Sunday, March 27, 2011

Bioluminescence in the Biffy

It can be quite astonishing to use the head in the darkness of night, and watch neon purple glow-worms flush down the toilet. In anchorages where the water doesn't circulate well, this has been our experience.

Last week, in Simpson Bay Lagoon, I even noticed a purple glow passing through our white sanitation hoses.

We all enjoy driving our dinghy at night in these waters, because our propwash glows purple-blue, making us look like we've installed one of those fancy lights that we see gracing the hulls of some megayachts.

It also creeps us out enough that we NEVER swim at anchor in lagoons ;)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Fixing the carb on the outboard

I've had a couple detailed questions about our troubles with the dinghy outboard so I'll provide a summary of what we experienced and how it was fixed in case it can help someone else who has a similar problem. This might save them some time/money as I certainly missed some clues along the way that could have had this resolved a lot quicker. But I learned a lot more this way! :)

A bit of background info. We have a Tohatsu M8B two-stroke outboard on our 10-foot RIB dingy. The engine is about 4 years old and has seen a fair amount of use in the charter business before we acquired it (along with the mother ship) in August 2010. It has run well for us until this latest episode.

The problems probably first began when we were in Pte-a-Pitre Guadeloupe. Austin and I had made a run to shore for something when all of a sudden the engine stopped. We had had a leaking fuel hose a couple days earlier so we were familiar with the kind of quick but not sudden stopping that happens when the engine isn't getting enough fuel. The first thing I checked was that the air vent on the gas tank was open and it wasn't!! That's an easy solution, open the vent and off we go. However, only a few meters farther the engine died again! We were close enough to the dinghy dock at this point that we broke out the paddles, got to shore and tied off so we could take a more thorough look under the hood.

With the engine cover off, we discover that the fuel line has ruptured upstream of the fuel filter. I'm guessing that the pressure built up when the tank valve was closed and ruptured the old, and slightly decayed, fuel line. Again, not much of a problem. There just happened to be a chandlery a few steps away and they were happy to give us the required 5cm length of fuel hose. No problem and off we go.

A few days later, but only a few minutes of engine run time as we were travelling up the island and not using the dinghy much, we were heading into town (Deshaies Guadeloupe - 10 points for the correct pronunciation) when, at medium RPMs, we stalled again. Uh-Oh. It still sounded like a fuel starvation issue. Keeping the revs really high allowed us to get to the dock and back to the boat again. However, each time the revs dropped the engine stalled.

Lucky for me Deshaies has a great bay-wide wifi connection (HotHotHotSpot) so I was able to research the symptoms on some forums and download a Tohatsu parts manual with an exploded diagram of the carb. It really seemed like my problem was a clogged low speed jet so I set about dismantling the carb and spraying everything down with carb cleaner. My first "attempt" was a bit pathetic. All I did was remove the air inlet and spray cleaner into the carb. That didn't work. For my second attempt I took the carb right off the engine, separated the bowl from the main carb body, pulled the jets out and soaked the whole thing in some 3M spray-on carb cleaner for about 5 hours. Testing this would have to wait as we left Guadeloupe for St. Maarten at about 3am.

Once we arrived in St. Maarten I put everything back together and gave it a try. The engine still stalled at high RPMs. One other thing I noticed along the way was that I needed to have the choke fully out to start even when the engine was warmed up. This plus the stalling at low speeds really suggested a carb problem and likely something to do with the low speed jet (as mentioned in some forum archive). That said, because I had cleaned everything I also suspected that the diaphragms in the fuel pump may have been deformed and were not pulling fuel through very well unless the engine was really working hard (this was not the case as I later found out).

I bummed a ride from a cruising friend (thanks, Julian, from Oumâ) to the local chandlery who are also agents for Tohatsu to see if replacing the fuel filter, hose, pump diaphragms and jets would solve the problem. While there I spoke to the Tohatsu tech and he confirmed that it's most likely a carb problem and gave me another diagnostic check to try. This is what he suggested:

Let the engine RPMs drop but just before it dies, pull the choke out. If the engine comes back for a few seconds it's a carb issue. If not, it's something else. The theory is that pulling out the choke causes more fuel to be pulled in. Kind of like "forcing" the fuel through clogged jets or passages.

