The Dauntless Fuel System

After three days in Xtapa, I was getting ready to go again.

My Racor systems

The night before departure, I topped up all our fluids, both oil and coolant were down, since we had those repairs the days earlier. While they were topped up upon completion of those repairs, it takes running time for air to work out of the systems.

The rough seas and miserable pitching of the last few days seemed to really scour the fuel tank, so I ran the fuel polisher system (filtering fuel to take water and impurities out) on the starboard tank for 8 hours the day before. During the 8 hours, vacuum on the filter had increased from 4”, which is OK, but not great, to only 5”. Which is marginal. Since we were getting underway for another multiple day passage, I changed the fuel polisher filter, a Racor 900 filter system (Racor 2040 2-micron filters bought on Amazon for $12 each.

I usually don’t run the fuel polisher that often anymore.  Unless needing to really top up the tanks, like leaving the Canaries for the Caribbean, I only put new fuel in one tank. Thus, I can isolate any issues. I then run the fuel polisher on the new fuel to check it out. Usually an hour; If the vacuum doesn’t change significantly, I turn it off. Sometimes the vacuum will even go down, when the new batch of fuel is better than what was in the tank.

Underway, I also always set the return to the same tank it is feeding from. Once, in prehistoric times, I set the return to the other tank as a means to transfer fuel. Of course, I forgot and ran out of fuel while running. I didn’t do that again.

But I did. This second time, I had inadvertently left both feeds and returns open. For whatever reason, my system tends to return more fuel to the port tank and less to the starboard tank if both returns are open. Thus, I emptied one tank. But this time, the engine did notice because I had also left the sight tubes open on top and bottom. The result was that although the starboard tank was empty, enough fuel was being returned, keeping the sight tube full, which was then fed back to the engine.

Aux fuel pump

Had I closed the sight tube, the engine would suck air from the tank feed.

Lesson learned. Nowadays, besides feeding and returning to the same tank, I also keep the top of the sight tubes closed, so that fuel goes back to the tank. Otherwise, it defeats the purpose of using cooler fuel from the tank.

I like the Racor setup very much. Twin primary filters, Racor 500, in parallel, and a Racor 900 for fuel polishing and transfer. For a long-distance cruiser like Dauntless, it’s a mission critical system. Meaning don’t leave home without it. When underway, I don’t go into the engine room often, maybe only twice a day, once in the evening before my shower and bed and in the morning, after my early morning watch. (I usually wait until crew is awake, so I don’t wake them by opening engine room hatch, unless the night before I thought I may have an issue, then I check again as soon as I wake).

Racor filters

The parallel Racors really give me peace of mind. In the early days, when changing filters was more of an adventure than it should be, if I suspected a problem, I’d immediately switch filters to the new one and then monitor the new one for issues (water or clogging). But I didn’t have to deal with the filter just then.  If in a benign environment, I may shut down the engine, but that is rare. Nowadays, I can change a filter in less than two minutes and that includes priming engine if need be. I installed an electric fuel pump just for that purpose. It makes doing any fuel related work so easy. I used to hate changing the engine mounted filters. I still have the scar on the back of my hand from spending days trying to prime engine (turned out to be a failed O ring had clogged fuel line to Injector pump). Nowadays, if I do switch filters while underway, I will change the old filter, so I always have a new one ready to go at an instant.

Fuel from Colon Panama
Strange coincidence that the only place I got significant water in fuel was the only place that gave me a bottle of fuel to prove it was good. Ummm

Nowadays, I almost never have an issue. But when I do, I need the fuel polisher now.

Like when we fueled up in Colon, Panama, waiting to transit the Panama Canal. It was a fuel barge, made even sketchier because they spent some time transferring fuel from a tug to the barge and then to my boat. Once I returned to our slip and ran the fuel polisher, it picked up a lot of water. Another reason to never run from both tanks at once. I knew I had a problem, but it was isolated in the port fuel tank. I also installed those plastic drains that can be opened by hand on all three Racor filters. So, in a situation like this, it made it particularly easy to run fuel polisher a while, when bowl is full of water, empty, run, repeat, until I decide to also change filter. I’ll usually do that at the end.  Then give it a good run again to make sure it’s good to go.

I’ve had a few occasions, in which I just let the fuel polisher run and the vacuum gets to 22” to 24” of mercury (Hg).  When that happens, I am ever more grateful that none of that crap got to engine or even primary filters.

Because the Racors are doing their job so well, I don’t change the engine mounted fuel filters very often. Maybe even on the order of 500 to 1000 hours. This interval has gotten longer and longer because even in the past when I did have some water in the primary filter, the secondary engine mounted filters had none.

I like Fram

You may think that that’s excessive. What’s the harm in changing the primary filters? In my first year or two, the primary filters were the cause of all sorts of issues from blocked fuel lines to air in the system. They are hard to reach, which introduces a greater possibility of error in replacement or even affecting some other nearby engine component.

The Ford Lehman SP135 engine and I have an agreement. I don’t mess with it and it does its’ thing, which is to never stop until so commanded. So, I am particularly careful working near the engine.

