Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Sometimes you have a bad day and shake it off. Other times bad days string together into a bad week, leaving you to wonder just how you managed to pissed off absolutely all of the God’s, at the exact same time. At the beginning of March we had one of “those” weeks.

We had recently returned to town after a yet another fun filled tour of the Rock Islands. We were still waiting for a bit of mail, had a few jobs on the To Do List and both needed to spend a couple hours online to get caught up on things. The mooring field was busy but we squeezed in way down the back and settled into our ‘city’ routine.

The morning after our arrival we went ashore for a few hours of screen time. The usually kinda fast WIFI was playing up so after about 30minutes struggling with a crappy connection and getting nothing but frustrated we packed up and went home. As we rounded the corner I watched expectantly for the boat to come into view, heart in my throat a bit, as it always is. No matter how confident I am about our anchor or our mooring it is always in the back of my mind when I leave the boat; something could happen when we are away and we wouldn’t be there to save the boat, our home. And this time something did happen. Kate wasn’t where we left her. The mooring had failed. Strangely we were both rather calm about things:

H: “That’s not where we parked.”

S: “Nope.”

H: “Interesting.”

S: “Yep.”

Kate was leaning against a nearby boat that no one was living on. The Danish guy on the boat next door had popped up for a cigarette a few minutes before we arrived and, noticing that we had moved, jumped in his dinghy. He was now acting as a fender between the two hulls, making sure our solar panels weren’t ripped off by the anchor of the other boat. We clambered on board, said thanks to the Dane and proceeded to get ourselves out of what could have been a REALLY, REALLY bad situation.

Thankfully we also had a stern line tied to a nearby wreck because the mooring field was so busy. Thankfully it was a very calm day. Thankfully the GD internet wasn’t working and we came home. All of these things meant that we 1. Didn’t float to the back of the bay and bounce along the sharp rock wall and B. The only damage was a little of our green paint on the other boat’s white hull.

Turns out the mooring failed, not at the shackle as we expected but at the chain on the mooring block 15M down. The diver who inspects the moorings said he just replaced the chain 2months ago. Just one of those things?

A few days later we needed to run the engine to charge the batteries. Usually we can keep up with our power demands via our solar panels and wind generator but three days of heavy rains and no winds meant we didn’t have enough in reserve to keep the fridge running. Steve went ashore for a shower, no doubt a long one to avoid the audio punishment of the engine, and I turned the key expecting to listen to the ‘Happy Camper’ for an hour or so.

Within minutes the cabin was a little bit hazy. Since our engine is under the galley counter in the main salon sometimes this happens, but that day it seemed worse than usual. Not being able to open the hatches for ventilation because of the rain quickly made being down below uncomfortable. I turned on our two small cabin fans to try to get some air moving but it was rapidly apparent that things were getting worse not better. I went out and sat in the cockpit for a moment, leaning out from behind the bimini to get some fresh air like a dog with its head out the window. Then I looked back downstairs and realized how thick the haze was. So thick that I feared something was burning.

I turned off the engine and carefully inspected the engine bay and surrounding compartments, no sign of fire. Thank goodness! Not long after Steve returned and agreed that something definitely wasn’t right with the engine. We decided that since it was almost dinner time and the light dim we’d simply turn off the fridge for the night to conserve power and look into the problem in the bright light of day.

The next morning Steve and I removed the counter top and cabinetry that conceals the engine so he could have better access to inspect the beast. I went ashore under the pretense of running a few errands but mostly so that I wouldn’t be underfoot. When I returned Steve was sitting in the cockpit drinking a cup of Milo with his problem solving face on and the engine sitting quietly. Not good. There had been smoke and then some knocking sounds. Steve feared the worst but he had one last theory he wanted to test before making a diagnosis and he needed another set of hands, and eyes, to do it. I put on my 2nd Engineers hat.

Steve turned the key and instantly even I could tell something was wrong. Then, suddenly, there was something very wrong. A jet of black oil spewed from the low down on the engine, quickly covering the engine, the engine bay and parts of me and the cabin in a sticky, greasy mess.Sorry no pictures

“Turn it off!!! Turn it OFF!!! TURN IT OFF!!!!!!” I yelled at Steve who hadn’t made it back into the cabin from the cockpit yet.

“What the…” he replied as he stuck his head below after shutting the engine down.

There wasn’t much left to say. The engine was obviously, as the say in Aus, rooted. But, once again, getting angry about it wasn’t going to solve the problem so, we both got down to the business of cleaning up the mess. I hopped back in the dinghy and went back to the store for a package of diapers; super absorbent, inexpensive and a great way to quickly contain an oil spill before it ends up in the bilge and, potentially, overboard. After we got the oil cleaned up Steve started taking the engine apart to figure out what exactly happened.

Several hours later he had determined that we had a burnt head gasket. The burn connected the cylinder with a push rod, which allowed combustion down into the oil sump, pressurizing it to the point of blowing off the dipstick. With the engine in situ he was able, with much difficulty, to remove the oil pan and one piston. Turns out it looked ok, as did the valves. We escaped any major damage that would require pulling the engine but we’d be out of commission until Steve could source, order and receive parts.

Neither of us we particularly stressed out, we’ve been engineless before. This latest development was just another reminder of what our boat is designed for; sailing. But what happens when you can’t sail either?

While we bided our time waiting for engine parts Steve decided to tackle a few not to emergency projects that have been on the To Do List for a while. One calm morning I hoisted him up the mast to install some new spreader lights. While he was up there Steve decided to check the rigging and noticed that a stress point on the diagonal shrouds that he had been keeping his eye on since PNG had worsened. Two of the wire strands were now broken. Which really meant that not only were we engineless but now we were not particularly safe to sail either. With our allotted thee months in Palau quickly coming to an end we were definitely feeling like we were up the proverbial creek without a paddle…or sails…or an engine.

It takes a lot energy and team work to rally against weeks like that. It takes a lot of persistence to get out of bed in the morning and keep on keeping on. It takes a lot of experience and patience to believe that things WILL work out. And sometimes takes a damn hot shower ashore and several cold beers to keep a smile on your weary face when everyone in the anchorage is talking about nothing but your engine problems and offering lots of “helpful” advice.

But we got through it. Together. Like always.

I am happy to report that the engine parts arrived within a week of ordering them and were correct. In the realm of boat repair this alone is a minor miracle. Steve had done some prep work honing the cylinders, cleaning up the engine block and tidying all the bolts, washers and parts that had to be taken off to remove the cylinder head and replace the head gasket. Which meant that the day after the parts arrived Steve got stuck into putting the Happy Camper back together; new head gasket in place, valve clearances set, hoses and electrical reattached. Surprisingly (because when does anything on a boat ever work right the first time?!) the engine purred to life as soon as I turned the key. Not only that, it sounded better than it ever had before!

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As for the rigging, it was three times up the mast to measure, measure and remeasure the shrouds. Amazingly they too arrived in a timely manner and except for a bit of muscle needed to free up one of the old turnbuckles the installation was flawless and the new shrouds were a perfect fit.

Maybe the old guy was right when he said “Beware the Ides of March.” Maybe it was just a coincidence that our bad things came in three’s, or maybe it all happened for a reason (that we’ve yet to figure out). Whatever the reason we feel like we’ve done our best to appease the God’s and are certainly looking forward to some smooth sailing in the weeks and months to come.

Love,

H&S

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