Friday, February 15, 2013

Back In Newfound Harbor And Defying Logic

  The islands north of U.S. 1 in the lower keys are abundant, but the routes through them are shallow and meandering, and there are plenty of good anchorages to protect boaters from wind that may arise from just about any direction.

Tarpon Belly Key

  We left Johnston Key after spending four nights there and moved just a few miles east to Tarpon Belly Key. The wind protection wasn't any better, but we wanted a change of scenery and we found it. Tarpon Belly Key used to be the site of a shrimp farming operation many years ago that didn't pan out. Since I'm not a historian, nor a travel guide, I'll dispense with the facts about it and suggest you peruse the Internet if you want to find out more about it. One thing remarkable is that due to its historical nature, the small island gets a few visitors, so we could watch the boaters and beach goers come and go from our anchorage a couple hundred feet off of land. I say, "beach" but use the term loosely, there seems to be no evidence of sand, but only large shells. Everyone wears shoes.
  We waited until the tide was rising on Friday to start our cruise to Newfound Harbor, about eight miles away as the crow flies, but a crow needn't worry about running aground usually. The sky was overcast most of the way, not a good setting for reading the bottom, but our two chart plotters worked very well, plus I've learned that a line of crab pots isn't set out in water too shallow for a boat to retrieve them, so even though I curse the existence of crab pot markers most of the time, I've learned to use the placement of them to our advantage.
  Our route took us in a zigzag manner through some very shallow water, some as low as four feet, and this was on a rising tide, over to the Niles Channel Bridge which is between Summerland Key and Ramrod Key, a total of 16 miles from our starting point at Tarpon Belly Key. With a 40 foot vertical clearance, one would think the channel under it would have a depth suitable for a vessel that needs that much clearance to pass, but we found the shallowest water just north of this bridge, so I made a note on our track for the day to only attempt the Niles Channel from Florida Bay to Newfound Harbor during high tide, or close to it. There are only so many bridges on U.S. 1 that allow a boat like ours to pass under, and this is one of them. Some are high enough, but the water is not navigable. Being able to get from north to south is important when avoiding hazardous weather and wind conditions.
  We are on our 8th day on the hook since we left Key West and have been making water with the water maker, and are pretty happy with the results. Without too much use of the generator, I feel like we can exist on the hook for long periods of time before a trip to land is necessary. We'll probably need human interaction way before the food runs out. Limited phone conversations with friends and family have been sufficing for the time being.
  With nearly a full tank of water, we're prepared to stay here in Newfound Harbor for a few days. Little Palm Island guards the southern entrance to Newfound Harbor and there is a ritzy resort and restaurant there. Passengers come from the "mainland" in vintage water taxis to visit the resort and eat at the restaurant where "gentlemen must wear long slacks and a collard shirt". A sport jacket is suggested. Guess where we won't be going to eat.
  There are a few other watering and dining holes on nearby Little Torch Key and Big Pine Key. We want to check out Dolphin Marina too, long term dockage may be affordable there, but I have a suspicion that the person I had talked to on the phone a month or so ago was selling themselves cheap.
  After getting set in a sand bottom, with room to swing in six feet of water, we nestled in the cockpit waiting for a sunset to appear that never did. The clouds rolled in and by the time we had finished our Valentine's Day dinner of grilled pork tenderloin, scalloped potatoes, and asparagus, we could feel the boat start to spin and rock.
  I had checked the weather radar earlier and the wind coming from the south was going to push the harsh weather to our north away from us, or so I thought. The wind shift showed a big storm cell coming from our west and we were right in the path of it.
  Our anchor alarm was set and I had confidence in our holding, as I had at least a hundred feet of rode set out. The cold front blew in and the boat tugged at her anchor, but we stayed put. The rains came, and we finally got to test the leak repair I had done back in Everglades City. The test failed.
  Not only did water start dripping onto our settee in the salon, proving that my repair was to no avail, when I switched on the iPad again to check the radar, I got a message that said No SIM card. I can multitask. First, pull up the cushions on the settee, put towels down and a wastebasket to catch water. Then I started Googling to find out why we were getting the message about No SIM card when I know one is in there. I tried a few online remedies, but got nowhere.
  I gathered my spirits and due to no T.V. reception, we played two game of dominoes as the wind and rain died down. It was 11 P.M. before we doused the lights and slept like babies. As is usually the case, I problem solve best first thing in the morning. Brain storms come in the A.M. for me.
