Thursday, 27 August 2015

Bugger! A Busted Boat in Bundaberg.

August 22-25, 2015

The alarm went off in the dark at 5.00am and we dragged ourselves out of our bunk to prepare Our Dreamtime to go to sea at first light.  Ahead of us we had a 45 nautical mile (82klm) run across Hervey Bay to our planned anchorage in the Burnett River downstream from Bundaberg. The first order of business was coffee. We are both hardcore procaffeinators and can’t do anything until we’ve had a cup of wake up juice.

We then went through the tasks on our pre-departure checklist and were almost done when good mate Barry arrived to see us off and assist with our lines. In the early morning stillness it was hardly needed but none the less a much appreciated gesture. Our goodbyes done, the engine was warmed up and away we went in the pre-dawn half light just on the stroke of six.

The sun rose in the East as expected. Unfortunately the wind didn't but the swell did.
The forecast indicated a 10 to 15 knot Easterly early turning North Easterly during the morning which would be at roughly ninety degrees to our North Westerly course to the river mouth at Burnett Heads. As such we were looking forward to a nice square reach under sail once the wind came up. The first breeze we felt blew onto our backs from the South East and was just strong enough to keep our sails filled and give us a little one knot boost along as we motor sailed.

We assumed the wind would turn to its predicted direction as the sun climbed in the sky. Instead it stayed at our backs just off our port side and weakened to the stage we had to furl away the headsail and settle for what little push along we could get out of the mainsail and mizzen to aid the engine. What had increased and was coming square on from the North East was a one to one and half meter swell that had the boat rolling a little uncomfortably. That’s the way things stayed all the way through the morning. Oh joy!

Mid morning with aways to go but still no decent wind
By lunchtime the wind had actually dropped a little further while the swell had added another half metre. The sails were now doing very little to move the boat forward but did reduce the roll to a degree. Other than sighting a couple of whales in the distance, it was a totally boring passage. As we approached Burnett Heads the GPS showed our boat speed across the ground had dropped a knot from our usual 6-6.5knots under engine. The chart showed that significant counter currents can be experienced in the area so we put our slower progress down to pushing against the tide.

Bagara from the sea
Photos always flatten the sea and never capture the swell

We dropped our sails just outside channel into the river mouth and headed in closely passing a huge sea turtle that stared straight at us for what seemed like ages before disappearing below behind our stern. We selected a suitable spot to anchor for the afternoon and evening in the river just off the Port of Bundaberg Marina. There seemed no point in paying for a berth when we intended moving on again to Pancake Creek next morning.

Where we anchored in the Burnett River
Before settling in to relax and enjoy the smooth water after our bumpy ride, Rob did his usual post passage checks around the boat and below. He got a nasty surprise when he opened the engine room and discovered a mixture of oil and water in the drip pan under the engine. Investigation revealed the fresh water pump on the front of the engine had developed a leak. We have been unsuccessfully trying to find the source of a very minor oil leak for a while but the suddenly increased amount floating on top of the water and coolant mix that had leaked from the pump was cause for concern.

We went to straight to our spares locker and dug out our spare water pump but were dismayed to find we had no gasket to suit. We have a range of different gaskets in our collection but we had clearly overlooked a water pump gasket. As an emergency fix, Karen set about making one from a couple of layers of cardboard from a six pack of beer while Rob set about unbolting the offending item from the engine. We never got to find out how successful or otherwise Karen’s beer wrapping gasket would have been as no matter what Rob did after all the bolts and hose was removed, he could not get the leaking pump to separate from the engine. As tempted as he was to attack it with a lump hammer to break its grip, he decided the prudent thing to do was bolt it all back together, head into the marina in the morning and find a marine mechanic to do the job and hopefully also identify our oil leak.

We were both feeling a bit down about it all but hot showers all around,  followed by cold beers and an awesome feed of scallops and prawn mornay whipped together by Karen proved very uplifting as we enjoyed another sunset from our cockpit.

