A Travellerspoint blog

A Contender for Worst Boat Day Ever

We are so f.......d

sunny 80 °F

There just seems to be some sort of negative entropy associated with Carol and me, the boat and the Berry Islands. It’s OK for good stuff not to happen; it’s difficult when only bad stuff happens.

On Wednesday evening there were several people who decided to leave on Thursday, two motor and two sail, all four boats in a row at the dock. Come Thursday morning it was raining sideways in 30 knot winds as squall lines rolled over Bimini. On the whole east side of Florida there was exactly one area with weather on the radar: Bimini to Cat Cay. The two power boats decided to stay. The other sail left a little before noon. We waited since we could stay until 1pm without paying for another day and kept reviewing the online weather sites as well as the XM weather we have on the boat.

By lunchtime, the skies had gone from ominous to merely uninviting; the rain had stopped and the weather gurus said that things were going to clear. So, Carol and I decided to take off, having been trapped in Bimini last year by strong east winds. This may not have been the most informed decision we have ever made, but we didn’t see too much downside other than the fact that leaving at 1pm meant an overnight run across the Grand Bahamas Bank since the weather would have made it difficult to anchor there.

As we were leaving the channel we saw another sailboat coming into the channel and it looked like David’s boat, he being the early bird. As we passed abreast he yelled that his back stay had broken and that he was returning to work on repairs. Perhaps that was an omen or a harbinger.

We continued around the north end of the island and headed east for Mackie Shoal and, then, the Northwest Channel, a little over 60 miles, with another 30 or so to get to Frazers Hog Cay, one of the Berry Islands with a mooring field. The plan was to wait there for the right wind and weather.

A couple of hours out the sky defaulted back to ominous, the wind grew and the waves got a little taller. Not a problem except that both wind and waves were coming directly onto the bow of the boat; we were going directly into them. We were making very slow way against them, struggling to make 3 knots. This didn’t ring any bells; we expected to go more slowly against nature’s combination. For all of that, it was not a dangerous night, just a difficult one which boat and crew were able to handle.

It was a little concerning that there were not any other boats visible to the naked eye or to radar. Eventually we saw some commercial craft around midnight. And, for a few minutes, we got to see a waxing gibbous moon, an unexpected surprise for the night which was otherwise a stygian blackness.

The first shoe dropped sometime between 0100 and 0300, on Carol’s watch; the autopilot quit, sending error messages that were intrinsically goofy, like there wasn’t enough battery power, with the alternator running all night. This is something that will get attention, but not right away.

We got to the Northwest Channel much later than expected. We still thought that this was the result of trying to punch through the strong winds and waves. Carol went into the cabin and said that she smelled diesel, but that also did not ring any bells as rough as the night had been.

As we cleared into deep water it became apparent that the boat was only going to go slowly, 2 knots being the resulting speed of RPM’s that would normally produce 4 knots or more. This was beginning to be concerning, but there was nothing to be done about it. So, we decided that we would stay at the Chub Cay marina to do some assessment, rather than going to the mooring field on Frazers Hog Cay. The prices they charge here make the stop look like a stay in Ritz-Carlton without the mints on the pillow.

So, as we’re heading into the channel, maybe half way there, the oil pressure alarm goes off and the motor shuts down. Not a good plan in close waters with nearby shoals and coral fields. I jumped down the companion way and opened the engine compartment. I did not see the puddle of oil that I thought I might but I did see a very large lake of diesel fuel under the motor, just shy of a gallon; this is what Carol had smelled. I checked the oil …. we had a full sump. Since there was no visual evidence of an oil problem, I diddled with the two wires on the oil pressure sender, which triggered the alarm. (This unit had been replaced at our stop in Ft. Lauderdale) That may have worked because we got the engine started again and it kept going.

It took a long while to get fuel at the fuel dock and to moor the boat. When we were secure at the dock I went back to the engine compartment to think about the diesel leak and I noticed yet another gift from the boating gods: the engine coolant expansion tank was leaking its last few ounces of coolant into the diesel lake below. The problem was immediately clear to me. Ralph, the diesel technician in Marathon, had shoved the tank down when he was looking at the engine. That stressed the small plastic nipple which connects to the hose. A few more hours of engine vibration and a bumpy ride over the bank completed the job. I have to admit that this one was almost too much, a boat trouble trifecta in just 12 hours.

Anyway, we have a jerry rigged replacement for the expansion tank consisting of a plastic bottle with the bottom cut off, the broken plastic nipple, a hose clamp and some duct tape. Not pretty, but it might work as far as Nassau.

The diesel leak is another issue. I’m pretty sure that it, in fact, involves the middle fuel injector, one which I have long suspected of being an issue but which the all engine guys tell me is alright. I also believe, at least as a working hypothesis, that the lack of power and the leaking diesel are intrinsically linked. Carol noted that we were lucky that there was not a fire with that much fuel exposed, and maybe we were. The odd thing about diesel is that it has more energy per unit of volume than gasoline does but it also has a much higher flash point. When we get under way we will have a fire extinguisher out and ready.

The goal now is simple: get to some place where there are more resources and try to figure out what a plan B might look like. Nassau is only 40 miles away but it is to the southeast and the winds tend to come from that direction and with our reduced power level 40 miles could be a long trip without some clear assist from the wind, assuming that the engine will get us there at all.

So, I worry about the boat and Carol worries about me worrying about the boat and neither of us are having a whole lot of fun. On the other hand, we talked about this last night and reminded ourselves that there are people we know, people we like and people we love that have real problems and that the boat is not even close to a real problem. Larry, on board the Attitude, has this aphorism on the back of his boat card: The difference between an ordeal and an adventure is attitude. We’re working on our attitudes while working on the boat and working out a plan.

Posted by sailziveli 09:32 Archived in Bahamas Tagged boating

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