Sunday, January 13, 2019

Repower is Finished - On with Cruising!

To nobody's surprise at all, the repower took a couple weeks longer than expected. This was mainly due to our decision to replace the old two-piece drive/prop shaft with a single piece, only to discover that it could not be machined in St. Thomas but was instead manufactured and shipped from Ft. Lauderdale. This was happening right around the holidays, which I think interfered a bit, and then shipping (via USPS) was a mess - it actually got returned to Florida, then mailed again to St. Thomas. The result was that we didn't actually get the shaft until just after the New Year. Meanwhile we sat on the dock at $67 a night, which was frustrating. We launched the dinghy and used it to run Piper around the corner to Vessup Beach, which was a nice cruising-like break from the dock. I picked up a 9-day double Rio trip over Christmas (gotta pay for all this shiny new machinery!) while Dawn flew north to be with family. Back on the boat, we worked on miscellaneous projects like servicing our winches and recaulking our teak deck, and then celebrated a nice, fairly low-key New Years Eve in Redhook, staying up until nearly 3am.

The shaft, new engine and transmission went into the boat on Friday, Jan 4th, about as easy as the old one came out although Kevin did have to take a few more things off of the new engine. We were told fairly late that our second alternator's brackets wouldn't work with the new engine, and not wanting to spend more time in St. Thomas to have a new bracket machined, I chose to install a battery switch to allow the 120A alternator that came with the engine charge either the engine or house batteries (and also allow either bank to start the engine). We do want to keep the redundancy of a second alternator, but this setup buys us some time to get the new installation right. Solar and wind are doing a pretty good job of keeping up with our usage, but it would be pretty disconcerting to head out cruising with no other means of charging your house bank.

After the engine was physically in the boat on Jan 4th, I had to head to the airport to fly to Atlanta, where I had my 9-month recurrent training on Saturday and Sunday. Kevin did more of the installation on Saturday but not everything was done, so he finished up Monday morning, at which point I was back. By Monday afternoon we'd started the engine for the first time - a very exciting moment - but it was too late for sea trials, so we did those Tuesday morning. The engine ran very well, but it was obvious we're pretty underpropped with the new engine. I think we were with the old one too, but now it's especially bad. Other Tayana 42 owners with 53-57 hp engines get about 6-6.5 knotsin flat water at 2400 rpm; our old engine gave us 5.5 on a good day; with this one we're getting 4.8. It's only an 18-inch 2-bladed prop with (I'm guessing, there's no stamp) around a 12-14 inch pitch, which is quite small. Kevin advised us we should repitch or get a large prop as soon as possible, and we decided to do so in St. Martin, where the marine facilities and services are considerably more abundant than St. Thomas.

We left the dock at American Yacht Harbor for good at 11am Tuesday with a terribly embarrassing incident, our first ever docking disaster. With a narrow fairway to maneuver in and a brisk crosswind piping up, a miscommunication between Dawn and I plus a misjudgement on my part led me to try to turn out before I had room to clear our rather large neighbor, M/V Tabula Rasa, whose bow was sticking well out into the fairway. We ended up getting blown into her huge anchor, which neatly inserted itself between our forward lower starboard shroud and upper starboard shrouds. The owner and a bystander came running to help, along with two cruisers on small dinghies, and between all of us we were able to extricate the rig from the anchor's clutch and push Windbird clear. We circled back to the T-head to apologize and make sure there wasn't any damage; thankfully both boats escaped without harm (well, we slightly bent one of our stanchions). It was a couple of really tense minutes and could have been a lot worse, and it left us feeling a bit shaken all day, definitely taking away from some of the glorious triumph of escaping Red Hook with a brand new engine.

We motored to Maho Bay, our favorite anchorage on St. John, where we swam with turtles and I gave Windbird's bottom a good scrub with my snuba rig (it was surprisingly clean for 2 months in marinas, so unfortunately the scrub didn't improve our speed much). Piper got in some good beach play time once the beachgoers went home, although the sunset patrol of vicious noseeums cut short his fun. It was a lovely evening with brilliant stars, and it felt so great to be out cruising again.

