To see as much of the world as we can,
Using the smallest carbon footprint we can,
Spending the least amount of money we can,
Making as many friends we can.

Team Red Cruising

Hubris? Or Shakedown Cruise?

Sell the house. Buy a boat. See the world. Is that just hubris? We have all the elements: an ambitious November sail which lead to an emergency tow back to the marina. Was it a vain hope that lead to a poor plan and a humiliating smackdown from Poseidon? How many ingredients do we have in the recipe for disaster?

It was a weekend with no major jobs. The sail covers had been modified. Other tasks could wait. It was time to take a little trip and be sure that things all worked. We hadn't been to Mobjack bay. The Severn river (Virginia, not Maryland — there are at least two Severn rivers) looked nice.

Ingredient One. The Severn River and Jackson Creek are, by water, perhaps 25 or 30 miles apart. Distance depends on how many times you tack. If we can keep the speed up to 5 kn, we can make it in a pleasant day of sailing. Getting to Deltaville at dawn and sailing until dusk is not prudent seamanship. Our plan was to push out of our slip at around 10-ish; that would leave us an hour or two of daylight to drop the hook. Piece of cake, right?

Ingredient Two. We left an hour or so to prep the boat, top off the fuel, pump out the holding tank and get going. This part of the plan fell apart immediately: the engine wouldn't start. Would. Not. Start.

It cranked, but wouldn't fire. Diesel engines are simple, and work on fuel, air and compression. If it turns, and is intact, we have compression. A cracked block will leak: something dribbling outside or extra fluids in the oil. If the engine compartment isn't under water we have air. So it's fuel.

The filters looked good, so what's left is air in the fuel line. Which leads us to an unplanned-for bleeding of the fuel line to get the air out.

Problem Solved, right? Hint. The Commodore asked why there was air in the fuel line. I blamed a recent filter change. However, after the filter change, the engine had worked. Perhaps the problem wasn't really solved.

Ingredient Three. We're working against the clock. We've spent all our pre-sail prep time just getting the engine started. What about fuel? Pump out the holding tank? Secure the dinghy on deck so we don't break the davits yet again? (See Gang aft agley, for more on this dinghy issue.)

Then we learned that putting 65 gallons of fuel in and taking 40 gallons of holding tank out takes close to an hour to finish.

And there were two bone-heads coming into the marina with no clue how to use their VHF radios or how to prepare dock lines. Two guys. Two boats. Not a hint. Hilarity Ensued. They sailed by shouting questions at us. We suggested they use their legally mandated VHF radio to call the marina office. The marina manager had to remind them more than once to prepare dock lines. How did they think they were going to come to a stop? Rather than try to get under way, we felt compelled to help these guys get their boats under some kind of control.

At this point the schedule is blown. Let's just sail around. It's blowing 15-20. And chilly. Problem solved, right?

Ingredient Four. It was delightful sailing. It was chilly and a little choppy, but we are able to put up 4 of the 5 sails we own. It was a real confidence builder because we hadn't ever hauled out that much canvas and splashed along at those speeds.

We had one fairly serious on-the-water problem: a "winch wrap", where a sheet gets twisted up on the winch. Winches only turn one way (so you can't unwind it) and there could be a ton of force on the line (so you can't slack it easily). [Not a figurative "ton", but a literal ton is possible. In this case, it was probably only a few hundred pounds.]

But I was able to rig a rolling hitch on the offending sheet using second winch and grind in some slack to the offending line. It was annoying because we were banging along at a really good clip and I couldn't enjoy the breath-taking speed because I was fussing around with lines and winches and rolling hitches and a jammed staysail.


Not really. Not yet. We anchored in Fishing Bay. As the crow flies, we're all of about 1/2 nm from our dock. Really. We sailed about 10 nm, but anchored just around the corner. (Our dock is approximately 37°32.95N 076°19.81W; our anchorage was about 37°32.45N 076°20.20W.)

Here's a Google Maps view of how close to home base we were.

