel line
  6. The marinas in Georgetown are in protected waters - critical as storms were approaching from the west.
  7. Heading to Charleston City Marina (aka the Mega Dock) would add 13 nautical miles from our arrival point at the inlet (and another 13 nautical miles to return to sea)
  8. Diesel fuel price at Georgetown was $2.27 versus Charleston at $2.74. 
At 9:50 AM we changed course for Georgetown just south of Charleston channel. We had covered 705 nautical miles since leaving Sarasota four days earlier. Our current speed was 8.0 knots (as we were out of the Gulf Stream). The engine monitors showed 720 gallons of fuel consumed. Add to that approximately 72 gallons of generator use and we have a total fuel burn of 794 gallons.

Five hours later, we arrived at the Winyah Bay inlet and headed north up the bay to Georgetown. 

Approaching Harborwalk Marine in Georgetown
You can barely see their Phillips 66 sign
Finally, at 5:23 PM we arrived at the Harborwalk Marina fuel dock. We were greeted by Larry and promptly started the process of refueling. Note: Larry gave me a $2.17 fuel price based on an expectation of over 1,000 gallons.

Guided Discovery at Harborwalk Marina with approaching storm clouds

Summary: This trip established a many new records: 
  • The longest distance traveled (766 nautical miles)
  • The first trip around the Florida keys (with the 63)
  • The most fuel purchased at any one time (1,205 gallons) 
  • A fuel price within 4 cents of the lowest price we've paid since acquiring the 63.
  • The first "ride" in the Gulf Stream
  • The fastest enroute speeds
  • The shortest time enroute. We were 19 hours ahead of schedule when we arrived at Georgetown inlet.
  • The first trip in three years with with down time due to weather (2 days)

  • Total Distance: 766 nautical miles (740 since the Venice Inlet)
  • Average Speed: 9.4 knots
  • Maximum Speed: 14.9 knots
  • Engine Hours: 83
  • Engine Fuel Burned: 795 gallons
  • Generator Fuel Burned: 100 gallons
  • Total Fuel Burned:  895 gallons
  • Fuel Needed: 1,164 gallons (895 + 269 gallons to fill the auxilliary tanks)
  • Fuel Purchased: 1,205 gallons
  • Fuel Cost (at $2.17 per gallon): $2,614.85

Written by Les.

Streaming North: Decisions, Decisions and Still More Decisions

Welcome back.

To fully appreciate what is going to happen over the next 3 days you need some background information. 

The boat was hauled on Tuesday, April 25, at Embree Marine Services to correct an alignment problem on the port engine. On that haul, Embree had removed 300 gallons of fuel from the auxiliary tanks to facilitate the lift. On my instructions, they returned all 300 gallons to the main tanks, which topped them off, and put the excess (31 gallons) in the auxiliary tanks. Therefore, I left St Petersburg Florida on Thursday, April 27 with 1,000 gallons in the main tanks. Upon arrival in Sarasota I noted a fuel burn of 39 gallons. At departure on Monday morning I had 960 gallons in the mains (and 31 gallons in the auxiliaries).

Guided Discovery on the hard at Embree Marine Services

The original plan was to fill up in Miami at the Miami Beach Marina, which is conveniently located just inside the Miami Inlet and then head back out and catch the Gulf Stream, which comes within 7 to 10 miles of the Miami Inlet. Then, weather permitting (defined as a southerly winds with favorable seas, preferably following) continue north riding the Gulf Stream to Cape Hatteras and then once past the cape, head north to Ocean City Maryland where we would refuel before the final leg to Hingham. If this all came to pass we would be in Hingham in a record 7 days. Note: The run from Miami to Ocean City is 818 nautical miles.

Now for the story.

Just south of Sand Key. Miami is 19,9 nautical miles north
At around 4:23 PM we off Sands Key and approximately 16 NM south of Miami. Our plan to stop for fuel at the Miami Beach Marina was not going to work as they close the fuel dock promptly at 6:00 PM. We would arrive at the open water buoy at 6:23 PM. So much for Miami fueling.

20 nautical miles south of Miami
We had covered 270 nautical miles, 243 NM since Venice
Current speed is 10 knots. Average speed is 8.1 knots (since Venice)
Decision Time: As we passed Miami around 6:30 PM we considered refueling at Port Canaveral early Wednesday morning and set up a route that kept us in the stream for as long as possible before heading northwest to the inlet. That plan was abandoned at 3:10 AM on Wednesday morning.

On Tuesday evening at around 8:30 PM we were off Fort Lauderdale. Looking to the northwest we could see dark clouds. Sirius Satellite Weather was showing a large area of thunderstorms with various intensities, including some bright red cells. The system was slow moving to the south with a slight easterly component.

