Amberjack Log 2006

 

Tuesday, June 20.It seems that the older we get, the harder it is to get started on a cruise.Yesterday I had only to launch the dinghy at a ramp and get it back to its resting place on the Amberjackís swim platform.But when I tried to start the outboard, it wouldnít even cough.So we had to horse the big outboard off the dink and replace it with the tiny 1.5-horsepower kicker.When we got the dinghy to the swim platform, I started suffering from shortness of breath and lightheadedness.

 

I hated to do it, but we went to the emergency room at Indian River Memorial Hospital.The good folks there made the necessary blood tests, etc., and pronounced me as having just a little angina brought on by the heat and the exertion of pulling on the starter rope.It was not a heart attack.

 

So we leave this morning, the last day of spring.The weather is great, sunny and clear, a little too warm, but just fine.After a pumpout and a topping of the fuel tanks, we set off down the broad estuary that is called Indian River.The best way to describe this body of water is as a very long Barnegat Bay.It starts behind the Kennedy Space Center, extends down past Vero Beach, Fort Pierce, and ends at Stuart.A distance of over 100 miles.We have only to travel the last 20 miles, from Fort Pierce to Stuart.At Stuart, we will pick up the Saint Lucie River and travel 15 miles to the Saint Lucie Lock.This lock will lift us some eight feet and put us in the Saint Lucie Canal, which leads to Lake Okeechobee.From the west side of the lake, we will continue to Fort Myers and the west coast of Florida.We intend to spend some time on Sanibel and Captive and visit some favorite spots there.

 

We are in no hurry, so my travel mode is to run on one engine at a time, making just a little over hull speed (6.2 knots).This saves a bunch of fuel, and it doubles the time before oil changes.It is also very quiet and relaxed.It cannot be done if you are on a schedule, but it is a great way to travel if you can do it.The Amberjack performs well in this mode, and the new Raytheon autopilot eliminates most helm chores.

 

The trip down the Indian River is uneventful, and we make the turn to the west on the Saint Lucie River.The 15 miles up this river pass a little quicker, as a favorable tidal current is giving us a little over 7 knots.The bad news comes when we reach the lock.The lock is closed for maintenance for the next 8 days.We arenít going any further.This was my fault.I never gave a thought to checking on the condition of the locks and canals before leaving.

 

Oh well, we just turn around and slog back 14 miles to Manatee Pocket in Stuart.Manatee Pocket is a 2-mile long estuary that has outstanding anchorages.The anchoring is so good that you are only permitted to stay there at anchor for 72 hours.It is lined with marinas, shipyards, and private homes.We arrive at the Cut at 6:00 pm and get anchored.A steak dinner onboard ends the day.The night is absolutely still.

 

Wednesday and Thursday, June 21 & 22.This is such a good spot that we just kick back and take advantage of our 72 hours.The only event of note is the arrival of summer with the summer solstice.

 

Friday, June 23.We must leave the perfect anchorage.We travel south of the St. Lucie Inlet a couple of miles to a wide spot in the intracoastal called Peckís Lake.Here we can anchor, dinghy ashore, and walk about 50 yards to the beach on the Atlantic Ocean.It is a lot like Ticeís Shoal in Barnegat Bay, but this place does not have any access but by water.The only drawback is that it is not in a reduced speed zone, and some boat operators just donít care.

 

Saturday, June 24.The first tropical disturbance of the season is coming.It isnít going to be anything to worry about, but Marilyn has laundry to do, and it would be nice to be at a dock when the storms go through.We go back to Manatee Pocket and take a slip at Pirateís Cove Resort.The laundry is at the swimming pool, so we both get in a few laps while the clothes are drying.We find out the hard way that the dryers donít do much of anything, and we have damp clothes draped around the flybridge for days.

 

Sunday, June 25.We learn that the St. Lucie lock has reopened early and we can get on with the trip.We have a nice continental breakfast, compliments of the resort, and get underway for the lock.The lockmaster tries to shake us by telling us the lock wonít open for three days, but Iíve been on his frequency and heard him pull this before.Heís not too happy that I donít fall for his little joke, but we are soon rising the 8 feet to the canal level.Just out of the lock is a federal campground, with about 8 boat slips.Weíve stayed here before.It is a great bargain.Anyone can pull in with their boat and get 50-amp service for $20 per night.I have a Golden Eagle pass, so I get it for $10 per night.But when I go to the office, I find that the Amberjack must be within the commercial pilings or we cannot stay.I go back to the boat, and we walk the boat in.The water level is down due to the drought, but we make the limit with inches to spare.Of course, we could have taken the dink down and saved another 18 inches.