A couple of weeks later, this system would again save my bacon. I had carelessly kept running from the starboard tank, even after it went below the sight tube. I did have a reason, I wanted to see if I had really needed the expensive fuel I had added in some expensive place.

I’m in the pilot house and suddenly, I hear the pitch of the engine change. Remember, the Ford Lehman and I have an agreement. The engine pitch never changes. So, in seconds I had the hatch open and was down in front of the engine by the Racors. I instantly switched filters, then took the time to look around. The engine was starting to surge now (up and down in rpms). I looked at the feed tank and saw no fuel in the sight tube. Now the sight tube is still about 20 gallons above the feed line. I open the port tank feed and return and close the starboard feed and return.

Surge continues. I ask Larry to give it some throttle. No change. Throttle back to just above idle. I turn on the electric fuel pump used to prime filters. Add throttle. In about 5 seconds that seems like 5 minutes, the engine smooths out. I wait another minute and turn off electric fuel pump and carefully adjust valves that put electric fuel pump into main fuel line. (otherwise, when first installed, the fuel pump just pump fuel around in a circle, with out the need to go to the engine. Under normal setting this fuel pump is isolated in a parallel loop and the engine uses gravity feed and it’s lift pump).

From first change of engine pitch to running normally again took less than 60 seconds.

My Sp135 was good to go again.

 

 

 

Who Can Say No to Hitchhiking Boobies?

Certainly not me.

The stop in Xtapa gave me a chance to reboot my mind. It was fitting that the trip ended at the same high stress level as just after leaving Huatulco. Having to enter a strange harbor and marina at night is always stressful. My depth perception is askew. Everything seems significantly closer than during the day. I have to force myself to trust the instruments.

We docked without incident, as usual. Got a good night’s sleep. And then my HP Envy laptop decided to give up the ghost. It was not to be replaced/repaired for another month, when I arrived in southern Calif, so no blogging for a while.

While this may appear to be a relief, in fact, it was the opposite. Writing about my adventures, my mishaps, my miscalculations, allows me to reflect on my practice.

As a high school principal, I quickly realized that during job interviews, when I was looking for additional teachers, the outcome of the interview really came down to three questions:

  1. Was the prospective teacher intelligent, did they know their content area?
  2. Did they like children?
  3. Where they reflective in their practice?

I didn’t care if they knew how to teach; I could teach them that. But there is no way to overcome the negatives of any of the above three questions. You can’t make a lazy or stupid person, smart and not lazy. You can’t make them like children. There are too many teachers who teach because it’s convenient. In moments of black humor, we, principals, would say, they are here for the parking (some schools have convenient parking, some don’t).

And lastly, we live in a culture of blame. If things don’t go as we as we would like, we look to blame others, never looking in the mirror. It’s my parents, government, spouse, boss, fill in the blank’s fault. But good teaching practices only happen when the educator is reflective. After every teaching period, every day, every week, every year:  what could I have done better? How can I connect with that student(s) better? Why didn’t they understand_____? or something as simple as, what worked, what didn’t?

Reflection allows our brain to better organize new data, recognize mistakes or things we could have done better or even just differently. In writing this post, I remembered in my 4th year of teaching, I had put up a mirror on the entry door with the caption, “Meet the person responsible for your learning today”. Much like reminding people to turn off cell phones in inappropriate places, it’s a little reminder that can go a long way.

As the boobies started to congregate on Dauntless, first resting on the paravane pole lines and at the end of the pole. Then, an intrepid fellow managed to land on the bow pulpit rail despite the pitching bows. Once other’s saw his success, we because a virtual bus ride north.

They did promise to clean up before they left, but I suspected they would forget that promise. But as I thought about their lives, I thought about how good we, Americans, have it so good. There was one fellow who parked himself on the rail right near the pilot house door. He was keeping watch with me. When I had to go out to pee, I didn’t want to disturb him/her, so I walked thru the boat to the stern deck, instead of my normal spot on the starboard side deck (where the high side rail offers more protection from falling overboard).

The numbers increased every day, until that last 24 hours when the pitching became untenable even for them.   I think their coloring indicated they were juvenile blue or brown footed boobies.

Xtapa was a nice, albeit unexpected respite. It was 30-minute bus ride to Zihuantanejo. We ate, drank and slept well for 3 days waiting for the winds to subside.

 

 

 

 

The Saga of the Katadyn Watermaker

The passage from Huatulco to Xtapa was eventful in many ways.

Our fine feathered friend was ready for adventure

The Katadyn 160 Water maker, made in Switzerland, has been a stalwart since installation four years ago, in 2014. It’s simple, which attracted me to it. No gauges, no bells, no whistles, no back flushing, no nothing. When doing long distance cruising, the more simple, the better. It’s only accessories are the manual and a salinity meter, but the manual says your taste buds are more accurate than any salinity meter. Thus, I turn it on, have the three-way valve to the test hose which empties into the galley sink. In the first minute or two, it will taste salty and maybe even moldy, if I haven’t used it in a week. After 5 to 10 minutes, (depending on when last used), I check it again and it’s good.