And that's exactly what happened when I tried it. Cool!

So, back to the boat with a bag full of parts and some new ideas. Since I had time on my hands I decided to replace one thing at a time, test and see what the real problem was. By mid-afternoon, after a couple breaks for lunch and beer - I'm in the Caribbean after all - I had replaced the fuel filter, fuel lines and the diaphragms for the fuel pump and still, the engine stalled at high RPMs. The only thing left was to replace the jets. However, before doing that I had one last look at them, in the daylight this time, and what do I see? A small bit of something in the middle of the low speed jet! I broke out the can of carb cleaner and a can of compressed air and whoosh! it was gone. I'm pretty quick at putting my carb back on now but I think I set a record this time.

One pull, choke all the way out, and the engine started. Running it high, OK, running it low and .... it still worked! Turning it off and starting it with the choke back in and ... it still worked! Problem solved. I ended up not needing to replace the jets. I probably didn't need to replace any of the other parts either but now they are new and the engine does sound better as a result. And I have a pile of spares, which means now I'll never need them.

My theory as to the cause is this: First, we had been having some slight difficulty starting the engine for a little while. Nothing huge but to start on a first pull we needed to have the choke out every time. This suggests that there was a slight blockage to begin with. Then, when I left the tank air vent closed and starved the fuel and created a vacuum in the fuel supply system I think that the little bit causing the blockage got sucked farther in and nearly completely blocked the low-speed jet. I'm not an expert so maybe it was just something that happens from time to time but this is my theory.

I hope this helps someone someday and feel free to post suggestions or questions.

Arriving in St. Maarten

We made it to St. Maarten OK. It took about 30 hours to skip over 1/2 of the leeward islands (must come back some day) and sail straight from Guadeloupe to St. Maarten. We had a lot of wind so had to really, really reduce sail overnight to avoid arriving before the sun came up. Highlight of the trip was probably seeing Montserrat (Monster Rat as the kids called it) venting on 2 sides. The island is on heightened alert so we didn't go ashore and decided to pass it on the safe windward side.

We arrived in the lagoon to a welcoming committee of fellow family/kid boats that we had met earlier as well as family! The kids had a great time at the crab races and movie night on the beach last night and I caught up on sleep after the long sail and the 2 days tearing apart our dinghy engine's carburetor (a small pice of something was clogging the low-speed jet - a squirt of carb cleaner and compressed air cleared it in seconds once I found the problem).

Now we settle in to a little cruising life, connecting with the "local" boats and getting to know the area better before Iain arrives next week. Oh, and, um it's *hot* here! The beaches are very white here so several of us got a bit of a burn yesterday. Oops.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Brrr it's getting cold around here

We've noticed the nights getting slowly colder as we move north.  A few islands farther south we switched to covering up with a sheet every night, not just the nights when the trade winds were blowing down our hatches. The other morning we even woke to find dew on the deck. Then last night it dropped below 20C and in the morning all of us woke up complaining of the cold. Sheets for covering were certainly not enough! We're going to have to go shopping for some light blankets if this keeps up. And this is starting to put a real chill on my evening cockpit showers.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Disappointment in Les Saints

I think we messed up. We certainly must have done something wrong because we didn't have much fun in Iles des Saintes (Les Saintes). I'm certain it was us, it must have been. So many people have reported that it is a "must see" and that it was one of their best stops and that they could spend weeks there. Or did we get our navigation totally wrong and the islands we went to were not Les Saintes at all (discovered on All Saints day) but some other archipelago with crowded, rolly anchorages, dragging boats, and insane ferry drivers who roar through said crowded anchorage at 10 knots? The islands themselves looked amazing. Steep sided, dry volcanic islands with bright narrow beaches and many colorful looking houses. The guide books all rave about visiting the forts and the windward beaches.

The problem is, all of the activities require that you leave your boat and go ashore. This doesn't seem to be a problem for most (all?) of the cruisers and bare boat charters visiting the islands but it stumped us. I'll be honest, we didn't exhaust all our options but after spending a nerve wracking windy, swinging, sleepless night squashed between a dragging charter cat, several fishing boats, a couple bare boats and a rocky lee shore less than 3 boat lengths away we were looking for a bit of peace and quiet. We did try three other spots but failed to find the peace of mind kind of spot we were hoping for.

