Sunday, April 27, 2014

Retreat from George Town, Part II

White Pepper spent 7 days in Nassau at the Nassau Harbor Club Marina waiting for weather. There was 2 days waiting for the weather to arrive and an unusual 5 days waiting for it to blow over. There were two strong associated late season low pressures with trailing cold fronts—very unusual for this late in the season. The weather was not bad or cold in Nassau, but the front maintained strong head winds for us--West, Northwest and North wind for 5 days. Indeed, it was still blowing light out of the North the day we left. (NOAA had called for SE all day.) We headed for the Berry Islands and Frazier Hog Cay. We were delayed by being boarded by the Harbor Patrol. They did not give a reason, although I suspect accidentally getting close to a cruise liner had something to do with it. They were very professional, and we were on our way in 45 minutes. My late friend, Bruce Ray, single hander, had always spoken well of Frazier Hog as an alternate to Chubb Cay, just 5 miles away. After an agonizingly slow sail we got there just at sunset. We used the outer anchorage and did not take a mooring inside in front of the Bimini Yacht Club. I could not get the anchor to set in the rocky, grassy bottom. The anchorage was quite exposed, esp. to the south. I put out all of the chain which held us all night in the quiet conditions. But I do not think I am going back to Frazier Hog any time soon.

That night I checked the weather again. Now there was a mention of yet another cold front moving off of the Florida coast in two days. It was very mild. The GRIB files (computer generated predictions) showed only 10 knots from the north west then clocking East and dying rapidly. What could go wrong? I even foolishly thought that it would help. The wind would blow gently from the North. I would set the sails up to go West. The Gulf Stream would push North. The boat would go Northwest which was our destination. Sort of like squeezing a water melon seed between two fingers. Later we were to learn what that felt like. Besides to wait meant going into Chubb Cay Marina and paying exorbitant fees. Staying a Frazier Hog did not seem feasible. We took off.

We passed the Northwest Channel at noon. There was not much to see—just a color change as the depth changed from thousands of feet in the Tongue of the Ocean (blue) to dozens of feet (aquamarine) on the banks. The famous Northwest Channel Light is long gone and, indeed, is now a hazard to navigation. In truth with universal use of chart plotters, navigation lights are no longer necessary. But still it makes one wonder about a government that will not even maintain the basic aids to navigation. We made a long slow crossing of the Grand Bahama Banks exiting them at 3 am via Great Issac (also light extinguished) and the Hens and Chickens reef. We alternated watches but did not get much sleep.

Red Sun in Morning, Sailor Take Warning

The next morning dawned with a red sky--'sailor take warning.' The Gulf Stream was extraordinarily calm. The water was at times mirror like. White Pepper trudged along at 4 knots—two from the sick motor and 2 from the Stream. Then about noon a light Northwesterly sprung up--”Great” I thought. Boat speed picked up to 6 knots. Cool wind dried the sweat. We were in business. Then about 1 pm all hell broke loose with 15+ knots of wind gusting to 20 knots from the North. We were now only 5 miles east of the axis of the Stream. Thank you NOAA! Thank you GRIBs! Jan quickly reefed the Genoa. We both reefed the main. The boat took off to the Northwest on the close reach. We were making 9 knots, once touching 10. This was 3 and half knots from the Gulf Stream and 6 and half or seven knots from White Pepper. The waves were never too bad. Legends are told of great “elephants” marching down from the north in these conditions, but we never saw any. There were a couple of dozen gnarly waves, but White Pepper shook them all off like the through bred she is. Poor Aphrodite, however, was completely miserable. She spent the entire afternoon gripping a cushion with her claws. After the waves set in speed “dropped” to 8 knots. At least we were making tracks away from ground zero at a rapid rate. By 3 pm things were reasonable. This was after we crossed the western wall of the Gulf Stream. We raised the jetties of Lake Worth (between Palm Beach and West Palm Beach) about 5 pm.

Just inside the jetties the motor overheated again. We had to shut her down. It was a really mad scrabble to sail into the crowed Lake Worth anchorage.  Jan expertly steered and wove the boat through the anchorage. She picked out a likely spot.  When the time came she brought the boat to a stop at just the right place and dropped the main sail.  I was on the bow and let the anchor down.  Thankfully, the anchor bit and held.  

Jan and I were both exhausted—mentally and physically—after two days of grueling boredom , 4 hours of a roller coaster ride and 30 minutes of sheer panic somehow getting anchored without causing huge damage to another boat..