If I won’t be using it for more than a week, I will “pickle” it. Basically, that is to run a solution that prevents bacterial growth, mold, on the membrane that is producing fresh water.

I have used it in brackish water, but the organic growth quickly clods the first filters, so I don’t do that anymore. I also have a special cleaning solution that I have only had to use once, this past year, because I did not pickle it for a few weeks of non-use.

So, this Katadyn has produced thousands of gallons of water the last four years. I turn it on, taste the output in 5+ minutes and switch the three-way valve to fill one of the water tanks. No fuss, no muss, simple.

This time was no different, however after a few hours, I noticed that I was wasn’t hearing its distinctive thumping sound. It’s hard to hear unless you listen for it, though I can put me hear near the galley sink and the thumping is quite distinctive there since the output water uses the galley drain thru hull.

The power was on, but the watermaker was not. There is an auxiliary pump and the watermaker itself (which is essentially a very high-pressure pump that forces seawater thru the membrane and molecules larger than pure H2O, water, can not pass thru and are sent down the discharge hose.

The auxiliary pump and the watermaker each have a separate fuse, so that was an easy check and I found the watermaker fuse had melted. not just opened, but the plastic fuse itself was melted.

That’s bad.

Mark pointed out that those fuse holders can be the culprit by not holding the fuse tight enough, letting it arc. OK, new fuse and holder. Watermaker is thumping again.

Eight hours later, the watermaker had stopped again. Same fuse, though not melted, just blown.

There was clearly a problem, that just couldn’t be laid on poorly made Chinese fuse holders.

To compound matters, I had let us leave Huatulco with minimal water on board, only 55 gallons in one tank, the other being empty, ready for the watermaker to fill. The watermaker fills one 150-gallon tank in about 20 hours.  In normal water usage, I use about 25 gallons per day, but there were three of us.

I was far more stressed than I let Brian and Mark know.

I replaced the fuse again and hoped for the best. This process was made more difficult because to check the fuse and the watermaker, I had to open the heavy hatch cover to the aft section of the engine room in the salon. (On the list of winter projects is to put a hinge on two of the four panels).

Seven hours later, it stopped again. Quick check shows fuses OK. Next step, the relay.  This relay was one of the half dozen I bought from Amazon for $8. It had been working in that hot engine room for 4 years. Despite being Chinese made, it was heavy duty and well built, except for one thing, the wires, also heavy gauge, were cross colored. Color coding and “standards for American and European Direct Current (DC) wiring (as used in boats and cars) are pretty much the same: red is positive, black is ground, yellow is accessory, etc. So, these relays, all used red, black, yellow, blue wires, but not in the accepted color scheme. It was clear even before I bought them that that was the issue and the reason they were on sale at such a good price. So even though I’ve used them on applications around the boat for the last 4 years, even doing a simple replacement, takes me some time, because it’s hard to get my head around the different color scheme. Don’t connect that red wire to the black one!

But that was done, and we are making water again. Good, because we were down to 23 gallons.

Three hours later, again a blown fuse. Now I was getting worried about running out of 30+ amp fuses.

While I was dicking around with the relay, I took the opportunity to dig thru my spare 12-volt electrical parts bin to figure out my options if I had to replace the fuse holder.

I could take the fuse out of the circuit altogether, but that’s an emergency fix. I did have a real circuit breaker. I could rewire and replace the fuse holder with the circuit breaker and put long enough wires on it for me to have access in the salon. In other words when it tripped, I could just reset, without opening the heavy hatch each time.

So, a few hours later, when the fuse went again, that’s what I did.  I also stopped the engine, over the years I have come close to having a severe accident when underway and my foot slips next to the spinning shaft. In this case, my ankle just bounded off the shaft, but I took it as a warning. It took 30 minutes, but at the end, I had the circuit breaker wired up to the salon.

The watermaker worked for the next 20 hours filling the one tank.  I think the circuit opened not once during that time, though it did open while filling the second tank the next day.

Best of all, it was easy for me to check and we had no more water problems.

We left Xtapa with full water tanks and the watermaker did work as required on the four-day passage to Cabo San Lucas, however, just before arrival, I noticed that the watermaker pump itself was leaking its internal oil. The seals had failed. I’m sure that was the cause of the higher than normal electrical draw all along. I’m just happy after four years of no maintentance, it gave me one more week when I needed it.

I have the seal repair kit, it will be another winter project. More than ever though, I was grateful to Katadyn for making a watermaker that would tolerate my shenanigans.

Here is a link to the Katadyn. I bought it directly from Katadyn, since they were discontinuing the model, so they gave me 30% off. But the link shows the simplicity of the system.

http://www.downwindmarine.com/Katadyn-PowerSurvivor-160E-Watermaker-12V-p-91001017.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

An Eventful Passage

Only an hour and a half after leaving the wonderful little stop of Marina Chahue, Dauntless’ winter home, we were underway once again. I wanted nothing more than an uneventful passage. I was so appreciative of Mark and Brian stepping up and volunteering as crew, so I wanted them to have a good time too with no worries.

