We woke with the sun, fired-up the generator and began to wash the salt off the boat. We were going home after all and thought Muddy Waters should look ship shape inside and out after a year at sea. We phoned our family to let them know our ETA was 11-ish, pointing out again that a stuck bridge, boat traffic or mechanical difficulties could all impact our arrival time. As soon as I said that I knew I’d done it. Sailors, this captain included, are superstitious, and I knew I shouldn’t have uttered the words mechanical difficulties. Below decks, Muddy Waters has beautifully crafted teak everywhere, a Krogen trademark. And, perhaps like the Irish to this day, we’ve knocked on this fine wood regularly. The kids know the drill, and they knock when needed.
Knocking didn’t help this time. Too big an error I guess. Not five minutes after opening my trap, Jennifer asked if I’d turned off the generator since it had suddenly gone quiet. No, I hadn’t. Keenan, Daria? Nope. I went to the pilothouse and pushed down the low oil-pressure override switch, which also allowed me to check the temperature on the gauge. It read 200 degrees. Normal operating temperature is 170 degrees. Hmmm. I took our infrared heat gun, went with Keenan into the engine room and tested the temperature beneath the generator’s sound shield. Same reading, extra hot. I like my coffee that way but not my metal parts. A cooling problem. Some sort of water flow blockage maybe. A disintegrated impeller. Spilled coolant. Engine gremlins. Could be one of a few things, but there’s no question about what, or who, caused it. Yours truly.
I texted Dennis Fox, whom we’d just seen days before, and he agreed it sounded like the impeller might be shot. Keenan joined me in the engine room again, handing over the necessary instruments from our tool box. We closed the ball valve for the generator intake through-hull, removed the cover for the raw water pump (which had cooled sufficiently) and extracted the old impeller. We’d last changed it only 110 hours before and our schedule is usually to change it after 150 hours. It looked to be in perfect shape. We replaced it just in case. I also cleaned out the sea-water strainer one more time and found a small salad of sea weed but not enough to clog things up too badly. Double hmmmm. No coolant seemed to have escaped either.
We have a separator at the muffler that sends the hot water (which extracts heat from the engine) out through hull below the water line and the air out an exhaust pipe above the waterline, so Dennis suggested closing the through-hull and seeing if significant cooling water was coming out of the exhaust on the transom. With the generator further cooled after time spent working on it, we turned it on again. Water gushed from the exhaust like from a fire hose. Good sign. Watching the gauge and using the infrared heat gun, we saw the temperature rise and then stabilize at 170 degrees for five, ten, then fifteen minutes.
I surely created the issue (captain’s responsibility), but it’s hard to say what I caused to happen. Maybe a plastic bag or even a mylar birthday balloon briefly stuck over the water intake below the hull. Whatever the cause, the genset seemed to be running fine – just like it had from day one. With all systems up and running, we laughed at the frequency with which the sea teaches and reiterates lessons. Our little mechanical problem reminded us to be wary of fixed times on the water, approach problems like a detective, and fix things with your own hands if ever you can.
Nearly ready to weigh anchor from our beautiful spot off Key Biscayne and head for our home port of Miami Beach, we ran an idea by the kids. We asked if they’d like to drive themselves home the last few miles in Mudcat, our dinghy (the dink, in sailor speak). We thought it would be fun and also practical. Practical because with the dink down the kids could use it while Muddy Waters sits in the marina slip. We also thought it was a nice symbol of the seamanship and independence they learned over this year of travel by water. Mudcat, after all, has been their responsibility from the beginning of our journey. They lower, raise, clean, maintain and drive the dinghy. Fitting then that they bring her into our home port.
Keenan and Daria donned their life jackets and we agreed on a plan for communicating, docking, etc. And just like that they were off in their own boat, with smiles as wide as our beam. Jennifer took Muddy Waters’ helm, and I went forward to raise the anchor with the windlass. All that cleaning we did was quickly undone as our chain was caked in thick white sand. We have an anchor wash down, but short of spending an hour raising the hook and taking a toothbrush to each link, we realized we’d need to do our best cleaning on the spot and then get in for a good scrub of the anchor locker once in port.
