Swing Set

Aug 14, 201309:08 AM

Swing Set: Cruising Full Time

Some Mechanical Issues and a Staniel Cay Redux

We left the sanctuary of Elizabeth Harbour a week ago yesterday, but before we left we had a mission to find two bilge blowers to replace the two on the boat that had begun to act up. It proved to be yet another one of our minor adventures.

First we went to Top II Bottom, the hardware/miscellaneous store in the heart of Georgetown. I could have sworn I saw a box with the word “blower” on it during one of our visits. (One thing we always do, when we visit a new town or settlement, is to browse through stores' inventories and make mental notes of what they have to offer.) One of the girls in Top II Bottom, as is usually her custom, asked us what it was we were looking for. When I told her that we needed one or two blowers for our engine room, she was perplexed. She asked the woman at the checkout counter if they had any engine room blowers, and the woman said she would have to order it. While those two were talking, I was looking. I then said we wouldn’t order anything as we were leaving the area, so she called a marine outfitter nearby called Perry Brown’s. She got off the phone and said they didn’t answer, and then asked me again what it was we were after.

As good naturedly as I good manage, I asked her why she immediately said she would have to order the blowers if she didn’t know what they were? I then spied a box on a shelf marked “blower,” and was somewhat relieved until I saw no markings on the box except a price of over $176. I know what the price of such blowers are in the U.S., and even with the typical 50-percent markup in the Bahamas, no engine room blower that I had ever seen was going to cost $176. I needed to open the box to satisfy my curiosity, if nothing else.

You would have thought I had threatened to kill a puppy, judging from the look I got when I asked to open the box! “You got tape,” I asked, as I whipped out my knife and slit the box open. The older woman wasn’t as horrified at my actions as the younger one was, but even if the item packed into the box was exactly what I was after, I wasn’t going to pay what was marked on the outside. It turned out to be a blower for a small air conditioner of some sort and wasn’t the right size anyway. I thanked them for their help and left before they had any chance of making a complaint.

We walked over to ask Clavon, over at the Exuma Yacht Club, if he knew where we could get a couple of blowers. He mentioned Perry Brown’s, too, but wasn’t sure about giving us directions on how to get there by dinghy. Clavon suggested we ask one of the local charter boat operators, who just happened to be pulling up at the dock.

My eyes glazed over as the nice young Rastifarian was explaining the route in a language that was a mix of one I could understand and one that I couldn’t, but eventually I gathered that Perry Brown’s was located between the bridge to Crab Cay and the Georgetown Marina, two places I knew how to get to, but unaware as to the maze of mangroves and shallow reefs that marked the way. “When you pass unda de bridge, you make a right. Go aroun’ da bar, but it’s high tide, mon, so you can probally go straight ova da bar. Go round de island. It’s back behind dat island.”

I was going to take Rosie back to the boat and then call Perry Brown’s on the phone to see if they even had what we needed before setting out on a mission to somewhere that I wasn’t sure I could find, but the sky was darkening and a rainstorm was brewing. Perfect time to head for parts unknown. So, I pointed the dinghy in the direction of the Crab Cay bridge, throwing caution to the wind.

I evidently made a wrong turn or two, and we found ourselves on a flat that I thought I would have to drag the dinghy across, but in the distance I saw the tops of some saiboat masts and a parking area with several boats on trailers. Then, we saw buoys marking a narrow channel into what turned out to be the hard-to-find Perry Brown’s.

The store was well stocked, for the Bahamas, and Perry himself waited on me. He had two engine room blowers in stock, a brand that I was familiar with. One was the 4-inch model that I needed, and one was a 3-inch model that would need to be adapted. I’m a firm believer in the old “bird in the hand” adage, so I plunked down two $50 bills, got my $2 in change and returned back to Rosie waiting in the dinghy. “Let’s get back to the boat before this storm rolls in,” I said, and away we went.

I have been using duct tape for years. Motorcycle racers back in the ’70s always had a roll or two in their arsenal, and the habit is hard to die. Swing Set is even equipped with three rolls. One black, one white and one of the classic silver. That day was probably the first time I ever used duct tape for the manufacturer’s original intended use of taping a duct. I taped the 3-inch blower to the 4-inch air duct on the starboard side of the engine room, and installed the 4-inch blower on the port side. Not a perfect setup, but one that will work. Probably for years.

