Saturday, March 8, 2014

Sailing Vessel Dulcinea Delivery - St Thomas, USVI to Galveston Texas

When I am asked to do a delivery I try to give a very conservative estimate.  I don't like it when I receive an estimate and it ends up being considerably more than I had expected.  So I estimated 20 days for this passage thinking it might actually take from 15 to 18 days.

I have done a LOT of deliveries in the past eight years and was pretty proud of the fact that, in spite of bad weather on a lot of passages, I had brought the boats in with almost no real damage.  This passage underlines the truth that the ocean is the master and that Murphy really will eventually execute his law.  When we left I was feeling really good about the condition of the boat.  The owners had taken good care of the boat and had just done a lot of the big jobs like replacing the standing rigging.

The delivery ended up taking 26 days and the boat had to be towed into port the last 70 miles.  I share this with you because, while hindsight might teach us a few things, the real lesson is that no matter how well you have prepared for an offshore voyage there will always be a few holes in your preparation and just as water will always find a way into a boat, weakness in the boat will come to light offshore.  As my very favorite offshore philosopher says,

"If it's gonna happen, it's gonna happen out there!"  Captain Ron

The vast majority of those 26 days were beautiful downwind sailing days, and my kids, EmilyAnne and Benny proved to be FANTASTIC crew.  Benny actually had blisters on his hands from hand steering when we arrived but had not complained once.  The Coast Guard small boat crew sent us a message over the radio telling me to tell my kids that they were VERY impressed with their professionalism.  When they showed up to help set up the tow with the big cutter Thetis, EmilyAnne was at the helm and Benny was assisting me on deck.  We were all in our harnesses of course but my kids showed no sign of worry as the boat was lifting and dropping in large, close interval seas with a 250 foot Cutter right beside us.  At one point one of the Coast Guard guys on the small boat yelled, "Do you guys need one of us to come on board to help set up the lines?"  Without even looking at me to find out my opinion Benny shook his head and said,  "No!  We Got it!"  The Coasty looked at the others and said, "He's a little man isn't he?"  They grinned and gave him the thumbs up.

The passage was filled with wonderful moments where Dolphins played in the bow wake and the full moon set while the sun rose over the water.  But it was also filled with moments of discomfort and stress as things broke on the boat or weather changed and brought bigger seas and winds.

I have obviously had a lot of questions about what happened out there so I just decided to post the actual report which I gave to the owners when I arrived.

Post Delivery Report and Suggestions


On the morning of the 12th sailing under reefed main (one reef in the main) with wind blowing off the starboard quarter at 16-18 knots we heard the Main rip.  It ripped straight across the sail.  I lowered the main and stowed it.  Damage - The main is ripped right across the sail and can be sewn with tape to repair but in my opinion, after inspecting the fabric, the sail does not have a lot of miles left on it if it is repaired.  It would be fine for daysailing but I would not trust it for extended offshore voyages.

We decided to push on for Galveston as the boat seemed to sail surprisingly well with her jib alone.  We also knew we had another jib as back up, and the engine if worse came to worse.

Engine Issues:

When we left St Thomas we motored just as far as Porpoise Rocks before we turned it off and began sailing.  Batteries were fine with just the wind Gen. and Solar but on the morning of the third day I decided to run the engine for a couple of hours to top up the battery bank.  The engine started up fine but within about 20 minutes it began to loose power.  I took it out of gear and the RPM picked up but after a few minutes it began to drop again until it finally stopped.  With Diesel engines a problem like this is almost always fuel, if it is not it is air, but that is rare.  I checked the air cleaner which was fine and I was then certain that it was a fuel issue.  Jim had told me that the filters had been changed just prior to our trip and that he had bought fuel for the journey at Crown Bay Marina.  I was certain that it would prove to be sludge from sitting or bad fuel from Crown Bay (which we had last year ourselves.)

I changed the Racor and the engine ran only a few minutes before quitting.  There did not seem to be a lot of dirt in the racor.  Jim mentioned the primary engine filter which had not been changed but he had spare filters on board.  I looked it up in the manual and attempted to get to it while in offshore conditions.  Because it is on the back wall of the engine compartment and  comes apart in pieces with small o-rings, it was not feasible for me to fix myself.

