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!

Boatyard infuriation

Maine’s short summer is winding down, and “No Regrets” is stuck at the boatyard. Aside from sailing the boat from one yard to another at the start of the season, we have not been able to sail this year. The major work we had done was to replace an engine and service the transmissions that turn the propellers. One thing led to another. The yard recommended that we replace the wiring in the engine rooms, because it was poor quality. We agreed, without realizing that the yard didn’t actually have time to finish this work. We’ve been waiting a month, unable to use the boat. After many delays and a constant stream of apologies about how busy they are with emergencies, today was to be the “sea trial” to demonstrate that the new engine and wiring are working. The dreaded but half-expected phone call came this morning. “The boat isn’t ready…,” followed by more apologies and excuses and stories. We rescheduled for tomorrow (Friday). Sunday we need to move the boat to another yard, because we have more work waiting to happen there. What are the chances that things will be working enough for a sea trial tomorrow…? Even if they are, we will probably come away with a list of things to “finish up.” What are the chances of that being done before Sunday…? We are held hostage, because we can’t very well take the boat away with the job unfinished. I thought we were going to do some sailing on the beautiful coast of Maine this summer… 

17 days until we are scheduled to leave Maine (to take the boat to New Jersey for two months). 156 days until we start the BPO.

Hatching the Plan, Part Three: The Partnership

Tim, Bill and I have become equal owners, equal partners. If we need to identify one captain on board, we will rotate that responsibility. We will sail West around the world, as participants in a rally called the Blue Planet Odyssey (www.blueplanetodyssey.com). The “BPO” has a theme of calling attention to global issues of climate change and health of our oceans. (More to come about that.) We will be following a predetermined schedule over 2 ½ years, and rendezvousing with other boats at the major stops along the way. And we will be starting the circumnavigation in less than 2 years.

This is not what I had envisioned, by a long shot.

People say, “You’re going to sail around the world with two guys you hardly know, that you met via the Internet!?” Yes, I am. Sometimes I reply, “When at sea in a small boat, stuff will happen with people you DO know, including close friends and family!” Most people laugh and agree. The three of us have a strong commitment to a shared goal, and we have demonstrated a willingness to work things out.

As for not doing it alone: What a relief! Bill and Tim are both good at troubleshooting problems and doing repairs. The fear of “too much boat to maintain” is gone. And splitting the costs three ways is a wonderful thing.

No Regrets 114
Bill & Tim & engine problems

About the west-about route in the tropics, and not sailing below the world’s big Capes: I’m okay with that. If I want to sail around Cape Horn someday, maybe I’ll do another voyage.

About taking 2 ½ years, and stopping “everywhere” along the way: This idea has grown on me. One of the reasons I didn’t want to “sight see” originally is that I didn’t want to deal with all the logistics of taking a boat into new countries and staying in unfamiliar ports. But as part of the BPO rally, most of this is predetermined – minimal work on my part.

About not having the “freedom” to go wherever we want along the way: Although commonly we think of freedom as avoiding commitments, there is also a freedom that comes from being committed. When Hallie and I sailed for a year long ago, we had a strict itinerary because we were meeting friends/family all along the way. There were sailors who thought we were nuts. But as those sailors perseverated about whether it was time to leave or not, and whether to visit island A or island B, I didn’t see them having any more fun than we were having. I’m okay with following the BPO schedule.

About leaving sooner than anticipated: well, there’s my “pull” toward retirement!