Life Afloat – Another Chapter Begins
Like a twister, finishing those thousand maintenance items unleashed a whirlwind two days. But before that, a beautiful farewell party with the family and special arrivals. Must have been a dozen kids climbing trees and on expeditions exploring the fields.
Departure morning arrived on the 12th of December, and after ferrying several loads of clothes and supplies, we started un-docking Banyandah. Then we took the barge boards home, leaving the shore lines and bower anchor to sort. After doing that we motored faster than we thought we would, towards the trawler harbour to take on water. Truth is we haven’t slipped our lady since Albany, WA. When was that? Egad! Yonks ago.
Presto-chango. In the blink of an eye, like passing through a concave mirror suddenly it’s smaller spaces, less walking, more precise steps, and instantly we’re a tighter team and loving it. Credit to dear Banyandah – gives us space, yet we can communicate easily.
Drama within minutes
Crossing the dangerous Ballina River Bar was easy pezy – quiet morning, easy motion – until the engine overheated and exploded like Mt. Vesuvius, shooting boiling water onto our fridge compressor and veggie locker!
Poor thing – built in the fifties, first powering a road truck until the loads grew beyond the engine’s strength, that’s when we gladly took it off their hands and rebuilt it with our own. Nicknamed “The Donk,” cause she’s mechanical noisy, she’s powered Banyandah from the very beginning in 1973, when, in ever increasing circles that ancient donk took us around every ocean then around the world and more recently around Australia several times.
Crikey we were so full, every locker chockablock, getting to things like the water filler is, you’ve got it, painfully hard and frustrating to the max. Out it all came while we took the land breeze to slowly gain the safety of a bit more sea room. The next three hours we’re hot and dirty while we ghosted along at a couple of knots on the calm sea.
Easy, Sweet First Voyage
Ouch! Only so much could be checked in the red hot engine space. So after doing the obvious, like checking the raw water filter for a blockage and increasing the vee belt tension, we decided to wait for the engine space to cool before continuing the search.
Trying to re-enter Ballina without an engine would have been dangerous, as would be entering the Clarence River, our original destination. Therefore we decided to sail through the night for Coffs Harbour. Best decision because ever so slowly the gentle land breeze swung to the north and increased slightly. Our journey was rather slow, but easy and comfortable. Perfect for a first day at sea. Then as the sun set, the wind increased making the night sail heavenly under a bright full moon. Taking six hour watches, Jack till midnight, Jude till dawn, both of us managed a little rest. But even better, daybreak found us just a few hours from Coffs.
About 11 AM we flew past its breakwall under full sail then dropped our hook just off the old timber jetty. Perfect! Now let’s find the engine problem. First though, a few beers to celebrate, and a good nights rest swinging on the anchor.
Discovery at Coffs
I have a notebook where I record day to day stuff – Lists of things to do – Prices – Contacts – Job priorities – Any detail that I may want to remember. I’ve been doing this for years. As a result, there’s a bookshelf bursting with exercise notebooks dating back to 1968 when Jude and I drove overland from the UK to South Africa. It’s amazing to read notes on the Sahara, Congo and our troubles in East Africa.
But that’s not what I want to share with you this morning. After recovering from our first sail in six months, an overnight passage where little sleep was found, I squeezed into the engine space and lay atop the now cool engine, and began removing the saltwater pump. Straightaway I noticed that the pulley could move in and out. Hmm, could that be the problem? Encouraged, I then tried to rotate the freshwater pump. What! I found it seized solid as if petrified stone!
Wow! That very essential pump had suffered bearing failure, and that had caused our catastrophic explosion. Damn good thing it hadn’t gone belly up thirty minutes earlier when crossing Ballina’s dangerous river bar. Especially in those windless conditions, with seas crashing against both stone breakwaters, we might have lost our lady. We sure do rely on our engine to get us out of tight spots, so that image has played havoc in my head ever since.
Fortunately we carry a substantial list of spares, and deep in a locker sat a replacement pump. Then, hunched over with grease up to my elbows, I changed the fresh water pump. And then the Jabsco salt water pump impeller, because whilst the impeller itself was in good nick, the nib that stops the shaft from shifting in and out was gone.
Finishing late, Jude had very nicely heated a bucket of water for a cockpit shower then, after a wonderful feed I’m going to bed with a big grin on my face thinking – problem solved.
Next day we test ran the donk while still on the hook. Hmm, high revs rose the temp higher than normal, but let’s see what she’ll do under load. So we picked up our hook and started a run around the harbour. Crikey! That damn needle kept rising past 200 F. Killing the engine before it could vomit more boiling water, we quickly drop our hook where we came to rest.
