Tuesday 6 February 2018

Your boat craves love and attention too – ignore her at your peril.

A short trip in Moreton Bay revealed that Our Dreamtime was yet to forgive us for leaving her while we ventured overseas.

Our Dreamtime spent much of 2017 tied to the dock while we headed off on our jaunt sailing the Greek Isles as flotilla leaders for Greek Sails on the island of Poros. (See that story HERE.) We prepared her for our absence as well as possible and had friends check on her regularly while we were gone. They even ran the engine for a while on their visits. Regardless, she still looked a little forlorn when we returned with a layer of bird droppings everywhere and growth along the waterline. We immediately began all the work we had intended to do over the winter before we were waylaid by the opportunity to get paid to sail in beautiful Greece.

Our Dreamtime spent most of 2017 tied to this pontoon appeared to resent being left alone.

A number of weeks passed by the time we serviced all our sails, refitted them and the running rigging, cleaned the boat from bow to stern above and below decks etc, etc. Then it was time to finally throw the lines off and move her from the private pontoon in Raby Bay she’d been laid up at back to our usual Brisbane base at East Coast Marina in the Manly Harbour.

Our host John waves us off as we head for Manly Boat Harbour.

The Sunday afternoon trip didn’t go well. As we left the dock, we immediately realised the engine was not producing the drive it should. As the transmission was completely overhauled not long ago, Rob immediately suspected our feathering prop was probably fouled with marine growth reducing its efficiency. Never the less, we could manoeuvre so we continued. No sooner had we reached the main channel out from the canals then the motor died.

There was a 15-20 knot breeze but we weren’t set up for raising sail yet so rather than risk being blown into the shallows we dropped anchor just outside the channel while Rob investigated. A quick bleed of the fuel system to remove an air lock had the engine running again and after raising the anchor complete with a few cubic metres of black, sticky mud we were back underway. As soon as we cleared the channel, the genoa was unfurled and we ran north downwind before the stiff breeze towards Manly.

Heading north under headsail. 

To reduce the likelihood of the engine stopping again when we needed it most, we re-bled the fuel system just before entering the channel to Manly Harbour. We had been allocated a reasonably tight, inside berth in the marina and, with the wind still up over 15 knots, we weren’t keen on the prospect of losing power while we were trying to manoeuvre in confined space.  Our Dreamtime’s long, full keel is beautiful in open water but she handles like a barge in close quarters.

We negotiated our way in through the breakwaters and proceeded to East Coast Marina where we entered our alley and began the hard turn to port towards our pen. That was the exact moment we lost all rudder control with 15+ knots of wind blowing beam on. Karen was on deck ready to step off with the mooring line as Rob yelled to her that he had no steering and the bow blew sideways past our pen and towards other moored boats.

Fortunately there was a tight space on the main finger and controlling Our Dreamtime’s sideways progress with judicious application of forward and astern power we blew gently alongside with less than a metre clearance fore and aft to the motor boats each side. Bow, stern and spring lines were quickly secured and we both stepped back looking around and trying to work out what the hell just happened. First action was to grab a couple of cold beers for the frazzled crew and a little sit down for our heart rates to settle.

We took this shot of our impromptu berth before moving next morning. It was a bit short of space fore and aft.

On investigation we found a hydraulic line to the rudder had burst under our bunk in the stern spreading hydraulic fluid everywhere and instantly disabling the steering. Oh joy! Between this, the engine cutting out and the severely reduced drive being delivered by the prop we were getting the feeling Our Dreamtime was not happy and punishing us for leaving her behind while we flitted off to Greece.

