Dirty Fuel

Sunrise Near Nuku Hiva – on the Day of Our First Landfall

During our crossing from San Jose del Cabo in Mexico to the Marquesas in French Polynesia, we were very fortunate that nothing really important broke or fell off the boat. Of the issues that we encountered, two were irritating but we had workarounds, kind of.

Discovering that the thru hull for the watermaker was located a bit too far from Marathon’s centre line was very annoying. Its location means that the watermaker works fine while at rest, but not well if we are on a starboard tack because it emerges from the water and sucks in air. So we made water only when we were on a port tack or at anchor. Very fortunately, most of the 29 days that we were at sea, we were on a port tack.

The next problem that was a bit more than annoying was dirty fuel. We motored a total of 19 hours after leaving San Jose del Cabo, and much of that time was immediately after leaving until we were out into the Pacific and no longer in the wind shadow created by Baja. Lucky for us we normally had enough wind to sail, even in the doldrums (see video in the side bar).

However, when we were in sight of Nuku Hiva we decided to motor for the final approach because the wind had died and we were keen (some of us really, really keen to drop anchor ASAP in daylight). On this occasion the engine stopped after a period of time and we traced the problem to the primary fuel filter which was badly plugged. We changed the filter but it took so long to change the filter and bleed the engine (Perkins 4.108 engines are great except when it is necessary to bleed the fuel system – and maybe a couple of other things too!) that it became too late in the day to enter Taiohae Bay, our first anchorage, in daylight. So we drifted north overnight and sailed back in time to make landfall the following morning. We motored in without any difficulty and checking the vacuum gauge on the fuel line indicated that the filter was probably clogging again.

We left the Marquesas for Tahiti and again the wind was good and we sailed nearly all of the time. However, when we did have to motor, the engine would only run for a few hours before we had to change the filter. On our final approach to Papeete we changed the filter twice in order to be sure that the engine did not quit just as we were entering the pass into the harbour.

We sought the assistance of a mechanic in Papeete who recommended that we take all of the fuel out of the tank and run it through his Baja Filter at least three times, so we did.

Crud from the Baja Filter After Running Marathon’s Fuel Through 3 Times

After doing that, he could not suck fuel through the Racor 500 primary filter with his seriously powerful vacuum pump so we dismantled the filter to discover that the same fibres found in the Baja Filter had frozen the ball that helps separate out water when in the closed position. This means that the engine was generally able to suck fuel through the unit until a combination of material the clogging the filter itself plus the frozen ball, stopped all fuel from getting through to the secondary filter.

Visual inspection of the fibres suggests that somebody may have left a paper towel in the fuel tank when the fuel was cleaned back in La Paz about a year ago. There was certainly also an issue with algae or bacteria in the fuel itself – this built up despite having added a fuel preservative to the tank at regular intervals. The compound problem of the frozen ball and algae likely did not manifest itself when sailing in Mexico because the seas were rarely lumpy enough to stir up the crud off the bottom of the tank as they were once we left the wind shadow of the Baja Penninsula.

Racor Fuel Filter – Water Separator Device with Ball Frozen by Fibres
Fibres Removed From Racor Fuel-Water Separator

Hopefully, Marathon’s fuel is now clean and will stay that way.

Recap

Landfall – Nuku Hiva

We were registered in the Pacific Puddle Jump. This is a very loose association of boats from all over the world who, at least this year, provided daily updates regarding their position, and in some instances, interesting things that happened to them that day. Our daily updates can be seen at the link “Where is Marathon”. Location data plus blog text are there.

We recently completed a questionnaire for the Puddle Jump organizers and here is the text that we submitted which provides some historical data:

SV Marathon – Pacific Puddle Jump 2019 – Data for Latitude 38 Survey

Boat Name: Marathon
Boat type/maker & Length: Beneteau Idylle 11.50 – 11.50 metres
Owner’s Names: Nello and Sheridan Angerilli
Boat’s Homeport: Vancouver, B.C. Canada
Departed: San Jose del Cabo, BCS, Mexico. 25 March 2019
Landfall: Taiohae Bay, Nuku Hiva, Marquesas, French Polynesia, 22 April 2019
Days for crossing: 29
Miles logged: 2743
Crossed equator at: 131 47.68W
Engine hours total: 19 (may include an hour or two for power generation)
% time handsteering: 1.5%
% time steering with autopilot: 2.73%
% time steering with wind vane: 96%
Best 24h mileage: 139nm
Worst 24h mileage: 48.5nm
Highest sustained wind speed: 25kts
Highest wind gust: 30kts?

