Little Steps to Freedom 2020 4

At the beginning of May, Spain began to move in baby steps towards the easing of the Coronavirus lockdown restrictions we’d lived with since the 14th of March. There would be phases, with each one lasting two weeks. Phase 0 brought some limited mobility – a chance to get out and exercise beyond the confines of your home, although with fixed time periods in which this could be done. There was talk of being able to go sailing again in phase 1, limited at first to 12nm from base, then later to within the home province. If all went well and infection numbers fell, June might bring the ability to sail beyond our province. Glimmers of hope blossomed within us as we felt able to make tentative plans.

Prepare for Departure!

These changes in fortune gave us some much-needed drive to get the boat ready for departure. We’d put the foresails back on at the start of lockdown, but very little had happened since – without knowing how long the restrictions would last, it was likely all those cleaning jobs that needed doing would only need doing again, and hey, who stole all my motivation?

So, with new found fervour we set about sewing, deep cleaning from bow to stern and sorting out the stowage in the forepeak. The job list was long, with more outdoor items than in, such as cleaning, repairing and waterproofing the three sections of the cockpit enclosure. However, the weather wasn’t on our side. The unsettled spring kept on delivering rain and wind that limited what we could do. Frustrating.

Scrub a dub dub. Cleaning part one of three of the cockpit enclosure
Making a mess to make things better

A Belated Birthday Present

We also needed the weather on our side for our departure day – zero or a very light wind was essential for us to leave our tight berth safely.

Lockdown relaxation, weather, and jobs – the trinity came together on Wednesday 20th May, just a few days after my birthday. We were up early to finish off the preparations; by 10 am we were ready to go. Anxiously watching the flags for any sign of movement, our wind speed showing 2kts, this was the moment. We cast off the shore lines and Emerald’s nose pushed slowly forward. With a signal, the marineros RIB nudged her bow around – the fairway space was far too narrow for us to make the turn under our own power – and with zero drama we left the marina.

The lines are cast off and we’re off! (photo courtesy of Monique MacNaught)

We’re Free

Out beyond the breakwater walls, a small swell met us on the nose. My stomach gave a little lurch but soon settled. With the cargo of barnacles we were carrying on the hull, our SOG (speed over ground) was under par. The depth gauge showed zero meters, most likely one of those pesky barnacles.

So, there are few wrinkles to iron out, but this was it. After eight months in the marina, including 10 very long weeks of lockdown, we were finally on the move, two months later than when we’d planned to.

That way freedom lies

With Emerald’s bow gently dipping and rising in the low swell, blue sky above, and barely a ripple on the water, we motored 8nm west of the marina to our first anchorage under the lee of Cabo Tinoso. The crew of an anchored cargo ship gave us an exuberant wave as we passed by. It felt so good to be free. The anchor chain ran out smoothly when required; after 8 months piled in the chain locker, we’d had concerns it may have rusted and stuck together. With the engine silenced, we took the chance to sit back and appreciate our first little step towards freedom.

Alas, we couldn’t spend too long reflecting as Emerald’s needs were calling to us.

A rather wonderful place for our first anchor spot of the year (photo courtesy of Martin Stephenson)

The First Thing to Break

First up was putting our anchorage transport together. We launched the dinghy, gave it a top-up of air, and attached the 4hp Yamaha outboard. Next, fire up the engine. Colin pulled and pulled on the starter cord, it finally caught, then instantly died. We suspected the most likely cause was a blocked carburetor. It’s happened many times before, despite flushing the engine every winter. It was now late in the afternoon, so carb cleaning would have to wait until tomorrow.

The next morning, having enjoyed a deep sleep on anchor, Colin got on with disassembling and cleaning the carb. He removed several lumps of ‘stuff’ from the tiny jets and reassembly began.

Cleaning the carburettor for the third time. Not a happy boy

Second attempt to start – pull, pull, pull on the starter cord. Full marks for perseverance to Colin whilst I hid anxiously inside. He kept on pulling, I worried he’d wrench a shoulder, then the roar as it fired split the peace of the anchorage and sparked some hope in us. It ran for a little longer this time, but too soon, silence returned. I felt despondent – the loss of our ‘taxi’ would not be a good start to the season. Colin wanted to buy a can of ‘Start Ya Bastard’. Yes, there really is a product with this name. Off came the carburetor again: disassemble, clean, reassemble. He’s getting good at this.

Guess what? Same again. Perhaps third time lucky? We had a party to go to, so again, it would have to wait until tomorrow.

Would it be Third Time Lucky?

For the third attempt we reviewed some YouTube videos, maybe there was something we’d missed? Disassemble, clean: one suggested squirting air through the valves, so we tried using contact cleaner. There was also a tiny tube we’d missed, which also got the squirt treatment. Reassemble. Cross everything you have. I hid below again so I could hide my disappointment if it didn’t fire as this was really the last hope. I heard the cord being pulled: once, twice….. we have ignition! Trying not to get too excited – we’d been at this point before – but it kept on going, revving up and down as Colin tested the throttle. I rushed outside, helped cast him off for a victory lap (not too far, it might cut out again), and watched as he made several laps.

Fix number one complete.

The Second Thing to Break

Next was the watermaker, a Katadyn PowerSurvivor 80. This was its fifth season of use, and each year had brought another problem to be fixed. During the last two year’s it had started tripping as if there was a power surge. We discovered a suspect thermocouple which we’d managed to coax to work for the duration of the season.

Before use, we had to run the watermaker’s prime cycle. This flushes out the pickling chemicals used when we put it into storage mode for the winter. This cycle ran fine for the required time of thirty minutes, so we switched it over to run. When making clean water, the unit is working hard, pulling in sea water and forcing it through the two membranes. It ran for 3 or 4 minutes, then cut out. That dodgy thermocouple!

