Leaving Key Largo

the view from the upper keys sailing club in key largo

We made it to the Bahamas, but it wasn’t without incidence.  The location of Tarpon Basin in Key Largo where we spent 8 months was in a tricky spot to get to the ocean.  You either had to travel south for 6 hours to go under the only drawbridge in the keys, Shark Creek, or travel north 6 hours to traverse Angelfish Creek cut.  We chose to head north as that would put us in a good position for crossing the gulf stream.  Sometimes though the best way to get moving is to just pull anchor from a familiar place and go anchor 30min away. So that was what we did.  Erik went to pull anchor as I manned the wheel.  After the anchor was up I put the boat into forward, slowly increased throttle and noticed the engine wasn’t responding as usual… and then she died.  Erik came back into the cockpit wondering what I did, but I just let him go through the same motions as I.  Started it up, put it in forward, slowly ease up on the throttle…. and she died.  At this point we realized something was wrong so he ran forward and dropped anchor.  We had moved a total of 300 ft.  Wow this was a bummer, right as we are ready to leave we run into our first serious engine problem.  Knowing that 90% of diesel engine issues are fuel issues, we started with the fuel filter.  Erik quickly changed the filter and clicked the engine over.  This click starts the fuel flowing through the engine system and we could see the fuel was filling the filter so we knew that wasn’t the issue.  From the behavior of the engine our next guess was the fuel pump.  Luckily we had a spare on hand as we tried to buy as many spares for as many components as we could.  Unfortunately it wasn’t an exact fit with the mounting bolts (when is it ever?).  So Erik managed to rig something up and we thought he did a pretty decent job.

Erik changing the fuel filter, thats not the problem

After fixing the fuel pump we headed north to the next bay over.  We got together one last time for dinner at Hobo’s Cafe with some of our friends that had been such a huge support while we were in Key Largo.  It was really bittersweet because I loved our time spent in the Keys and the people we met there were all so amazing.  The next day we headed to angelfish creek.  On the way there I had plenty of time to read reviews of the cut on active captain, and it was only then that I realized this wasn’t some easily traversed cut and that there could be a potential we would have an issue with our larger draft vessel, we draw 5.5ft and some folks mentioned seeing 6ft at low tide.  Thats cutting it way too close.  Once we arrived in the evening, we dropped anchor and we took our dinghy to motor through the cut.  We brought our measuring stick (a 7ft homemade oar we found floating somewhere). It was a falling tide, we found a couple of spots where the water was a little lower, around 6-7ft, but what then concerned me more was the amount of current that was generated from the falling tide.  We realized that we needed to make sure we traversed this narrow cut surrounded by reefs at high tide not only for depths but because it would also mean it was slack tide meaning little to no current.  We checked our resources and discovered that high tide was at 11pm… It was then 6pm so we ate quick dinner and made sure to go to bed at 8 for a couple hours of rest before we attempted to cross the gulf stream.

a few of the best people we met while in the keys! i miss them all so much!

Irma destruction on our way north

a beautiful calm evening at angelfish creek. can’t tell where the sky ends and the water begins

Our alarms woke us at 11, we turned on our lights and pulled anchor.  Since we scouted the inlet a few hours earlier we felt comfortable leaving at night.  We made it through with the lowest depths we saw at around 8.5ft.  Glad that was over with.  We pulled out the sails and began motorsailing.  Once we had traveled a mile or two, I headed back down to take a quick nap as Erik is more of a night person and I tend to be more of a early morning person.  He called me up about an hour later to help him figure out what he was seeing and comparing it to our AIS.  The lights at night are sometimes tricky as you try to distinguish what direction ships are moving.  Once we figured out that it was a large cruise ship that was lit up miles away from us, I retreated back down below and was instantly met with a strong smell of diesel. We removed the engine cover to find our rigid fuel line had sprung a small leak and was indeed squirting diesel all over the engine bay. Time to kill the engine. We didn’t panic.  We had sails up and the wind was working with us as well as the gulf stream current.   We then realized that we would not be making it to the bahamas that day.

the bandaid we made to be able to use the motor lightly. you can see the rigid fuel line is our issue.

I took over navigating while erik pulled out some spare tubing, zip ties, and made the engine at least functional but it was just a band aid.  We realized the flaw in our initial install of the fuel pump was that the rigid fuel lines caused so much vibration they broke.  Unfortunately we didn’t have any flexible fuel line.  Erik assessed we would also need a difficult to source bit called a banjo bolt.  We decided to reroute to Miami and fix our issues.  We sailed the rest of the way there (about 8-10hrs), but a cold front was headed our way so we used our engine to tuck inside an anchorage called hurricane harbor for a few days while we decompressed from a pretty stressful trip. After the wicked weather blew through we moved our boat to the other side of Biscayne Bay into the coconut grove area.

ragnarok anchored in coconut grove

We anchored just north of the dinner key mooring field.  I was expecting the area to be crowded but realized Irma had cleared a lot of boats from the anchorage. We saw them salvage 2-3 boats per day while we were there, and they piled them up in a park nearby.  We were able to easily land our dinghy and walk around the area.  With the destruction from Irma still fresh I believe we were able to fly under the radar and we had a very nice trip in Miami instead of what I had read about it being inhospitable.

salvage work after irma in miami

Erik was able to source the bits he would need to repair the fuel pump and one of our good friends was able to drive us around to get the spare parts we needed.  Erik made the fuel pump and connections better than they were before and we were then again ready to leave for the Bahamas.

our new and improved fuel filer (silver box) is mounted to the engine bay wall, new flexible fuel line, and new fitting including the banjo bolt


we may not always end up where we are headed but its more important that youre by my side.




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7 Responses

  1. Bill Hutton says:

    Excellent post guys. Glad you’re doing well. It’s amazing what we have to do to keep our 30 year old boats and engines working – great job. Best of luck in the Bahamas.

  2. Ray says:

    Great to hear you guys are doing well . I was beginning to wonder keep us posted

  3. Rhonda says:

    Love your posts. I’m am living vicariously from them. You guys are awesome! ! Have fun

  4. Peggy Rispoli says:

    hi kid sure do miss you……glad all is well with you 2….

    • cgrabens says:

      gosh i sure do miss you guys too! i was just thinking about you today! hope all is well and its not too hectic over there.

  5. Peggy Rispoli says:

    Hi c.j. just wanted you to know i’m keeping Sheba alive ……hope all is well with you. miss you still…peggy

  6. Paul Martin says:

    Oops! Sorry I was not seeing this earlier. Ann and I left Bella in Massachusetts while we worked from mile mark 27 in the Keys for January and February. Would have loved to meet you guys in the flesh, and we had spare bedrooms if you had wanted to see the southern end of the Keys while your boat was in Key Largo.

    And fuel issues — this year the east coast had enough diesel problems that West Marine had to repay un-fill-able orders for odd parts (like the final filter on Westerbeke 27 — our shared engine model) and to switch orders for more standard parts (like Racor 10 micron) from their east coast warehouses to their west coast warehouses…

    After half a dozen times where we sailed to our mooring while cursing the fuel problems, we did finally get a working engine for the last part of the season here — but we are now facing the final days before winterizing. Sure wish we could join you in the Carib for a shared anchorage! Send us more stories.

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