Time to Head South

So we’ve cruised to Alaska. Seen amazing sites. Glaciers, whales, dolphins, bears, mountains, America’s Fjords in both BC and Alaska. And yet, we’ve really only scratched the surface. We had the odd mechanical issues. Overcame those. And a floatplane dropped us back on the boat after a week in the lower 48 at a family campout in Idaho. (For details on the Summer of Indy, see us on Facebook).

But now comes that time to turn for home.

There are a lot of emotions, issues and questions that go along with that moment. First, since we changed the transmission, and that took some slight adjusting of engine position. But even slight change means new sounds…and questions. Did we do it correctly? The boat, systems, engine and new transmission are running fine. But I know, and this is Dan speaking, that I’m going to be worrying about the engine/transmission systems as we go South. It’s not going to ruin my trip, but I want to have 100% confidence. I’m running about 95% at the moment. Despite the technical issues, Karin was quite sad to leave Alaska with so much yet to see.

It was odd to arrive back in Ketchikan almost 7 weeks after arriving in Alaska. We’ve seen so much, developed a few opinions about places, and what can we say? Ketchikan is not our fav Alaska spot. You have to stop there to clear customs, and resupply. You do the odd laundry. This stop was different though as we couldn’t wait to get away…from the cruise ships and tourists mostly. Last time through, we did wander downtown. This time, the heck with that. It’s nothing but tourist traps and jewelry stores. Who goes on a cruise to Alaska, gets off, and goes jewelry shopping? I mean those boats have three jewelry stores aboard. Whatever.

We couldn’t wait to point South for Foggy Bay….and Dixon Entrance…the US/BC border. Did I mention we were heading for Foggy Bay. Man! You hear about fog in late summer up here….and we found it as soon as we started heading South. It was foggy out of Thorne Bay where we had stashed the boat while in Idaho….and it only cleared as we were in the channel approaching Ketchikan. Then leaving Ketchikan….it was foggy most of the way to Foggy Bay. And it was supposed to have a little clearing wind on the border. But that never showed up, and it was light wind (no sailing) and fog all the way across the border. It only cleared up in Venn Passage, just 7 or so miles from Prince Rupert.

A little word about Prince Rupert again. As I said, we’ve developed “opinions”. Of the towns we’ve come to in Alaska and Northern BC…the Prince Rupert is one of the best. It’s pretty. It has lots to see and do. It has all the resupply you need….and very close to the marinas where visitors stay. There are great restaurants and a good brewery. And there aren’t many cruise ships that stop by, and those that do are smaller.

So now we head South, down into the long channels that make up this part of the coast. We’re making a point of staying in different anchorages, mostly, that we did on the way up to see more of what’s here….and note where we want to come back.

Did I mention fog? Yeah, we’re finding that here too. But is usually clears out in the afternoon sun. So one system on the boat that is getting a workout is the radar….and yes…these new radar systems really work well. (Thank you B&G/Simrad). It’s nice to be able to see boats big and small coming at you in the gray mists.

One thing that we didn’t have on the way North were horse flies and hornets/bees. After July 1st as it started warming up, so did the bugs. We have bug screens for our three hatches, and screens on all our opening port lights. What we really needed was netted panels for our cockpit enclosure. So we sent a note to the good folks at Iverson’s, and behold, they make these too! When we get back home we can mail our panels that we want to have netted panels made for and they’ll send them all back to us with the snaps and zippers all matched so they are interchangeable. Sailors, this is a must! In the meantime, we have used our bug zapper with relish.

Ok, here’s another lesson we seem to keep learning. I hope today’s sail from Hartley Bay to Bottleneck Inlet is the last time we learn it. There’s a thing called wind against current. It sucks. When the wind is going one way and current is going the opposite direction it makes steep choppy seas. It’s uncomfortable at best, and dangerous at worst. Think sailing in a washing machine.

