Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Neither Here Nor There

Dawn and I had our first multi-day cruise together on Windbird last week; it was eventful but ultimately successful as it did quite a bit to increase our confidence in venturing further afield and being able to handle problems as they arise. Because some fairly major problems did arise. In a somewhat related note, the boat is not back in Little River; it's already at the boatyard in Charleston, where we were originally planning on bringing it this week. But I digress.

After our rainy boatwork day last Monday we were up early to a nearly as dreary Tuesday. We got off the dock by 8:30am and were soon steaming southward (really, more westward) on the ICW. We had one swing bridge right off the bat in Little River, followed by swing bridges at Barefoot Landing and Socastee. Everything else was theoretically 65' clearance or better...there was one bridge that was known to not have its published clearance during flood waters and the recent rain made me worry a bit, but we took it slow and Windbird visibly cleared it by a good bit (61' air draft). Going under bridges is always a bit of an exercise in nerves, because from 56' below it always looks like you're going to hit. We did a good job of timing the tides and had a positive or neutral current all the way to the Waccamaw River, where we had about a knot and a half positive current all the way to Thoroughfare Creek. We got there by 4pm but it took us a few passes to get anchored right where we wanted next to the sanddune considering the ripping tidal current (switches 4x a day), northerly winds blowing through, and the proximity of the bushy shore. Seriously, it was close to 2 knots current on the outgoing tide and 1 knot incoming. I ended up standing a quasi-anchor watch that night (using anchor alarm + waking up every hour or two) but needn't have, our 66 lb Spade stayed thoroughly planted in the thick creekbed mud. We launched the dinghy soon after arrival to explore the nearby canals that were dug for a long-defunct resort project and were shocked to find a nearly-new Beneteau 45 docked alongside one of them. This guy apparently regularly takes that boat through the narrow cut from Thoroughfare Creek - it seemed skinny even from the dinghy! As soon as we got back rain started falling, then stopped long enough for me to lube our windlass and resecure the hawse pipe to the anchor locker. Then started falling again as soon as I put dinner on the grill. Sigh.


We were up early the next morning only to take advantage of the outgoing tide because we had a quick 3-hour motor to Georgetown. The weather was gray but dry, and we were anchored in Georgetown's inner harbor on the Sampit River by 10:30am. I called up Sharp's Canvas right away and Chris Sharp came out to measure our enclosure for a replacement estimate. I'd originally told him we'd take a dock at Harbourwalk Marina but we decided at the last minute to stay on the hook instead, and he was gracious enough to still come out and brave a dinghy ride to and from the boat. After that we had lunch, went in to explore the town, came back and took naps, went up the mast to try to take pics of the lightning damage (there wasn't much), did a few other boat projects, reanchored to move further away from a shallow area in case forecast northerly winds overnight swung us south (they did), and went to dinner at the River Room. I had shrimp & grits on someone's recommendation and while I'm normally not a grits guy, it was delicious.


I slept much better that night, sure that our anchor would hold securely. It was pouring rain when we awoke Thursday morning and hadn't let up much by the time we pulled up the anchor in the predawn darkness. We had our anchoring routine down pretty well by now: I work the windlass and Dawn drives according to my hand signals. She stayed at the helm out of the anchorage and well into Winyah Bay. At a wide point in the bay she headed upwind and I raised the mainsail just in case we should lose the engine on our way out the inlet. The forecast was for light easterlies with small seas and we decided to go offshore even though returning the way we came, via the ICW, was a lot shorter and more practical. Dawn hadn't been offshore in Windbird yet and I figured it was a good day for it.


Well no sooner did we get out on the ocean and headed NNE than I found the wind directly on our nose at 15 knots or so, with steep short waves from the same direction that slowed Windbird down to 3 knots as we pounded into them. I thought maybe they were being kicked out by a nearby thunderstorm but they persisted as we slogged miserably northward. After an hour we were still in sight of the Winyah Bay sea buoy. At that point we talked through our options. If we persisted we would get to Little River inlet way after sundown. The inlet itself is lit but the winding course back to Little River is not, and I'd never done it after dark. Otherwise we could turn around, fight the current 18nm to Georgetown, and then start in on the 52nm ditch cruise back to Little River - again, contra-current. We'd have to find somewhere to tuck in for the night along the way. The final option was to turn southwestward and head to Charleston a week early. The wind was favorable, and it normally isn't this time of year. The distance to Charleston harbor inlet was the same as Little River inlet. We decided this was the best option, turned around, put out our yankee to go with the main, and motorsailed on a broad reach at over six knots.

