Saturday, June 21, 2014

Rain. It was raining. Again. Deb looked none too happy with my decision. Having run out to Kintala to grab some stuff for an overnight passage, the dink was bringing her back to the fuel dock in the rain. I was out in the rain as well, helping finish up the task of putting water and 100 gallons of fuel in a Moellenmacher built, 97 foot, steel hull ketch rig known around the mooring field as Thunderbird V.  Her real name is Sir Martin II, to be changed when the paperwork gets caught up. She's one of a fleet of boats that make up the International Rescue Group, a humanitarian aid foundation that helps victims of natural disasters by delivering to them food, water, and medicines.  During the morning cruiser's net Ray, her Captain and also founder of the organization, had asked for some help getting off the hook and onto the fuel dock. Deb and I and a few others volunteered. During the short re-positioning, which actually took most of an hour, Ray and his only crew, Jeff, told us they were going to Ft. Lauderdale to take an offered private dock behind a McMansion. Anyone who wanted to come along on the overnight passage up the Gulf Stream was welcome.

Which is how Deb ended up on a rain soaked dink ride. She isn't fond of last minute sailing decisions; an off-the-cuff overnight ride on a boat we didn't know, with a captain we didn't know well, in weather that has included serious thunderstorms nearly every day for more than a month? Not her cup of tea. But she is fond of me and I really wanted to go out and play in this Big-Mother of a boat.

About the time the last of the water went into the tanks, sheets of water started pounding on the cabin top. Lightning flashed, thunder rolled, but at least the wind stayed reasonable. Ray suggested we wait a bit, which is the kind of prudent approach I like in a Captain. Eventually the storm eased to just a steady light rain. Thunderbird V rumbled to life, eased back off the dock, made a careful 160 to port and headed toward the channel. With rain, a setting sun hidden by a thick deck of clouds, and the fact that Thunderbird V is a pilot house boat with the worst sight lines I have ever experienced from a helm, visibility was less then stellar. Then word came down that the navigation system wasn't coming on line.

Ten minutes into the passage found me standing at the bow giving hand signals to guide us out of the narrow channel. Not what I expected while drinking my morning coffee. Lightning started flashing, thunder rolled, and the rains fell once again. I stood my ground in the fore peak. It has been a tough couple of months for me, but I was back on a boat, under way, heading out for an open water overnight passage. I offered a single finger salute to the sky as we made Biscayne Bay. The sky could rage all it wanted.  Given the thrashing I had been taking, I just wasn't impressed.

Once back in the pilot house Ray offered me the helm. The nav system had been rebooted and was working well but he wasn't happy with the engine. It sounded okay to me but Ray said it was burning more fuel than normal. He found a power setting he liked and we settled into a sedate 3.5 knot cruise. We had the whole night to get to Port Everglades so speed was not of any kind of essence. Good thing.

Settled in the (inside) helm, feeling the energy state of this mass of machine, steering with the equivalent of an auto-pilot heading bug, electronic nav dialed in, radar sweeping a 3 mile ark, lightning detector (sparkle machine to a pilot) sparking, radio humming with traffic, AIS (TCAS to a pilot) showing nearby boats ... I was a happy, happy man.

I was a bit less of a happy man at 0130. The nav screen had just blinked out and the auto-pilot low battery alarm was chirping. A few minutes later Ray had it all back up. It seems Thunderbird V has a Hodge-podge electrical system; part European, part American, part AC, part DC, with converters and inverters, shunt circuits, generators, isolation buses, two generators, and two different kinds of alternators driven by the engine. One of which wasn't working. The one that charged the battery that runs the electrical / navionics type stuff at the helm.

After a bit of discussion about speed and distance and the time we wanted to get to the Port Everglades inlet, about fuel burns and engine health and alternators, we just shut everything off except one small generator to keep the battery alive. Then we let the Gulf Stream carry us north, moving tons and tons of boat for free. The only concern was traffic and our inability to get out of the way. But with the AIS and RADAR still on, and a fresh pair of eyes taking up the helm every couple of hours, all was well in our part of the ocean. A little while later I handed the watch off to Jeff, went below, and the rest of the night passed without bothering me in the least.

I woke up to find Ray and Deb handling the boat with Jeff still below catching some sleep. There was a discussion going on about just where the inlet markers were, and how we were approaching them. The engine was pushing us directly towards the coast with the nav system suggesting our boat heading and course over ground (COG) were nearly identical and taking us straight toward the channel. The only problem was the markers were well off to our north, straight ahead was only coastline.

Taking a scan around the helm instruments I noticed the remote compass indicator showing something like 020 degrees, the boat was heading pretty much due west. None of the other instruments on the panel with the compass indicator seemed to be working either. No stray sparks on the sparkle machine, no info on the secondary AIS. My guess was that, somewhere in the night, the electrical system had confused itself somehow and the breaker to the bus for those instruments got tripped. Ray knew where that breaker was, found it, closed it, and in a few minutes the nav system had figured out where it was, were it was pointed, and where it was going.  All was well with our little world again.

Working though the bridges south was kind of fun. All along the shore and at each bridge people could be seen taking pictures as this grand old Dame of a sailboat eased through the waters. I was feeling privileged to be on board and pleased that I had actually offered some value as a crew member.

The last few hundred yards of the trip turned out to be the most challenging. This was a big boat, with a 7 foot draft, working its way through some tight and shallow places. The destination pier was located pretty deep in South Lake. Twice we bumped into the bottom and had to wait for the rising tide to break us loose. The pier itself was barely large enough with an ugly approach and some bothersome pilings to negotiate. It took a bit of a fancy anchor / line / warping dance on the part of all four of us to bring Thunderbird V safely to rest at her new home. Just minutes later the lighting flashed, the thunder crashed, and the rains lashed. (The lightning was hitting the ground barely a half mile from the boat.)

As the worst of the rain eased to a shower Deb and I headed off to work the public transportation system back to Dinner Key. Glancing back Thunderbird V dominated the scene.

Thanks Ray. Thanks Jeff. That was a really good time.

1 comment:

Latitude 43 said...

Fun ride. That electrical system would drive me nuts.