What the? Thought we’d solved the problem – so, what’s up? Tracing the cooling system in my mind, it soon came to rest on the heat-exchanger. That thing cools the engine’s fresh water using seawater. It’s got history. Over the years we have cleaned its small tubes a couple of times and recently had the whole thing de-scaled and re-soldered. So theoretically it should be good. Accepting this prompted a call to a knowledgeable friend who suggested we may have blown the head gasket. Oh my! We didn’t want to hear that.
We carry a spare top end gasket set on board, but removing the weighty six cylinder head from our Perkins P6 in an exposed anchorage like Coffs didn’t seem wise. And taking a berth in the marina was not an option because it was closed after taking a massive onslaught during a winter east coast low that had damaged the breakwater and berths.
Beating the Blow
Next morning at 4 AM we were up preparing to try our luck escaping using the engine. In windless conditions we slowly motored towards the opening, watching the temp gauge intently. Beauty, we got out without much movement on the dial and thus encouraged kept going towards the safety of open sea. As we increased revs, the needle began to climb, slowly at first, then rapidly till it hit that danger mark at 200 F.
Oh No! I pulled the throttle back to idle, and in a few minutes happily watched the needle start to go down. Wow, that was unexpected. Up and down went the needle as we adjusted power, and here came another clue. The temperature gauge dropped extraordinarily rapidly – like losing 40 F in a minute! No engine can cool down that quickly, so we started thinking that the sensor was stuffed.
A cold front was forecast to run up the coast in 36 hours, bringing near gale force headwinds. Preceding it were favorable north winds. And even though we didn’t have a clean bottom, I’d worked out that we could manage the distance to Port Stephens, another port that can be sailed into, given the south going current should give us a lift of at least a mile an hour. As it turned out, the sail down the coast had the wind right behind us producing a rather rocky rolly motion that continued into the dark showery night with plenty of big ships and the usual mob of fishing boats to dodge. When we changed watch at midnight, Jude was complaining about no sleep, and when it was my turn, I found much the same in the rolly motion. Nevertheless we made good speed and by daybreak had a little more than forty miles to our destination.
Daybreak cleared away the clouds, which took the wind with them, leaving us looking for an alternative secure anchorage. Alas there was none. Thankfully the breeze, although light, kept us moving at 3 knots, which we figured would put us in Port Stephens with time to spare before the change.
You know, it turned out to be one of those memorable sails, not super fast, but we were able to navigate through the islands just before Port Stephens, doing all sorts of corrections for wind and current, overfalls and whirlpools. And luck stayed with us. The light breeze became a steady onshore sea breeze right up our bottom which allowed us to buck the outgoing tide, beating it ever so slowly we inched our way past the headlands, slid past the breaking entrance sand bar, and into Port Stephens main basin. Jeez, that’s work we really enjoy. Watching Nature’s elements, making corrections to use its forces to win the day. In the end we sailed right past Shoal Bay near the opening, past the harbour at Nelson, to drop our anchor once again under sail in a quiet little bay fronted by pretty Dutchman’s beach.
Wow! We were whacked! After a couple of celebratory sundowners and a curry from the tuna we’d caught, we hit the bed exhausted. When the front stuck at midnight, vaguely in the depths of slumber I heard the roar, but as our ship wasn’t being knocked about, turned over to slumber till dawn.
Troubles in Threes!
While safely anchored off Dutchman’s Beach near Nelson in Port Stephens, I removed the water temperature sensor after finding it a bit corroded. It’s had a hard life, and I was hopeful that its poor condition was responsible for the fluctuating readings on the gauge. I was right. After cleaning it and re-attaching the probe, it actually gave a more steady reading. Unfortunately not for the better.
And when evidence of water mixed with oil was found near the head/block joint was added to the ragged running immediately after start-up, we became convinced that we’d compromised the head gasket. That’s bad news when far from home, especially on the cusp of the year’s biggest holiday.
Adding to our burden, seems I’ve gotten someone’s snotty nose that’s become a chesty croup cough. Plus, I’ve a toothache. Poor Jude – normally mild mannered Cap’n Jack has morphed into the dreaded Jack the Terrible.
Moving ahead, plans were formulated and action taken to tackle the problem to get us back on an even keel. We booked ourselves into a marina at Newcastle for the Christmas Holiday. It’s there we’ll do the work needed to get us back to 100% . Jude’s elated! Telling her relatives back home in Newcastle Upon Tyne, England, that she’s going to celebrate Christmas in Newcastle!