The next morning we sailed downwind back to Cruz Bay, where the local insurance adjuster, Marty Carlson, had asked to see the boat again. The one thing he hadn't been able to figure out, and something that had bothered me too, was just how the top end of the engine got so full of water when the bilge flooding had only reached the bottom of the rear main seal. A remark from the mechanic who worked on the boat in Puerto Rico gave Marty an idea, which was quickly borne out once he inspected our cooling/exhaust system. Our raw water, after it exits the heat exchanger, goes through a vented loop above the water line before returning to the exhaust elbow. The vented loop drains into the scupper hose. Because I apparently neglected to open the scupper seacocks before we left the boat for the summer, once they filled up with water it backflowed to the vented loop, filled the water muffler (that I had drained), then came up through the exhaust and flooded the top end through one or more open exhaust valves. The boatsitters were still negligent for not bringing the cockpit flooding or bilge flooding to my attention, but my inexplicable failure to ensure the scupper seacocks were open after I exercised them (it was on my checklist, and had been crossed off) was the original disastrous mistake. It remains to be seen how our insurance is going to handle this.

After Marty inspected the boat, we motorsailed around the south side of St. John to Lameshur Bay, our 2nd-most favorite anchorage in St. John. I enjoyed some spectacular snorkeling around the point there, and it was another beautiful night with only one other boat around. The next day, Thursday Feb 10th, we were off the mooring at 11am and headed ESE to St. Martin, 95 miles away. We had a great weather window for motorsailing across the notoriously rough Anegada Passage (which wags call the "Anegada Pukeage"). It was a little slow and choppy at first, but soon the wind went almost directly south and quite light, and the seas settled down and our speed crept up. We crossed in quite a lot of company, for many cruisers had been holed up in the Virgins waiting for the Christmas Winds to break. While we were about 15 miles out, our friends John and Belinda on S/V Be As You Are radioed back that there were several lobster pots in 100 feet of water just after crossing the dropoff while approaching St. Martin. Since I had my usual 4am-7am watch and didn't want to wake Dawn up early, I slowed down and altered course to the south to cross the shelf once there was enough light to see any lobster pots. We got into Marigot Bay at 7:20am Friday and found a nice spot to anchor in 11 feet of crystal clear water over a perfect sand bottom. And that's where we are now.

I'll write more about St. Martin later, but my first impression is that they got really, really hard hit by Irma and they've been a lot slower to recover than Puerto Rico, the USVI, and even the BVI. Marigot is a shell of its former charming self. Quite a few completely wrecked buildings have been left where they lay, the bush quickly overgrowing them. There are still dozens of sunken and half-sunk boats in the lagoons. It's still beautiful here and there's a lot of boat activity, and the marine industries seem to be back up to full speed (largely fueled by all the salvage and repair work, I'd guess). But I'd guess it's going to be several years yet before St. Martin fully recovers from Irma.

We ran into our old pals Howard and Doris from S/V Safara here; they actually hailed us as we were pulling into Marigot. Last year we weathered the blow of the season in Mayaguana with them (and our friends on Sea Otter), and made the short crossing to Provo in their company. They quickly scooted across to the DR and it was several weeks before we saw them once again, in Luperon. After that they scooted down the chain to Grenada, and this season have been working their way back up to St. Martin where they're doing some work on the boat. Yesterday I got on the cruiser's net to inquire about a 3-bladed propeller, and Howard came back to offer a 19" x 13" specimen from his bilge, for free! I'm cleaning it up today and we'll hire a diver to put it on tomorrow, and hopefully it'll be a good match for the engine. If not, we'll have to choose between buying a new fixed-blade prop or springing for a nice MaxProp or VariProp feathering propeller. They're a lot of money and require extra maintenance but have much better power in reverse, have field adjustable pitch, and have far less drag while sailing than a traditional 3-blade prop.

Our other project here is getting a new bracket fabricated for the second alternator. A machinist should be coming to the boat tomorrow, and can hopefully draw up some plans. Then it looks like we'll have good weather to head to Saba and Statia for a week before coming back to St Martin. We'll finish exploring the island, get our practical stuff wrapped up, and I'll fly out for a 4-day trip; then my parents will be flying in and we'll head out with them to St. Barth, (possibly) Montserrat, and Antigua. It's good to be out cruising again!

Monday, December 10, 2018

Repower Project Part Two

Well, it's been a full week of work in the engine room. I've reinsulated all four walls, tidied up a lot of wiring and plumbing, cleaned the far reaches of the bilge, repainted the whole thing with several coats of bilge paint, and am now in the process of replacing fuel and water hoses and reinsulating the access doors. The result is a much improved engine room that will look quite nice with a shiny new Yanmar 4JH57 engine and ZF 15-MIV transmission sitting in it.

