Saturday, September 28, 2013

Not the Greatest Day

Oh where to begin? I guess the beginning is as good a place as any. Today was supposed to be leg 1 of our big offshore passage around the garden state of New Jersey. Was going to be a long day so we got an early start. During our passage planning last night winds were forecast to be a moderate 10-15knots from the North-East. Waves 2-3 feet from the east with a period of 12 seconds. No rain. Visibility good. All looked good and I thought that since we were headed south, winds from the the North East would be good for a broad reach (a point of sail where the wind is coming from almost behind the boat, about 7:30 on a clock dial). 

Most was as forecast. Waves were more like 3-5feet with a period of 12 seconds and wind was more from 7:00 on a clock dial. Sailing on the ocean is not like sailing on a lake, the biggest difference being waves. Those interminable waves. Hitting us from the side they made the boat very rolley. This rolling swings the sails from side to side and the only moderate wind was not able to counteract and hold the sails on one side. There was a lot of bouncing around and luffing and gybing. The rigging took a beating. And so did we. Poor Cassandra got very seasick (she may go into more detail on her blog but I won't here). I don't claim to be a master sail trimmer but I know a thing or two and believe me I tried all kinds of things for many hours. Without the waves we would have been laughing, but with the waves I could not get her to hold a course direct enough to get us to our planned destination in time. Putting the motor back on and motorsailing didn't help matters much because that made the apparent wind even weaker which gave the waves more influence on the sails. I was at my wits end and finally we dropped both sails to motor a direct route the rest of the way. Even flopping around, the sails had some damping effect on the waves and when we dropped them it got even more rolley. But we drove on! And Cassandra even took the helm to motor a bit. Things flying around the cabin, falling, creaking. Ah the Ocean. But that is not all my friends... no... because then all of a sudden came a sound which is typically my favourite but today was my most dreaded; the engine stopped. Full throttle to put put put, stop. Silence. Scary silence. I was in shock. This was bad. Here we were, now just drifting in the rolling ocean. Yikes (not the exact word I used). While this was a very dire situation I am happy to report that all is well and that I am very proud of the way we handled it. We unfurled the foresail to at least give us some forward propulsion and steerage (Rule #2 make sure you can steer your sailboat - you can't steer a sailboat if it's not moving!). I jumped downstairs and examined the front of the engine. I could not see anything visibly wrong, no leaks, no lose hoses and ya it was really hot but not too much more than usual. A diesel engine essentially needs three things fuel, air (combustion) and water (cooling). Cooling, water seemed to be flowing. Lack of air is extremely rare but it's an easy fix so I removed the air filter. The engine would re-start but die soon. It had to be the fuel. I emptied out all the stuff from under the cockpit seat (chucking things everywhere in the cockpit and down below) to access the fuel lines on the side of the engine. Nothing abnormal. 

As luck would have it we happened to be passing an inlet that we had identified as a Plan B (should anything go wrong) the night before. I radioed a nearby sailboat (just like last time going into an inlet...hope this doesn’t become a thing), explained the situation and asked if it was possible to enter this inlet under sail. He said it was possible but not so easy and gave me some tips & advice on how to enter and where to anchor quickly once in. We considered our options. He radioed back and said that actually he was going in and we could follow him. I wanted to try one more thing on the engine a before attempting to enter the inlet under sail. He agreed to wait a few minutes. I jumped back down stairs, broke out the ratchet set, which of course in my haste I opened upside down and all the ratchets fell everywhere on the floor. After rummaging and finding the correct size I was able to loosen a screw in the fuel line and bleed the system to remove any air. And it appeared there was air. Once sweet fuel started to squirt out I retightened the nut and after a two tries the engine ran!! I was so relieved! All this while we're rocking & rolling in the ocean swells. We were both done for the day and radioed our escort that while we had fixed the engine we would nonetheless follow him in under motor. 

We are now anchored in too shallow water (will likely touch bottom at low tide tonight) and close to a channel with lots of weekend boat traffic coming & going. We'll put extra lights out tonight on deck to make sure we're very visible. 

Once secured at anchor Cassandra immediately went for a well deserved nap and although I was exhausted I started to clean and organize the boat. Used label maker to label the ratchet set with “Top – Open Here” & “Bottom – DO NOT OPEN”, cleaned up all the chaos from the rolling and the engine issue and went further and organized many other things. I just had to. It's funny, but organizing was my coping mechanism from the traumatic experience! To get things sorted out in my head I had to get things sorted out around me. I'm sure I get this from my mother. After everything was in it's place and I had a pile of things to throw out I felt much better and went for a nap myself.

We left with about ¾ of a tank of diesel and when the engine cut out we had just over ½. I think that with all the rocking & rolling swishing half a tank around some air may have gotten into the fuel lines. Before leaving tomorrow we'll try and top off at one of the marinas here or from our extra jerry can.


  1. John, this is epic. I read this on the edge my seat. Lianne and I leave for our bareboat charter in BVI on Wednesday. Once we return, we make preparations to get hot on your heels.

    Fair winds,
    s/v Red Baron

  2. My heart was in my mouth as I read this. I channeled our brief experience on windy Lac St. Louis and quadrupled it to get a sense of how tough your day was. Impressed by how you handled it. My girl is in good hands. I hope the run to Bermuda will be much smoother since you will be on open ocean.

    ...and a following sea,

    Winnipeg John

  3. John I follow your blog and it's allways a pleasure to discover your adventures. On the engine issue, It's quite rare that and engine could take enough air with an half tank of diesel to stop an engine but with the rolling who knows. Take care and enjoy any adventure.

  4. The ocean has take a tribute, but in the process you learn about yourself and are becoming a seadog. Be safe!