The islands of Les Saintes are in the path of the powerful trade winds which rush around the relatively short but steep peaks hurtling down the other sides into the anchorages from multiple angles. The current wind conditions were such that the daily oscillation of wind direction was over 60 degrees. And all the anchorages were very deep and small. You put all this together and you have a lot of boats with not enough chain out (us included as we don't really have enough for a place like this), packed into a few shallow areas swinging in different directions and several of the boats dragging each day. Oh, and did I mention the rolls? The anchorages look well protected but between the ocean swell that somehow manages to creep in there and the frequent ferries zipping past it felt like trying to sleep in a washing machine.

At 0400 this morning we'd had enough. Carla and I got up, cleaned and readied the boat while it bounced around about as bad as we'd seen on this trip (yeah, as bad as Mustique). By 0530 we were underway to check out Pigeon Island on the west coast of Guadeloupe without having set foot on Les Saintes.

We're disappointed for sure. After all the buildup and anticipation we were really looking forward to this stop. And I'm sure we would have had a great time if we could have relaxed a bit more and adopted more of the laissez faire anchoring attitudes of the locals and the French cruisers but that's not where our minds were at this weekend. Oh, and an extra 150 feet of chain would have created a lot more options to anchor the way we wanted. Maybe we'll get it right next time. For now we'll just enjoy the rest of our time on Guadeloupe. We're already looking forward to getting to St. Maarten to see Iain and my dad (we may even get there in time to see Linda before she leaves).

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Carnival in Guadeloupe


And the bands were still playing when I woke at 6:30 this morning.

Here's the full set so far. We're in the middle of it so there'll be more photos coming soon.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Bonsoir, Good Night and Buenas Noches!

Austin joined me for a stroll to seek some creme glacee on Sunday evening after spending the afternoon as spectators at the opening parade for Carnival in downtown Pointe-a-Pitre, Guadeloupe.

On our walk home, we had greeted most people we met along the way with a friendly, "Bonsoir." In most cases, we received friendly responses in kind. Emboldened by this experience, we greeted a cruiser leaving the showers, and he seemed to fumble back with a "Hello." Oops! I remarked to Austin that it's challenging to know what language is spoken by the people we meet in a French-only country during tourist season. 

Austin openly wondered how we were all going to manage when we get to Puerto Rico and have to speak Spanish. He suggested we should just start getting into the habit of greeting people with, "Bonsoir, good night, buenas noches," to cover all the bases.

So the next individual we met on the path was greeted in this way. To my great surprise, the greeting was received with unbridled enthusiasm by a warm and friendly gentleman, clearly pleased to hear his native language spoken in francophone-land. He spun around, grinning from ear to ear, and emphatically (with appropriately accompanying hand gestures) wished both Austin and I "Buenas Noches" in return.

We all chuckled as I rushed to clarify that our Spanish repertoire is limited, but it was a lovely, spirit-lifting encounter, nonetheless.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Way behind in blogging thanks to the French!

Actually it's our own fault. We've been so spoiled by the great wifi on all the other islands we were kind of shocked at how little good wifi there's been on the French islands. However, all we needed to do was add some time at the many internet cafes to our shore excursions and we'd be in business. Now we know and should be able to do better.

We're now in Guadeloupe. We have several posts form Martinique that are in draft form somewhere on this computer that we'll be polishing off and posting over the next few days. Here's a copy of an email to another cruising family that we've made friends with to give you an update on where we're at and what the last few days have been like.

