A lot of people think that true cruising will ‘…take you wherever the wind blows.’ Another way to think about it is that you’ll ‘…hide from the wind whenever it really blows,’ or for us on Wednesday, ‘…duck in wherever you can when your engine goes!’
On Tuesday morning we said goodbye to Sabrina’s parents after a fun week and set about checking the weather and trying to get back to the States. Things looked like they might be passable for our trip to the States as early as Wednesday morning, so we made our way to Marsh Harbour to provision and get diesel so we would be prepared to leave. After fueling up, the rain set in, and on Tuesday evening conditions had changed so much that we knew we wouldn’t be leaving for a few days. We hung out with our friends on S/V Anastasia (yay!) on Tuesday night after the rain stopped, and by Wednesday morning the weather forecasts had a tropical low in the area with thunderstorms to 50 knots. Or sustained winds to 40 knots. Or 20-25 knot winds. And somewhere between 0.5 to 5 inches of rain! Depending on the source, and when you checked it!
I knew I wanted to get some sleep before our offshore passage, and after spending some sleepless nights in Marsh Harbour on anchor watch back in January I knew it wouldn’t happen there if the storms rolled through. (Too many boats, on too many anchors, in too close proximity, and too many vessels in various states of disrepair.) We decided our 3 options were to go to a marina, back to Hope Town, or back to Man of War. After quick “goodbye for now’s” with our friends on Anastasia, Sea Life, and Hold Fast, we headed back to Hope Town.
On the way to Hope Town on Wednesday we were motoring straight into 30 knot winds and choppy white caps on the Sea of Abaco when I asked Sabrina if that was an airplane flying overhead making that noise? Nope, it was our exhaust!!! Aaaahhh, we weren’t pumping any raw water!!! The temperature gauge spiked, but, the alarm never sounded! We quickly turned to run downwind under a tiny scrap of our genoa, killed the engine, and I troubleshot the problem. It wasn’t the water filter, I had just cleaned that and it was clear when I double checked. It wasn’t the impellor, I had just changed that and it looked fine when I opened it up. No, what I finally found was the shaft of the water pump had “rounded off” in the PTO (power take off) gear that comes off the timing gears. Furthermore, the PTO gear was rounded internally, and there was no way I was going to fix that!
(Side note: Most people carry a raw water pump rebuild kit, and I probably should have one onboard. But, our raw water pump is only 2 years old, with low hours, so I didn’t purchase a rebuild kit to include in the spares on our cruise. In this case, it would have provided half of the parts I need, but not the PTO gear. So I could have limped in, but I would have just “rounded off” another pump shaft in the destroyed PTO gear. And I’d be waiting for another rebuild kit and the new PTO gear. And as far as I know, no one considers a PTO gear as a “spare” when preparing for a cruise, must have been a faulty part.)
Now that I knew what the problem was, and that I wasn’t fixing it on the Sea of Abaco this day, I quickly placed a VHF call to our friends on S/V Hold Fast. They had left Marsh Harbour just after us and were headed for Man of War Cay, instead of Hope Town like Sabrina and I had decided.
We met our friends on S/V Hold Fast for the first time back at the Long Island Breeze in Thompson Bay, Long Island. From there we kept crossing paths and talking about our travels until we finally ended up here in the Abacos together. Our plans keep us sailing in the same direction since they are trying to cross to Fernandina Beach, FL, on the next weather window just like us. Sabrina and I are happy to have company on our long trip and another set of eyes/ears to help pick a crossing window. On Wednesday morning we had talked at length about the current weather patterns and what we were thinking for the trip.
While trying to keep the stress out of my voice- I explained calmly (or what I hoped was calmly) the need for us to find a safe harbor because the engine needed some work. Myron and Dena checked with their friends and found us a mooring that would be easy for us to take nearby, provided instructions on where the mooring would be, and told us they were standing by to assist if needed. Myron even assured me that we’d be able to limp in on the engine without raw water cooling if we could let her cool as we sailed for a while, and that was great to hear.
Unfortunately, we were running so fast downwind in the strong winds that we had sailed downwind of Man of War! What followed was a beat to windward between two narrow points of land in 30 knot winds and apparent wind gusts of 35! After several tacks, a freighter crossing, and a few crazy power boats, Joint Venture made it to the windward of Sandy Cay, just off Man of War. There we doused both sails and ran downwind under bare spars, still making over 5 knots, to the entrance to Man of War harbor. We fired up the now-cooled engine at the entrance to the harbor, negotiated the narrow cut, and quickly found Myron and Dena in their dinghy, leading us to our mooring ball – A VERY WELCOME SIGHT! We grabbed our mooring pennant on the first try (luckily, because there wasn’t time to circle around) and secured it to a cleat, cut the engine, and took a DEEP BREATH.
Myron and Dena helped us secure our lines to the mooring pennant for the upcoming inclement weather, and we couldn’t thank them enough for their assistance. We would not have even attempted it without their help, both on the VHF, and in the harbor.
When I called our friends on Anastasia on the VHF to let them know what had transpired, I realized how lucky we were that this happened now, and not when we were theoretically caught in the Gulf Stream with a blown out mainsail and no engine to carry us home. When I talked to the mechanic at Edwin’s Boatyard in town, who provided some great info, I said jokingly “There are much worse places to be stuck than here!” He smiled and said, “I didn’t want to say anything, but you’re right!”
On Wednesday afternoon I looked into how long it would take to get the two parts I need, and it would be awhile, so I hoped I could find another fix. On Thursday I pulled the PTO gear and learned that it was symmetrical, not beveled like the diagram in the parts manual. I was able to flip the gear around, and have a new drive slot for the water pump shaft. Myron suggested removing the thick gasket and using a liquid gasket to allow the shaft to slide deeper into the PTO gear slot. Everything worked out, and as I type this post the engine is running. We’re going to continue to test the fix over the next few days and check it under load to make sure it will get us home. The water pump and PTO gear will eventually have to have to be replaced, but I hope we can take care of that in the States, where we have access to “Next Day Shipping.”
While we wait for this weather to pass and continue to test the engine fix, we’ll be hanging out in Man of War. Maybe now I’ll get to talk to the local boat builders in Man of War, and maybe I’ll have time to see one of these exquisite sailing dinghies being built. Some cruisers spend all winter on this beautiful cay, and now is our time to slow down and experience the island as they do.
As I said, “There are worse places to be stuck than here!”