Bringing Windsong Home, Leg 4. Stuart to Merritt Island

We left Windsong in Stuart on its mooring ball for a week before I was able to get back there and begin the fourth leg with my Dad.  The plan was to motor up the ICW to Harbortown Marina in Merritt Island with an overnight anchor between. I was concerned while it was there because the stuffing box was leaking worse than it ever had, and I couldn’t get it to stop dripping before we left. I did my best to stem the flow by tying some torn up towels around it, but knew that would help little. The bilge pump could keep up with the flow, and would run a few times a day. However, I didn’t know how long my batteries would last with the pump running frequently. Luckily I remembered to change the battery switch to the house batteries rather than its default setting of house + starter batteries. I realized I left it like that when Windsong was in Ft. Myers, and made a mental note to never leave the switch on both when not charging or motoring.  I can afford to drain the house batteries, but not the engine starter battery

We arrived in Stuart on Thursday evening (April 1st) a few hours before dark. First order of business was to dinghy all of our gear out to the boat, which wasn’t nearly as exciting as the nighttime ordeal we faced in Ft. Myers. After the gear was loaded (only took one trip) we enjoyed a beer then paddled back to shore to get some dinner at the marina restaurant. After dinner we had to paddle back in the dark and crashed soon after. As usual I didn't get any sleep, mind racing about what the next couple of days would hold.

The first day’s ride would be 2/3 of the trip, making progress all the way up to south Melbourne. I knew it would be a long day, some 60 nautical miles; but I wanted a shorter day on Saturday so we could have time to pick up cars and make it home at a reasonable hour.

The morning started off routinely and we were off the mooring ball by 7:45 a.m. After only about 20 minutes of motoring, the engine once again started to choke up. I knew instantly it was the air intake silencer again so I went below to mess with it. After some adjusting of the silencer the choking stopped and the engine ran fine for a while longer.

The first part of the day was continuing along the Okeechobee Waterway until it merges with the ICW. As we approached the ICW the St. Lucie inlet became visible and I was ecstatic to finally see the Atlantic Ocean! It was a great milestone and almost an overwhelming feeling to finally see familiar waters.

First look of the Atlantic:

The tide was coming in, and as we approached the inlet the current was pushing against us and slowing us down to almost 4.5 knots. I was freaking out, thinking the engine was fouling up but it sounded fine and the instrument panel wasn’t indicating a problem. I then realized what was going on as I checked the tide table and stopped worrying about it. The intersection of the Okeechobee waterway and the ICW at the inlet was very narrow, shallow, and crowded. If you ask me it was a much worse place than the Miserable Mile on the West coast. I was well prepared thanks to Cruisers Net and navigated us safely until we finally were able to turn North. It was a grand feeling to be finally going North.

The ride was uneventful for a few more hours until the engine started making very strange sounds. This time it was not a familiar one that I have dealt with before, it was a loud POP POP POP POP with white smoke coming out of the exhaust. I tried to assess the situation but failed to conclude what the problem was. I referenced all of my diesel books and eventually became overwhelmed with what the problem actually could be. To test some things out I revved up the engine and immediately the popping and smoke stopped. My guess was either piston blow-by or maybe some water in the engine. Any ideas? Regardless, the problem stopped and never returned thank goodness. It was a scary sound and seemed pretty serious, definitely something I need to investigate when the big overhaul begins.

I hoisted the main and staysail so that we could motorsail and have at least some propulsion if the engine failed. Sure enough, about an hour later, another terrible sound erupted from the engine room. This time it was a high pitched squealing, so loud we couldn't tell where it was coming from. The sound would come for a few seconds then disappear for a while, then come back a few minutes later. Both my Dad and I tried to assess the problem, but couldn’t figure it out since it kept disappearing. After a while of staring at the engine waiting for the sound, it finally came and kept going for about 30 seconds. My dad, who was looking at the engine while it happened, honed the sound to the shaft near the stuffing box. His words to me were “come look at the stuffing box and tell me if it looks right”. Sure enough, the packing nut had loosened itself all the way off the threads and was hanging onto the shaft and causing the sound. Even a layer of the packing from inside the nut had come out, it was a mess. We cut the engine and I did my best to re-pack the flax and tighten the nut back onto the threads. After doing so something magic happened, the leaking stopped completely! Re-packing the loose flax seemed to do the trick and from then on the stuffing box was no longer an issue and to this date (about a month later) it is still leak free. It drips when running to cool the shaft, but doesn’t spew water in like it used to.

I spent the rest of the day being a nervous wreck about the engine, but it never gave us any problems after that. The ICW was a pretty ride, but the day was getting long and I was dead tired at the end. At around 7:00 we arrived at the anchorage and set hook for the night. It was a neat spot with a few other boats and well protected from the winds and wake. We had some beers, made some sandwiches and I got to work rigging up my poles to fish. I threw out some dried chum I had bought for inshore saltwater fishing, and it seemed to work. Unfortunately the only fish interested in it were catfish, not my ideal catch. We ended up hooking catfish over and over, some decent sized ones that gave a good fight, but nothing worth keeping.

The anchorage:

Ship wrecked at the island next to us. Picture taken through the binoculars:

Lots of catfish:

We hit the sack early, and after a long day and lack of sleep from the previous night I was able to get some Z’s. It was my first night on the hook with Windsong, so while I was nervous about our holding I was so exhausted that worrying couldn’t even keep me up.

The next morning we raised the anchor and set off soon after sunrise. The engine behaved and the ride was fun leading up to Cocoa. I considered this stop to finally be home, since I was still living in Orlando at the time and Cocoa was the closest spot to keep it. Of course, Windsong’s final resting place will be St. Augustine, but Cocoa would be its home for the next month until I was settled at my new job in St. Augustine. So while technically the Journey wasn’t over, this leg felt like the end of it to me. I was finally done with unfamiliar territory, finally done having to park cars in two different cities to do a leg, finally done with the stress of having the boat far away.

Morning:

Arriving in Cocoa was a fantastic feeling, particularly going under the 528 bridge that I had crossed hundreds of times while driving to the beach. Docking at the marina proved difficult as the waterway was very narrow to maneuver into the slips. Thankfully all of my practice on this trip had prepared me and I was getting pretty good at maneuvering the boat by now. My new marina neighbors were very helpful while docking and proved to be great folks over the next few weeks I was at the marina.

Approaching 528:

Crossing the line

As of now, Windsong has been there for almost a month and it is finally time to move her further North. I could take her straight to St. Augustine, but I have a friend flying down from Connecticut who wants to enjoy a sail before Windsong goes to the boat yard. This weekend I will be moving her up to Titusville, some 17 nm up the ICW from Cocoa. I wanted to keep her in Titusville until my friend comes down so that we have a good spot to view the shuttle launch scheduled for the Friday we start the final leg. So two more weeks in Titusville then its time to bring her home and finish the Journey. Then its onto the next journey – the boatyard and complete refit/repair/rebuild of the boat.