Rain and thunder storms ahead
Coincidentally, Diana and Kodi were in Fort Lauderdale staying at our friend’s lovely condo on the beach. Had it still been light, Diana could have spotted Guided Discovery with binoculars. I talked with Diana by cell phone and we discussed the storms. Diana was concerned as NOAA had issued a tornado warning and urged me to seek shelter.

Explanatory Note: The risk of thunderstorms include high winds and lightning. High winds are likely with a frontal passage and are more severe when they form a squall line. Lightening is not a life risk when we are in the cabin. However, a lightning strike can take out the boat’s electronics and electrical system and can even damage the engine’s ECUs.  At an electronics seminar at an Outer Reef rendezvous in 2013 (while the 63 was being built) I asked the moderator about the current state of lightning protection for boats. He responded by saying that no solution had been developed and that replacement of burned out electronics was a substantial part of their business. A lightning strike can occur at sea and at the dock. There was no advantage to heading for shore.

Around 9:00 PM off Boca Raton we experienced the frontal passage with rain showers, thunder and occasional cloud to cloud lightning. Winds quickly increased from 3 knots to 24 knots and clocked from southeast to northwest. We noted a drop in current speed from 11.4 to 10.4. However, we were still solidly in the Gulf Stream. Our average speed was now 8.5 knots.

The cold front that was kicking up the storms
Decision Time. At 3.10 AM on Wednesday, Bob and I (Guy was sleeping) decided to bypass Port Canaveral and continue riding the Gulf Stream north to St Simons Georgia, some 200 NM north. Current speed was now 12.5 knots and our average has increased to 9.0 knots. We ball-parked our ETA at Morningstar Marina to be around 3:00 AM the following morning. Morningstar has 1,100 feet of transient face dock so the likelihood of finding space would be good.

Route to St Simons Georgia
The leg from WP 1492 to WP 1497 is the west wall of the Gulf Stream
Here’s the logic. We would continue to take advantage of the Gulf Stream and some reasonably good weather following the frontal passage (see below). Fuel reserve 300 gallons, 150 in each tank.

The forecast for Altamaha Sound to Fernandina Beach out to 60 miles:
  • Wednesday: Winds NNE 5 to 10 increasing to east 10 to 15 in the afternoon. Seas 3 to 4 feet with an 8 second period.
  • Wednesday Night:  East southeast winds (a quartering tail wind) 10 to 15 knots with 3 to 4 foot seas with a period of 8 seconds
  • Thursday: South southeast winds 20 to 25 knots with seas 4 to 6 feet.

At 4:00 AM on Wednesday we were 18 NM due east of Fort Pierce Inlet in 2 to 3 foot seas following the frontal passage. Our average speed was now 9.0 knots. We estimated current speed at 12.4 knots.

Passing the Fort Pierce Inlet. GPS Speed = current speed
12 hours later, at 4:30 PM, we were 58 NM east of St Augustine, Florida. Seas continued at 2 to 3 feet and our average speed had reached 9.7 knots. We had covered 550 nautical miles since leaving Sarasota.

Notice that as we continued north our off shore distance increased dramatically. That’s the reality of running the Gulf Stream. To stay in the stream you have to be willing to cruise way offshore. It would now take around 7 hours to reach shore and even more to reach a port. Favorable weather and well maintained boat are essential.

Decision Time: Earlier at 3:30 PM, Bob and I (Guy was again sleeping) decided to continue to Charleston, South Carolina. This was an easy decision. Why arrive in St Simons at 3:00 AM and waste time and good weather waiting for the fuel dock to open? Interestingly, this decision only added 60 nautical miles to the trip. Most important, it allowed us to continue in the Gulf Stream as Charleston was a straight shot 170 NMs north from our present position east of St Augustine Inlet. At that time we calculated 536 nautical miles made good. Charleston added 170 nautical miles for a total of 706 NMs. We calculated our reserve at 294 gallons. Readers with a sharp eye will notice that the fuel reserve to St Simons (300 NM) is identical for Charleston. How can that be? It’s simply a matter of heading due north instead of heading northwest (i.e., swinging the course arc). We would also conserved fuel by staying in the stream.

Decision to go direct o Charleston
At 1:00 AM on Thursday Morning we were 68 NMs due east of Little St Simons Island and mostly out of the Gulf Stream as indicated by current speed of 8.6 knots. We still showed an average speed of 9.7 knots.  Seas were running 2 feet of less as winds continued to back to the south. At that point we were 74 nautical miles south of Charleston with an ETA of 9:46 AM at the point where we would intersect with the Charleston approach buoys. We calculated our fuel reserve at 236 gallons including generator usage to the intersection.

