Day Two: When All Else Fails

26°41’10.0″N 79°57’43.4″W

Leaving the Storm

As the night progressed and we continued north, we eventually motored out of the storm. It remained overcast but the wind and waves gave way to swells out of the east. We were heading north so each swell hit Strider on the starboard side. We would list to port, then over to starboard as the swell passed under us.

This was far more tolerable than the storm, but still a bit too much for us to comfortably go below. We took turns resting on the floor in the cockpit, wedged in between the starboard bench and the spare 5-gallon can of diesel fuel. This way, with each roll we’d only roll a little bit and not fall off the seat!

And so the night passed and eventually the gray dawn grew around us.

We ate another peanut butter and jelly sandwich and took stock of where we are. By dawn we were a few miles off the coast of Vero Beach, having made good time through the night. With the new engine, we had to run it a bit harder than normal for the break-in period, plus we were in the Gulf Stream all night.


Dawn brought to light that we were having three issues that had developed in the night:

  • The engine was still not charging the house batteries, so they were still draining.
  • In the storm, the spinnaker pole had come uncleated and had fallen across the jib sheet and lifeline on the starboard bow, and the end was dragging in the water on the crest of each wave, and
  • The stuffing box was leaking water into the bilge at a fair rate.

Within a few hours of dawn, the wind and seas had calmed somewhat, enough to move about the boat and start addressing these issues.

I needed to stop the leak and figure out why the engine wasn’t charging the batteries. First, though, I wanted the sails up so we had some propulsion in case of engine troubles. The spinnaker pole across the jib sheet prevented this, so fixing it was the first order of business.

I made my way forward, staying cleated to the boat as I moved since the bow was still pitching quite a bit. I managed to wrestle the end of the pole forward and down onto the deck and lashed the end down. This got it off the jib sheet and out of the way of the sails. Problem one fixed.

Next, I went below, pulled the aft cabin steps and floor out of the way to see the engine battery and wires going to the house batteries. Back at the fuel dock, we’d connected a positive lead between the two battery banks. However, it seems nobody remembered to ground the engine to the boat properly, so no charging was happening. I ran a line between the negative leads of the two banks, trying to make it all one big logical battery bank. This arrangement isn’t ideal (the banks should be isolated so the house doesn’t drain the engine battery), but ideal had flown out the window some time ago.

When I hooked the two banks together, the control board of the engine start squealing. Not a happy sound. The engine was still running fine, but a non-stop alarm was sounding now. It wasn’t super loud, about what your car would do if you left the keys in the ignition and opened the door. Just enough to be annoying and to alert of a problem.

I couldn’t see any issues – no overheating or other problems, so I let the engine run for another hour or two hoping to charge the house batteries a bit. They were pretty flat by this point.

Finally, I decided I’d put the sails up and risk shutting off the engine so I could tighten the stuffing box nuts which were leaking.

Stuffing Box
Stuffing Box

In this picture, you can see the stuffing box and two large, brass nuts that tighten down to increase or diminish the amount of water allowed to leak in. We want a bit of water, just a drip, drip, drip since water lubricates the stuffing box. This tiny bit of water that drips in runs down into the bilge and isn’t a problem.

However, water was coming in at a substantial trickle now. The upper nut had worked its way off through the night and was standing about a half-inch above the threads.

I backed off the bottom, locking nut, pulled the main nut back down onto the threads, and tightened it until the leak had slowed to a reasonable drip-rate. Then I tightened the locking nut back up against it and done. Problem number three addressed! Nothing left but to start the engine back up to finish charging the batteries.

No Dice

Back upstairs in the cockpit, we pressed the engine start button, confident our trusty engine would roar back to life. Nothing happened. Pressed it again. Nothing. The panel powered up, but the engine wouldn’t start. Nothing. No beep, no alarm, just nothing.

Now what?

I lay down on the cockpit floor to get a better look at the panel.


The message is No DTC (Diagnostic Trouble Code), but to me it looked like “NO DICE.” No engine for you, thanks for playing.

I sat and had a think, and realized I didn’t have much of an idea what to do now. Yanmar and I had just met and I didn’t know his personality much yet. We haven’t even named him yet! Why would he not want to start? I brought up the troubleshooting manual on my iPad and there was info for all manner of different DTCs, but what to do if it just says No DTC?

I called the owner of the company who installed the engine. I tried calling the service rep of the local Yanmar but, it being Saturday, I wasn’t able to reach him. I called mechanically inclined friends. I checked the oil, the battery. NO DICE.

I sat and had another think. The winds were light but steady, we were making about 2 knots north. But by now the house batteries were very low. With no way to charge them by tonight, I would have no lights, no navigation gear, no fresh water (we had drinking water in separate jugs so were good there). I wasn’t keen to be adrift offshore without lights or navigation gear.

