We returned to Mobile via rental car from spending the Holidays at home with the family. It even included a trip to Disney World with four grandkids. We’re crazy but not totally crazy; we had three other adults to help. We loved spending time with the family, but were anxious to get back to the boat. The mechanic, Brent, had almost a month to complete the list of repairs so we expected everything to be done before we got back. He had quickly analyzed the electric issue as a blown 100 amp fuse for the house batteries. He also calculated that it should have a 150 amp fuse given the capacity of our inverter. I left him with a detailed list of the requested maintenance and repairs:
Work Order for Sabbatical (Ford Lehman 135; current hours = 8073.5)
Check and service batteries as needed – especially house batts (#2)
Install new 150 amp fuse at house batteries and provide spare
Hook up Neutral Safety Stop Switch
Install new tank neck and recovery bottle (provided by owner)
Install new block drain valve (provided by owner)
Replace thermostat (provided by owner)
Drain, flush with cleaner and refill cooling system (antifreeze provided by owner)
Replace raw water impeller (provided by owner)
Inspect exhaust elbow and components
Replace belts (owner has possibly usable replacements. Provide matched belts if needed)
Check operation and output of alternators
Check alignment of alternators. Adjust as needed
Priming lever on fuel lift pump is frozen. Repair/replace
Replace secondary fuel filters (provided by owner)
Check operating linkage for correct travel on gearbox
Change transmission fluid
Check shaft alignment
Perform valve adjustment
Adjust Idle set screw
Install charger/common ground wiring to generator battery
Discuss with owner any other items found on inspection.
NOTE: Owner changed oil and filter on 12/3/18.
I had tried several times during our time away to contact him and it was to no avail. The marina management had said that he’d been sick and also that he hunts between Christmas and New Year’s. I wasn’t getting a good feeling about the status of our work. He had been told all along that we would be returning on January 2nd and expected all work complete. What we found when we arrived at the boat that afternoon was an open tool bag, a partially disassembled engine, and no mechanic working on board. We weren’t happy and went into see Roger Turner about it. He got in touch with Brent and supposedly he would be finished that afternoon or the next morning. So we made arrangements to keep the rental car another day and went on over to Fairhope and checked into the Hampton Inn there. There was no way that we could get all our stuff put back on the boat let alone sleep there. Fairhope was an awesome spot to turn our lemons into lemonade. The lights were in the trees along the street and we enjoyed a great dinner at Master Joe’s Sushi.
The next morning, things didn’t work out any better, because on Brent’s inspection of the shaft alignment he found that we had a bent flange on the rear coupler which joins the transmission to the shaft. Also, the brackets on which our motor mounts rest had, over time, become loose from the stringers that they’re bolted too and the rubber padding in our mounts had compressed to the point that he wasn’t able to just adjust them into the proper alignment and had to fabricate aluminum shims for each of the four mounts. After all this was explained we went off for lunch at Dauphin’s downtown on the 34th floor of the Trustmark Building. Lunch (and the view) was superb and then we went over to visit the Battleship Alabama and the submarine, The Drum; both cool tours.
Back at the boat afterward we learned that we should just head back to Fairhope for another night in the hotel. We had another great date night at Tamara’s Restaurant. The next morning was Friday, January 4th and we were hoping that we’d get our boat back. We showed up around 11:00 am and he wasn’t done, but making progress. After an update, we left Brent and his helper working and headed to the movie theater to see “A Star is Born”. Once the movie was over, we returned again to the marina and they were almost done, but had a leak from the rear seal of the transmission. Brent found another seal and completed the job. He took time to go over everything with me and noted a couple of items that he had not done and I was fine with that. They did a great job cleaning up after themselves and we got the car unloaded and everything put away in the boat. Then we headed out to the grocery store to stock up.
Saturday, January 5, 2019:
We returned the car to Enterprise and checked in with the marina office about our bill. It wasn’t ready since they had not received the information from Brent. They have our credit card number and will email us the bill when it gets ready.
On my engine inspection, I noticed that the sea cock for the generator strainer was in the off position. Then I noticed that the port fuel tank was in the off position. Then I noticed that the selector for the primary fuel filters was set to draw from both filters instead of the port filter, where I had left it. I figured that Brent and his helper were just not real careful crawling around in the engine room and were not familiar with my filter system. These were not big deals, but I’m glad I noticed before needing to crank the generator. We cast off from Turner Marine around 1100 and moseyed over to Dog River Marina for fuel. We took on 200 gallons and at 1155 we were off the fuel dock and headed out to Mobile Bay under a cloudless sky. It was a little cool at 60 degrees, but we were so glad to be back on the water. And the water was calm with just a few ripples disturbing the glass at times. At 1230 we left the main ship channel to short cut across to the south east so we could rejoin the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway in Bon Secour Bay. The motor seemed to be running smoother and quieter. At 1400 I noticed that the temperature gauge was showing 185 degrees. That is about 10 degrees higher than our normal cruising temp. At 1500 the temp was up to 188 so we slowed down to 1750 rpms. That seemed to keep it down to 185 or just under for the remainder of the day. I thought through possibilities of what might be the cause. Having just had the coolant flushed and replaced, I focused on the thermostat. Maybe I provided one that is defective? In Oyster Bay at 1555 we met the John Parrish and then our old friend the Earl Devall on the one whistle. After a cruise of 36 ½ miles, we docked at 1615 in slip A-24 at Homeport Marina in Gulf Shores. We walked over to Lulu’s and on the way saw Scott on Gumby II. He had a guy on board and it turned out that Scott had lost his desire to finish the Loop and had sold the boat. The guy was taking possession right then. We left them to their tasks and went on to the restaurant wondering if Lulu’s brother, Jimmy Buffett, might make an appearance. He did not, but before our food arrived, I spotted the hostess seating Captain Crusty and Dorothy from Magic. We went over and surprised them and got them to join us at our table. We had a great time catching up. Lulu’s is large and very cute. I’m sure it would be busy if not for the time of year. Jane had to make some tee shirt purchases in the gift shop.
