I don’t know that this particular window was any better than some of the previous ones that we passed up, but we were so ready to be going again that we decide to just go for it. And we’re glad we did.
The various weather sites that I check daily were calling for light to moderate winds on Wednesday the 26th and at least for the morning of Thursday the 27th after which they were supposed to build. But that was fine. If we left around 5 PM on Wednesday, we should be in Santa Rosalia sometime between 8 AM and 1 PM on Thursday. So, that became our plan.
With all the work we had done on the boat in the yard, it would probably have been prudent to take her out on a shakedown trip first, just to make sure everything was working as it was supposed to. But, if you know anything about me, you know that I don’t tend to do “shakedown trips”. Our first shakedown trip when we bought Siempre Sabado was a three day trip from Anacortes, WA to Newport, OR. After a couple years in Newport, where the furthest we ever went was a few miles upriver to the boatyard, our shakedown was a trip from Newport to Coos Bay as the first step in our journey to Mexico. So, a shakedown for a 75 mile crossing of the Sea of Cortez? Not likely. As we motored out of the marina and out into Bahía San Carlos, I began to question that decision.
As we were leaving, Lulu asked, “Does that sound right?” The “that” in question was the rather rough noise coming from our drive train. I checked the engine and it was purring. The sound was somewhere between the transmission and the prop. I briefly considered dropping anchor in the bahía and asking Mike from s/v Fan to give us a hand checking the transmission to shaft alignment the next day. But, if we did that, we’d miss the weather window and might be in San Carlos for another week waiting for another. Besides, it didn’t sound that bad and I was pretty sure I’d done a fairly good job with the alignment. And, if I just increased the revs, the sound quieted down some. Besides, it’s a sailboat. Who needs an engine anyway? Uh-huh.
At any rate, I chose to declare the crossing to be our 75 mile shakedown trip to test the systems. As Captain Ron says, “If anything’s going to happen, it’s going to happen out there.” And, I might add, it’s going to happen in the dark of night.
So, off we toddled into the sunset. The noise really wasn’t all that bad. Occasionally we get a little extra noise that I’m pretty sure was cavitation. One of the things we replaced in the yard was the prop after all. I assume it was pitched exactly the same as the old one but what do I know? But, speaking of sunsets, this one was spectacular. And it seemed to last forever. The sky just very slowly got darker and the various shades of red and orange slowly got less intense.
Conditions were pretty darn nice. The Sea was relatively flat with 1-2 foot swells at decent enough intervals so as not to cause any discomfort. The wind was probably about 10 knots and was just to starboard of dead on our nose. I hoisted the single-reefed main and the staysail (our normal nighttime combination). This combination of sails and motor allowed us to sail our rhumb line at about 5 knots. Things were looking good. And we had a full moon.
As the night wore on, Lulu finally decided that she had to go below as she was starting to get cold. Been awhile since we have experienced a cold passage and, fortunately, this one wasn’t near as cold as we feared it would be. But we were ready. We both had on long johns and long pants. I had a t-shirt, a long-sleeve t-shirt, a hooded sweat shirt, and a fleece vest along with my wool watch cap. I would eventually add foul weather pants and jacket and, if you can imagine, socks to this getup. But still, it wasn’t nearly as cold as we’d feared. Lulu was similarly attired although she had another couple of layers.
As is usual on our overnight passages, I planned to skip sleeping. This is usually because I’m so nervous the first night out that I couldn’t sleep if I wanted to. Lulu did hit the rack so she’d be ready to stand a watch if I ever decided that I actually did need sleep. Fat chance. However, I found myself getting pretty dozy about 9 PM. I’d drift off in the cockpit and then wake back up. I doubt I was ever out for more than a minute or two at a time. I read for awhile and that helped a little but, eventually, I had to throw in the towel and wake Lulu up. She fixed herself a cup of tea, donned her outside clothes and came topside. Things were still very mellow. We were still motorsailing almost directly into a 10 knot breeze. I had set our course to go south of Isla Tortuga. This added a few miles to the trip but, after our experiences trying to get to San Carlos, I decided to take a route that, should my engine fail, the prevailing winds would push us away from the island rather than towards it. See, I was thinking ahead, at least a little. The only thing that Lulu had to watch, depending on how long I slept, was for the course change that came when we got just south of Tortuga. The change was enough that we might take the wind a few degrees on the port side of our bow rather than the starboard side, but, since the main and staysail are self-tending, there wasn’t much she’d need to do other than just be aware. I went below and fell asleep in minutes, the noise from the prop or whatever not even phasing me.
I slept maybe an hour and a half, maybe two. When I came back up, we hadn’t quite reached our waypoint. Lulu was getting pretty cold so she decided to head back below and warm up. This was probably about 2:00-3:00 AM on Thursday.
Just after she went below and got into bed, the wind began to build and so did the seas. For awhile we were seeing mostly 2-3 foot swells with the occasional 4-5 foot sets going through to liven things up. We were taking water over the bow every time we’d get these bigger wave sets. This went on for awhile and then the waves built even more, giving us occasional 6-8 foot sets which really got everything on deck nice and wet. A little bit down below, too, I’m told. The seas finally got to be too much for the autopilot which had us yawing wildly on both sides of our rhumb line. I disengaged the pilot and took the helm to get us back on course. While I was sitting there steering and contemplating hooking up the windvane, right after we took water from a particularly large (or so it seemed at the time) wave, I heard a loud KUH-BANG! and the engine abruptly stopped. Uh-oh. That sounded bad. Sounded like I’d expect it to sound if the transmission coupling suddenly exploded. I didn’t know what it was but I knew I didn’t want to try restarting the engine until I had a better idea what was up. All of this naturally woke Lulu up and in a hurry. We started trying to decide what our best course of action was.
