A marathon day of boat maintenance

If you’ve been following me on social media (and if you haven’t, why not? 😆) you’ll know that Sanitas has been experiencing a real run of bad luck lately. Pretty much every day we’ve found something new that’s broken, worn out, or just downright failed. There’s a saying, “Everything on your boat is broken. You just don’t know it yet.” And that’s certainly how it’s felt since we returned to Grenada this fall. After more than a month of playing Whack-a-Mole and trying to fix each problem as it cropped up, things finally came to a head this week.

Capt. Mike inside the engine compartment
The list of surprise boat projects we’ve had to address since we splashed on Nov 1st

Our most serious issue so far has been a  leak in our transmission. This isn’t one of those leaks that you just monitor and hope it doesn’t get worse. This is one that prevents us from using the engine (for propulsion) for more than 15 minutes at a time and then requires pouring in another half quart of transmission fluid. If we blew the transmission completely, that would also blow our budget for the year, and maybe cut our sailing season short. Capt Mike has done tons of research and ordered parts to replace the rear shaft seal from the USA (that’s another whole blog post) and did everything in his power to fix the darn thing himself while we were afloat in Prickly Bay. To no avail! There just isn’t enough room to take the transmission apart to fix it without either lifting Sanitas’ diesel engine, or removing the prop to gain that half an inch of space we desperately need.

And so here we are. Back in the boatyard of Spice Island Marine almost exactly one month after we splashed. We made it harder on ourselves this time. Since our transmission was in pieces, we enlisted two of our cruiser friends, Dave on BooRie and Zach on Holiday, to serve as tow trucks and tug boats to bring us into the yard without a motor. They did amazing! Especially considering that when we showed up at our scheduled time, expecting a straight shot into the haul-out slip, the crew waved us off and forced us to side tie to a concrete wall first to wait for another boat to splash. Jeez Louise! Sanitas is not very maneuverable at the best of times, but under tow? Capt. Mike says he hasn’t experienced his heart pounding that fast during docking since our first season as sailors!

Our dinghy tow
Here we go again
At least the bottom pain still looks good

Once the crew hauled us out of the water and put us up on stands, Capt. Mike went to work. He removed our fancy MaxProp after making a few marks on the outside with my brightest nail polish in hopes he’d be able to put it back together again the same way. Returning to the engine compartment, he slid the shaft as far as it would go, until we could hear the shaft hitting the rudder. Success! With the prop removed, he had enough space to disassemble the transmission. Phew! I was afraid we’d have to drop the rudder too!

Strange to see the prop on the work bench
There’s a lot going on in a prop!

Using a tool he made from scratch (saving us a few hundred dollars) he removed the nut from the rear of the transmission, pulled off the rear seal, and surveyed the damage. Sure enough! It was easy to see where the seal had failed.

This keyed lock nut was a bear to remove
Et voila! Mike’s homemade tool
Success! Here’s the rear transmission seal
Can you see the busted seal?

After replacing the seal and the o-rings, and refilling the transmission fluid (and cleaning up the huge mess) Capt. Mike considered the transmission repair a success. Hooray! Next trick, putting the prop back together… While we had it all apart, Mike took the opportunity to reduce the pitch of the prop blades from 20 degrees down to 18 degrees. We’re really geeking out here, but apparently when the prop is over-pitched it creates too much resistance when cutting through the water and prevents the engine from achieving maximum rpms. For the geekiest of MaxProp geeks, 18° means X=E, Y=H. You’re welcome 😆

Now let’s see if he can put it back on
Concentrate!

The final job for our stay in the boat yard required a trip up the mast to replace the spreader light. I find it kind of scary to hoist Mike up the mast in the yard – if he falls, he falls onto solid ground instead of water. But the Captain tells me I’m thinking of it all wrong. He says it’s much easier, and less scary, to work on the mast when the boat’s not moving. Makes sense I guess.

Don’t look down!

It stinks that we had to spend so much time making repairs and waiting for critical parts this year. And it was quite the unexpected expense to haul out again 😳 But I’m very impressed with Capt. Mike’s research and preparation that allowed us to accomplish all of this work in 24 hours, getting us back in the water with a (hopefully) fully functioning motor and transmission as quickly as possible. Now let’s go sailing!

