The Trip that Went South: Dreadful News

Becalmed. It was sunny, warm, and both the sea and BMac’s stomach were at ease. Time to fire up the engine to continue making progress toward the Abacos, Bahamas. Brian went below to check the oil before starting the engine; this is common practice since the Perkins 4-108 leaks oil like a sieve. Brian had done an oil change and fuel filter change while we were anchored in the Cape Fear River. Since then, we had motored roughly 30 hours and everything was A-OK. “Oh, shit,” I heard Brian utter. You know, for a sailor he’s always had a rather clean mouth so I know when such strong words are chosen that something is amiss. Brian’s report from the engine room was that there was fuel in the oil. There was no mistaking as with our previous engine oil issues. The oil was black, thinned, and reeked of diesel. There was also an excess of oil dumping out of the oil pan. Brian emptied the oil pan which confirmed the fuel leak. He began pouring the oil into empty containers, containers from which I was dumping fresh water. So now we have an engine problem and I’m dumping fresh water, somehow that doesn’t seem like a good combo. All the while BMac took the tiller (the Cape Horn windvane was useless in the light wind).

I became a gopher for Brian, fetching tools and manuals, thankful that the sea was calm so that he could work efficiently. Thank goodness we had BMac along to keep everything stable in the cockpit! The main sail was flogging back and forth and repeatedly BMac had to secure the sheet.

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Brian proceeded to disassemble the fuel lift pump, one possible leakage area where fuel and oil both pass through. After inspecting the fuel lift pump, installed new just one year ago, neither of us found any cracks in the diaphragm and the pump seemed to be in good working order. The pump was pieced back together and reinstalled. Brian sealed the oil pan and waited several minutes before opening it once again to find approximately one cup of fuel had leaked through. The culprit could possibly be a bad injector or a bad fuel injector pump. These were not things Brian wanted to tinker with while underway. In the meantime, he primed the engine and made certain it would start. Within a few minutes after starting the oil pressure dropped significantly. The engine was turned off, the fuel was turned off, and we were unable to use the engine unless there was an emergency. Too much fuel in the oil could cause a runaway engine; we certainly did not want that to occur!

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The good news: we are on a SAIL-boat! We can continue to travel without an engine. The bad news: there was NO wind! This was the predicted forecast and we’d simply planned to motor. We bobbed atop the flat sea, disheartened with our present circumstances. Brian and I began plotting how we would repair the engine from the Bahamas. Our options were not ideal to say the least. We then predicted the very worst; what if the weather, the proximity of a passing ship, or the ability to enter a cut required the engine? We agreed that we could not rely on the engine while it had a clear, yet undiagnosed problem. We let all of this information simmer and played a few rounds of cards before dinner to boost the morale on the ship.

Brian did some figuring based on our weather forecast and current location. The reality of this situation was not good.
That evening, between watch shifts, we had a pow-wow. Brian and I had promised BMac and unforgettable ocean passage with a landing in the pristine waters of the Bahamian islands. Well, unforgettable we could do! However, to make the Abacos before a forecasted cold front breezed through, Rode Trip would have to maintain an average speed of five knots. Our current wind conditions were not even five knots! We were plodding along at 0.5-1.1 knots and that would likely continue well into the next day. A later arrival time, mid-frontal system, also meant that we may not be able to enter the cuts onto the banks of the Abacos. Those cuts are known for becoming impassable during bad weather. These were conditions that we could avoid. Nobody was happy about it, but the reality was that the safest option for us would be turning back toward the east coast. We should be able to make landfall prior to the cold front arriving and repair the engine. BMac was a trooper, “Whatever we need to do, I’m along for the adventure.” We changed course, destination unknown, and crossed our fingers hoping for more wind and a speedy engine repair.

Atlantic Safari – Georges Bank

The stage was set behind a curtain of fog. Day six was uneventful and all the cleaning I could muster didn’t distract from the boredom of a slow moving ocean passage (4 cupboards, one closet, 4 kitchen shelves, bathroom shelves). I was well into my second book and had baked brownies for a bit of excitement. The gloom continued to tease us with moments of clarity. I was thankful it wasn’t raining. Brian was thankful for the radar.

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Days seven and eight were long and slow as we crawled through the fog at 1.5 knots. We were located approximately 160nm offshore from Cape Cod, MA in an area known as Georges Bank.

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Deep trenches wove through the bottom of the ocean; near our location depths ranged from 120 feet – 1,000 feet. A bit northwest of us the bank became very shallow; 10 feet – 40 feet with charted shoals. It was over the trenches where all the action took place and Rode Trip was treated to a spectacular display of wildlife.

