Back in the Good Olde U.S.A.

While most of this winter’s weather has been nicer than average (warm, hardly any rain, no squalls), the March winds have been a challenge.  Between our engine repairs & the winds, we have made only baby steps on our journey back to Florida. Once in the northern Abacos, we needed a 2-day low-wind window to make our last 175 miles to Florida.  Just as crossing over, the Gulf Stream in the Atlantic is the biggest challenge crossing back.  If there is or has recently been any northerly winds over 10 knots, the swells can build to 50% higher than the normal wind waves due to the Gulf Stream’s 3-knot northerly flow.  Waiting at Green Turtle Cay the Florida offshore forecast often read: NW winds 15 – 20, waves 3′ – 4′, with 4′ – 6′ in the gulfstream – occasional to 8′.

After a week at Green Turtle Cay, we were ready to go!  Packages  were waiting, dentist appointments scheduled & a supermarket! A 2-day window opened up, closed, then opened up again. A new complication this year is Bahamas Customs & Immigration – while you always have had to clear into the country, a new requirement is clearing out.  Not a hardship except there are very limited Customs offices (near the water – mostly at airports). We had been staying at the Green Turtle Club Marina mostly due to a temporary (after Hurricane Dorian) Customs office here, although limited hours & only Monday – Friday.  When I attempted to clear out on Friday for a Sunday departure, I was told that was not proper as the minute we cleared out, we could be subject to arrest if we were to even “step on land”.  Friday’s wind was too much to leave in or to anchor out nearby.

So … Monday AM we (& 2 other cruisers) patiently waited outside the Customs door, hoping & praying the Customs official arrived on the 9:00 ferry.  Yes!  In only a few minutes, we were cleared out & rushed to untie our lines & get underway.  Grrrr … one of the other cruisers told me that over 8 other boats had disregarded the laws, had cleared out on Friday, yet had a grand time walking around Green Turtle all weekend & were able to leave 2 hours before we were.  Are all immigration laws now optional??

Under the category “It’s always something”, we somehow managed to snag a tree with our anchor on our way to Green Turtle Cay

Up anchor at dawn, continuing onto Florida

All in all, our crossing back worked out fairly well & our record remains intact – “Never a bad crossing” (although parts of this one were on the cusp of bad)!  Whew!!

A proper welcome to Florida! This guy was one of a dozen who welcomed us!

We will be in Vero Beach for an extremely busy week or so, then onward north!

Redneck Repairs in Eleuthera

It was bound to happen someday … a serious mechanical breakdown, but did it really need to happen in the Bahamas? For a day or two prior, we thought we smelled an exhaust smell underway, but not unusual when the wind blows from behind us. I checked the engines several times with nothing seeming amiss.

Obviously, I didn’t look closely enough! It’s hard to tell how long it had been this way, but this gap opened up, allowing exhaust gases to leak out.  Not too serious … unless you know how a marine exhaust system with a lift muffler works.  Unlike a car’s exhaust, seawater gets mixed with the exhaust once it leaves the engine to keep the exhaust hoses cool.  That causes a multitude of complications, but a modern answer for most boats is the lift muffler.  Without going into extreme detail, the seawater travels downward into the muffler & is then “lifted” up & out overboard with & powered by the exhaust gases.  See where I’m going? With reduced exhaust gases, the lift muffler can’t expel the water & it backs up into the engine.  Bad?  Yes, potentially $30,00 bad.

On the left is what’s left of the old machine screws & gasket. On the right making gaskets & making flathead machine screws.

The first order of business was to eliminate the saltwater sitting in the engine cylinders & get the engine running.  Saltwater (for even a day or two) could cause severe damage.  The process is fairly straightforward – remove the fuel injectors & turn over the engine to expel the water. Wow! Expel it did!  While only a few ounces, the water shot out everywhere, even up to the ceiling.  Clean up, re-assemble, then drain the water from the lift muffler, leaving the plug out so it will drain into the bilge & not backup into the engine.  Start ‘her up – yeahh!! – she ran fine!

We can’t let the exhaust water drain into the bilge for more than a few minutes & we still have almost 300 miles before we reach the U.S.  Do we limp back on one engine?  Temporarily fixing the exhaust leak could be simple … but … no.

Success! 3 long days later, I was finally able to extract the 2 broken & 1 mangled screws from the end of the turbocharger with just 7″ of working room, only visible with a mirror.  Replacement metric screws … in the Bahamas?  Got close, but not flat head, so I turned them into flat heads with a Dremel.  No replacement gaskets? I luckily found some high temp gasket material at a gas station.
A Spanish Wells fishing boat leaving the harbor with it’s “ducklings” – they tow these small boats over a hundred miles to their lobstering grounds where they split up each day to cover a larger fishing area.

On day 5 we were finally able to depart Spanish Wells, Eleuthera, fuel up & begin our trek back to Florida.  We had originally planned on heading west to The Berrys, then crossing back, but south winds & waves made it prudent to head north to the Abacos, then across. The engine operates fine, but it looks like we’ll have a week or more delay in the Abacos for lots of windy weather on the way (again).