Jan 15, 2019
After a long 8 days in Miami with the boat on the hard, we were getting very excited to finally be under way. There have been few delays in getting the rudder fixed, mainly due to shipping time to get materials on site for the repairs, but it was still frustrating to keep having our departure postponed. It is now Tuesday afternoon and the boatyard has us scheduled for a 1:30 launch which will allow us to get down the Miami River to beat the two-hour afternoon bridge closure period which starts at 4:30pm. Of course, as these things go, the boat got launched a bit later due to yard problems and then when we went to start it up and… nothing. The engine would not fire. Battery sounded dead and after a couple tries it was obvious that we had another issue. Checked the connections and found that one of the starter battery terminals had worked slightly loose and the additional resistance had fried the cable terminal and the battery post. Arrgggh!
Off to the auto parts store to get a new starting battery and cable. We got back to the boat about 7pm and after hooking everything up, I still could not get the engine to start. We are getting tired and frustrated and obviously this is not going to happen tonight so the boys fix up some grub and I pull out the diesel engine book along with the engine manual and start sifting through possible causes. After reading through the various reasons that the engine might not fire (not many), I made a guess that the battery I had bought did not have the cranking amps to generate the needed compression. Diesel engines rely on compression to ignite the fuel in the chamber, but what I didn’t realize was that the compression needed to happen somewhat rapidly. More rapidly than the battery I bought could do.
Morning arrives and the boatyard is in a hurry to see us off their dock to make room for other boats. I grab an Uber down to West Marine and get a bigger battery and Bingo! That was it. Once it turned over, the engine fired right up and we were off. We let loose our lines and made it down the Miami River, past all the manatee we had been looking to see and then back to Key Biscayne where we could spend the day relaxing and getting ready to depart across the gulf stream that evening.
Our plan for the crossing was to depart early evening so that we would arrive at Bimini and the Bahama Banks around dawn. It is highly recommended that you enter the banks only with good light so you can see and shoals or coral heads. As 7pm rolls around, we are headed out to the Florida Stream officially on our way to Bimini. Yay!
The wind is light so we are motoring the southeast to get a bit of a jump on the current in the stream and after about 30 minutes, BOOM! We hear a muffled bang from the engine room. Quickly turning off the engine, we put up the jib to keep us slightly heading offshore and then I go down to figure out what the hell happened now. The engine room is filled with exhaust and steam. I start finding large pieces of black fiberglass laying haphazardly around the compartment and then I notice that the muffler has a huge hole in the top of it and that cooling seawater from the exhaust has sprayed completely throughout the engine room. Oh Great! What is this going to do to our schedule and how are we going to get it fixed?
I go back up and soberly let the boys know what I’ve seen. At the moment, we still have light winds and before we make any decision, we need to concentrate on sailing away from any dangers, particularly Foley Rocks that are just west of us. We founder a bit in the light wind, back and forth a bit north then a bit east, Foley Rock light only a half mile away is a constant reminder of our need to make progress. We eventually start to get a little wind that allows us to make progress to the east.
Our options are basically limited from here. We are must rely sail propulsion only and will need to sail through the night to whichever destination we decide on. If we head back towards Miami, I can get a tow once we get close or within one of the bays or cuts, but this still might present challenges. Alternatively, we can continue on to the Bahamas and look for repair options there. I lay out the options to Alex & Sam and propose that we choose the second option. We are a sailboat and since we have to sail anyway, my opinion was that we are just as well off to continue on our way and to Bimini under sail power and then worry about getting the engine fixed in the Bahamas. Looking back, I am not sure if this was the best decision, but at the time it made sense. The boys agreed and we sailed east.
The rest of the night was a very decent sail, the wind allowed us to head directly east on a beam reach with reefed sails and everyone did well. After the first hour, we heard the breath sounds of a pod of dolphins that had come up and were swimming alongside Nefertari as we sailed in the moonlight. They paced the boat for 15-20 minutes and were an absolute delight and I hoped, a good omen for our decision. The wind built to about 15-20 knots through the night with 4-6 foot seas but the swell was gentle and everyone got into the swing of really sailing. It was amazing that the lights from Miami stayed visible on the western horizon all the way across. Dawn broke and shortly after sunrise, we saw the islands of Bimini poke over the horizon. Sam and Alex were very impressed with my meager breakfast attempts as I made everyone the infamous “Eggies in a Basket”.
Since our plan was to continue onto the banks and head to Mackie Shoal, we tried to work our way north up past the Bimini islands, but the wind just died on us and we could not get any closer than about 2 miles off. We spent the entire day drifting along to finally get about 3 miles towards our destination just north of the islands. By the time a little wind did pick up, it was closing on late afternoon and we decided to make a dash for an anchorage, just off the west side of North Bimini. Active Captain notes were a godsend at this point as we barely had light to make out any features on the shore or bottom, but we were able to get to a place with a clear sand bottom with good holding and with almost no wind and that from the East, we slept well. The morning presented the beauty of the Bahamas as the water was truly “gin clear” and we could see every detail on the bottom clearly at 20 feet. We had a quick swim and all felt very glad to be there.