Thursday, August 06, 2009


August 5, 2009

I'm off to a good start, or at least my intentions are headed in that direction. I'm getting this prepared to post later today, assuming we can safely get to our presently planned destination and make a connection.

I know it's the 5th, but only because the helm GPS tells me that it is. We have been underway since we left an anchorage north of the Eau Gallie causeway bridge early on August 3. Going 24 hrs/day makes it easy to lose track of the days. Now backing up at few days:

When we finally got all our chores done around the house and the boat it was 3:00 pm on Sunday, Aug. 2. We decided to leave and run until sundown to knock off a few miles anyway. Then we had to wait even longer to get off the dock because our neighbors were bringing their boat in, and the water was so low we didn't want to have our maneuverability reduced.

We passed through a shower (no lightning) that brought a beautiful rainbow and helped cool things off a bit. It had been stinking hot all day, as usual. There were huge jellyfish in the water, with bells as big as 12-15” across; I wouldn't want to be swimming with them! We were all glad we had finally gotten underway. Things went smoothly getting the anchor set by 8:15 p.m., and then early to bed so we could get an early start the next day.

Our first “failure” of the cruise occurred right off the bat on Aug. 3 when it was time to haul up the anchor. We need the generator to power the washdown pump that cleans off the anchor (the river bottom is a mud/shell mixture and is usually a stinky mess), and the generator wouldn't start because its battery was totally dead. It had been operating without incident the entire time we were in the Bahamas. So, the WE Marine Maintenance Team jumped off the house battery and the generator started. Of course we still don't know what its real problem is, so more trouble probably lies ahead.

With a calm Atlantic Ocean in the forecast we decided to go to sea via the Canaveral Barge Canal. Getting through that canal involves having to go through 2 bridges and a lock. The bridges aren't just opened on demand so some timing is involved if you don't want to have to wait around. In fact, we missed the first bridge opening by a couple of minutes and had to wait another 30 minutes for the next opening.

The next stop was the lock itself. A westbound gigantic pontoon barge was locking through when we called the lock operator to ask when we could lock through for eastbound passage. He told us we would have to wait not only for the pontoon barge, but also for a fuel barge that was also westbound. Waiting is no fun; it can be difficult to keep FLUKE in the same position when the wind and current are pushing us around in tight quarters with other boating traffic.

When the pontoon barge came out of the lock it turned north towards the Space Center. It had covered cargo, so maybe it was carrying some secret parts or materials. Even though we bought a new camera we hadn't taken it out of the box yet, so I lamented that I couldn't get a picture of it since it was an interesting sight.

While we were waiting for the fuel barge to lock through, another westbound barge called the lock operator for entry, so we figured that we would have to wait for him too since he was a commercial vessel and they usually get priority. I called the lock operator to ask if we were going in when the fuel barge cleared, and he said yes, but he wanted us to hurry. When the fuel barge cleared the lock gates he called us and told us to get in the channel beside him, rather than wait for him to pass, so we could get into the lock and not hold up the other barge.

We pulled alongside the lock walls and got cleated off fairly easily. We were only going to get dropped down about 4'. Since I was holding the stern line tight I was close to the water and could see all kinds of fish around the lock pilings. I also spotted a manatee right outside the lock gate just as it was closing.

Transiting through the port was interesting. The cruise ship Monarch of the Seas was docked, and we always like to look at them to see their pretty colors and architectural details. The recreational marina facilities were all clean, neat, and orderly, as were all the docking areas, including the commercial ones.

We had an extra treat when a submarine was being brought out of the Trident facility. We were able to pass ahead of the sub and heard on the VHF that it was going out to sea to practice man overboard drills.

Carol Checks the Helm Instruments
Carol Checks the Helm Instruments

Once we were out to sea, we settled into keeping busy: boat chores, helm duty, sitting in front of the fan, napping, trolling for fish, waiting for the next meal to be served, and keeping abreast of any changes in the seas or weather. We passed through a terrible thunderstorm with lots of lightning, fortunately during the daylight hours. No one has been seasick. We have been entertained throughout the day with pods of dolphins riding on our bow wake. They leap out of the water, turn on their sides and roll completely over. They are so difficult to photograph since the boat is moving and so are they! We have seen a lot of loggerhead turtles, one of which had a transmitter on her back. Yesterday, during daylight hours, we never saw another boat! We've also had the chance to put batteries in the new camera and start figuring out what it can do. The FLUKE crew has a new record for us with our two nights at sea; we've always just done one night and two days before. Those nights are so long!

Our Dolphin Escort
Our Dolphin Escort

We have passed by several tower structures that sit high out of the water. We got close enough to one of them to see a sign on it that said “U.S. Navy Property Keep Off”. They are all in good shape with nice yellow paint jobs and hold a bunch of solar panels and what appears to be domed electronic equipment.

The Yellow Ocean Platform
The Yellow Ocean Platform

We have fished our way by four states now with a lot of activity, but nothing to be cooked yet. We've caught and released: king mackerel, spanish mackerel, tunny tuna, and enough barracuda to last the rest of the trip. We've lost two dolphins, the species we want to put on the table, but not because of anything we did wrong. They just threw the hook before we got them close enough to the boat to make our own mistakes.

Well, as I've been writing this, our autopilot has failed. We are having to steer manually, and the boat moves a lot more than when the AP is steering the boat. We hope it is just an overheating problem, but we will have to wait until we can drop the hook somewhere to correctly diagnose it. It is a bit too bumpy to try to figure out the problem while we are underway in our current sea conditions.

We made it to Wrightsville Beach, NC, traveling for 61 hours straight, about 450 miles. There was some doubt as to whether or not we could get into the inlet here and find a suitable place to anchor late in the day, about 7:00 p.m. Sea and weather conditions were in our favor, and we are comfortably settled for the night. It feels good to not hear the engine running and not have to think about sitting at the helm for another night shift. Bear Claw ice cream with whipped cream for dessert; a yummy for the tummy reward after our new travel record. The full moon has just risen and there is a cool breeze blowing through FLUKE. Almost time for nighty night, and hopefully, a good rest. Early start tomorrow to head back out to sea for the trip to Cape Lookout, NC.

Full Moon over Wrightsville Beach
Full Moon over Wrightsville Beach

P.S.: The generator started again, but will take further investigating. The autopilot started keeping the course again, and we are assuming that it was overheated from having to work so hard in the following seas that we had for most of the day today.


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