Now our situation was a little more challenging.  With no Mainsail the boat sailed well on all points of sail with the exception of close hauled.  The rest of our journey through the Caribbean was down wind but we did not know what we would meet for weather in the Gulf of Mexico.  The decision was made to pull in to Grand Cayman in order to have the engine repaired and possibly the mainsail sewn and the fuel polished.

In Grand Cayman the sail loft never even returned our calls.  The repair guy couldn't come until Monday but it was decided that I would work on the boat to try to fix it on Saturday.  I topped off the tank and noticed fuel seeping out of one of the screws where the sender is connected to the tank.  I replaced that screw, which was stripped with a new one.   I attempted to replace the primary filter but unable to see what I was doing back there and with my size and lack of mobility I was afraid that I might actually do more harm than good attempting to replace it.  I decided to wait for the mechanic monday.  I did go through the engine and tighten all of the areas where you bleed the system and having fixed the screw and doing that, the engine started right up and ran like a champ while sitting at the dock.  Monday the mechanic came, tested the fuel and determined it was good.  Changed the filter and we were good to go.


Upon our approach to Grand Cayman I noticed that the batteries were not charging up like they had been in spite of the sun being out and shining bright.  They would go no higher than 12.4.  I was concerned that they had been pushed too hard even though at nights they never got below 12.2V.  (We had stopped using the fridge when we realized we had no engine to charge.)

When I cleaned all of the stuff that was stowed on the battery area off in order to check them suddenly they began to charge fine.  I left the compartment open after that and had no more issues with the batteries themselves.

Engine Charging Issue:

After Grand Cayman I noticed one night that the red CHARGE light did not shift over to ACCEPT so I checked the alternator belt (Jim had mentioned that the RPM gauge dropped off sometimes,  we noticed this too and that had been the problem on my boat as well.)  I tightened the belt and that problem went away for a few days until the belt loosened again.

Engine Transmission Issue:

Upon leaving Grand Cayman, the wind was almost nonexistent and would prove to be that way for almost three days.  The engine was working great now though so we motored most of that time.    It worked well, sounded great and had no issues but after turning  it off for a day once the wind filled in, I started it in order to charge the batteries and it made a GOD_AWFUL screech.  I immediately shut it down, went below and opened the compartment.  I had Em start it up while I observed and as soon as it started it was obviously coming from the V-Drive.  She shut it down and I checked the oil in the tranny.  It was almost empty.  When I filled the tranny with oil, the sound stopped and the engine ran fine.  It had a seal leak or something and is leaking out almost all of the oil that is added and fairly quickly.

Jib Roller Reefing Line:

The jib was our POWERHOUSE for this trip and it performed REMARKABLY well.  I actually am in love with that sail.  But because it was our only means of propulsion it was worked a lot.  Reefed in and out constantly to control speed and keep the boat moving.  I admit that there were times where, had I had a reefed mainsail up as well I would not have carried as much sail on the jib, but because it was our sole means of movement we pushed it a little harder.  We were Always diligent to reef as winds increased though.

On the Night of the 5th the wind changed to NW and we were no longer able to sail toward Galveston.  We were forced into a situation where we would be close hauled for the next 48 hours or more so we tacked almost due west and came into the wind as close as she could go with no main.  The seas were HUGE and steep with only about a 3 to 4 second interval causing the boat to lift and slam a LOT.  The wind was blowing 20-22 apparent so about 16-18 True.  We were flying the little Tri-sail on the main track and the jib was reefed to about 2/3 its normal size ( it is a 110 working jib).  Suddenly Emily noticed the sail un roll all the way and the reefing line was loose.  I made my way to the bow (In these HUGE waves) and noticed that the problem was that the reefing line had chafed through where it went into the first block beyond the furler.  There was enough line left in the drum to roll it in part way by pulling the line right up on the bow but it could not be spliced with knots as there was not enough room in the drum for the knots to furl in.  We consulted with each other and decided that in that now 18-20 knots of wind the boat felt good and it was actually able to power through the waves better.  Before with it reefed it would almost stop as it came up against a wave.  We chose to leave the sail unreefed at that point.