Oh, and a new driveshaft. The original configuration of the drive train, as Mark and Judy and Dave Laux installed it in 2005, was a drive shaft passing through a pillow block under the engine, attached to the prop shaft via a coupling just forward of the stuffing box. When I replaced the transmission last September, Dave Laux said the pillow block was unnecessary, so I eliminated it - and we've had no unusual vibration since. However, the drive shaft did have a narrow wear spot where it used to ride in the pillow block.

Fast forward to this week: our engine installer, Kevin of Mi'kmaq Marine didn't like the worn shaft or especially the split shaft with a coupler between the transmission and the stuffing box. He felt it would be much more difficult to get a satisfactory alignment on the new engine, especially without a pillow block. So we decided to replace it with a one-piece shaft. This necessitated removing the current prop shaft. Unfortunately neither the coupler nor the prop would come off despite a lot of coaxing on Saturday (the diver ended up spending well over an hour in the water), so Kevin ended up cutting the shaft just behind the coupler.

You can probably imagine what happened next. Having made such an irrevocable move, we soon found out that the local machine shop couldn't make a one-piece prop shaft as long as we needed it because there is no 1 1/4" stainless shaft stock that long (84") on the island. So instead it is being machined in Miami and will have to be shipped down here...5-10 days according to the machine shop. Ugh. We really wanted to be done by this coming weekend. There's a possible weather window to Sint Maarten next week and we'd like to be able to get there for the holidays. It'd be a good place to leave the boat while I fly out to work and Dawn flies out to see family, and we have friends who are planning to fly down into SXM to join us on Windbird Dec 25 - Jan 3. If the boat is in St Thomas or the BVI, I'm not sure how easy it will be for them to change their tickets. We're just taking it one day at a time, I guess.

The engine didn't ship until Friday, it's supposedly on the island but needs to clear customs so we won't have it until Wednesday at the earliest. The transmission arrived via FedEx on Friday but is still in customs, I'm not entirely sure what the holdup is. FedEx had some note about awaiting duty payment. It's supposed to be duty-free as it's part of the propulsion system for a vessel in transit, but the challenge is locating a human to whom I can make that argument. I may have to take a taxi over to FedEx tomorrow or Wednesday. I'd probably be more apprehensive about it, except that now the prop shaft is the limiting factor.

We're actually awaiting several shipments from our last Amazon order, which were quite delayed. Shipping is much slower and more of a pain in the ass here than Puerto Rico, which is a bit of a surprise. Other things are easier here.

I mentioned a work trip above. I actually was able to bid Christmas off and was planning to fly up north with Dawn to visit family, but due to all the expense of the repower (and insurance's slow response), I decided to pick up a 9-day, 51-hour trip with two Rio do Janeiro layovers from Dec 20th - 28th. Merry Christmas to the lucky FO who had the improbable luck of somebody picking up a 9-day trip over Christmas! Christmas Day will be spent in New York City, but before and after you'll be able to find me on Copacabana Beach. I get done early on the 28th; depending on how the next week plays out, I'll then fly down to either SXM or STT. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Repower Project Part One Complete

On Saturday after we docked at AYH we mostly took it easy, checking out the local shops and hitting up Tap & Still for Happy Hour. We'd been to the Tap & Still in Charlotte Amalie with Mak, Dane and Isla from Sea Otter back in May, good spot. We returned there Sunday night to watch the Vikings lose in fairly predictable fashion to the Patriots.

Before that, though, our Sunday was spent preparing for the engine removal. We started by taking apart our engine room, which was an amazingly easy process involving ten screws and maybe 30 minutes. Suddenly we had fantastic access to our engine...I'd be tempted to do this for more routine projects, except you have to find a place to store everything. For now that's the V-berth, and once that filled up then parts and tools started occupying the forward head and the port side of the salon. It's a cramped boat for the duration.

After one final ceremonial startup and short run, I removed our big Balmar alternator, bracket and belts, the voltage regulator and harness, and the stock alternator along with engine battery cables to starter and ground. I took off the airbox, drained the oil and coolant, and disconnected raw water hoses. I disconnected fuel lines and let them drain into my used diesel jug overnight, and also left the oil filter off overnight to drain into a baggie as I suspected we'd need the filter off to fit the engine through our cabin door. I disconnected the throttle link mechanism. Finally, I took the bolts out of the drive shaft-prop shaft coupling, as I figured we'd leave the transmission and drive shaft in place while picking the engine and then take off the tranny once we had better access.