So you would think…hey, just don’t do it. The problem is you may be sailing all day in perfect sunny skies and going with the current…say from Hartley Bay South. Then at the last part of your day, the current changes. If the wind is up…you have issues. And the problem with the inside passage is that you have this big long section in the middle where good anchorages are few…..and the wind always come up in the afternoon.

As we left Hiekish Narrows into Finleyson Channel, the current turned….and of course….the wind came up. Ick. It made the last 6 miles to Bottleneck Inlet that nasty washing machine thing. And it took two hours to finally battle into the entrance to the inlet.

Now the good news is that the boat performed like a champ, couldn’t care less about the bobbing around and the salt spray washing over the whole boat. Honey Badger Passport 40 is like that. The other good news is that bottleneck cove is peaceful and quiet, and Karin makes a mean cocktail to calm down the boaters. Wine with dinner….yet please.

Reminder: Plan your routes and dates so you don’t do that current/wind battle. We did it once in Rosairo Straight, once in Malespina Passage and now this. I swear…I’m done. I’ve learned.

Shearwater is a resort about half way down Northern BC, and it’s always a pleasure to pull in somewhere that has food, fuel and a mechanic if you need one. Since we had work done in Alaska, and Dan is still a nervous Nellie, we had Jay…the same mechanic who helped us out here in May…come over to the boat to look her over. Someone needed hug from an engine guy.

Jay found a slight fuel leak in one of the four injector pump fittings, and that was the reason we’re smelling a little fuel at the end of a long day. Jay says it’s 30 minutes to take the pump out, three weeks to send it somewhere to be fixed and re-timed, then another 30 minutes to reinstall it. But Jay also said it’s a tiny leak, it’s not impacting the engine, we have absorbent pads in the bilge pan catching everything, and it will NOT keep us from getting home. His final comment was, “It could run like that for 2000 hours and not be an issue. Just deal with it this winter.”

Well I feel better.

Shearwater was also where we ran into our friend Marty. He and his wife sailed to Alaska this summer too, but we never crossed paths…until Shearwater. He’s sailing south solo as his wife Deborah still has to work…at least some. Nice to find your friends on the water.


So onward South. The goal now is to play a little at Pruth Bay again….but really to get down and around Cape Caution and into the Broughtons, where we would like to explore a little more. These are days you discover all the Fog that can sock you in here in August. As we ran South, much of the time was spent in the pea soup, with 1/4 mile visibility or less. As I think I mentioned before, love the Radar.

Finally we made it around the Cape…again in fog…and into Sullivan Bay in the Broughtons. We can refuel, rewater, and get ready for some exploring. Funny how life tweaks your plans. Someone finally wants to buy our old boat! More on that to come….but ask yourself this. How do you find a Notary and sign sales documents when you are in the wilderness? Once you solve that problem….how to you get them airlifted back to the boat title folks?

Hey, why is the transmission making funny noises…

Tick, tick, tick is the last sound you want to hear from your transmission when you are somewhere deep in Southeast Alaska….80 miles from anywhere.

As they say, it’s a boat…and eventually some thing’s going to wear out. Since this is a 33 year old boat, that is even more likely.   And just to make sure we’re prepared we have all kinds of spares; bilge pump, bilge switch, hoses, belts, water pumps for engine and for the water systems.  Lots of spares.

One spare you don’t typically carry is a full transmission. So, of course, what is the part that’s going to start acting up?


It started in Petersburg. Pulling out of a slip, I put the engine in forward and it didn’t seem to go into gear. As I was throttling back, it popped into forward.  I went out into the channel and tested forward, reverse, forward, reverse.  Seemed ok.  So we left.

A couple days later, over by Chatham Straight it did it again, and for a short time there was a ticking noise.  Dangnabbit…as they say. While it still went into gear…something was not right…and we were 85 miles from Sitka on the backside of Baranoff Island.

Now transmissions are funny things. They work. They can fail.  They can fail all at once, or they can gradually get worse.  Around Puget Sound, The San Juans or the Gulf Islands there is lots of help you can call.  Yea TowBoatUS and SeaTow.  Deep in the bays, coves and straights of SE Alaska those things don’t exist.