Number of fish caught: 0 (not counting flying fish landing on deck)
Gear breakage/failures:
i. Fridge controller failed 2 or 3 days before landfall.
ii. Contaminated fuel led to an extra day at sea because we had to id the problem, change a filter, bleed the fuel line and this took so long, we had to wait an additional night to sail/motor into Taiohae Bay. This was an ongoing problem but was fixed in Tahiti by draining and cleaning the tank and all the fuel.
iii. Whisker pole topping lift wire bale broke.
iv. A hose clamp came off the pressure water system in the head. Lots of lost fresh water and lots of wet paper products. Most of the latter were salvaged and we have a water maker on board so the water could be replaced.
v. Vesper Watchmate 650 gave an incorrect “No GPS Signal” warning for about 10 days and then reverted to normal.
vi. Main sail clew shackle fell off but did not go overboard.

Expectations vs Reality.
Duration was harder than expected and the voyage was more exhausting physically and mentally than anticipated.

Highpoints: Days of sailing in nearly perfect conditions – the boat, the sea and the wind were in nearly perfect balance. Enjoying the 360 degree unfettered few of a perfect ocean. Stars and fluorescence at night. Crossing an ocean and the equator is not a trivial undertaking – the sense of satisfaction was enormous.

Lowpoints: Duration of the trip and the constant movement of the boat, sometimes in very uncomfortable ways, were sometimes problematic. Mild nausea and disinterest in food at the beginning of the voyage. Personal hygiene can be challenging. Heat at the equator and beyond.

Crossing the Equator: We gave a tot of rum to Neptune at the time of crossing and had one each too. We did more of a celebration the following day for lunch – a special lunch with champagne!

Feelings on landfall: Woohoo!

Advice: Given the number of people we have met for whom the voyage was not the destination, I recommend trying this on somebody else’s boat before committing to preparing your boat and taking it “downhill” to an interesting destination like French Polynesia. If its all about the sailing for you, and the duration is not a concern, it is a great experience. If it is the destination that is the attraction, there are easier and cheaper ways to get here. If the destination is also not to your liking (we have met some people for whom this is true), then getting the boat back to where you started is either very difficult or very expensive or both.

Tahiti Off the Port Bow

Land ho!!!!!

So here we are in fabled Tahiti, in the Windward Group of the Society Islands. The landscape of Tahiti and neighbouring Moorea is truly spectacular. The water is crystal clear and there is a “reef” developing on the concrete wall of the dock to which we are tied, stern to, or “Med” style.

We are still decompressing from another 7 days at sea. Sleeping, eating, and walking are being adjusted to a land-based schedule and environment. The boat is still a bit of a disaster but we are slowly shifting our attention to de-rigging it, cleaning it and fixing those things that broke between Nuku Hiva and here. Fortunately the latter list is very short but includes some challenging items. We need to clean our fuel and fuel tank, figure out how to connect our battery charger to the 220V power supply on the dock (the charger will accept 220V but is wired into the 110V distribution panel) and a couple of other minor items. Cleaning and sorting will be a time consuming activity for several days.

We walked to the Carrefour hypermart yesterday. After shopping for supplies in Nuku Hiva. Carrefour made us believe that we are on a different planet. So supplies will definitely not be a problem until we run out of money. The small mall in which it is located was very busy – an indication that Tahitians have money, given the very high prices of those things that we saw, including our lunches. Peter and I opted for a cheeseburger and fries (C$20 or so) – something we had talked about frequently while at sea. The cheeseburger was very good and the “frites” were excellent.

The marina is interesting. I am definitely not a fan of the med moor but we don’t have a choice. Being across the dock from the mega/superyachts puts us in an interesting environment – lots of sight seers walking the docks, mixed with the large crews associated with each of these boats. The dinghy on the yacht across the way from us is probably worth more than Marathon.

We will be here for about a month and hope that we can get out sailing at least once, probably to Moorea for a week or so. Getting in and out of the marina is a very daunting undertaking and I am only half joking when I say that it is as difficult as the sail down here, only shorter.

Tahiti is the conclusion of our offshore sailing for this year, but because the voyage was the destination, we are not done yet. The voyage has been an amazing experience and we now have offshore experience and a real understanding of what is involved in offshore sailing. It is very different from coastal cruising in several ways, distance being the most notable. It is not possible to know what 29 days at sea feels like without experiencing it first hand. This element of the voyage was more difficult than I had expected it to be. Sailing continuously for days and weeks, on and on is great but on a small boat, the challenges of a confined space and the motion of the boat can be daunting. But the challenges contribute to a sense of accomplishment and the end result is all positive.

Out to Sea Again

Rain! Cool!

