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Friday, October 15, 2010

10/15/2010 - Half Moon Bay to Port San Luis

It was absolutely beautiful when we left Pillar Point Marina day before yesterday at about 1:30 PM. It was actually kind of hot. Hot enough that some of the locals, like the guy at the fuel dock, were complaining about it. We managed to get out of our slip and look like we knew what we were doing. The boat actually backed where I wanted her to instead of wherever she pleases. As we rounded the end of F dock, a local, who had been out sailing that morning, told us that the winds were 10 knots, although he didn't say from where, and that there were 8' swells and fog. I briefly contemplated turning back and waiting for better conditions but then decided, "What the heck? It's beautiful right now so let's go for it." . And so we did.

The swells were definitely not 8'. I've known 8' swells and you, sir, are not one. The seas were maybe 2-3 feet and spread very far apart, making for a really pleasant ride. The sun was shining and everything was jake. Well, not everything. Because we weren't on any kind of deadline, we figured this would be the perfect leg of the trip to try our hands at sailing. At first there was NO wind. I even stopped the boat to check and the burgee and the ensign hung limp. So, with the main up to steady the boat, we motorsailed on.

Way up ahead we could see a fog bank but, optimists that we are, we were pretty sure it would dissipate by the time we reached it. Yeah, that's how it should be. Well, our beautiful clear skies lasted until about 6:00 PM when we entered the fog bank that refused to dissipate. Now, sailing in fog is a drag for several reasons. The most obvious ones are that you can't see anything and no one can see you. But what really makes a watch tiring in the fog is having to blow this thing for 5 seconds every 2 minutes:

I found out that our new VHF radio has a feature that can send a fog signal automatically but, for that to work, I'd have to order an outside speaker (a loud hailer) and mount it on the mast. Obviously, I haven't done that yet. Don't know if I will. Do they have fog in Mexico? So, we just blew our horn as often as we estimated 2 minutes to be. We never heard or saw another souls throughout the remainder of the trip (which was foggy all the way) but I guess it's better to be safe than sorry.

The wind actually started coming up some in the late evening. However, as is our usual luck, it was coming right out of the SE. Which direction do you think we were sailing? Now, even though we had some time to kill, I couldn't see any good reason to kill it by beating to weather. Didn't much matter as two hours later we were cruising along on a windless mill pond once again.

Except for the lack of favorable winds and the fog, it was a really easy trip. The seas never got particularly rolly or uncomfortable. We had bigger, more annoying swells anchored at Angel Island when the high speed ferries roared past. Lulu was actually able to sit down below and read or crochet without suffering. Of course, we were both sporting scopolamine patches.

We eventually settled in to a 3 hours on/3 hours off watch schedule. By the end of 3 hours we were usually pretty sleepy and a wee bit chilly. But worst of all, 3 hours is just about as long as a body can sit in our cockpit using our crappy cushions. Lulu now has a new task: make us a couple of comfortable cockpit cushions. We were both able to read during our watches, looking up every couple of minutes to see if any thing had entered our 100' field of vision and to sound the horn. Having AIS aboard helped since, although we could still get run over by a fishing boat, at least we'd have a fighting chance of avoiding the big tankers and cargo ships.

Sunrise on Thursday found us a little south of Pt. Sur although we couldn't see it for the fog. By the time evening rolled around we were off of San Simeon. Couldn't see it either. The only respite we got was that, for a very brief time, the fog lifted a little and we could see how far offshore we were. Most of the trip we were 3-5 miles off. The furthest we got was when we skirted Monterey Bay, putting us 20 miles away from Moss Landing.

We saw a little more sea life than we usually do this trip. There were jellies, sea lions, birds, of course, and I even got to see a mola-mola, a sunfish. We were approaching a coupe of birds and there was something sticking up out of the water. I figured it was a piece of kelp as we'd seen lots of it that looked just like this. But, when we passed it, (and it was right off our starboard side - didn't even have to change course) the piece sticking up as a fin and attached to that fin was a fairly small mola-mola. It was about the size of a dinner plate. It waited until I got a good look and then swam away. Once we got anchored in Port San Luis, I saw a couple of southern sea otters floating around on their backs.

One of the pages on our GPS tells us things like the estimated time of arrival at each waypoint based on current speed, and assuming you sail the rhumb line and don't tack back and forth across it. We wanted to get to Port San Luis (near San Luis Obispo) sometime mid-morning on Friday. A look at our ETA page showed that we were going to get there too early, like 3:30 AM. Not wanting to enter another strange port in the dark and not wanting to cruise around in circles once we got there, we opted to just slow down. Normally I like to run the engine at 2200 rpms. This time we dropped to 2000, then 1900, then 1800 and ultimately to 1500 just to keep us from arriving before 7:00 AM.

