Friday, October 17, 2008

October 16, 2008.

Today we set out at 0800 and did a forty five mile day and ended up 100 feet from where we started. But oh boy, was there some fun in between.

We hit the Centerville Bridge right on time to catch their 0830 opening. About 2 miles further along we heard a short-lived squeal from below. At first I thought perhaps we wrapped something in the prop but there was no difference in performance. I went below and was confronted by the slightest wisp of smoke when I opened the engine room door.

I had Christy turn the boat around while I checked into it a little further. Once the door had been opened there was no trace of where the smoke had originated. There was no smell of smoke either. I thought maybe it was the oily residue burning off the recently installed starter. There is however a clear section of tubing leading to our new transmission cooler and there didn’t appear to be any water flowing through it. The transmission was barely warm to the touch though, so we babied the boat back to the marina.

I had the service manager come out and look at the transmission cooler with me. I thought the cooling water ran consecutively through the transmission cooler and then the engines heat exchanger and I know we have good water flow out the exhaust. I’ve had so many problems in the last few weeks that I’m a bit shell shocked and really needed another set of eyes to look over the situation.

He suggested I switch the location of the oil cooler lines as it would help in the cooling process but otherwise everything appeared to him as it should. I moved the lines and checked the transmission fluid level. All was fine and at 1100 off we went….again.

We got about 200 yards when we momentarily heard the slight squeal again and more smoke. This time I recognized the sound as being the alternator belt being loose and slipping. Once again I had Christy turn the boat around but this time we just tied up at a spot on the free public dock across the river from the marina. After the adjustment and 10 minutes we were again on our way.

Things finally looked brighter for us and we made good progress and caught up to several boats as they bobbed about waiting for scheduled bridge openings. We even saw a few American Bald Eagles along the way. This section of the ICW is heavily traveled by both pleasure and barge traffic. It’s also very narrow and winding. There’s very little chance for sailing on this section. We were traveling along like ducks following the leader when the transmission slipped out of gear. Damn.

Fortunately it happened in Pungo Ferry. Last year we’d actually done a little exploring in this area to look for someplace to anchor in this section of the ICW. We were in a twenty mile section where there is no safe place to anchor. There’s a very good chance of being run down by a barge at night, you just can’t get out of the channel, except in Pungo Ferry. There’s a high rise bridge with an area of 7 foot deep water immediately adjacent and just outside the channel.

We had just passed the bridge when the transmission slipped out of gear. We immediately spun the boat around while we still had some speed. We had been motoring into a ten knot headwind and now used the wind to sail back to the bridge under bare poles. It was only about 300 yards but seemed to take forever until we could turn out of the channel and into the relative safety of the tiny anchorage.

Yet again, I went below to check out the situation. The transmission was empty, no fluid at all. The lines to the cooler were tight and in good shape. The bottom of the tranny was wet with fluid. It’s probably a bad seal. Damn.

There are big winds from the north predicted for the next 2 days and we had a lot of open water in front of us. This would let us sail the lions share and if I refilled the transmission and used the engine sparingly in the “to tight to sail” spots we could make it to Oriental. Or we could just bite the bullet and use our towing insurance.

Christy called Towboat US to make arrangements for a tow. Where to though? Oriental has the best services in the area but it’s about 150 miles away. So with heavy hearts we decided to go back to the Atlantic Yacht Basin. I know they will be able to help us there, it’s just hard to be going the wrong way. We were only backtracking 17 miles or so but it’s pretty difficult to swallow. We were securely anchored and gave the tow boat guy the choice of whether he wanted to come get us in the morning or if he wanted to do it then. He said “I’ve got to do it tonight, it’s not safe to stay on that stretch at night”.

The area is so remote that it took him well over an hour to reach us. We had the anchor up and were under tow by 1700 hours. We got back to the marina well after dark at 1930. It was pitch black out and there were some anxious moments as we looked for a vacant spot along the dock to tie the boat up. But in the end it all went well and along the way we got to see another great sunset, just from a different perspective.

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