Note; I use my internet connection for weather updates. My time is very limited here on the Mexican coast so I will not be adding any pictures for a while. I am taking a lot of shots and will include them when I get somewhere I can upload them on another account.
The first few days at sea are the hardest in my view. You have to learn a whole new sleep cycle and be able to fall asleep on command. We are a three person crew which means a four-hour watch at the wheel every eight hours. Mine is from four to eight morning and night. Shannon’s is from twelve to four and Mikes is from eight to twelve. These are the times that each of us felt were the easiest for us. Being asleep when you are scheduled to sleep becomes very important both to the individual and to the boat. My job as any Captain is as follows; my first consideration is always for the boat and not the crew. This might seem wrong at first glance but consider that I’ll have a tough time seeing to the welfare of my crew if I lose the boat. My second consideration is the crew (in this case, my loved ones). I have to keep them well rested, well fed as well as warm and dry. A crew that is tired, hungry, cold and wet steers a lousy course.
Our sail over from La Paz to the mainland of Mexico was going well even though we were unable to sail. A Northern was forecasted to begin in a couple of days so we couldn’t take time to tack across the Sea of Cortez. Sailing from west to east with a wind event coming down on us from the north would make for a very uncomfortable ride and even dangerous. In my opinion my crew still needed some experience under their belts before they took on any weather. So, we motored along at 6.5 knots.
The goal was to make it around Cabo Corrientes, a point of land on the south side of Bahia de Banderas at Puerto Vallarta. Getting around this point would bring a whole new weather system that would be much nicer to sail in.
With the mainland of Mexico just 34 miles off the wind shifted from the nose and to the north, we turned south toward Puerto Vallarta to take advantage of a slight breeze now coming from behind us. We pulled out the jib and mizzen and began to motor sail south. With everything going well I turned in and the midnight shift change took place. Mike stayed up talking to Shannon for a few minutes before he turned in for the night. While he was talking he heard the exhaust note change abruptly and called down to me that something was up. When we checked we found the top of the engine covered with a huge amount of oil and the bilge filled with water. We shut the engine down and began looking for the source of all this chaos.
At this point Mike has been up all day and is due for his bunk. Shannon has not been able to sleep when she is supposed to and I have been catnapping while overseeing everyone’s watches. We are all in need of sleep and we are not going to get it. My brain is trying to come up with logical decisions. What to do? The first decision is to head to the closest port and get the anchor down. The closest port is Mazatlan and at our present speed we won’t get there for another nine hours. It looked like we were going to have to enter a strange port under sail. Mike and I got to work on the engine while Shannon did her best at the wheel in light wind and three foot swells hitting on the beam every few seconds. Mike and I soon found the source of the mess, a broken ½ inch nut. This one brass nut held together the entire cooling system. A boat has no radiator like a car but rather, a heat exchanger for both engine cooling water and oil. When the nut broke the whole assembly came apart. The water pump continued to pump seawater though now it wasn’t going into the cooler but into the bilge. The oil pump continued it’s job of pumping oil, also into the bilge until the engine was totally out of oil. The nut was not an ordinary nut ether, it was really special which means that we didn’t have anything to replace it with. The heat exchanger is several individual units that have a rod passing through the center with the “special” nut on the end. The rod is threaded on the end and the nut has a sleeve that passes through the end cap and onto the rod. The rod does not extend beyond the cap. That would have made it simple to put on a new nut but, no, some engineer wanted it to be “special”.
I am aware that I am very tired and I know it is effecting my ability to think clearly so each decision is filled with self-doubt. I think and rethink everything. I finally decide that attaching anything to the interior rod isn’t going to happen with anything we have onboard. I keep drifting back to the ground crew for Apollo 13 scrambling to come up with something workable using just what is on hand, then I snap back to the here and now. I decide that the only other option is to clamp it back together from the outside. I have some threaded rod in the foc’sle and I go up and sit on the floor and begin to play with the parts I have on hand. After perhaps a half hour I come on the idea to use the rod connected to four turnbuckles and use the turnbuckles to tighten the whole mess down on the heat exchanger. Mike comes down from the pilot house and says, “I have an idea, why don’t we clamp it from the outside? We could use some threaded rod and a couple blocks of wood on the ends to hold it together. Then we could tighten it all down.” The same approach with slightly different components, a proud moment for papa. He was still thinking in spite of his lack of sleep and he was well outside the “box” as the situation called for. I already had assembled the parts for my version so we use the turnbuckles and rod. Thinking back I think the blocks might have worked better.
Getting it all attached and clamped down evenly was no small trick while standing in an oily bilge in a rolling boat. We got it on and started the motor. Water sprayed out of the end cap like the broken pipes in a submarine movie. After a few more adjustments we were able to get it down to an acceptable leak. We shut down the engine thinking that the clamp would not hold for long. I wanted to sail as close to the harbor entrance as possible before using it. The harbor is a busy shipping center that requires each vessel entering to get clearance from the port manager. I would have only one shot. If the clamp failed while entering I could be left in the path of a tanker that would be hard pressed to stop before running me down.
I sent Mike to his bunk as I would need him to be sharp when we made port. Shannon and I continued to try to squeeze something out of one to two knots of wind. I thought briefly about hoving to but decided not to as we were more or less drifting anyway. At day break I decided not to enter the harbor but to divert to an anchorage to the south of it. It would keep me out of the shipping channel. I started the engine with ten miles to go and began to creep at three knots toward the anchorage. I kept a close watch on our exhaust water to tell me if the clamp failed. I had Shannon wake Mike. As we neared the shipping channel we could see a ship approaching from the north. I turned to get out of it’s way but it turned into me again. I was not going to be able to cross the channel without cutting across his bow so I had to do a large circle to port, letting him pass. Each second I expected the clamp to explode. It didn’t explode, it held. Mike let the anchor go in twenty-four feet of water and I backed down hard on One hundred-fifty feet of chain, shut down the engine and we all went to sleep in the lee of the Mazatlan Light House. The clean up would have to wait.
For those of you that might like to hear the womans version of these events I would suggest you visit www.Wenchhandle.wordpress.com which is my wife Shannon’s site.