Sunday, September 20, 2015

A New Chapter

It's hard to believe four years have passed since we first cast off the dock in Alameda and started our crazy journey down the California coast.  So much has happened in those interim years -- much of it I'd like to forget -- it seems like a lifetime ago.  It certainly turned out to be an adventure; although, not the one I envisioned.  We made quite a few memories and more than a few close friends along the way, many of which are now spread out in various ports around the world.  And, our little 5-month-old cockpit-bound deckhand is now an enthusiastic big brother.  Jean Marie, however, still sits patiently in a Mexican marina, re-powered and re-polished and waiting for her next odyssey.

Last night I returned from a week-long trip to Puerto Vallarta and am happy to report the new Beta 43 is finally installed and running perfectly.  After four tortuous years, I can finally say we've closed the book on our engine problems.  For anyone still following our troublesome tale, I'll fill you in on the events that have transpired since my last update...

As you may recall, I had to send the transmission back to Beta when the engine arrived last August.  Through miscalculation and misinformation (not pointing any fingers) the transmission I originally ordered would not work. It was a close fit but, once we got it on the boat, we realized the ZF-25 straight shaft transmission I ordered would not align with the prop shaft without raising the front of the engine 3 inches higher.  And, in the very confined space we had to work with, that wasn't going to happen. Fortunately, Beta also sells the ZF-25A transmission with an 8% down angle, providing a simple solution to our problem.  Simple, that is, if we weren't currently sitting in a marina in Mexico. 

So, the painful process of shipping the ZF-25 back to Beta and then shipping a new ZF-25A to Puerto Vallarta began.  This involved hiring Juan (the paper-guy) to drive it to San Diego (a very long distance) and drop it off at DHL for delivery to the UK.  Then, many months later, I hired Juan again to drive back to San Diego and pick up the new one.  Yes, it's a ridiculous way to get parts in and out of Mexico but, as anyone who's had the misfortune of dealing with Mexican shipping agencies and customs officers will tell you, it's the only way to be certain your package will arrive. Which it did, eventually.

In April, with the new transmission delivered, I flew back down to PV eager to finish the job.  Jack Tinsley, the mechanic who helped install the engine had been hired to deliver a motor yacht and would be out of the country for a few months.  He recommended another mechanic, Andre Joineau, to help out.  Andre immediately went to work.  The new engine feet we had made extended over the existing stringers so Andre glassed in new stringers, adding support further aft.  He demonstrated quality and precision in his work which, I had to admit, was an unexpected surprise.  I could not have been more pleased.  He then went to work installing the new transmission and aligning the engine to the prop shaft.  By the time I arrived, most of the work was done.  We needed to make a few modifications to the shifting and and throttle cables, moved the oil filter aft for better access, reconfigured the water hose connections, and cut away some of the cabinet for the new exhaust.  I was beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Then the moment of truth arrived.  On that warm sunny day in April, after bleeding the fuel lines, cracking open the sea-cock, and double checking all the connections, I nervously turned the key for the first time.  To my surprise that shiny little engine fired right up, chugging along in perfect mechanical rhythm -- the sweet and welcomed sound of a well-tuned diesel. I'm not ashamed to say that, for me, it was a truly emotional moment given the circumstances, surpassed only by my wedding day and the births of my sons.  Alright, that may be an overstatement but the point is:  I was really happy at that moment, and if it not for the scalding heat I would have hugged that little red engine.

But, alas, our protracted drama was not over just yet.  We soon discovered that the standard alternator with built-in regulator was overcharging the batteries.  No worries, I had anticipated this problem and asked Beta to send a brush-box kit that would allow me to connect my external Balmar smart regulator to the new alternator.  So, we promptly swapped out the internal regulator with the brush-box and wired in the Balmar regulator. Problem solved. Unfortunately, it didn't work.

