And then…the diesel broke

And then…the diesel broke

After a ton of fun at George Town, we decided it was time to start making our way back north through the Exumas. There was a nice long weather forecast of settled weather blowing the best direction (from behind), and we left Elizabeth Harbour early in the morning heading for the Exuma Sound. We were excited to spend a couple of weeks or so exploring the area from Lee Stocking Island (where we had anchored for one night on the way down) to Black Point Settlement since we had sailed straight through these areas on the way down. From our chart study, we would go back to the banks side at Lee Stocking and traverse mostly shallow water narrow areas that are possible due to Holiday’s shallow draft. It looked like areas not everyone can get to, so we were ready for some super secluded anchorages.

We sailed along through Exuma Sound in beautiful weather. I was glad, though, that we were nearing the end of our Exuma Sound sailing for this year. It’s a big, deep body of water that can turn treacherous (like we had seen on our hikes on high wind days), and I was thinking, “Almost to Rat Cay Cut. We made all our passages in the Exuma Sound without any bad sailing. From here, it will be easy Banks side sailing and motoring all the way until The Tongue of the Ocean weeks from now when we are starting to cross back to Florida.”

Well, I should have knocked on wood after these thoughts. With Rat Cay Cut in sight, and the diesel pushing us along (you mostly don’t try to sail through these kind of dangerous cuts), we both heard a high pitched “ZIIIING!” A brief worried look at each other, and I was heading to look at the engine at the same time Lindy is saying “you should check on that.”

When I removed the door to the engine compartment, my eyes went straight to the raw water pump. It’s steel shaft spinning was cherry red with heat, and my stomach dropped. It’s still technically working. Water was flowing from the exhaust, but it could go at any time, and it definitely couldn’t be run at any RPMs that was turning steel red with heat. I didn’t have a spare pump (that won’t ever happen again). In my engine maintenance reading previously, I had read about bearings going bad on water pumps. If I couldn’t somehow fix this, we couldn’t run the engine because the raw water pump is part of the system that cools the engine. Let the engine over heat, and not only will it be broken even worse right then (certainly beyond any repair I could do), it will be time for an engine replacement all together. Serious dinero, but money was the last thing on my mind right then. I stuck my head back into the cockpit trying to control the look on my face to one of more confidence and told Lindy what I had found.

Safe anchorage inside Rat Cay Cut was literally in sight, less than a mile away. We had already dropped the engine to idle speed, and the pump shaft was turning back to a normal color, but there was obvious problems with wobbling and the wrong sound. I quickly debated whether I should shut the engine off. What if we could lightly use the engine, make it through the cut, then drop anchor and start working on it? But, what if the engine died or the water pump imploded causing further damage right in the middle of the cut with jagged rocks on each side and swift current rushing through. Also, once inside the cut with the anchor down, what then? If I couldn’t fix it, we were in that tight shallow area for miles and miles with lots of current. Could we even up anchor and get back out the cut where there is more room under sail? Even the anchorage in this area would have swift current pretty much all the time. What if the anchor drug. No motor, would have to get those sails up quick, maybe in the middle of the night with rocks and shallow water all around. Certainly, it wouldn’t be a good idea to try and sail up this portion of the Banks side through the narrow, shallow areas that went for 30 or so miles before opening up into the larger 10-12 foot banks area we had been in most of the trip. Also, don’t forget: we are in the middle of nowhere. Help is not around. It’s just us, and that was sure being driven home in my head and in the pit of my stomach.

Even though we knew turning off the motor and dismantling the pump could mean we wouldn’t be able to get it started again, we decided to shut it off, and I would go to work on trying to fix the pump, while Lindy sailed in circles around the Exuma Sound near Rat Cay Cut. It was only around noon. If I could get it fixed, we’d be inside the cut and anchored within an hour after. We raised the sails, killed the engine, and I went below with my tools. Lindy definitely knows how to sail, but I’m usually right there if she has any question and to talk out decisions together. Unspoken though this time, she would sail and make all her own decisions on sail trim, direction, and navigation, while I devoted my full attention toward the engine.

