Not Always Happy Hour – Year 2

Last year around this time we posted “It’s Not Always Happy Hour”, which outlined some of the issues we had experienced during our first year of cruising. Well, for those of you who are interested in the “Bad and the Ugly”, here’s a summary of what went wrong in year 2.

By far the most distressing (and most expensive) issue was the leak to our “dripless stuffing box” that occurred when we were in Costa Rica. To make matters worse, the only way to repair the seal was to haul the boat completely out of the water and the nearest marina with facilities capable of doing this were over 160 miles away. Fortunately, we were able to nurse our way that 160+ miles by “McGyvering” the seal with a hose clamp then had the boat hauled and repaired at Quepos Marina. Plus, since the boat was out of the water (which is the most expensive part of these types of repairs), we had them put a new coat of anti-fouling paint on the bottom. All told, we were “on the hard” for a week and the haul out, seal repair and paint totaled $2,900 of which the seal was only $90! Funny enough, the Marina manager suggested that we carry a spare but what good would that be if you have to haul the boat to repair it and you can get a new one via FedEx or DHL in two days.

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The second most trying issue we’ve had is with our mainsail. It’s a furling main and we’ve had trouble with it jamming in the mast slot ever since we purchased the boat. And, given the number of miles (over 6,000 miles and counting) and the number of times we have furled and unfurled that sail, sometimes in very rough conditions, the leach (aft) of the sail got progressively worn to the point where it was spotted with holes and we had to have it repaired in Panama City. Unfortunately, the only “sail repair” facility in Panama City was more of a canvas repair person and the $450 repair only lasted until just outside Cartagena, where a squall tore the poor thing to pieces. Fortunately, Cartagena did have a “real” sail repair person and he was able to patch large panels to the leach of the sail, for $600, that have lasted so far – although the sail looks like a quilt, has terrible sail shape, and still jams in the mast slot. Bottom line is we’ve spent almost $1,000 repairing our old mainsail and it’s time for a new one, which is big bucks (we’re talking thousands). I guess we’ll start looking into it in the US Virgin Islands since all the top sailmakers have facilities there.

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We’ve also had a couple of issues with the headsail or genoa. The big one was the loop at the top of the sail that attaches it to the furling system broke while we were under sail with our friends Paul and Jean during a celebration sail after coming through the Panama Canal. It was Audrey’s birthday and since we had spent days on the hook in Panama City then motoring through the canal, we thought we’d go for a quick sail to Isla Naranja before Paul and Jean had to fly back to California. Well, that turned out to be a blessing in disguise since Shelter Bay Marina, where we were staying, actually had a sailmaker that replaced the loop and put a patch on a small hole that we found in the sail. In hindsight, I wish we had him check the mainsail while we were there as he probably would have seen what a poor repair job we had done by the canvas guy in Panama City. Oh well, hindsight is 20/20.

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Besides the stuffing box and the sails, the other major issue we had was with the windlass, which is the electric motor used to raise and lower our oversized anchor and all-chain rode. This may well have been the most trying issue for us if it hadn’t occurred just outside Cartagena (during the same squall that ripped the mainsail) since it would have meant I’d have to continually raise and lower the 65 lb anchor and 150+ feet of chain plus rode by hand. But, since it happened enroute to Cartagena, where we thought we could get it repaired, and we knew our next stops were at marinas in Santa Marta and Aruba, it’s rating is a little lower on this priority scale.

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Still, I did have the raise and lower the anchor by hand a couple of times in Cartagena since the holding was so poor and we nearly got hit by other boats 4 times!!! And, although we had the windlass motor rebuilt in Cartagena, it only worked twice (raising the anchor once to reset then again to leave) before it crapped out completely. Luckily for me, we were on a dock in Santa Marta. But, I did have to anchor the boat by hand in Aruba twice at two in the morning before raising it again to go into the marina where I installed the new one that we had shipped from the US. All told, with the rebuild in Cartagena and the purchase of the new one and ancillary parts (wiring, terminal posts, etc), the windlass replacement cost over $3000. Good thing the labor, by yours truly, was dirt cheap!!! I mean, what’s the cost of a few bottles of rum, vodka, tequila, wine and beer compared to a half-decent marine technician..:-)

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Speaking of being on the dock in Santa Marta and Aruba, all told we’d been on a dock for over 4 months which also meant we hadn’t used our dinghy and outboard in that time. This is fine for the inflatable dinghy but, for those of you who know engines, not so good for an outboard engine that has been operating in salt water for 2 years. In other words, when we tried it in Aruba just before leaving for Bonaire, it was not too happy and just wouldn’t start. I tried all the quick fixes but it was still a no-go so we got a pair of local mechanics to take a look. I swear these guys could have rebuilt that engine blindfolded because in the time it took me to explain the problem to them, they had already taken off the carburetor and had it halfway rebuilt! They cleaned it up and put a couple of new spark plugs in and it was running in less time than it took me to drink a beer while watching them. Man, those guys were awesome.

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Unfortunately, after they left and we were at anchor, I discovered that the engine’s water cooling system was starting to clog (probably with salt that had crystallized from the water) and overheating the engine. We’ve had this issue before and the fix is simply to use a needle or paper clip to clear the blockage when it occurs until all of the debris has cleared. In the past this had only taken a few uses to clear but this time it kept recurring and was still happening when we got to Bonaire so I decided on more drastic measures. I started using a small drill bit to clear the blockage and that worked for a short period but, just my luck, it broke off inside the engine. Well, I’m sure you can imagine the language that came out of my mouth since it happened when we were in town and we had to row back to the mothership. My only thought was now we are really screwed and will need to get a replacement or at least have it rebuilt. However, the gods must have been smiling because after the engine (and I) cooled down, I cleaned out the artery with a smaller needle and gave it a few whacks and “lo and behold” the small piece of drill bit poked it’s head out for the taking. Needless to say, I’ll never do that again. The upside is the stuck drill bit seems to have helped clear the debris because the motor seems to be operating fine — for now — but maybe I’ll get that looked at in the USVI as well.

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OK, so those were the critical and/or big buck items that occurred in year 2. Along with these there have been lots of smaller repairs and replacements that are just a regular part of this cruising life. These include a new starter battery (you may recall that we replaced all of our house bank in Mexico), new freshwater pump, new hydraulic strut and mounting bracket on the freezer, new furling line block, and a new shower box along with all the routine maintenance like oil changes, bottom cleaning and zinc replacements.

If you’ve read our posts on a regular basis (which we hope you do) you know that we try to convey the positive side of our cruising life in almost every post. However, for those of you who are considering this life or just living vicariously through us, with these types of issues we’ve outlined here and the stresses of inclement weather and long passages, it’s definitely not always happy hour…

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One thought on “Not Always Happy Hour – Year 2

  1. Owning a boat that is docked year-round in a marina is work enough, and then factoring in all the anchoring, cruising hours and miles you guys have done, and I can see where the maintenance and upkeep work can get to be exponential! You guys are amazing with all your talent and skills in keeping Celebration in working order!

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