Beginning of Day 2, 07:53
End of Day 1, First night, 04:45

Now I realize, that having a “good” time varies greatly from person to person, but in general, being on the open ocean is peaceful. It can be the epitome of serenity itself, unless there are nagging issues.

Beginning of Day 2, morning after the first night, 07:53

Dauntless was suffering from abuse. In the pervious two years, I’d ridden her hard and put her way wet. I loved this Kadey Krogen so much because I could do exactly that. The leak in the heat exchanger was the first “must stop the engine” problem I’d had since the middle of the Atlantic! That was more than 5,000 miles and 18 months ago.

End of Day 1, First night, 05:51

This boat was made to take a beating and keep on ticking. But just as rough seas bothered me far more than Dauntless, the little problems on the periphery did the same. They kept me in a state of what’s next?

We spent the next 40 hours going west. I’ll explain why in more detail in the upcoming post, Chasing Weather Forecasts, but for now it suffices to say that I wanted to be 60 miles off the coast.

We were also running a bit harder than usual; the Ford Lehman was purring along at 1800 rpms. Maybe the purr was more of a growl to me, but it was important that we make good time while we had favorable winds, in this case they were WSW at 5 knots and we were making 7 knots.

The primary reason I don’t run at 1800 rpms is the significant decrease in efficiency from 1500 to 1800 rpms. Here are my estimated numbers in a flat sea:

 Kadey Krogen 42-148 w Ford Lehman Sp135 & 4 Blade Prop
 RPMs  Gal/hr  Avg Sp Range
700  Kts nm
  1,800     2.00       7.2   2,520
  1,700     1.75       6.9   2,760
  1,600     1.55       6.6   2,981
 1,500     1.40       6.2   3,100
  1,400     1.25       5.7   3,192
  1,300     1.10       5.3   3,373

 

Thus, for a 16% increase in speed from 1500 rpms @ 6.2 kts, we consume 43% more fuel. That’s fuelish.

By early morning on the second day out, we turned northwest, on a heading that would parallel the coast until we could turn further north in a couple more days. Winds were still OK, from the north at 10 knots, thus on our beam, but not strong.Evening of the of Second Day

By the end (48 hours underway) of the second day, we had covered 320 nm for an average of 6.7 knots. The pitching and rolling had been minimal, pitch less than 3° up or down and rolling less than 5° in either direction (always greater to lee side).

Day 2, 24 hr since departure
Evening of the of Second Day, 19:48
End of Second night, early morning, 04:25

But then it all started to change. From the beginning there was a smallish weather window, from 2 to 3 days. Now, during our third night, that window was closing. Winds picked up to 320° @ 12 knots, so only 15° off the starboard bow (our course being 304°). Pitching increased to +4 (this is downward as measured by the Maretron Solid State Compass (which the autopilot uses too since it reacts better than the flux gate compass) and a more significant, -12° (bow pitching upward).

This was getting uncomfortable. For my intrepid crew, they took it in stride, far better than I.

The third night, 03 May 03:32 Maretron data shows the pitch lower left graph (each unit is about 4 degrees of pitch).

Our watches were set so that I would get 6 hours sleep overnight. Brian and Mark covered 21:00 to 04:00 as they saw fit.

End of the third night, 3 hours after last picture, ride is better, but winds are picking up, now at 9 knots, but gusting to 16 ( upper row, middle, telltale on the winds)

Before going to sleep that night, I did discuss with them the issue of weather. Our weather window was not only closing, but the forecast was for increasing winds right on our nose for the foreseeable future. While I was still hoping to get to Cabo direct from here, that was still 3+ days away. 12 knots on the bow is tolerable, 15 is borderline and 18 is a no-go.

Sunrise on Day 4

They were up for it; as I went to bed that evening, I wasn’t sure I was.

I awoke 3 hours later. The boat was pounding, not constantly, but on every third pitch. Pounding to me is when the boat slams into a wave, like hitting a log. Thump.

I tried to go back to sleep. The master cabin in the Kadey Krogen is forward and the only downside is that this pitching motion is most apparent there.  However, it usually doesn’t bother me. My first experience with a corkscrew movement was a few years before Dauntless came into our lives. We were sailing (literally) with my Dutch friends, Jan and Karin, in the Outer Hebrides, west of Scotland. Anchored in a rolly harbor off of St Kilda, that night I felt, dreamt, that I was sleeping on a roller coaster. The rhythmic corkscrew motion I found almost soothing. I slept well.

But this was different. The pounding bothered me. Things break with that sudden, jarring movement (and in fact it was during these days that the pressure switch stopped working on my fresh water pump. I later discovered it only had soldered connection which came apart).

My sleep became very fitful, waking every 10 to 15 minutes, my mid seemingly wanting to figure out what was going on. Finally, I turned on the light and tried to figure out the pattern the boat was in. For 30 minutes I measured the frequency of the pounding. On virtually every third pitch, which were 8 d=seconds apart, the boat would pound hard, every 25 to 28 seconds.

I also knew that which these seas, pitching movement, unlike rolling, takes significant power. In other words, instead of going 7 knots, we were now going 5.5, but using the same fuel as if we were going 7.