But you’re a sailboat, you can just sail.  Hmm, right. The problem with that theory is that summer winds in the bays and channels are fluky and often light, or the wrong direction.  What’s more, you may be deep in a tricky anchorage with twists and turns through the rocks to get out.

You need a motor.

Given all that, Karin and I realized we needed to get to Sitka. We were in gear, moving forward and we didn’t want to take it out of gear until we were just a few miles from Sitka…and help.  So we left early on a sunny Wednesday and motored North up Chatham Channel, into Peril Straights, and down toward Sergius Narrows.

The Narrows 25 miles North of Sitka were the tricky bit. They can run to 8 knots and we needed to wait until the current dropped to 2-3 knots to be safe.  Luckily, Deep Bay just North of the narrows is long and straight. We made 3 long slow runs up and down the bay to burn time, and wait.

Finally just before 6pm the current had dropped enough for us to pop through and head for Neva Straight down to Sitka.  Then the fog hit.  Of course.  But that’s why we have radar….so we picked our way past a bunch of longliner fishing boats in the channels down to an anchorage about 10 miles Northwest of Sitka.

We dropped the hook in a cozy corner west of Krestoff Island, and slipped the boat out of gear.  We knew that if we couldn’t get it into gear in the morning at least help wasn’t too far away, and we had phone service to call for it.

Of course that means everything worked fine in the morning and we motored into Sitka, found moorage and worked with a bunch of local folks until we found a mechanic who could come help us figure out what was up.

Stan Lapapa is a mechanic and a fisherman.  We’re just glad he is here.  We both played with the transmission, slipping it into and out of gear.  Most of the time it worked fine….but every once in a while we’d find a “catch”. A position where it didn’t want to go into forward.  If we twisted the shaft a little, then it would pop in.

That means something in there is worn, broken, pitted…whatever. It also means it could work for a while….or it could break tomorrow.  As I said…not good in deep SE Alaska.

OK, what’s the plan?  Well, here’s where it hurts to have a Nanni converted Mercedes engine.  No one here has worked on one. Who knows what parts we needed.

Then it dawned on me that I know the best transmission guy in the NW; Mike Voht at Harbor Marine in Everett. He rebuilt the transmission and V-drive on our old boat 8 years ago. So I called him on Monday morning the 25th, explained I had a 35 year old Hurst transmission going out.  He laughed a little, and said that’s bad…they don’t make that anymore. Crap.  Of course then he said, “But I have 13 VF12M transmissions sitting on the shelf that are almost a perfect replacement. You only have to move then engine up 3/8 inch on the mounts…and the prop aft 1/2 inch.”

Nice!  We talked about rebuilding, but his point was that it was going to cost almost as much to do that as buying new….and it would still be old.  And it would take time. Buying a new one means that with a $50 Goldstreak delivery on Alaska Airlines it could be here overnight (they phone just rang, by the way…it’s here).

The only drawback was that it would be a good idea to put in a new damper plate, and he didn’t have that.    Hmm, who has that.  I did find one in the UK, thanks Manfred….not this time.  Then I punched the part number into the search engine….and the first name to come up was PYI in Lynnwood.  Wait a minute, I know these guys too.  I used to contact them all the time for customers needing new stuff.

So I called and talked to Phil at PYI, and he said, “Hold on, you’re working with Mike up at Harbor.  Lets hang up, I’ll call him.  We’ll figure out the plate you need and get it to him today….so it can come with your transmission.


So with all the parts, Stan has put the system back together. We’ve spent a week getting to know Sitka….which we like. Best town in SE Alaska from our POV.   We also spent some dough….but not really much more than if we had to do this in Anacortes or Seattle. Mostly about $200 more for shipping….but really, that’s not too bad.

So now we’re mobile again…and off once again on our summer adventure. Of course, I check those bolts on the engine bell housing a lot…such to be sure nothing’s rattling loose.

Warm Springs Bay to Ell Cove, plus whale day!

