April & May 2016
Mike and Gill on s/v Romano arrived a few hours ahead of us, and despite the exhausting challenges they dealt with en route, they invited us over for dinner. We mustered the energy to bathe for the first time in nearly two weeks, to pump up Miss Sassy, and to row to s/v Romano a few strokes away. We left Red Thread in a state of utter disarray and rowed toward Romano impressed that they had the oomph to host!
The Romano’s refrigerator and freezer compressors had been destroyed as a result of seawater intrusion via their propeller shaft flange, which had been dislodged during the fiasco they survived during the first gale of the passage.
They had a sizeable amount of meat that would need to be eaten in a hurry. We took what we could, stashed it in our refrigerator, and planned to share dinners until it was gone. We’d be running our generator daily to top up our failing batteries anyway, and storing their perishables was least we could do is help our new pals! We were also happy to oblige because we had stocked little meat, relying instead on fish we never caught during the 12-day passage!
Most of their meats wound up in our bellies rather than becoming fish chum, and the arrangement encouraged us to spend a heap of time together in a short period, which cemented our budding friendship. There is always a silver lining, isn’t there?
Repairs, repairs, and more repairs
During our first week in the Gambiers, in addition to eating very well, we commiserated about boat repairs. Romano was still seeping water through her propeller shaft, so Mike and Neil spent half a day beneath her hull, breathing air from the hookah, realigning the flange, and epoxying it back in place.* Their outboard was also on the fritz, which provided another opportunity for Neil and Mike to spend quality time together.
The buoy of hope and optimism that generally sustains me during times of stress or hardship feels utterly deflated today. Eroded. My shoulders hang limp, and vibrant colors of Rikitea look dull through my discouraged eyes. So many things are not working on Red Thread.
Our boat projects list wasn’t particularly appealing either
- Troubleshoot starter motor failure
- Investigate plummeting battery bank performance
- Resolve head malfunctioning
A cursed starter motor
The new starter motor has been struggling; again. It started acting up again when we departed Rapa Nui. Fortunately, we didn’t need to start the engine until just before arriving at the Gambiers and thankfully it actually fired the engine, but we knew the problem would likely remerge again and in a potential dangerous situation. Neil tore the contraption apart for the third time since we installed it in Costa Rica, and we sanded away more pitting on the solenoid connections, doing our best to resolve the problem.A drained bank drains the bank
Our main battery bank was on its deathbed and hardly able to hold a charge. Each evening we topped up the batteries with our generator; each morning they were drained.
Mike rowed over, and he and Neil embarked on a series of battery tests. None of our three AGM batteries were in great condition, but one was completely demolished. He and Mike removed it from the configuration, a task that is a bit more complicated than it sounds. We crossed our fingers hoping that removing the dead weight, so to speak, would buoy the others for a few months longer.
This morning, our refrigerator thermostat read 60° Fahrenheit, and we’re not sure if that is the result of the battery issue or whether our refrigeration is beginning to fail, too…are our days of living without refrigeration drawing near?
Our cautious optimism that removing a dead battery from our bank of 3 245-amp AGMs would assuage our power crisis was crushed the next morning. Our batteries were barely holding a charge, scarcely clinging to life. The only certainty at that moment was that there would be an immense amount of hand steering between the Gambiers and Tahiti—a thousand miles away.
The prospect of acquiring batteries similar to those we had was a bit dismal, too—pricing, time to reach Tahiti should they need to be shipped from the US, pricing. Thankfully, despite the remoteness of the Gambiers Islands, internet was available, albeit very slow. We began to investigate and after running into a series of dead ends, we discovered two viable but expensive options.
Option 1: We could order batteries to be shipped from the US, but the time frame to have them shipped to Tahiti would be a minimum of six weeks and the cost somewhere in the vicinity of $3,000 USD. We would also have to pay hefty import duties.
Option 2: As it turned out, one chandlery** in Papeete (the main city on Tahiti) could sell us AGM batteries. They weren’t our preferred brand, but they were the type we wanted. They didn’t have any in stock but would be receiving a small shipment within the month. We could basically buy out the lot before it arrived and avoid paying duties.
No matter which option we chose, our exit-only bank account was about to be hit by a multi-thousand dollar assault. We bit the bullet and chose option 2. It was cheaper, and we figured that even if the batteries lasted half as long as our preferred but more expensive brand (i.e., Lifeline), they were roughly half the cost anyway and would get to Tahiti much quicker and without requiring us to pay import duties.
