Don’t spare the parts
Sailor learns the hard way
We began our cruise from Hawthorne Cove Marina in Salem, Mass., to Nantucket Island and Martha’s Vineyard on a sunny Saturday morning. Three boats made up our group: my son Steve, his wife Jean, and their two boys on a 34-foot Hunter, Orion; Ron and his wife Lisa on their 38-foot Cabo Rico, Alcyone; and my brother-in-law Paul and I on my 34-foot Hunter, Seadation.We would motor sail to arrive at the Cape Cod Canal at the start of the ebb tide. This would flush us through to Onset Harbor, where we would spend our first night.
We arrived a little before the current change, and the southwest wind made our canal transit choppy but uneventful. We slowly made our way to Onset Bay. The wind continued to build through the night, but we spent a comfortable night moored in the well-protected harbor.
The next morning, we checked all systems, and everything looked ready for the run to Nantucket. In preparation for the trip, I had already done the usual maintenance including an oil and fuel filter change. I had also changed the 2-year-old raw water impeller and installed a new Perko water strainer.
At the north end of Buzzards Bay, we encountered steep 8- to 10-foot rollers from the southwest and 28-knot gusts. As we got halfway out of the channel on our way to Cleveland Ledge Channel, the boat’s exhaust did not sound normal. Sure enough, there was no water coming out of the normally wet exhaust.
My boat tends to suck up seaweed, which clogs the through hull before making it to the strainer. This causes the engine to overheat at the worst possible time. If this happens out in the bay it’s just a minor problem, but in a busy channel where you’re hard pressed to make 1 to 2 knots with a good engine, it’s more disconcerting.
With strong winds on the nose, none of us had any sail up. We had hoped to get beyond Cleveland Ledge Light before trying to sail to Wood’s Hole. Having no other choice, I quickly unfurled the jib and rolled out about 30 percent of the furling mainsail. It was almost too much sail, but I had to have enough to maintain control. Suddenly, the temperature alarm sounded, and I shut down the engine and headed east out of the channel. I could do no better than 1 to 2 knots and couldn’t sail into deeper water. The depth sounder was reading nine feet and dropping. The boat draws about five feet. As we got to seven feet, I tacked back toward the channel. The waves were so big and the boat was heeling so much that I lost confidence in the depth reading. To top it off, it was low tide.
Although I’d studied the charts, I wished I had more local knowledge and a high tide to work with. We barely had enough speed to tack, and whenever we didn’t, we were forced to jibe. Unfortunately, when you jibe, you lose most of what you have gained. In our case, I was trying to pass the south end of Hog Island into deeper and more open water where I could troubleshoot.
I needed to go below to find the problem, so I gave Paul a quick lesson on heavy weather sailing, emphasizing the importance of keeping the boat moving forward. I asked Paul to let me know when the sounder read seven feet so I could come up to help him tack back to deeper water. Paul did as well as anyone with limited experience could have in the rough conditions.
As Paul got the hang of it, I went below. I closed the through hull and pulled the hoses off the strainer. Through the glass, I saw no seaweed in the strainer. I opened the through hull and water rushed in, confirming the through hull and hoses were not clogged. I then went to the water pump and pulled those hoses. Again, water poured out. I reconnected all hoses.
The problem had to be somewhere between the pump and the heat exchanger. I was reluctant to take the time to pull the pump apart to check the impeller, and besides, the impeller was new. But I was running out of ideas and water deep enough to keep us afloat, so I pulled the cover off the pump. The impeller looked fine, and as I rotated the pump pulley, the impeller turned as it should.
We were getting farther behind Hog Island. We had to get the boat back past the southern tip of the island and back in the channel to sail downwind to Onset before the tide and current changed direction.
We eventually got around the island and started our downwind plunge toward the Onset entrance. I called Onset Marine on the VHF to advise them of our situation and to ask if there was a mooring we could use for an additional night.
Once we were safely on the mooring, I pulled the hose off the heat exchanger that ran from the pump. I started the engine and no water came out. The problem had to be the pump. I pulled the cover off the pump again and checked the impeller as I rotated the pulley. But this time the impeller did not turn.
The bond between the rubber vanes and the bronze core had come loose. The center core was turning, but the rubber vanes were not. Despite what I saw earlier out in the channel, under normal engine running load it was not turning. I always keep the replaced impeller on board as a spare, so I installed it and fired it up. It pumped water like a champ. Mystery solved.
Too tired to take off for Nantucket, we stayed in Onset another night. We left Monday morning and caught up with the group that afternoon, a day late.
The rest of the cruise went according to plan, and since then, I always keep two spare impellers on board.