Life in the Keys

Life in the Keys photos

Marathon life

After a week in OPC we left Palm Beach at 0815 and stayed close to the shoreline, never more than 5-6 miles offshore. We passed Ft Lauderdale that afternoon and Miami just as it got dark. We moved a bit further offshore and paralleled the Florida Coast.

We arrived in Marathon Florida about 28 hours later. We tucked into the small and very friendly marina on 31 Jan.

We had a hiccup with the power supply at the dock. We plugged into the forward shore power connector and kept tripping the new Bellingham power pedestal. This is a common problem with a lot of boats and the brand new or rebuilt marinas. The new marinas use an ELCI (equipment leakage circuit interrupt) circuit with measures any power leakage across the two hot and neutral legs. If it is more than 30 millivolts, it kicks off.

We had the same issue at Ft Pierce City Marina on their new floating docks. We stay on their older docks as a result.

We were really disappointed that something was wrong with the boat. We had a keys electrician come by, John Rich. He is pretty old and very hard of hearing, and I showed him our boats electrical plans.

He stared at them, for a long time. I told him what we had done, and when the breakers trip. We were able to run the 30 amp power from the pedestal to the forward inlet on the boat, but the 50 amp tripped the breaker. We eliminated to cable as a cause. But he was lost. Suggested we contact Nordhavn.

And so I did, after calling others, searching the Nordhavn Owners Group blog (NOG), I sent an email to Mike Terraria who is Nordhavn’s electrical engineer and writes the owner’s manuals and draws the system plans.

He has a possible solution for us. We have an isolation transformer on Southern Star, which should completely isolate the boat system from the shore power system. But yet we were tripping the ELCI breaker. He hypothesized that the sudden rush of current from the pedestal when it hits the isolation transformer causes a surge which trips the breaker. He suggested an inrush current limiter….

And so I ordered the part, had it rushed to Marathon. It arrived and we tried to get John back to install it.

After two days, John showed up. I showed him the device, which needed a box and adapter to plug into. He was not familiar with the device at all. He kept looking at the diagrams; we showed him the ones sent by Nordhavn. He simply looked at them again and said, “The wiring is wrong, it is too small and we have to rewire the boat.”

Jenny and I were both shocked at his change of attitude, and completely disagreed. We agreed that we would disagree and he left.

I was very mad. We have a possible solution, and now no one to install it. And so I started calling every electrician in Marathon. Most were too busy; another one was very interested in the issue but could not come out until next week.

He texted me, asked me about the cables, and the way the failure occurred. He got me to thinking about it again from the beginning. Isolation transformer, all shore power connections go into isolation transformer-30 amp is okay, 50 amp trips. Then I realized that all attempts to connect to the new ELCI pedestals had been via the forward shore power connections.

I decided to run the cable across the boat to the aft connection. I disconnected, turned off the breakers, and inserted the 50 amp into the aft connector, turned on the ELCI breaker. It stayed on… went into the pilothouse, turned on the shore power switch. It showed 230 volts… what… turned on the Air con circuit… it showed 230 volts…

And so we are now plugged into shore power. No problem with the ELCI breaker. I have the electrician that got me to thinking about the sequence coming to the boat next week to look at the forward shore power connection to see where the problem lies. At least it’s not the boat. It does not need to be re-wired…

I feel a great flood of relief.

Moral to the story-go to the simplest, most obvious step first.

And so we are now chilling here in Marathon. We are now waiting for a few weeks to head over to the Bahamas.

We are doing projects as we spend our time here in the Keys.

We ordered a sliding screen door for the salon. It had to be custom made as the door is a bit shorter than a door in a house. The ‘Dream Screen’ arrived within a week of ordering it. I needed to pack it out away from the door frame for the screen to close without hitting the plastic locking pads for the door. So we bicycled down to Home depot, and we purchased some ¾”x 1 ½” PVC molding material- 8’ long.

And so I tied the moldings to my bicycle seat and the handlebars and straddled them and rode carefully the 3 mile ride back to the boat. No crashes were reported.

And the screen went together nicely. With a little white duct tape, I was able to finish the edges so that bugs could not slide by the packers and get into the boat.

We also ordered some slide in racks for the galley pantry. We were proud of ourselves for thinking of turning one of the existing shelves upside down, with the 2” fiddle rail down, so that the sliding rack was flush. I had to put a small block across the top of the shelf, so it did not rock when the slide was pulled out. But it works a treat.

We also finished the waxing and polishing on the boat. We launched the dinghy one afternoon to explore the surrounding waterways, anchorage, mooring fields and mangroves.

With the dinghy in the water, we finished waxing the boat deck; Doing the hard work in the morning in the shade, until it got too hot and sunny. Over the next week or so we finished the boat deck, the bow deck, the inside of the fly bridge. And Miss Southern Star looks bright and shiny.