On Monday morning Kevin from Mi'kmaq Marine showed up right on time and got straight to work. Basically the only prep work that was left was the transmission shift linkage and the four engine mount bolts. After that he got out his gear. Kevin has a really impressive and slick system for engine removal and installation. Usually he does this himself, so having two extra people just made it easier. Basically, he uses two jack stands to support an eight-foot I-beam, on which runs a little trolley. He hangs a chain hoist from the trolley and can then crank up the engine and move it up to eight feet. Then he puts the engine down, moves the jackstands and I-beam, and repeats the process.

It took four of these moves to get our engine off the boat. For the first move, the I-beam was suspended diagonally across the (former) engine room, with one jack stand in our cabin and the other in the passageway to the salon. This got the engine to the passageway, where Kevin removed the transmission & driveshaft, as well as the oil filter and fuel distributor to get it through our cabin door. After we pushed it through the cabin door, Keven used the trolley to get the engine up and over an awkward corner of the nav station seat into the salon. Then he repositioned the jackstands and I-beam up topside, over the cockpit (we had removed the dodger and folded the Bimini back that morning), and I cranked the engine up through the companionway hatch. Talk about a tight fit! Finally, he put one jack stand in the cockpit and the other on the dock, and he was able to slide the engine right through the lifeline gate to his engine cart on the dock. The whole process, from Kevin showing up to the engine sitting in his shop, took only about two hours.

That made us really optimistic about the while process going that smoothly, but of course it hasn't. We left the transmission on a piece of cardboard in the port half of the salon, and the next morning it was soaked with oil. It was leaking from the shaft seal. I brought the transmission to Kevin's shop and in short order got some very bad news. There was water in the transmission oil, and Kevin had talked to ZF and they said it would need new bearings, seals and races. Add in Kevin's labor, and it was just cheaper to get a new transmission. I had previously checked the oil after the transmission got dunked, and it seemed clean, but I apparently didn't get my tube quite deep enough into the transmission's innards. This really sucks, because as you may recall I just replaced the transmission in Cape May in September 2017. The good news was that ZF was able to rush a replacement from Florida to St. Thomas and it should arrive tomorrow or the next day, beating the engine here and probably not slowing down our timeline. It'll set us back an extra $2800 for now, but we added it to the insurance claim. We'll see how that shakes out, our insurance company has been pretty unresponsive but seems to finally have kicked things into high gear today. I'll be calling them daily to keep them on point.

Other than that, I've been busy in the engine room. The ultimate goal for the next week is to clean and repaint the bilge, get new bilge pumps secured in place, clean up the wiring and plumbing, and add new insulation to all the walls we didn't do last year. To just get started on that required removing quite a few hoses, engine mounts, and miscellaneous items. Cleaning has proven a pretty huge and disgusting chore, made worse by the flooding that spread the accumulated sludge to every corner of the bilge. I spent much of today literally head down in the bilge. I looked like Swamp Thing by the end. But it's finally clean, I started standing today and will start painting tomorrow, the bilge pumps are done, much of the wiring and plumbing cleanup is done, and we're ready to start prettying up the engine room with new insulation. They don't give that stuff away, by the way. The local Budget Marine charged $120 for a 3x4 sheet. Fortunately I also had about that much left over from our previous engine room project. Hopefully we'll have enough.

Meanwhile the engine supposedly made it on the boat today, should get here Friday, and will be available for pickup Monday. We're planning on Tuesday and Wednesday for installation, and weather permitting we're hoping to head to St. Maarten ASAP, skipping the BVI altogether this time. We're eager to get this big project behind us and get on with our cruising season. 

Monday, December 3, 2018

Season Opener

Oh, how good it felt to get off the dock! With all the frustration over the engine and the rolling delays at our hot, airless slip in Puerto del Rey, we’d almost forgotten the point of living on a boat. And then we got to Culebra and enjoyed a starfilled night at anchor in the beautiful, breezy Dakity anchorage, and everything made sense again. We enjoyed a 4-day, 3-night minicruise to start our season before taking a dock again in St. Thomas to begin our repower project, and it was just what we needed before taking on this challenge.