Food that's guaranteed to make you feel better.
Next morning, after Rob topped the water up in the cooling system, we started the engine and raised the anchor to move into a berth in the marina as planned. Then things didn’t go to plan. With the anchor off the bottom Karen engaged forward to hold us against the incoming tide but nothing happened. There was no propulsion and we began to drift upstream with the incoming tide. Rob immediately dropped the anchor back down and went below to investigate. This time in the engine room he found even more oil floating on the spilt water in the drip pan. A check of the hydraulic fluid in the transmission revealed there was only just enough to reach the bottom of the dip stick. The cause of that knot of lost speed the previous afternoon was now very clear. We poured in the litre of spare fluid we carry, refired the engine, engaged forward gear and the propeller pushed the boat forward perfectly. Whew! Back into neutral while we get the anchor up again and let’s go. No go! No drive. Same thing again. Back down went the anchor. Back to the engine room to find the fluid level was way low again.

OK so maybe it pumped the litre we topped up with throughout the gearbox and now it needed more. Except we had no more fluid on board. We only needed enough drive to move a hundred metres or so into the dock. In the hope that topping the transmission up again might provide drive for just long enough to do that, Rob decided to take the dinghy ashore and find some more hydraulic fluid – at a fairly remote marina on a Sunday. Yep better take one of our folding bicycles to go look for a service station.

We only had to get over there. So near yet so far.
As he reached the dock, a cruiser off one of the yachts in the marina was waiting. He’d seen the problems we were having and offered to drive Rob to the nearest service station about three kilometres away. That’s what you have to love about boaties. Offers of help are the norm. Thanks to our new friend, Geoff, we soon had another four litres of hydraulic fluid on hand and once more the trans was filled to the top mark on the dipstick.

Rob nervously started the engine again. We had drive in forward. We had drive in reverse. Karen took the helm and Rob raced to the bow to raise the anchor, but unfortunately in the short time it took to do that we were dead in the water again.

We dropped the pick once more and decided we needed a plan B. We’d use the dinghy and tow the boat over to the dock. With ten to fifteen knots of wind blowing this wasn’t quite as simple as it sounds but with Rob towing the bow with our dinghy and yet another of the boaties from the marina using his inflatable to push the stern over we were able to get it close enough for Karen to throw a line to more waiting hands on the dock. With the much appreciated assistance of a now growing band of helpers we were than able to man handle Our Dreamtime around into the first of the inside berths where we needed to be.

Our overnight anchored position at top and the berth we made it into below. Fortunately there was no boat on the outside of the marina finger at the time which made life a little easier.
And there she and we now sit until the very busy marine engineer here can get to us next week. Hopefully the problem can be fixed in situ but we couldn't find any leaking line or fitting. We suspect the transmission may have blown a front seal and will have to come out of the boat for repair. That would see us spending the next few weeks of our planned tropical cruising time here in Bundaberg.

Well we did say this is a shakedown cruise to find any problems and so far that plan is working well. Too damned well. Oh the joys of life on the water. Time to open a beer and a good book.

As we said in the initial blog about this trip to the tropics, it is a shakedown cruise, so in this blog of our northern adventure, we will continue to look at what we find works well for us, what doesn’t, what we do right and how we screw up. We hope you keep sailing along with us as part of our cyber crew and enjoy the ride.

What worked.

The willing assistance provided by other boaties. We would have been in trouble without them.

What didn’t work.

The weather forecast plus all the things mentioned above

What we did right.

Decided on a shakedown cruise this year instead of heading straight to New Caledonia.
Managed to get the boat secured in the marina where it can be repaired.

How we screwed up.

We carry a very extensive inventory of spare parts but assumed there was a gasket to suit the spare water pump when there was none.

Good night from the Port of Bundaberg Marina!

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  1. Oh bugger. Such is the cruising life I guess. We enjoy following your blog - hope to follow your wake in two years time. Fair winds. Ulysses.

    1. It is a bugger Ulysses but such is life. Spending a few weeks here is no great hardship. Better than still being in the office. We're sure the Whitsundays etc will still be there when we get going again. Glad you're enjoying the blog and good luck with getting underway yourselves. Cheers.


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