The category is: Reasons Why You’re Adrift in the Pacific Ocean at 2am
Lucky us, we found the Daily Double. Literally, the engine stalled twice the morning we were en route from Mazatlan to Isla Isabel. TWO TIMES.
After our passage from Cabo to Mazatlan, we were looking forward to our trip home for the holidays as a refresher. It was a rough passage and we thought some time away from boat life would be good for all parties; that several weeks of luxe land life would be a good way for us to bounce back. We did not think that our very first passage after returning to Small World would result in a similar experience where we wonder how we got here and how we’re going to fix it. It was just too soon.
At about 2am, I was listening to Pod Save America, catching up on all the episodes I refuse to skip. Political podcasts really get me fired up and help me stay awake on watch. With only an hour left before I could wake up Craig, I was feeling confident that I could make it without an accidental nap. I was a woman with a plan and I would not be thwarted! The podcast episode would end, I would grab a snack, and I would do some exercises to round out the full hour. Entertainment, nutrition, and fitness, what could go wrong?
Suddenly, the engine started revving up and down on it’s own. I fell to the cockpit floor to check the tachometer and make sure I hadn’t actually fallen asleep and imagined it. Sure enough, the needle was bouncing around while the throttle remained untouched.
Shouting felt like my only option since I was clipped in and time felt like it was of the essence. Surprisingly, Craig responded immediately with some sort of mumble that, in the moment, I interpreted as “Did you say something?” And, in the moment, it really irritated me. Instead of shouting, “OF COURSE I said something! I shouted your name and I don’t do that at 2am for no good reason” I just shouted his name again. He leapt over the lee cloth and out of the bunk and was in the companion way in a matter of seconds.
Looking back, I feel like while he was sleeping he must have sensed that the RPMs were a mess and started to wake up himself. After a few seconds, he had me slow the engine, and then it immediately stalled.
Within a minute, Craig was full force into investigation and repair mode. It was really very impressive. He was dressed and tools seemed to magically appear from various storage spots. Based on his speed and intensity, I knew he thought this was very, very bad. He also told me, “This is pretty bad and I’m not sure if this will end well.”
For the next two hours, Craig cursed in the engine room and I responded from the cockpit floor. Eventually he brought out a corroded pipe union nut from the manual fuel pump that had started to let air into the fuel lines. He showed it to me and asked for ideas on how to seal it, despite the corrosion. After shooting down all of my ideas, he came up with one of his own and disappeared back into the engine room.
Rather than sealing it, he decided to bypass it. We have an electric fuel pump in line prior to the manual pump mounted on the engine and he clamped a fuel hose from the electric pump directly to the fuel pipe. Bleeding the engine was the final step, but it’s not an easy process on a Perkins. So when the engine finally started again, we were ready to get the hell outta dodge. With only 25 miles left between us and Isla Isabel, we believed the repair would hold for at least that long.
At this point, I had been awake for most of the night and was desperate for a nap. Whether or not I was worried about the engine, I was not going to be able to stay awake for much longer. It was a short lived moment of sleeping bliss, because I eventually woke up, sensing something amiss, to see Craig looking at me from the companion way telling me, “It just happened again.”
So help me, I did my best to keep it together. If you can believe it, I didn’t scream, swear, or cry. But I did hang my head for a moment of self pity before I got dressed and went outside to maintain watch. We could see the island, but with glassy water and stagnant air, we would get no closer.
In moments like this, my brain starts to come up with potential solutions but simultaneously torments me with thoughts of “wouldn’t it be nice if…” Like, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we were a little bit closer and we could hail Greg and Marga in the anchorage and they had just what we needed to fix this problem?” Or, “Wouldn’t it be nice if this nonsense didn’t happen to nice people like us?” Sometimes it spirals out of control and I end up in a dark space convinced it’s the end times. Sitting in the cockpit, staring at our dream destination, I questioned if we were the right people to be living in this lifestyle. Based on the tone of Craig’s voice when he was giving me updates, I could tell that he was fed up and weighing the pros and cons of a life afloat.
Thankfully, the repair was holding, but that meant that this was a new issue. About ten minutes before the engine stalled, Craig had turned off the electric fuel pump, because we usually only have it on to prime the fuel line before starting the engine. At the time, Craig and I couldn’t figure it out, but he assumed there was air in the line and started to bleed the engine yet again. She was a little more reluctant to fire up this time and Craig and I were a little more reluctant to carry on as we envisioned the engine stalling as we approached the rocky island.
In the end, we figured out that because Craig had bypassed the manual pump (which is actually automatic when the engine is running and has an option for a manual switch) we had to have the electric pump running the entire time the engine is on. And technically, I was the one who figured it out. I know, I was shocked, too. But I’ve definitely earned myself a mango margarita (or two) and we can spend more of our energy enjoying this stop instead of worrying about the next passage.
By the end of the day, after being surrounded by blue footed boobies, Craig proclaimed that it was the best day of his life. Some moments carry more weight than others, and so we sail on.