Our next anchorage is to be Ell Cove just 10 miles north of the Warm Springs Bay.  We are feeling pretty good at this point since we are liking the anchorages Baranof Island has offered so far.  Dan wants to take a look at Kasnyku Falls in Waterfall  Cove.

Our first glimpse of the waterfalls.


Endless Song swings back Waterfall Cove before getting to our anchorage.


We go back on the dinghy from Ell Cove to get a better look.


Our anchorage at Ell Cove. Dan is really happy here with a solid set and lots of swinging room.


We check out the white granite beach at Ell Cove.


And, of course, the whales.  I only got one photo and one video that turned out (we don’t post videos on this site so we’ll send that out later).  We must have seen a dozen whales that day.  One only a couple hundred yards off our starboard side.  It’s a thrill every time we see them.  These photos were taken as we were turning into Ell Cove so pretty close to shore.


Keku Strait to Baranof Island.

Heading northwest out of Keku Strait we see this beautiful view of the east side of Baranof Island, about 40 miles away.

baranof island

We spent a good portion of the day motoring toward the island through Frederick Sound and then Chatham Strait.  We had a fairly nice day…it didn’t rain and was mild.

Our first destination was to be Warm Springs Bay.  Upon entering this large and deep bay you see the waterfall long before you get there.  Our intent was to partake in the hot springs next to the water fall while there but anchoring and dock space became an issue…we’ll hit it our our way back.


A full public dock.


The water falls


Our anchorage in the West Arm of the bay.  We hear a lot of woodland birds here with a pretty little creek feeding into the bay.  At low tide you head its waterfall.  This was a bit awkward anchorage so we ended up a combo anchor plus stern tie.  It wasn’t pretty but we didn’t run aground at low tide.


Kake to Lord’s Pocket, Keku Islands

One on the things that Dan and I like about boating is finding that snug and cozy anchorage that you can hang out in and explore for a couple days.  We found our first great anchorage near Kake in the Keku Islands.

We were heading west from Petersburg and needed to fill up with diesel so decided to stop in at Kake.  They lost their fuel dock in a storm a year or two ago so you have to call in to make arrangements for have fuel brought down to the public dock to refuel.  This is a 2 hour process because their delivery truck holds two types of fuel and multiple boats waiting requiring different types of fuels.  It does give you time to chat with the other boater waiting with you.

Upon leaving Kake, we picked our way west through lots of small and large rocks and islands, through the kelp bed where the sea otters mothers and babies were hanging out to find this little anchorage for 1-3 boats.  In our guide it’s call Lord’s Pocket and it felt that way.  So beautiful and peaceful.

Lord’s Pocket:

View of shore from boat


View of Frederick Sound from AnchorageIMG_5468

Endless Song at anchor nearing high tide:


Shore exploring at low tide:


Frederick Sound and Dall Porpoises

We left Petersburg early to start our trip towards Sitka.  Once you leave the Petersburg harbor heading north, you leave the Wrangell Narrows and enter Frederick Sound.  That morning the water was glassy so you could see the water well and the mountains were all out.  Very pretty if a little grey.


It was a relaxing morning.  No wind or current to deal with so we’re puttering along. A way off we see a whale and some porpoise here and there…nice but nothing spectacular.

Then two porpoise change direction and head straight towards us coming fast.  They raced along our bow for maybe 10 minutes-what a show!  I’m kneeled at the bow with the camera and these beautiful creatures are so close you think you could touch them.  For me this is the highlight of the trip so far.  I’ll try to post the video on FB.  I don’t have good enough coverage to get my pics and video posted.

dall porpoise


After that they day is rather dull but the sun breaks through the clouds and its a beautiful day.  Our anchorage that night is Portage Bay.  This is a large and fairly shallow bay that dries out toward the end.  This is one of the nicest weather days we’ve had so far in Alaska.  There wasn’t much of interest at the bay except a sunny afternoon and wo fishing boats dropping crab pots all around us that evening.  A clear sign that we should have dropped the pot!