 

Monday, June 26.The plan today is to run from the St. Lucie lock through the canal, lock through the Port Macaya lock, and cross Lake Okeechobee, then there is a 15-mile run to the town of Moore Haven.We lock down at Moore Haven, and tie up to the town dock there, another reasonable tie up area.The trip through the canal is uneventful, and the lockmaster at Port Macaya informs me that there is no real difference in lake and canal water levels.I approach the big lake O with some trepidation.The lake water level is down some 3 feet, and there have been all sorts of groundings with grave damage.The first part, some 15 miles of open lake, is not a problem, as the water depth is 8 feet in all directions.The problem comes at the western end of the crossing.Here there is another 12 miles of dredged channels and openings between reefs.Let your boat stray here, and you will need your towing insurance.

 

††††††††††† The Amberjack is equipped with The Capín navigation software.This software is used by the USCG.She also has a brand new Raymarine autopilot.Both these assets perform excellently as a very tense skipper checks every waypoint on the paper chart and keeps a nervous eye on the depth finder.The depth drops down to 5 feet in the channel, but that is a foot and a half deeper than we need.I really felt for the pushboat skipper creeping along the other way (without a barge).He had to be brushing bottom.In these narrow channels, an ass driving a 50-foot cruiser came by us on full plane, about 10 feet off our port.I made up my mind to have him arrested for reckless operation if he went into Clewiston, which is on the southwestern side of the lake.Alas, he went on to the west and hasnít been seen since.As we approach Clewiston, I know that another 15 miles, however easy, just isnít in me.We go through the massive storm gate to the Roland Martin Marina and tie up at the float for the night.

 

††††††††††† Back in the thirties, I believe, there was a terrible hurricane that drove much of the water in Lake O to the south and over the towns there.Hundreds were drowned.This is known as a seitch.As a result, the Army Corps of Engineers was tasked with building a massive dike around the lake.This was accomplished.In this levee there are several gates that allow boats to pass, but which can be closed in case of a storm.The ones on the east and west sides are part of the locks that allow vessels to rise to lake level.

 

Tuesday, June 27.Today is to be a long day.We will depart Clewiston, run northwest to Moore Haven, then proceed westward on the Caloosahatchee Canal until the Franklin Lock deposits us in the Caloosahatchee River.Then it is westward still to the City of Fort Myers Yacht Basin.Due to the length of the run, I push the engine up to 1700 rpms.We are not so fuel efficient, but we are getting a solid 7.5 knots.(I suspect a couple of tenths of this was due to the current in the canal and river.)

 

††††††††††† We grind through three locks and one provincial swing bridge and a lot of miles.The one swing bridge deserves a passing comment.The rural community is known as Denaud.The swing bridge is the Fort Denaud swing bridge.The last ďdĒ in Denaud is silent, so it should be called Fort Denou.The bridge is older and rudimentary.The operator sits in an air conditioned shack at roadside on the southern approach to the bridge.The bridge opens on demand.When a call comes in, the operator, a very pleasant lady, first lowers the gates to stop traffic.Then she walks out to the center of the bridge.There, she inserts a key in a small console and starts the process of rotating the bridge for an opening.It reminds me of the day when bridges over the Mullica in New Jersey were opened by a gang of kids roaring down the hill on their bikes, inserting a big T-bar in the deck, and walking round and round to open the bridge.I was always bemused by the question ďWhen are you coming back down?ĒItís four oíclock in the afternoon when we approach the marina.All we want to do is get into a slip and relax.The City of Fort Myers Yacht Basin arranges this with the efficiency that they always exhibit.

 

Wednesday, June 28, Thursday, June 29, Friday, June 30.We spend these three days catching up on email, laundry, and our old haunts in the Fort Myers area.We kept the Amberjack here for a couple of years.Some of our favorite restaurants are still going strong, but some have gone out of business.