All was well until about halfway there, 22nm from Charleston inlet, when the engine began rapidly losing power. A visual inspection turned up no problems, and it soon died completely. The racor gauge showed high vacuum pressure, and my first thought was a problem with the Racor filter. Before I started troubleshooting I got the sails all trimmed up for what had become a very light-air downwind sail, and once we had Dawn on a good heading to keep the yankee drawing - about 20 degrees left of the rhumb line - I headed downstairs to start working through the options. The racor was fine; there was just no fuel going into it. Eventually I narrowed it down the blockage to the small inline fuel pump used for bleeding the system, or so I thought. My troubleshooting was interrupted several times by passing squalls that necessitating running upstairs to reef, and then again 15 minutes later to shake the reefs out. My reasoning was that if we couldn't get the engine running reliably, I wanted to sail to near the inlet and then call TowBoatUS to tow us inside, and that meant keeping our speed up as close to the rhumb line as we could manage. The shifting winds meant that one minute Dawn was ghosting downwind at 1.5 knots in light zephyrs, the next minute beating upwind at 6 knots in a light squall. She did a magnificent job standing watch at the helm for several hours with no autopilot.

I took the small fuel pump out of the system, put it together, and fired up the engine. It ran fine for about an hour as the sun set over the inlet, still about 7nm away. Then it died again. Obviously I had not fixed the problem after all. This time I realized that the way I previously plumbed the system, it wasn't necessarily the fuel pump, it could also be the fuel selector. So back down the engine room I went as Dawn sailed upwind in suddenly fresh 20 knot westerlies. This time I bypassed the fuel selector by plumbing the system directly to the starboard fuel tank, though still without the electric pump. Bleeding the system using the small hand level on the lift pump took forever, but once I was done the engine ran fine. I was still very suspicious of it so we kept the sails up the whole way to the anchorage, motorsailing in case we suddenly found ourselves engineless. But it stayed running all of that night and the next morning without a hiccup. I need to troubleshoot the entire fuel system much more thoroughly when we go back to the boat this weekend.


It was nearly 9pm and pitch dark by the time we reached the inlet, which is at least very well charted and marked with lighted buoys. Several ships preceded us but there were none overtaking, so at least we didn't have that to deal with. It was 11pm by the time we finally dropped anchor just off of The Battery on Charleston City's southern end. We had gone some 70nm over 16.5 hours during the day motoring, motorsailing, and pure sailing, we'd reefed several times, and I'd spent several hours in the engine room while Dawn sailed. Exhausting, but we made it.

We slept in slightly the next morning, picked up our anchor, and headed around the bend to get fuel at Charleston City Boatyard. We weren't out of fuel in any of the three tanks but all three were a bit low and I thought that perhaps that was why something had apparently fouled the fuel selector. $260 later we had our full 170 gallons of diesel aboard. It was another two hours up the Cooper and Wando rivers to Charleston City Boatyard, which given its location we quipped should be called Charleston Country Boatyard. I misunderstood the docking instructions and we had to switch our lines and fenders from port to starboard at the last second, then I completely misjudged the ripping upriver current and botched the approach. It's actually the first time I've approached a dock with a big current on my stern, and if I had messed it up any worse we would have smashed gelcoat. Fortunately there was a strapping young lad on the dock to catch our stern line and he was able to hold on to our 30,000 lb behemoth until I could jump off the bow and run back to help him haul in the stern. Embarrassing. My docking technique had been pretty good until then.


So now Windbird is safely tied up at Charleston City Boatyard. We'll be flying to Myrtle Beach tomorrow to retrieve our car - still sitting at Lightkeeper's Marina - and then will be on the boat over the weekend doing decommissioning work to prepare for our haulout on Monday morning. I finally got ahold of our insurance company and got the ok to commence repairs on the lightning damage, which is a very good development since we can replace the radar and masthead wind transducer while the mast is still off of the boat. Having now taken the boat a few places with no autopilot, most sailing instruments inoperative, no chartplotter, no radar, and worst of all no stereo, I'm very excited to get everything up and running again, with new chainplates and standing rigging to boot. There's a lot of work to do before this boat is ready to head south - almost too much to think about, at this point. But we'll get there, slowly but surely.


  1. SO very proud of both of you! I think everything you have been through is a great test. Just think, when all your systems are up and running, it should be a real 'breeze'! Have a good time out there and hope you get lots done! Nice seeing you guys last night!

  2. Well I am having a difficult time commenting
    Just trying to explain about air in your diesel system
    Hoses, seal, connections are the culprit