TWO YEARS AGO today we closed on our boat in St. Lucia. It's hard to believe we are starting our THIRD sailing season this week! WOW!
It feels a little bit like Groundhog Day. We are in the Rio, not in Honduras as planned.
Last week, on Friday morning, at the break of dawn, we fired up the engines and both engine battery lights came on along with their respective alarms.
After testing a few things, we quickly phoned the marine engineer who had been working on our system and he assured us it was probably just a need for a starter battery change. So, despite our concerns and red flags (not to self: never ignore red flags) we revved up, the alarms went off and we headed down the river to the town of Livingston; this is where we cleared in 5 months ago and this is where we will clear out. Our friends, Janet and Jim were with us and eager for the crossing adventure.
It was a beautiful & easy trip through the limestone canyon and we dropped anchor 3.5 hours after setting off. So far, all was perfect to be on our way and make the weather window we were given. But, in dropping anchor, we had a slew of alarms go off and it was another indicator we should probably reconsider moving. We tested the batteries again and they were fine. The engines seemed fine too. We were baffled. Our big mistake was to clear out of customs and check out of the country before doing further assessments. When we got back to the boat, Captain Brown performed a full engine assessment and we started smelling a fried alternator. We had smelled something a bit earlier in the day, but we thought it could be a residual smell from the last one that fried. We then tested the temperature of the alternators and they were OFF THE CHARTS hot. Ironically, our cellular network and all wifi were down in town this ONE day that we were there. Thankfully, Jim and Janet had their international mobile plans. We called the marine engineer and explained all that was happening. He was baffled and instructed us to disconnect the field wires which basically rendered the alternator useless other than turning the belt to keep the water flowing through the engine. By doing this, we were able to run the engines without cooking the alternators. And, at that point, we made the decision to turn back. Three hours later, when we were almost back to the Rio, our friend driving the boat drove us into a mud bar. He had deviated WAY off of the tracks we instructed him to follow. Brown or I should have been at the helm watching more closely, but with all that we had going on, we were distracted. Thankfully, we were able to drive off the bar without too much of an issue and we think, no damage. We learned a few very valuable lessons that day. First, NEVER leave the dock when there is something wrong with your boat! Secondly, NEVER leave the helm to someone new to your boat.
The marine engineer came out the next morning to try to determine the issue and it took him a couple of hours to find his own mistake – when he was working on our lithium batteries he had neglected to reconnect the battery sensors. This caused the alternators to work overtime trying to fill the batteries that didn’t need to be filled. Anyway, the end result, once it was all reconnected and we tested the engines, was to fry another alternator. The engineer said this would probably happen and it did. But, thankfully only alternator fried. We replaced it with a spare that we had on board. Good job, Capt Brown for ordering a spare. Then the engineer took me back to Livingston in his launcha (a 4 hour r/t trip) to check us back into the country. It was a very complicated and expensive mistake, but we are thankful that he figured out what was wrong, owned up to it, and we didn’t do too much damage.
Sadly, our friends Jim and Janet could not wait for another weather window. They headed back to Guatemala City to fly home from there. We didn’t get them a crossing, but they surely had enough adventure in the short time they were with us.
The rest of the week we spent catching up on chores and preparing the boat for the crossing. I am writing this email early as we plan to go off shore on Thursday and arrive on Friday, but who knows what will happen. I want to make sure this gets out and I don’t know how long it will take to find data cards/wifi once we arrive in Utila.
This week our video documents our journey from the Dry Tortugas to Guatemala. We had a VERY busy initial 10 hours on the water before things settled down a bit. Enjoy the views and nature as we successfully complete our longest ocean passage yet! Here is the link for the 22-minute video this week: https://youtu.be/CWFlKujIRfQ