Down below with the pump shaft not spinning, I could see the previously sealed bearings exposed although most if not all bearings were still in the broken housing. Some of the old housing was sticking between the hub and the shaft and looked like part of the reason for the heat. The shaft was also very loose. It was surprising that the thing had been functioning. One more thought of trying to limp into the cut before dismantling, decided against it, and I went to work.

Just the day before at a bar in George Town I had read a sign that said, “The difference between an ordeal and an adventure is attitude.” Well, no matter how hard I tried, this was feeling like an ordeal.

Just getting the pump off isn’t that easy. Remove two nuts from bolts in very tight places then loosen 4 hose clamps and pry off two hoses, again in very tight places. Oh yeah, keep in mind I’m on a sailboat that is bouncing around in 3 or so feet seas. In the Sound, even on a calm day it’s not flat. Probably 30 minutes or so, and I was in the cockpit with Lindy with the pump on the table and the diagrams of it from the engine manual. I took it apart piece by piece, and at one point some pieces slipped, and it came apart in my hand. I was trying to lay it all out so I would know exactly how to put it back together, but a couple of the pieces got jumbled, and it wasn’t clear which was the front and the back of them. Oh well, will have to figure it out.

After removing the broken pieces of the bearing housing and changing the impeller (old one was still good but since I had it apart), I lubed the bearings area then tried to put the tiny ball bearings back into the hub while holding it all in place (remember: boat rocking). I took an educated guess on the pieces I wasn’t sure about and after about an hour, I had it all back together and was pretty happy with the feel of it. This might work!

Reinstalling the pump is just like taking it off. Tough because it’s in a tight place and the boat is moving. Now getting close to 2 hours later, we were ready to fire it up. Rat Cay Cut, still less than a mile away, held a safe anchorage. Fingers crossed, fire the engine, pump spinning, but……no water coming out of exhaust. Such a feeling of disappointment and discouragement. There isn’t any real way to trouble shoot what might be happening without removing the pump and dismantling it again. So, Lindy continued to sail in circles, and I went about removing the pump a second time.

It was also at this point, we decided we should call our emergency contacts (our parents) to tell them there would be a change in our estimated arrival time and possibly our destination. Any time we are sailing, we give them a “float plan” so that someone always knows where we are, where we are going, and a basic time we will get there. ¬†We also hadn’t hit the “check in” button on our Spot Messenger in a while, and we didn’t want anyone to worry. No one was in danger. We were in a big open body of water with at least a few days of settled weather and could find somewhere to sail to for repairs if needed.

An hour or so later, I had the pump apart and couldn’t figure out what was wrong. There were so many old parts inside, as I would take it apart things wouldn’t stay in place for me to get a perfect idea of what the problem might be. So, I tried my best to put it back together even more carefully this time and reinstalled.

Fire the engine, pump spinning, but again… water from exhaust. At this point I’m getting tired and feeling more discouraged, but it’s just me and Lindy. No giving up. Do it again. I repeated the process a couple more times, and now many hours had passed. Lindy tells me, “Sun will set soon. We should start heading somewhere else where we have a big cut to sail through and an easy wide open anchorage for dropping anchor under sail.” We also wanted to go somewhere where it would be easy to order new parts.

We decided to head back to George Town. Almost done with the Exuma Sound for the rest of the cruise, we would now sail far out into it on a tack (remember, we were sailing down wind. now we would be sailing into it), then tack back and re enter Elizabeth Harbour after sunrise the next day. We called our parents with the new float plan and the set the sails and the course for the first tack.

Well, less than an hour of heeled over and bashing into the waves, Lindy says, “This sucks. Let’s go somewhere we can sail down wind to.” I agree. She busts out the charts and starts looking for the right spot: wide open cut, wide open anchorage, and close to somewhere we can get parts. Lindy finds it right away. Dothan Cut just south of Staniel Cay and north of Black Point Settlement looked just right, and the short sail through the Banks back to Big Majors Spot, a huge wide open anchorage, was open and easy. It was also just the right distance away for a sun rise arrival, and the tides looked about right for close to slack tide for the cut entry. When the tide is ripping the cuts can have breaking waves in them which you wouldn’t even want to try with a motor.