  The sun was barely up and I went to inspect the flybridge to search for something I may have missed during my previous water leak source searches. (That's a mouthful.) There is a small snap cover in the floor of the flybridge deck that hides a screw where the snap for the carpet used to be when we had carpet up on the flybridge. I had considered this screw as a source of the leak before, but discounted it because the screw now holds down a silicon washer which would keep water from entering the hole where the screw sits. Right?
  Water leaks defy logic, so I removed the screw, squirted a liberal amount of silicon sealer into the hole and inserted the screw again. This screw is in the direct path of a small stream that appears as the rain water rolls off the inside of the isinglass onto the floor. This has to be the source of our leak, but we won't find out until it rains again, which should be this afternoon or tonight. If this solution doesn't work, we may have our upholstery covered in all vinyl and treat it like our seating in the cockpit outside and just let the rain pour in while we wear our raincoats at the dinette for dinner.
  While we ate our breakfast, I contemplated the iPad issue, then I reset the iPad which always makes me nervous, but like a good doctor, "I did no harm", but I didn't solve the problem either. Even though I had removed the SIM card and re-installed it before turning in last night, I went through the process again even though logic says I was wasting my time. When turning on the iPad, I got a 5 bar 3G signal like we're supposed to. I am learning to ignore logic when it comes to rain water leaks and computers.
  In an unprecedented move, I'm updating this blog due to a momentous occasion; I believe I have fixed the leak in our salon ceiling! Was it that screw in the floor? No, sorry to say.
  It has been raining off and on all day, and I've been on the settee in the salon reading. This afternoon the drip commenced again from one of the light fixtures right where it always does. I grabbed my screwdrivers and went up to the flybridge. The only screws on the port side where the leaks appeared to be coming from have been removed, filled with silicon sealer, and put back in...except for four of them that hold the brackets on some bimini struts. These struts are under a bit of pressure and if anyone is reading this who has ever taken those screws out that hold the struts in place can attest to, they are most difficult to get back together sometimes. Well, with Rosie's help, and some creative leveraging, I got the screws out, filled the holes with silicon, and got everything back together without a mishap. But the dryness under those brackets led me to believe that I had wasted my time.
  New problems occur usually because something has changed. The key is to find out what is different. The leaks were not occurring on the starboard side of the boat, but the same windshield and hardware screws exist on that side too. I was studying a trickle of water on the dash, coming from the zippers on the smile windows that are on our bimini top. The water was running into a joint where the dash meets the sides of the flybridge. This joint is on both side of the dash, and I know the walls are solid from where the windshield is attached to the top of them, all the way to the flybridge sole. Not so fast, partner.
  Not only was the joint where the dash meets the sidewall on the port side missing some sealant, once I looked under the dashboard on the port side, I could see where the trickles of water were running down the sidewall and into a hole where the wires for the dash are routed to points below. Bingo! What had changed, other than us having the boat out in the rain more than the previous owner had done? For one thing, I have run more wires up to the dash since we bought the boat. Water usually runs along wires and drips off at low points, so any water that may have leaked in before was now finding new spots to manifest itself inside, instead of running down the insides of the hull down to the bilge. Another difference is that this particular access hole is only on the port side, the side where the leaks were occurring.
  I said, "Where the leaks were occurring." I am so sure of having found the source of our water leak that once I installed sealant along the dash and sidewall joint, I pulled the protective cover off of the settee and told Rosie our leak problems were over. And I also told you.

  The day didn't turn out so bad after all, and here is proof: a pretty sunset that I didn't think we were going to see this evening!
  We have some exploring to do in this area which will most likely be done in the dinghy. Picnic Island is close by and is frequented by the locals. Maybe we'll find some friendlier people around here than at our last beach visit. As I had mentioned, there are some restaurants nearby too, and we'll try to visit one or two of them while we are here, but it all depends on the weather. We are expecting some nasty winds and rain this weekend, so we'll stay close to the boat unless conditions are otherwise. I really, REALLY, don't want to have any exciting stories to tell next time.

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