The following words appear in the log for this latest entry. “Peaceful!!” BUT this is the “lull before the storm.” Read on. It clearly gets more exciting.

Written by Les.,

Streaming North: Discovering the Gulf Stream

Departure: May 1, 2017 @ 6:32 AM.

Following tradition, Darrel and Sue Peters joined us in the morning and helped us cast off. We met them in Florence Alabama in November of 2010 while on a Great Loop side trip. Sue left her pocketbook in the courtesy car and, having found no money in here purse (just kidding), we guessed that it was the folks on the 50 foot Ocean Alexander, returned the pocket book and have been friends ever since.

Back to business.

The Crew: Guy Aries, Les and Bob Benson
Departure from Sarasota is always a challenge as there is no easy way out to the Gulf. There are three options; Big Pass, New Pass and the Venice Inlet via the ICW, and each has its issues. Big Pass is a local knowledge pass that is tricky in calm water and dangerous with rough seas due to the shallow depths. New Pass, recently dredged, has a bridge with restricted openings before 7:00 AM and a very shallow channel leading from Sarasota Bay (where we almost touched last March) leading to the pass. Taking the ICW to Venice involves 4 bridges, two of which open every 20 minutes and numerous no wake zones.

Casey Key Swing Bridge
We chose Venice via the ICW on Monday morning as a brisk 20 knot wind out of the south was making 3 foot waves according to the forecast. That wave direction increased the risk of bouncing of the bottom at Big Pass. To shorten our time on this route we left at 6:30 AM to take advantage of the fact that the Siesta Key bridge opens on demand before 7:00 AM. The run to the inlet took two hours and 13 minutes.

When we entered the Gulf at Venice we saw that we had made the right decision as we immediately started pitching in a 3 to 4 foot head sea. Seas calmed to 2 to 3 feet as we passes Marco Island around 7:00 PM then increased to 4 to 6 as we progress toward the Keys. The 63 handled the seas well but pitching is not fun unless you’re playing baseball.

Around 4:00 AM on Tuesday morning we were 17 NM north of Marathon and the Seven Mile Bridge. Winds that had been 25 to 30 knots out of southeast winds reduced to 15 to 20 knots and the seas calmed.  At 6:27 AM, 24 hours after departing Sarasota, we crossed under the Seven Mile Bridge. We had covered 182 nautical miles at an average speed of 7.7 knots.

Seven Mile Bridge
Explanatory Note: The 63 cruises at 8.4 knots at 1400 RPM. The head winds and seas had reduced our speed by .7 knots. That may sound trivial but it’s not when you running 24 hours a day for multiple days. Essentially, you lose 16 NM and 2 hours every 24 hours.

Decision time. Run the Hawk Channel in protected water or run outside the reef in deep water to catch the Gulf Stream. This proved to be an easy decision as the forecast of south southeast winds at 10 to 15 knots with 3 to 5 foot seas was the same on both sides of the reef.

Would we get the promised push from the Gulf Stream? That question was clearly answered 4 hours later when we recorded an average speed of 7.9 knots. We were now seeing current speed readings of approximately 8.8 knots and, best of all, we were running in 3 to 4 foot seas off the starboard forward quarter. Those seas continued to calm (to 2 feet) and our speed continued to increase to 9.0 knots. The Gulf Stream was giving us a 1.5 knot push.

The depth increases as we cross the reef. Our position is shown on the right hand screen
Sorry for the poor photo 
The Gulf Stream turned Guided Discovery into a speedboat.  OK, I know. You think that’s a big exaggeration but you need to read on.

Written by Les

Streaming North: Results of a Lovely Winter

Hello readers!  It’s been a lovely and quiet Sarasota winter and I’ve been lazy about writing. However, now that I’m moving Guided Discovery north I am motivated to document our trip.

Explanatory Note: I write about the north south passages for two reasons. The first is to preserve my memory of what has proved to be some very exciting adventures. The second is to share the adventure with those of you who follow my blog. So here we go again.

Departure from Sarasota, by tradition, is May first at 7:00 AM. That tradition has practical roots dating back to the purchase of the 63. The goal was manage dockage costs, which no longer applies as we have an annual contract for our great slip at Marina Jack.  The original plan was to time our arrival at Hingham Shipyard for early May to enjoy a late New England spring and to get the maximum benefit of the marina’s 6 month seasonal contract, which ends October 31. Hence the November 1 at 7:00 AM departure from Hingham and the May 1 Departure from Sarasota.