So, we notify the ‘rents of the new float plan and head that way. Now the sailing is smoother, and we coast along as the sun is setting. I could have went back to work on the pump and tried again, but at this point I was very tired, and I had resigned myself to rely on sailing through the cut and to the anchorage. All I wanted was to get there, order a new pump, and stop fooling with this old one that I now despised.

It was now time to take our shifts sailing and sleeping so that we both stayed alert for the possibly difficult sailing we had coming up. During my shift sailing, I looked over to the west by the moon light at the Cays we were now skipping again between Lee Stocking and Black Point. It just wasn’t meant to be for this year. I didn’t even have any desire to back track and see them after fixing the engine. In my disappointment about the engine, I was now ready to make our way back to Florida. Back to the land of Tow Boat US, marinas with mechanics at every bend, and a West Marine with new parts on every corner. I’d learned a lot about what spares needed to be on board and what systems needed some fine tuning and not just the things that had broken. When one thing breaks it opens your eyes to other possibilities. Our always reliable diesel engine now seemed to me like a bunch of smaller systems that each one could break and bring the whole thing to a stop. Older sails, older running rigging, pulleys, deck hard ware mounted with bolts that probably hadn’t been checked for 20 years. I wanted to get back to the US and really take a better look at all of this. Back to the land of convenience and lower costs before getting this far away from everything again.

We sailed through the night, each trying to get some sleep while the other stood watch for a few hours at a time. A few large boats passed which we monitored on the AIS, but all in all it was uneventful. We had the sails reefed in to slow the boat for arriving to the cut just after day light.

As the sun rose, we were heading toward Dothan Cut, now nearing 24 hours from when we left George Town for our original 5 hour sail to Lee Stocking. We missed slack tide by a little, and as we entered the cut, there were some tense times as very large swells were created by the water rushing out at us. It also slowed our speed to less than 2 knots and held us between the jagged rocks on either side for longer than we would have liked. But, no waves were breaking and slowly but surely, we made it through the cut and and onto the wide open Banks. I now had my wish and was successfully done with the Exuma Sound.

Of course, the wind took this opportunity to pipe up to about 20 knots. We sailed the last hour or so toward Big Majors galloping along but wondering how in the world we were going to slow down and get the boat under control while sailing into the anchorage. What if the anchor didn’t set? What if we had to try to get it back in as we tried to raise the sails back up to exit the anchorage and give it another try, all the while with other boats near by?

Well, about a half mile from the anchorage, we decided to double reef the main and roll in the head sail. I close hauled sailed us into the wind with the rudder turned all the way, and it put us on a sideways drifting course. This is where having a GPS with a line pointing your direction really comes in handy. We set Holiday where the GPS had us drifting sideways right into the middle of the anchorage at about 1 knot. It was a long drift, and I’m sure people in the anchorage were wondering what “that crazy boat was doing out there.” But, we finally were in among the boats at an open spot.

We decided to run the engine momentarily without the water pump to help position us for anchoring and dropped the hook. It set right away (thankfully), and we just stared around in awe that we were finally stationary after over 25 hours of sailing and uncertainty. Tired as can be, we both slept most of the day and the following night.

The next day we went at locating a new pump, getting it to a small airline that flies from Ft Lauderdale to Staniel Cay daily, and arranging shipping to Staniel Cay Yacht Club. We didn’t run into any issue, and a couple of days later I had the new pump in my hand. I was super practiced at installing the pump, so it didn’t take me any time to get it on and fire the engine. Finally we were fixed! We celebrated by snorkeling the famous Thunderball Grotto. It was awesome!
Check out this huge ship going through the anchorage to Fowl Cay as I ready the new pump:

It was time to start heading back toward Florida, but there was one place we wanted to go that was on the way. Not wanting to feel like we were just tucking our tails and running like mad, we decided to head to Cambridge Cay first for a few days of rest and relaxation. Cambridge Cay is right next to some great hiking on Compass Cay to Rachel’s Bubble Bath and snorkeling at Rocky Dundas and “The Aquarium.”

Stay tuned for the next blog post where we check all that out before taking some big passages back to the US of A!


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