2014-03 Passage to the Abacos

March 20, 2014

Back on the water cruising after a 4 month maintenance cycle. (Written by Bradley while underway)

Sunset at sea

Sunset at sea

As the sun rises on Friday morning, 1 March we are currently 25 miles from the entrance to Charleston Harbor, SC after departing from Beaufort, NC. We are running three hours behind schedule, thanks to unscheduled weather conditions. While the trip started out as predicted, N to NW winds 10 to 15 (stern quarter) with flat seas, the wind then decided to back to the south and build into the 20’s. This brought on short steep seas on the bow and slowed progress into the mid 6 knot range. Around midnight the weather again returned to forecast, light 5 to 10 from N. Seas settled and our ride become very comfortable. However at 0500 the wind jumped up to 25 to 35 from the NE (45), which put it 20 degrees off our starboard quarter – right now holding very steady at 29 knots. We are now averaging 7.6 knots and expected to arrive at Noon.

Bradley works on sonar

Bradley works on sonar

Overall Shear Madness is doing well. We had to chase down some new sounds as things move about in cabinets, but we were able to quiet most items very quickly. We have one new sound, some type of harmonic that we cannot pin down and will have to do some research. I fear it may have something to do with the new paint on the props, but will need to research it more. Kathy claims she cannot hear it, because it is the same pitch as my voice – that explains a lot of things. We also are experiencing a very strange problem of some extreme vibration on the supply hose to the port PTO (hydraulic power take-off). In addition our Sonar has elected to act up, after we had worked on it in Beaufort and thought we resolved it.

Our new crewmember, Gary is enjoying himself, but the steep dark ride (New Moon) around midnight caught up with him for a little while. He seems to have recovered well and stood a good watch from 0400 to 0800, the first two hours on his own. Kathy joined him at 0600 to help convert the bridge from night lighting to day running status.

Invasion? Canadian and UK warships conducting exercises near Charleston

Invasion? Canadian and UK warships conducting exercises near Charleston

We encountered very little traffic on this trip, two US Navy ships and some allies conducting exercises, a couple of tugs – one claiming to be 161 meters long and one lonely sailboat in the 40 foot range (estimate – no AIS) in the middle of the night. At least he was on a beam reach running north at the time. He will not be happy this morning as I draft this with 35 knots on the nose.

At 11:00 we dropped the anchor in the Wando River and will spend the next 6 hours washing the boat, as she is completely covered in Salt. We will spend the balance of the weekend relaxing, catching up with some old friends we met here in the past and then on Monday plan to move to the Ashley Marina in Charleston to focus on the new issues that have developed. We need to have the boat ready to go by next weekend, as we have guests arriving for 3 weeks of cruising. We now have three items on our list to resolve; Hydraulic Pulsing /noise, Sonar Issues and Tender Steering. Shortly after arriving, Gary noted a dripping problem with the hydraulic steering on the tender. She had been well exercised while at anchor. Monday morning as we entered Ashley Marina, we decided it was perfect weather to fill up both the tender and the extra tender gasoline tank on deck. We could not get gas conveniently in Beaufort. Total gas taken on was around 150 gallons. Maneuvering SM into the “Gas” dock was quite a trick as there is lots of current in the Ashley River and we were told we were the largest boat to tie up at that dock. Once completed we quickly moved to our assigned dock as the wind was building on the port side and could pin us there.

Bradley gets fuel for the tender

Bradley gets fuel for the tender

Over the weekend we had beautiful weather, shorts, biking ,running etc and Monday morning was nice, but the weather was projected to deteriorate rapidly and be nasty for the week. Wow, did it, winds up to 30 Knots, pouring rain and 30 to 40 degrees until the following Saturday.

Immediately upon settling on to the dock, Kathy contacted our electronic experts in Beaufort and Florida. She reached out to Furuno who told us of an excellent certified shop there in Charleston – MacKay Marine. We also arranged a conference call with the Furuno sonar expert in Washington State and reached out to David Sidbury (former Nordhavn owner) for his expert opinion. As we were trying to diagnose the problems the symptoms worsened – not uncommon. Now the unit would not even turn on. First thought was a fuse, so we carefully checked the multiple fusing in the system and all were good. Working through the multiple recommendations from the experts, David had the right answer for getting power to the system – unhook the Fly Bridge Controller. After careful testing, we were able to confirm that the upstairs controller was causing the power on problem, because even when the unit was already on, plugging the controller back in caused the Sonar system to crash. However, the original problem, an intermittent Train or Tilt error upon coming up, still needed to be diagnosed. Working with the Mackay tech and Furuno expert, we were able to determine the system has a random problem  and the best approach would be to exercise the unit more and hope the problem does not reappear. Then next year when we have SM out of the water, we will open and fully service the equipment located in Sonar Tube, below the water line. So we have been exercising the unit for the past two weeks while at anchor. I expected a lonely whale to show up at any point, as we would sometimes be very loudly pinging.