With a couple of long lines and the assistance of the marina staff with their dinghy, we manoeuvred the ketch into our berth the next morning and began repairs. The clean up revealed the hydraulic line had been lightly touching the hull but over the ages it had worn though the casing developing a weak spot that chose that critical moment to burst. We had a replacement line made up, fitted it then faced the fun of bleeding air out of the lines. Unfortunately the Whitby boat works never included bleed nipples in the Hynautic steering system so all we could do was try to crack the fittings open and bleed things there as well as possible. After a number of goes  repeatedly topping up and re-pressurising the fluid reservoir, the rudder was moving lock to lock again at the behest of the wheel.

Then it was Bumble Bee our 14 month old inflatable dinghy that became the petulant one. We had stored it at Karen’s parents place while we were away but it had developed a leak and was now a sorry sight. We used our tried and proven repair process (Read about that HERE ) and had it pumped up and rock solid in an afternoon. We then left it there ready for transporting back to the boat. Karen’s Dad rang us the next day to tell us it was flat as a tack again. When we returned and tried to pump it up we found about 30 cm (12 inches) of a seam on the starboard pontoon had come unglued. We spent a day reglueing it then laying a patch right over the spot, letting it all set properly and then re-inflating. The soapy water test indicated it was air tight and all good. A couple of days later we got another phone call. You guessed it, flat again. Another trip out to see what was wrong this time revealed the seam we’d repaired was perfect but another had released in a different spot. 

We hardly needed the soapy water test to see our 14 month old inflatable was falling apart in front of our eyes.

OK that’s it. Time to go back to the boat, tear the Nav Station apart to find the warranty card which confirmed our memory that the dinghy had come with a three year guarantee. We then fired off an email with photos to the online company we’d bought it off hoping for the best but expecting far less. It took a bit of to-ing and froe-ing over a couple of weeks but they eventually acknowledged the glue in that batch of dinks may have not been up to tropical conditions and said they now used a superior heat bonding method on the seams. They then shipped us a brand new replacement which was a pretty good win for us.

In the meantime Rob had spotted a three metre aluminium dinghy with 8hp Yamaha outboard for sale at an attractive price and we grabbed it as Our Dreamtime’s new tender. No more air leaks to worry about and the 8hp motor is a lot lighter than our existing 15hp Mercury to lift and handle. We now plan to sell the new inflatable and Mercury.

Our new tender 'Tinnie To"prior to fitting a protective bumper all around and her attachment points for the davits.

So with that all overcome and Christmas fast approaching when our kids and their families would be on holidays, we started planning  some early January trips out in Moreton Bay of a few days at a time to have some of them on board. But Our Dreamtime wasn’t finished punishing us for neglecting her yet.

The week before Christmas, we were doing a few checks in the marina with the motor running when a loud screaming noise began in the engine room. A bearing in the main alternator had seized. We unbolted it and had to an auto-electrician the next day but when his report came back it wasn’t good news. The internals had been damaged when the bearing locked up and it wasn’t practical to repair. A search on the internet found that the alternator originated in Seattle in the U.S.A. but we couldn’t find any Australian stockist. The U.S. company didn’t return any of the emails we tried over the next couple of days so we gave up on that avenue.

One dead alternator.

With most businesses now closing for the holidays, our sailing with the family was now looking doubtful. We had bought a brand new alternator of a different brand cheap at a clearance sale as a possible spare some time previously but it needed different mounts and had no pulley. Enter Karen's father, Trevor, with a wealth of old school skills. In his backyard he manufactured a new bracket to suit and machined the pulley off the old alternator to fit the new one. If we’d been able to source the steel he required to make a custom nut needed to secure the pulley we would have been mobile. Unfortunately all the suppliers closed for two weeks and the boat stayed on the dock again, but not for the want of trying this time.

Karen's father, Trevor, turned this lump of steel into a bespoke nut to make our old alternator's pulley usable on the new one.

When the steel suppliers re-opened after the break we got a lump of 50mm round steel bar and Trevor jumped on his lathe to machine up a new nut to fit the altered pulley. He arrived at the marina with the alternator, mounts etc and everything bolted straight in with the drive belts in perfect alignment. Our Dreamtime was running again. Never knock the old guys. They can do magic. Thanks a million Trevor!!!!!!!!

