14 December 2008

14-Dec-2008 Noon Position

Atlantic Crossing Day #7
North Atlantic Ocean

  • 125 nm last 24 hours
  • 707 nm from Grand Canary
  • 177 nm to Cape Verde Islands
  • Winds NE 25-30 knots
  • Seas NE 8-15 feet, with 20 foot swells (Yikes!)
Through a series of errors on my part, the last 24 hours have been quite trying. When we began this trip I wrote that the generator had blew a plug out, and that it had poured oil out and all over the engine room. Thanks to neighbor Tom in Oakland (he used to be our next door boat neighbor there) for getting right on this and coming up with a probable prognoses. We think that due to Sandpiper's excessive side to side rolling and wave slaps on the side, that sea water came in thru the exhaust duct and into the engine.

I was running the motor in order to prevent this event from happening.  I always run the boat's engine and the generator at least once every 24 hours to blow out any water that has entered the exhaust. We have had problems in the past when we just let everything sit until we needed it. On long sailing passages this can be weeks.

Anyway we think water got into the generator's engine. When the motor was running it heated up. The water trapped in the crankcase turned in to steam and blew out the plug in the side, along with all the oil. This would also explain why all the oil blew out instead of leaking out.

Although we have not run it since the accident, we think it will be OK to run after I find a way to seal up the hole where the plug used to be, and put some new oil in.

So yesterday I decided that since we were so far out at sea that I would scrub out the bilges. Even though Sandpiper was rolling all over the place and getting knocked around, I wanted to have this done before we pull into Cape Verde. That way I would not have to pump the bilges while in an anchorage. I took the sea water intake hose off the generator and put it in the bilge. Then I opened the through-hull value to let sea water run through the engine room's bilge. It is then pumped out by the bilge pump that is located forward amidships where Sandpiper's bilge is the deepest. I went up to the cockpit where I could watch the bilge pump indicator light to see when it was pumping.

It seemed to take a long time to switch on, and then wouldn't pump very long. So after a few minutes I went back in the engine room to see what was going on. The water level in the bilge was up to the bottom of the engine! And with every roll that Sandpiper took, thick oily water was sloshing all over the place, covering even more of the engine room with oil. It was making an even a larger mess, and not to mention that it was freaking me out as the water was right at the level of the engine.

I quickly shut off the through-hull value and went forward and pulled off the deck plate that covers the bilge pump.  There was very little water there, and the pump would pump a few sips of water every once and a while. Back in the engine room the water was still at the same level, making more of a mess with every wave that hit us. I could not figure out why the water was not traveling forward. The engine room's bilge is under the engine and there is no way to see the bottom of the bilge.

I started thinking that maybe we had loaded up with so much beer, water, fuel, and other stuff before we departed, most of which is stored under the cockpit seats and nothing in the bow, that maybe the stern was sitting so low that the water in the bilge water would only flow aft. I was getting a bit concerned as the thought of taking on any more water into the boat, aft of the galley, would only collect in the engine room and not flow forward to the bilge pump.

So my plan was to wait it out and see if after a while the level would get lower. The more water that was pumped by the bilge pump would cause Sandpiper to sit down by the bow, thereby forcing more water forward. By midnight the level in the engine room had not changed. So the only thing I could figure was that we had too much weight aft. So I started moving all our bottled water, beer, and whatever else was heavy forward to in order to weight down the bow. I even stood in the head for awhile, hoping the added weight would get the water in the bilge to the pump out.

Amy woke up and asked me what I was doing. I said "Come stand in the head with me for a bit." An hour, later nothing had changed. So I decided to wait until daylight to figure out what to do.

Come sunrise I went to start the engine to make sure it was clear of water in its exhaust. I was too late. It would barely turn over. After a few minutes it would start to turn over, but no matter how long I tried, it would not start. So I pulled off the exhaust hose from the engine and water came pouring out. It had poured right into the engine.

I think between all of the water in the bilge, and all the waves smacking the port side of the hull last night, they drove this water right into the engine. I spent all morning pulling off the exhaust system. I changed the oil and filter. And am now letting the engine dry out. I am pretty confidant it will start up now. But want to let everything dry out in the cylinders. So I will try again in the morning. If it doesn't start, then it will make for a very interesting entrance to the anchorage tomorrow night.

After that fiasco I decided to battle the bilge water again as it was still at the same level. So I emptied out all the contents stowed below the galley sink where the bilge is located, just forward of the engine room. There was only a small amount of water, which made no sense because the other side of the bulkhead was totally full. So I stuck a shish kebab stick through the bottom of the bilge where it joins the engine room and found it was totally plugged up

With one more stab of the stick, water came gushing forward with much joy right in to the bilge pump and out over the side. I am not sure how much water was back there. But I am sure that it was weighing down our stern. And it is probably is what caused both the generator and engine to get water in their exhaust systems.

I had always thought about installing cut-off valves on the exhaust hoses. But I have been very reluctant to install them as serious damage to the engines can occur if they are started with these valves closed. But in hindsight, I now will install them as soon as I can find a shop that has them. Anyway, that's my rant for this trip.

The weather the last 24-hours is still a 'bit' extreme, with winds blowing a steady 25 knot and gusting higher when a squall blows over. Most the waves rolling under us are in the 8-10 foot range, giving us a not-to-bad ride because we are moving along pretty fast. We are doing 5 to 7 knots with a double reefed main and staysail out to port. 5 to 7 knots is pretty fast considering we have so little sail out.

Occasionally a set of huge swells that are at least 20 feet in height come rolling under. But they are quite wide and just pick us up really high. Today, while Amy and I were both standing in the galley, we got hit by a wave. The hardest we have ever been smacked. It hit so hard on the port side that water shot straight through the bolt holes that go through the hull to bolt the porthole to the hull. These holes are completely sealed. I know, I installed them myself. I can only figure we were hit so hard that the water didn't care where the sealant was. It just pushed it aside.

Our plans are to keep plugging along to Cape Verde, expecting to make anchorage sometime after 10pm. The harbor is reported to be well lit and we have detailed charts. So we will be making a rare night approach to anchor. Lets hope tomorrow is drama free.

One note: If you have written us an email, and you have not heard back, it is because we have a whole bunch of emails in our in box that I cannot download due to sailmails slow connections. Please hold off on emailing us unless we write that we are in an area that has a better connection.

More hopefully from a calm anchorage,
Tom and Amy

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