Sailing to the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean 1500
|The shredded jib as seen from the forward cabin while under way.
||The shredded jib as seen from the dock after arriving in Tortola.|
On any lengthy voyage, especially through rough weather on a recently-purchased boat, you will have problems—hopefully not too many, but they are inevitable. The marine environment can be rough on the boat's gear, and with an unfamiliar boat the crew can make mistakes. On this voyage, we had our share of boat problems, and we made our share of mistakes.
I need to point out that I'm sharing this list of problems not to criticize or complain, but to educate and inform other people about the type of problems that can occur on an ocean passage. There are no perfect boats or perfect crew, so any voyage is always a compromise. We have to assume that the boat and crew do the best they can, even if the results are less than perfect. Also, all the opinions I express here are my own personal opinions, other people may have different opinions.
I have organized the list of problems into several categories:
- Things that broke or problems that occurred during the trip—this is the overall list.
- Problems that were due to incomplete preparation, that in my opinion could have and should have been fixed before leaving. That said, there are limits to every cruiser's time and money, and Jeff did the best he could given the limits of his time and money.
- Problems or difficulties due to the inherent design of the boat.
- Problems or difficulties due primarily to crew mistakes.
- People problems.
For each category, I have listed the problems in approximate order of severity (in my opinion).
Things That Broke or Problems That Occurred During the Trip
Big problems with significant consequences:
Moderate problems with some consequences:
- Sails severely damaged in a nighttime squall - The jib was blown to shreds, making it essentially useless. The mainsail was also damaged in such a way that we could only unroll and use a very small portion of undamaged sail. We weren't using the staysail at the time, so it remained undamaged. The damage to our sail plan greatly slowed our progress and required us to motorsail more than normal, both of which had secondary effects (almost running out of fuel and water).
- Genset broke loose and moved during the same squall - Nothing seemed broken, so Jeff managed to lever it back into place and temporarily secure it. It continued to work for a while, but it eventually quit working for unknown reasons.
- Fuel leak from port tank and possibly other places - The fuel leak started on Day 1 and continued for the rest of the trip, which led to concerns about running out of fuel. It also made a mess in the bilge, and the contaminated slop water had to be pumped overboard. The main bilge pumps didn't completely drain the bilge, so to remove all the slop water, Jeff had to rig up a special portable transfer pump, which required a lot of effort.
- Fresh water supply ran low - Part of the problem was that the voyage took longer than expected, but part was due to using too much freshwater in the beginning of the trip (too many showers, and even hosing off the dodger windows with freshwater). Once there were concerns about running out, we greatly reduced our usage (no showers, wash dishes with saltwater). We also wondered whether there were undiscovered leaks in the water supply plumbing, so we wound up keeping the freshwater pumps turned off unless we needed water.
- Water intrusion in many places - It was hard to tell where all the water was coming from, but there were serious leaks in the forward and aft cabins that got the berths wet with saltwater, which was slow to dry. Some cubbies next to the forward berth were actually sloshing with water from leaks. Before we noticed how bad the leaks were, both of us in the forward cabin had clothing soaked with saltwater, plus Greta's handbag (and everything in it) got soaked, ruining several items including her digital voice recorder. At one point, a leak in the galley allowed water to sluice down the port side of the galley and across the floor, resulting in slippery salt deposits.
- High-water alarm went off - It was a good thing Jeff had one of these installed before we left, because it saw some action during the trip. There was a load of saltwater and leaked diesel fuel sloshing around in the bilge, and before the slop caused any damage, the alarm went off and alerted us. The electric bilge pumps had become clogged and/or turned off, and once reactivated, the slop was speedily pumped out.
- Anchor broke free - During the rough weather the anchor got loose, and before we noticed the problem or could fix it, the anchor banged around on the hull making deep scratches. We managed to go forward and secure the anchor, but we had a difficult time at night on the bouncy foredeck, being drenched by seas taken over the bow. There had been a piece missing from the chain stopper which might have contributed to this problem. Jeff later decided he didn't like the anchor because of its odd shape, so he unshackled it and threw it overboard. This reduced the boat's inventory of anchors by one (a backup CQR anchor was installed at the bow).
