Click here to view - Episode 7
29th of June…
As I sit here, enjoying a morning coffee, listening to the wind howl outside and feeling the gentle rock of Nandji rolling side to side. I am peering through my eye slits, as I haven’t had a lot of sleep the last couple of days. The trusty “Diesel engines for dummies” book by my side. I think I am on point to explain what went down the last few days.
Lets rewind back a few days. We rose from slumber in an anchorage called Toungue bay. This place is located on Whitsunday island. It is a sheltered anchorage around the corner from Whityehaven beach. We had decided to spend the night there as it was meant to blow 25 knots this fine day. The wind was up, so we relaxed on board until around lunch when the constant flow of tourist day trip boats got the beter of me and I wanted some solitude. We were excited to do some down wind sailing and see how fast we could get Nandji going. From Toungue Bay, there is really only two anchorages on this outer side of the islands where you can hide away from the strong south east breeze that was blowing. Border Island which is roughly 6 nautical miles away and Butterfly Bay on Hook island which is anoth 15 nautical mile on top of that 6 to Border island. We planned on Border island as not many people visit there as it is an outter laying island and further away. We put out the head sail and were doing a comfortable 6.5 knots instantly. That will do. We set auto pilot and enjoyed the quick down wind trip.
We motored around into the little bay and unlucky for us, there was alreay a yacht there. Doesn’t matter we thought and picked up a mooring next to them. However on closer inspection all the other moorings here are not rated for how big NAndji is. Not wanting to drop anchor, we turned around and started motoring back out of the bay. Next to Border Island there is a tiny little island where I have seen day trip boats stop for a bit. I had a look and sure enough there were two moorings that we could use. So a quick trip across the small passage into the 20 knot wind and we were safely moored up. It was amazing how this little island provided so much protection. The sea was choppy and white caps just metres away from us but the mooring was tucked in close enough to the island that the ocean just wrapped around the island and missed us. Lovely. Not another boat around, this will do just nicely for the evening.
Next morning the wind had backed off a bit and was blowing a comfortable 15 knots from the south east. We set a second reefed main sail, opened her out wide and cruised directly downwind. Past Whitsunday island and all the way down past Butterfly bay on Hook island. Tightening the sail we turned Nandji so the wind was on the beam, flew the head sail and cruised down the nor\th\ern sid\e of hook island. Dropped sails and motored between the Narrows of Hayman and Hook islands. I decided that since we had covered some ground, a quick stop for lunch next to the sand bar island and we could sail back across the Whitsunday passage to Airlie baech. This sandbar island looks pretty spectacular, howver it is another hot spot for the day trip boats. A reason why we had never stopped there. Today though, it mad for a good luch time rest. That was the plan anyway.
The wind was bulleting off the hills of Hook island and making it quite difficult to pick up the mooring. The other vessels that were there, all hung in different directions as there was a lot of water movement between the reefs. We missed the pick up on the mooring ball and I over shot it a bit, not realising that the mooring was now underneath. I heard a noise and felt that the prop had banged on the mooring ball. I took Nandji out of gear straight away and whispered to myself over and over, please don’t be snagged, please don’t be snagged. Sure enough we drifted off the mooring instantly and everything seemed sweet. We eventually hooked up to the mooring second time around and had some lunch. With the wind howling and the need to wear a jumper and ugg boots, lunch was not that pleasant. Enough was enough and we decided to move on.
After passing between the reefs, we set sails again and steered our way around the edge of Hook island. You could see a definitive line in the ocean up ahead where the wind was strong and constant as it ripped down the passage. We slowly approached with caution waiting for the breeze to fill our sails and off we went full steam ahead. I was relsishing these windy conditions and was enjoying having Nandji healing right over. A couple of miles out into the passage and we were both proud of the 7 knots we were travelling along at. Water sprayed over the bow and Nandji just powered on through, loving every bit herself. Bonita climbed downstairs to get something and the noise that came from her mouth is not what anyone wanted to hear.
“There is water coming out the cupboards!”