Since our goal was 25 miles away, and we settled for 1/2 mile, is that the nemesis to our hubris? The humiliating defeat of being so close to home? I doubt it. The sunset was cyan and magenta in a color palette so shocking that I forgot to get out the camera. I was simply paralyzed by the beauty of the setting sun over Fishing Bay and the Piankatank. That's no nemesis.

More Hubris?

Since we were so close to home base, we decided to goof off utterly. Sleep in. Clean a little. Take the dinghy out for a spin. You know. Goof off.

After all, it's just like camping in a big fiberglass tent. And when you find a good campsite, why keep moving around? Settle in, make a second pot of coffee. Do a lot of nothing.

Is doing nothing for a day hubris? Perhaps.

This may have been our real downfall.

About 2-ish we decided that it was time to sail the three to four miles around Stove Point back to Jackson creek.

Ingredient Five. This is when the real problem hit, and hit hard. The top fuel filter bowl had a ¼ cup of water in the bottom. Time to drain the filter bowl. So I tried to drain it, and couldn't get fuel to flow. That means the filter's clogged. Okay fine. Be that way.

So I changed the filter and bled the fuel system. Note that a fuel filter change involves priming the fuel system by pouring fuel into the filters and lines. There cannot be any air. Also. I bled it yesterday. Why so much air in the fuel line? We're getting to that.

We rigged the deck washdown. Started the engine. Hauled in — and washed — the anchor and chain. Everything went fine for the first half hour or so. Engine ran perfectly. Perfectly.

Then the engine died.


Stone Dead

Our engine was lump of cold iron dead. And the breeze was light, possibly too light to sail all the way back by sunset. And we need to motor up Jackson creek. So, we need to drop the anchor and get the engine to work.

Okay. Remain calm. What could have gone wrong?

I just changed a filter. Maybe I didn't bleed it properly. It did start, but maybe it was something I did wrong.

For the next two hours we slaved away on the manual priming lever of the pump. We ran the starter until the voltage was down too low to trust more than one or two more cranks. We pumped and pumped the primer. We took turns pumping the primer.

We could not get fuel. Just a fizzy mess that can't be pressurized enough to make a diesel engine fire.

We finally called Tow Boat US (800-391-4869).


Was the humiliation of being towed the Nemesis to counter our Hubris?

Just at sunset, Capt. Johnny showed up and dragged us back to Jackson Creek. Under the moonlight. In calm waters. It was delightful. It was a lesson in the beauty of the river at night as well how to navigate after dark. How can this be our nemesis? It was a pleasant, professional and very pretty tow. And it cost us nothing more than our Boat US membership fee.

This can't be a nemesis. It worked out very nicely. It was late and dark and little scary, but Captain Johnny was all crisp professionalism and helpful advice. And friendly. And he spent his Sunday evening with us.


Monday morning finds us tied to the fuel dock at Deltaville Marina. After a drive to Norfolk to get work computers; and a long drive back. We're in the lounge, using the Wifi and our cell phones heavily. More importantly, we're creating no end of problems because the fuel pump is inaccessible behind the inert bulk of Red Ranger. Deltaville Boatyard sent Mack out to diagnose and solve our problem.

Mack found that it wasn't anything we could have dealt with simply at sea. First, the little insert sleeve for the bleed screw on our secondary fuel filter was cracked and leaking. Second, the valve on the output side of our top primary fuel filter was leaking air.

The 30-year-old bronze fitting had cracked. ("Chinese bronze," Mack said, disparagingly.) He was able to more-or-less isolate the top filter and bleed the system until it worked perfectly again. We no longer have redundant primary filters. This means that we're now looking a complex replacement to install a Parker|Racor Marine 75500MAX Fuel Filter/Water Separator.

Is this complex replacement the nemesis for our hubris? Is this the price we pay?

I don't know that it's a price. First, we already wanted to do it. Second, it replaces a complex, old system with a newer, simpler system. Third, it gives us an excuse to rip out the aft air conditioner and greatly simplify the wiring and plumbing associated with that. So, I think it's nothing but good.

Indeed, all it really did was change our schedule for the upgrade from next year to ASAP. I'd call it simply a shakedown cruise that identified something that needed to be replaced.