- Autopilot stopped working - Caused by a bad connection somewhere along a lengthy wire run, temporarily bypassed with a replacement wire.
- Genset stopped working - This happened long after it was dislodged so it may have been an unrelated problem. We were not able to diagnose and repair the problem at sea, so the genset remained out of service for the remainder of the voyage. This led to other problems, such as the reefer/freezer warming up (it could only run on AC from the genset) and the loss of some food.
- Deck lockers filled with water - The two large deck lockers at the bow filled with salt water, adding hundreds of pounds of weight to the bow. Leaks from those lockers allowed water to drain into the bilge, adding to the volume of slop water that had to be pumped out. The locker lids didn't have gaskets and didn't seal tightly, plus the small drains would easily clog. As an emergency measure, once the weather was better, Jeff went to the bow with his portable 12-volt drill and drilled a drain hole in each locker, right through the hull to the outside.
- Mainsail furler override - The continuous loop of line that operated the in-mast furler was loose, and the slack portion of the line got caught in the winch causing an override. This happened when we were trying to reef at night, and before the problem was recognized it was inadvertently made worse by using excessive force, which then caused the splice in the loop to weaken. This problem wasn't handled well—if something seems to be stuck, the first reaction must be to stop and find the problem, not to redouble your efforts and apply even more force. Also, the effort to reef the main was abandoned once the problem occurred, which also wasn't a good response. The ability to reef is very important for the safety of the boat and crew, so if there's a problem with the reefing system, it ought to be fixed promptly.
- Water pump problem - Both freshwater pumps repeatedly lost their prime and stopped pumping water, which made it look like we were completely out of water. We never did solve this problem during the voyage, although the symptoms could be temporarily alleviated by repriming the pumps.
- Bilge pumps clogged - The Rule electric bilge pumps clogged. I've had this problem with Rule pumps before—there is a small fine screen inside the pump that can be clogged by a small amount of debris.
- House battery bank depleted - The Furuno Navnet system was very fancy and powerful, but it continuously drew about 10 amps from the house battery bank. The battery bank could be recharged by the genset powering the shore charger or by the main engine operating the alternator. Both of those devices provide about 50 to 60 amps of charging current, maximum. For a shore charger, that's pretty decent, but for an engine alternator, that's not much. The bottom line is that it would theoretically take around four to five hours of charging time every day to replace the energy consumed by the Navnets, which is a very long time to run the genset or engine. In the beginning of the trip, we didn't provide enough charging time and would stop recharging once the battery voltage peaked. Although the battery voltage reached its maximum, the batteries were still not fully recharged. Over the course of several days, the battery bank was slowly depleted and the battery voltage dropped. Later on, we did enough motorsailing that the engine alternator was able to fully recharge the batteries, which eliminated the problem. However, to really solve the problem, the boat needs a high-output alternator (100+ amps), a smart energy management system (including a smart alternator regulator), and a more power-efficient way of navigation while at sea. The Furuno chartplotters are great for piloting in close quarters, but are overkill when passagemaking out on the ocean.
Relatively small problems with minor consequences:
- Damaged splice in mainsail furling line - I already mentioned this problem above, but I'm treating it as a separate problem because it had its own consequences. The splice started to unravel, and if it had failed, it would have made it more difficult to reef or unreef the mainsail.
- Bent fitting on boom - The car on the boom that was part of the mainsail outhaul got bent from being overstressed during our sail-ripping fiasco. It was a pretty substantial piece of stainless steel, so the forces had to be quite excessive. Luckily, the car continued to work and nothing else broke (like the boom).