We also cleaned and polished the stainless railings on the boat deck, and the fly bridge. We also cleaned, sanded and re-oiled the teak cap rail in the cockpit.

Here’s a story about living the floating dream.

A few nights ago, I had just poured a scotch, settled down to watch ‘Bloodline’ on Netflix; when we both smelled an unusual smell.

Went around the boat sniffing, to engine room, where we had water coming in from the starboard side through a limber hole. Panicking a bit tasted the water… fresh. I started opening floor boards, trying to find the water line break. Turned off pressure pump, water slows to a trickle. After 2 hours of moving 5 gallon pails of oil, spare parts, tools, etc. could not find the leak.

At least we were not sinking. I was sweating as worked, as I had turned off air con thinking it might be the ac cooling pump, before I tasted the water. So. Turn on cool. That was better. We opened up the salon settee storage are with cases of cans of provisions, to inspect the fresh water lines going into the cockpit. Ok.

Went back to ER, I was getting pretty bummed. Checked the limber hole again, the area above and forward, found water, kept going forward, more moisture, then into the compartment where the pressure pump, filter, and fresh water manifold live.

Found a tee fitting, metal that connects with a quick fitting to the plastic tube that supplies the cold water to the boat. The plastic connector was broken.


Dug around, got the old broken connector off the tee, sanded the fitting, removed all corrosion, inserted new connector, and pressed in plastic tube into the other end. Pump on, massive leak at plastic tube end. Remove tube, check for burs, clean off, reinsert, twist, press up hard, and pull back again, hard.

Water pump on. And success. No leak. Very proud of myself, we turn on back up pump. The terrible smell was from the pressure switch on the main pump, which had been running constantly for an unknown time; the plastic body that housed the switch had melted.

I would replace the switch tomorrow, as I had just ordered a spare for the pump.

And that is how some; luckily, rare days on a boat can go.

Anticipating our departure soon to the Bahamas, I decided to change the pre filters on the water maker, to make sure it was running well.

I finished to the job, bled the air out of the system, and turned it on. Kept getting an alarm, the system would restart, get an alarm, and then would shut down.

Trouble shooting guide, said make sure water getting to the water maker. Re-checked, re-bled filters removed sea strainer filer and cleaned it in acid. Ran system with pressure valve open to bled air.

Again, I was stuck. I called Alex Miller of Sea Tech. He is the local solar expert, and also Spectra water maker dealer.

He came by after a few days to try to help me out. Discovered the product flow sensor connection was corroded, and was not feeding back to the head unit. Easy fix and we are back and making water

Alex and I discussed solar panels for the boat. The reason we were actually here in Marathon. But with the Auto Pilot failure, we decided the solar system was too expensive for now.

But Alex looked over the boat, the bimini top where it would go, and gave me a ball park quote. And he said he can do it next week… So I think we will go for it.

I have been running some electric consumption estimates, and I am hoping that with 4 x 330 Watt panels, we will be making enough energy to be almost self-sufficient and will not need the generator to run the boat. But even if that is the best scenario, we will at least cut back generator time to ¼ to ½ the amount of time we run now when on the hook, about 4-5 hours per day.

We have had some time to play as well. It’s been very hot, 85 degrees during the day. The air conditioning saves us. We go to the pool late in the afternoon to cool off and I stay in the shade and read.

We’ve met some fellow boaters at the pool. Pete is a retired NYC firefighter, lives on a 30’ power boat, which looks a bit like a little tug. He calls it ‘The Dirty Tug’. We also met another solo boater, Bert a retired Air Force pilot, doing the loop on a 28’ Grady White (outboard powered cabin boat).

We had drinks on board last night with Pete and Bert. Bert is really interested in a Nordhavn for himself, and he really seemed to enjoy seeing the boat. We remember when we were ‘dreamers’, how nice most of the Nordhavn owners we met were to us.

So we try to encourage and sell the dream to other dreamers.

We also saw old friends from Brunswick Marina that we met two years ago, on ‘No Plans.’ Barb and Kevin. We spent a couple of days with them, in separate dinghies touring the waterways to the south.

Marathon is webbed with canals and houses. The range is amazing, from trailers to Ft Lauderdale mansions.

We did happy hour one evening at Cast Aways, on the canal behind us. Next morning we also had brunch with Mimosas.

It’s been nice to meet fellow cruisers. Many very different here than others we met along the way.

Marathon is the destination for most of the boats here. There is also a RV (Land Cruisers) area that has room for about 12 RV’s. These are all very high end, and have amazing views over the bay with full sunsets at the end of the day.

We see the same folks from the RV’s each day at the pool.

It all feels a bit like summer camp for oldies….


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