At 5.5 knots, it would take 100 hours to get to Cabo, that’s 4+ days of this crap. That was impossible.

I decided to start my watch early, figure out if we could mitigate the ride and if not, determine my options.

First thing I did, after I got the lay of the land, was to reduce rpms to 1650 and change course by 10° to the west. This put the seas on the stbd bow. Weirdly, our speed just slowed a tad to 6.0 from 6.1 (we also have currents off the Mexico coast, which are both tidal and non-tidal).

Significantly our pitch was reduced by almost 50%. I liked that. Even more importantly, the pounding stopped.

I could live with these conditions.

Alas, they were not to stay.

Just before sunrise, around 05:00, the winds increased to 330° @ 12 gusting to 16. This increased the pitch +4 to -8° and the roll +10 to -9°. I further reduced the rpms to 1590. Over the next couple of hours, Mother Nature started to mock me. The winds backed around to 290°, right on our nose again.

At 08:00 the winds were steady at 300°12 to 14 knots. I knew they would only get stronger during the day (the sun heating the air and land do cause the winds after all).  This was also in line with the forecast of increasing winds over the next few days.

At 08:45, I informed the crew that we were changing course and would head to Xtapa, a little town with a nice marina just north of Zihuantanejo. This would mean a bit of backtracking. We were already north of Xtapa; however, the other alternative was Manzanillo, which was 113 nm at 330°. With the seas on our bow, increasing winds, it would take us 24 hours to get there. Whereas, Xtapa, at a heading of 065° would put the seas behind us and we should have a quick 12-hour ride. So long, because we were 70 miles offshore.

It ended up taking 14+ hours, but after pounding into the seas for 10 hours, who noticed.

Passing thru the shipping lanes, it was nice to have the Digital Yacht AIS transceiver.  It allowed us all to avoid one another.

14 hours later, at 23:00, we entered yet another unknown harbor and docked in the dark, at Marina Xtapa

What else is new.

I did get a good night’s sleep.

Four hours after we made the turn to head to Xtapa, we are bracketed by two freighters. Again AIS transciever makes this easy for ALL concerned.
Depiction on Coastal Explorer
Four hours after we made the turn to head to Xtapa, we are bracketed by two freighters. Again AIS transciever makes this easy for ALL concerned
What it looks like looking out the window
What it looks like looking out the window
The Maretron data shows how much better the ride became, though rolling continues.
The Maretron data shows the four days of Pitching and Rolling. The last day before we turned to the east was untenable with pitching as much as 20 degrees.

 

 

 

 

An Auspicious Start

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??

Our Intended Route in Red. Taking the time to get away from the coast seemed best for the forecast winds at the time.

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).

The track from the InReach at Share.Delorme.com/Dauntless
(If you go to that site, I do not know why the time is 12 hours off)

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

The Coastal Explorer, C-Map chart

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.

Mark and Brian relax the night before our eventful trip

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.

Lines stored behind the fly bridge ladder

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Last 7 Days

A video of the morning after.

If I’ve learned nothing in the last 60 years, it’s that I need 6 to 7 hours sleep on a routine basis to not get into a sleep deficit.  The watches on this passage were set up to facilitate that.

In spite of the drama I like instilling in my life, for every one day of “crisis” we spend about 5 to 6 days of peaceful boredom. It’s even possible that the weekly crisis is not totally random.

Why, you wonder?

Not so much on this trip, but in the past, most of my problems were caused my me. Complacency, boredom, who knows, I decide everything is going so well, so I may aa well see what happens if I do this. This last crisis was a case in point. I was “experimenting”.

My only point here is that in spite of the appearance of the narrative, very little time is spent dealing with anything. The hardest part of a long passage is not getting bored, even more so in these conditions that virtually never changed.

So, December 23rd dawned to bright skies and easterly winds; we were feeling good.

The one lingering issue was the amount of air still in the Hydraulic steering system (which is controlled by the helm wheel or the ComNav autopilot), which caused a hellacious banging every few seconds as the auto-pilot moved fluid thru the lines.  This was exacerbated by the location of my cabin directly under the pilot house.

Normally our brains filter out routine noises. I once lived next to a church steeple in a small town in Germany. Every 15 min, some combination of bells would ring: 15’ after the hour 1 gong, 30’ after 2 gongs, 45’ after 3 gongs, then 4 gongs on the hour, followed by the number of gongs based on the hour, 1 = 1, until 12.

Within a few days, I didn’t even hear it any more. But I did find it nice to be able to know the time in the middle of the night, without turning on a light.  I do love Germany.

Even years later, when I would visit and sleep in the same house, after the first gong, I’d “hear” no more.

This wasn’t like that.  Since the noises had no pattern, with a variable duration and frequency, my brain did not do what to make of it, so it made sure I heard everything. As the days wore on, while the noises were decreasing, they were still significant and I found myself getting less and less sleep. Three hours overnight, then an hour here, maybe a couple there.

Did that contribute to our travails on the last night?  Probably a bit, maybe more, but Micah and I had the worst night of the entire trip on our last night before pulling into Martinique.