For readers who have patiently read this account of misery are there any take home lessons? Yes. Never believe the GRIBs, but most of you knew that anyway. Never go out in the Gulf Stream when there is any chance of North Wind, but everyone knows that. Third, I guess you got to do what you have to do. If we had returned to Nassau, it might have been another 2 or 3 weeks before the weather opened up again. This year has been severe. Despite all of the losses, we are very grateful and glad to be back in the USA. Indeed it seems to me nothing short of miraculous given all of the set backs of the past two months. And finally, Aphrodite, is a really great boat kitty.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Retreat from George Town, Part I

What a difference a crippled motor makes! Yes, Jan and I know how to sail. We know which way the wind blows and how fast it blows without instruments. We can read the water depth without a depth sounder. White Pepper has a big, muscular rig, and we know how to use it. Indeed, sailing free and fast on the open ocean or vast expanse of the Bahamas Banks is a wonderful feeling. However, having to sail through intricate channels and cuts, in and out of anchorages and harbors, or dodging storms without a motor is a completely different thing altogether!

The miraculous efforts to deglaze the transmission described in the previous post seems to have been successful in restoring about 50% of power which was minimal to start with. How long the fix would last was unpredictable. We had to consider the prospect of sailing without motor all the way back to Florida.

The first leg and the hardest was leaving George Town. After endless waiting, a seven day weather window of benign conditions opened up. (It did not last, but that is another post.) More importantly, the tide was changing so that low tide was beginning in the early afternoon. On Monday April 14 low tide was at 2 pm. Therefore, after 2 pm the current would be flooding and White Pepper would be sucked into the banks from the Exuma Sound, rather than spit out in a “rage.” All this made me more appreciative of the old captains that sailed these waters for hundreds of years before motors first became available during the Prohibition Era.

After several days of preparation White Pepper was ready to leave Monday. Best plans called for a predawn start, but White Pepper was half asleep at 7 am. We were able to clear Conch Cut by 8:45 am, something of a miracle in itself. The day was crisp and the wind bracing, perfectly positioned to carry us up 36 n. miles of the Exuma Sound to Galliot Cut by 2 pm. Of course the wind died about 11 am. At these speeds we would not even make Galliot Cut by dark. Reluctantly, I turned on the motor and it worked! With a motor assist we made it about 4 pm, 2 hours into the flood. With motor and full sails we cleared the cut and swirling waters without problems. Now on the Bahamas Banks the wind picked up and clocked East. I suspect that this was a late sea breeze. We roared along at 7+ knots which is hull speed for White Pepper.

By 6:30 pm we had made it all the way to Little Harbor behind Great Guana Cay, Exuma. (There are several Great Guana Cays elsewhere in the Bahamas.) We anchored with our friends, Graham and Valerie from Bonnie Lass, in ideal conditions. These did not last as the wind shifted South against predictions and sent small rollers into the anchorage after midnight. I suppose this is why Black Point just to the North with good southerly protection is popular and Little Harbor is not. One point of gratitude was that the rolling woke up the cat, who woke me up to complain. I got up to look around and was able to see the total eclipse of the moon just before dawn. I have to admit that I would have missed it otherwise.

The next moment was decision time. I checked the weather. Bonnie Lass had more weather from Chris Parker which they shared, but the clincher was that the transmission had failed again during the anchor drill. Bonnie Lass set out for Eleuthra and White Pepper elected to go north up the Exuma chain staying in the relative safety of the Bahamas Banks. We had a sparkling sail gybing down wind in 20 knots of southerly breeze on the Banks arriving at Exuma Park, the Emerald Rock Anchorage at 2 pm. By coincidence or not we were quite close to where the transmission had failed 2 months earlier.

I added 60 cc of ATF fluid and the transmission seemed to return to life. The next morning White Pepper set out for Highbourne Cay. The wind was predicted to go light which is another reason we chose not to cross Exuma Sound to Rock Sound. Eleuthra. It did go to near zero. Again it was crunch time for the motor. It started and engaged. We made an agonizing 15 miles to Highbourne at 3 knots in absolutely flat water and zero wind. This time the anchor drill went well. The next morning I added 30 cc of ATF.

By Thursday 3 days into our ideal 7 day weather window the forecast had turned ominous. A cold front at least was coming. Chris Parker , weather forecaster, was predicting very dire storms. He was even calling for 10% chance of a NAMED tropical storm on Easter Sunday—an almost unbelievable scenario. A slip in Nassau suddenly looked very cool. Typically this is the worst bunk in the Bahamas, but how we wanted it now! I checked the transmission. It was full for a change but the dip stick was loose—not for the first time. I gave it a good twist. Also the engine needed a half quart of motor oil after all of the effort it gave in the past three days.

Wing and wing across the Yellow Banks

The trip across the Banks and the Yellow Banks from Highbourne to Nassau was idyllic. We ran wing and wing with gentle 15 knots winds from the SE pushing us along at 4 to 5 knots. I want to remember this day for the rest of my life! Jan got some great pictures of the coral heads that make these waters so treacherous. But in the perfect conditions, such as we had today, they are easily seen and avoided.

White Pepper took a slip at Nassau Harbor Club Marina just feet from where we were several months previously and next to Quartet with whom we shared a number of adventures this Spring.

It is hard to describe the relief that Jan and I feel at being here regardless of whether the storm develops into the killer Chris Parker predicts. We have made a difficult trip with the potential for disaster more apparent than usual during cruising. Aphrodite, cat, is enjoying her first touch of dry land since she was here several months ago.