Of course my first reaction was, WTF! With Allen the auto pilot operating at full potential I quickly ducked my head down stairs and sure enough there was a lot of water sloshing around where it should not be. As Nandji was heeled over, there was water falling out the cupboards! Bonita frantically went up stairs to man the wheel while I set about trying to find if we were taking on water. I had a feeling that we might have damaged the cutlass bearing as when we had Nandji out the water it was discovered that it was worn. I opened up the hatch and sure enough this bilge well was full of water. But there was that much water moving through the bilge that it was impossible to tell where the water was coming from. On went all the bilge pumps and Bonita got out the sponge and bucket and set to work. Still cruising along at 6.5 knots, 15 nautical miles from Airlie Beach and Nandji heeled over on a 30 degree lean, we decided that we needed to make ground and get back as quick as we could. The water seemed to be dropping after 15 minutes or so which made us breathe again and settle our emotions.
I begun to think about where the leak could be and how it happened. The more I thought about it, the more I realised that there can’t be no major damage. The prop was only just spinning if anything and the mooring was plastic. It has to be impossible to have a hole and be taking on water. I went down stairs for further investigation and Bonita womaned the wheel again. After removing all the water from around the shaft and cutlass bearing area, there was a slight trickle coming in. Leak discovered. I resumed the captains seat, tightened up the sails and was determined to get back across the passage to fix this new problem. Bonita got to work again downstairs, sponging all the bilge compartments. She flicked off all the bilge pumps as she was winning in the war of water versus Nandji. Meanwhile I begun to revel in the sailing conditions and was beginning to enjoy myself again now knowing what the problem was. After a while that distinctive smell of either bad cooking or something going horribly wrong, started wafting out from inside.
“Bonita, is something burning?” I yelled out.
Her head appeared in the door way and the look of fear took over her face.
“Yes, we are on fire! Yosh!”
Oh shit, this is not good. How many things want to go wrong on this trip! Bonita once again jumped up to the helm and off I went for investigation. I opened up the hatches to access the engine bay and was greeted with a cloud of smoke. After choking a little, I waved clear the fumes and thankfully was not greeted with some massive flame. Going through the check-list, I worked my way around the engine. Checking the steering, hoping like crazy that I would not find damage. I thought maybe the steering because earlier I thought I felt something wrong. Moving on, I tried to source where the smoke was coming from. Fanning the area clear of smoke, I smelt that smell of burning plastic and could see down under the diesel tank where the smoke was coming from. Instantly I realised what had happened. I stupidly put my hand down to check and sure enough it was hot down there.
Just to pause the story there for a second. I am curious if it is just me, but do others feel the need to touch something. I get the urge that I need to touch everything. I don’t really think about it either. For example if something is spinning I feel the need to touch it. ‘It shouldn’t hurt’ I think to myself. Sure enough I try to touch it and ‘Ouch’ it hurts. I have a friend who has to smell everything… Anyway…
It was definitely hot down there. I looked at the control board of switches and right there, clearly labelled ‘bilge pump under tank’ was still on. In Bonitas panic mode earlier with all the water, she turned off the main bilge but had left the small bilge running. This bilge had then done a magnificent job of removing all the water from this area and had continued to attempt to remove the remaining oxygen. A bilge pump needs liquid to flow through it to prevent it from doing exactly what it did. Self destruct.
Lucky the circuit breaker had tripped the pump from operating so there was no more power going to the pump. Things could have gotten a lot worse very quickly if that had happened. No one wants a fire, but an electrical fire. That’s a story I don’t want to tell.
After solving the second problem on board, we opened all the vents and hatches to try and get rid of the beautiful smell of burnt plastic. We had now travelled half across the passage and things were starting to be a little more normal again. But as everything happens in threes, the autopilot stopped operating. It went dead out of the blue. Nothing to major at the time, however I could see the dollar signs mounting up in front of me.
Hand steering the remaining distance across the passage we safely hooked onto our mooring ball and took a few deep breaths. Directly into problem solving mode, we set to work about solving this leak. Straight on the blower to the ship yard, as we thought there is no doubt that we will have to lift Nandji out again. Managing to stop the leak of water now that the shaft was not spinning, we went about getting rid of what water still remained on board. After recieving the confirmation call from the ship yard that Monday afternoon the tide was high enough for us to navigate our way into the yard to be lifted. For a Sunday afternoon on a long weekend we thought we were pretty lucky to receive a call back. I set my alarm for every two hours and we tried to relax and joke about the days events. It is always funny looking back on times of raw emotion.