We may not be the greatest sailors in the world, nor are we the saltiest couple afloat. But we apparently have learned to take things like this a little more in stride than we used to. As long as the boat’s not going down or about to be smashed on the rocks, we now know we have time to think about what to do and to realize this isn’t the end of the world. It’s times like these that I’m glad we have a sailboat instead of a strictly power boat.
I opened the door to the engine compartment to get a quick assessment and mainly to make sure we wren’ taking on a bunch of water or something. Everything appeared normal. So I closed it back up and decided that any serious work would have to wait until the sun came up. At this point I decided to try starting the engine. She started right up. That was a relief. I didn’t bother trying to put her in gear as I didn’t want to screw anything up that wasn’t already screwed up.
With the wind on our nose, there was no way we were going to be able to make it in to Santa Rosalia in anything less than a whole bunch of hours, if at all. And, since the weather forecasts predicted increasing winds as Thursday rolled along, we did not want to be out there any longer than necessary. We were about 20-some miles from Santa Rosalia. We debated whether to heave-to and try to not lose too much ground so that, when the sun came up in a couple hours we could investigate and see if this was something we could fix, or to sail down to Punta Chivato (actually, to Bahía Santa Inez on the south side of the point) which was also about 20-some miles away. We decided that seeking shelter was probably the wiser option. I was pretty sure that whatever happened was going to turn out to be something really bad and doubted we’d be able to fix it at sea. It would have been nice to get into Santa Rosalia and tie up to a dock to make repairs, but, no way could we sail there in these winds and, besides, there are no haul-out facilities at Santa Rosalia if it turned out we needed them. So, sail to Bahía Santa Inez it is then.
Once we turned to head SW instead of NW, the conditions got much nicer. We were pretty much on a beam reach and the seas had either settled down or were, at least not feeling as large. The autopilot was once again able to handle the load. Lulu went back to bed as she was getting very cold and I sat up and wondered what the hell could have gone wrong.
An hour or so after sunrise, I opened the cockpit sole and crawled down into the engine room. My plan was to try to turn the shaft by hand to make sure that something wasn’t seized. But, I couldn’t turn it in either direction, at least not by hand. I decided not to try tools on it until I had time to ponder the situation. Didn’t want to make things worse after all. Now I was pretty sure that we either seized the transmission or something bad had happened to the prop. I figured we could sail to Bahía Santa Inez, rest up, assess the situation and then sail down to Puerto Escondido where there is a haulout facility. What a bummer to have to miss Santa Rosalia again.
The winds shifted and put us on a broad reach. I rolled out the genoa to take advantage of the wind. On this point of sail, the staysail is kind of useless unless it’s being used by itself. Otherwise, it mostly just blocks the wind from hitting the genoa. So, I started to roll up the staysail. And that’s when I saw it.
The furling line for the staysail is made of Kevlar and is a sort of gold color. There was a piece of gold Kevlar going out the midships hawse hole. You don’t suppose? I grabbed the line and tried to pull it in but it was bar-tight. Pretty obvious now what happened. The tail end of the furling line got washed out the hawse hole during one of the times that we took water aboard. I didn’t think it was long enough but apparently, it was long enough to reach the propshaft and get tightly wound around, bringing the spinning shaft to a sudden halt, killing the engine. Looks like someone would be going in the water when we anchored at Bahia Santa Inez, and that would probably be Lulu, being the way, way, way better swimmer. But first, I decided to try something. I got my giant pair of channel lock pliers out and climbed down into the engine compartment. I tried turning the shaft back wards and it actually turned. I climbed out and grabbed the line and found slack. Not much slack, maybe a couple of inches, but slack nevertheless. I was able to rig up a pulling line so that I could keep pressure on the furling line, while I was turning the propshaft backwards. I managed to gain at least a foot before things just came to a standstill. I got Lulu up and she pulled on the line while I turned. Little by little we were gaining. And then, all of a sudden, she said, “I think it’s free!” And, sure enough, it was.
Once it was loose, I started the engine and let it get nice and warmed up. Then I tried putting her in gear. No go. It just stayed in neutral. I opened the lid and looked and the cable wasn’t moving. I climbed down and manually put the gearbox in forward. Then I used the controls and the cable was able to push it the rest of the way. Apparently just didn’t have the leverage to overcome whatever kind of bind the transmission was in.
Feeling greatly relieved, we shifted course back to Santa Rosalia. It was a very bouncy trip at first but calmed down about mid-morning, only to pipe back up for the last hour or so of the trip. We finally arrived in Santa Rosalia and tied up to a dock in the Old Marina at about 1:30 PM.
The 75 mile crossing (closer to 80 when my southern skirting of Isla Tortuga is taken into consideration) took us about 20.5 hours. We covered a total of 89.8 nautical miles. This isn’t too bad when you figure that our detour brought us to within 9 miles of Bahia Santa Inez before we turned around and headed back to Santa Rosalia. Our average speed was 4.4 knots.
Oh, and the noisy drive train sounded much better after our “incident”, but maybe we were just getting used to it. I’m just so glad that the noise was completely unrelated to why the engine stopped. Guess while we’re here at the dock I should recheck and realign the transmission coupling if it needs it. If that’s not it, it’s probably the new hard plastic cutless bearing I used instead of the normal rubber/bronze style. If that’s it, I’ll have to admit that Chuck on s/v Jacaranda was right when he said, “It’s worked for over 30 years, why change?” Why indeed.
So, once again, as happens so often in life, Captain Ron was right.