We left Puerto del Rey on the morning of Weds, Nov 28th, after saying our goodbyes to various friends there and relieving Stephen & Luiza of S/V Carpe Ventum (buddy boat from last year) of their Sailrite LSZ-1, as they’re headed back to the states to sell the boat, get hitched, and begin land life together. We were off the dock about an hour later than intended, at 10:15am, and no sooner had we cleared the breakwater than the engine overheat alarm went off. I glanced at the water temp gauge; it was pegged. There was just enough wind to sail, about 8-10 knots from the SSE, so I cut the engine to idle and headed upwind, Dawn heaved up the mainsail, and I killed the engine as we slowly drifted away from the reef at 2 knots. Once she got the boat cleaned up we put out the Yankee and the staysail, and then enjoyed a calm, beautiful 4-5-knot close-to-beam reach. I put both rods out and caught two fish, a barracuda and an edible-size bar jack. I kept the latter and we grilled it up Friday night. I also lost a lure to a hard strike.

Later the winds became more SE and we had to tack once to clear Cayo Luis Pena; then they veered back S but died to 7-8 knots, and we drifted the rest of the way to Culebra. We actually sailed all the way in the reef enterance and only started the engine to grab a mooring ball at Dakity, but later discovered we might as well have started the engine earlier, for our little 4-cum-3-cylinder Yanmar was more resilient than we thought.

After arriving at Dakity around 4pm we launched the dinghy to make the mile-long run into Dewey to take Piper ashore and do happy hour at the newly reopened Dinghy Dock bar & restaurant. No sooner had we tied up there than we saw two very familiar faces, Mike and Martha from S/V Laila, our dock neighbors at Puerto del Rey! The weather forecast for the next day hadn’t changed - light and flaky winds straight from the E - so we decided to stay another day.

Thursday was a delightfully lazy day. I soaked in the bathtub warm water for a while, Dawn and Piper took the paddleboard for a cruise around the anchorage, and then in mid-afternoon our other PdR dockmates, John and Barbara of S/V Mojo, cruised into the anchorage. And then we discovered via Facebook that Hayward, Ainsley & family of S/V Pura Vida were arriving from St. Croix! They spent the summer with other kid boats in Grenada and are now on their way back home to South Carolina. We took the dinghy over to the west side of Culebra via the canal through Dewey, and spent a nice hour aboard Pura Vida catching up. We couldn’t stay long, as we had an early wake up planned for Friday.

The alarm went off at 3:30am, and by 4am we were off the mooring and steaming out of the channel. The forecast had changed several times, becoming progressively lighter, and indeed the wind turned out to be even lighter than the revised forecast: 7-10 knots and variable from NE to SE. This made for challenging sailing as Windbird doesn’t really like to move in less than 10 knots true wind, especially upwind into chop, and so we ended up running the engine at reduced power for 6 of the nearly 10 hours enroute. She really ran pretty smoothly for only running on three cylinders. The best sailing of the day was when we ran along the edge of a 15-18 knot squall in late morning. When we were two miles from Christmas Cove we finally cried uncle, furled the Yankee, and motored lickety-damn straight to the anchorage. All the mooring balls were taken so we anchored in 26 feet of water over thin grass and sand just north of Fish Cay. We ordered late lunch from Pizza Pi, and had the leftovers for dinner.

The next morning was leisurely; I paddle boarded around the anchorage and visited with a couple kids who just sailed a Tayana 42 aft-cockpit, S/V Eclipse, offshore from Boston. After waiting out a brief but intense squall, we hauled anchor and motored through Current Cut and into Red Hook bay. Our reserved slip at American Yacht Harbor was still occupied so we took a vacant mooring ball for a couple hours until the dockmaster cleared us in. And that was the last time our faithful little Yanmar ever ran, for over the weekend we began the process of getting her ready to be removed from the boat. But that’s a story for another post.

First impressions of Red Hook: it’s a little surgey on the dock here, but far less than I expected considering that the bay is open to the eastern prevailing trades. I guess St. John and the offlying cays to the NE break up the swell before it gets in here. The marina here is small, decently nice, and rebuilding after Irma; it’s pretty expensive and some of their policies rub us the wrong way. We probably wouldn’t stay here except that it’s a convenient place to do the repower. The good news is that we’re parked facing west and there’s a nice cooling breeze right down our hatch in the aft cabin. And there are lots of stores and bars around to tempt our rapidly dwindling dollars. Anyways, I’m really eager for this repower to be done so we can get back out there on the hook. Our season opener minicruise was a taste of the good stuff, and I’m looking forward to more.


Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The Decision

The situation: we have an 8500 hour engine that had a ton of epoxy-contaminated rainwater sit inside the crankcase and pistons for an unknown amount of time this summer, which is only running on three cylinders. The fourth cylinder has low compression and the head checks out fine, so the problem is presumed to be the rings.

Solution #1: Pull the engine, have it overhauled by local mechanic Gerry Martino, reinstall. Cost: $6700 including all work done to engine so far. Time: 6-8 weeks assuming no long delays in finding/shipping parts. This would have us sailing out of Fajardo sometime in mid-late Jan and living at the dock (at $1.10/ft/night) in the meantime.

Solution #2A: Purchase new Yanmar 4JH57 from R&B Power in San Juan, shipped from Europe for appx. $14,300 plus 11% sales tax. Time to receive: 6-8 weeks. Have installed by Island Marine at Puerto del Rey (booked up to mid-Jan). Presumably leave Fajardo in late Jan. This engine has the same footprint and dimensions as our current 4JH4E, allowing us to use current engine mounts, transmission, and transmission adaptor plate.

Solution #2B: Purchase same 4JH57 from R&B Power, but they would order through Mack Boring who they claim charges 20% extra. Delivery in 2 weeks. Install ourselves with help from Gerry Martino. Cost appx $19,000 plus installation costs. Leave in mid-December.

Solution #3: Order Yanmar 4JH57 from Offshore Marine in St. Thomas, $14160 delivered, no tax. Delivered from mainland U.S. in two weeks. Installed by Mi’kmaq Marine of Red Hook, which does a bunch of engine installs for Offshore and has an engine hoist on the docks at American Yacht Harbor. Sail to St. Thomas for installation, use current engine running on 3 cylinders only to get off dock in Fajardo and take dock in St. Thomas. Done by mid-December.

Solution #4: Sell boat, move back to land.

We didn’t seriously consider Solution #4, we haven’t been that beat down enough just yet! We did consider #1. Gerry seems to be a good mechanic and I think he’d do a good job overhauling. However I could see it dragging on and eating a large portion of our cruising season, and it’s a high time engine. I don’t see having the engine overhauled by a shade tree mechanic in Puerto Rico adding much to the boats value or salability when we put her on the market in a few years. Dawn was pretty adamant all along that if we had to take the engine out, she’d prefer we put a new one in, and she has a good point.

Solution 2B was more money than we wanted to spend, and 2A kept us around Puerto Rico longer than we cared to stay. Plus dealing with R&B Power did not give me the warm fuzzies. They were pretty disorganized, it took a while for them to give me a quote, and their answers on several key things (including sales tax) changed several times. Offshore Marine was really easy to deal with, and talking to the installer at Mi’kmaq, Kevin, gave me a lot of confidence that he’s done a lot of these and shouldn’t have any great trouble doing the swap. Plus, his schedule looked good for the time the engine would arrive.

So we ended up putting down our 50% deposit and ordering a new engine with Offshore Marine. It should arrive by Dec 10. In the meantime I flew a 6-day trip over Thanksgiving, I’m traveling back to Puerto Rico today, and we take off for Culebra and St. Thomas tomorrow. This whole ordeal is going to basically empty our cruising kitty so I may end up flying more than planned this winter, but at least we’ll have a new engine and be able to keep on cruising.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

A Week Without Windbird

We just finished up nine days in the BVI, on a charter boat, without Windbird or Piper. The former stayed here on the dock in Puerto del Rey, where our dockmates John and Barbara on Mojo kept an eye on her. The latter went off to a doggy resort called Wildane Kennels, up in the foothills of El Yunque, while we flew from San Juan to Tortola. We were on a Sunsail-branded Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 389 named "Lady Meta," courtesy of Moorings charter boat owner friends who heard about our bum engine predicament. Their generosity was greatly appreciated, but it was still kind've a bummer to be going back to a charter boat. We brought a ton of stuff with us, and I was still constantly wanting various tools or equipment, turning around to get them, and then realizing they were back on Windbird. Plus the Jeanneau felt small, light and cheap compared to Windbird. We experienced some relatively nasty weather over the week and would have appreciated Windbird's solidity. Plus, surprisingly, we didn't find the Jeanneau to be particularly faster or more weatherly than Windbird; we gave her a good workout the last two days, and her performance was roughly the same as Windbird's in moderate to heavy wind.

