No good very bad day

March 2015

Do you remember that game whack-a-mole? In case you’ve forgotten, it is a carnival game in which you whack a rubber hammer at a seemingly endless succession of “moles” that pop up from a series of holes in the table before you. The speedier you are and the more you strike, the higher your score. As you’ll recall, we’ve been playing a game of “smack-a-hull”, if you will, when it comes to addressing breakages on our boat. A couple months ago, we detailed some of the repairs we were tackling during our time in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle. Well, the saga continued…#Marina Papagayo_Rigigng washThe night before we departed from Mexico, our salt water head broke. Try as we may, the bowl would fill, but we could not get the head to flush properly. We determined the source of the problem was likely due to a heinous blockage. As we traced the hoses that lead from the toilet to the vented loop to the holding tank, we discovered [to our horror], that hoses and the vented loop pass behind the DC panel (i.e., through the compartment where all of the wiring for our electrical panel is housed). Someone deserves an award for that brilliant design choice, which in the worst of circumstances could conceivably cause one to be electrocuted in a puddle of his or her own excrement. Genius.

Fortunately, we have a secondary head in our v-berth. The challenge, however, is that we generally don’t use that head because it is plumbed to our fresh water system. Nonetheless, using that head instead wouldn’t be such a huge deal, except for the critical fact that our watermaker is broken! Not to mention that we utilize our forward head as a mini storage unit, which makes using that toilet feel like a segment from the television show Hoarders. Back to the most important dilemma: using freshwater for the toilet is an enormous waste of a precious resource when we cannot independently generate fresh water and are embarking on a 5-day passage. Thank goodness we carry some 150 gallons of water and were able to top off our tanks by dumping one 5-gallon garrafone after the next through our fancy funnel (i.e., a Sprite bottle with the bottom cut off) while we were in Chiapas.

After we arrived in Playa del Coco, Costa Rica, we spent a few wonderful days with 7 friends who had flown in from 4 US states to celebrate my best friend’s 30th birthday. One friend, Lindsay, stayed aboard (and had the luxury of using the potty in our storage unit). Thankfully, our friends volunteered (ahem, were begged, bribed, and coerced) to serve as part mules (i.e., wonderful humans who schlepp parts thousands of miles via airplane so that we don’t have to fuss with obscene shipping fees and Customs boondoggles). With them, they toted a 15-pound watermaker feed pump motor that bears a striking resemblance to a bomb, a 40-inch watermaker membrane, several lock & lock Tupperware cubes and egg containers, two fruit nets, Mexican train dominoes, a book about cruising Panama, six spare seacocks, two joker valves, a package of surprises from Jessie’s mom, all the meaningful mail we’ve received in the past five months, and a few unmentionables.#Marina Papagayo_Watermaker repair1Back to work
After our sun-kissed, sandy-toed pals headed back to America, we took several days to unwind and then began tackling some of the repairs that that were hanging over our heads (catch my joke—the toilet on a boat is called a head…ha ha!). Several hours and some gruesome activities got the head back in working condition. Sweet relief.

Next, we arranged a slip at Marina Papagayo, an expensive but pristine marina in the northwestern corner of Bahia Culebra. Marina Papagayo is about as classy as it gets when it comes to marinas: well-built docks, clean water, a pool, showers with hot water, coin-operated laundry service, and a good restaurant. The marina is well-run by the Harbormaster, Dan, and the staff are friendly enough to make you feel like you’re staying in a resort. It’s also the kind of place where you see yachts whose owners’ names “cannot be disclosed”, which makes me assume they are owned by Jay-Z and Beyoncé.#Marina Papagayo_Pool#Marina Papagayo_Big boats1 #Marina Papagayo_Trunkfish#Marina Papagayo_Big boats2#Marina Papagayo_Watermaker repair2Marina Papagayo is also where Neil spent more than a few fun-filled hours contorted in a position akin to that of a fetus in the womb reinstalling a new feed pump motor and head and replacing our eight-year-old membrane during early March. I told you it was a place to see sexy things. Our watermaker is back to producing delicious water like a champion! We breathed yet another deep sigh of relief.