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Birds were swooping, diving, and sitting atop the water’s surface all around; Shearwaters and Guillemots. In the dark of night we’d startle the resting birds and hear their cackles and chirps nearby.

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Our first sightings were Blue Sharks; they meandered along the surface with the tips of their dorsal fins and tails just poking through the water. Then another type of fin appeared.

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We approached for a closer look. This was a Mola or Ocean Sunfish. These unique creatures are HUGE, average 6 feet long (between snout to tip of tail), 7 feet wide (between dorsal fin to anal fin) and weigh 1 ton (2200 lbs). We’ve added our sightings to assist the research of these fish; we spotted three during our passage.

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Then we had a very close encounter with a pod of Pilot Whales; we observed the pod resting near the surface. These whales range in length from 10-25 feet.

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During the day time, although too foggy to realize it was mid-morning, we heard the sound of rushing water. Loud, consistent, “whoosh, whoosh, whoosh”. We checked the radar, checked the ocean view, checked the radar again. What was approaching? A tidal wave? A ginormous ship about to pummel us? Brian had his had ready at the key to start the engine so that we could steer away from whatever was forcing water out of its way. Suddenly, the “whoosh” of the water growing nearer, a line of white caps approached. We squinted into the fog to see fins among caps of breaking water. This was a pod of dolphins; HUNDREDS of White-Sided Dolphins swimming together. This was the first of at least five dolphin tidal waves. Astonishing!

We experienced several encounters, close encounters, with Minke Whales. These 15-30 foot long whales were slow movers and we’d often see the arch of their back followed by their seemingly undersized dorsal fin. While in the fog, or at night, we’d hear the Minke Whales nearby, and though we couldn’t always see them we’d smell the rank, fishy odor of their breath after they’d exhaled through their blow hole. We spotted a tail only once on a clear day and it was too fast for a good, clear photo.

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When the wind finally built to a whopping 10 knots, consistently, we were thrilled to be on the move as Rode Trips speed increased to 3 knots. We eventually sailed out of the fog, just in time to begin seeing fishermen’s buoys. Or possibly we’d been sailing blindly past the buoys for days…

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This was truly a magical experience; one that made us both rejoice that we’ve chosen a cruising lifestyle. We wished all of our passages could be this peaceful, this rewarding. During our 10 days at sea I was intrigued by this all-powerful, mysterious ocean. And when we sighted land at Mt. Desert Island, ME…I was ready to jump ashore!

What’s the Hold-Up?

Rode Trip is still in Bermuda, which leaves you asking…”Are they still in those stocks?”

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“Can’t Brian get enough of COLD, micro-brewed beer?”

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“Are they having too much fun in the rockin’ Bermuda clubs with their new friend, Glen?”
(Fun Fact: Glen is our friends’ Sanders and Valerie’s nephew who is also visiting Bermuda.)

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“Are they interviewing crew?”
(Sanders & Glen visit Rode Trip for the afternoon.)

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“Do they have cold feet and don’t want to leave the beautiful, calm harbour?”

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“Have they found their dream home?”

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“Have they been sucked into the Bermuda Triangle…”

Actually, Rode Trip had every intention of setting sail as soon as the weather offered us a good breeze. The boat is stocked and all minor repairs from the previous passage are complete. Not only have we been exploring Bermuda during this pit-stop across the Atlantic Ocean, but we’ve also been doing quite a bit of research for our next destinations and we have one major check to get off our preparation list before entering the Azores – liability insurance.

Liability insurance is necessary in Europe, particularly if staying at a marina. Marinas expect liability coverage for $1-Million; just in case our rinky-dink boat bumps into a mega yacht. We knew this and we dragged our feet. We thought if asked we’d play stupid and say we were in progress of attaining it. But after conversing with many of our fellow cruisers who’ve had experience in Europe, it became painfully clear that we’d need to submit our insurance papers (along with boat documentation and passports) to clear into European countries. UGH! We plan to stay at a marina in the Azores so to avoid any conflict we want to have policy in hand prior to leaving Bermuda.

Obtaining liability insurance is not so easy as we’d hoped. American companies won’t provide liability only; they want to offer full policies and they want an out of water survey within the past year as well as the owner’s boating resume. Brian put together his boating resume, it was actually quite impressive. But the expense and effort of an out of water survey is ridiculous when we are only seeking liability. European companies do provide liability only, just not for US documented boats. We’ve gotten promising feedback from two companies thus far and have our fingers crossed that they’ll offer us an affordable plan.

In the meantime, when we aren’t drinking swizzles (Goslings Black Rum, Goslings Gold Rum, pineapple juice, orange juice, Grenadine, bitters), we’re also pricing marinas for the winter season and researching sights to see for our Mediterranean itinerary.