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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Stuck. Diary of A Shi—y Day


Wayne can open
and close Journey’s
midship hatch without
doing the splits,
straddling our settees.
I cannot.  Amazing
how big a difference
6 inches and height
can be!

It started out promising enough. 

Hot showers aboard – we’ve got that down, at last (click to read about when we didn’t).  Fellow cruisers Rebecca and Mike from Zero to Cruising (click here to read their excellent blog) over for breakfast of steak, eggs med, and mimosas, before we headed our separate ways.  We’d already sadly said goodbye to Colleen and Michael of Goldilocks (more on them in a future post), also headed South.  Planned boatwork projects complete, we were ready, antsy even, to leave St. Thomas and sail Northwest, to the Spanish Virgins, Puerto Rico’s smaller islands.

See that narrow, heavily shoaled section that forms a pass?
 Its deepest point is about 12 feet it quickly shallows
out from there.  It’s a busy point, easy to run aground.
Keith’s sailboat, Kookaburra, anchored
next to us in the lee of St. Thomas’
Water Island.
Our normally trustworthy Westerbeke40 diesel
engine, with just a little over 3,000 engine
hours on her.  That’s the equivalent of only
about 15,000 miles on a 35-year-old boat,
or far less really as most often our engine
hours are spent anchoring.
Over breakfast, our BBQ propane tank ran out of fuel.  Not a big deal.  I panfried the steaks instead, and after breakfast, refueling diesel, propane and water was our first stop, just a few miles West, still on St. Thomas, at Crown Bay Marina.  Diesel was cheaper there than at IGY Marina, closer to our current anchorage.  We were down to a little more than 5 gallons, mostly in our jerry jug -- about 10 hours of motoring time.  We figured it was wiser to fill here than in Puerto Rico, though we were confident we had more than enough diesel to get us there.

Wayne hoisted our anchor, whilst I started the motor, headed out of the anchorage.  Wayne unfurled our jib, taking advantage of a brisk downwind.  Then our up-until-now trusty Westerbeke 40 diesel motor abruptly stopped.  It did not restart.

Wayne steered us past the narrow opening between HaulOver Cut’s shoals, readying to re-anchor the first safe place we could. Navigating a Crown Bay Marina docking in a 20 knot wind with no working motor struck us as unwise.

Looking at the entrance to Crown Bay Marina from the cockpit
f our emergency anchorage.  It’s the litte opening just to the left
of the sailboat underway.
Approaching the lee side of Water Island, we dropped anchor in Ruyer Bay.  We are chargined to admit we’re remiss in practicing sail-powered ancoring.  Spurred by a brisk wind and swift current, our anchor did not initially bite, we dragged. “Don’t hit us!!!” shouted the woman about the catamaran we missed by only 8 feet.  DIdn’t blame her, as we’ve been on the receiving and of a collision ourselves (click here to read about that).  “Don’t hit the reefs ahead of you!” shouted another cruiser.

Fortunately, our relatively shallow 4 ½ foot draft skated us safely past the reefs, and our anchor finally bit, and held.  By one of our few strokes of luck that day, our anchorage neighbor was Keith on Kookaburra, who immediately offered to help.  Wayne thanked him and replied he’d do a little troubleshooting first.

After a few frustrated first attempts, Wayne dinghied over to take Keith up on his offer.  On Wayne’s dinghy back, the dinghy’s painter slipped before he could secure the dinghy to our boat. It promptly ensued drifting out to sea.  Keith, on his way to our boat in his dinghy, grapped it before Wayne or I needed to swim after it.

Keith and Wayne were unable to do more than rule out the more obvious potential causes, such as too little gas and a clogged fuel fliter.  A local ferry captain, Keith knew the nearest diesel boat mechanic, Joseph, gave us his number and a sense of his availability, “juggling several jobs.”

Joseph from Crown Bay Marina Botyard still managed to drop by late afternoon.   Together he and Wayne ruled out a number of motor failure causes.   The process included Wayne’s getting rainsoaked in the cockpit, while I raced to the v-berth to close its hatch, then straddled our settee cushions to get “tall” enough to close our midship hatch, before our cabin got wetter.

Beautiful, clear, water in Ruyter Bay, viewed from Journey’s bow.
Charlotte Amalie’s water, by contrast, was opaque. Photographed
on a sunnier day than our emergency anchoring.
Joseph’s hunch is the fuel pressure pump may be the culprit.  He believed running low on gas potentially clogged it with particles in the tank.  Worst case, repair could require removal of the pump, which would then need to be mailed to Florida to be rebuilt, mailed back and reinstalled, as it’s not a readily available part. Joseph left a little after 5 pm., promising to get back to us tomorrow morning after he did a bit more research.

Not good news, considering we’d already spent nearly two weeks in St. Thomas and were impantient to head North.

Wayne put the cabin back together. Earlier that day, it seemed Wayne chased his cold off.  I was hearing him sniffle again, so I cooked up chicken ramen soup for dinner.  It was good, but Wayne spilled it on himself.  He changed into dry clothes.  He spilled soup on himself again.

As day slipped into eve. we had to run the generator as the rain and clouds and short motor ride tapped our battery too low for comfort.  Arg!

Just beyond this point and we’ll be sailing West of St. Thomas,
to our next destination, the Spanish Virgin Islands of Puerto Rico.
All around, just not one of our better days. 

It could’ve been a lot worse.  We didn’t hit anyone (even if we did come way too close).  We anchored safely (eventually).  It’s near our planned first stop; dinghy-able to where we can refill our propane tanks.  The water here flows quickly and cleanly enough to feel comfortable running our watermaker.  We had a great neighbor.  We broke down close to help, rather than say, halfway between Puerto Rico and the Turks & Caicos, a 3-day sail.  Shi- happens.  We get over it, and move on… eventually.

Meanwhile, we’re stuck in St. Thomas for we’re not sure how much longer or for how many “boat bucks.”