We left Taiohae Bay, Nuku Hiva on Friday morning. Sunday afternoon (now) finds us on a course set for the island of Ahe in the Tuamotus where we will make a left turn and make our way through Rangiroa Pass. This is the most direct route from Nuku Hiva to Papeete, our next destination. We are expecting the passage to take about 7 to 8 days, if the wind holds up. The Tuamotus are also known as “the Dangerous Islands” because they are mostly low atolls with very little land. The highest point on each of them is typically the highest coconut tree. Rangiroa Pass is the widest pass through the island group and is about 20 miles wide at its narrowest point. We don’t anticipate any problems getting through and the only possible issue is the wind hole that seems to be emerging around Papeete at around the time that we are supposed to get there.

The good news is that the air temperature has declined about a degree from 30C to 29C. It also seems however that the humidity has gone up. 

Day 16: 1260 Miles to Go! Yippeee!

We have passed the halfway point in terms of distance. Our planned track was about 2700 miles and as of noon or so today, we only have about 1260 miles left to go. In a perfect world it would take about 10 days but we have just entered the ITCZ (doldrums) and the wind has dropped from 20+ kts to about 10-15 in the last couple of hours. Today’s PredictWind download indicates that wind speed will continue to decline over the next several days to pretty much nothing. So our speed will decrease and the total time taken to reach Nuku Hiva in the Marquesas will probably be a bit more than 10 days. If we wanted to get there quickly, we would have flown. So then we will turn on the engine. We have enough fuel on board to motor for just under 5 days and we hope that this will get us through the worst of the ITCZ with enough fuel left over to get us into the anchorage in Nuku Hiva. The sea is flattening from 3m and it is already easier to move around on the boat. We are heading due south in order to get through the ITCZ as quickly as possible and this has moved the wind and seas to our port quarter which also makes moving around in the boat easier, and sleeping more likely. However, the ITCZ is also populated with all kinds of nasty weather (lightening, rain and squalls). We will be implementing a new watch schedule which will ensure that there are two people on deck at all times in case we have to shorten sail in advance of an approaching squall. Apparently these mostly occur at night and we are hoping that we will be able to see them coming on radar. So less sleep for everybody will be accompanied by greater confidence that we aren’t going to be surprised by a potentially risky squall. In case you missed it, there are daily updates including position, posted under “Where is Marathon” in the column of links on the right hand side of this page. These show our position, speed, etc at about noon Vancouver time along with anecdotal comments regarding what went well or not, during the preceding 24h. ————————————————- Do not push the “reply” button to respond to this message if that includes the text of this original message in your response. Messages are sent over a very low-speed radio link. The most concise way to reply is to send a NEW message to: “Marathon” <CFK9287@sailmail.com> If you DO use your reply button, be sure to delete the original message text and these instructions from your reply. Replies should not contain attachments and should be less than 5 kBytes (2 text pages) in length. This email was delivered by an HF private coast station in the Maritime Mobile Radio Service, operated by the SailMail Association, a non-profit association of yacht owners. For more information on this service or on the SailMail Association, please see the web site at: www.sailmail.com

At Sea: Day 6

Sheridan – Morning – Day 6 – Looks Happy!

 

We are settling into our “at sea” routines and watches. Sheridan, the Admiral, takes the 8-12 watches because they provide a more or less normal sleep cycle, Peter does 4-8 (he likes seeing the sunrise and sunset) and the Captain takes 12-8. The latter is not special in any way. Our brains are just about accustomed to the peculiarities of sleeping, waking and being watchful at these times. For the moment, ship time = PDT, at least for the moment. We will likely change it to reflect sunrise and sunset at about 6:30 AM and PM.

We are now more than 500 miles from land and made our first “turn” using our plotted course early this morning. Weather routing advice is being provided by Bob McDavitt in New Zealand and he plotted out a course that would maximize comfort without too great a reduction in speed. We were a bit slow during the first two days so have fallen behind his estimates for where we should be and he has therefore just provided a new spot for our second turn before we start to head directly south. At the moment we are heading south west in order to approach the equator and the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ=doldrums). The doldrums are not dull – they are full of squalls, lightening and big patches of no wind. Finding the shortest distance across will be Bob’s job and we will follow his advice.