Waking every two hours to check the leak and to make sure we were still floating, the captain did not have a pleasant sleep. Having to turn on the bilge pumps the first few times it was hard to sleep with the thought of something could go drastically wrong any minute. Armed with a couple of hours sleep, I begun the day bright and early trying to find the cheapest way of solving our problems. I prepared myself to have a dive to inspect what possible damage could have occurred to the prop. Ready with my mask and fins and almost in the water I could see some movement from under Nandji. Hanging over the side for a closer look, sure enough there was a large dark object under the boat. I thought shark but sharks don’t normally just chill under boats. Then it appeared close to the surface…
There in front of my eyes was the biggest Grouper fish I have ever laid my eyes on. It must have been 2metres long and if I tried to hug him, my hands would not touch around him. I have dived with whale sharks in the west and they are the biggest fish in the ocean. This guy was next in line. I could not believe my eyes as this guy decided that under Nandji was going to be his new home. I am more scared of giant Grouper than I am of sharks. They have this staunch appearance about them. They stand their ground, they stare you down and the size of their mouth just says that they could swallow you in one. They are never scared of you like sharks are. They just glide around slowly giving you the evil eye thinking they own the joint. In my opinion ,they can have the joint. So needless to say, the prop was not inspected as this guy remained under Nandji the whole day.
The time to lift Nandji came around quickly and we begun the journey over to the ship yard.
The entrance to the yard is via a skinny creek channel that only during high tides is passable without bottoming out. The channel passes up through mangroves some 500m and the need to hug one side of the creek is a must. Previously entering this channel, the need to stay close to the mangroves was done by me but I did not remove the fishing rod from the holder and it snagged a mangrove and in the drink it went. This time round, with no fishing rod to lose, we successfully navigated the entrance and made it to the lifting bay ready to be lifted on time.
Once in the slings, the guys from the yard lifted Nandji and the drum roll of what damage we had done to the prop begun. Once out of water, there was no visible signs of damage to the prop. This being a positive and a negative at the same time. No damage most probably meant that we hit the panic button a bit to quickly and in our fragile earlier state of water coming on board, we made the instant decision that he problem had to be the cutlass bearing. After a short five minute discussion with the Shipyard owner (Neil), we had a ladder next to Nandji and in we climbed for an inside inspection. Just as Neill had thought,
The problem was far from major and five minutes later we had solved the issue. Ten minutes late, Nandji was in the slings in the water ready to leave.
Lifting a vessel this size out of the water does not come cheap. Charging at 30 odd clams per foot. With all maths aside, roughly 500 squid for the lift. Considering that we did not need the lift in the first place, as my diagnosis was a little off. This price tag did not float my boat. Being the legend and forever helpful bloke that Neill has been to us, he gave us a heavily discounted price and we were ready to leave again. After a quick chat about the water level in the entrance, it was decided that we had missed the tide and would have to wait for next high tide. This being 4:30am.
Nandji remained suspended in the slings and that is where we slept until the tide came up high enough to float us out of the slings. It was critical that we were moving at exactly the turn of tide so we could utilise the tidal current to push Nandjis stern up creek, therefore facing us in the right direction to then cruise out. As the room for error is extremely marginal given that there is minimal turning space, we were up at 4am watching under torch light and waiting for our time to shine.
We only had one go at this. It was a challenging task during daylight hours and it being pitch black only built the nerves up more. Bonita remained on the dock with line attached to bow, ready to assist in pulling Nandji around to face our exit. All our worries were over in a few seconds as we manoeuvred Nandji like professionals and slowly begun our next mission of navigating this skinny channel under torch light. Slow and steady we set Nandji in motion, making our way down the channel. Nerves high in the dead silence of night, Bonita shone the torch attempting to point out the path. Roughly a quarter way out of the channel I suddenly realised I could not hear the noise all inboard motors should be making. The noise of water gushing out the side in attempt to cool the exhaust fumes as they exit. A critical problem as the engine has no way of cooling itself down without this noise. Once leaving the dock at the yard, the channel is to skinny to turn around so we have no other option but to continue forward.