I didn't actually spend a ton of time on Lady Meta; the whole reason we made the trip when we really would have rather been back in Puerto Rico with Windbird was because my brother Steve had put together a sailing trip on a 48' Leopard catamaran with ten of his friends - only one of whom had sailed before - and he needed my sailing expertise to be able to handle that boat. So I checked Dawn and my brother Jon and his girlfriend Heather out on Lady Meta the first day, then spent the next four days as supervising skipper and sailing instructor on S/V Shipyouknot. Only on the last two days did I cut Steve loose and return to the Jeanneau, which Dawn, Jon and Heather really appreciated. They'd been having a tough time keeping up with the cat in windy, choppy, squally conditions that were challenging for an experienced skipper, nevermind one solo for the first time with fairly green crew. It was frustrating for them to bash for hours only to find the cat arrived an hour earlier, with our crew well into party mode without them.

Sailing the cat was pretty interesting. I've done a few charters on 39-46' Leopard cats, and served as crew on a few others, but always got the impression they were pretty slow and clumsy to windward. Maybe I was just in too light of conditions, or still green and uneducated in sail trim. This time I seldom touched the helm or sheets, but gave instruction to all those interested, and we were able to do really well going to windward in 13 to 23+ knots of wind. When sailing "against" similar charter cats aboard Windbird this spring, I observed that they had a couple knots of boatspeed over us but we pointed nearly 10 degrees higher, generally getting passed off the wind but beating the cats to the upwind mark. This time we were doing 3-4 knots over what Windbird would do in similar conditions and pointing within 5 degrees (58° true wind angle vs 53° for Windbird), for overall better upwind performance.

One thing I initially disliked about the cat but which eventually made sense was its dual mainsheet system, with both sheets fed to a single manual winch. The upwind sheet serves as mainsheet, while the downwind sheet augments the boom vang to control sail twist. The dance of which sheet to put on the winch when gets a little getting used to, especially for jibing. The Jeanneau, meanwhile, had a double-ended mainsheet with each end fed to the primary winches near the helms. The upwind winch is generally used to trim the mainsheet - but again this results in an interesting routine during a jibe.

There were a few changes to the BVI since our visit in April. The islands continue to grow back more foilage and get more lush. I saw fewer structures missing roofs, and reconstruction in Road Town is proceeding apace. A lot of sunken and beached boats have been cleared out, although quite a few still remain. The Great Irma Trash Heap on the southwest side of Tortola is much smaller. The Willy T is back, bigger and better, with cheaper drink prices(!) and this time moored in Peter Island's Great Harbour. Suddenly Peter Island is popular, while The Bight at Norman Island looked deserted both times I saw it. There are rumors the Willy T will have to move again due to complaints by the Peter Island Resort, who apparently did not learn the lesson of Pirate's Bight. The Bitter End Yacht Club in North Sound has torn down all its wrecked structures in preparation for rebuilding, while Saba Rock hasn't seen much progress. Soggy Dollar added a few new palm trees but still feels quite different than the old one. Quito's Gazebo in Cane Garden Bay is almost rebuilt, and Myett's (newly sold to Pusser's) nearly has their second story back on. Anegada Beach Club is its old peaceful, welcoming self.

The seven day charter circuit can really be a slog, especially when you include the long sail to and from Anegada in challenging conditions. Dawn and I much prefer the "BVI Slow Cruise" we practiced aboard Windbird last season. Still, it was a lot of fun to introduce both sailing and the BVI to a boatload of newbies, who were all blown away by the experience. We finished the week with two days of Dawn and I racing Lady Meta against the cat crew, and while we were faster, it was pretty cool to see them sail the boat by themselves. The whole time we were thinking about Windbird; we made a decision about her engine, and set about implementing that decision (which I'll write about soon). We were pretty happy to get back to her (and Piper) today; there's no place like home, which is definitely what Windbird is to us now.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Bad Engine Blues

Our drive to Atlanta went well on October 23-25th, and the flight down to San Juan PR on the 26th went off without a hitch. Well, not quite - we bought a cheap ticket on SWA for Dawn since all the flights on my airline were oversold. I was on a jumpseat pass on the same flight we had paid to have Piper shipped as cargo, and it turned out there were plenty of seats due to misconnects - we didn't have to pay for Dawn after all. Oh well. Piper did very well with being shipped, again.