Finally it was light enough to enter port. There's no marina at PSL but there are 2 places we could tie up to a mooring ball at $10/night, or we could anchor for free between he Avila Pier and The Cal Poly Pier. The mooring area looked sort of crowded so we opted to anchor. And that's when things started to go downhill a bit.

We were easing up to where I wanted to drop anchor. Lulu was on the helm and I was on the foredeck. As we approached the spot, I told Lulu to go to neutral/idle so we could coast to a stop. When she shifted, the engine died. I tried to restart it but it acted just like the batteries were almost dead. I've said it before and I'll say it again: WTF? Well, nothing to do except get that anchor down. We were in 30' of water in a designated anchoring area so that was all good. However, with no noticeable current running and absolutely no wind, I didn't want to just lower the anchor and then load a pile of chain on top of it. I let out about 90' and then waited until the chain was no longer hanging straight down, at which time I lowered another 30' or so. Since we couldn't back down on our anchor to set it (no engine, no wind), we just had to hope the Rocna was going to be worth its price and just go ahead and bury itself. By mid-afternoon, we were convinced that the anchor was holding so I attached the snubber and let out another 20' of rode. Looking now at the GPS, I can see that we are firmly attached to the bottom as our path describes a nice arc around a central point.

But back to the engine. I tried every battery combination I could but all I got was a single partial revolution and then a gasp. It was acting for all the world like the house batteries were too low to turn it over. How could that be? We'd been motoring along all night and the alternator was pumping out juice the whole time. Well, maybe not the whole time. My current hypothesis is that, with the engine turning only 1500 rpms, the alternator wasn't going fast enough to do much generating. This theory also explains why, even though we had a surplus of 40-some amp-hours when I checked it during the evening, we had a 0.2 amp-hour deficit when we arrived. With the alternator running we aren't quite as careful about our electricity use. So, besides the usual draws: running lights, autopilot, VHF radio, Airhead exhaust fan, refrigerator, etc., we also left lights on, charged the phones, etc, figuring that the alternator would take care of us. Lesson learned.

Once the anchor was set and I was pretty confident that we weren't dragging, I pulled the Honda generator out and fired it up so we could use the Xantrex charger, along with the solar panels, to get everything back up to snuff. Ran the charger for 2 or 3 hours but, even though all the indications were that all batteries were charged up, they still wouldn't turn the engine over. Occasionally I would try jumping straight from the house bank buss to either the starer solenoid or the starter motor. Sometimes the solenoid clicked and the motor whirred and sometimes they didn't. Now I'm suspecting a poor ground path. My friend, Rod (s/v Terrapin) was thinking along the same line and gave me a nice little to-do list to sort things out. In true cruiser fashion, I'll get to it maƱana.

But wait! There's more. When I climbed down into the engine compartment, I noticed it looked kind of grungy and the deck was REALLY slippery. Motor oil! I checked the engine and the level on the dipstick was just as it had been when we left. That leaves the transmission. I checked it and the level didn't even register on the dipstick. It holds about a quart and I added about 1/2 quart which brought the level up where it was supposed to be. But how did the oil escape? The dipstick was firmly in place, there is no filler cap (you fill it via the dipstick hole), the drain plug is still in place. My first thought was a blown seal. Well, the front of the transmission is bolted up directly to the motor so, even if there was a leaky seal there, the oil still couldn't escape the housing. That leaves the hole where the drive shaft exits the housing. I felt around but it didn't look like this place was particularly oily and the pats breakdown doesn't even reference a seal.

So, I sprayed everything down with some Simple Green and I'll deal with it tomorrow. Or the next day. Hey, we may be forced into becoming sailors.

In anticipation of going ashore to meet up with our nephew, Thomas, we assembled the dinghy and lowered it into the water. Ever the optimist, I hung the outboard on the transom. Well, I pulled and pulled on that starter cord and guess what? It started!! And then died, but still.... Eventually I got her running nicely again. Now I figured I'd be slick and use the dinghy to pull the boat backwards to set the anchor just in case it wasn't really set. What a hoot! There is NO WAY this little dingy/motor combination is going to get Siempre Sabado moving. Especially if the anchor is set. Every time I thought I was in position, like a yoyo I'd get yanked back. You'd think that, if you could just keep the dinghy aimed straight away from the mothership, she'd eventually start to move. Uh-uh. Instead, you get to the end of the rope, the motor is running and the dinghy wants to go somewhere. Instead of just sitting there churning up the water, she starts going off at an angle and eventually ends up crashing into the side of Siepre Sabado. So, that plan went out the window. Turns out it doesn't matter anyway as we're both convinced the hook is set.

