Starting South

The work was “almost” done.  We moved to the second boatyard to start installation of a new hydrogenerator (device for generating electricity by towing a propeller through the water) and to repair a cracked davit (structure for lifting/carrying the dinghy out of the water).  Meanwhile the re-wiring project of the first yard continued at the new location.  Some of the work planned/promised never happened.  But…we left Maine as scheduled, bound for New Jersey.  Tim and Bill planned to do the week-long trip, and my son Jesse and I were aboard for the first 3 days.

Winds were extremely light, so the engines got a workout.  The new/starboard one developed a disconcerting “shudder” periodically when run at full RPM.  The mechanic was nice enough to take our phone call on Sunday, and he asserted that it must be a problem with the fuel delivery.  We decided to continue with that engine running at reduced RPM.  We made it through the day and into a beautiful night as we approached the Cape Cod Canal.  Then just through the Canal we compounded our engine problems by trusting a fuel tank guage even though we were low on fuel.  With the gauge still telling us we had 3 gallons left, we ran that new engine dry!  (A particularly troublesome thing to do with a diesel engine, because you can’t simply add fuel and start it again; you have to “bleed” the system to get all the air out.)  We anchored for a few hours sleep, and then started again in the morning with just the port engine.

This time we checked the fuel level the way we should have before, dipping a dowel into the tank to see how much was left, rather than simply relying on the gauge.  And then this engine started losing power; then running fine for half an hour; then losing power more frequently; until we decided to stop running it.  The morning was calm, and we simply drifted while half the crew took the dinghy ashore to buy fuel (in two jerry cans) and the other half replaced the primary fuel filter in the hot engine room.  The fuel filter that came out was full of crud.  We clearly had dirt and/or algae in our tanks, and this could explain the “shudder” in the starboard engine as well as the loss of RPM on the port engine.  But what to do about it?

With our partially replenished fuel supply and our clean fuel filter we proceeded under one engine toward New Bedford, where we were hoping to connect with a mechanic to look into the issues with the starboard engine.  As we approached the congested entrance to the harbor, with large fishing vessels approaching from ahead and astern, the one operable engine again started to lose RPM, and then died!  We swung the boat out of the narrow channel, and hurriedly dropped an anchor, leaving us swinging so close to a navigational buoy that at one point we had to push off from it.  Having anticipated that this predicament could happen, we had the dinghy ready to lower quickly into the water, and we tied it alongside.  Now, hoping to make the scheduled hourly opening of the swing bridge into the harbor, and connect with the mechanic before the end of the business day, and avoid having to accept outside assistance, we did a test run of “pushing” the boat via the dinghy.  It seemed to give us adequate steerage way, so despite the Coast Guard cautioning us via radio about the current at the hurricane barrier, and the presence of a commercial tow vessel circling vulture-like, we raised anchor and carried on under dinghy power.  This was tricky going, with the helmsman unable to control the power directly, and the dinghy man unable to hear or see what was going on,  and the swing bridge being held open for us while a line of cars waited impatiently for it to close…  We made it.  And with some more awkward maneuvering, and the help of the port engine restarting, we made it gently to the dock.  What a day!

The mechanic bled the starboard engine for us and got it started again.  And the boatyard agreed to attempt to clean the fuel tanks the following day.  In the morning — this morning — Jesse and I caught a bus home, and left Tim and Bill to hopefully get underway again tomorrow, with fuel problems behind them (?) and two working engines, and good weather forecast for a delightful summer cruise down the Long Island Sound, through New Your City, and on to the boat’s temporary home near Atlantic City, New Jersey.  I’m really hoping it works out that way for you, Mates!

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