Starboard Intermediate Standing Rigging Failure:

About 3 hours after the reefing line chafed through a sudden rogue wave which was noticeably bigger than the other already large waves came at the boat from a side angle.  It hit the boat on the starboard side (jib was pulled out to port.)  That wave filled the cockpit and completely drenched the guy at the helm.  The water rolled all the way over the deck, moved the dingy, which was strapped down all the way to the port side, knocked all of the fuel cans right out of their lines tying them to the board so they were still attached but lying flat now, and... as the wave rolled over the deck and the boat was knocked down to port the water from the wave filled the jib.  All of this happened in an instant, and when the boat came back up we noticed the broken rigging.  I immediately went forward, we rolled the sail all the way in and turned on the engine.  Upon inspection the rigging broke right where it goes into the turnbuckle under the spreader.  It might actually have just pulled out.  (On a side note, I do not know a lot about the rod rigging but when our rigger from St Thomas came by for a beer before we left he just noticed it and made the comment, "Ahhh Yeah, that rod rigging, ya never know when its gonna go you know?" )

We decided that the risk of loosing the mast was too great even to tack and use the sail on the other side of the rig so we decided to motor.  The engine started fine but did not have enough power to push the boat into the 20 knots of wind and those CRAZY seas.  We were only able to make 1.5 knots toward our destination.  I was also VERY concerned that we would run low on transmission fluid and I would not catch it in time to fill it and we would loose the transmission.

At this point, 70 miles offshore and to the west and knowing that we still had almost 48 hours of contrary wind anyway to get to Galveston and also considering that the whole are of the Gulf of Mexico where we were now adrift was pocked with rig platforms I determined that the only safe action was to call for a tow.

Tow Boat US was unable to come out 70 miles to get us so the US Coast Guard Sent two cutters, the Thetis and then the Heron to take us to the Galveston entrance where Tow Boat US picked us up and brought us the rest of the way.

The Small Stuff Damaged:

Spinlock holding the Jib Halyard - EXPLODED under pressure.  I noticed that all of the spinlocks are about that same age and one, the main halyards, is already broken in the same way.  I recommend you replace them all.

Small Pad-eye holding the Bimini down on aft port corner.  In 30+ knots of wind that pad-eye broke right at the screws.  I tied it down to the arch so we did not loose the Bimini.

Bow Light - While under tow with the first Coast Guard Cutter the tow line on one side must have caught on the light at one of the points where our boat was on the down of a wave and the cutter was on the up, it broke it beyond repair.

Wheel cover - The wheel cover was coming un-stitched at the bottom when we left St Thomas, there were other spots that were already worn through, Hand steering for over two weeks to Grand Cayman was its undoing.  By the time we go there it was falling off on the bottom.  I removed it as it was a hazard to steering.

Man-Overboard Pole - When we were in the worst of the cold front with winds blowing 30 to 35 the pole broke and was trailing behind the boat, we recovered it and strapped it beside the unit.

Other Issues that need attention:

Spinnaker pole - both ends are seized with corrosion and will not open.

Spinnaker - upon inspection of that sail I noticed that there are areas where the stitching is coming undone, if you were to raise it it would instantly blow.

Watermaker - The watermaker worked AWESOME the whole time.  It needs to be pickled as we stopped using it a few day ago due to the OIL IN THE WATER in the Gulf of Mexico.  Oil will ruin your membrane instantly.
Hatches and Ports - Several of these need new seals as they leak, the head hatch leaks very badly, the port over the port settee has a stripped locking nut so it will not tighten all the way, it leaks and the water leaks down the wall onto the settee.

These are the same hatches and ports I have on my boat and they are some of the VERY best made.  You can buy all parts and seals for them from Atkins and Hoyle online.

Over-all Impression of the Vessel:

Dulcinea is a GREAT offshore sailboat.  Very well built and comfortable offshore.  She is built with superior fittings and I would recommend her to anyone for true bluewater sailing.  She is just an old boat and will need constant care or a COMPLETE refit.  We were having these same issues offshore on our boat until we did a TRUE COMPLETE refit.

Captain Kristofer Burton

1 comment:

  1. Perfect example of the domino effect of multiple things going wrong. Glad it all worked out ok and y'all are safe. We are in St. John, but heading to BVI tomorrow to meet friends doing a charter, so we won't get to see you before you leave St. Thomas. Safe travels and we'll be following your journey.