To see as much of the world as we can,
Using the smallest carbon footprint we can,
Spending the least amount of money we can,
Making as many friends we can.

Team Red Cruising

Southbound Phase III, Day 4-5, New Life

We had some problems. Some we solved, some we didn't solve. We had some disputes; they're resolved now. I think.

In the morning, I found that when the dinghy's fuel tank is COLD, it doesn't leak. So we started the day by going ashore. We do love Cumberland Island.

CA Birding on Cumberland Island
CA Birding on Cumberland Island ""

After our hike, it was time to depart. We found that when the sun was warm, the dinghy tank still wept fuel. If I jammed the fuel line into the tank (while driving) it didn't weep as badly. (We really, really need to fix this.) I don't have a good solution on the boat because you can't easily wrap fuel lines in tape to keep them from leaking. The fuel acts as a solvent on the adhesive.

At about 13:00 we started the engine, hauled in all 80′ of chain, and started south. Anticipated arrival in NSB is tomorrow at 08:00.

This went great for about ½ hour or so. Then. (Music cue.)

Engine issue. All hands on deck.

Mr. Lehman is slowing and speeding up. "happy-rumble-rumble-rumble-sad-lug-lug-lug-lug-happy-rumble-rumble-sad-lug-lug-lug". Cycling through this pattern as we listen in horror. Good and straining. Good and straining.

Okay. Okay. Breathe. Option 1 is bail out: go back and try to sort this out. Hold that thought.

Review of Basic Diesel Theory (BDT™).

  • Fuel

  • Air

  • Compression

When in doubt, blame the fuel, fuel filters, fuel tank. All of that stuff. We have a Racor dual filter. Switch the filters from #1 (outboard) to #2 (inboard, and almost never used.)

Results? No change. Happy-then-lugging-then-happy-then-lugging.

Air is unrestricted. Compression doesn't cycle. It's there or the cylinder simply doesn't fire. This isn't a misfiring cylinder.

Consider option 1 again. Go back, but maybe to Fernandina where we might be able to get a mechanic.

Okay. Stare at the engine some more. Throttle linkage? Nope. Shutoff linkage? Nope.

Hm. Hm. Hm. Bang head on wall.

Okay. Time for advanced Diesel Theory (ADT™).

  • Load

What can make the load on the engine vary? Something wrapped on the axel or prop? No. All our lines are aboard. We've wrapped lines on the prop twice, and we don't get lugging. We get pounding and shaking as the line flogs against the hull.

CA notes the RPM's are all over the map. This is a hint. The Alternator provides the RPM feed for the binnacle. More specifically the ARS-5 regulator provides the feed from the alternator.

It must be the only other thing connected to the engine. The Alternator. The Alternator is dying. It's 10 years old and it's already dying. I have a spare. We can cope. Here's the tentative plan: go back, swap it out.

First, however, let's gather data.

The Balmar ARS-5 voltage regulator has a display that cycles through a bunch of details. If there's a problem, the display will list the part that's not working. (Years ago, I set the regulator to use "long form" display with ALL the details.)

I sit by the engine and write down what it shows.

BAL A-5, Fdc, 10-0, -F-, bv 134, Cv 134, B1 nc, AL nc, FE 015, r 15, SP 30C, SLP 060, Hr 466 10, FbA 065, FFL 065, E 15, E 11

Generally, it's working. BAL A-5 is the version. FdC is flooded cell. The two error codes at the end (E 15 and E 11) are missing sensors, not failures. The -F- means it's in float charge mode; we went through bulk and absorption already. The FE 015 is the amount of energy in the field coils used to generate power. This FE value changes on each cycle through the messages. This means the load on the alternator is fluctuating.

After staring at the controller, I glanced at the ammeter on the power panel. I see —3.5A: an alarming thing. It means the engine is not producing enough power to run the chart plotter and radio. In float mode it should be 1 or 2 A above demand. Always.

Okay. Option 1 of bailing out is looking better and better right now.

What do we know? We know the alternator is not producing enough power. I think the lugging might be when the alternator goes on. And the happy rumble is when the alternator goes back off.

This means I need gather more data on why it's cycling. I watch the ARS-5 cryptic message stream a few more times.

This is when I observed the FE change. I look back at the ammeter. I see +2.3A.


What? Now it is producing enough power? A minute ago it was not?

What the heck!?! Hey, ARS-5, why you cycling the alternator on and off? Give me one good reason!

