Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Birthday Passage

These are the days of miracle and wonder.

My friend Patrick flew down from Vermont to spend a week with me aboard Phoenix. I had given him clear orders. His mission was twofold:

1) Solve the mysterious fuel starvation issue that has dogged Phoenix’s engine for the last couple of months during her Mediterranean voyage. The engine would start but then die after five minutes. Over the course of weeks and many harbors I replaced hoses, fuel lift pump and gaskets. One yard removed and rebuilt the primary filter.

2) Extract Phoenix and me from Port Salerno and get us going on the trip north to her home waters of Lake Champlain.

I was somewhat relieved that Patrick didn’t just tighten a hose clamp and say, “There ya go.” It took a bit of engine-matic detective work, but I am even more relieved to report he did eventually solve the problem.

It turns out there were two separate issues in the system. One was the brass elbow going into the fuel tank. It had worked its way just ever-so-slightly loose over the years and was sucking micro-sips of air.

The second problem turned out to be the electric fuel pump I had installed two years ago. It wasn’t a problem for the first 400 hours, but then apparently it decided to act up.

The pump with its filter bowl removed.
You can see the o-ring has a slight nick in it. But that wasn’t the problem. We installed a new o-ring and the engine would still die. At this point, even Patrick had to call on one his gurus: an old-timer from Montreal. And this was the news we received:

Once you install an electric fuel pump, it is designed to run when the engine is running. Otherwise it simply presents too much flow resistance.

I was doubtful of this, since Phoenix’s engine ran fine for 400 hours without the fuel pump running, but when we did repeated tests, this theory proved correct.

There were other repairs and projects which required some "negotiations and love songs" with the various departments of the Hinkley Yacht Services yard. (I didn't realize I had a personal photographer documenting all of this.)
On to the second mission:
We woke before dawn on Thursday, April 10. The waters in Florida are shallow and with Phoenix’s six-foot draught, we had to sail with the high tide.

Once clear of Manatee Pocket, I put the rudder over and headed straight into the rising sun.

Dawn smiles on my birthday from across the Atlantic.
The weather forecast predicted ideal conditions for an Atlantic 500-NM passage from Stuart, Florida to Beaufort, NC. On average, during an ocean passage, a Hans Christian 33 can sail about 100 miles in 24 hours. However, with the Gulf Stream, I was hoping we would get a boost and we might make the trip in four days.

Our departure day happened to be my birthday. And once we cleared shore, I was given the most fantastic present one could ever desire from the weather gods. We set full sails and in 15-20 knots of winds, Phoenix flew through the waves. It was unbelievable. She took aim north-northeast and raced out into the ocean like a thoroughbred. I saw her knotmeter climb quickly to 6, then 6.8, then 7, then 7.3, hold steady at 7.6 and a few times hit 7.8.

The Gulf Stream ushered Phoenix along as if she were the hero in a parade with another 2 knots so that we were clocking up to 10 knots over land.

Phoenix aims her bowsprit north-northeast.
My all-time record in a Hans Christian 33 is 160 NM in 24 hours. That was during an Atlantic crossing from Rhode Island to the Azores. But on my birthday, we covered 186 NM of the Atlantic in 24 hours.

Patrick Grant: Diesel Mechanic, Sailor, Story-Teller, Jokster, and (though I'm sure this is real thing) Positivist Extraordinaire. 
As if all of the above weren’t birthday present enough, even more wondrous magic was in store.

The next day, dolphins came to play. Anyone who has had the pleasure of seeing them dance in a bow wave knows how special it feels to see these brilliant beings. They will swim sideways so they can look up at you. They take turns enjoying the pressure of the bow wake. While I lay on the bowsprit, I watched one dolphin rise below a floating patch of Sargasso weed, catch it on its snout and flip it up into the air.

I called out the dolphins. I reached my hand down and held it there forever, hoping they would breach and aim for it. I had almost given up when from behind a small dolphin crashed up through the water, brushed my hand and dove deep. For a moment all the dolphins scattered. Perhaps the little guy yelled “Whoa! What was that?!” And the others scrambled for safety. But in a few moments, they were all back again, swimming sideways to look up at the human lying on the bowsprit.

"He makes the sign of a wave."
On the third day out to sea, we experienced something I have never seen before and probably will never see again.

The Atlantic became as flat as a millpond. The waves had been calming down over the two days we had been out, but now even the wavelets were dissipating. Soon, the surface of the Atlantic was a smooth, silky, shining, reflective surface. It became so glassy flat, that at night we could see the stars reflected in the Atlantic.

"The Mississippi Delta was shining like a national guitar."
It looks as if we are not moving, but notice the bow wake from the 6.5 knots we are making through the mirror-flat Atlantic.
Thanks to the phenomenal winds the first day and the help from the Gulf Stream, it took us just a few hours more than three days to fetch Beaufort, NC.

Patrick: Missions accomplished. Thank you. And thanks for all the photographs in this post.

This is such a charming little village. Just the right spot to rest up and catch up on some boat chores I never got to before launching.

Phoenix and her captain in Beaufort, NC.


Steve Garlick said...

Great to read your new blog. I've subscribed so I'll look forward to following your new adventures. Regards from S/V Pavlov

Philip Jones said...

I hope you saluted the Georgia coastal islands as you slipped past on that perfect run. We're at Jekyll thinking you'll call on your way north. Guess we'll miss seeing you this time.