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday, July 1.The time has come for us to depart the Yacht Basin.I drive the Vue back to the Hertz agency and he drops me off at the marina.We go around to the fuel dock and tank up.I am trying a new device.It is called a stethoscope.I havemodified it so that I can hear everything that is happening in the fuel tank, regardless of what is happening outside.To fuel the Amberjack, you need Supermanís ears.Even with the great efficient new filler nozzles, when it clicks off, you will have a pint of diesel on the deck to clean up.†† We depart Fort Myers and head out to the islands,It is a 40-mile run and it is uneventful.When we get to Pelican Bay, I decide to anchor instead of going in to the dockWe spend a quiet night on the hook with the generator and the air conditioning purring away.

 

Sunday, July 2.We are sitting at anchor, the generator is doing its thing, when all of a sudden it simply stops.On the Amberjack, all cooking is electric.Nothing gets warmed without the generator.After allowing a little time for it to cool down, I start the troubleshooting process.The safety temperature and oil pressure interlocks are not causing the stoppage.It has refused to run once before and it was the fuel filter, so I open the vent on the racor and drain the fuel.Then I replace both the racor and the engine mounted filter.I hit the starter and the generator roars to lifeÖ and stops, not to start again.

 

Monday, July 3.Thereíll be no hot breakfast on the Amberjack this morning!No coffee, no nothing!By the greatest good luck, there is still the leftover coffee from yesterday.So I have a great breakfast of cereal, bolstered with blueberries, milk,and iced coffee.All on the aft deck with no mechanical noise whatever.Cel Phones still work, however.So a deal is arranged with Burnt Store Marina for us to spend a couple of days there over the Fourth.I have some concerns about whether we can get one of the main engines running.I close my eyes and depress the start button.The three second mandatory delay takes a couple of hours, and then the engine rumbles into a comfortable idle.I am really heartened to see thirty amps flowing into the batteries from the idling engine.We let the engine idle away while we finish our breakfast.We up anchor and run very slowly to our next destination, the Burnt Store Marina.The burnt store is an enigma to me.I donít know when the store burned, or what caused it to burn.In any case, there is a major roadway that extends tens of miles from south to north, called Burnt Store Road.To the immediate west of this highway, and extending to Charlotte Harbor itself is a hugh housing and marina project.There are 8-story high rises, there are multimillion dollar homes, and there is a marina that is vast.

 

††††††††††† We cruise gently for an hour into the elbow of Charlotte Harbor.Once past the large sign that announces your arrival at the Burnt Store Marina, you proceed into the marina and find your slip.Weíve been assigned to slip I-6.As we get the Amberjack into position, a dock attendant my age comes running down the dock to assist us.Marilyn gives him a stern lecture about running in this heat.Soon, we are properly attached to the dock and the cool zephyrs of the air conditioning are wheezing around us.††

 

 

Tuesday, July 4.It is a national holiday, but I have to know why the generator has died.It is a good thing that I am left-handed, for it is only that hand that I can use to detach the suspect fuel pump from the frame of the Yanmar engine.I get the fuel pump separated from the engine.It is still connected by the fuel lines.I hook up temporary connections to the electrical input and find that the pump makes a happy noise as it runs sturdily.But it still does not pump anything.I decide to do something I donít recommend.Without the pump running, I suck on the output fuel line.I suck and I suck, but no fuel comes through.The pump runs but doesnít pump.I suck but get nothing but air.I sit back and try to review the whole situation.It is then that my eyes fall on the vent valve, still wide open.I do the only honorable thing, after uttering several unprintable oaths, I tell my spouse what I have done.Of course, with the vent closed, the pump pumps, and the engine is primed.It takes some nasty, indescribable minutes to get the pump back into its niche in the crowded generator enclosure.I hit the start switch and the generator roars to life, ready to serve until the next fuel filter clogs.

 

Wednesday, July 5.We fill up on water and take our departure from the Burnt Store Marina.The run west on the calm waters of Charlotte Harbor is a pleasant experience.I want to dock for a night at Boca Grande, so I get on the cel phone to see if I can get a slip.Unfortunately, the larger of several marinas is shutting down this very afternoon and they cannot help us.Each marina in turn cannot help and refers us to another.It becomes obvious that we will not be able to stop at Boca Grande this year.