The Inspiration

I think I've found a culprit: the solar charge controller could be creating confusion. Two of the panels are new, which means I've added 110W of power to the existing ~300W of panels. (Also, the new panels have proper diodes, making them much less likely to be burned out by the alternator or being in the shade.)

If the batteries are already being charged from the panels, the alternator doesn't need to do much work. If the solar panels are not charging, the alternator needs to do extra work. This may be what we're seeing: a dispute over battery voltage. Each controller is seeing voltage levels high enough that it shuts down. Then the voltage drops and they both kick back in, only angry. A kind of head-to-head, "If you won't, I will!" brawl.

I turn off the solar panels. Engine evens out. Solved. New line in the Standard Operating Procedures (SOP): no panels while motoring. Makes sense.

This also means that it's entirely possible the previous panels — without proper diodes — were being baked by the alternator. It's hard to say what — exactly — the solar charge controller used to do when the engine was running.

We've been working our way south with the new panels for weeks and weeks. Why now? What changed? Is it really the brighter, more direct southern sunshine? We've moved about 10° of latitude S since October. The sun, too, has moved from its low on Dec 21 of about 30° elevation at noon (in the Alligator River) up to about 46° elevation at noon (in New Smyrna Beach). Maybe gaining 25° of "insolation" might be the change. Something to think about for the next 18 hours.

The Passage

The seas started at 1-2′; wind was 10-12. CA put up the Yankee so we could throttle back the engine a bit. Sometime late at night, they built to 2-3′, but the wind dropped, leaving us rolling along without any sails. It was a tolerable roll, unlike the day 2 where we decided to bail out.

18 hours of watching and sleeping. It was a good night.

CA spotted Northern Gannets well out at sea. It's on her birding life-list as a never-before seen species. 29°09.208′N, 080°53.681′W. No picture, sadly. It's hard to do close work, like spying through a moving camera without getting more sea-sick than they already were.

A few miles from Ponce de Leon we starting getting a DSC message to our radio specifically: Something something don't go near, "33 CFR 165.775". We looked it up after arrival. It's the Cape Canaveral Safety Zone. We were headed that way, but never (as far as I know) crossed the actual boundary. No one hailed is on channel 16 or 22A to tell us to get the hell out of there before rocket parts fell on us.

The Arrival

The Ponce De Leon inlet is a sphincter-clencher. Some of the marks are missing, making it challenging to find the channel. It was a bit scary for a few moments, but the tide was still high enough that I managed to find deeper water before anything bad happened. It turns out the channel clings to the sea wall scary close. Now I know.

Looking for the anchorage means threading though the dayboards in the Sheephead Cut, something we didn't do very well. I clipped one with a shroud. More care is required in the channel. Now I know.

Bahamian Mooring
Chain goes one way, rope goes the other

The downtown anchorage is tight. Bahamian mooring kind of tight. We put out one anchor, and had a neighbor stop by to remind us that most of the boats had two anchors, which limits their swinging.

The picture is looking down over the bow pulpit. Chain going one way. Rope going the other. It means the bow can't move much, but we can spin around this spot. Which is how all the other boats are set up — small, small circles.

We're so used to single anchor in the Chesapeake that we often assume everyone will be swinging in a big circle. Wrong assumption. After lunch, when we finally took more careful looks at all the other boats, we saw everyone down a this end of the anchorage had a Bahamian mooring.

We slacked the Rocna, motored into the current, and deployed the backup Bruce, snugging ourself into a very narrow little circle. I still ran the anchor alarm app to make damn sure we aren't moving. So far, 54′ from the original position, which includes 23′ of walking from bowsprit (where I took the mark) to cockpit (where the phone sits.)

We're anchored at 29°01.6428′N, 080°55.0132′W. Water's around 8′ deep and we have two rodes of 50′ to hold us here.

The Good News

We had a delightful passage. Solved problems. Made distance.

Bonus points:

A. It's warm.

B. The marine supply store (North Causeway Marine) is a solid .25 mile away. We can see the dinghy dock from here. When the rains ends, I can grab a pocket full of tools, dinghy over, rebuild my fuel line and dinghy back without any more drippage.

Rain forecast for Sunday morning. Crappy weather at sea Monday and Tuesday. So. We may be waiting here for a few days. CA found the laundromat. Or take the ICW. So far, it seems good to wait. An ocean passage (even one as short as 18 hours) is hard physical labor. A day of rest is essential.


Attribute Value
Depart St. Mary's River 30°46.255′N 081°28.264′W
Arrive New Smyrna Beach 29°01.6428′N, 080°55.0132′W
Distance 116 nm
Time 20h 13m
Engine 20h 13m