LeConte Glacier

When we arrived in Wrangell we knew we wanted to see Glaciers.  But here’s the thing. Glaciers calve off pieces that are, essentially, icebergs. Remember Titanic. The other reason we chartered a jet boat was Dry Strait.  Dry Strait is an apt term as this is very shallow area at the  mouth of the Stikine River where silt collects. That strait dries out at low tide.  The guide boats have to time the tours with the tide.  Icebergs will crush your gelcoat and ruin your prop.  They guide boat are aluminum with a jet…no prop at all.

It was a magical day.  I loved the the speed (39 knots vs 7 knots) and having someone else drive.  We could sit and enjoy.

Looking toward Stikine River.  The green water is from river silt.


Approaching LeConte Glacier Bay and the beginning of icebergs.


Larger icebergs beginning to appear.


Seeing a bit of the glacier.  It’s still a couple of turns in the bay to go.


The first of many harbor seal mothers and pups at this rookery (some that were quite small like this one below).


The seals are all over the ice flow.  It’s hard to stay away from them because their are so many and all over the place.IMG_5226


The glacier.  This is as close as we can get because there’s too much ice.  The Petersburg High School group measures the glacier every year for the last 32 year..  They have to apply and test their surveying skills for a spot on the team of 8.  Helicoptered in by Temsco, a local service provider.  The glacier calves from the top and also know for calving from the bottom called a “shooter” since the ice is buoyant.


Surrounding miscellaneous photos.  The rocks were really interesting and the water a beautiful color.


IMG_5232IMG_5241IMG_5272IMG_5283IMG_5334IMG_5335A small iceberg for Peter’s cooler.  We opted out for a share of the ice for cocktails.  It’s supposed to be the best ice going but frankly I don’t know what’s frozen in there so none for us.


Food Discoveries

One of the best things about our trip has been the food.  I’m proud that I’ve been able to provide great food that we’ve enjoyed so much.  It’s that phenomenon where everything just tastes better when you’re out camping or boat.  Or I’m trying…


Things we learned during the trip:

Cheese:  Bring lots of it, seal it and keep in the frig.  I froze the Tillamook brick and it dried out.    Usable but not in premium condition.  The further north you get the less selection and higher cost.  Ketchikan Safeway had an aged gouda for $9.98 before tax so that was our splurge for that shopping trip.

Our friend Jamie sent us a package of Point Reyes cheese selection as a bon voyage present (Jamie, it was fabulous–Thank You!) so between that and the sailor rumors of expense cheese I went a little went a little overboard on the cheese purchases.  However, I don’t regret it one bit.  We’ve been in good cheese for the entire trip until now.  Eat the soft cheeses first otherwise that can spoil while you’re distracted with other cheeses.

Bring your favorite foods:  For example, we like mixed nuts that we get in the bin containers at The Market in Anacortes.  I bought a large bag and sealed them if 4 separate packets.  We ran through them in a couple of weeks.  Should of brought more because we haven’t found anything better or comparable we like so far.  Same goes for coffee, canned goods, etc.

Make note of new products and where you got them:  Bick’s pickles are good and readily available in BC.  Prince Rupert has a great meat shop near the marina  and will do custom orders and freeze them for you.


What we found plenty of was Best Foods/Hellman’s Mayo, Budweiser and Simple Lemonade (surprise) for Shandy’s, variable vegetables type and condition.

New Discoveries:

True Lemon, Lime, Grapefruit and Orange products (not the drink product).  Don’t get the bottles but rather the little packages.  The damp clumps the crystals badly in the bottle.  Reconstituted liquid is a good replacement for the fresh squeezed.  It worked in cooking and cocktails.

High Seas Canned Smoked Albacore Tuna:  This stuff is great.  From Cheese and crackers, chowder, and tuna salad sandwiches.  I’ve been using it carefully so it will last the trip. $6 a can at the Co-Op, cheaper direct.