- Tank tender failure - As part of refitting the boat in Portsmouth, Jeff installed a very nice "Tank Tender" system to monitor fuel and water tank levels. After the boat got bounced around so much, the Tank Tender stopped giving reliable readings for some of the tanks, although other tank readings kept working fine. Once we became aware of the problem, we needed another way to get reliable readings since we were running low on both fuel and water. This required opening up an access hole in each tank and inserting a dipstick made from a wooden dowel, generally once or twice a day. We wrote all the readings in the logbook to keep track of trends and usage, and over time we were able to roughly calibrate the dipstick.
- Toilets filled with water - After an hour or two, both the forward and aft toilets would fill with water and overflow, which got things wet. If you pumped the toilets periodically the problem could be avoided, but the toilets were electrically operated which would tend to waste electricity and wear out the mechanism. It would have been possible to prevent the leaks by closing the output and feed seacocks, but this was too inconvenient so we didn't do it. The ultimate solution will probably require rebuilding the pump/valve mechanisms.
- Pin fell out of block on staysail car - One morning the staysail sheet was acting funny, and we noticed that a pin had fallen out of a block on the staysail car preventing the tackle on the clew from working properly.
- Windlass hand controller corrosion - The boat has a very nice electric windlass that is operated by a detachable hand controller with up/down pushbuttons. Unfortunately, the connector that attached the wire from the hand controller to the windlass circuitry had very small and flimsy contacts that became severely corroded. The corrosion was so bad that one of the contact pins basically dissolved, breaking the circuit. The ultimate solution will be to replace the entire connecter set (male/female) with something more robust. Temporarily, we made a bypass wire that had to be manually attached when you wanted to use the windlass.
- Autopilot had trouble holding course - After the sails were damaged, we weren't able to deploy a balanced sail plan. In strong winds, the autopilot had trouble holding a course on certain points of sail due to the unbalanced sail plan. When this happened, it would beep and go offline, and you'd have to steer manually.
- Bow light fixture damaged - The very bouncy seas damaged one of the navigation light fixtures on the bow.
- Holding tank pump burned out - The forward head has a macerator pump that was used to pump the holding tank overboard. Even though we weren't using the holding tank, at one point the circuit breaker for the pump was accidentally turned on for a few seconds, causing the pump to burn out. This had happened before back in the marina, and the pump/motor had already been replaced. Perhaps there's some other problem (since it shouldn't burn out so quickly), or maybe we just need a better way to avoid this costly problem.
- Electronic bilge pump keeps turning on and off - A new electronic bilge pump had been installed that worked without a float switch. But the way it worked was by periodically turning itself on to see if it could suck any bilge water. This not only wasted electricity but also lit up the red light on the bilge control panel, making it look like the bilge needed frequent pumping. This wasn't a problem per se, since the pump was working the way it was designed, but it wasn't particularly helpful either since the pump was always "crying wolf".
- Took wave through forward hatch - When we were working on one of the problems (I think the windlass wiring), I had opened the overhead hatch in the forward cabin so Jeff and I could shout back and forth. Some water came over the bow and a small amount splashed below on to the forward berth. Not a great thing to happen, but the berth was already wet from numerous other leaks.
- Lost a bucket - We had only one bucket which had been deployed on the foredeck and tied to a lifeline stanchion with a length of rope. During the rough seas the bucket was swept overboard, although the bucket handle remained attach to the rope.
- Storage cabinet damaged - Jeff had purchased a large storage cabinet with sliding drawers, but the drawers had a tendency to bang in and out making annoying noises, even though the whole cabinet had been tied shut with a rope. The problem was "solved" by driving big screws through the side of the cabinet, one screw into each internal drawer side. The screws popped the drawers off their tracks making them hard to use. The damage can be repaired and the drawers can be secured using some other method.
- Dog paperwork - It was a nuisance to get the proper paperwork to bring the dog into the British Virgin Islands, which requires a very comprehensive rabies-free certification. Paperwork problems could have occurred, but didn't.
- Soap spilled - A giant bottle of soap or shampoo spilled under the galley sink and made a big mess, because it was very gooey.
(Problems continue on the next page.)