The Cruising Dream Confronts Reality


Back in 1960, when I was just 9 years old, my favorite TV show was James A. Michner’s Adventures in Paradise starring Gardner McKay as Adam Troy, skipper of the elegant schooner Tiki III.  I can still remember the theme music as I watched Captain Troy in his weekly exploits as he plied the azure South Pacific waters, delivered cargo and passengers, helped the locals through various crises, and generally  found romance with some exotic island girl. That was the life for me!  It just took me sixty years to make it happen.

At 2100 hours on April 13, after an enjoyable but hardly relaxing day hiking on Ua Pua (see “Bataan Death March”), we stowed our dinghy and outboard, pulled the anchors, and headed for Fakarawa in the Tuomotu Islands, a mere 520 nautical mile (NM) jaunt.   This island is reputed to offer the world’s best SCUBA sites, replete with large sharks, skates, and rays (few of whom are aggressive).  We had booked 2 days of diving to start April 19.

After sailing 24 hours in a fresh breeze, we were running the engine to charge our batteries and power the water maker when suddenly, the engine died.  Travis, who was at the helm, muttered an epithet, and I immediately switched off the watermaker to conserve battery capacity.  This was not good.  We were less than half way to our destination, our batteries were about 75% charged, we were low on water, and there are no yacht repair facilities whatsoever in the Tuomotus.  Our detailed charts we needed to navigate were electronic, although we had backup Navionics software on my i-Pad, which was fully charged.  Our rudder shaft seals, which we had just replaced last December, were leaking heavily, but the electric bilge pump was easily keeping up with the flow, but used power doing so.  We switched off all unneeded electrical users, and decided to continue on our route, but deal with the engine once daylight arrived.  Our autopilot, with no way of charging our batteries, was a convenience we couldn’t afford, so we hand-steered through the night.  At least the wind was steady and we continued to make 7 to 8 knots until sunrise.

When a diesel is starved for fuel, this is normally due to clogged filters, so once dawn broke, in spite of the 20 knot winds, we decided to let the autopilot take over while the two of us changed 2 primary and one secondary fuel filter, bled the low pressure lines, which involves pushing a button on the fuel lift pump hundreds of times until the air is bled out and the fuel starts to flow, said a quick prayer to King Neptune, and hit the ignition.  The diesel fired, ran for a minute, and quit.  Now it was time to call the reinforcements.  Out came the trusty satphone, and I got my friendly Marina Del Rey, CA diesel mechanic on the line, who told me to bleed the injectors as well, which the Volvo diesel manual said shouldn’t be necessary.  This we did, with the same result as previously, but with a mess of diesel oil sprayed on us both.  We did discover, however, that we could run at idle speed without having the engine die, which was enough to get a small output from our alternator and prevent our batteries from becoming completely depleted.

I next called my good friend and trusty electrical engineer/diesel mechanic/boat genius RK Hawkinson in Sandusky, Ohio, who suggested checking the air intake.  We pulled this unit from the engine, found the screen through which the air must pass totally fouled, but after a thorough cleaning and reinstallation, our problem persisted.  Meanwhile, the autopilot was sucking down our batteries, which now held 55% of their capacity.  We needed to fix this, and fast.

RK also suggested we might be getting some air in the fuel lines, which would cause our engine to fail.  Travis was able to stick his head far enough into the engine compartment to detect a string of tiny bubbles rising from the base of our primary filter.  Since we have interchangeable filters connected to a common fuel line, we were able to switch to the second unit, and also saw bubbles.  At last, this was the “smoking gun” we had hoped to find, knowing now that a loose connection existed between the filters and the fuel tank.

Meanwhile, “Nor’easter” was still ripping along close to 8 knots, but since we’d been working below for almost 5 hours at this point, we were closing in on Fakarawa.  We decided to divert from the remote Tuomotus to Papeete, Tahiti, which was, as this point, still 250 NM distant, but offered the best yacht services in the South Pacific.

Energized by our latest discovery, we began inspecting and tightening all the connections that could possibly be leaking.  A few actually moved a bit.  Once again, probably for the sixth time that day, we hand-pumped the fuel from the tank to the secondary filter, hit the starter, and got the engine running, but this time, it was able to maintain almost 2000 rpm, a big improvement from the idle speed we could carry previously.  We figured amateur hour was over, we’d done what we could, and had enough output from the alternator to get us docked in Papeete.  Then the wind died, and we motor-sailed another full day, sometimes making less than 4 knots, arriving Tahiti around lunchtime on April 18.

Our “floating dock” that the shipyard provided for accomodation on our arrival. Our neighbor was an abandoned tuna fishing vessel.

We are currently docked at Papeete Marina downtown, which is great fun.  The grocery stores have everything one could find in any large city, and we are meeting lots of fellow world cruisers.  Yesterday we thoroughly washed and detailed “Nor’easter,” and she looks great.  We are hauling out tomorrow to renew the rudder seals, and the diesel mechanic is scheduled for Thursday.  My wife Jamie, whom I haven’t seen since our March 3 departure from San Diego, flies into town May 2.  Life is good!

With ongoing mechanical issues, our time in the South Pacific often feels more like Gilliagan’s Island or even McHale’s Navy than Adventures in Paradise.  Adam Troy never needed to fix Tiki III, but maybe it didn’t even have an engine.  This trip with my son has nonetheless been a true adventure, with everything I’d imagined as a 9-year-old and then some, other than having to import my own exotic Island Girl. 

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23 thoughts on “The Cruising Dream Confronts Reality

  1. The adventures continue. All I can say, I’m glad I’m not on the boat! I’m so impressed with your ability to fix, improvise and move on!

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    1. I actually think of you, Lynn, as well as of Jamie when we get in these predicaments, and say to Travis, “They would absolutely HATE this!