Sail Away Start
When the tide turned in our favor, we hoisted all sail for open sea and enjoyed a wonderful memorable sail past Anna Bay then close along the fabulous Worimi Sand Dunes, 32 kms of the longest moving sand dunes in the southern hemisphere. What a treat. All the better when the wind forecast rang true and under headsail alone, we sailed into that major commercial port, the largest bulk shipping port on the east coast of Australia and the world’s leading coal export port, using engine power just to get alongside the end of the marina tee. Early the following morning, in the still conditions we slipped into our assigned berth, secured Banyandah, and straight away went to drown ourselves under lovely hot showers. Beats stand-up cockpit douches any day. Following that, in holiday clobber we went off to celebrate surviving another year.
The first European to explore the Newcastle area was Lieutenant John Shortland in September 1797. His discovery of the area was largely accidental; as he had been sent in search of a number of convicts who had seized the HMS Cumberland.
While returning, Lt. Shortland entered what he later described as “a very fine coal river”, which he named after New South Wales’ Governor, John Hunter. He returned with reports of the deep-water port and the area’s abundant coal. Over the next two years, coal mined from the area was the New South Wales colony’s first export.
Newcastle gained a reputation as a “hellhole” as it was a place where the most dangerous convicts were sent to dig in the coal mines as harsh punishment for their crimes
Being strangers in a big city at Christmas, we joined a thousand others from all walks of life for a free Christmas lunch put on by the Samaritans in an open ex-railway shed found in the foreshore park. Read more on that here.
Replacing the seized freshwater pump had not stopped the engine from overheating, which left us with several possible culprits. A blown head gasket can let the heat of ignition reach the cooling water, and this was supported by ragged running and voluminous white smoke at start-up. Our temperature gauge also came under suspicion when its probe fell to pieces, and of course the heat exchanger, even though it had been professionally overhauled two years earlier, could have been choked. Therefore we decided to remedy the lot.
Once secure in a city filled with all kinds of shops that were still trading over the Christmas period, I unbolted and lifted the cockpit floor, exposing our sick engine. Our major goal was to replace the head gasket, and we carry a top end gasket kit which includes a new head gasket. A good idea, especially with an engine of this vintage.
Newcastle put on extreme summer heat and conditions were exhausting as I climbed up and down, in and out of the engine space, removing bits while having to be exceptionally careful not to drop something important down into the bilge under the engine – all the while maintaining 100% secure footing in and around what is basically a hole to the very bottom of our vessel.
You may recall that Jack and Jude have hitchhiked pretty much all over the world. Yes, we know, it’s not accepted by modern folk – too many crazies out there is said. But we have never found that. Instead we have met so many interesting folk with tales of their own, curious and interested enough to pick us up. An example that gladdens our hearts happened a few days after Christmas when the roads were crowded with bargain shoppers. It was stifling hot when Jude and I toddled off by bus to the marine store to purchase anodes and dinghy paint. From there, when trudging back towards the bus stop to go to a new destination to purchase a replacement temperature gauge, a horn beeped from across a side road and a fella asked where we were going, saying, he’d seen us walking the other way in the heat about an hour before. “Supercheap at Kotara,” I answered and his reply was, “I’m going that way.” And so, in we jumped and immediately began chatting, both of us relaying a little history, eased any concerns. We’re savvy enough to know a good person from someone wicked. Greg became entranced by our tales of wandering the world, fending for ourselves, fixing things. And not having much to do, he offered to chauffeur us around. What a nice chap. Proved once again that most folk are genuinely nice. We had a similar experience in Port Stephens – a young tradie pulled over and was so excited to meet real hitchhikers. Later another man gave us a lift back to our boat. Great examples of human kindness.
By Thursday night Jude and I had winched the head out and had cleaned it and the block, neither showing signs of a crack or being warped. And with the old gasket showing signs of water seepage, we were confident that replacing the gasket would cure our problems. The old temperature gauge had been replaced. After that, just to be thorough, the heat exchanger was taken out and flushed.
Early the next morning, we fired her up and the engine sounded sweet and ran smooth. Better still, it never got hotter than a mild 65 degree C. So, in a bold move, we opted to leave. The rent for the berth was up the next day, and who wants to spend time in a berth when a beautiful free anchorage can be found just down the coast at the Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park.
Using the engine like we used to, we motored against the wind out the Newcastle channel, and then set sail for what we hoped would be a fast fifty mile voyage. Alas, the forecast wind never really showed, so we sailed the first 20 miles then motor sailed the remainder in an uplifting demonstration that our engine was back. Wow, what a relief!