Part II will cover the trip to Florida.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Karl Fixes the Transmission--with advice from friends

White Pepper has been crippled with transmission problems this year. While entering Exuma Park earlier this year the transmission collapsed. We could only make 1 knot forward at best. The last time this happened we had no forward power at all. We have spent most of this month at anchor waiting for the winds to change so we could limp back to Florida. I even took out a policy with Sea Tow.

I complained to a fellow cruiser, Ron from Ursa Minor. He casually told me he had fixed this kind of problem by adding diesel fuel to the transmission fluid. Naturally, I was skeptical. Long time readers of this blog will remember that White Pepper had similar problems at Oriental, NC. She was in the yard for all of October 2008 and paid a $4,000 yard bill for a used friction plate. A new friction plate would have been the same price but taken another 3 or 4 months to come from Japan.

I called on the sat phone my old friend and mechanic, Don Gallant, of Gulfstream Marine in Corpus Christi. He was gracious enough to take my call on a Saturday. Indeed his son, Blake, was getting married that day. He did say that glazing could be the problem, and diesel would help dissolve the glaze. He made some suggestions.

The next day, Palm Sunday 2014, I did pull 600 cc of brand new ATF fluid out of the transmission and replaced it with 600 cc of fresh diesel. The unit's capacity is 700 cc. I expected a loud bang or maybe a “thunk” when I started up the engine. Jan was at the helm while I kept an eye on the anchor. To our absolute astonishment the old girl leapt forward when Jan engaged forward gear. We put the transmission in forward and reverse for a few seconds at a time about 10 times. I wanted to take a little walk about, but Jan pointed out that the transmission was working fine and indeed had never felt or sounded better.

I pulled out over 700 cc of fluid from the transmission which seemed to me to be a good sign. I then added 600 cc of ATF fluid and as a nod to Ron 100 cc of diesel. Tomorrow will tell if the fix holds.

Also I have to wonder if this procedure would have worked in 2008 avoiding a huge delay and yard bill?

The engine and transmission have other problems. The transmission is clearly leaking fluid and not performing well even before glazing up. The engine over heats and feels like it's on its last legs after 28 years. Looking back on this year it was madness to set off without a re power, but next year is another year.

Changing the Impeller

White Pepper continues to be plagued with motor overheating. The motor overheated in the Northwest Providence Channel after leaving Port Lucaya. In Nassau I found that the raw water strainer was full of grass and the belt to the water pump loose. Both were easily fixed.

Then between Black Point and Cave Cay on the bank side the water belt broke. I had to replace it underway. Jan did a fine job hand steering while I wrestled the belts down below.

However, the engine continued to run hot. I suspected the impeller because little water was coming out of the exhaust. The impeller had not been changed in several years, but I had spares and gaskets for the pump thanks to the foresight of home town mechanic Don Gallant. He assured me that I would need them someday.

At first I could not even figure out how to get to the water pump. A review of a helpful blog post on the internet showed me a clever way to remove the belt and detach the whole pump from the engine. With the plate exposed the 6 bolts came right out without protest. The pump is a super simple apparatus. I was grateful that Yanmar used the highest quality materials to manufacture it. There was not a speck of corrosion despite continual exposure to salt water for decades. One curiosity was that the entire engine is metric; however, the water pump has English measure bolts—9/32 inches.

When I removed the impeller it seemed to be in good shape. One of the vanes was pointed in the wrong direction and I wondered how it survived all these years and how much that had degraded the performance of the pump. While the rubber vanes all seemed to be intact close inspection of the key way showed subtle signs of wear. I wondered if the key was slipping past the key way. (Picture below.)

I applied plenty of white lithium grease to the new impeller. I used an electrical tie to compress the vanes and line them all up in the proper direction. I had taken a picture of the old impeller to learn and remember the proper direction. I rechecked that picture and sure enough I had put the impeller in wrong. I flipped it around and eased off the electrical tie. (Picture below.) The whole thing went back together fairly easily and without leaks. The secret to avoiding leaks is to use a proper gasket which should also be heavily greased.

I opened up the sea cock and started the engine. More water seemed to be coming out of the exhaust so I know the new impeller helped. However, I suspect more problems for the future. A common problem in the Yanmar 3-HM is a plugged up mixing elbow. Or the water jacket could be full of corrosion.

Later while in St. Augustine, FL in May the real culprit was discovered by mechanic, Al.  The cover plate had become so scored that it was allowing the prime to fail.  Al simply reversed the cover, and it worked fine.  I had never heard of such a problem, but Al said it was common.

Regardless, White Pepper just needs to get back to Florida where a new engine awaits her.

Water Pump with new belt is in lower left corner.  It has to be unbolted and removed to access the impeller.

New impeller  (top) and old one with rounded key way (bottom).  By coincidence real culprit is in left upper corner.

New impeller with vanes all held in place by electrical tie.