We also removed all 250-feet of anchor chain from the bow locker, stretched it out on the dock, and scrubbed and inspected the links; and cleaned and examined all of the rigging, starting from the top of the mast.

Marina Papagayo offers great rates on hull waxing, and given that The Red Thread was long overdue for a facial, we decided to come in for another night. We arrived eager to spend a bit of time tackling a few minor to-dos and relaxing by the pool, a luxury we’d not taken advantage of when we stayed two nights a week prior to address our watermaker repairs.#Marina Papagayo_Watermaker repair3

And then the fun began.


Just when it seems like our list of major repairs is dwindling, a new predicament (or three) will emerge, as was the case today.


After fueling up at 8 am on our way into the marina, we became acutely distressed when our motor would not start. After multiple tries, she fired up, but we then realized our starter is likely teetering on the end of its life. We secured The Red Thread in a slip, connected to the internet, and Neil began researching Yanmar dealerships in Central America with the hope of finding the expensive part “locally.”

No sooner had his search commenced when we felt an abrupt wind shift. Like the rest of Bahia Culebra, Marina Papagayo is exposed to the brute force of the Papagayo gap winds that howl from the north and east during the winter months. When the wind shifted, The Red Thread lurched forward. We jumped immediately up to the cockpit to check our dock lines. In addition to our general setup, we had stretched three lines fore and aft across the empty slip next to us to keep the boat from grinding against the concrete docks and placed an additional spring line dockside. The hull was in no peril. Our 30-amp shore power cord, on the other hand, was taut. We quickly adjusted it to allow more slack, but when the boat had been propelled forward in a 30-knot gust, power had been cut. Troubleshooting with the aid of a marina technician revealed that our cord was toast; stretched to death. Two major problems in two hours.

#Marina Papagayo_Watermaker repair4Bad things come in threes, they say
Numéro tres arrived just two hours later when I opened the hatch to our bilge and saw fuel dripping from our Racor fuel filter. All our tasks ceased immediately, as we shut down our bilge pumps, began to contain the seeping diesel fuel, and figure out the problem. Neil unscrewed the fuel bowl drain plug, expecting to drain roughly a liter of diesel, as is typical when we service the bowl and filter.

Some 3.5 gallons later (thank goodness we keep several 5-gallon buckets aboard), the cabin had ticked up to the daily high of 97 degrees Fahrenheit. Both of us were sweating. Neil, in a spiral of extreme frustration, was threatening to sell the boat, and I was on the verge of tears, torn between my emotions about his suggesting we throw in the towel and my frustration with the situation.

Ultimately, we bled some six gallons of fuel via the Racor. We had overfilled our tank when we fueled up, which had caused unusual pressure and forcing the fuel thru the seals at the bottom of the bowl. After the fuel was drained drizzle-by-drizzle, and we were certain that being over capacity was no longer the issue, fuel continued to drip. The situation was maddening. The combination of heat and frustration had us both at our wits end. We sought the advice of other boats docked nearby. Another sailor suggested that there may be a suction issue in the line and recommended we reassemble the fuel filter system and fire up the engine. Neil disassembled and cleaned the unit, replaced the seals, and put the contraption back together. Thankfully, the engine actually started. And just like that the problem was resolved.

Dusk was falling. We dragged our sweaty, frazzled selves off the boat and up toward Dive Bar, the marina restaurant. We had plenty of food we could’ve cooked ourselves for dinner, but after the day we’d had, I was convinced that someone somewhere had a sailboat-shaped voodoo doll and was out to get us! Weary and speculating about the role of witchcraft in our no good very bad day, I couldn’t help but fear the boat might explode if I lit the stove. Sometimes it’s better to just get off the damn boat and get some perspective.

