Friday, August 3, 2012

A Bad Morning on Astarte

Okay, its not all that bad – we were, after all, at least in Bora Bora in a beautiful anchorage with crystal clear water. We were prepared to leave this idyllic place bright and early to head around the island to get the last fuel and provisions and internet check before taking off to the Cooks. The engine got turned on and then, a horrible noise from the engine compartment. Michael quickly opened the engine room to a terrible sight. The engine was spitting diesel and oil from places where those fluids should not be coming. We quickly turned off the engine. There is that scary moment of thinking that something really bad had happened to our engine – something that looked too big for us (read Michael) to fix ourselves. And we're sitting in an anchorage that to get to the town on the other side we must go through a very narrow, snakelike channel between large stands of coral – a pass that would be hard to sail through.

We restart the engine so Michael can take another look at where the liquid is squirting and make a better assessment of the problem. When we start it – all seems normal. Was it a weird hiccup and now all is well? So we get restarted, pull the anchor up and start moving and then , another big noise and the engine starts to rev very fast. Michael yells to re-drop the anchor and he tries to shut the engine off. It won't turn off – it is revving very fast and spewing black smoke. The fuel shutoff won't turn the engine off so he must go down and cover the air intake to cause the engine to shutdown. The anchor is reset and now Michael has a better idea of what might be the problem. It turns out, we think, that the fuel lift pump had a hole in the diaphragm and was slowly pumping diesel into the crankcase. It apparently is a problem that occurs occasionally. What makes the engine rev, and not stop is an overfull crankcase. Michael had heard of this problem from some mechanic and learned the only good way to stop the engine, is to cut off the air supply. It is always good to talk to mechanics and try and remember what you hear!

Luckily, we have a spare fuel lift pump. Barbara promises to never complain again about the collection of spare parts Michael has aboard. This part we picked up last year and brought back with us. Some folks from a Chilean boat anchored nearby came over to ask if we were okay and if they could help. The engine revving and us re-dropping anchor in this peaceful spot obviously made the neighbors notice. They were very nice but they weren't mechanics and were nice enough to offer moral support. It was nice to hear Spanish again! Michael went back to work and managed to install the new lift pump and change the oil (bummer – he just did this three days earlier) so it cost us another oil filter and more oil. Once it was all back together – we started it up again and it all seemed to work smoothly. So we pulled up the anchor amongst cheers from the neighboring Chilean boat, and we started moving. Then, the yell came from the cockpit, drop the anchor. The engine was again making a noise. So we got the boat re-anchored yet again and Michael went back into the engine room. This time, he was getting air in the line and realized when he thought he re-opened the fuel line, he actually had shut it. So he bled the engine again and it restarted. We pulled the anchor up yet again and started on our way. We kept the anchor ready to drop quickly and got all the sails ready to deploy quickly if we needed them. We had to snake our way through some very narrow, crooked channels so we hoped the engine would keep purring and the oil pressure would stay solid.

After we made it by each marker, another sigh of relief was breathed. Then we made it all around and re-tied to a mooring (one was available) at the Maikai Yacht Club. Whew. We went and got the last of our fuel – some gasoline for the outboard and 5 more gallons of diesel for what we had used around Bora Bora. Michael will change the oil one more time in the morning (along with the oil filter) to make sure that all the diesel is out of the crankcase and that oil is the only thing where oil should be! And, hope that we have really found the issue. More oil, another oil filter and the work is a small price to pay to be certain all is good before we make the next 700 mile passage.

I (Barbara) am so grateful for Michael. He figured out what was wrong and had the parts and where-with-all to fix it. There may be other issues down the line that we can't fix or won't have the parts – but this time – like so many other times – he was able to do it. We handled the situation calmly and got the boat to a safe place so that he could work on the engine. These are scary moments on board – especially when you are in a place that doesn't offer a lot of boating services. Hopefully tomorrow morning, the final oil change and re-check and re-start will prove uneventful and we can make our way out of the Bora Bora cut and on our way to the next destination.

We are grateful to have been in a safe place and to have had the parts on board. Whew!

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