Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Bumper Sticker: "Your worst nightmare is my favorite vacation"

This has turned out to be a LOOONG post... my bad.

Maria and I went to the boat a few weeks for the first sail of the season. Needless to say, I was very excited to get to her (the boat), clean her up (the boat again... not Maria), do some prep, and then spend several days just cruising the Chesapeake Bay with some good friends. Not all (or anything really) went as planned.

We learned alot that week. It didn't start well, when our friends who were supposed to come down on Saturday night kept getting delayed, and delayed... eventually only one of the two of them showed up on Tuesday morning.

Lesson #1: No longer plan around Jeff and Zora... simply tell them when somethings going to happen, and they can choose to take part or not. Maria and I took the week off for this, and I am done catering to people who don't respect Maria's or my time enough to even show up within several days, and constantly want my time, and my vacation which I invited them too worked around their schedules.

So, as we waited for them to show up, Maria and I spent a good deal of time cleaning the boat, and just relaxing. The weather was amazing the first part of the week... sunny, warm, and nice breezes... sure would have been nice to be out sailing, rather than waiting. But, it gave me time to do several things, and spend a bunch of money at West Marine. I bought a much needed battery charger, which I need to install properly still, and several other smaller items I needed. Once we got the batteries freshened up... I tested the bilge pump to be sure it was working correctly... turns out, it wasn't (glad I tested it). The bilge is a remote pump, with a hose to the bilge and remote float switch. There is a small impeller inside the pump that broke. I head to West Marine, as I didn't have a spare, and this little impeller is a $22 special order, that takes 3 weeks to get! Thats no good... for me... ofcourse, it means that West Marine was able to get me to buy a new bilge pump.

Lesson #2: Carry 2 spares for everything. When something breaks, have the spare, and have the second spare for when the first spare breaks while waiting for the order.



I decided that while we waited, I was going to climb the mast, just to do it, and maybe to change some bulbs. Since I climb, I felt more secure setting up prussik knots to ascend a rope, rather than be winched up. I was up there for maybe an hour... and couldn't get one of the light covers off. Which, turns out I didn't need too, that light worked, wish I knew that while I was up there. Then, I lost 1 of the bulbs I got while I was up there, so I never did get a replacement for it. Oh well, it was fun regardless.

Lesson #3: Get a more comfortable harness... and do that more often so I don't freak out if I do that in water with some movement. Climbing is scary enough... and mountains don't move. If the mountain starts swaying while your on it, then the lunch you ate was no good.

Tuesday morning rolls around, and Maria and I go to fuel the boat up, and pump out the head. Turns out... we may have tried to flush too much while at the dock (its a long way to the marina toilets)... and some of the "stuff" may have flowed out the cap at the top of the holding tank... and it may have been one of the most disgusting things I have ever smelled. The holding tank is under master stateroom bed... Maria loves that idea!

Lesson #4: Get a tank monitor... and maybe a more efficient head. Also... check the cap for a good seal.

So... finally... Tuesday morning, Jeff shows up, we have ice, wine, beer, food and dog... and are ready to go do some sailing. We throw off the dock lines, and begin motoring out of the slip. We get about 4 feet... and the engine dies. Note, we used the engine to get to the fuel dock, and the pump-out station just an hour or 2 before. Luckily, we are close enough to grab the dock lines... so we do, and pull ourselves back in... and tie up. Me, not knowing much of what I am doing... decide to change the fuel filter, and see if that works. The filter not only filters, but separates water from fuel. Pretty good thinking, I thought... with the boat having sat, and pumping in some new fuel... alteast it seemed simple enough for me to do. The guy who decided to write the instruction on the filter was an absolute genius... and I would like to give him a hug right now. It seems the incredible hulk tightened the fuel filter on... as I had to take the whole assembly off in order to get enough grip to torque the filter off. Finally, I get the filter changed, and full of fuel (luckily having bought a spare 5 gal fuel jug earlier that week and filled it.