The days since our big repair had been good.  In fact, Christmas, December 25th, was one of our best weather days, with winds not going over 25 knots, thus our ride was great with light rolling to 10°, worst 15°.  I made our last big steak and candied sweet potatoes.  We even opened a bottle of Bordeaux that my French friend PJ had given me.

Micah meticulously pours our wine

That was also our second whale sighting.  There were two whales, about 30’ long cruised with us for about 15 minutes.  Very nice.

The Whale Video

Dauntless rolling along, watching this makes me miss the ocean

I do love our Weber Q-280 grill

Our ETA to Martinique was noon on the 28th. Therefore, the night of the 27th, was our 20th night at sea since leaving the Canaries.

I started the last 24 hours by putting the last of our oil, 1.1L into the engine. I estimated that at worst, we would arrive about 1 liter low, which is normal. (and we did). But there was no point in shutting down the engine to check at this point, as I had no more oil anyway.

Just as I go to bed at 22:00, ETA in 14 hours, the starboard paravane pole bounces vertical. This necessitates stopping the boat and letting the pole fall back into position, once the rearward pressure is taken off the line to the bir

The starboard pole has never done this before in the previous 15K+ miles!

25 minutes later, it does it again. Something is not right, but I am tired and even in hindsight, it’s not totally clear to me under the circumstances what I should have done.

All evening the winds had been increasing.  They were now easterly at 25 steady gusting to 40. Clearly the seas had grown, again with the annoying swells from both NE and SE and the wind driven waves from the east.  Our rolls were getting substantially more, routinely to 20° and the worst, a few times an hour to 30°.

Even on a rally boat like Dauntless, a 30° roll is significant. Or I should say, it feels significant in the pilot house.  If I am in the engine room, I hardly notice, even the salon is much better, but I digress.

I attributed the increased rolling to the winds and seas.  It was dark out, so it’s hard to estimate seas.  Also, since we were approaching the island of Martinique, the waves would start to change.

But at 02:40, all of a sudden, the boat rolled over at 15° (normal) to port, but was really slow in rolling back.  This meant the opposite stabilizing bird was not working for some reason.

Sure enough, I had gotten up to see why the boat motion was different and saw right away the starboard bird being pulling along the surface.

We stopped to retrieve it.  It was broken and later that morning as I looked at it, I realized the bolts that held the vane in place had come loose.  That was probably the reason the pole went vertical earlier in the evening, as the bird was no longer running straight. That added a tension that eventually broke the plywood wing of the bird in half.

Now, in a strange occurrence, maybe due to lack of sleep, after we pulled the bird, we continued on with just the one port side bird deployed.  I’ve run many times with only one bird.  It is quite effective on a beam sea with winds that are not too strong.

But with a following sea, only one bird, is only half effective, so we rolled our way into Martinique that way.

I say strange because all that morning, I had been tripping over the extra bird that was no longer in the lazerrett.  We had gotten the bird that was jammed in the lazerrett out and even cleaned up the lazerrett.  So, it was sitting, inconveniently, on the port side deck.  It would have taken all of 30 seconds to attach it to the starboard pole and throw it in the water.

Oh well, All’s Well that End’s Well.

And of course, as we approach the harbor of Le Marin, the only sailboat we’ve seen in 19 days decided to tack right in front of us.  Much like the last idiot on our first night out of the Canaries.

Warning. Harsh language is involved and I don’t hate all sailboats.  But for the life of my with an entire ocean in front of him, why he cut across our bow is beyond me.  I had been watching him for quite a while, had he delayed his tack 10 seconds or changed his course by a few degrees he would not have ended up directly in front of our bow. I had to virtually stop as to not hit him… umm, maybe that is the answer, could he have needed a new paint job?

And my feeling were certainly exacerbated by the fact that this was only the second SV we had seen and the previous encounter, our first night out, was eerily similar.

 

 

 

 

 

Crisis in the Mid-Atlantic – How Can So Few Chickens Make So Much Noise

A long day is ending, but crossing an ocean, there is no rest for the weary. This video shows the view from the fly bridge looking aft as we were topping up the hydraulic fluid after my first temporary repair.

Of course, I had been looking at the manual for the helm and Auto-Pilot.  They being connected, the Auto-Pilot has an Octopus pump which takes its direction from the ComNav AP computer. This pump then controls the rudder piston. Now that the broken hose was replaced, we had too much air in the system.

And believe it or not, the manual for the system says to just keep topping up the fluid at the upper helm station and in a few weeks, all the air would be worked out of the system.

Maybe a few weeks if we were on Jupiter, but in a few weeks of Earth time.

A Beautiful Sunset

So, two hours after getting the big repair done and getting underway again. I had cleaned up, showered and even took a nap because I was hit by a bad bout of seasickness or what until this time I had attributed to be seasick.

But now, we found the Auto-Pilot was hardly working.  It would hold a heading for a few minutes, but at a certain rudder angle, it would try to move the rudder, the air in the system was not allowing it to work properly.  At which point, it would decide to do a Walk-About.