Our phones still had some charge but I’d spent a lot of time on the phone trying to figure out the engine problem. These would eventually be dead too. I have a spare battery for the windlass which sits upfront in the work area we call the “garage.” I brought it up to the salon, hooked up a spare inverter, and got our phones charging. At least one thing was working!

We ate another peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Calling for Help

But what to do about the journey at large? We were still several days from our destination of North Carolina. We could tolerate the lack of running water for showers, but it would be foolishness to sail days (and nights) in unknown areas without navigation gear, radio, navigation lights, and safety lights. Time to exercise an option I’d paid for but hoped not to use. Time to call Sea Tow.

Indecision: The path wanders as we adjusted our plan to changing circumstances, but ultimately head back south.

Calling for a Tow

I called Sea Tow in Cape Canaveral, thinking they were the nearest with high bridges and a deep inlet. They asked me my coordinates which were 27.791665, -80.216546, and mentioned that Fort Pierce was actually closer and could accommodate the vessel size. So we turned south a last time and I called Sea Tow Fort Pierce.

“Yes, no problem, we will come to get you,” they said. However, due to the non-compete with Sea Tow Sebastian, they couldn’t come north of 27° 35′ N. We needed to sail most of the way south to Fort Pierce before entering their territory and could be picked up. I could have asked Sebastian to tow me down there, but Sea Tow wouldn’t cover the second towing and it would have been expensive.

So we slowly sailed south in light winds. It was, by now, a nice day with gentle seas. Dolphins came and played around the boat! Despite all the troubles, it was a quiet, peaceful, enjoyable sail. I promise, there were more dolphins than shown in the video. They seemed to KNOW when I had the camera out.

Nighttime Tow

By the time we sailed far enough south for Sea Tow Fort Pierce to come to get us, the wind had freshened and the seas were rougher. I called a couple of times between 6 PM and 7 PM trying to find out where they were. Dark was coming fast and I had no lights, only a flashlight.

Night came and, despite assurances they were on their way, we couldn’t spot them. I called again about 7:30 and the captain told me he was on his way out the Fort Pierce inlet. We would surely see him soon.

Eventually, we did spot him as he went right past us about a quarter-mile astern. I’m sure we were all but invisible by then. I hurriedly dropped the sails and called him on the phone telling him to turn around. My flashlight has a rapid-fire strobe setting which I turned on and aimed his way. Eventually, he picked out the tiny strobing light in the darkness and came alongside.

We wrestled the thick, stretchy tow ropes onto the bow cleats and he began towing us towards the inlet. The seas were fairly rough again and were really kicking me around which was really kicking him around. Strider was far heavier than the towboat and so it gave him a bit of a bucking bronco ride.

Finally, we were in the inlet and calm water. The bright lights of the towboat were blowing away our night vision, and to our eyes, the unfamiliar inlet and shore were all but pitch black. All I could do was try to steer Strider behind him as best I could with the dark shores and unfamiliar and indistinct shapes rushing by on both sides.

City Dock – Fort Pierce

27°27’39.9″N 80°19’01.2″W

Fort Pierce City Dock
Fort Pierce City Dock

Eventually, we could just make out the dock he was heading for – Fort Pierce City Dock. It’s a short-term use public dock, but, since we were disabled there weren’t many options. He told us most of the marinas forbade them from dropping disabled boats off. (The marinas, understandably, don’t want boats showing up in the night that they couldn’t get rid of the next morning.) It was also difficult to find a place for a deep draft vessel like Strider.

Fort Pierce Inlet has quite a current when the tide is coming in or going out. At this point, the tide was coming in, and so the current was trying to push us off the dock as the towboat was trying to push us on. It was quite a struggle between man, machine, and nature. He broke two of his tow ropes (and expanded our vocabulary a bit)! But eventually, we prevailed and were able to safely tie off. A friend met us there and helped with the lines, otherwise, I’m not sure we’d have managed. (Thanks, Michael!).

The Sea Tow captain, Captain John, made sure we were tied up safely and OK, had me sign off saying he’d successfully rescued us, and was on his way.

Michael helped ensure we were safe, gave us two flashlights, helped us make sure things all was secure for the night and answered any questions we had and then headed home.

And this is how we found ourselves on the evening of the second day. It was Saturday night. All systems had failed. We had no power, the engine didn’t run, we couldn’t leave the boat (the current was pushing us several feet off the dock) but we had food and water and enough power from the windlass battery to charge our phones. The current made a disconcerting continual gurgling sound on the hull which sounded like the bilge filling with water. I checked several times but couldn’t find water leaking anywhere, so finally concluded it was just outside noise. Tomorrow we’d try to figure out a plan forward, but for now, we were very weary from a sleepless night and two stressful days. We ate another peanut butter and jelly sandwich and slept the sleep of exhaustion.

The day's track
The day’s track

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