Saturday, September 25, 2021

A new motor, a cold winter, and another epic road trip

Low tide at the MYC exposes the old dock legs, which remind me of chess pieces

The new motor is on its way. They are building it as quickly as they can. I can't magic it here any faster.

Once it gets here, the mechanics will work on it when they can. We can't jump over other people who have had appointments for months. I can't control how easily the swap goes. It might be smooth as butter, but more than likely it will require additional parts and problem-solving. Rushing any of that isn't wise.

The winter weather is coming. I can't do anything about that.

Foggy morning view 

Our plan was to get the new motor in and high-tail it South in November, catch up with friends and sail to the Bahamas for the winter. The soonest the shop could commit to releasing us is Thanksgiving. So... LATE November. Mmmmm OK... Possibly Sketchy between Maine and Virginia.

Every local who heard my plan made the same face. Eyebrows way up, chin tucked, lips pursed or in an o-shape. So maybe high-tailing it outta here in late November isn't a good idea.

After seeing this face on yet another local for the umpteenth time, I realized that my desire to stick with the plan, to be in the Bahamas for the winter, was potentially putting Minerva and us in danger. Oh. The PLAN again. Once again I've somehow become attached to a PLAN. Haven't we learned this lesson yet?

Lance and I must have both gone to bed thinking on it and we both independently woke up with the same solution. The smart, safe thing is to leave Minerva in Maine on the hard, and let the shop do the work at their leisure. When we reunite with her in May we'll get the added benefit of sailing Maine for the Summer of 2022. We can break in the new engine properly and slowly, no pressure attached. We'll get to sail the summer with Al. We'll be close to the shop that did the engine work, in case the relationship between the new engine and the old prop needs tweaking.

So we reluctantly signed the winter storage contract, gave away all our canned food (apparently cans explode in a hard freeze), and picked up a one-way rental car for California. Cross-country road trip here we come.

Minerva on her way to winter storage

As it turns out, it's possible to feel everything at the same time. Mad because the motor failed us - we were expecting another couple of years of service on the rebuilt engine and wanted to schedule the replacement at our leisure with our favorite mechanic in NC. Happy because our friends will sail on to warm water snorkeling adventures this winter. Sad because we won't be with them and we miss them already. Excited to see our West Coast peeps.

Starting to get excited about the road trip itself but haven't had the bandwidth to give that any energy yet.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Hard Decisions

In Portland Maine we booked a marina which happened to be attached to a shop. The folks were friendly. One evening we struck up a conversation with Bryan and Polly who were having extensive work done on their 1979 C&C. They had only great things to say about the work quality at the marina. It's so rare to hear good things about shops nowadays, we filed it away and went on about our sightseeing. I logged Bryan and Polly's information in my phone and wished them well on their journey - when their boat splashes they'll be sailing to Bermuda.

Portland has a farmers market, bicycle paths, and some interesting food: hot honey which they put on pizza and waffles, and donuts made from potatoes.

Weird fruit we picked up at the farmers market, similar to lychees

There are a lot of lighthouses, and an antique train runs along the waterfront across from the marina a few times a day. I love that old train horn. The train swing bridge behind the marina has been abandoned in the open position for some time, evidence that once upon a time this old track used to connect to the cities in the North.

Train swing bridge in Portland, our quiet neighbor

It's been so long since we were connected bow-in to a solid marina dock, the anchor is right over the dock and there's plenty of elbow room to move about, so... seemed like the perfect time and place to put new markings on the anchor rode. The yellow paint we applied in Oriental didn't stick well, and there's been a few times I've questioned whether I had 25 or 50 feet out and had to either pull it up and start over or just err on the side of caution and put out potentially extra scope. That's less convenient when trying to fit in between lobster trap floats. As usual a simple task such as painting the rode became complicated by "project before the project"-itis, and we ended up doing a deep clean on the anchor locker to relieve it of some old mud that had been accumulating.

Chain rode in need of repainting

On departure day Lance was doing the usual engine check and noticed a little sludge in the coolant overflow. Otherwise all was running smoothly, so he cleaned it out, topped off the coolant, watched it for a little while, all appeared OK and off we went.

Adorable home on Harpswell Sound with a matching mailbox

For the first time in recent memory we sailed all day, through the lobster pots to our destination. We swung on the hook near Harpswell Sound for the Labor Day holiday, and then island-hopped to Rockland Maine.

Rockland Maine

We were very excited about finally arriving in Rockland because it meant we could finally catch up with our friend Al who we met in Oriental and had been sailing Maine for the summer. We've been chasing Al for 11 states. Unfortunately, we only got one evening with him as FEMA called him in to work that same week. The day we arrived was the day he'd just put his boat on the hard, retrieved a rental car, and started his journey South.

Shiny new heat exchanger alongside old one

Lance had been monitoring the coolant situation and noticed it bubbling out the overflow tank, even when cold. We called our trusted mechanic in North Carolina, and his belief was the same as Lance's - a failed heat exchanger. Somehow Lance found one in the little berg of Rockland, and so we spent the day swapping it out. Our pockets were $850 lighter for the new parts and we spent a whole day doing the swap; the problem was still not solved.

Swapping out the heat exchanger

So this means head gasket, cracked block or cracked head. All major repairs.

Minerva's engine is a Perkins 4.154 and it has 8196 hours on it. I looked through copious notes from the previous owner and found that this was among other issues he fought, and likely the reason for the engine rebuild he'd had conducted at 7100 hours. My suspicion is that the mechanic that did this service is likely the same one that "serviced" our transmission, the same transmission we spent last year fighting and ultimately replacing. That mechanic tended to forget small but important details. Throwing more money at this engine doesn't make sense; she's served faithfully but is 40 years old, and with our doubts about her prior care, we decided a smarter investment would be to just replace the engine.