I wasn't about to let a little charging issue set us back so while Andre took the regulator to a local shop for testing I took the boat out on the bay to break in the engine.  My goal was to put 25 hours on the engine over a three-day period, motoring around the bay during the day and anchoring out at night.  I would charge the batteries for a while and then disconnect the alternator to prevent overcharging.  This was the short-term solution until we figured out why the regulator wasn't working.

So, I motored out of the marina for the first time in more than a year without sails or even lifelines attached but excited to be back out the water nonetheless.  The engine throttled up without any vibration and easily powered through the afternoon chop.  It was such a glorious day I decided to try my luck at fishing and quickly hooked more than I bargained for.  It took thirty minutes to land what the locals call "toro" or "bull" and it was easy to see how this fish got it's name.  I released it after the long fight and put the rod away for the day.  Time to relax and enjoy my new toy.  I motored until the sun sank low in the afternoon sky and turned the bow toward Punta Mita where I dropped the hook amid a handful of boats.  Ten hours on the new motor and all was well.

After breakfast the next day I was at it again, motoring out in to the bay to work the engine.  Shortly after noon I approached the entrance to Paradise Village Marina, where I started the day before, and began turning the boat back toward Punta Mita.  Just at that moment I looked below and noticed the light for the bilge pump had come on indicating that it was in the process of pumping water overboard.  You don't have to be a sailor to understand the importance of keeping water on the outside of the boat.  I quickly jumped down below and opened the doors at the front of the engine to find water spraying out the bottom of the seawater pump.  At this point I had 15 hours on the new engine...and the pump failed.  Needless to say I was a little disappointed.

Fortunately, I was less than two miles from my slip at the marina.  So, I turned the boat toward the entrance and motored steadily, keeping an eye on the temperature gauge and letting the bilge pump work until I could shut down the engine.  I managed to dock the boat without further incident, and immediately contacted Beta Marine.  

After some back and forth discussion, we determined that a spiral clip that holds the water seal in place had come loose.  By the time we discovered the simple problem, however, I had already dismantled the pump and, without a rebuild kit, could not reuse it.  Beta agreed to send a new pump and a rebuild kit out as soon as possible.  I decided not to wait for it to arrive.  Instead, I turned to Andre for help and flew back to Oregon.

The new pump arrived in PV a week later.  Soon after, Andre worked out the charging issue by modifying the brush-box (apparently the one they sent had a problem).  With both issues resolved, he took the boat back out on the bay and finished the break-in, this time without any of the drama.  Although, I'm convinced that if I'd been there something would have happened.

In the months that followed, I left Andre to handle the final touches like rebuilding the floor cover, fabricating a step over the exhaust, and refinishing the wood.  With all that done, I flew down last week to check it out and get the boat ready to sail once again.  Jean Marie is back and ready to go.  We'll fly down to Mexico as a family in February and spend three months sailing her up through the Sea of Cortez to San Carlos where we plan to put her away next year and, perhaps, the following year.

Four years of diesel mechanics and idly waiting on parts.  Four years of changing itineraries and altered plans.  Four years of anxiety and frustration. That chapter has finally come to a close.  No, we didn't cross the Pacific -- not yet, anyway -- and we now spend our time exploring central Oregon instead of the New Zealand countryside.  With the arrival of our newest family member and a pressing need to return to the work force, that original cruising goal is on hold for the moment.  That's life I guess -- dynamic, ever-changing, wonderfully elusive and often challenging.  It's important not to take it too seriously or impose constraints on it.  And, I suppose, it's the little setbacks in life that help us appreciate the truly important things.

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Theresa said...

Life is all about the journey - enjoy every single moment - New Zealand will be there waiting for you guys!

Anonymous said...

as your grandpa used to say: "life is full of mountains & valleys we all climb" it's part of life's journey, but it all makes us stronger & wiser. i love what you've written!- I know with god's blessing you'll all be back on the JeanMaria to continue sailing , you've just taken a side trip to enjoy life in Oregon & bring our beautiful little blessing in this world.. New Zealand is on hold for now, but it will always be there... Everything happens for a reason and right now you all are where you a supposed to be!!!! :>)