Ahoy from the crew of the BlueJacket!
[I was getting ready to submit my first blog from 2019 when I realized that my last blog from 2018 never got posted. Anyhow, here's the end-of-year blog from 2018.]
When you last heard from us we were at the Sapodilla cays, which as it turns out isn't one of our favorite locations in Belize. Due to a lack of protection from the cays in the Sapodillas and the ferocity of the storms that have been sweeping through the area (like the one approaching below) we decided to head on out a day earlier than planned.Â So, we decided to head towards Cabo Tres Punta, where we would stage prior to crossing the bar at the mouth of the Rio Dulce
We departed Lime cay and took a short cut through the pass S of Lime cay, saving about 45 minutes of time. It was almost dead calm, so I fired up the water maker so that our tanks would be full of RO water when we got into the Rio. Along the way I decided to transfer the last jury can of diesel into the main tank and almost immediately after doing that, the engine started losing power and would then come back up to speed. I went below to try to figure out what was going on and realized that the generator had also shut down. Occam's razor (which states that you should look at the simplest solution for a problem) would indicated that something was wrong with the fuel that I had just transferred, but that made no sense as the fuel that was in that jury can was the same fuel that we had been running on.
We continued to run along with the engine dropping from 2600 RPM to 1200 RPM every few minutes and then recovering. The wind had finally picked up, so we raised the sails, shut down the motor and had a wonderful sail to our anchorage, where the engine restarted without issues and allowed us to back down on the anchor. I changed out the fuel filters which seemed to resolve the problem with the engine. However, the generator was still having issues.
I swapped out the fuel filters and did everything that I could think of, but the generator motor would run fine for a few minutes and then lose power, causing the generator system to shut down. S/V Wahoo was headed our way, so I asked them to pick up a new jury can of fuel so that I could test with fresh fuel. They arrived the next day and used that jury can as the fuel source. After a solid day of testing I was convinced that I had an air leak which was allowing bubbles of air to get into the fuel line causing the motor to stall.
That evening Wahoo invited us and s/v First Light over to their boat for happy hour. I wanted to try swapping out the fuel pump, but deferred that until when we came back from their boat. We were having a good time over there, but I noted that the skies were turning quite dark. Combined with the desire to work on the generator, we decided to leave the party early. On our way back to the boat I yelled to Wahoo to keep an eye to the sky as it was looking ominous.
We got back to the boat and stowed everything that was loose on deck. Fairly quickly the winds, rain and lightening descended on us and we were in the middle of yet another huge thunderstorm. The winds switched to the SW, giving the waves a 14 mile fetch to build up. The winds peaked at close to 50 MPH and we had 3-4' short period seas that we were crashing over the bow. It was so steep that water was being tossed into the cockpit by the swim platform and Sue and to put a panel in the companionway! The dinghy had it's own wild ride, but didn't swamp. Thankfully the wind switched back to the east and waves subsided. The storm lasted for well over an hour and the lightening and rain continued for much longer. Once the brunt of the storm subsided, I headed down below to replace the fuel pump on generator, which didn't fix the problem.
The storm moved on and the next day we headed towards Livingston, where we had to cross the bar in order to get into the Rio Dulce. The bar is supposed to be 5' and there was a 1.7' high tide. We draw 5.5', so we should have had 1.2' of clearance across the bar. Other than bumping in wave troughs (which happened when we departed in March) we've always made it across without any issue. Not this time!
As we approached the entrance waypoint, we watched the water get shallower and shallower and suddenly we began slowing down as the keel slid across the bottom. We have a 6' wide wing keel, which makes a great anchor, so there's huge area to push through the mud. Eventually we slowed down such that we were only doing 0.2 kts. We were towing the dinghy to reduce the weight and to use help tow just in case something like this happened. I jumped into the dingy and tided it to the side. The 15 HP outboard helped, but it also turned us to one side. Thankfully Roy from s/v Yahoo came out in his dinghy and strapped it to the other side and with the aid of the two dinghies we were able to get across the bar.
Clearly something has changed with the bar. I don't know if the channel has silted in, or if the channel has moved, or what has changed, but clearly there's a problem. Most boats have a fin keel which goes straight down and they get over the bar by having a local boat tip them sideways via a line to the top of the mast. That doesn't work for BlueJacket as tipping our keel sideways just pushes the downward edge of our wing keel deeper into the bottom. There's absolutely no economic incentive for Guatemala to dredge the channel as that costs money and there's a whole industry of boats who provide tipping/towing services.
Anyhow, we made it across the bar, cleared in and then headed up the Rio Dulce to Fronteras. The first 6+ miles up the Rio Dulce are wonderful as you're moving through a canyon with cliffs on either side that tower up to 300' above the boat. We've been up and down the river a dozen times and I always marvel at it. It's really cool to watch the natives, some of them fishing from dugout canoes and seeing how small they are against the cliffs. In many ways it's a bit surreal.
On our way to Fronteras, we had our sails up to dry them out. Immediately upon arriving we were stripping the sails from the boat so that we could get them below to keep them dry. Good thing that we did as it poured that night and just about every day thereafter. It took about a week, but we got the boat prepped for storage and we had a new sun/rain shade built for it. We flew out of San Pedro Sula and arrived home to find everything in good shape. Since then it's been whirlwind of Fresh Start Furniture Bank activity and working in the gardens.
All in all this was a good season. It was a huge push to get the boat ready after sitting for 18 months and installing all of the new systems due to the lightening strike. I know a lot of people don't understand why we enjoy all of the work that goes into operating a boat, but we cruisers have experiences that non-cruisers will never have. It might be as simple as watching the sun rise from the cockpit of your boat and having absolutely no one else around you, or swimming into a huge school of silversides, or meeting new people from all over the world and immediately inviting them over to your boat for drinks and sharing stories, or knowing that you can fix just about any system on your boat and succeeding when put to the test. I certainly know that cruising isn't for everyone, but I love it.
That's it for this season. We hope that all is well wherever you are!
-- Geoff & Sue
For the cruiser:
We departed Lime cay and went through the pass between Lime cay and Sapodilla cay, which had 30-50' of water instead of the 8-12' that the Rauscher guide showed. This shaved off about 5 miles compared to the route through Seal cay in the Rauscher
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