We’re Back!

Capt. Mike and I spent hurricane season having wonderful land-based adventures in Europe and in New York State. If you follow us on social media, you already know we hiked about 1650 kilometers across France and Spain on a Camino de Santiago pilgrimage, fueled by cured meats and cheeses and rosé! If you don’t, here are a couple of photos of that epic adventure….

But all good things must come to an end. And now it’s time to trade hiking boots for flip flops as we return to our little floating home in the Caribbean. Sanitas spent the summer on the hard at Spice Island Marine Services in Prickly Bay on Grenada, West Indies. We’ve hauled out there three times, so it feels a bit like our home away from home. We did A TON of work in June to clean and prep Sanitas for summer storage and that work paid off! No major surprises – no mold, no insect infestations, no storm damage….just a hot, dirty, dusty, crowded mess of a boat.

This year, we challenged ourselves to complete our entire boat prep spreadsheet in a single week in the boatyard. Eek. We were paying way too much money to stay in a crummy room in the yard, and we really didn’t want to stretch it out any longer than that. One thing we hadn’t counted on was experiencing the rainiest week we’ve ever seen in Grenada. I’m talking roads turning into rivers, boat yard turning into a mud pit, barely a break in the deluge to do exterior work and painting. Yes, painting was really the tricky part. We needed to repair some spots on Sanitas’s keel and put on another couple of coats of bottom paint, and the constant rain was really putting a damper on our plans (get it?) Capt. Mike was a true hero, and worked literally from sun-up to after sun-down on our only overcast-but-not-actively-pouring day to get all the painting done. Phew!

Entirely due to the heroics of my Captain, we did it! Exactly one week after our plane landed in Grenada, we splashed Sanitas into the murky waters of Prickly Bay and she became a sailboat again! That’s the good news. Now for the bad news… She’s still a sailboat and and a wise sailor once said “Everything on your boat is broken. You just don’t know it yet.” When we had the chance to test all of our systems, we found that the transmission has a fluid leak, the hot water tank leaks, the chart plotter screen is partially burned out, the dinghy motor doesn’t run without flooding, and we forgot to order a replacement auto pilot display that stopped working in the spring. Ay yi yi. Time to start a new To Do list. We’re also finding that supplies are difficult to source in Grenada this year, and prices have really gone up for the imported goods that are available. Maybe those global supply chain problems have finally reached Grenada? We’ve needed to order a bunch of parts from the States, with all the shipping and brokerage fees and red tape that entails. Wish us luck! I’m sure there’s a whole blog post in there somewhere.

What else do we do, besides boat projects? Well, I’m in charge of provisioning, and stocking the boat with non-perishable food for our adventuring. Since prices are pretty high in Grenada these days, I’m trying not to go overboard on shopping here. But when we live on anchor, it’s really not possible to run to the store every time I want a can of tomatoes or chick peas or a bag of gluten free pasta. So I still need to do some serious shopping. Without a car, I experimented with the local IGA delivery service for canned goods and heavy items. And I’ve done the 2-mile walk to the big grocery store a couple of times, filling up a backpack with as much as I could carry, and squeezing onto the local busses for the heavier trip back to the dinghy dock. Have I mentioned how much I miss the wonderful grocery stores in the French islands? I think I’m making progress on provisioning! I’ve just submitted an order for the local fancy butcher shop, and I need one more trip to the Indian grocery store for rice and spices. I’ve finally got the hang of where to find local fruits and veggies (Tuesday in the parking lot of Budget Marine, Sunday morning at the Brewery, Wednesday morning in the parking lot behind the mall) and I just learned about a place to buy fresh fish from local fishermen at the medical school campus. There’s really no such thing as one stop shopping in Grenada.