Yes, I can speak Australian.  I saw Crocodile Dundee.

The problem with a Walk-About in 10 to 20 foot seas is the KK designed to go with the seas. So, lying dead in the water, we bob like a cork.  But underway, we do not fight the waves we go with them and underway, while turning beam to the seas, the first few rolls will be dillies, until the paravanes are totally effective again.

So, every few minutes, our heading would drift off and before you can say, here we go again, we would have a 20-degree roll. And the subsequent roll would almost always be greater unless immediate action is taken.

This at 20:00 the prospect of having to hand steer was a nonstarter, therefore, drastic action was needed.

So, I found myself once again in the hot, 100-degree engine room, on my belly, with feet dangling over the shaft that is still spinning since the boat is being pushed along my wind and current.  I had decided to “bleed” the system. The Octopus pump does have three valves for each line (port, starboard and return) that can be closed to stop fluid draining from the system if need be. In this case, I opened each one in turn until it literally comes out, and I let ATF run out until I saw no more air, while Micha turned the wheel in the specified direction.

15 minutes later we were back underway. The Auto-Pilot was much more responsive, but still only at 50%.  Worse, there was enough air in the copper lines, that they resonated like somebody playing the cymbals 6 inches from my head.

We decided to keep track of the number of walk-abouts. From 22:00 that night, it occurred 7 times an hour.  By 02:00 it was down to 3 times and only once at 03:00.

Though when I came on at 04:00, it was still not working as well as I’d like. This ComNav does really well in bad seas.  But now, with its impaired performance, we were getting into some large pendulum rolling motions. Motions that when working correctly, it has no problem stopping.

Micah was already in bed, it was dark out, but it drives me crazy when something is not working as it should (under the conditions).  I decided it needed burping.  So, I went to the fly bridge and totally took out the fill plug, thinking it needed more venting.

It didn’t hurt and I didn’t fall overboard.

For the next 6 days, we periodically worked the helm steering, trying to get air out of the system. Slowly, but surely, air came out and we would top up the system.

The bigger issue for me in particular was that the racket the air in the pipes would produce every few seconds.  It really hindered my sleep and made out last 6 days really hard.  Especially considering there were really no other issues until the last day and night, which of course, ended up being the worst night of the entire passage.

 

Crisis in the Mid-Atlantic – The Chickens Come Home to Roost

Just After the 1st Repair. It’s 13:33 this is the normal screen I run with. I’ll minimize the Maretron data (black box on left) is there is more traffic or is I have a reason to look at the chart. In this case, what’s important: winds 090 at 23 g 28; Apparent Wind Angle (How is the boat feeling the wind) is right on our stern at 180 degrees. Bottom right shows the roll and one can see the roll reduction while the boat was stopped at the same time the pitch increased. Then the roll greatly increased once we got underway again.

 This video shows the day before, Dec 21st.  Even before the preventer stick broke (which you can see going form the fly beige rail to the middle of the paravane pole)

 This is from the afternoon.  GIves you a nice idea of the seas. This is what we had plus or minus for 21 days.

So, as December 22nd dawned, (end of Day 13 and beginning of Day 14), the little problems that had popped up were solved quickly.

Though during the night, my last second and last preventer stick broke.  It wasn’t critical, I had not used it since it was made three years ago, but still, this morning I wanted to find a real solution.

The winds had been very strong since daybreak, in the low 20’s, gusting to 35 knots.

I decided to stop the boat, just put her in idle and adjust the paravanes somehow. It nice to know that the boat will bob more than roll when stopped. While not underway, Dauntless rolls at about half the rate of our underway roll. So, we’d been rolling 10 to 20 degrees, pretty consistently, now we settle in the trough of the waves, but bob as much as roll.

Now, months later, my brain refuses to remember why I actually stopped the boat.  It must have gotten superseded by the traumatic events that followed.

Autopilot disengaged, Idle, then neutral, the boat will coast to a “stop” in about three minutes.  Winds and current are still pushing the boat, in this case about 1.5 knots.

Then before I did whatever I had intended to do, I decided to turn the rudder to see if it made any difference in the boat motion.  Not a stupid plan; yet.

The rudder was already hard over to port. And then in an act of gross stupidity, I turned the wheel more to port. Why? Why? Why?

I knew the rudder was at or close to the stops.  The steering system had had some air in the system for a long time. No matter what I did, I could not get it all out.  So, I thought a little more turn couldn’t hurt.

Oh, my God, it could hurt.  After turning the wheel about a quarter, I felt it go slack in my hand.

I knew exactly what happened and turned to Micah to say, “We’re fucked now”.

I knew because I’ve had this sickening sense before: pushing on brake pedal that goes all the way to the floor or turning a steering wheel and nothing happens. When a hydraulic system goes slack: clutch, brakes, steering. It means the hydraulic system has no more pressure, A hose, fitting or part has given way.

He knew from my tone that I was serious, very serious.  I was so angry at myself. Had Micah done something like this, it’s an accident. For me, I knew better than anyone the consequences of over-pressurizing a system.