      We are on a steep learning curve but it’s getting flatter every day. Yesterday Travis and I hauled out the boat, dropped the rudder and replaced leaking seals all by ourselves, then installed 3 solar panels, wiring and all. We were beat by sunset, but proud of ourselves. The sun came up this morning and our batteries are being charged. It’s so cool!

      On Fri, Apr 26, 2019 at 9:21 AM Nor'easter's (almost) Circumnavigati

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Just coming on board with your grand adventure! Wow I am so impressed and a little envious 🙂 –I met your dear wife a few days ago at a luncheon in Pacific Grove, CA.– She is so looking forward to meeting up with you in Papeete.
    Looking forward to following along with your experience of a lifetime!
    Fair winds and following seas!

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  3. George and Travis: We love following your adventure. Five hours in the engine compartment means a big migraine. Good thing Jamie is on her way. Good luck. We think of you daily.
    Joe and Shirley

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  4. Hardy, Great post. You lost me on all the diesel repair details, but how great that you guys have so many skills to get these things fixed – and of course amazing to have worldwide help via the SatPhone.
    Congrats on making it to Papaeete. It must be so much fun to trade adventure stories with all the other worldwide cruisers. And, how nice that Jamie will be there to clean you boys up a bit…
    Trump is still president – keep going!
    Keep those posts coming!
    Best, John

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  5. OMG and good grief Hardy! Be safe and stay strong! What a trip.
    Try to enjoy Papeete as the mechanical issues are repaired.
    xoxo Peter and Holly

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    1. Hi Holly,

      In the past 3 days we have fixed the engine, installed solar panels, replaced a faucet in the forward head, hauled the boat, pulled the rudderto replace leaky seals, pulled the prop to replace a special locking washer, reworked the solar panels after adding a third unit, and replaced the panel’s charge controller since the first was inadequate.

      Tomorrow we are not doing anything on the boat, but nothing is malfunctioning at this time (wait until tomorrow!).

      I’m trying to learn to relax. Not easy with my personality!

      On Fri, Apr 26, 2019 at 4:43 PM Nor'easter's (almost) Circumnavigati

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  6. George, Rod just connected me with your blog. Fascinating. I didn’t know calamari had teeth. But that’s not all I don’t know. Great fun to be “on board” your adventure from this perch high and dry. Fair winds and following seas (and a working motor).

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  7. Glad for a mechanical story that has a happy ending. Makes for a good blog. Learning with you. Wishing you safe and “interesting” travels.

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    1. We are most definitely improving our engineering skills. I was already proficient in normal hull, deck, and rigging maintenance, but tearing into mechanical and electrical was not in my comfort zone.

      Headed out for a SCUBA expedition this morning. Should be fun.

      On Sun, Apr 28, 2019 at 2:43 AM Nor'easter's (almost) Circumnavigati

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  8. Hi George, we’ve been following you with great interest! A long way from Pelee Island! Just an incredible journey so far – amazing father/son duo! Caliber of the post writing will make the book an easy sell when you’re done. 🙂

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    1. Glad to hear from you Wally. Salt water certainly makes maintenance more ongoing than good old Lake Erie waters, but there’s a lot more cool stuff swimming here. We did a shark dive 2 days ago and could touch them they were so close (I did not, however). Dozens of white tip, black tip and lemons. No tigers, but they are often seen here.

      On Mon, Apr 29, 2019 at 3:28 PM Nor'easter's (almost) Circumnavigati

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  9. Photo Voltaic panels are great idea for backup to diesel charging. How many panels do you have now? Adding a solar thermal panel may also benefit you to provide hot showers and a way to use hot water to clean boat easier. I worked a time in solar industry and we sold to Coast guard at two locations. 40 panel systems that provided hot water to wash helicopters in Puerto Rico and Mobile Al . One panel would work easy for you. I see some sailboats now are installing electric drive systems to use in lieu of diesel.
    You guess are doing great, Living the Dream!

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    1. We are considering a hydro generator. They have expensive ones you bolt onto the boat like an outboard motor, and ones you tow behind the boat that sometimes get eaten by sharks. Probably go the shark bait route for simplicity.

      On Mon, Apr 29, 2019 at 3:29 PM Nor'easter's (almost) Circumnavigati

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  10. Hardy and Travis, your patience and persistence . . . and that amazing satellite phone . . . seem to be making up for whatever lack (and it doesn’t sound to me like there is much of that!) in mechanical aptitude you may have. That is making your dream trip a reality that can continue, where it would have ended for most people (like me!) by now if they encountered the challenges you did. You now deserve that more leisurely time to enjoy as the THREE of you. My best to all, especially Jamie, er, I mean your “own exotic island girl” who arrives tomorrow. Enjoy your current corner of paradise! John Bacon

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    1. Jamie graduated from Key West High School, so she truly is an “Island Girl.”

      On Wed, May 1, 2019 at 4:52 AM Nor'easter's (almost) Circumnavigati

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I heard you were world sailing but Sue Stahl just told me about your travel blog. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed your adventures thus far. I hope you’re going to treat Jaime to poisson cru at the roulette carts in Papeete! It’s fantastic! Safe travels & strong winds!

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  12. Hi George and Travis, Just now catching up with your world tour adventures! I have a hunch you’ll be following the experts advice on not flying the spinnaker during night sailing. We wish you perfect air in your sails and safe sea travel. We love the blog post and can’t wait to read the hard copy, NY Times best seller version. Take Care, Jeff and Cindy Lococo

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    1. Glad you guys are reading our drivel. We’ve been busy past few days but have more osts coming, so stay tuned. Just anchored in a neat little bay south side of Huahine Iti.

      Best regards, George

      On Tue, May 14, 2019 at 2:29 PM Nor'easter's (almost) Circumnavigati

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