Hi there. Just got hooked up with wifi now. We arrived in Guadeloupe about 30 hours ago. The anchorage at Pt-a-Pitre didn't look very nice so we elected to stay in the marina. It's not as nice as Rodney Bay (it's no IGY) but for fun we're squeezed in between a couple mega yachts (on the smaller side though). We walked into town tonight to watch the parades. Very cool!! 
This place has a different feel but we're starting to get in the groove. Spending today in town in all the fun and celebrations helped a lot. So did walking home in the dark through the seediest part of town getting nothing but "bonsoir" and smiles from the ladies of the night (the kids had no clue) :)
Our crossing on the windward side of Dominica was a breeze (though I wasn't feeling well from about 1am until sunrise). We rounded the N end of Martinique at sundown in light wind. By 2000 it was up to about 8-10 knots and still enough E that we were able to make the windward side of Dominica. The wind backed and strengthened throughout the night. We sailed a close reach the whole way through the night and ended up a little SE of Marie-Galante by sunrise so we finished on a nice reach. We were even (slightly) broad reaching for a little while. We decided to skip Grand Bourg as we passed around 10am and anchored for the afternoon at Anse Ballet. *Very* nice and we were the only boat there (can you say skinny dipping snorkelling?) We spent the night in St. Louis. Again, *very* nice, calm and quiet. We left in the AM and had a beauty of a sail to Pt-a-P. We even had dolphins surfing off our bow for a little while! That was pretty much one of our best sailing days ever. Sunny, dodged all the squalls, beam reaching all the way, seas around 4 ft most of the way and dolphins! We loved what little we saw of MG and would love to go back there some time (we're saying that too much ... it's sad, 1 yr is not enough time down here for sure).
Not sure how long we'll stay in Pt-a-P. The party today was great. We'll see if the aquarium is open tomorrow. And if the chandlery is open I need to replace our starter battery (it died in St. Louis so we're starting off the house batteries right now ... yuck). But if they are closed then we'll probably head to Les Saints in a day or two as they look just amazing! Or we'll see what's on the menu for more carnival stuff and stick around if it's different from today. Typical cruiser's plan :)
Singing Slugs!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

A Day of Firsts

March 4-5, 2011

  • First successful anchoring under sail: We anchored in beautiful Anse Ballet on Marie Galante (Guadeloupe). We were in 11 feet of water, 250 metres from shore. I was at the helm, sailing close-hauled and heading up into irons to slow down whenever the boat went too fast. After about five times of repeating this process, I felt more confident knowing how quickly I could slow down the Frog if I needed to avoid putting her keel onto a shoal. However, once I saw the depth drop to 11 feet, I was anxious to drop the hook, so we anchored quite a distance from shore, forcing a long dinghy ride to the beach.
  • First beach visit all to ourselves: Anse Ballet was so quiet that the beach wasn’t even being used by residents. We were the only people playing in the sand, hunting for rock specimens and napping in the sun.
  • First skinny-dipping snorkelling: Well, there were no other boats for miles and the only shore activity was cars driving behind a row of trees with heavy foliage. So, who wouldn’t? We set up the boys with a movie in the saloon, and Skye and I had the bay to ourselves. No salt to rinse out of swimsuits. And we were careful to apply extra sunscreen ;)
  • First dinner while underway: Skye was still napping at 3:30, so I decided to prepare dinner before weighing anchor to make our way to Saint Louis. We expected this trip to take about an hour and wanted to arrive before nightfall, so I knew we’d have to leave Anse Ballet by around 5:00. When I awoke Skye at 4:45, he suggested we start up the engine, pull up the anchor and motor sail on auto pilot while we eat dinner in the cockpit. Mmmmmm ... turkey breast baked in white wine with onion and thyme, mashed potatoes and green beans with sliced cucumber. What a lovely way to top off a beautiful day! Until now, we had always endeavoured to anchor in time to allow me to cook dinner before dark. It was really nice to enjoy a meal while underway (in calm seas, of course).
  • First time we couldn’t start the engine: I turned the key in the ignition at around 8:00am. Click ... Silence. Hmmmm... starter battery, I suspected? After some tests and trials, Skye confirmed that we do indeed have a dead starter battery. He rigged a bypass causing the house batteries to run in parallel with the starter battery (do I have that description right, Skye?) so we’re starting the engine with the house batteries. Until we get a new starter battery. This isn’t good for our brand new house batteries, so hopefully we’ll be able to replace the starter battery quickly.
  • First time dolphins have approached the boat: On our sail from Marie Galante to Guadeloupe, we were met by dolphins about 2/3 of the way across. What a treat! Austin was the first to spot them. We figure there were 8-10 dolphins swimming near our boat, but one in particular was swimming in our bow wake and took a good peek at Skye as he stood at the centreline ready with the camera. This dolphin gave us a farewell leap and twirl out of the water before we didn’t see them anymore.