At the same time we reached out to some local Yamaha experts in the Charleston area, to help us solve the tender steering problem. This was really frustrating because we had just had the tender motors steering hydraulics serviced in Beaufort for similar issues. When I reached them on the phone, the tech indicated he had not worked on the issues we identified – a loose elbow on the steering cylinder, yet I clearly remembered something different. Not much one can do.

Friends Liz and Brown with Claudia, Liesl, Calvin, and Brown's parents in Charleston

Friends Liz and Brown with Claudia, Liesl, Calvin, and Brown’s parents in Charleston

As to the third and largest potential problem, our hydraulics, we received advice from two sources. One, David Sidbury came on board to catch up and review our hydraulics. He was also bearing some wonderful gifts of spares he had found in his garage. David spotted one potential issue immediately – the hydraulic Sound suppressers should be checked for Nitrogen. After conferring with Ernie at ABT, it was decided that our next stop would be Thunderbolt Marina on Monday 10 March as they had skilled hydraulic experts that could potentially help us.

Kathy introduces Darin to geocaching

Kathy introduces Darin to geocaching

We spent the week in Charleston working on sonar, making final runs to both Costco and the local stores, and generally getting the boat in order for a crossing. We also enjoyed an outstanding dinner with the Sidburys at “The Peninsula” restaurant, caught an entertaining move in 3D – Pompeii – and met with friends Liz and Brown for a wonderful home cooked meal. They had just completed a 1 year Land Yacht tour of the US. They have three extremely delightful children who are home schooled and clearly well ahead for their age. We also re-connected with friends Rich and Kate and their son Toby who we had met on a previous visit to Charleston.

Our guests, Dick and Darin, moved onboard Friday night, and the weather turned lovely for Saturday and Sunday. Kathy and I were given tickets to one of the best functions of the weekend Charleston Wine and Food Festival. It was a pairing of Pinot wines, mostly reds, with some outstanding food. It was the best wine/food festival I have ever been to. We ate and drank so much that we strolled the hour walk back to the boat.

Given the weather and our desire to get to the Bahamas with our guests, we had made arrangements to be at Thunderbolt Marina (near Savannah) Monday morning when they opened. This required a Sunday evening departure at 18:00 and Monday morning run up the Bull River in the dark. We had one of those perfect passages. In fact it was so calm, we did not even need the Stabilizers and could not replicate the hydraulic pulsing we were going there to get fixed. (We had originally planned to run up the Savannah River and down the intracoastal to Thunderbolt, but we arrived at the outer marker too early for a bridge opening on that route, so we changed plans.)

Coming up the Bull River at Thunderbolt (near Savannah)

Coming up the Bull River at Thunderbolt (near Savannah)

With the advent of Daylight savings time on Saturday, we arrived at Thunderbolt Monday morning at 07:30, just as the sun peaked over the horizon. We had a very enjoyable and low blood pressure run up the Bull. Shortly after we arrived at the marina, Tony the hydraulic manager, came down for a planning meeting. Given our inability to replicate the problem on the way in, we decided to fill the Sound Suppressors and see what else turned up. I did learn that the suppressors should be checked and topped off with 900 PSI of Nitrogen at least every year. 12 hours into our passage to the Bahamas, I can say, the system is substantially quieter, and for the most part the pulsing has not returned. We experienced it once, changed the Hydraulic Alternator we were using for a while, and now have returned to the original one with no pulsing. I have a feeling it will take a long time to pin down the specific source of the pulsing, but with 4 different combinations of the 2 PTO’s – the 2 Alternators and power demand levels we should be able to work around any issues, once they develop.

Kathy finds a geocache in Thunderbolt

Kathy finds a geocache in Thunderbolt

While in Thunderbolt, we had some beautiful weather and 2 additional problems developed that needed to be addressed. One, I had noticed since Beaufort that the Port engine starting batteries (2 * 12 = 24Volts) were not sounding as strong as the Starboard. Well, as we were departing Charleston they gave out and I had to parallel the system to start the port. (We have multiple paths and different battery groups to start each main engine). First I thought it might have been the cold weather and lack of use the past 4 months, but after giving the entire system a complete check for loose connections and corrosion we tested each 12 Volt Battery and determined we had one reading 13. 6 volts at full charge, with the second one showed 11 Volts.

We thought that getting 2 Lifeline AGM batteries would be a breeze. However our initial responses were that it would take 1 to 2 weeks from every supplier in Savannah and Hilton Head, but Kathy kept working the internet and phones. By the time she was done on Monday we had ordered 2 new AGM’s from Batteries Plus in North Palm Beach, FL for delivery on Wed. with no extra shipping cost. They actually arrived on Tuesday, less than 24 hours after placing the order, and we installed them on Wed. We have elected to keep the 13.6 volt battery as a spare, in case one of our other 22 AGM decides to go bad.