By the time I finished my chore, the sun had popped out, and we were on our way. We passed over Conch Cut and were making way northwest on a flat Exuma Sound. A boat approached on our port side, and it turned out to be Dave, a fella originally from England who works in Houston and lives part time on Long Island. He was out lobster hunting with his friends, Pierre and Antonia, from Germany, who were visiting Stella Maris. He just buzzed by to tell us goodbye and to have a safe trip. You never know where you’re going to meet the next person who can turn out to be a friend.

Our bright day soon had a pall cast over it as I spooled up the Cats to see if replacing the impeller on our port engine solved the overheating issue on that engine. When we got on plane, both engines exceeded the maximum 195 degree operating temperature by several degrees, and then the high temperature alarm for the port engine sounded. I slowed us down to our typical displacement speed at 1200 rpm, and the temperatures quickly dropped back to an optimum 180 degrees. I wasn’t quite fuming, no sense in that, but I was racking my brain trying to figure out what my next move was going to be regarding the overheating issue.

Rosie remained silent as I mentally scrolled through our options. I was getting nowhere without consulting Mr. Google, or my service manuals, so I decided to focus on other matters. I asked Rosie to call the Conch Marina in Key West. Maybe we would get a good word regarding our chances of getting a slip in Key West Bight for the months of October and November.

Rosie went down to make the call, but my need for some good news was not to be. The harbormaster at the Conch Marina was perplexed that the young girl we had been communicating with regarding the possible slip had not contacted us. It turns out the slip in question was going up for sale, and it wouldn’t be available for us. I know B.S. when I hear it, but if they wanted to give the slip to someone else, for perhaps more money, what were we to do about it?

 

With a new focus for the afternoon, Rosie began using up our precious international calling minutes, and started contacting the other marinas in Key West Bight. She hit paydirt with Key West Bight Marina. They said we could reserve a slip for the month of November, which was better than nothing, but I consider the place a dump, and they were going to charge us a premium for the days of the offshore powerboat races. We decided to give one more last ditch effort to get a slip at A&B Marina, at least for November, but Rosie only got a voicemail when she called them. We then decided to hold off until morning and try to call A&B again, first thing in the morning, as we knew the harbormaster was usually in the office by 6:30 a.m.

We arrived at Rat Cay Cut and entered it without incident. Then, we snaked our way over to an anchorage that we stayed at on our way down, just off the beach at Lee Stocking Island. We were tucked into a fine spot, protected from some predicted prevailing winds, and then proceeded to salvage the remainder of our day with a short cocktail hour and a fine dinner. Two other vessels came by with an eye on our prime spot, but they moved on. That “bird in the hand” that we had acquired earlier, also turned out to be the “early bird that got the worm.”

Before we went to bed, I fired off a lenghty email to Mark Miller at A&B Marina, so that he could go over just what it was we’d be asking about when we made the call I was promising for first thing next morning. Rosie wondered why we had to use up our valuable phone minutes to call, when we could just use email. I reminded her that folks can find it easy to ignore an email, or even lie when giving a response, but when faced with a phone call, or a face-to-face encounter, most people will find it difficult to put you off. We needed a slip, and the gloves had to come off.

Rosie checked our mail before 6:30. Mark had been in the office even earlier than we had anticipated and had responed to my email. He could promise us the whole month of November! This was great because most of our friends weren’t arriving in Key West until October 31 anyway. After our phone call, things even got better. We asked Mark that if we promised to arrive on October 1, and then vacate the slip for the booked up time period of the annual Key West Fantasy Festival, could we then return and have the month of November? We wound up with such an agreement. We could keep the slip until October 18, leave and then return on October 28. We would either anchor out, our get a mooring ball over at Garrison Bight, a short dinghy ride into Key West Bight, for those days of Fantasy Fest. Mark also promised that if there were any cancellations for a slip of our size, it was possible we migth not even have to vacate the slip at all. This is what we were after in the first place. So, now we have a plan of some sort, but primarily we need to be at A&B Marinas by October 1.