With all that shopping, you’d think I’d be cooking up a storm in my cozy galley. But, honestly, I’m struggling to get my boat cooking mojo back. Can I admit I miss big refrigerators, dishwashers, unlimited running water, and the fantastic array of fresh ingredients I could find in both Europe and the US? Oh well, I’ll get there. I have concocted a couple of tasty curries made with local pumpkin and callalou greens, and last night we baked the most delicious gluten free pizza ever consumed on the island of Grenada 🤣

What’s next for the crew of Sanitas this season? That’s a good question. Travel agent Jenn needed all of her skills to get us safely and comfortably across Europe this summer, working in French, Spanish, and German. She’s a little burned out on planning! So far, we’re just planning to get Sanitas back in good working order and then to island hop up the eastern Caribbean chain again, revisiting our favorite spots in The Grenadines, Martinique, and Guadeloupe. We’ll put some effort into planning where we want to be by the start of next hurricane season. And THAT should inspire us to get a little more specific on plans. So if you have any vacations in the Eastern Caribbean planned this winter, let us know! It’s just possible we might anchor in front of your resort and stop by for a visit 😎

It’s Alive!

At long last, Sanitas has a working motor!

After two weeks of recovery from Covid and two additional weeks of waiting for our fuel injector pump to be rebuilt (and a lot of stops by the mechanic’s office, asking if there was any news) our diesel engine is back together!

Monsieur Rubin of Mechabat told me that the clean and shiny refurbished fuel injector pump is “bijoux” or jewelry for Sanitas. He spent two hours contorted into the tiny engine compartment grunting and swearing, finding the parts that fell to the bottom of the space, bleeding the fuel lines… And finally telling Capt. Mike to start her up. She started on the first try! Apparently, mechanics in France have the same saying as they do in the USA, “There’s always one part left over” and Rubin explained that the one bolt remaining in the Tupperware containers wasn’t that important. I hope he’s right 🤪

We had already taken advantage of our proximity to Le Marin to buy groceries, do laundry, and take lots and lots of warm showers. All we needed to do was pay for our mooring ball (€110 euros for the month) fill up our water and fuel tanks, and we were free!!! Where to next, Sanitas?

So what’s wrong with the motor?

It’s been a couple of weeks now since poor Sanitas limped into the Sainte Anne anchorage under sail. Capt. Mike tried all the troubleshooting options. He changed the fuel filters and air filter, cleaned the prop, and checked for diesel sludge in the fuel tank. (Did you know that microorganisms – bacteria, yeast, and fungi – thrive in diesel if water is present? And when they eventually die, they sink to the bottom of the fuel tanks, creating a sludge that can clog the fuel lines and filters? Yuck!) All of our sailing friends gave advice, either in person or via WhatsApp chats. Eventually, it grew so complicated keeping track of all of the advice and all of the options, that I brushed off my old project management tool kit and drew up a fishbone diagram to keep track of it all. Mike was convinced the problem was simply hard growth on the prop. (although this sounded less and less plausible each time he explained his reasoning) I was convinced it was a problem with the throttle cable, which the Captain had coincidentally recently adjusted. Nope and nope. And through it all, Sanitas was a cloud of messy chaos – tools everywhere, the stairs pulled out, the engine compartment exposed, everything a mess.

After about a week of this, our friend Dave on Boorie came over to help out. It’s great to know a guy with a diesel mechanics background! Dave and Capt Mike put their heads together, poked and prodded the guts of our Yanmar 4JH2E, read the manual, and came up with a diagnosis. They determined that we were running on three out of four cylinders, and that the fuel injector pump was not putting fuel out to cylinder number four. That’s about all I’m going to say about that because I am NOT a diesel mechanic. It felt like progress to finally understand the problem, although I was disappointed to learn that it was not something we could repair ourselves.

We decided to slowly and carefully move Sanitas from the Sainte Anne anchorage into the Le Marin marina where we’d pick up a mooring ball until we could get the engine fixed. We’d be closer to all of the chandleries and repair shops, and if we took the motor completely apart, hopefully we’d be safer in the protected cul de sac, on a well-maintained mooring than out in the high winds. We made our move right at sunrise, when the winds were at their lightest, and picked up a ball before the marina office even opened for the day. Le Marina marina is HUGE! And very busy. The sailboat charter business has definitely recovered from the pandemic here in Martinique. The marina is surrounded by grocery stores, restaurants, chandleries, and repair shops. We figured we’d have no problem finding a technician for our engine here.