Of the various problems that we have encountered with the boat (these are always expected) all have been relatively easy to solve except for the watermaker issue. We can carry 100 gallons of water and that could be enough to last a month if we are really, really careful. To make life easier we installed a watermaker and it has worked perfectly in the Sea of Cortez for the past two years. However, the ocean swell (1-3m) in addition to wind generated waves, revealed that the thru hull that provides seawater to the watermaker is too high on the side of the hull. When the boat rolls while on a starboard tack, the thru hull is briefly out of the water and air gets into the line. This causes the watermaker to stop making water. We tried one simple plumbing fix today but it didn’t work. The more complicated fix might work but we would need to build a Rube Goldberg patched-together plumbing setup using an alternative thru hull that is closer to the centre of the hull but rather distant from the watermaker input line. It also would mean running a waterline above the salon floor which would be a tripping hazard. The hazard could be particularly problematic when the boat is really lively. So we tried a simple solution which was to heave-to on a port tack. This worked but we lost time because we were on the wrong tack and going the wrong way, albeit slowly. We made enough water to fill the drinking water carbuoy and we will wait until the next time we are on a port tack to make a contribution to the main tanks. That could be in the next week or so.

We have all accommodated the idea that we are going to be doing this for at least another 20 days before we land in Nuku Hiva. If all of those days are as good as the first six, we will be fine. 

Wind and Wave Conditions

A Glassy Pond

The boats pictured above love the ocean when it is flat. Sailboats enjoy it too when in an anchorage, but generally prefer to have enough wind to sail, and that usually means waves. Glassy pond weather is predicted to continue until Monday, so guess what……

No Wind Until Sunday – Arghhhhhh!!

Bob, our weather router based in NZ says wait until Sunday or we will be bobbing around on the ocean like a cork. Actually, bobbing around on a windless ocean in a sailboat is nothing like a cork. Its awful. As one empathetic boat neighbour here in San Jose said “it destroys your soul”.

So we continue to work on small boat projects (these are endless), buy water from the Tienda across the street to keep the tanks full, and think wishfully about the possibility of wind in just the right amount showing up no later than Sunday.

We did however receive our certificate of insurance 2 days ago. While sharing hardship stories with the captain of a particularly beautiful 77 foot ketch earlier today, I discovered that they are also waiting for wind to sail to Hawaii and they are so far not able to obtain insurance cover for the leg from Hawaii to Alaska. The boat is clearly worth several million dollars or more so would be considered a “high value boat” that would bring a very handsome premium to the insurance broker. This is additional evidence that obtaining boat insurance is becoming seriously problematic.

This is Sailing! Plan V1.3


Waiting for Wind in San Jose del Cabo

We left La Paz as per plan V1.2 and overnighted in Caleta Lobos after a brisk upwind sail. Early the following morning we departed in wind free conditions and motored the entire distance to Los Muertos. After a comfortable night at anchor we left equally early for Los Frailes. The wind suddenly shifted to a less favourable direction but it was not uncomfortable in the anchorage. Another early start the next morning and a plan to arrive in San Jose del Cabo by noon, refuel, reprovision, sign the final version of our insurance papers and be ready for a departure to French Polynesia mid-day on Wednesday. But…


The wind piped up within an hour of leaving Frailes, from the SW, and was of course right on our nose. We motor sailed into 20 kts of wind (probably should have just sailed) and approached San Jose del Cabo around 3 PM. A small pod of humpbacks (probably a mother and child) greeted us and then accompanied us for the last 40 or so minutes prior to us dropping the sail outside of the marina. The boat was tied to the dock by about 5 PM and a quick inspection of our email account revealed that there were no insurance documents waiting for us. Sigh…..

We have been working on insurance renewal since January (our existing policy expires on 24 March) and the broker in NZ kept saying it is “too early”. What he didn’t say, but we learned from other brokers, is that the company insuring us last year can no longer insure Canadian boats. After becoming a bit more forceful regarding the importance of having insurance for the next year prior to our departure from Mexico we received an eye watering quote from the broker, but using a company different than our current provider. A US$1500 increase over last year’s premium and lots of additional and difficult requirements. The most difficult of which was “three blue water experienced crew to be on board for the duration of the voyage from Mexico to Tahiti”. Between the three of us we have more than 100 years of sailing experience and two of us (Peter and the captain) have sailed from Vancouver to Mexico more than 150 miles offshore. Preparation and execution of that voyage are similarly demanding compared to French Polynesia. I also argued that by 24 March, we would all have bluewater experience. We finally received a “binder” on Friday, 14 March. Further documents to follow early this coming week.

But, now there is no wind. Our weather router suggests that this coming Thursday is the best bet so our plan is to be ready by Wednesday, just in case. So we will be leaving (fingers crossed) 18 days later than originally planned, mostly because of insurance and now because of weather. We are eating all of the carefully acquired and stored provisions acquired in La Paz but fortunately, a large and good supermarket is only a 15 minute Uber ride away. We will replenish.

And the hot showers are nice too.

Sailing a small yacht from Vancouver to Mexico in 2009 and beyond