The Kadey Krogen has does have an emergency tiller that connects through a purposeful hole in the hatch.  But I hate even manually steering the boat in a sea.  To stand, sit in the stern deck and hand steer for 7 days like were some god-forsaken sailboat, fuhgeddaboudit.

But I also immediately realized I couldn’t afford the Pity Party. I also could let Micah start thinking of the consequences. Now was the time for solutions and solutions only.

When the Going Gets Tough; the Tough Get Going.

We had 200+ feet of hydraulic lines and the failure could be any place. gain, trying to control the sickening feeling in my stomach, If I’ve learned anything on this boat, it’s to always look for the easiest solution first.

So, we’d start at the rudder piston in the lazzerrette. Open the hatch, and at this point, a wonderful sight (on a boat everything is relative), hydraulic fluid oozing from a hole in the hose just above the fitting. This hose, one of two, for the rudder piston.

First thought, let’s try easy, easy solution, rubber tape, with hose clamps around it.

 This video is after i had completed this repair and also shows how I stopped the paravane pole from bouncing by using a fender.

It worked. We got our filing funnel for the upper helm station, from which the entire system is filled with AFT, Automatic Transmission Fluid, which conveniently, both the hydraulic steering and the Borg-Warner manual transmission use for lubrication and pressure.

The system took about 2 liters of fluid.  But I only had a total of 4 liters. I’m starting to think of chickens coming home to roost.

We get underway just under an hour later at 10:28. Everything is working reasonably well. You can see from the Maretron data how the boat roll is about half, while the pitch increases when dead in the water.

Coastal Explorer, our main navigation program, running on a dedicated solid state 12-volt boat computer had been acting up.  For a few days, it had not been displaying AIS information, no matter what little tricks I had used in the past to “wake it up”.

Now, I knew I was still sending, which is actually far more important, as since I have had transmit capability large ships always stay away. Having seen only one ship in 13 days, the display wasn’t critical, but I wanted it working. I like everything working.

So, as a last resort, I decided to reboot everything. Everything off and on again, in order, about a 4-minute process.  The log shows at 12:15 all was well.

We had been checking our repaired hose every hour, as well as topping up the fluid as needed.  In the last two hours, we had put another liter into the system.  The hose was leaking enough, probably a few liters every 12 to 24 hours.

Now this would have been no problem in coastal cruising.  We would have just topped it off until port.  I didn’t have that option.  So about 7 hours after the first fix, I knew I had to find the real fix.

Two Issues I had to solve: Hose & Fluid.

  1. For the hose, I knew I had a number of spare hydraulic hoses in two different places in the engine room. One set stored with all the extra hoses and tubing, the other set stored in the long-term spares containers on either side of the generator.
  2. The fluid was a bigger challenge. I used the Delorme InReach to text my contact Roger, who got in touch with Ski in NC. Ski, a long-time diesel expert, had been really helpful in the past, so I needed to figure out what I could use as substitute ATF.

The answer turned out to be simple and vexing, 4 parts diesel fuel to 1 part engine oil. Yes, the engine oil of which there was not extra. The engine needed every bit of oil.  Dauntless was now full of chickens.  They had all come home to roost.

The offending hose, steel braid rusted to the core.
I’m replacing these hoses and standardizing the fittings.

OK, first I had to clear out all those chickens. They were all over the place.  Before we did anything, I found the spare hose with the correct fitting in seconds. So far so good. I then stopped the boat again and also the engine, as I wanted to check the oil level to make sure of my calculations (on a passage like this, I just fill the engine at its usual use rate, without turning it off).

Oil level was just were I expected, so I decided I could spare one liter of oil. Worse case, we would arrive in Martinique one liter low, but that’s not a big deal for a day.

I got my tools and wrenches. Getting the old fitting off the three-way control valve ended up taking me 15 minutes.  I even heated it up with my kitchen torch, but I was very careful not to make my hose problem into something far bigger and unfixable.

Finally, it came out.  I put pike gunk on all the new fittings, makes for a better seal and I don’t want any more leaks.

In the video Micah took, you see one time water came across the deck. That’s water that enters thru the scuppers, usually on rolls of more than 15 to 20 degrees.  As I said, dead in the water, we bob more than roll, so I was only inundated with water twice in this operation which took about 40 minutes.  I wanted Micah to get more pictures of the outside scene not just the top of my head, but he was nervous and I think he felt better not looking out much.

Me on the other hand, I may not look it, but I was pretty ecstatic.  I’d fucked up and was able to fix it. We now had 5 liters of substitute ATF which would be more than enough.

The finished product

At 18:00 we were underway again.  Immediately, it was apparent that I had way too much air in the system.  The Auto-Pilot was acting errantly.  It would work for a few minutes, but once the rudder got far enough over, there was not enough pressure to get it back.  We would have to turn off the autopilot, then turn the wheel lock to lock three times until pressure built up in the system, check and top up the fluid at the upper helm station and reengaged the autopilot. This went on for a couple hours until I realized I needed to go to sleep to get ready for my 04:00 watch and the boat almost needed hand steering at this point.

That would not do.  I did not do all this to have to hand steer for 7 days.