 

††††††††††† We change course and head back to Cayo Costa.I want to get on the dock so that we can go over to the beach without worrying about an anchored boat.The slips are designed for boats half the Amberjackís size.I tie up temporarily and check my favorite spot on the south side of the dock.The water is a uniform 5 feet.A little discussion with the park rangers and we get permission to tie up there for two nights.The cost is a mere $18 per night, but there is no water or power.The good thing is that we are away from everyone and on the inside of the ferry dock.Our generator can run freely without bothering anyone.The other good thing is that this slot doesnít exist, officially, and it will be ours whenever we return.

 

Thursday, July 6.We catch the tram across the island and enjoy a couple of hours shelling and just gazing at a picture perfect gulf.There are dire predictions of rainstorms, but they donít come by us.

 

Friday, July 7.The run today is a short 10 miles to the South Seas Plantation Resort.

This report has been touted by all the guide books.In my humble opinion, it is well worth the price.A short 2-block walk puts you on an exclusive Gulf beach with chairs, umbrellas, towels, exotic drinks, and hot dogs.There is a tram that picks up all over the 2 Ĺ mile resort and even goes into the business center of Captiva Island.This is where the Mucky Duck, one of our all-time favorite restaurants, is located.We make plans to dine at the Mucky Duck, but even as we lunch in the Harbourside Restaurant, the heavens open and it pours.It rains all afternoon and into the evening.Going out just doesnít sound so good, so we stay aboard and dine at Chez Marilyn.She never fails to please, with a steak smothered in mushrooms and a special bottle of red wine.

 

Saturday, July 8.We need to travel the thirty miles from South Seas Plantation to Fort Myers Yacht Basin.The day starts out with leaden skies but no rain.All goes well and we get to the conjunction of the Caloosahatchee River and the Gulf intracoastal waterway.As we proceed up the Caloosahatchee, the weather situation deteriorates.There is a thunderstorm to port, trying to cut off our progress up the river.Onboard radar is really valuable in a case like this.I decide that I have a good chance of outrunning the storm if I get the Amberjack moving.Both engines are brought up to maximum cruise power, and our speed jumps up from 7 knots to 15 knots.Storms are weird things, they vary all over the place.We get upriver past the storm, just to encounter more rain in compact but intense showers here and there.

 

Suddenly, I see one of the nastiest things you can see on radar.There is a solid area of precipitation right across out path.Further, it has a sharp edge facing us, and it is curved!This is the signature of a forming waterspout (water tornado).I throttle back and wait to see what it will do.It is already in our path, perhaps if I dawdle a while it will get off the river.Whatever happens, I donít want to tangle with it.Just as swiftly as it formed, it dissipates, and our way is clear.A small center console had passed us on plane just a few minutes earlier.He came to a stop just inside the edge of the storm.I wonder if he is aware how close he may have been to death.The rest of the trip is uneventful and we fuel up and tie up at the Fort Myers City Yacht Basin for the night.Between rain showers, Marilyn is able to get a huge pile of laundry done.

 

Sunday, July 9.Today will be a long run from Fort Myers to Moore Haven on the west rim of Lake Okeechobee.It is 58 statute miles, so we want to get an early start.We leave the Yacht Basin at 6:30 with morning dew on the flybridge enclosure, and the sun not yet risen.The day is long but uneventful and we tie up at the Moore Haven City Dock by 2:00 pm.

 

The sole amusement of the day comes at the Ortona Lock.A small, high powered sport fish boat comes up behind us as we await the lock opening.Without so much as a wave, he tootles right past us and enters the lock.This is a gross violation of lock etiquette.We pull into the lock and secure the Amberjack with Marilyn near the bow and me near the stern.Our idiot sportfisherman (heís alone on the boat) stands on the gunnel with a bow line in the left hand and a stern line in the right hand.When the gate is opened to flood the lock, the boat swings out across the lock.While this would not, in theory, cause any harm, the idiotís precarious position causes the lock operator to close the gate and spend some time directing the idiot as to how to secure the boat.All this is at our expense, of course.Eventually he gets his boat under control and takes off in a great cloud of diesel smoke.