View of the mooring field from Creve Cœur

Well, we were wrong. Capt. Mike overcame the language barrier and visited each of the recommended engine shops. Every time, he was told “We can’t do that repair. We don’t have the testing equipment to guarantee the work to Yanmar’s standards. Sorry” Well now what? True, we are a sail boat, so we can travel without the motor. But “safety third!” I would not feel comfortable taking on a long passage without a working engine. I have to admit, I was feeling a touch of despair. But we took advantage of the cruisers’ network and found the phone numbers for a couple of smaller mechanic shops. Our friend Chantal who is a native French speaker helped us with the phone calls. And we FINALLY found someone who agreed to come to Sanitas…in two weeks! Wow, that really requires some patience. The bad part of a busy marina means the few qualified diesel engine mechanics are in very high demand.

Fast forward two weeks. We finally had monsieur from Mecabat come over to Sanitas and then spent 3.5 hours (and a LOT of sighing, grunting, and French swearing) to take an alarming portion of our engine apart. He kept telling us “This system – is very bizarre! Very bizarre!” I found it too stressful to even watch, but Capt. Mike helped provide him with tools and watched and learned. So now we are back in the waiting game. The fuel injector pump has been delivered to a garage for servicing. We are supposed to hear back with some news in about a week. There has been no estimate of cost yet. Gulp. But at least we finally have an expert involved and made a tiny bit of forward progress. Wish us luck!

I hope we remember where all the parts go!

Our diesel engine has “un mal de tete” (a headache)

On the last day we sailed with our guests Micki and Nathan, we had a bit more adventure than they signed up for.

We sailed down the western coast of Martinique and then east from beautiful Anse d’Arlet to Sainte Anne. For most of the day, we were heading straight into the wind, using the diesel engine as well as the sails to give us a little boost in speed while cutting through big waves. All hands were safely wearing PFDs, and our guests got a lot of practice tacking. It was a bumpy and salty day for sure.

This boat felt awfully close!
So did this kite surfer!
So did this rock!

A couple of miles out from Ste Anne, with the masts of that massive anchorage in sight, we could no longer keep the staysail full of wind, so we attempted to furl it. Nope! The furling line was snagged on something so every attempt to put the sail safely away for the day resulted in loud and violent flogging instead. Capt. Mike went forward to investigate and discovered that we had an overwrap on the furling drum. It was going to be much too difficult to resolve it in the rough seas and high winds, so he decided we were better off simply dropping the staysail to the deck and fixing the furler later when we’d arrived in the protected anchorage. I took the helm to keep us pointed into the wind. And Mike, Micki, and Nathan went forward to wrestle the sail to the deck by dropping its halyard. Good thing it was the small sail!

While I was at the helm, I discovered a new and even more disturbing problem. Even with the throttle fully open, I couldn’t get enough power from the engine to keep us moving forward. And a sailboat needs to be moving at about 2 knots in order to be able to steer. We’d dropped down to less than a knot of speed-over-ground, so I really couldn’t steer at all. I got the Captain’s attention and explained as calmly as possible what I’d observed. That convinced him to stop messing around with the staysail and come back to the cockpit pronto!

Capt. Mike did a quick bit of troubleshooting and confirmed I was telling the truth. Almost no power coming from the engine. So, after an already long and difficult day, we were looking at another hour or more of sailing upwind and tacking in slow motion through the anchorage. We probably could have dropped anchor in deeper water far back in the harbor. But with guests aboard, we prioritized calmer water closer to shore, and a shorter dinghy ride to the dock when we had to offload people and luggage in our little dinghy Bug. Capt Mike took over at the helm and did an excellent job maneuvering Sanitas through the crowded anchorage, finding a spot just barely big enough for us to drop anchor between all the other boats.

We were all pretty much exhausted. Micki and Nathan helped clean up the boat from our rough passage, and then went ashore for an hour or so, giving Capt. Mike and I time to get the rest of the place organized with fewer adult bodies in the small space. Dinner was simply cartons of french vegetable soup – surprisingly good! – and we went to bed early. We’re safe and sound, and we’ll worry about that engine tomorrow.