One brand new alternator fitted courtesy of old school wizardry.

So the good news was that we had a mobile boat once more. That bad news was that through the middle of January, Rob was booked up pretty solid back doing television for the 400 Thunder Drag Racing series. Well good for the bank account maybe but bad for any plans to go sailing. So Our Dreamtime sat on the dock a little longer.

Rob back in front of the camera earning some cruising funds

With Rob’s commitments fulfilled for the time being, we got serious about getting the boat ready to sail again. For the third year running, a special guest, Emily, was flying over from Washington DC to spend some time sailing with us. Emily is a delightful young lady we hosted as a Rotary Exchange Student back in 2004. She is now a Medical Professional and loves returning to visit her Rotary families and has taken a particular liking to sailing with us. We really wanted to make sure everything was ship shape for her visit.

Our Rotary Exchange daughter Emily is always a welcome guest on board and we wanted to make sure everything was ready for her latest visit.

We decided on having three day outing to Moreton Island over the Australia Day holiday weekend as a sea trial before Emily joined us. We could buddy sail with good friends Bob and Lyn on Whoosh which is always a lot of fun. The clear water over there would also be the perfect place for Rob to free dive under the boat to scrape growth off the propeller. He wasn’t keen to do it in the marina due to the lack of water clarity and the presence of bull sharks which are known to be aggressive at times.

Our new tender ‘Tinnie To’ was fitted with a bumper strip right around to protect the yacht’s paint when she’s alongside the hull and had lift points added to suit the davits. She hangs off the stern very securely now. The yacht’s fuel and water were all topped up, copious food and drinks loaded on board and we were ready to go.

We cast off the lines late Thursday afternoon for what should have been a very short trip across to Green Island where we would anchor for the night before continuing on to Moreton Island in the morning. There we planned to enjoy Australia Day. We quickly found the steering was very slow and the boat now had even less drive from the prop than when we’d moved it from Raby Bay. Maneuvering in the tight confines of the marina was quite a challenge as she simply did not respond much to throttle or helm. Fortunately our friends Bob and Lyn were on hand and assisted fending us off our neighbors at one point until we were pointed in the right direction.

We made it out into the channel safely but quickly discovered our speed was limited to about three knots despite using maximum revs. Clearly the propeller was fouled a lot worse than we thought. It was an agonisingly slow trip over to Green Island where we were very pleased to get the anchor down and the boat secured for the night. When Whoosh arrived and dropped nearby we informed Bob & Lyn of our troubles and said we would be staying put the next day so we could hopefully fix our problems. They very generously said they would stay with us in case we needed any assistance which was hugely appreciated.

Next morning Rob dug out our spare hydraulic fluid and re-bled the steering hoping to remove any remaining air trapped in the lines which may have been responsible for the steering issues. He then donned the snorkelling gear and had his first look under the boat. The good news was that the anti-foul is still doing a good job of keeping growth off the hull which he found to be mostly clear. The bad news was that the feathering Maxi-Prop propeller was covered in barnacles. So much for the extremely expensive Prop Speed treatment we’d had applied. It failed completely.  Worse still, the growth had seized the moveable blades and they were locked out of position which instantly explained the previous afternoon’s hopeless performance.

Rob spent a lot of time in the water scraping barnacles off the propeller and cleaning right around the water line.

Rob got stuck into giving it a good going over with a scrapper which took quite a while but got the prop all clean and the blades moving freely. While in the water he also cleaned the growth that had accumulated above the anti-fouling around the water line. We then lifted the anchor, made a few trouble free zig zag turns around the bay to test the results of our efforts then moved in closer to the beach and re-anchored.

All morning we had watched a constant stream of boats head out from Manly Harbour and past us on their way to Moreton Island for the long weekend. It was clearly going to be very crowded over there so both the Our Dreamtime and Whoosh crews saw the relative calm of staying at Green Island as a better option for the holiday weekend and resolved to celebrate with a beach barbecue right where we were.