Adorable architecture in Rockland

We seriously considered sailing directly to our favorite mechanic in North Carolina, Foster's Marine, where we know the prices are fair and the work is done properly. Then we imagined the actual logistics of that... we still have no autopilot so that means we are hand-steering all the way - making an outside passage difficult without time for sufficient rest. Harbor hopping down the coast means passing through the Cape Cod Canal, Hells Gate, and a whole lot of swing and lift bridges on the ICW which sometimes require Minerva to dance in place against the wind and the current while waiting for an opening. Any of these scenarios becomes quickly deadly without a reliable motor. Other people may be brave enough to try it. We are not.

Lobster, lobster everywhere. Even in the hotel parking lot.

It's September in Maine. The full-time sailors are already heading South. Those that live here are hauling out their boats and winterizing. They've been pushing their boats hard all summer and have reservations at their favorite yard for a winter of storage and repairs. All the shops are running as fast as they can to keep up.

There was that yard in Portland... the one that folks brag about...

They said "leave her with us for the winter, we'll do the work over the winter, you can have her back in the Spring". Around here that means after Memorial Day - EIGHT months away. We tried to get an appointment for an engine swap at other shops near Rockland but they either wouldn't return our calls or offered the same winter storage plan. In a smaller town like Rockland services like rental cars, Uber, hotels or a winter apartment for us just didn't seem likely. Without a car our lives quickly become difficult when the snow arrives.

We decided to top off the coolant, cross our fingers and motor back to Portland where Minerva could get the attention she needed and we were likely to find housing and transportation. Winds were expected in the afternoon, so our plan was to motor as long as we could, sail it in if possible, and call for a tow if we must. By leaving at first light and arriving as sundown we were able to make one long day out of it, where it had taken us three days to island hop there we were able to pick our way through the lobster pots and make it all in one day. Thankfully the motor held it together all the way and we landed safely at the shop in Portland. Communicating with Todd & Lorri, good friends in Florida who monitored our progress by satellite and were ready to lend a hand, greatly relieved anxiety.

We crossed paths with this beauty on our way to Portland

The night we arrived we were talking with another boat owner and he suggested a bigger shop in town that might be able to get it done faster, and get us on our way before the hard winter sets in. They came out to look over Minerva, and they think it might be possible. So the engine is on its way, and if we can get it in time there's an outside chance we might be able to get it swapped and get moving South ahead of the winter weather.

That's where we are. Nothing for us to do now but sit tight and wait for the engine to arrive, worry and wait.

We arrived in time to witness the recommissioning of Bryan & Polly's C&C. They had to bring in a special crane to reattach the 96' mast. They'll be splashing today and heading for Bermuda soon.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Let it Go, Let it Go!

We departed Boston for Portsmouth, New Hampshire on the most beautiful day. We could clearly see that we were surrounded by lobster pots. Everywhere.

Eventually we picked our way up the Piscataqua River against a strong outgoing current. There was one anchorage we were looking to settle in for the night, on the Maine side of the river. When we got there we discovered it was covered end-to-end with lobster traps.

We found a spot in the middle and dropped the hook. It didn't grab, which is highly unusual. We backed up a bit, being mindful not to back over any lobster trap floats, and never did hook. It was marked on the chart as "hard". I believe it may have actually been granite. So with nothing to hook onto, we called the nearby yacht club and asked to rent a mooring ball for the night.

One morning we awoke to find this lobster pot in the MIDDLE of the mooring field. Minerva barely had enough room to swing and miss it.

The mooring balls are completely round, and spin wildly against the strong current. The mooring ball we were directed to had wrapped its pennant line all the way around its rode, giving me about 2" of line to try to grab with the boat hook. Lance was having a very difficult time keeping Minerva still in the current and wind, and it took me several tries to finally tease out enough line to pull back towards the bow.

Twice the boat hook was ripped out of my hand. Twice we had to chase it downstream and retrieve it with a backup hook.

Many houses in Maine are decorated with the tools of the trade.

Finally I caught the looped line with the boat hook and teased out enough of it to almost reach Minerva. In my right hand was my bridle line, connected to Minerva's bow.  In my left hand was the looped pennant line. I was just about to loop my bridle through the pennant when a gust slapped Minerva to the side and tried to rip the mooring line out of my hand. But we'd worked so hard to get to this point, I was NOT going to let it go. All I needed was to just get my right and left hands a tiny skooch closer. Then the current caught Minerva and started pulling her away again. I was still determined not to let it go, but my hands were getting farther apart until another shifty gust caught us and then I was violently slammed against the rail. I was still reeling from the shock and trying to catch my breath when Lance shouted "LET IT GO!" and I did. Odd that it never occurred to me until right at that moment. He told me later it was like watching a horror show in slow motion and he thought for sure I was going to get pulled over just like the boat hooks had been.

So I earned some new bruises. And the folks sipping cocktails at the yacht club on the hill got a show. Probably one they've seen before, I expect they have a scoring system setup at the bar.

Once we were safely secured we caught a ride with the water taxi to the Maine shore and had a lovely lobster dinner on the patio. We find Maine to be weirdly uptight about some things, such as dogs at outdoor restaurant patios, and unusually loose about other things such as letting the kids run through the restaurant and bar, BYO alcohol to restaurants, and forgetting to ask for money at their restaurants. We've had to chase down more than one waiter to settle up.

The locals know: bring your own table mat, place setting and alcohol. Order the lobster from the restaurant. Relax with friends. Let the kids run wild around the patio.

Finally, we made it back to Maine. One year and a couple months later than planned, the lobster is just as sweet.