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April 11, 2012

Adrift Through the Windward Passage

Filed under: Yachting — Richard Jordan @ 12:00 am

I am still off on delivery and unable to respond to comments until I get to a hotspot. Hopefully, I am experiencing better times than in the sea story below.

Safe Ashore at the Manzanilla Marina

I was offshore in a tropical gale with a dirty fuel tank and an engine with intermittent low oil pressure. Now the autopilot had failed; the backup autopilot could not handle the heavy seas. It was back to hand steering.

The boat was a Catalina 32, and my fellow mercenary sailor and I were enroute to Cartagena, Colombia. The seas seemed taller than the vessel’s length, and, with every surge down a wave face, I thought the rudder was going to snap off.

The most important item had been to resolve the fuel starving. Becalmed off Cuba’s mountainous eastern coast, our engine had gone through two filters, and we figured we only had one left for going into our final port, Cartagena. Whatever debris that had welded itself to the inner tank had finally broken loose. To fix this issue, my friend had a clever idea. We had plenty of jerry cans. We would disconnect the engine from the fuel tank and use one 5 gallon jerry can as a mock fuel tank. We would need to refill it every 10 hours based on our fuel consumption of 1/2 gallon per hour, but at least we would have clean fuel and a working engine.

A half hour after we set this up, the engine shut down again. We looked at each other in shock and ran below. How could it be possible?

We looked befuddled by the empty jerry can we found below. How could we have burned through 5 gallons in half an hour? Then it struck us that we had forgotten to hook up the return line to the jerry can! In a diesel fuel system, the fuel circulates back into the tank. The recirculating fuel had gone into the dirty tank.

We hooked up the return line to the jerry can and resolved that issue. We had power.

So in the middle of the Caribe at least we had engine power. We had water and fuel. We just had to hang through 5 more days of misery as we sunk into subhuman quivering pieces of protoplasm.

What’s your worst experience at sea? Feel free to share your sea story in the comments below.

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