This weekend, Alice and I, plus Winnie the dog (shown below showing contempt for her owners), took off on Cadence for a 3-day cruise to Atlantic Highlands. It was RYC's annual cruise to one of the best spots in Raritan Bay. As we had not been on the boat for over a month, we were not sure what problems we would find since that boat had been left on the mooring for so long.
We left on Saturday in light air. Sunny but a little too hot. First issue we noticed was that the engine was kicking out black smoke at high revs. We thought it might have been a build up in the exhaust. We motor-sailed slowly the 11 miles to AH as the engine wasn't giving us a lot of thrust.
The second thing we noticed was that the bilge pump would intermittently push out a gallon or so of water. Obviously this is what bilge pumps are supposed to do but not that often. The third thing was that the water pressure would switch on every 10-15 minutes and whir away for 20-30 seconds. All very mysterious.
As we reached Atlantic Highlands, the wind inevitably picked up to 18kts. We had already dropped our main, furled the headsail and we were struggling to make much headway on the engine alone. In fact, in the strong cross-wind we were barely making 1-2 kts. Moreover, the engine was pushing out a lot of black smoke. I was concerned that we would be blown on to the breakwater, as we rounded it to enter the harbor. We unfurled the headsail which gave us a little too much speed, even reefed.
This is when things got especially interesting. We turned the corner to enter the harbor. I was on the bow, preparing the anchor when Alice yelled out that she could turn the helm. It had locked up. I ran back and struggled with it too. By then we were entering the mooring field which was filled to capacity with rafted-up boats. There were also a dozen yachts anchored in the approaches. We had visions of our yacht bouncing off the anchored fleet like a crazed pin-ball.
We furled-up the headsail and put the engine in neutral but were were blown by the strong wind and still making 2-3 kts. A little fishing boat was in our path. I yelled at them to get out of the way and we missed them by a few feet. Alice managed to get the boat turned somewhat upwind and I ran forward to dump the anchor. This brought us to a partial standstill.
As the helm was locked up, we were beam to the wind and current. Worse still we were in the harbor channel. The anchor started to drag. On another boat's advice we dropped our kedge anchor, this seemed to slow us. I also let out a lot more scope. This stopped us dragging.
Eventually, we got things under control. After we switched off the engine, the helm unlocked. Problem Number 1 Solved. One of us had accidentally engaged the autohelm. It's easy to do and we have done it several times. The problem was our rustiness. We should have immediately realized that this was the problem but in the heat of the moment it didn't occur to us.
I then set to the engine problem. I have Nigel Calder's outstanding, Marine Diesel Engines, a book I can't recommend highly enough. In the trouble-shooting section, it suggested that the black smoke could be caused by wrap around the prop or a dirty bottom. This would account for the low thrust too. I donned my mask and snorkel, grabbed a knife and a scraper, put on some sturdy rubber gloves, dived into the murky water of Atlantic Highlands.
Sure enough, the prop and shaft were caked an inch-deep, in barnacles. After 45 minutes of scraping, I cleared off the prop and shaft. When we tested the engine later, it was clear that this solved Problem #2.
I had an especially scary moment under the boat. I was feeling around for the prop when my hand came upon what I thought a gash in the fiber glass. It felt like a flap, 3-4 inches wide was ripping off the bottom. I pulled it clear and for a horrible moment thought somehow I had found a hole below the water line and just made it worse. There was no water entering the boat and no hole to be found. All I can imagine is that I laid my hand on some weird flat mollusk and ripped it off the hull.
By now we were exhausted and jacked it in for the day.
The next day, I found the source of water and bilge pump issue. One of the hoses was leaking at a junction. I could see the water trickling out. It was an easy fix with a bit of teflon tape and some tighter turns on the ring clips. No more intermittent whirring of the water pump or bilge pump activity. Problem #3 solved.
We returned to RYC today in 18kts, with two reefs in the main and a full genoa, poled out, surfing the waves at 7.5 kts. All in all a great weekend back on the boat but three reminders that there is so much to learn and so much to fix on a boat.