Our four days in the boatyard were hot, dusty, and busy. The boat was a little dirtier and moldier than we realized, so Dawn had some work cut out to make it habitable. We steadily worked our way down the long project list and got everything done by our scheduled launch at 3:30pm on Oct 30th. In the week since I had last visited the boat, mechanic Gerry Martino had finished flushing water out of the crankcase, removing water from the top end, and lubricating the cylinders through the injector holes. He also installed a new raw water throughhull and seacock, the job whose estimation (my another mechanic) led to the initial discovery of the water in the bilge. Gerry very briefly ran the engine while the boat was on the hard; I was really worried about internal rusting and potential damage down the road. As it turns out, I was right to worry.

The launch went very smoothly. Once in the water, the engine started right up but smoked heavily, which I initially attributed to the extra oil Gerry had injected into the cylinders. It made decent power to get us to the dock, though, and we were quite happy to be off the hard and moving aboard (we had spent the previous nights in a rented apartment about 10 minutes north of the marina). Over the next few days we continued provisioning, rigging Windbird to cruise, I fixed the air conditioning and it promptly broke again, and we kept running the engine at various RPMs. Our initial goal had been to leave the marina on Friday, October 2nd, and we would have been ready to do so if our engine had been running right. It was still smoking quite a bit and running a little rough, and there was a pronounced top end clatter. Gerry came to adjust the valves on the morning of October 2nd and that cleared up the top end noise, but now the roughness of the engine was more evident. He isolated the problem using the old "crack the injector hold-down" trick: the #4 cylinder was dead. The next morning he came back to swap injectors (between #2 & #4), but the #4 cylinder stayed idle. The injector was clearly squirting out fuel. This left compression as the primary suspect, a very bad sign.

We hung out the rest of the weekend as it rained and poured, and on Monday morning Gerry and his assistant David came with their compression tester. Cylinders #1-3 all showed around 425 psi, while #4 registered just under 300. Exploratory surgery was necessary. Gerry and David tore out the head and took that back to their shop, where Gerry inspected it yesterday. He found all valves seating and sealing normally, and no leaks from the top end. This is the worst case scenario. It means a broken ring, possibly a scored cylinder wall (we can't see any evidence of that from the top of the cylinder, though). It means removal of the engine for overhaul, or else replacement. It means putting a ton of money into the boat, and being stuck here for the foreseeable future. It means our plans for this season are on hold for now.

Because the current engine has nearly 8500 hours on it, Dawn and I are strongly leaning towards replacing it with a new Yanmar 4JH5E, which is basically identical to our current 4JH4E. It would be about as painless of a repowering as is possible. We'd be able to use our brand new ZF 15 MIV transmission, which thankfully survived its own dunking without water ingress. We'd possibly even be able to leave the boat in the water, as Mark and Judy Handley did when they installed the current engine in 2005. We know the engine will fit through the companionway and down the aft cabin passageway to the engine room, which would have to be partly disassembled. We know it can be done with our main halyard, a few other ropes, and a 1-ton chain hoist. We have lots of photos and descriptions of the process from Judy's blog. It would allow us to do a few other projects to greatly improve our engine room and bilge. But it would doubtless take a while to be shipped down here. We're waiting on a quote from R&B Power in San Juan. In the meantime I'm starting the process of filing an insurance claim. That's going to be interesting, as our insurance has been a pain to deal with every time we've had contact. We would have switched if it didn't require a new survey.

In the meantime, though, we're flying over to the BVI for 10 days. Two of my brothers and eleven of their friends are flying in for a charter of a large Moorings catamaran on Nov 10-17th. Windbird was supposed to join them but obviously won't be making it, and besides their need of our sailing expertise there isn't enough room on the cat to sleep everyone. Fortunately some good friends of ours who are also Moorings owners gifted us the use of their points to charter an additional 38' monohull, which Dawn, my brother Jon, his girlfriend Heather and I will sleep on. Piper will be going to a "doggie resort" here on Puerto Rico. Though we're getting the extra boat for free, I honestly hate to leave Windbird here like this and run off to the BVI, but we're doing it because it's family and they've had this planned for a long time, have nonrefundable tickets, etc. My hope is to get the new Yanmar ordered and headed this way while we're gone, assuming we decide to go in that direction. We'll be trying to make a decision in the next three days.