Pitch black, torch light, motor heating up, skinny shallow channel and hugging the mangroves, Nandji emerged into the bay to be greeted with 20 knot winds. Knowing that this bay is shallow and not possible to anchor in, we continued on our way hoping to reach our mooring. Closely monitoring the motors temperature we slowly weaved our way between all the other vessels anchored to locate our safety house, the mooring. Since the sun had still not risen, carefully we arrived to our mooring only to be greeted by another vessel attached to it. The motor heating up and in need of rest, we dropped anchor next door to the mooring. All the moorings are placed specifically, allowing sufficient swing room. By anchoring in between the moorings, the swing room is drastically reduced. Because of this reason, we could only pay out limited amount of anchor chain.
Normally you would pay out in a ratio of 1 to 6 of the waters depth, however this is not possible as we would swing into the boats behind us.
The wind blowing so strong, we were hanging in a reasonable position pointing between an expensive catamaran and another not cheap 40ft yacht. I could feel the anchor slowly ploughing through the mud bottom so Bonita sat watch as I went downstairs trying to get some water back into the engine to cool it down.
“Yosh! We are drifting!”
It will be fine I thought as I knew the anchor was ploughing a little. When Bonita announced at the top of her lungs “we are drifting between the boats” is when I thought I better have a look. Sure enough I poked my head outside just in time to see that expensive catamaran passing by at roughly 6 knots. Shit! We were drifting fast! I quickly ran up the front and dropped a heap of anchor chain as fast as it would let me. The anchor hit bottom again and begun its plough through the earth. Finally getting a solid hold and pulling us to a halt roughly 20 metres short of colliding into another vessel.
The engine was turned on again and the anchor pulled up as we manoeuvred Nandji back up to our occupied mooring. Stressing that I had left the lid off the heat exchanger, we instantly dropped anchor right next to our mooring and switched off the motor. Paying out more chain this time, Bonita sat watch and attempted to wake the occupants of the vessel on our mooring. Shining the torch directly at their vessel hoping they would wake. First light just breaking on the horizon, I returned downstairs and discovered the lid of the heat exchanger firmly positioned in place. Phew! I breathed a sigh of relief and removed the lid once again and poured more water into the system.
“Get off our mooring!”
Bonita was yelling at the top of her lungs. As I emerged I noticed the occupants of the vessel in our mooring sitting there having a cigarette. Bonita had delivered them quite the verbal spray, much to my satisfaction. I had a few words to deliver myself as they kindly released their vessel off of our mooring. I feel a bit bad about this now as they only did what I would have done if our anchor had broke free at 3 in the morning, as they exclaimed. However we were in no mood to be friendly at this early hour in the morning with the morning we had experienced.
Safely back on our trusty mooring, we breathed a sigh of relief, did a little jig and went to bed to get some much needed sleep. Waking after a couple of hours of rest, it was time to tackle the issue at hand. Everything crossed we had none done any damage to the engine as it was running hot. Not for a long period of time, but long enough to give me concern. The last thing we want is to be replacing the donk. But time to investigate why there is no raw water pumping. With the diesel book for dummies, a Cummins manual (not for this engine) and my brains I set to work problem solving.
It had to be a water pump issue as there is no water. Makes sense right? Following the lines and the cycle of the system, I located what I thought must be the water pump. Pulling everything apart and removing the pump, I opened up the pump and sure enough the problem was discovered. Looking at the impeller, or what was left of it, I could see why there was no water pumping. I remember seeing an impeller or something like this in a draw. I dug out the replacement impeller however it didn’t fit. Of course it didn’t. The previous owner had spares for everything, including items that were not needed on Nandji. So the logical thought was, bloody hoarder. Off to the marine shop I went, bought a new impeller and discovered it was the exact same one as I had dug out. They are meant to be the tight fit, which makes sense I guess if your pumping liquid. So now we have a spare.
Everything back together again and the critical moment of turning the key and waiting to see if the problem was fixed. That beautiful spluttering noise of water into water begun and smiles returned to our faces!! Nandji was happy again and no visible signs of damage to the engine.
So now I know how to change the impeller in a water pump. Learning by doing is coming into play once again and slowly I am gaining more confidence and skills to keep Nandji operating. Hats off to mechanics and auto electricians and anyone who plays with motors as the understanding of how they work isn’t necessarily the issue, more the tight hard to reach places you have to deal with. Then remembering how everything goes back together, pulling apart is easy, reassembling is where the challenge lies. Investigating by pulling things apart and guessing always provides a challenge, but if it goes together again without any bolts still in your hand, a wealth of knowledge has been learnt.
You can call me Captain and apprentice diesel mechanic…
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