The bad shower drain pipe

The bad shower drain pipe

After multiple trips to the local HomeDepot on my bike, we were able to create a solution to the second problem, a leaking shower in the master cabin. As is often the case, the parts initially installed are from China, are made locally and not available here in the US. In addition, given the placement of the Master Shower drain, we had very limited access and needed the exact same piece. Given we have three other showers, with better access, we removed the drain pipes from a guest cabin shower and installed it on the Master. We then installed our created solution on that shower. Testing the following day indicated we had success. The irony here is that once we arrive in the Bahamas, we tend to take showers on the stern, where the view is much better, and the clean up much easier.

After some beautiful days in Savannah, we had a final blast of cold weather the day before our departure, and through the first day of trip. A weather window had developed for an early morning departure Friday – 06:00. We had the perfect tide, one hour before high tide, with a strong ebb current to help us down the Bull River.

Other than the chill in the air, it was a perfect start to the passage. Calm winds and seas greeted us as we hit the ocean at 08:30. By 17:00 the wind decided to clock to the SE directly on our course. Luckily it did not build much past 15 and often was in the single digits, but stayed on the nose for our entire trip. Given that we were also diagonally crossing the Gulf Stream, where one hour we saw Speed Over Ground (SOG) of 4.5 knots, our average of 6.6 was not too bad. The passage was very comfortable, the weather warming into the 70s on Saturday and sea temperature peaking at 79F, before settling around 73 here in the Bahamas.

Bradley shows off a tuna

Bradley shows off a tuna

On Saturday, with the calm seas, we decided to put both fishing lines out and were rewarded with multiple double strikes. The first two occurred just a few hours after setting the lines. First one, then the second almost immediately. Dick brought one in and I brought the other. Somehow I lost mine, just as it came into sight, I think it swam toward the boat and I was not quick enough on the reel. Dick got his all the way to the boat, were it jumped off, just as I was trying to gaff it. In hindsight, this turned out to be a blessing, as late that day, just as we were preparing to bring the lines in for the day, we had a second double strike. Now that we had gotten the rust out of our system, we successfully landed two wonderful Tuna in the range of 25 to 35 pounds. We cleaned, steaked and vacuum froze most of it the fish, keeping only enough fresh for our arrival dinner. These were much larger fish than the morning strike.

St. Patty's Day in the Pilot house, anchored at Crab Cay

St. Patty’s Day in the Pilot house, anchored at Crab Cay

The rest of our trip to the Bahamas was uneventful. Given the forecast for building winds and a backing to the east, we decided to enter Sunday morning via Strangers Channel and cruise down to Spanish Cay in the protection of the outer reefs and islands. It was a great passage, arriving just off Spanish Cay around 12:30. After carefully studying the chart and our bad luck on the way out of Charleston, we decided to anchor outside and use the tender to check in. All went very smoothly, except the Marina decided to charge us a $50 fee to meet customs there. We were under the impression from their website, that there was no charge for meeting customs. Given that there was only one boat in the marina they probably needed a little revenue.

After clearing in and confirming the weather was supposed to build into the 20’s from the south, we moved over to Crab Cay to anchor with strong protection from the NE to the West. This proved a very wise move because the wind did in fact build up to 30 on Tuesday, before settling down.

We are now anchored at Green Turtle Cay where we are enjoying a re-immersion into the cruising lifestyle. We explored the island, did some snorkeling and paddle boarding and enjoyed Happy Hour in the flybridge while watching a delightful sunset.

The following videos are available by clicking the link:

Our passage from Thunderbolt, GA to Green Turtle Cay (5 minutes)

Hauling a Superyacht at Thunderbolt Marine (4 minutes)

Work done on Shear Madness at Moores Marine in Beaufort, NC (8 minutes)

Click any photo below to enlarge:


  1. #1 by Wilma Grant on April 1, 2014 - 2:52 pm

    Kathy – I retired today – future contact info.

    Phone: 703-430-8278


    I was made an Honorary Member of the Supreme Court Bar yesterday by the Justices.
    Party over – FREEDOM waiting on my exit today. Will catch up later.


  2. #2 by Bri Cianelli on March 24, 2014 - 1:40 pm

    Aw, man! I was in Savannah when you were! I wish I could have met you, but I didn’t know you were there. It’s fun reading about your adventures. Maybe next time! Bri


  3. #3 by Tom Hicks on March 21, 2014 - 10:39 am

    Congratulations, Guys! I continue to envy your freedom and adventures. Keep it up and keep the reports coming. Hope you enjoy the Abacos.


  4. #4 by MacDonald-Miller, Dee (US) on March 21, 2014 - 8:20 am

    Great posting- kathy when will you be back in VA- Vio and I miss you

    Sent from my iPhone


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