Do the stanky panky
The next problem on the list would not prevent us from operating a critical system, but its failure could force us to shit in a bucket. Literally. Many sailboats have a y-valve that enables sewage to either be pumped into a holding tank or directly overboard. However, Red Thread does not have that valve. We have to first flush our bathroom business down the “head” (i.e., boat toilet) and into a black water holding tank. Then, when the tank is nearly full, we expel the waste overboard via a macerating pump or, when living in a marina, pump it out like you would an RV.
For a couple weeks, our head had been burping vile, malodorous gases every time we flushed, and releasing a stench from the vent along the outside of the hull that would waft back into the cockpit, which had become quite embarrassing when guests were aboard. We’d joked about the foul occurrences initially, saying the head was “blowing us methane kisses”, but we both knew there was a blockage somewhere in the system that was precluding the natural gases from expanding properly. We were going to have to do the stanky panky. This was not our first rodeo (you might recall our no good, very bad day last year), so we knew that the task would not be fun…especially for Neil who assumed the role of master plumber, while I was more of a sous (or in this case, “poo”) chef.
We got to work, first investigating for any potential blockages between the holding tank and the vented loop. Everything appeared to be clear. We realized that a possible point of obstruction might be at the Sanigard filter, a filter we’d never examined because it is behind a wall panel behind the settee that cannot be removed. You read that right: cannot be removed. There are openings built into the wall behind the cushions on either side that reveal small storage spaces, but there was no access to the center section, the very section behind which the Sanigard filter was placed. We attempted to work around the issue by having me crawl into the cubbies. Holding my breath and stripping down to a sports bra, I managed to wiggle my entire torso through one of the 14-inch by 9-inch openings, but the space was too constricting. I proved to be quite useless in there and was lucky to be able to get out once I managed to get in!So, Neil pulled out the hacksaw, cursed a lot, and cut a hole in the wall. We resolved to make the new orifice more attractive somewhere down the line and stayed focused on removing the filter, rather than the very uncomfortable experience of chopping a hole in the boat. Success!We were amused to read that the filter should be replaced “annually” and shook our heads appalled by its inaccessibility. Red Thread had just celebrated her 10th birthday! Although no clear blockage could be seen, we assumed the filter was the source of the problem. Unfortunately, we would not be able to replace it until we ordered a replacement online and our friends brought it during their visit two months away.
Neil wanted to be as thorough as possible and decided to examine the hosing and connections between the filter and the tank itself. That task required us to remove the entire settee structure (a process less challenging than we expected, actually) and pull up the floor boards beneath. Well, the poor master plumber found a blockage alright, at a plumbing fitting with 90-degree bend, where the hosing joined the tank. It was a dirty battle, but he won. I will say no more and let your imaginations wander…Ever diligent, he next tore into the macerating pump itself. They say that olfaction is the sense most closely linked to memory. For Neil’s sake, I hoped not, because if true, that shitty day would be his most memorable of our transpacific voyage!
In spite of all our repair woes and financial worries, we are in a lovely, calm anchorage in the South Pacific, of all the wonderful places in the world. We are healthy. There is banana bread cooling in the cockpit, and the last of the pesto I made in the Galápagos is about to be tossed with a tangle of linguine. Whinge as we might, we have an immense amount to be grateful for.
Ever so exotichausting
We learned early on that concerns about managing repairs to ensure Red Thread stayed seaworthy would be the most stressful part of cruising—worse than a gale, more difficult than missing family, more exhausting than a passage. Her health takes precedence over our own because we know that so long as we can take care of her, she will take care of us and keep us safe. As the saying goes, “Cruising is fixing your boat in exotic places.” It wasn’t all doom and gloom aboard. We were steadily crossing off the major to-dos on our list and were on the cusp of finally beginning our exploration of the Mangareva, the Gambiers’ floating mountain.
*Note. Underwater setting epoxy is a really good idea to keep aboard…we didn’t have any but we shipped some of this stuff to our friends who were coming to Tahiti.
**The store in Papeete is called Nautisport, and we interfaced with Steeve Villierme (firstname.lastname@example.org) to make arrangements. He was very responsive throughout the process!