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.

1 comment:

  1. WOW what a bummer. Hopefully the engine exchange will go well so you are out of there before it gets to cold. Stay safe and healthy.