Rob inflating an Aussie icon while Karen and Bob provide the encouragement.
Karen doing it tough at Green Island.

Bob tending the barbecue with Rob tending bar.

A very relaxing afternoon was spent celebrating Australia’s National Day lazing in the warm water with cool drinks, cooking up a huge feed and enjoying  great company. In fact, we had such a good time we elected to repeat the exercise the next day with more of the same.

Whoosh's SUP made an excellent in water table for drinks and snacks.
SV Whoosh at anchor off Green Island.

The Sunday forecast indicated winds from the South East picking up to 20 plus knots in the middle of the day so we planned to head back into the marina before they arrived. We arose at a leisurely hour in the morning with the breeze still down around 10 knots and casually went about lifting the dinghy onto the davits and preparing the boat for the short run across to the marina. Then it happened. You’ve heard of trouble coming in threes, well after our steering and propeller issues, the start battery picked this moment to join trio. It failed to turn the engine over and when we checked the battery monitor it showed an anaemic 11.1 volts. Although it has never given any sign of trouble in the past, it was on the boat when we bought her. We had no way of knowing exactly how old it is so assumed that it was simply reaching the end of its usable lifespan.

The house battery bank was looking OK but unfortunately it’s located on a slide out tray under the engine room floor and very difficult to get at. Jump boosting from it to the start is not really an option without a couple of hours work to access it by removing among other things, the holding tank for the heads. Possible but not desirable, particularly with a strong wind change on its way soon.  However this is where we did have a stroke of luck.

Ever since we moved on board Our Dreamtime in 2014 we had been meaning to get around to paying our few dollars and joining the local Volunteer Coast Guard’s Marine Assist program but it was something we just never got around to. They do a great job and it was very remiss of us that we hadn’t yet got off our backsides in over three years and done it. Well, among the checks Rob did on Thursday before our trip, he turned on the VHF radio to make sure it was OK. Almost immediately a routine radio call to the Manly Coast came on air.  It was just the trigger needed for him to go online, register and pay the $80 annual subscription.

That $80 was looking like the best money we’d spent in ages as we sat  stuck at anchor with a flat battery just a few minutes from the Manly Coast Guard base by fast cat. A quick phone call to the boys and they launched within 10 minutes and arrived alongside with a couple of booster packs that had the 80HP Ford Lehman motor running very quickly and all for free.. Thanks guys. Job well done. It certainly pays to be a member.

Engine started and it's time for the paperwork. The Volunteer Coast Guard guys do an awesome job.

Thankfully, the trip back into the marina was trouble free and we manoeuvred very easily back into our berth despite the cross wind piping up to 15 knots. After securing the boat and a bit of a tidy up it was time to continue celebrating the Australia Day weekend with the Whoosh crew on board. Both boats had over provisioned with crazy amounts of food so we fired up the barbecue on the stern to make some more of it disappear accompanied by a wine or two. Very enjoyable.

Despite Our Dreamtime still spanking us a little for perceived neglect we were so glad to have got out of the marina again and enjoyed ourselves with great friends. When other yachties walked past enquiring how our weekend was we had no problem replying. ‘Great! We had a really good time.’

The steering and propeller were now fine and thanks to All Star Batteries at Brendale we had a new replacement start battery at a great price very quickly. 

The boat had now received lots of love and attention and was all ready for a few days on the bay with our American guest. That is until the remains of a tropical cyclone heading south from near New Caledonia whipped up thirty knot plus winds and big seas. Oh well. We can’t blame Our Dreamtime for being harbour locked this time. Sorry Emily. We will get you out on the boat again next visit and promise to keep showering our girl with lots of love in the meantime so she’s ready for you.

Our Dreamtime and Whoosh anchored up together.


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