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Mechanical Update from the Doldrums – Update!

May 17, 2011

Position: 00.50N by 130.46W
Course: 225t
Speed: 1 knot
Wind: 3 knots, South
Sea: 4 feet, NW
Sky: 50% cloud
Temp: 82 degrees
Bar: 1013

28 miles, noon to noon. Compared to 18, it feels like a big jump.

My second night “camping” in the doldrums, sails furled and becalmed, rated far lower down the scale of idyllic sleeps.  A deep swell set in from … well, from everywhere … and rolled Murre so hard I thought her masts might come unstuck.  Things flew off shelves; noises previously hunted down and killed revived, and I had to wedge myself in my bunk, knees pressing one side and hips another, so as not to be churned into butter.  I slept little.

But with the sun, hope, and yes there was a small wind.  An odd wind, not a uniform flow.  From the top of the larger swells I could see it blotching the surface of the smooth sea like spots on a cow.  No matter, I set sail immediately and stayed on the wheel for two hours before remembering I hadn’t had coffee.  The wind gave us two knots and suggested more might be coming.  I made coffee and had breakfast but stayed close.  Unfortunately the wind was from the south, our desired course, and its promise was a sham.  The water looked windier as the morning progressed but in fact wind velocity did not increase.  Just so, our speed.  I lost interest and set about the day’s main event–getting into the engine.

The committee had set forth the tasks and their order and I followed them:

1.  Change the oil and oil filter without running the engine first.
2.  When draining the oil, pay special attention to the first liquid out.  Water will have settled to the bottom and if there in quantity will be the first to drain.
3.  Report back on consistency and quality of drained oil.  What is its texture and weight–is it smooth like shampoo or honey or olive oil?  Is it clumpy?  What is the color and quality of the clumps?
4.  Remove the filter and pry it open.  Look for non oil items, metal shavings, inside the filter.  Their presence or absence will help indicate the size of the problem.
5.  Add new oil and filter, start and run engine under load for several hours.  Watch temperature and oil pressure like a hawk.  Squeeze coolant hoses to ascertain presence of vapor lock.
6.  Upon terminating engine run, back coolant cap off just a hair so as to keep pressurized coolant from seeping back into the engine.
7.  Report back findings.  Pay special attention to accuracy and provide ample detail.

Changing oil while underway is a trick.  Imagine performing the operation on your car from inside the cab and while the car is being driven down an uneven dirt road.  I had just begun the operation–had gloves on, pumps ready, oil draining–when the wind died entirely.  Sails began to bark and that familiar roll set in.  But nothing spilled, the filter did not drop into the bilge never to be recovered, and I did not run out of paper towels.

Best of all, there was no obvious water in the oil.  What came out of the crank case was smooth and fine and only black.

The engine started right up and ran flawlessly until dark.

I typed my report and sent it to the committee for approval, but even before hearing back, I feel relieved.  We don’t yet know exactly the problem, but if it’s a coolant leak, it looks like it’s minor, and if it’s sea water coming back in through the exhaust in rough seas, I can fix this in Tahiti.

A good day…

And just as the sun set, a real wind.  Light but effective and from the east.  So, as I write we run off our last 25 miles to the line (the equator) under sail.  I had wanted to cross the equator during the day to see the famous dotted line and maybe to have a cold one at one of the numerous Tecate Sixes* set afloat along 0N for weary seafarers.  But if a fare wind directs me to become a shellback under a full moon, I will not complain.

*Tecate Six is a convenience store chain in La Paz that, for your convenience, sells nothing but Tecate Beer and chips.  Why confuse things with choice.

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