In short order we were underway, with a view to port of the hospital where my sister, brother and I were born. Maybe its location on Biscayne Bay inspires our love for the water. The kids were abeam of us to starboard a quarter mile, and we headed north toward Miami’s spectacular skyline and made our way under Rickenbacker Causeway. With beautiful glass towers of Brickell Avenue and downtown Miami on one side and Keenan and Daria on the other, we made our way past the Freedom Tower, then the home of the Miami Heat, the Miami Herald building and then to Venetian Causeway. We hailed the west side bridge on channel 9 and were able to make the 1:30 pm opening.
We turned to the east and steamed past the Venetian Islands, which we’ve called home for more than fifteen years. We made our way to the entrance of Sunset Harbour Yacht Club and hailed the dock master who then asked if we’d consider a different slip than the one we’d leased for the month. No worries, boating is all about flexibility. Jennifer effortlessly changed the lines from port to starboard while I radioed the kids to let them know we’d be in a different slip. As we entered the harbor we immediately saw balloons and welcome signs and family and waves and smiles. We’d left this very spot nearly a year earlier.
We pulled into our assigned slip and secured our lines. We then moved to the stern to assist the kids with tying up Mudcat on Muddy Waters’ transom. We stood in the aft cockpit, looking at the familiar waters and skies, and soaked-up the moment. The four of us stepped off our water-based home and onto dry land in our hometown of Miami Beach. Under a radiant Miami Beach sky, we felt the warm welcome home. We were greeted with hugs, kisses, laughs, lunch and champagne – delivered kindly by our family and friends who supported us way back when and then followed us along the way on our blog, visiting often – both online and in person – and always sending us positive thoughts, questions about our journey, and heartfelt encouragement.
Muddy Waters arrived home before Santa’s sleigh, and the kids were especially happy to see their friends and cousins – the young crowd. They fell into the familiar rhythms of chase, skateboarding, music, biking, soccer, swimming and chatting. We went for rides in the dinghy with friends and cousins over the next many days. Pappy took all these young and brave souls on a visit to Everglades National Park and then an airboat ride through the river of grass. They crossed paths with dozens of alligators, maybe explaining some of the family bent towards adventure and the outdoors.
We also welcomed Jennifer’s parents, sister Ann and Ann’s boyfriend Derek down from Georgia for the holidays. My brother Chris and his family flew in from California, joining my sister Jaleh and her family who live a short walk from us on Miami Beach. Jennifer and I caught up with our good friends, all of whom make adventure and travel a part of their lives too it seems. We enjoyed sharing more about our little family journey with everyone. We even took Muddy Waters for a spin with Jennifer’s parents, my mom (my dad was searching for gators with all the grandkids) and my cousin Eric. We anchored off Key Biscayne, had lunch on Muddy’s back porch, and then made our way back into port following the same path we’d used just a few days earlier.
We spent a wonderful family-filled Christmas at my parents’ home with my mom and my aunt Sima preparing a feast of healthy and delicious dishes, anchoring the celebration and filling us with warm memories of family holidays. We ate, laughed, talked politics, and told stories (some new, some recycled and improved!) with grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, extended family and lots of good friends who stopped by, including our friends the Foxes who drove down from their current moorage on Florida’s west coast. We ended the evening, as often happens at the Samways, with a few hours of music. Or so we called it. We had guitars, bass, harmonicas, bongos, a melodica, a piano and lots of willing vocalists all in the house. With music and regular rounds of Persian tea, we enjoyed the holiday and energy and cheer. And so our year ended with family, friends, laughter, music and stories.
We intend to keep Muddy Waters active and are already plotting our next little family adventure up to Maine by water this summer. How fortunate to return from a journey through so many parts of America to a city so full of diversity, energy and promise and all in an idyllic setting with the water as the center of the city’s – and the Samway family’s – life.