Sunday, January 6, 2019:
Another cloudless day greeted us. Still a nip in the air at 62 degrees, but we were happy to be on the move. On my morning engine checks I noted that the transmission fluid is really high. It was over the stamp that says “Do Not Overfill”. I trust Brent, but it didn’t seem right to me. I also noted that it looked like we were slinging transmission fluid off the coupler. Maybe because it was over filled? I cleaned it all up and made a mental note to check on it during the run. We should easily make Pensacola, a cruise of only 33 miles. By 1045 we were off the dock. The temperature of the cooling system was still a mystery. It seemed to go up and down but mostly around 185 degrees. That’s not too hot for running, but we were keeping a close eye on it. I confirmed the gauge reading with the infrared thermometer at the thermostat housing on the motor. We motored through Wolf Bay and made our way behind Perdido Key.
At 1230 we crossed the state line into Florida. Back in the home state! Yea! We docked at Palafox Pier Marina at 1500. Jane got some laundry done and we readied to meet our friend Alice Ann for dinner at Jaco’s in the marina. It was so wonderful reuniting with her again.
Monday, January 7, 2019:
At 0900 we eased out of the slip at Palafox Pier under blue skies and on calm water. We continued heading east along the Intracoastal.
It was a very pleasant day for a boat ride of 42 miles and we docked at the Fort Walton Beach Free Dock at 1415. Some of the local live-aboard sailors look a little sketchy but seem friendly and I’m sure they’re harmless. Our friend Scott Harris came to visit for a bit and then later we entertained Jeff Cross and his friend Rod before heading over to GOAT (Greatest of All Time restaurant) for dinner and to watch the NCAA national championship game.
We installed the Firestick I got for Christmas (thank you Meredith) so we could watch the rest of the game on board when we got back. It’s great to have some choices for the TV.
Tuesday, January 8, 2019:
We woke up to find out that we were fogged in. At 0900 it was still too thick to get underway. We were only trying to make it 14 or so miles over to Blue Water Bay Marina in Niceville, so we weren’t concerned about the time. We found out that the weather window for crossing the Gulf after Carrabelle had closed for another week, so we were fine with slowing down. Ft. Walton Beach Free Dock has a self-operated pump-out so I took advantage of that while we were waiting for the fog to lift. At 1052 we pulled away from the dock and had a nice little cruise over to Blue Water Bay. We made our way northeast across Choctawhatchee Bay behind Destin and at 1215 we motored over a part of the chart marked “Danger Unexploded Bombs”. I figured it might not do to set the anchor there. At 1240 we docked with help from a gold Looper, Sonny (Corkscrew). We were tied up on the tee head right behind him. We met his wife Phyllis too. They are really nice folks from Nashville. Our buddy Scott Harris had set it up for us to get free docking at BWB. We were happy to help him call in some favors. After we checked in, we spent time washing the boat. There is always something to do. Later on, we noticed that Nearly Perfect was there. Nearly Perfect was the scene of our first docktails back in Fort Myers almost a year ago. Then I spotted a couple that I recognized from across the marina. It was Eddy and Linda Johnsen (Spiritus). We learned that they have bought a house here after being on the boat for three years. Jane and I got cleaned up and took a well-deserved nap. Scott and his fiancé, Alis, visited us on board and then took us to dinner with Scott’s son, Jason, and his wife, Melody, at a place called The Locals Eatery.
The next day we borrowed a car to go to Publix, we took a long walk, and I took care of some business items for back home. Eddy organized a docktails in Schooners and we had the crews of Sabbatical, Spiritus, Corkscrew, and Nearly Perfect. Even Scott and Alis showed up. We found out that Scott and Linda went to high school together in the same class. What a small world!! It was crazy when they started singing the school songs and chanting the school mottos. After a while, some of the group moved into the restaurant for dinner.
On Thursday we went for another long walk and made ready for a Friday departure. We met the Loopers aboard Nearly Perfect at 1630 for docktails and we were joined by Jack and Jane (Dixie) who are on their way back to Biloxi with a new engine for their boat.
