Sunday, June 9, 2013

Am I at My Breaking Point?

Adventure - Schmadventure! - What the heck is happening with our once trusted trawler? Why oh why is our girl giving us this "O God-Just-Get-Me-Out-of-This-Crap" feeling? To answer that question, I have to explain the reason for my dilemma.....

Okay - so our trawler is...well....old - there I said it! (just don't call me old!)
She's a 1985 42' beauty and has been well cared for by her 3 previous owners. So well cared for that I really didn't need to change a thing on the interior, except a little paint in the pilothouse. And she came with all the "extras" that we wanted, too. She has a bow thruster, hydraulic stabilizers, flying bridge with bimini top, large aft deck space, newer appliances in the galley - propane stove, microwave and toaster oven and sub-zero fridge and freezer, She has two staterooms - one configured as an office with a "Pullman" berth above and a sofa doubles as a second berth, two heads (very important for ultimate privacy!) and a really comfortable master bed. We lived aboard for a year at the dock in Longboat Key Marina - only taking week-end hops now and then, because we were both working and stashing our money away for this big finale in our golden years. Cap was a Realtor with Michael Saunders in Sarasota, Florida and a damn good one - but that meant he was at his clients "beck and call" 24/7 - so not much cruising was done.

The huge trip bringing Partners down to Florida occurred in November of 2011 and our good friend John Buzilow (now referred to as First Officer John -FOJ) was the best crew we could ever have hoped to help us. Their trip has forged a lifelong bond between these two men, and Cap just reveres the man! The boat left Oriental NC and headed out into the Atlantic and down, around Key West and up the Gulf Coast over the course of 2 weeks, bad weather and - yes a breakdown. But all was well with engine and generator and the two men happily pulled into port at the Longboat Key Club Marina the day before Thanksgiving - exhausted and elated with the experience.

Moving forward to retirement for both of us - and selling all the rest of the excess "stuff" - and our cars - and casting off the dock lines for  "distant shores" - just like the great program we loved watching on the Travel and Wealth channels back in Sarasota. First stop Key West (see previous blog entries) - then up the east coast to Miami and one last good-bye to our beautiful youngest daughter, Georgina and her boyfriend David. By this time we needed refueling - so a truck came to the marina dock in Miami and we filled 'er up. - then cast off for the adventure and crossing the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas! All went well and we had lots of fun at fabulous ports - made great cruising friends and generally thought this retirement thing was the "best thing since sliced bread!"

water so clear you can see the stabilizers
But somewhere around Mayaguana we started finding excessive dirt and water in our fuel - and this caused our engine to stop mid ocean! As we attempted to polish the fuel (or rather Cap did) we thought we had the problem licked - but then the engine started quitting due to air in the fuel and it has happened so often - during so many voyages to the next port - that it all seems a blur right now. But essentially what happened was - we'd plan to leave a port - get going 6 or 12 hours and out of the blue - the engine would just come to a screeching halt! It happened in the daytime - it happened in the dark of night - it happened 10 minutes after we started cruising and it's happened now 24 hours after we started cruising this last time. We have had consults with the Lehman diesel engine company -American Diesel; we've talked with other cruisers; we've searched the internet; we've changed out all the Racor filters and o rings and seals numerous times; we've changed out numerous parts - including the secondary filter assembly and the lift pump; and we've had several workmen on the boat to see if they could fix it. We have spent quite a bit of money trying to diagnose this "problem" (that's too soft a word here - but I can't think of a better one right now!) and stayed in expensive marinas - all to no avail - she is still doing the same thing and it seems no one can figure out why.....

Try to put yourself in my shoes for a minute and maybe I can describe the sheer horror, panic and fear that I feel when the engine stops in the middle of a 6000 foot deep expanse of sea - with no land in sight - and out of cell phone range and often normal VHF range too. The seas in the Caribbean are often rough - even at their best. Usually 6' seas are light! Usually it's more like 10-12' swells and sometimes they are close together and often there is a 20-25 kt wind adding a "chop" to the top of the wave. When our boat stops there is no momentum to break these waves force and our boat immediately starts to rock side to side - building until it feels like it will not right itself and we will sink - everything in the boat is going to crash and break. Glasses, alcohol bottles and dishes clatter. Furniture slides and topples over. The dinghy slams and rocks - even though it's strapped down tight. I hear every noise and feel all the thudding and thumping and worry myself sick - "What will happen to us?" I can hear every creak and groan from our boats joists and watch as plaster crumbles from an interior wall. I can't even stay still on my seat without holding on to the handrails on the ceiling - let alone walk to the loo during one of these episodes. I have a huge pressure on top of my head and my breathing is rapid - my throat becomes dry. I'm getting nauseated and sweaty- I can't think. If I think I may cry - or panic out loud. One time I tried to help Cap, and the back and forth crashing motion of the boat tossed me into the floor opening to the engine room. I can't believe I didn't break my leg - but luckily only ended up with huge bruises all down my side and enough agita and anxiety to cause an immediate heart attack - I was sure. Cap too, has had his share of injury from all this. I try to be calm - Cap is - although I know that he is at his wit's end too. Then Cap gets the air out and I restart the engine and turn on the auto-pilot. Cap is dripping with sweat and blood as he returns to the helm. We don't relax - because we know that it will happen again - any minute now......

We've developed a system to cope with this. I have every item padded with towels, bubble wrap, sock on bottles; loose items in boxes. We use non-skid everywhere. We tie up the aft deck chairs and our Magma Grill, We have become expert at things we don't want to be expert at. We want someone to finally say "Oh yes! Air in the fuel? That's because.... Easy fix old chap - just fork over the dough." ...But it doesn't happen, and we are left to wonder - who can help us? What will we have to do to get the help we need? We're a long way from the place we used to call home - where we know there are experts that may be better at diagnosing these things. So we talk and discuss the problem endlessly with each other and arrive at the decision that if we can't rely on the safety of the boat at sea - we won't be able to continue this journey. We are at the breaking point.

Dawn at St Eustatia
Partners must like Marinas!
We are just passing St Eustatia Island - it is dawn and has been a full 24 hours of non-stop cruising. We think - we hope - but are afraid to voice it - lest we jinx ourselves - that Shadow -  our mechanic from  the Bitter End Yacht Club in Virgin Gorda - has fixed our engine. I am just contemplating making some!... she stops! We are four hours from St Kitts - and Cap sits in 110 degree engine room and continuously restarts the engine to get us to the safety of yet another marina - Port Zante in Basseterre. I look at the chart book for information - Cap has already checked on Active Captain. Our chart book recommends a man in St Kitts called David that is very good. Our hopes are raised that we may find someone that can help us carry on with this dream we have had for more than ten years. We want to continue - we want to do what needs to be done. We are buoyant once again with hope...... maybe we have not quite reached that breaking point....maybe this time, this port, this man................


  1. Venie, we are enjoying your stories(as we bite our nails off!) and feel so badly for you both !But with prayers from all of your friends and family, things HAVE to be figured out so that you can continue on your adventure!! I give you credit for being soooooo brave and positive minded......all our love,Robyn and Richard

    1. Thanks so much Robyn! We do love cruising and that's what keeps us going - we just have to get the fuel delivery problem solved! We are working on that with David - here in St Kitts and hope to have some answers by the end of next week. Thanks for being so supportive of our blogs! Love, Venie xo