But... not being familiar with the whole process, I didn't know that air pockets kill diesel engines, and that I had to bleed the system... all I knew was that the engine didn't start after that. The marina guys are helpful though, and pointed it out to me without making me feel retarded. So, instead of sailing to a remote deserted beach, in the sunshine, and grilling steaks for dinner... I was crawling around the engine looking for unlabeled bleed screws to turn, and watch for tiny bubbles. In all there are about 6. Luckily, I do have the original engine manual and an awesome diesel book, which I used as my guides... working my way through. After spending a muddling couple of hours (for a 15 minute job), the engine fires up... YAY ME.

Lesson 5: I am pretty awesome.

Wednesday morning, we decide to give this whole thing another go. Its a beautiful day, the weather calls for perfect winds to get us where we are going... sun's out... just perfect. Make some coffee, take the cover off the main, fire up the engine, pull the dock lines, and start motoring out. We get just out of my slip... and the engine cuts out!

Lesson 6: I am not that awesome.

Now, we are in the marina, heading for other innocent boats, with no power. I call for the main to be raised, we will sail her out of here. Luckily the wind is in just the right place... and we can sail out without much effort. The timing of the engine dieing this time is of particular note... we were just far enough away from our last pier to not be able to reach the dock lines with a hook. Timing is everything.



So I spent the day bleeding the fuel lines, running the engine, having it die, going and rebleeding the fuel lines... etc. I figured there's a leak somewhere in the system, so I start looking for it... as we are sailing up the bay. The engine runs for about 20 or 30 minutes before it dies, and there's always air in the fuel filter right after the tank... so there must be a tiny leak at this point. I tighten all the hose clamps, some where loose, try it again. Dies. I tighten all the filter caps... dies. I see a small leak from the one bleed screw on the second filter... tighten that, but still leaks. Hmmm... must be the problem. I clean the washer, and the top of the filter... reset it, it doesn't leak... try again... dies. Basically, this was my morning. I decide that the engine will run long enough for us to set an anchor later... so I rebleed, and prime the system, and then decide to enjoy the day of sailing.

Lesson 7: Don't let engine work interupt an awesome day of sailing.



The wind was supposed to be taking us to this little island where we would have a deserted beach all to ourselves. Basically... an awesome place. But, the wind didn't think we should go there, we were not making good time at all, so I decided that we need to find someplace closer to anchor. I listen to the weather, and figure out where the wind's going to come from so we are being blown onshore, then find us a nice little hole to anchor in... Browns Bay, on Mobjack.

We change our course, and start heading for the anchorage the winds pick up while we are headed that way... wish they had done that earlier. Eventually, we are doing some pretty good sailing. We have to make a tack though to get lined up for the channel. This is where I made my biggest mistake. I let my buddy do the tack. I was going to be right beside him though, so I thought it was ok. We tacked through, and were pulling the headsail in... ofcourse, someone had opened the forward hatch a little... and the sheet got wrapped up in it. I bounce up on deck (I am not sending anyone else on deck that quickly, in these conditions) and free it. Call back for Maria to sheet it in. As she's sheeting it in, the boat starts to heel over. Nobody is totally sure what happened next, either Jeff was freaking out about how heeled over we were and started to steer back up wind, or decided he's going to help sheet in the headsail, and he lets go of the wheel. We end up backwinding the sails, and heel WAY over the other way... either Jeff's letting go let the rudder snap back over, or us heeling over put enough pressure on the steering system that the steering cable broke! Great... all the sails are up, the winds are a little high (not too high but enough to be interesting), we have no steering, and an engine that MAY run for 30 minutes. Seems normal.

Lesson 8: My biggest lesson, and one I am most embarrassed I didn't do better. I needed to give better direction to someone new, I should not have had Jeff skipper through that tack, I should have had more command in that situation.

I run down, grab the emergency tiller... and stick it onto the rudder stock. Tada... steering again. Because of the arrangement of the wheel, and then tiller, and rudder position... I don't get much leverage with the tiller. We drop the sails, start the motor, and start on our way into the little bay. I have them upfront, and ready to drop the anchor for when the engine dies, and I need to re-prime it. We are mid channel, and tada, engine dies... I yell to have them drop the anchor, and keep a lookout. I drop below, and rebleed, and prime the engine in record time (getting good at it now). Start her up, pull anchor, and make it into the anchorage. Yay... we are now pretty safe. We are fairly protected here, but the winds can still reach us... and they were blowing 20 knots or so, with gusts much higher... with the spray coming off the white-caps, I would think around 30 knots at times during the night. Because I wasn't taking any more chances, and my luck was crazy bad today... I had let out alot of scope on the anchor... 12:1. We were the only ones in this bay, so we had the swing room, and I wanted something to go right.

