‘Don’t you get bored on passages?’ is a frequently heard question. Surprisingly, we never do. After Antigua, we had decided to only get extra crew on board for ocean crossings and other long passages, unless we have good friends that want to come along. Hops of a few days, we can manage by ourselves.
Even though sailing as a small family has the advantage of not having to share your confined living space with new people, it also ensures that your day program fills up rapidly. During the day, we take turns keeping an eye out on the sails, weather, traffic and route. There is homeschooling and entertaining Gitane, preparing breakfast/ lunch/ dinner and washing up. It might sound lazy and easy, but don’t forget that on a sailing boat, in the middle of the sea, the comfort level is determined by the swell and wind… And the simplest jobs can become quite a workout. From 19h till 7h we have a night watch system, where we alternate 2h of sleep/ rest with 2h of watch. You start feeling the effect of the broken up sleep after 2 days, and you might have to catch a nap during the day to sort it out.
And of course, if the weather or sea life is not entertaining you too much, you can enjoy looking around (stunning sunrises, sunsets, moonrises, …) or you can wait until something happens…
And inadvertently, something always does happen.
The hop from Dominican Republic to Jamaica is 450 sea miles. It all started out very normal, taking quite a while to reach the southern tip of Dom Rep from where we could set a straight course to Jamaica.
One night as we were busy digesting supper, and preparing for night watch, we decided to run the motor to top up the batteries. Having a fridge/ freezer on board, solar panels that have too low output, and if you have a tail wind (which means the wind generator generates little energy) you have to monitor the battery levels and top them up regularly. As we turned the ignition, the engine made a quick soft gurgle, but purred straight off. Wondering about the new vocals, we realized another more familiar sound was missing: the splut spluttering of the RAW waterpump that cools the engine. The captain jumped up, verified the water was indeed not coming out the outlet and cut the engine immediately. It had already started heating up. Hopefully nothing was fried yet.
Winnie was put behind the helm (as the auto helm chews a lot of energy) and watched a yellow moon rising while Arthur was inside the cabin, stripping the waterpump. After much cursing (all the bolts and screws on the engine have been overtightened by the Maltese workers) and the captain slipping into contortion artist mode, out came the lock and key system that connects to the shaft. It was clear to the naked eye what the problem was. A wrong key had been used and had basically worn out the female side completely so that the shaft from the motor no longer turned the pump. Several quick fixes and temporary solutions were considered. Our best bet at that moment was to mould the existing male part into a neat rectangle and to reduce the hole on the female side to a neat slot using Pratley steel putty. This took some trial and error and much precision work. The rebuilt parts were given time to cure, while Exodus pottered on.
We both got some rest. The captain slept outside and kept an eye out for any passing vessels.
Early morning, we took the helm again. There was very low wind and therefore uneventfull. The captain fitted the lock and key system and it was put to the test. The engine started without complaining, but water failed to exit. After dismantling the water pump once more, it showed that the Pratley Steel putty mould did not hold. The forces on the key lock system are simply too high. Stainless steel welding is needed.
Even though we were not in immediate distress, there was some wind, and we were moving on course, we still had many miles to bridge. Sharing all the helm time between only 2 people can get tiring. We also prefer having the comfort of the engine once you get close to land and arrive in new, often ill-charted areas.
The contortion artist flexed his muscles and applied his brain powers. Shortly after, Arthur Mc Gyver laid out Plan B. The engine of any boat is vital, much like a heart. When your boat has heart problems it helps to have a South African on board. We were not going to attempt a heart transplant, like Chris Barnard. Our attempt would take the more modest form of a heart bypass. The captain took out a spare bilge pump and started connecting the pipes to the existing outlets on the motor instead of the existing pump. Pipes were taped up with special tape to make the different diameters fit. We checked for leaks and did the wiring. Wires were connected to the back of the starter motor for electricity.
Holding our breaths, we switched on the engine. It immediately purred off, followed by the familiar albeit slightly softer spluttering of the waterpump. Hooray, it worked! The batteries were filled, all electronics could be switched on again, as well as the autohelm, while Exodus’s new bypass was pumping with all its might.
Just as we were eating a sandwich and finished packing away all the tools a sudden movement caught the corner of our eye.
A pack of 12 spinner dolphins were playing at the bow and many more around the boat. They were having great fun with Exodus, racing her, rolling their fins and bodies in her wake, giving us a full show for 30 min.
In the afternoon we were showered out by a squall, and we reached Porto Antonio by midnight. We anchored in the middle of the bay, ready to go and clear in at Errol Flynn marina the next morning.