Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Moving the boat, part 2: First attempt

Ahh, peaceful Baie Maa. A lovely little bay just north of Noumea, and a perfect place to stop when everything is going to hell around you. Soak in this lovely photo of the girls, because it took some major excitement to get to that point.

It was a misty moisty morning when we pulled out of Port Moselle for the last time. As we filled the diesel tanks at the nearby fuel dock, the winds howled louder and the rain came harder. I shielded the diesel inlet while Erik filled, trying desperately to avoid taking on a tankful of water, and we exchanged a grim look. It was a rotten day to depart. But what could we do? Normally we would never go anywhere in weather like that, but we had already checked out of the country and Erik was due back at work. All of the typical excuses. You have heard me say for years that sailing to a schedule is both foolish and dangerous. And here we were, ignoring our own rules and sailing under time pressure. 

It should have been a simple departure. Get out of Noumea-proper, aim for the pass, try not to hit any islands or reefs along the way. Here is a screen capture of our sailing track. We left Noumea, threw out a tiny scrap of sail, turned the corner to head for the pass and... what? Something happened near that question mark. Any guesses?
What could possibly go wrong?
The engine died.

This was not good.

We use the engine when we have to be maneuverable. Say, in a reef-filled lagoon. Our only choice was to point the boat in a relatively safe direction (ie. not pointed at anything, and with the wind blowing you away from whatever hazards are closest) and bleed the engine. It sounds so easy, doesn't it? I stood at the helm, and Erik descended into the engine room. And while we've acted in this play before, it is rare we've had such rotten conditions. The wind was blowing 25 knots, with gusts up to 30. We had big seas throwing the boat around. And the mists kept rolling in.
Creeping north as slowly as possible.
What that meant was, I was trying to steer a rocking boat through a reefy lagoon with no visibility. I had to rely completely on our maps, which is never wise - we have seen major GPS offset before. I peered through the fog, and didn't even get a glimpse of the small islands that rolled by to starboard. Meanwhile, I was treated to the sounds of Erik retching down below. The combination of diesel and heavy seas are the only thing that makes him seasick, so he dry-heaved his way through the bleeding job, the lucky man. Every once in a while a child would ascend to pee in the 5-gallon pail in the cockpit, both of our toilets having failed the day before. And I gripped the wheel and reevaluated my life choices.

And time passed. And still the engine wouldn't restart.

I knew we were fine for a while, but, eventually, everyone runs out of room. Our job was to get control before we wrecked somewhere, or were forced to try to sail through this crazy mess.
Hey, look at that. The mainland. Everywhere and far too close.
"I just don't know what is going on," said Erik in frustration. "I've been all the way down the line."
One fear was that there was a major problem with the fuel lines. At some point during the repair in the yard, someone stood on the fuel lines (presumably to enter the engine compartment) and bent the works. Erik fixed it, but you never know.
We racked our brains. "Maybe someone turned a valve they shouldn't have?" I asked. Erik shrugged and bent down to look. The retching resumed.
"Yes!" he cried. "That was it!"
Sometimes it take a fool to find a fool's error.

The engine flared to life.

By this point, a couple of hours had passed. We were exhausted. We just wanted to get there already, but Brisbane was still six days away.

"I think we should pull into Baie Maa for the night," said Erik. "I'm wiped. I don't think we'll make good decisions tonight."
A big part of me wanted to push on, but I was wiped too. It is important to stop and recognize those moments. There is no point in going on due to sheer pig-headedness... and keeping to a schedule.
I nodded. "You're right. Let's stop."

So we made it into Baie Maa and put down anchor for the night. The skies slowly cleared. Indy went for a swim. We ate chili. Erik repaired a leaky decklight. We did a final, final, extra-final check of the boat, and did a few extra jobs to make the passage even safer. We slept.
Boats and leaks: together since the dawn of water travel.
The next morning, we ate the last of our pain au chocolat and headed out in better weather and a much better frame of mind.

It was the right call.


Little Red and the Wolf said...

Wow. Even though cloudy was the weather, you had me laughing. Love you all. Glad it ended well

Love Katie

Paul in Iowa said...

Good job in working as a team and making good decisions when the pressure was on. Glad to see you back on the water, even if only for a short time. HOT summer in Iowa now. Spray planes starting up soon here.

Nicolas Turcotte said...

ouf, stressfull post. good job staying afloat!

Kevin Baerg said...

Big drama on the high seas! Good thing you have learned a lot about all the systems on the boat! That way two great minds can tackle the problem. Asking the right questions almost always brings the solution...

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