Lesson 9: More scope = more confidence. I have plans on redoing the anchor setup... so that I can sleep at night in these conditions and not worry about crazy things like if I missed a spot of wear on the anchor rode, and it might just snap.

And... here we sat for a few days. We got bored. I inspected the steering cable, and figured I couldn't fix it. I went over the engine like crazy, and found a tiny hole in the fuel line leading to the filter... this had to be the leak... so I wrapped exhaust tape around it. Turns out, I had finally found the problem, and bandaided it. Yay me again... but this time for real.

I made the decision to stay in this little bay for the few days, as the weather wasn't awesome, and I didn't want to compound our getting home by pushing it in weather. I would have no issues sailing in those conditions with a working wheel, or more leverage on the tiller... I could do it... but if I didn't need too, why should I.

Saturday morning, it looked like we had a break in the weather, and had a window to make it home... so we pull the anchor, motor out (works flawlessly, I might add), and set sail for home. The winds are pretty light so as we are "sailing" I decide to tie a rope to me, and jump overboard with a hammer, and clean some winter barnacles from the prop and shaft. Because we are going nowhere... we decide to motorsail. We motor sail for several hours till we hit some pretty good wind 15 to 20 knots. The crew is stressed, so to ease the stress, I decide to drop the sails, and just motor. We make it the whole way to the channel, and make our turn to the marina. 12 minutes, and this adventure will be over. As I am making the turn... the boat decides to serve me with one more test... the head of the tiller, a very thick piece of aluminum, decides its time to break! Are you kidding me... all I needed was 10 more minutes. It had worked for a total of probably around 8 or 9 hours... whats 10 more minutes. Well, now we are in bad shape. I have to make a choice... we could try to drop an anchor just outside the channel, and hope it holds in these winds and the 3 to 4 foot waves... or I could try duct-taping this thing together. I spend 3 seconds deciding this, as someone gets the duct-tape. I wrap about half a roll of tape on it, and give it a try... it works! Lets get this overwith... and head in.

On the way in... we have a few harrowing seconds as the boat decides to try to commit suicide on the sea-wall... which we narrowly avoid. We make it around the bend, and start floating our way down the approach to the marina. I can see my slip from here. I start to gently turn her to head into the slip... oops, slightly too far, turn back... SNAP... tiller broke. No time to wrap the tape around it again... we are headed towards a pier, dock, and innocent and expensive looking yacht. The crew is upfront with boat hooks... I yell up... get ready for the crash, as they are wondering why I am running forward, rather than steering us away. We crunch into the dock... and ride up a little... I bounce off the boat, pulling her back... hitting the brakes... and stop her literally a few small inches from someone elses shiny fiberglass boat. Actually... we were pretty lucky... and I am glad that I was going as slow as I possibly could.

I am glad I brought all that climbing rope with me... as we wrangle the boat around the pier, and into an unused slip for the evening. She gets tied down... and we all congratulate ourselves on not dieing... as we drink any and all of the alcohol we have left. The next morning, we eventually get her pulled back over to her own slip where I tie her up, and she now rests... peacefully planning what she might test us with the next time.

Lesson 10: I bought boat towing insurance on Tuesday morning. No reason to do that again.

There are alot of lessons learned in that one trip... we had good weather for the first part, we all survived, there was no "damage", the broken bits are fairly cheap to replace/fix, I learned more on that trip that any other, and we ate really well. So... while stressful, I call it a good trip. A great trip would have been if we got to that island, and got to sail in the first part of the week when the weather was amazing.

I can't wait to go to the boat again! I miss her.



1 comment:

Valiente said...

Very, very instructive, and reminded me of my early days with the old boat.

It gets better...don't worry!