We spent a day or two at Lee Stocking Island and then moved on. We transited the Adderly Cut and made way northwest for 10 miles or so to the Rudder Cay Cut, with the intention of snaring our anchorage just off the island of Rudder Cay, where the giant lobster was that I had seen on our way down. A 42-foot Tiara Open was anchored just around the corner from our intended spot, but we didn’t see anyone around. We passed by them, dropped our hook and before long we went calling on our lobster. It was not only not home, no other ones were home, either.

We were back at our boat when the folks that owned the Tiara cruised by in their dinghy to say hello. Mark and Debbie were on vacation. Mark hails from Miami, and Debbie has a home in Ft. Lauderdale. They turned out to be very nice, and we chatted with them until some locals noticed Mark’s dinghy over near us and came by to see if we wanted to purchase some lobster. Mark and Debbie had gotten some earlier, and told us what they had paid. I thought it was a bit high, but I had no room to negotiate, given the circumstances. The fishermen had several lobsters in their boat, one looked like the giant one I had seen weeks earlier, but the smaller ones are sweeter, so we bought two smaller but still very nice sized ones. The monster wouldn’t have fit in any cooking utensil that we owned anyway.

Mark and Debbie invited us over for sundown cocktails later on, and we agreed on a time. Meanwhile, I perpared our lobster tails for dinner later that evening by slicing them along the topside and pulling the meat out of the shell. This permits the meat to expand, preventing it from remaining dense in the shell when you steam it. Like popcorn, only better.

Our intended visit of an hour or two with Mark and Debbie turned into four hours. We got back to the boat to meet a miffed Holly, at an hour too late to prepare a nice lobster dinner. We ate some Triscuits and went to bed.

The next morning, I had a plan to tighten the water pump belt on the port engine, hoping to find a solution to our overheating problem. If I found the belt to be loose, and it would solve our problem, I would then make the effort to tighten the belt on the starboard engine. I should have never turned down this particular road.

Now listen friends: I try not to complain, or even divulge my physical ailments or maladies. For one thing, no one cares. For another, it’s no ones business. But on that day, I about wrecked myself.

The guards for the belts on our Caterpillars are not easy to remove. This is an understatement. For one thing, the first bolt I attempted to remove was frozen solid, and it was stripped on the head. I couldn’t even get my giant vice grips to get purchase on it. I wound up removing the entire bracket that holds the bottom of the alternator on, and the bolts for that were in a place almost impossible for me to get to, given my current supply of tools. (A 3/8-inch swivel socket is now on my shopping list.) Now, I know what my friend Karl Kotraba was cussing at when he installed these same belts before we left St. Louis back in April 2011.

Seven hours later, I had the water pump belt tightened on the port engine and the guard re-installed, and I was ready to fall out with either heat stroke or shear exhaustion. Mark and Debbie had inquired about getting together, but we had to take a pass. All I wanted was to eat our lobsters and go to bed early. I got myself a nice, hot shower, and as Rosie prepared our dinner, I managed to find some energy to start up the port engine and make sure I at least put it together properly. The loud sqeal that emitted from the engine room informed my that I had made the belts too tight. I was real quiet during dinner.

 

During our meal, and all during the night, all I could think about was returning to the engine room. My hands had cramped up, both of them were more cut up than when I replaced our steering cylinder in Nassau, and I constantly wondered why I had replaced that belt guard before testing my work.

The next morning, I had the demeanor of a soldier facing a march to war, and not a brave soldier either. I wanted to cry. But armed with some new tricks, I got the guard off a little easier and loosened the water pump belt a tiny bit. I started the engine to make sure it had stopped squealing, and decided to forgo installing the belt guard again, as I want all of our belts inspected and possibly replaced when we get back to the U.S. One and a half days of hard work, and I felt it would only be a miracle if it resulted in solving our overheating problem on the port engine.

We spent the next two nights visiting with Mark and Debbie. They came to Swing Set on Saturday night, and we went to their boat again on Sunday night. During this time, Mark had planted a seed in our minds about considering a stay at a marina in the Coconut Grove area of south Miami, near the popular boating of Biscayne Bay. We are considering this move after spending our time in Key West this fall, and have started inquiring about slip or mooring availability.