The three other factors that affect the “tradition” are insurance considerations related to the hurricane season and the fact that Diana and Kodi move the car while I move the boat with friends, some of whom fly from wherever to crew on the journey. A date certain is a practical consideration for making airplane reservations. The third factor is weather. It starts to get hot in Sarasota and by late April we start seeing temperatures in the 90s (not great for us or Kodi’s paws).

The 7:00 AM departure is also motivated by my goal to minimize the time spent on the Okeechobee Waterway. It facilitates the crossing with two overnight stays by positioning the 63 for a 7:00 am opening at the first of Okeechobee’s five locks. With a little luck and a few speed adjustments it is possible to be on the Atlantic Ocean the morning of the third day. Then its 7 days and 6 nights to Hingham.

Did I mention the lovely winter? Well it was.  Sunny and warm every day with almost no rain (perhaps 5 days and then only showers). This threw a wrench in the works. At the end of the first week in April, I checked Lake Okeechobee water levels, which were 12.4 feet. Two weeks later the lake’s depth was 11.78 feet. The Army Corp of Engineers posted a controlling depth (i.e., depth at the lowest point on the waterway) as 5.72 feet. Do the math (.72 times 12 = 8 inches). Guided Discovery draws 5 feet of water at the keel. That results in a margin of just 8 inches between floating and “the hard,” which is rock in the low spots.

Time for local knowledge. A conversation with Bill at Lake Tow and Recovery, the local marine towing service out of Clewiston FL, was helpful.  Bill said it’s doable BUT you have to stay in the middle of the channel coming out of Clewiston and have calm winds. According to Bill, a moderate wind from the any southerly direction blows the water north and can lower the depth by 6 inches (oops, now we have a two inch margin). Having to pass another boat can result in a grounding as the depth deceases at the edge of the channel. Too close for me.

Note: As of May 4, the lake was at 11.65 feet with a controlling depth of 5.59 feet.

Plan B is a trip south along Florida’s west coast, a passage through the 7 Mile Bridge at Marathon, then east along the Keys via the Hawk Channel to Miami and then the Atlantic to Stuart. This route adds 170 nautical miles to the trip along with a fuel burn of approximately 190 gallons (at current fuel price of $2.70 per gallon).

The question here is which of three routes to take. There is the very shallow Intracoastal that runs inside the keys, which is not an option for the 63. Then there is the well-marked Hawk Channel with an average depth of 20 feet that runs between the Keys and the reef to Miami. We used this route in 2011 during our Great Loop adventure. The third option, weather permitting, is to run outside the reef in deep water (400+ feet) and pick-up the Gulf Stream. According to my friend, Captain Billy Thomas on the yacht Determination (a Westport 112), you can pick up at least one knot of speed.

In anticipation, I programmed two routes, one for the Hawk Channel and one for the outside route.

Outer Reef’s slogan is “Go beyond the reef.” Well, weather permitting I planned to do just that and more. The title of this series, “Streaming North” represents my intent to go way beyond the reef (like 60 to 70 miles offshore) and ride the Gulf Stream north. Read on to share a spectacular experience.

Written by Les.

Streaming North: Getting Ready with Twists

May 7, 2017

Owing to my writing laziness, this article, which deals with preparation, was written as we were underway in calm waters between Georgetown and Frying Pan Shoal at Cape Fear. This followed a two day weather layover in Georgetown to allow a massive low pressure system to work its way north. Forecasted weather for the next four days is for seas around 2 feet and we are predicting arrival in Hingham at 6:00 AM on Thursday. Plenty of time to write.

Moving a 63 foot motor yacht some 1430 or 1,600 nautical miles, depending on whether we cut across or go around Florida involves some, albeit easy, preparation. However, that was not exactly the case this for this trip.

The first consideration is crew. The original plan was to follow the usual route across the Okeechobee Waterway and then north up the east coast with a two hour stop in Morehead City for fuel. This year I invited Bob Benson, a fellow yachtsman and Hingham I-dock slip mate, to accompany me.  Bob owns ParadoX, a 2015 45 foot X-Type sloop, and is a very experienced sailor with considerable offshore time. Bob has run the 600 nautical mile Marion Massachusetts to Bermuda Race and cruised the east coast from Annapolis. My plan was to do the trip with myself and Bob.  Owing to the Glendenning remote, which allows me to control the boat from several positions, I reasoned that the two of us could easily handle the five Okeechobee Locks.