No Knead Bread (based on Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day):  This is easy, tasty and a clean process comparatively and certainly nice for the boat.  I haven’t figured out how to get the crisp and crunchy crust but maybe its the propane stove.  Everything takes longer to bake.  I made baking powder biscuits and baked for 40 minutes before they browned (yes, I know what you’re thinking).  By then, of course, they were hard tack.

The 1/8 baking sheets, Silpat pads, and baking stone are great for making everything bake well and clean up is so easy.


Yesterday I decided to try out a number of baked items.


Pie Crumbles.  I read an article on the the King Arthur Flour website discussing the old way of keeping pie crust in the freezer for ready use.  Dan’s grandmother did this all the time and I thought it might work well on the boat.  It did!

I made a double pie crust recipe with flour, salt, butter and Crisco (I had to buy this in Ketchikan because I haven’t used it in years), or your favorite recipe.  You then need to figure out how much mix will be needed for small boat-size pie tins.


It’s 1 cup of mix, 3 Tablespoons ice water for 4 single or 2 double pie crusts.  It worked great except I don’t have a rolling pin so the Oban bottle was used instead—hope I didn’t damage the booze.  Christian, I could really use a custom rolling pin.

I followed the baking instructions for a normal sized pie.  The filling was made up from old and new apples I had on hand.


Celery and tin foil:  Go figure.  Clean and dry your celery and wrap in tin foil and store in the frig.  They will stay fresh forever.  Well, probably not forever but long enough to use up on the boat.  Does this work for other things?  I want tips from all of you!

Storage containers:  Our friend Stew put me onto these (he won’t remember because he’s been using them forever).  When I was setting up the boat with storage containers for food stuffs I went through a lot of different types (Rubbermaid, lock-n-lock, snap ware) and nothing really worked for the space I had (plus they were expensive).  Storage space is varied on a boat (see pics below).

Anyway, I bought a package of these short and tall containers that stack and share the same lids (like to ones at the grocery store delis only sturdier).  This works great for storing supplies in general, but those especially that come in bags or paper boxes.  The bags can rip and the paper can get damp and ruin your product.  I moved all my baking supplies to these so there would be a even layer in “The Hole” to stack my giant flour container on.  They are also super for left overs, etc.  They don’t leak, they stack well, easy to clean and reuse.  They were cheap too.




Tomato Products (hmm, I’m getting low):


Canned vegies and fruit, miscellaneous:


The microwave cabinet aka “The Mess” (bread, cereal, herbs and spices, etc.  needs some work)


Spice Rack (everyday items):


The Hole (Dry goods and baking supplies):


After 40 days and 40 nights; What worked? What Didn’t?

We have now arrived in Wrangell, AK to re-provision. We figured this is a good time to take a few minutes to assess the good, bad and ugly of the trip so far.


The Food: Has been great. Moderation in all things. One thing about being out in the middle of no place is that there is no temptation to go out to the bar for dinner. There isn’t anywhere to go. So, we have all kinds of supplies….that means it’s a place for cooking creativity. A happy place.

As you know, we like an occasional beer. One worries that you’re going to find nothing but Bud, Coors and Miller lite. Those are here….but BC and Alaska also have some great craft brewers that you can buy at the oddest places. We found Wheelhouse beer in a resort called Shearwater. When we found the brewer in Prince Rupert who said, “Oh yeah. A guy here knew a First Nations member with a fishing boat who was going that way, so we got him to take a few cases to them.” Nice

The Weather: We had some awesome summerlike weather for the first three weeks of the trip. After a deluge in Northern BC, we got the kind of weather we expected all along. Showers and mostly cloudy. Very temperate though.

The View: Southern BC is beautiful no matter where you are. Stunning. The rest so far has been very similar. We’ll wait on Alaska until we’re done to make a decision on that.

The Company: Dan and I continue to laugh our way through the trip. Business as usual.

The Boat: Endless Song has worked like a champ. Many good thoughts about the boat. Oh, also a tip of the boat had to the team at Iverson Design. Jason and the team there make the best marine canvas, dodgers, biminis

The Whales and Dolphins: We’ve seen them only in BC and AK but the further north we get the more frequent sightings we get.