A Katadyn PowerSurvivor 80, without it’s outer box

Make Do And Mend

With the seat cushions removed and seat bases unscrewed, the watermaker outer box could be lifted off. In the not-easy-to-access space, we assessed for any damage. The thermocouple looked very corroded and there was also a small puddle of salty water under the pump unit. We traced the leak to a weeping fitting on the high-pressure side of the pump; unfortunately in the process of removing it, a plastic t-piece snapped.

We emptied the spare-parts lockers in search of a suitable replacement part. It looked like a hurricane had ripped through the saloon. We couldn’t find an exact t-piece, however one almost perfect one was found and we set about making it perfect. It was also a hot day, not ideal for working inside.

Boat yoga

We decided to remove the thermocouple and with all leaks repaired, put everything back together and started up the watermaker. It started ok, it kept on running beyond 5 minutes and there were no leaks. As we have a breaker on the main watermaker on/off switch, the loss of the thermocouple shouldn’t be an issue. An hour later and it was still running. Fix number two complete.

The Third Thing to Break

You’d think two major items on the boat requiring repair would be enough. But now the fridge started playing up. We’d had no issues with it over the winter and had defrosted it in November. Usually, it cycles on and off throughout the day: the compressor runs until it reaches the low point, then switches off. The fridge box then gradually warms up. The compressor turns on again when the fridge’s set high point is reached. A week into our freedom and it was struggling to reach anywhere near its usual low setting.

We reviewed the symptoms and considered there could be an electrical issue – it only seemed to have this problem when there were other drains on the power. Colin rewired the main power supply and changed the breaker and we tried it again. Same issue. We could fettle it along with freezer blocks and move some items into the freezer, but it would be a long summer without a working fridge. Obviously, one possibility was to have it repaired by a professional fridge engineer. But this meant returning to the marina and by leaving we’d forfeited the low rates we’d paid during the lockdown. It was a financial conundrum.

It’s not a rat’s nest, it’s organised chaos

Turn It Off and On Again

We turned the fridge off overnight so as not to overly drain the house batteries. The next morning, we switched it on and watched the temperature fall, one degree, then another. The next one was higher. Not good. We turned it off, left it fifteen minutes, tried again. Watched the temperature fall, and fall, and fall. It had reached the low point by early evening. Not wanting to risk the batteries we turned it off overnight. Each day we repeat the morning ritual – turn it on and off a few times and generally by the third attempt it runs normally. Strange, but we’ll take it for the next few months.

Not really fixed, but liveable with.

The Fourth Thing to Break

Three summers ago we bought a second hand swim platform which we attached to Emerald’s stern the following winter. It made going for a swim much easier, especially as we could now get out of the water without having to launch the dinghy. Whilst working on the outboard, Colin had noticed the tubes on the steps were bending backward. The stainless tube was too thin to take the pressure as the steps pressed against a block of wood which prevents them from folding up when standing on a step.

We pondered how to fix them. We have various lengths of stainless tube amongst our stash of hoarded stuff. By cutting the tube and inserting it inside the ladder’s legs, it would add reinforcing and strengthen them up.

However, the challenge was to get the reinforcement inside the outer tube and also remove the crease which had formed without splitting the tube. One of those times when hitting it with a hammer was the best solution!

Bent ladder legs

Cruising and Fixing Things on a Budget

It had been a particularly gnarly start to the season in terms of things needing fixing. When living on a tight budget, any breakage can be a drain on our finances, especially when they occur outside the wintertime in a marina. Luckily we’re practical people, however the fridge pushed us to the limits of what we can do without specialist equipment. We’re hoarders too with the storage space to carry a good number of spares – you never know when some strange sniblet or off cut of pipe will come in useful as proven with the boarding ladder legs.

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Thank you from Nichola & Colin

4 thoughts on “Little Steps to Freedom 2020

  • Philip Owen

    Hi Nic. Another great read and photos convey the chaos when unplanned onboard maintenance is required. But as previously the outcome is testament to your tenacity and resourcefulness. I had no idea that outboard engines could be so temperamental. Over the years of my diving career I been on a few small boats whose outboard(s) dont appear to be given much TLC. Although perhaps with daily use they may not be so prone to suffering same problems as you experienced. I guess the stuff restricting fuel flow originates from the fuel itself ? What are you likely to do with the watermaker this year ? Is it an item that you will need to consider replacing ? Best wishes for your travels in 2020. Regards Phil.

    • Nichola Post author

      Hi Phil, thank you for your kind comments. Our outboard has caused us problems at the start of the last few seasons and the carb has needed a clean. The outboard has sat unused for 8 months this winter, so any old petrol has had a good chance to go off.
      The watermaker is working really well now the thermocouple has been removed, we think it’s been the cause of most of our problems. We’re not worried about it’s removal as we have a circuit breaker trip on the main switch panel. I guess the thermocouple is there for those who don’t have a main switch panel like we do. Colin thinks the thermocouple was causing a voltage drop which then pulled in more amps and caused the system to heat up. We now also regularly stick a hand into the space where the watermaker is to see if it’s getting hot, which it used to do before we removed the thermocouple. It’s running nice and cool now. We bought the watermaker when we bought Emerald in 2004, it then sat in my garage for the next 8 years, so it’s possible some corrosion of the circuitry took place over that time, or it was a bad design feature that has now been designed out. Whichever it is, it’s a relief to have found the culprit!

  • angel muñoz marin

    We follow your adventures and we learn a lot with you, it is very exciting. good luck.
    I have read your problems with the fridge, I think the problem may be in the fridge thermostat.
    Greetings Angel and sea

    • Nichola Post author

      Gracias Angel y Mar!
      Una buena sugerencia. Tenemos un repuesto que podemos probar.

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