Jack is a real captain and will be installing his own motor. That’s way above my skillset. They were fun to meet and we hope to see them again in the future.
Scott came and picked us up and brought us to his house where Alis had fixed us a vegan pasta dinner. We had a great time with them.
Friday, January 11, 2019:
It was 33 degrees but the sky was cloudless and the water calm. We snuck away from the dock at 0645 with the space heater helping to keep us warm in the upper helm. At 0720 out in Choctawhatchee Bay the conditions became a little rough with around two foot waves. We passed under the US 331 Bridge at 0935 and entered the calm water of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway Canal known as “The Grand Canyon”.
By 1335 we glided under the Hathaway Fixed Bridge continuing on through St Andrew Bay by Panama City. After the day’s run of 64 miles, we found the right markers denoting the entrance to Pearl Bayou. There were several well-spaced sailboats in the anchorage and they may or may not have been occupied. We saw one obvious victim of Hurricane Michael up on the bank. We idled on back about a half mile west into the sweet spot where the bayou continues west and also to the south. We set the hook at 1506 in eight feet and enjoyed the privacy of the serene setting.
Saturday, January 12, 2019:
During engine room checks, I noticed that transmission fluid had definitely been leaking from the rear seal and slinging off the coupler.
I cleaned it up again and this time fashioned a cardboard collar to prevent the spray of fluid. It was an overcast morning and some rain is expected in Apalachicola around 1300. By 0655 the anchor came up clean from the sandy bottom and by 0710 we were in the East Bay with a light chop. We entered Wetappo Creek at 0910 and passed behind Mexico Beach. Even though we were several miles inland the destruction from the storm testified to its power.
We arrived at the intersection with the Gulf County Canal at 1130. It makes a straight cut 5 ½ miles south to St Joseph Bay. At 1145 we were under the White City Bridge and changed time zones. We made it through the Impenetrable Swamp and entered Lake Wimico at 1315. We only saw a few boats during the day, but the Looper boat, Thanks Dad passed us just after we went by Saul Creek at 1500. We hair-pinned around the Scipio Creek Junction Buoy and eased our way up to the Water Street Hotel and Marina.
Since our slip was perpendicular to the creek, the current caused me to have to make to two tries before easing in to dock without help. Jane was a pro on lassoing the cleat with the breast line. We were all settled in the slip at 1545 after the 58 mile day. We made contact with Capt Crusty from Magic and joined them and Debbie and Gil from Chrysalis for dinner at Up The Creek. We spent three nights in Apalch (as the locals call it). We were in no hurry since we had to wait on the right weather for crossing to Steinhatchee. I also spent time focusing on the transmission issue.
Fluid was up to my fingernail (3/4″ over the mark).
After a good bit of research, I went to the Piggly Wiggly and bought a turkey baster, a couple of aluminum oven liners and a disposable casserole pan. Once back on board, I drew out the excess transmission fluid to the proper level and did another cleaning job throughout the bilge. I was sure at this point that Brent’s helper was confused about the instructions to fill it to 1/8 inch over the mark. Then I constructed the oven liners into an arched splash guard and installed it over the aft section of the transmission and the coupler. It looked like a shrine that might have a statue of the Virgin Mary. I placed the casserole pan underneath it to catch the run off.
At that point all I needed to do was watch the fluid level until I can get to a good mechanic to get the seal replaced. I found a guy in Fort Myers that lives in the same marina where we will stay. I contacted Brent back in Mobile about getting us the correct parts and he promised to work on it. While I was doing all the clean-up, I noticed that a wire from the temperature switch had been rubbing on the water pump pulley. The insulation had worn through, so I fixed the wire and strapped it up out of the way. I also found a couple of wire connectors that were loose and crimped them for better contact. These were all wires that had been removed and replaced in Mobile and I still had confidence in Brent’s ability, but was reminded of the old adage that you’re only as good as your worst employee.
Tuesday, January 15, 2019:
It was the day to move out to the anchorage since Wednesday will give the best weather for crossing to Steinhatchee. I went next door to J.V. Gander fuel distributor and bought some oil absorbent pads. I got them placed around in the bilge and we easily exited the slip at 0905. The forecast showed winds of 5 knots or less and seas of one foot or less. We headed out for an anchorage by the entrance to Alligator Harbor just east of Carrabelle. It is 42 miles and it looked like we’d have a good day for the run. We passed under the Highway 98 Bridge and there was a dredge operation running in the channel. I got instructions from the dredge captain to go between his barge and the yellow buoy. I guess I wasn’t close enough, because we could feel contact with the muddy bottom, but I was able to free us and continue on. Once out in the bay, conditions were one to two feet. By 1020 we were under the St. George Island Bridge and had pleasant cruising through St. George Sound. We continued along behind Dog Island in calm waters. We anchored just off Wilson Beach in nine feet of water.
It was a beautiful place to anchor. No one else was there. The water was calm despite having open water view for well over 120 degrees. We enjoyed the evening on the fly bridge but turned in early for the long crossing tomorrow.