A couple ice cold beers and a delicious BBQ chicken pizza later, we took a deep breath and looked out over the marina. Though we had what felt like more than our fair share of issues that day, we looked at each other and knew that neither of us were ready to be done. As Neil affirmed, “Even with all these frustrations, I’d still rather be here with you than anywhere else.”#Marina Papagayo_B-dock

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17 thoughts on “No good very bad day

  1. Hi Neil / Jesse,

    You guys really did have a day of threes!! Definately time to step away and have a cold one!!

    We spent our day dropping the new fuel tank into our CM440, port side. It took about a week to undo everything just to get to the tank and then discover it was toast due to electrolysis and corrsion. Fuel in the bildge revealed the issue. I mention this because in reverse engineering the port side of Fantasy, i discovered the stern head line that runs up the port wall of the hull ( anti-syphon ) and then back down into the holding tank. the anti-syphon portion of the line takes place just forward of the nav station, behind the recliner and teak wall. If you need to get to the that area, it won’t be too bad…….

    2nd issue…..I have replaced our starter, so if you need pics and assitance with the job, let me know. I think you will find some pics I put on the CM440’s Assoc. site but e-mail me direct and I’ll share our change out of the starter, if it comes to that.

    thank you for posting your travels. It’s been fun reading of your journey…..

    Take care,

    jeff bice
    s/v – Fantasy CM440

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Jeff,

      Photos of the starter replacement would be great. We’re actually in the midst of that project right now! I’ll send you a message on FB.

      Thanks for all of the other info, too. Talk about a major project!! I think that our boat’s setup is slightly different. Do you have recliners on your boat? We don’t. We have, instead, a simple settee with massive storage beneath. It sounds like some aspects of the design are slightly different, as our vented loop runs just aft of the nav station but in the same compartment as the wiring.

      Every boat has its strengths and limitations, eh?! Fortunately, we love many more aspects of our CM440 than we loathe!

      Jessie & Neil

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      • Hey guys,

        We do have the recliners and our stern head loop is behind the recliner closest to the nav table. The good news for us – the new fuel tank is installed and Fantasy is all back together. Just in time to head up to Port Townsend to haul out and bottom paint next Wed. am. I just had to share good news!!

        glad to hear from you that the starter is installed and doing it’s job!

        Happy to assist in any way from Coon Bay, WA!!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Welcome to our world!! It’s all part of the “fun” of cruising. Some days it’s more fun than others!! The more you fix things, the more you learn, so then next time it’s not nearly so much work, and hopefully you gradually accumulate the spares you need, so that next time it happens, you pull the spare part out of a bin (vs Fed Exing it) and pop it right in–while still anchored at one of those remote French Polynesin Atolls that all your friends will never get to. Stick with it–there are better days ahead!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Indeed — that’s one of the big lessons of cruising that must be learned. This is life in motion, with hazards and challenges and hardships, just like any other lifestyle! It’s not all coconut-rum swizzles and sunsets! We were fairly pleased with our parts inventory before we left, but we appreciate the importance of expanding our list now that supplies are so difficult to acquire! As we get ready to decommission our boat to return to the States for six months, we’re making a long list of things we’ll plan to bring back with us. The shade only accentuates the sunshine, thankfully. You’ll see in coming posts that we had some incredible experiences following this no good very bad day! Cheers, Jessie

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    • Hi Patrick! It was a funky situation. No, the vent was not clogged. We believe it was suction issue that caused the problem. Thankfully, starting the engine resolved that stressful, maddening issue! We had never had such an issue, nor have we since. ~Jessie & Neil

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  4. Since you have 2 working heads I would definitely recommend replacing one with a composting head. You can get one made for that purpose or just go with a bucket, with or without a bag liner, peat moss, and a custom enclosure to support and position the seat. That’s what I did, no issues so far and no plumbing worries, odor, or holding tank hassle.

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