Finally Underway - Australia to Tahiti
The Trip: Gold Coast, Queensland to Tahiti, Oct 2021
The Yacht: 43' Custom trimaran
Well, finally a chance to provide an update and let everyone know who's been following my track what's been going on.
So instead of being off the top of New Zealand by now, I'm sitting alongside a wharf in Ballina. I spent 3 weeks doing repairs, maintenance and upgrades on the boat before leaving but obviously that wasn't enough. Getting properly offshore turned into more of another sea trial as one boat issue rolled over into another and then another........
First night out all was well until I checked the bilges at first light. I'd been motoring for about 4 hours through the early hours to top up the batteries. To my horror, the engine bilge was awash with diesel fuel. Not exactly what I was hoping to see. I had no choice but to pump it out and try and find out where it was coming from. There was nothing obvious on either the inlet or return fuel lines.
I pushed on for another 24 hours with my weather routing suggesting heading past Lord Howe Island to 33S and pick up some north westerly winds. After a morning motoring, I discovered the engine bilge once again flooded with diesel. I was losing more diesel to leakage than actually using for the engine. With the engine vital to top up the batteries, from a safety perspective and with no obvious sign of how it was happening, it was pretty easy decision to turn back.
My initial thought was to head to Coffs Harbour to get it looked at by a mechanic but the COVID situation in NSW ruled that out. So I headed north along 155E and picked up the current heading the same way giving me a nice two knot boost along the way. I've got to say, the day's sailing was absolutely superb. A nice south easterly, full sail up, music up loud, shower on deck to wash off 3 days grime, cruising along thinking this is what I was hoping for when signing up for this gig. Little did I know things were going to turn a bit pear shaped.
I was making good progress north, heading back to the Gold Coast. The wind started backing to the north and my downwind sleigh ride came to an end. Having said that, it was late afternoon, sailing on the starboard tack upwind and heading straight for the Gold Coast. The boat was trimmed nicely and we were flying along. Unfortunately all this couldn't last forever. The further west I sailed, I moved out of the current flowing north into the East Australian Current flowing south. The northerly wind also picked up a bit and the sea state got nasty with very short, sharp waves. So instead of making straight for Southport, I slowly got pushed off my track by the current in a nice curve to the south. The trick was to get across the EAC into shallower water where the current backs off. Easier said than done and a one point I thought why don't a try motoring in the general direction I wanted to go as I was only 40M from my destination. Fired up the engine and it promptly died after 5 minutes with an oil warning light flashing. In the middle of the night in a very confused sea state, I didn't really feel like crawling into the engine space that's like an ice skating rink underfoot with diesel to play "what's wrong with the engine". To add insult to injury, the tri hulls piercing the waves threw a lot of spray over the boat. Lo and behold, there's about half a dozen hatches and ports leaking water into the boat. There was water everywhere. It's hard enough moving around a boat in a bad sea state without it being like an ice skating rink underfoot. Pretty miserable stuff.
Decision time as I'm now without a motor closing in on the land in the middle of the night. I decided to give myself some room, head back out to sea and have another go at getting across the EAC when it was light. I was thinking that if I could get closer to shore, I could short tack up the coast back to Southport. The theory was OK but as I got to with a few miles of Cape Byron, the northerly got stronger and the sea state was pretty ordinary. Beating upwind in this was going to be ugly and to make matters worse, it was effectively a lee shore up the coast and without a motor, I wasn't feeling comfortable with that. So another decision time. Take a big risk and go north or turn south to Ballina and refuge there where I could attend to the engine. I went south.
I radioed Marine Rescue Ballina about entering the river mouth under sail and they came out to guide me in and helped me get alongside the wharf where I am now. Thanks guys! Once settled in, I had a look at the engine and thought my problem was air in the fuel line but couldn't resolve it.
That's gets us to now. I've managed to get a mechanic onboard and he sorted out the fuel line issue and I now have an engine again. Hallelujah
We are no closer to solving the mystery of the diesel flooding the bilge though. He checked both inlet and return sides of the fuel supply system and couldn't find anything obvious. It will have to be looked at properly once the boat gets back to the Boatworks. If nothing else, it justifies my decision to turn back when I did.
With an engine back in working order, I have a weather window to get back up the coast to Southport. Hopefully all goes uneventfully and this little chapter will be over.
If nothing else, I learnt a little bit more about myself and having to keep it together and punch through when you have only yourself to rely on. I'm glad I was able to do that as the reality is you just have to.
That's it for now. Thanks for all the messages of support and concern. The live tracking was certainly causing some mystery for sure!
Here's some video taken the day before the night when things went pear-shaped. It wasn't all bad!