Ever have those situations when the yellow/red flags are waving, and you spend all your time trying to decide if the flag is yellow or red? Instead of wondering what’s causing the flag to wave in the first place??
Welcome to my world.
Brian and Mark arrived Sunday, the 29th of April. I was a bundle of nerves, due to:
- The normal stress of starting a long trip,
- The stress of having crew to keep happy,
- I still had to check out of the port Monday morning,
- Having decided to have the boat yard, do the transmission seals, they did not take credit card, so I must figure out a way to get $1000 in cash by Monday morning.
My Monday noon, all the problems were solved, and I was feeling pretty good. I had good, intrepid crew. We had food, wine and booze enough for however long a cruise the weather would allow.
With a crew of two, plus me, we had 205 gallons of fuel in the port tank, 210 in the stbd tank, 55 gallons of water in the port water tank and the stbd tank was empty (to be filled with the water maker while underway).
Engine start was at 12:25, we got underway 10 minutes later, clearing the breakwater at 12:45, on the way to either Can San Lucas, 950 miles northwest (7 days) or maybe even Ensenada, which was another 700 miles further north (another 5 days).
So, at the beginning of a 7 to 12-day passage, my sense of well-being lasted 20 minutes, or about 2 miles.
Clearing the breakwater, we set the course SSW to clear the coast before turning west, then WNW.
The bilge alarm sounded 20 minutes later, (a buzzer that
is activated whenever the bilge pump is on), went off, and then sounded again a few minutes later. That was not normal. Thinking the stuffing box again, I left Brian at the helm, while I went to open the salon hatch to the engine room.
Stuffing box was not leaking, but I did see a pinhole leak that was spraying water from the oil heat exchanger. Umm, it’s a pinhole leak, sea water, yet the bilge pump had been on enough to pump much more water? What’s going on.
A minute later, as the engine overheat alarm sounded, it all became crystal clear. Shut down the engine, but we were less than a mile from the rocky shore.
The engine coolant hose (a heater hose) from the engine to the water heater had failed at the nipple to the water heater. It has dumped all our coolant into the bilge. We were 6/10ths of a mile from shore; a very rocky shore. So, first thing I did was fill the engine coolant tank with fresh water using the garden hose the first owner had installed in the engine room just after the fresh water pump. It was good to know that I had a source of fresh water for the engine that I could use in a critical situation.
If push came to shove, I’d stick the nose nozzle in the coolant fill and turn it on, to keep water in the engine if I needed to start the engine before the repair was done. We were in 160 feet of water, so I also had the option of dropping anchor.
Had I had a problem that was going to take longer to fix, or if I did not have fresh water available, or if I was alone, I would have let out 200 feet of anchor and chain, knowing that the anchor would set itself as the water shallowed. This is the emergency anchoring plan I always have in the back of my head while cruising near shore. In still deeper water, with no shelf, I would combine my two anchor rodes, the secondary being 50 feet of chain and 250 feet of rode (400’ of 3/8” BBB chain on the primary with 55# Delta anchor).
I also have stored behind the salon between the upper deck ladder:
- a 500-foot line,
- a 250’ line,
- a couple of 50’ lines,
- a few shorter line,
- the stern anchor) Bruce) and it’s 300 feet of rode on a hose reel.
These lines can all be easily retrieved and used as necessary.
Had I been alone, that’s what I would have done, while turning the boat around and heading back to the marina on auto pilot. I could have then re-fit the hose, knowing I had at least 15 minutes before I needed a course correction.
But I was not alone.
With Brian at the helm, responsible for watching our drift, Mark and I proceeded to deal with our two problems, the coolant hose and the pin hole oil cooler leak.
The coolant hose was easily dealt with. Cut off the end and reattach to nipple. I then checked for leaks, as we started the engine. No leaks, so I filled the coolant tank with ¾ gallon of coolant. This all took 10 minutes.
Next to tackle the oil cooler. We first tried a quick repair; can we stop the leak enough until our next port. No, we couldn’t, the metal at the cap end from which it was leaking was too thin. (these were the heat exchangers that had just been supposedly checked. In addition, I’m sure this was the one that was already leaking, and I told them to keep it).
Checking the situation at the helm, while we were drifting towards shore, we were drifting very slowly and again with Brian watching, I knew we would have plenty of warning should an issue arrive. Therefore, we decided to change the oil cooler.
What a PIA. But an hour later we were all done. No leaks of oil, water, or anything.
It’s on my must do list this fall to standardize all my hydraulic and oil fittings. Thus, making it easier to replace lines or bypass the coolers if need be.
We had drifted a quarter mile closer to shore, we still had a third of a mile to spare. Easy Peasy as Micah would say.
Knowing we could return to the marina easily, reduced the stress of this repair. It wasn’t “fix, or else” like it may have been in the middle of the Atlantic, like with my imaginary fuel leak.
At 14:10 we were underway again.
My peace of mind now lasted one minute.
The autopilot was not working. It thought it was working, but it wouldn’t steer correctly.
Back to the rear of the engine room, I looked at my Octopus pump, it looked ok, no major leaks, then I saw the three valves which control fluid to the pump, allowing me to change pump without draining all the hydraulic fluid from the system, were closed.
Oops. At least that was easy.
A minute later, we were underway again, hopefully to Cabo San Lucas.
This time my peace of mind lasted a whole two hours.