Engineless

I am still surprised by the confusion that emanates from others when I mention that we’ll be departing their island soon.  Of course, they know that Illusion‘s main engine is not functional, so that helps to explain it – I tell them that we’ll sail to the next island. It is a sailboat…

Have sail, will travel...
Have sail, will travel…

But the dependency on an engine is widespread, and very valid. I’ve read stories about fishermen who head out to sea for a day, but are discovered (some, usually not all, alive) in a completely different part of the world, having drifted for months, 8 months in one case – without an engine. This sort of tragedy prompted a new rule that Mexican fishermen were required to have an auxiliary outboard engine, 10hp or more, on their boat before heading out to sea. I was cruising their Pacific coast when that rule came into effect and the cruising community noticed a huge increase in dinghy engine thefts to supply this new market requirement.

But sailboats…

In my previous years of cruising, we’ve always depended on having an engine: coming into ports, through reefs, anchoring, departing anchorages, charging the batteries, or simply motoring through calm winds to maintain an average speed somewhat above 0.00 knots.  I’ve had a few engine failures, such as bad alternator bearings, the starter motor seized from salt water kicked up by the flywheel after our PSS “Dripless” shaft seal leaked, etc. But in every case, it was fairly easy to replace the bad parts and continue depending on an engine for whatever reasons came up while underway.

Arriving in Tahiti, without an engine...
Arriving in Tahiti, without an engine…

For this trip, Illusion’s engine has not been used for about 2500 nautical miles (each nautical mile, nm, is 1.852 km or 1.15 statute miles), not quite 5000 km. We lost use about about mid-way between New Zealand and Rapa, possibly after huge crashing waves landed over the mid-section of the deck where the diesel tank vent line is located. I’m speculating that somehow this must have forced a lot of water through the vent line and into the fuel tank.  Exact timing is difficult to know, since the engine ran for a while and we sailed for almost a week afterward without need of the engine. For those who don’t know, water in a fuel injection pump is very bad; it also ruins the injectors (one in each cylinder), rendering the engine useless. After struggling to remove, then repair the injector pump, I finally gave up on having an engine for the rest of this journey.  Since then we’ve made reasonable progress north, but much later than planned so a Vancouver arrival this season is unlikely.  Port entries and exits have been unusually time consuming and stressful. I imagine, too, that the channel traffic (numerous boats, canoes, dinghies, etc) in Tahiti was somewhat annoyed by our slow departure: tacking back and forth in light wind, across the channel, turning seconds before the pretty green color indicating the reef ahead. Though they may have just been taking bets on whether we would run aground or not…

Arriving at Nuku Hiva, without an engine...
Arriving at Nuku Hiva, without an engine…

Another 2500nm and we’ll be in Hawaii, probably the resting point until another season. This passage will be interesting since it crosses the Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), an east-west band, roughly directly below the sun, where almost all the transpiration (and cloud formation) occurs. In this area, there is very little wind and almost no waves. Illusion crossed it south-bound in 1999 and we managed to pick a narrow region of only 125nm, sailing across in only a few days. Very peaceful, with amazing, huge clouds, creating stunning sunrises and sunsets. One of my favorite places on earth! However, I had friends who crossed at a wide patch that year, didn’t want to use their engine, and spent about 10 days floating in about the same place, sometimes drifting backward.

If I can make it from Nuku Hiva, in the Marquesas, to Hawaii in two weeks, then I will have picked my ITCZ crossing well.  If not, then maybe it will be three weeks…  This is sailing, after all!

Route out of current bay, soon to be sailed, without an engine....
Route out of current bay, soon to be sailed, without an engine….

*See also Engine Drama and Engine Trouble for more details about trying to fix the engine.*

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