Thursday, November 15, 2007

Shakedown cruise to Porlamar November 2007

Picture: Happy hour at Juan’s Hutch (Sandcastle) and Frankie(Second Wind) beside Bev

After our exciting and exhausting land trips, it was great to be back into the more sedate boating life. Raft had done fine in the marina while we were away. It was now time to restart the refrigeration, refill the water tanks, (we left them superchlorinated while we were away), pay our marina bill and say our farewells to all our friends, whom are either staying in the Cariaco area or heading west.
Before leaving Ross had spent the week in the marina in Cumana getting the boat ready to go. We had been in Venezuela since July, and had done very little sailing in that time, plus RAFT had been at dock for over six weeks, all the systems needed to be checked. Fuel was scrubbed. Filters were changed. Batteries were topped up. Sails and rigging were checked, and retaped.
Friday morning looked like a good day to make the run to Polamar. The winds were supposed to be light for one more day and from the SE, afterward a week of higher trades were predicted. Up at 5:00 am to put the last minute lines, power cords & water hose away. Tuned on the computer to start the navigation system only to find that the inverter would not start up to power the computer. The battery monitoring system error code indicated that there was insufficient voltage and probably dirty contacts. We started to trouble shoot the system and within 30 min we had the problem identified and repaired. The isolation switch on the inverter had shorted out internally and melted the contacts. The solution was to remove the switch from the system until we can buy a new one. We will try in Polamar or up island.
Departed the marina at 7:00 am and headed north up the Arraya peninsula. 15 knots of breeze from the ESE. Wonderful sailing weather. As we reached the north end of the peninsula the winds increased to 22 knots but the waves were less that 3 feet and the sky was clear, so a good day for a sail. The water is less than 100 ft deep here and protected by the islands that lay to the east, Cubagua and Coche. Rounding the north end of the peninsula we began to get the full effect of the current and the winds switched the NE. Guess what direction we wanted to go. You guessed right, NE. RAFT does not travel well head to wind so we continued to tack off the wind for the next 4 hours, managing to make 4.5 miles of NE progress towards our destination 22 miles away on the Northwest side of Coche. After 3 tacks to windward we commented that we were breaking all the lessons we learned on the trip down about traveling to windward.
We decided to start the engine and motorsail to help with the progress. This lasted for about 30 mins when the engine quit. This was not a sputter and die, but an instant stop. Bev felt we must have picked up something on the prop. Checking the engine compartment we could see that the prop shaft was still turning, so this was not the problem. Checking the Primary Fuel filter revealed that the sediment bowl was clean and full, and that the filter was just as clear as a new filter because we had only pulled 1 hour's worth of fuel through the system. We checked the intake from the fuel tank and found that it was blocked. Blowing back through the supply line cleared the pickup tube but dirt was obviously present in the bottom of the tank. We rigged up temporary fuel supply lines from Jerry cans that we carry on deck and got the engine restarted. Luckily there was no air in the system so she started right up with the alternate fuel supply. We still had a long way to go but decided that it would better to sail and leave the Jerry can fuel system as a backup for our arrival.
Now it was 2:00 pm and the afternoon sun was increasing the wind velocity up to 28 knots. On one of our tacks the flogging jib sheet wrapped itself around one the dorade cowlings on the deck and tossed it overboard. Now we are short two because of the one that the kayak knocked off in Medragal Village. The boat looks better now that is symmetrical again. More parts to look for as we go up island. By 5:00 pm we were still 7 miles from Coche when we did a tack. The winds were still 23-24 knots and we had hoped that they would be dying down by now. Not so. As we tacked the back edge of the jib caught on one of the spreaders and tore the leech line out of the sail. We furled in the sail to prevent the winds from shredding it further. Time to go back to motorsailing with the main only. Given the wind and current situation we decided carry on to Isla Margarita rather than stop at Coche. We also knew we would arrive in the dark, and we had never been in that anchorage before, but knew the fisherman like to spread their nets around it.
Although the fuel system was temporary it should still allow us to motor up to the south coast of Margarita. Motoring into strong winds and current reduced our boat speed to under 1 knot for the first 2 hours of the trip. In fact at some point the GPS said we were going backwards. It was a tough uphill slug. By midnight we were north of Coche and 12 miles from Polamar. The winds began to drop to 15-18 range and the engine continued to run well. Our only concern was that we seemed to be using fuel at a faster rate than usual. We had topped up the 23 litre fuel can we were drawing from to make certain that we would not run out through the night. Normally this tanks should have given us 12 hours of motoring time but it was 3/4 empty after 6 hours. Not a good sign. Either we were burning too much or there was leak in my temporary fuel lines.
At 3:00 am we had rounded Mosquito Pt and were 6 miles from Polamar when Ross went down to check the fuel situation. He took one look at the Sediment bowl and could see that it was almost empty. The engine died just he called to Bev to shut the engine down before air was sucked into the fuel system. Too late. Now the system had be purged of air and refilled with fuel. Obvious we had some leaks in the temporary fuel system that allowed air to enter it. We pulled out the foresail part way to maintain steerage prepared to purge the fuel. Over the next 3 hours we purged the system twice. Getting the engine to run once for 10 minutes before it died again. During the course of the purging event, Bev was on the helm when a thunderstorm passed over us. Of course this brought the wind up from 12 knots to 25 knots instantly. Disrupting our purging process and blinding our visibility until the rain passed. After the storm, which lasted only 20 minutes, we were back to purging and sailing onward.
We finally reached Polamar at 7:00am. Dropped the anchor, had a beer and went to sleep until 2:00 pm. A 24 hour adventure that got us right back into sailing/traveling mode. Even with all our preparations for the first major/minor trip in a 4 months the Gremlins were still in fine form. We weathered it well.
Next day we took down the jib to be repaired. Borrowed extra jerry cans to store all the fuel. Bev dove on the boat to check and clean the prop. Ross would not let her do this in the marina in Cumana (foul water and stray electrical currents). She said the prop and shaft were heavily coated with barnacles and this obviously contributed to our slow motoring speed and higher fuel consumption. We opened up the fuel tank to clear out the sludge and dirt that had accumulated over the last 4 months (we did this job last in January and found it to be reasonably clean). We also have to go up the mast and re-inspect the rigging at the spreader to find out what the sail caught on. We suspect that it was a cotter pin that is protected by bits of carpet we have wrapped around the spreaders especially for this purpose. They probably have deteriorated over the last 3 years. Yep, we were right, new carpet was taped on, hopefully it will last the trip home.
The sail took a few days longer than Johnny the sailmaker promised, a few times we checked on it we were told, manana and tarde. But we did get the repair done satisfactorily. We finish our final shopping in Venezuela – beer, coffee, Chilean wine. Our US dollars are going much further now, but unfortunately there is less to buy…tough to find milk, flour,butter, etc