The Adventure: Great experience as boaters and people.


The Weather: Since we hit Ketchikan it’s been dreary. Damn depressing.

The View: We had some places that were boring after days and days of the same glorious mountains, channels, trees, etc etc.

The Humans: Hey, we all make mistakes. The systems need to be fairly exact. Not a lot of leeway. We keep learning and we’ll just stop there.


Yet to happen. Well, maybe when we lost engine power in Hakai Passage. That would count. But we were able to sail out of that one….so, all good.

The Day The Engine Died

Not every day is sunshine and fair winds off your stern quarter.

The morning we left Pruth Bay on Calvert Island it started out just fine.  Systems were good. There had been some rain overnight, but the day looked like it was going to continue the May run of “I can’t believe how nice the weather has been.”

The plan for the day was to pick our way through a tight one mile channel north and around rocky Rattenbury island out into to Hakai Passage. Then we’d sail east into Fitzhugh Sound and head north.  We’d find an anchorage or if that didn’t work we could always motor to Bella Bella and Shearwater.

That was the plan.

We had just cleared Rattenbury and were about 1/4 mile out into Hakai Passage when we heard that engine sound that you never want to hear; a slow and steady drop in RPM down to….the engine just stops.

First move, of course, is try to restart. That wasn’t happening.

But we’re a sailboat….and there was a nice 8 knot breeze blowing up Hakai Passage so Karin and I calmly but quickly popped the headsail. The great thing about a masthead sloop is that the big genoa headsail is the primary engine…and with that sail alone we were under control and making headway….away from the rocks behind us and out into the passage.

(Now, as we read this back…Karin pointed out that it’s very smooth and really doesn’t capture the “Oh Shit” look in both of our eyes when we lost the engine. Trust me, we both had those looks.)

While Karin sailed us to safety, I popped down below to see if I could figure out what was wrong.  My first thought was clogged fuel filter or fuel line.  A diesel engine is really very simple….with power, clean fuel and air…it just runs and runs. Dying the way it did…just slowly dropping rpm to off…is classic fuel starvation.

I couldn’t see anything wrong in the system when I checked…but I quickly changed the fuel filter. We weren’t due for a change, but maybe going around Cape Caution had mixed things up in the tanks….and maybe we had some growth.  Shouldn’t have that.  The tank was cleaned and fuel polished 1.6 years ago. We are careful to use biocide. But who knows.

Well, that didn’t help….we still couldn’t get the engine to start. Clearly, I need more engine classes and training. I’m a marine carpenter. I can and have built boats, fixed them, painted them, varnished them, installed new electrical things, fixed plumbing, fixed heads. But I am not an engine mechanic. I always knew this was going to get me. Oh well, nothing was going to fix that today.  Help was 35 nautical miles away in Shearwater.

Back topside while Karin sailed the boat I went out on deck and fully rigged and hoisted the mainsail.  We were now sailing, and it was a pretty nice day to sail. We gybed a few times and then we were out in Fitzhugh Sound, and we turned the boat North toward Shearwater.

It was still early in the day, about 9am, but doing the math on sailing the 35 miles we knew that even if the wind held through all the channels and passes, we’d be out here for 12 to 15 hours.  That didn’t seem like a good idea. We might need a tow.  The challenge here is that it’s not like Puget Sound or the San Juan islands.  There is no TowBoatUS or CTow around. You have no cell phone coverage to call them.

First we tried to reach Shearwater on VHF, but I knew that was not likely since it was so far.  No one was able to relay for us, so finally the Canadian Coast Guard Prince Rupert station put out a call to mariner, looking for someone in the area who could help us.

You know what hurt the most?  When they put out the call they said “Marine Assistance Request, a 40 foot broken down sailboat needs assistant in Fitzhugh Sound.”  At that point we were sailing along north at about 5 knots on a sunny morning. It was beautiful…and great sailing. We were NOT a broken down sailboat. We were a broken down motor boat!

I know, pride before the fall and everything.  Back to the story.