Port San Luis is very pretty from the water. Tomorrow we'll see what she looks like from land.

And we have free wifi right at the boat! Life is good.

PS: I didn't have time to proofread this so be nice.


2ndreef said...

Steve, I too am thinking the ground for the battery problem. As for tranny oil, could there be a venting cap or tube on the trans? No reply necessary. We're just glad you're farther south and safe. Enjoy the rest.
Bill & Robin

Anonymous said...

Steve & Lulu: I was wondering, does your body get use to the sea so you won't have to take those pills? I am glad your trip is going so well. Take care, good luck and good sailing. Love to both of you - Nancy

Curt said...

Sounds like possibly two problems: 1)a leak to ground draining the battery 2)a bad connection to (or from) the starter. A little corrosion on a battery post or engine connection will act like a big resistance at 150 amps. Disconnect everything from the positive post of your starting battery, hook up an ammeter and then connect each load one at a time through the ammeter to see which one is draining the battery.

Jay Bietz said...

Steve: I would think that at 1500RPM your alternator should be able to produce plenty of output to charge batteries. When you have a slip somewhere, maybe it's time to pull the wiring apart and isolate each element one at a time to find the issue.
Stay safe
Jay Bietz

Curt said...

I had breakfast and thought about this a little more. Question: Which battery does your charge relay charge first? If it's the starting battery, then there's a possibility that would explain both the battery drain and the apparent low charging output of the alternator: one or more of the diodes on the alternator output is shorted, or at least conducting in the wrong direction. This is less common than an open diode, but can happen. Could be corrosion between the diode case and the lead from the stator coil, but could also be internal damage to the diode. Also, which battery is the voltage regulator connected to? If it's connected through the charge relay, and is faulty, it could be draining the start battery and also causing a low alternator output. (Of course if your charge relay charges the house bank first, then this is a red herring.) Also I wonder about the Link 20, which seems to be giving contradictory information--maybe it has problems, and doesn't know how to ask for help. Do you have any way to compare its actual current draw to published specs? Do you have access to cold beer where you're at, or is keeping the fridge going more of a priority?

Steve and Lulu said...

RE: electrical issues: Everybody seems to be heading down the same road. After we visit with our nephew today, my next move is to remove, clean and reassemble every connection from the engine ground all the way back to the battery. Then I'll remove the starter and clean the mating faces on it and the engine block. Hopefully that'll be enough to get the engine starting again and maybe solve the starting battery charging issues as well. Then I can start tracing down whatever may or may not be trying to drain the batteries.

And, then I just have to figure out where the oil came from and how I'm going to fix it.


Steve and Lulu said...

We must be getting somewhat used to the motion because when we were at Angel Island the passing ferries made the boat rock A LOT but it didn't make either of us sick. I'm sure there will come a time when we don't need meds anymore. Certainly hope so.


Steve and Lulu said...

All of my charging sources go straight to the house bank and it's also got top priority on the charging relay.
The Link 20 may be problematic but, if the "bad ground" theory holds, that alone should be enough to cause my problems even if the batteries are all topped off. I think.


Steve and Lulu said...

As to cold beer, we have plenty on board and the fridge is running fine. I can still charge the batteries with the solar panels and, if that doesn't do the trick, I can supplement with the Honda generator (which started on the first pull yesterday).


Steve and Lulu said...

Just looked at the blog and I see I inadvertently inserted 2 pictures of the horn and none of Port San Luis. Have to see if I can remedy that.


Anonymous said...


We moved Terrapin all the way across Banderas Bay with our inflatable and our 2 hp Honda. Here's the trick: Tie the dinghy alongside amidship just as you would properly tie your yacht to a dock (a bow line, stern line, and spring lines for the dinghy, as well as fenders if needed). Start the engine, set it full throttle, and go. You'll be amazed how well it works, and you won't even need to stay in the dinghy if it's a lengthy trip.

S/V Terrapin

Steve and Lulu said...

Thanks Rod. I've read about people doing that and, as I sat here looking at the dinghy tied alongside, I was thinking about doing the very same thing. Matter of fact, when I first got the OB running yesterday, she was tied alongside just as you describe. Since this motor has no neutral, the dinghy wanted to go forward. Siempre Sabado's tiller was over and we started turning in a big circle so I know it can be done. At this point it depends on how my "ground cleaning" goes tomorrow. If it looks like we're going to be here awhile we may either move to a mooring or at least anchor a little closer in. And if you moved Terrapin with a 2 hp outboard, our 3.5 hp should practically get Siempre Sabado up to hull speed.