Well, we almost didn’t make it. We actually parted company with Pat and Fred as they turned east off Ft. Lauderdale and made their way toward the Bimini waypoint, sadly resigning ourselves to a trip south to Marathon for repairs. About 8 hours into our trip, our mostly dry rudder post had started spilling water in a steady stream. Not enough to worry about sinking the boat, but more than we would be able keep up with as the 20kt of wind from the north kicked up the Gulf Stream for the crossing. These weren’t the conditions we would have chosen without our water problems, but with them the rough seas would mean we would have to bail constantly, meaning the off-duty crew would get no sleep. Why had this happened all of sudden, when we had had so few problems up to now? By 2am, the bilge pump Dave had installed was no longer pumping the water out, meaning we were back to hand bailing. Not a pretty sight. So, we told Pat and Fred to go on, we weren’t crossing.
At that point, we had to decide where to go. We looked at the timing and decided to continue on through the next day and anchor off Rodriguez Key, the stopping point midway between Miami and Marathon in the Florida Keys. Since we didn’t want to run Hawk Channel (the eastern channel between the Keys and their ocean reef) at night, we killed the engine and poked along downwind on our headsail alone. There was enough residual Gulf Stream current even 3 miles from shore to make it slow going, but at this point we weren’t in any hurry.
By sunrise off Miami, the winds were starting to calm down to the lower teens. Cathy turned on Chris Parker to get his forecast for the day ahead. Dave, now rested from several hours sleep was up and we tried to assess the situation. The rudder was dry. The waves seemed to be moderating with the winds. We could always turn around. We decided to go for it. Dave took the helm, while Cathy got some sleep, ready to respond if he needed her. By 11am, we were halfway across, and the rudder leak had been amazingly very manageable. We had furled in our headsail shortly after making the turn, with wind on too close a point of sail to get much benefit. The waves were about 4 feet on our beam, but spaced far enough a part to make the passage not too bad (after all, Cathy was able to sleep through the first part of it). Having checked into the Waterway Net with our intention to still cross to Bimini, we figured Marianna now knew of our revised plans, but we couldn’t get good enough propagation to communicate with them directly and were barely able to hear the Fleet Captain on the net. We would just have to wait until we saw them.
We had no further problems and were soon tied up in our slip next to Marianna. Dave checked in with Customs and Immigration a short walk down the street. We soon saw Fred, Pat and Julie and Marianna, whom we had thought we would not see again for quite a while. As it turned out their crossing had been pretty rough, calming only later in the trip as they drew closer to Bimini for a noon arrival. It appeared we had made the right decision to delay our crossing. It had been a bit of roller-coaster ride emotionally for the past 36 hours, but we had made another successful crossing and were in the Bahamas for another winter’s stay – a destination that had seemed to slip out of our grasp just 12 hours earlier.
Now, we just had to figure out how to manage that leaking rudder. Upon consideration, we have a suspicion that the difference between this trip and the others since leaving Deltaville was the weight of several jugs of fuel on the stern of the boat, in addition to the additional weight of provisions. Based on this observation, we have decided to carry less fuel and water jugs than in the past, and are working to remove any other weight that will push Orion’s stern into the water. Dave has also replaced the bilge pump by the rudder with one with intakes that are closer to the hull, so it will hopefully a) work and b) pump more of the water that does accumulate. We still hope the rudder will stay dry until we can find the permanent solution.
It has been a few months since we’ve given an update about our new Garmin and the start-up issues we were having. The most significant one was the unit’s use of our Raymarine autopilot compass to determine heading information. After trying in vain to get the unit to ignore the faulty compass, Dave instead turned his attention to getting the compass itself fixed. However, instead of calling the generic Raymarine technical support, he instead went straight to a contact that we had met at the Annapolis Boat Show 2 years ago, from Raymarine Product Support. After explaining the problem, our contact immediately suggested Dave try a new compass (the solution Dave had tried to get Raymarine Tech Support to suggest 3 years ago). He sent Dave a replacement compass free of charge, which we installed while in Daytona. Unfortunately, we would not be able to test it until we could get underway and perform a sea trial calibration (which requires you to drive slowly in 2 large circle for not less than 3 minutes and not more than 2 knots. This can be tricky to do on the narrow waterways in Florida). Since the compass was installed facing astern, the display was now even more confusing until we performed the sea trial, because it kept orienting the display backward, allowing us to see where we’ve been. It was very disconcerting.
It was with great relief that early on in our trip south from Daytona, we found an opportunity to calibrate the compass. While stuck waiting for the Coronado Beach Bridge south of Daytona, we decided we had (just) enough room and time to do the calibration maneuver. With the calibration done, the boat icon on the chartplotter began facing (incredibly) the way we were going. Sometimes it’s the small things you appreciate. We have now traveled over 40 hours with the new compass, and it has worked flawlessly. Another benefit is that the autopilot now starts tracking to our route much more easily, without any wild swings while it tries to compensate for the faulty compass reading. Thanks Raymarine. You done good.
So, we are nearly ready to try again. After a failed attempt last Friday, where the strong south winds and a similarly strong current foiled our collective attempt to depart, we are looking for calmer conditions which appear to be arriving on Wednesday (Jan. 27). Hopefully, the passage will be as good as (or better than) forecast, which mostly contains wind on the nose, albeit lighter than most of the past week. And let’s hope that rudder stays (mostly) dry.