The call for help reached Grant and Judy on a beautiful 43 foot Grand Banks trawler, Misty Fjords. They had been in the same anchorage last night, and in fact we had met them back in Port McNeil on Vancouver Island when they were opposite us on the dock. We had to say hello then as their boat was registered in Boise, Idaho. We use to live there.

Grant and Judy were 8 nautical miles north, almost a full hour away, but they turned around to come to get us.  Grant said later, and this is so true, “We’re all out here alone. There’s no one else. You got help when someone needs it because you will need it one day too.”

Let that sink in boaters.

So when they reached us mid-Fitzhugh Sound, Judy took the helm of Misty Fjords and kept the boat alongside, just ahead.  Grant tossed a line to us and I connected that to my 40 foot long anchor bridle. Grant then pulled the heavy three strand bridle back to his boat and tied it to his starboard stern cleat.  We were connected.

The great thing about the bridle is that it is long enough, heavy enough line, three strand so it gives, and it has a y-yoke at my end so I could tie those ends off to both bow cleats for a balanced pull. After Grant eased Misty Fjords into gear and got us all going….there was nothing to do.  Well, nothing but hand steer all 30 remaining miles, about 6 hours, looking at the back of Grants boat and trying to keep centered the whole time to make it easy for him to tow.

grant from behind

It actually worked incredibly well, and at 5:02pm we pulled up in front of Shearwater Marine Resort….which also has Shearwater Marine Services.  The only major boat help in the 273 nautical miles stretch from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert.

Christophe, the Dockmaster came out in his 15 foot launch, and hooked up to our Port Aft Quarter and Grant released our tow line back to us.  In minutes we were on the dock, and the mechanic was scheduled to take a look in the morning.  I complemented Christophe on his docking, and he just smiled and said….”I bring in broken down boats every day.”

That night, as you might guess, we took Grant and his wife Judy out to dinner at the resort.  He didn’t want gas money and seemed surprised when then waitress told him the bill had already been paid. He just said, pass is on out there on the water.  Which we will, gladly.  We have now “been there.”

The next day, Jay from Shearwater Marine stepped aboard to try to figure out why our engine had died. Our 43 horse diesel was built by Mercedes Benz, converted by Nanni marine for boat use. Not the most common. Jay and I were talking, and he smiled at me and said, “Yeah, I know the engine. I used to be head mechanic for Mercedes in North Van.”  I live a blessed life.

Jay agreed with me. This looked like fuel starvation. Then engine wasn’t getting fuel.

In the course of trouble shooting, Jay actually explained a number of things about my engine that had confused me. For example, with most diesels you “bleed” the lines to get air out. I was confused as to why I could not find bleed screws. Jay says, yep…this engine does it for you. No bleed screws. Nice.

Jay also worked his way back through the fuel line…the filter…the manifold that controls which tank you are getting fuel from.  That’s where Jay finally found what he was looking for….the reason the engine died.   We had simply miscalculated how much fuel we were using, and had run out of diesel in the port side tank.  Switching over to Starboard tank didn’t do any good, because by that time there was air in the lines and no pressure in the fuel line to bring fuel from our full right side tank.

That’s when Jay pointed out another feature of the Nanni/Mercedes that isn’t so great.  It only has one fuel pump.  Most modern diesels have a primary pump to draw fuel from the tanks and then a lift pump to get it up to high pressure to rune the engine.  If we had a primary pump, Jay says it would have drawn fuel from our Starboard tank once we opened the valve, and the engine would have self-bled and primed….and restarted for us.

Guess what we’re adding when we get back.

And Jay also said not to buy his lovely $175 marine lift pump. He says go to NAPA and buy a diesel pump for $30….and then buy a spare. It will say “not for marine use” on the box, but Jay says….It’s the same pump.  And it has a built in secondary filter too, all the better for keeping your diesel fuel clean.

So the moral of the story is, always help when someone needs it…you may be next. If you do have an issue on the Inside Passage….be near Shearwater and Jay.