Then former two-time crew member Phil Fuoco (Norfolk to Hingham May 2014 and Hingham to Sarasota November 2014) expressed interest in joining us for the northerly voyage. Phil, however, is a bit more conservative then myself with regard to weather and distance offshore. In fact he thinks I’m a bit of a risk taker and to that I plead guilty (especially appropriate as he was an attorney) although the risks I take are very calculated. My contemplation of a 70 mile offshore run to catch the Gulf Stream eliminated Phil. Plan B. I invited Phil and his wife, Carol, to accompany us through the Okeechobee. First it would be a pleasant trip in calm waters, second it would make the locks a slam dunk and, finally, I could drop them off a Sunset Bay Marina in Stuart by going about 100 yards off my route. Phil and Carol signed on.

Lake Okeechobee water levels eliminated Plan B. There was at least 1.5 feet of draft clearance when I proposed the Okeechobee voyage. Four days from departure that level had dropped to 8 inches. I’m not that big of a risk taker.

A week or so before the May 1 departure date, Captain Guy Aries, another two-timer (Hingham to Sarasota 2015 & 2016) called me up and offered to join the crew. Why not? Three doing watches is better than two and Guy is a terrific crew member. His curiosity about navigation has led me to better understand my electronics as we dug through the manuals to understand my system’s capabilities. This proved again to be true of this voyage when I stated that it would be nice to have graph data showing wind direction over time. Guy found it on my 7215s.

So now it’s Bob Benson and Guy Aries for the trip north.

The next consideration is equipment reliability from the keel up. Running continuously day and night for multiple days, operating as much as 70 miles offshore and dealing with difficult weather conditions requires that the boat’s systems be in perfect working order. With the help of Wheelhouse Technologies’ maintenance software and my “punch” list, I’m able to keep Guided Discovery “shipshape and Bristol.”

That said, she was not without problems. The most difficult is the coupler (i.e., a damper) on the port transmission that was shedding rubber, an indication that it was slowly going to failure. This has been an issue for two north/south voyages and I have been in ongoing communication with the manufacturer, Soundown, regarding the cause of the problem and when it might fail.  The engineer suspected an alignment problem. So, last October I purchased a spare coupler for $2,700 and stored it securely in the lazarette.

The other problem was bottom paint. After three years my Hingham and Sarasota divers were reporting that the paint had reached the end of its useful life (i.e., the copper was no longer preventing marine growth). Time to haul the boat and repaint the bottom.

With the boat out of the water we could check the propellers, check the cutlass bearings, check the alignment, service the shaft seals and replace the coupler. Embree Marine Services performed these tasks and, unfortunately, the alignment was unsuccessful. Hence, between April 25 and April 27 the 63 was on the hard, again, to correct the alignment issue. Again unsuccessful. However, alignment does not pose an immediate safety issue. I plan to address the problem this summer.

The next issue involves Diana, Kodi and the car. In a normal year (we’ve had three) Diana and Kodi run the car up the coast while I move the boat. Diana’s run takes 3 to 4 days as compared to my nine. Hence, Diana usually stays with our friends in Sarasota, the Singers, for three or four days before heading north.

Not this year. We discovered a nodule on Kodi’s butt in January and consulted with our vet. He was not concerned, prescribed an antibiotic and rechecked her a week later. The advice was to watch it. Then three weeks before departure we saw a spot of blood on a runner. Back to the vet. The vet was still not overly concerned but suggested removal and biopsy of the nodule.

A week later the vet called back. He was not 100% happy. The biopsy revealed a low grade cancer that, while not life threatening, bared watching. What was most troubling was his statement that had he suspected cancer he would have removed more tissue at the margin.

Time for a second opinion. This time from Southeastern Guide Dogs (SEDG) where Kodi is an ambassador. SEDG operates a state of the art veterinary clinic and has a top notch medical team led by Dr. Conrad. Dr. Conrad looked at the biopsy and said I agree with your vet that he should have removed more of the tissue and recommended we do it now. So 10 days before departure Kodi had a second surgery during which Dr. Conrad removed three other growths and sent them along for analysis.

So as I write this article, Diana and Kodi are in Fort Lauderdale staying with Sophocles Karapas at their condo. Boy, it is nice to have good friends. This year I plan to fly back to Florida and drive back with Diana. We may head to the west coast for a visit with Dr. Conrad at Southeastern.

UPDATE: Kodi's biopsy report revealed a clean margin, suggesting that the tissue Dr. Conrad removed got all of the cancer. Further, the other growths we benign. Good news.

Now for the easy stuff. Provisioning is a snap owing to the fact that I have the shopping list on an Excel spread sheet along with Morton’s “Gourment Meals to Go” and a little help from Fernando, their executive chef.  For this voyage, Chef Fernando graciously prepared three new dishes that I proposed based on Morton’s gourmet prepared foods. So we will eat well.

Written by Les.