We all decided to cruise back to Staniel Cay on Monday. I wouldn’t agree on traveling together, and that wasn’t their cup of tea either. We left as soon as the tide would allow, and as soon as we got past the skinny areas of Musha Cay, I gave Swing Set a try out on plane. Ten minutes past arriving on plane at 25 miles per hour, both engines exceeded 200 degrees, in fact the starboard engine approached 210 degrees without sounding an alarm, and the port engine protested at 205 degrees, so I shut them both down, where they quickly cooled to 180 degrees. Looks like it will be a slow ride back to the States, but that’s the way we came, and it’s still faster than most trawlers.

We arrived at Big Majors Spot, near Staniel Cay Yacht Club, and found several megayachts at anchor. We nestled in just off of “Pig Beach,” happy to be surrounded by other boaters. Not too long after, Mark and Debbie arrived. They came by to say hello but had plans to get a slip at the Yacht Club, so we said we’d see them the next day. Our plans for dinner included a scrumptious roast we had been cooking in the crock pot all day, smothered in cream of potato soup and beef boullion. It was falling apart when we ladeled it over the two packages of Ramen noodles we had prepared. Egg noodles are usually what we use, but the Ramen were getting some whiskers, and we wanted to use them up. Delicious!

Yesterday, we went to town to visit the library and to take our trash. We found the library closed, with no sign on the door to inform us to get the key next door “at de brown house,” which we later learned was the custom. On our return to Staniel Cay Yacht Club, we ran into MP, or Marie Pierre, our friend from Nassau who works as a mate on Island Time, a yacht that was visiting the area. We stopped to visit with MP at the Yacht Club, and when she left, we ran into Mark and Debbie and chatted with them awhile, promising to return for dinner at 6 p.m.

Rosie and I returned to the boat to rest up, and when I fired up the generator for our afternoon charge, the generator shut down on us for high temperature. Boo. Cussing ensued, with promises to leave the next morning, taking the quickest and fastest route to the nearest MarineMax location in Miami. My hands were too cut up from my latest mechanical episode to attempt replacement of the generator water pump impeller. The pump sits on the backside of our Westerbeke, nearly impossible to get to. Only the experience of doing this chore blind will allow most mechanics to accomplish the fete, and I have had zero.

But if nothing, I am tenacious. Because it’s easy, I pulled the sea strainer out. I know I had pulled it out just a few weeks ago and didn’t expect to see much, but you never know when you are going to pick up a plastic bag that will clog up the works. Water flowed through the hull fitting with the strainer removed, but there was a great deal of scale deposits on the exterior of the strainer. I took my wire brush and cleaned the strainer, replaced it, made a quick inspection of the inlet by diving under the boat, and then fired the generator back up. Water flowed, and the temperature stayed at the recommended 180 degrees. I was happy, with reservations.

As I was buttoning up things, I heard Rosie talking to someone, and when I took a look I found a young couple pulled up alongside Swing Set in a small skiff. I turns out that this young couple from Fair Hope, Ala., was researching Staniel Cay on the Internet as a place to visit and ran across our blog, and began to read it regularly. They had just arrived and were taking a ride in the rented skiff and saw our boat and came over to say hello and to say how much they have been enjoying the blog. The very pretty girl also wanted to see Holly. Holly is a babe magnet. They were staying at the Yacht Club and said they’d see us later in the bar. We were going there for happy hour and to meet Mark and Debbie. Makin’ friends.

We left Holly alone for four hours again while we had beers and dinner at the Yacht Club last night. Holly was pouting and not speaking when we got back to the boat at nearly 10 o’clock, but she forgave us after a half hour and commenced to lick us to death. We love this dog, and really don’t want to let her out of our sight, but we can’t take her everywhere. She just hasn’t learned to appreciate “alone time.”

This afternoon, we are going snorkeling at the Thunderball Grotto with Mark and Debbie. There is lots of activity here in Staniel Cay, and if our boat holds together, we’ll stay here a few days, but probably won’t dally too much on our return back to civilization.

We’re approximately 250 miles from Miami at the moment, and given our usual cruising speed, we’re looking at several days of travel, maybe 10 or more. We can make longer days if we have to, but what’s the hurry? We can have our engine work done while we’re sitting in Key West this fall.

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