Monday, August 22, 2016


I really like the marina where Windbird has been based but it's certainly not the easiest place to reach from Minnesota. There are no direct flights; Delta flies to MYR once a day from Detroit, once from New York, and five times a day from Atlanta. And it can be ridiculously hard to fly standby from Minneapolis to Atlanta. Yesterday was one of those days: every flight oversold and around 60 on the nonrev list. Instead we took a late flight direct to Charlotte, landed at 11:30, rented a car, chugged some coffee, and drove straight here, arriving at 3:30am. I noticed right away that the air conditioning - which we just paid $1300 to fix - wasn't running, and when I turned on the breaker there was a hum from the compressor but the control panel remained dark. Hmm. No worries, it was "only" 80 degrees (with 80% humidity) outside and the aft cabin was fairly comfortable with the fans going. And really we were tired enough to sleep through pretty much anything.

We woke up at 9am and got going on our day. We started by unpacking the two boxes of boat stuff we checked with us as well as all the packages that had arrived at the boat in our absence including some great additions to our cruising library from a reader of my other blog. Thanks Pete! We also got a bunch of spare parts & filters I'd ordered, two inflatable PFDs, and a bunch of boat decor stuff Dawn is writing about right now as we sit in the cockpit enjoying a cool night breeze....

My main boat projects for the day were cleaning the Racor primary fuel filter, changing the secondary fuel filter, and changing the oil & oil filter. I started by verifying the Racor model, calling Mark Handley for a quick rundown of the fuel system, and heading to West Marine to buy a replacement filter element plus a few spares. Throw in lunch, shopping at Publix, and a stop at the canvas shop and it was already 1pm when we got back. Ugh. Dawn headed up to Carolina Beach NC to pick up our repaired sails from the sail loft, and in the meantime I tackled the Racor project. As Mark predicted, it was a dirty job. I picked up a small plastic dishpan and that kept most of the mess contained at least. There was about an inch and a half of thick sludge in the bottom of the bowl & trying to get it out the 1" hole only resulted in pushing it up further into the filter. I finally just took apart the entire assembly, cleaned it up really nice, reassembled & remounted it, inserted a new 10 micron filter, and put on the lid and T-handle with new gasket and o-ring. Pretty easy, just messy. I then replaced the secondary fuel filter which on this engine is a 2-minute job with a filter wrench - it uses a spin-on fuel filter very similar to an automotive oil filter. Disassembling the Racor and replacing the secondary filter introduces a lot of air into the system which would normally make it a real pain to bleed (especially since I didn't have any spare clean diesel to top off the Racor)...however, Windbird has a small diaphragm pump just downstream of the Racor that can be hotwired to the start battery. It had the Racor refilled and the air bled from the top of the secondary filter housing in no time flat! The engine started right up, quit after a few seconds, but then ran great the second time. I talked with Mark again later in the day and he said that diaphragm pump was the idea of Dave Laux, the engine genius who handled Windbird's repower in 2005 when the original Perkins engine & transmission started acting up only two days into their circumnavigation. It's a good idea that saves a lot of time & frustration.

I let the engine run for five minutes to warm the oil, then shut it down and let it sit for a bit. Earlier I had put in a call to Rico, the guy who had repaired the AC. He had called me back while I was elbow-deep in diesel, but I now listened to his voicemail. The news was not good. A few nights ago a huge lightning storm hit the marina, multiple boats took hits, and he suspected Windbird was one. He had stopped in the next morning and the AirCon had quit working; near as he could tell, the control unit was fried. This rather alarmed me, so I started turning on various systems. The masthead wind speed and direction instruments weren't working. Neither was the autopilot. The GPS wouldn't turn on. The vessel monitoring system was dark, as was the solar panel controller. None of the stereo speakers worked. The large bilge pump might be dead. Ugh.

I decided to put it out of mind for the moment and went back down to the engine room to change the oil. Mark has a brass pump with a hose that connects to the dipstick; you put the outlet in an empty jug and pump for a few minutes, which is a rather civilized way to do an oil change. Dawn came home then with the sails and I detoured to figuring out the propane system, changing propane cylinders & getting the grill going; we had grilled salmon & asparagus for our first real boat meal, plus a grilled banana-chocolate-marshmellow dessert we tried for the first time. After dinner I went back downstairs and changed the oil filter, which is unavoidably messy as it is mounted horizontally. I used absorbent pads & didn't spill too much oil into the bilge. I put the new oil in, cleaned up, and headed up to the pool to call my mom while dangling my legs in the cool water. It occurred to me that I managed to stretch maybe an hour and half's worth of work for an experienced cruiser into a full day of putzing around. Oh well. I'll get better at this....

I'm a little sick to my stomach over how much damage this apparent lightning strike has done - in our first few days of ownership! We have insurance, but our policy has a higher deductible for lightning strikes which means we're on the hook for the first $4250. Moreso, it adds a lot onto an already-long project list. I'll make a full check of equipment and do more troubleshooting tomorrow. We'll also be getting up early to put the sails back on while it's still calm, and will also wash and wax the cabin top and polish the stainless steel. On Wednesday we're planning to do a daysail with John Schwab (the selling broker) and his wife Beth. We were hoping to spend a night anchored out this trip but I don't think it's going to happen. Next time....

The Handleys were originally thinking of coming this week but Mark hasn't been doing very well lately. We'll try again in September, hoping his new treatment has a positive effect. He's been incredibly helpful on the phone; we'll likely do a lot more talking in the next few weeks in hopes that I can glean a fraction of his expansive knowledge of this boat. Whether they make it down to Windbird or not, I'd really like to meet him and Judy. I've been around the world enough to know just what a huge accomplishment taking a 42' sailboat around it is. A couple that can do that together in their retirement years impresses the hell out of me - as does living aboard, keeping a boat going, and even sneaking in some cruising while battling cancer for 5 years. I just finished all 11 years of Judy's blog, and I suspect that in the face of challenges like this recent lightning strike I'll often think of the all the obstacles they overcame with this boat. That definitely helps.


  1. One upgrade you need is the vacuum gauge that replaces the T-handle on our Racor so you can diagnose any impending fuel issues. There's also a DIY option. The other thing I did on my boat was to put a second starter switch in the engine compartment so I could bleed the engine solo without having somebody in the cockpit pushing the starter.

  2. Windbird already has a Racor vacuum gauge, it's just on a panel under the companionway instead of near the Racor itself. I don't think we have a second battery switch, but fairly easy to rig up a jumper with a switch between the start battery & starter solenoid. That'd be for diagnosing starter issues moreso than bleeding I think.