We planned to be in Cartagena before 5 p.m. as it was about a fifty mile run. We should have a little time to spare. I kept watch all morning as Coleen was busy with school work and writing her book for Nanorima. Sometime before noon I gave her the watch. About ten minutes into her watch, while she was horsing around with the dog, we heard a horrible sound, like the engine was choking or having a terrible cough. I quickly realized that sound was no water coming out the exhaust and asked Coleen to turn off the engine.
Darn it, I was pretty sure it meant the water pump belt had given way. Changing the belt was something that had eluded me in the past and I usually hired someone to do it. In fact the previous day, I’d had someone change the altenator belt and the water pump belt had checked out fine. It was all just too complicated for my meager mechanical ability. Now I was stuck. There was not much wind and we were not even half way to Cartagena.
I went inside and took off the engine cover to confirm my suspicions. Yes, the water pump belt was nearly falling off. Next step was to put up some sail so we would possibly have some maneuverability if needed. I put up the mainsail. At almost this exact time, the autopilot decided to quit working, so I had Coleen hand steer, not that we were moving, but to at least to try keep us from going backwards.
I went back inside, gathered up my tools and set to work. To change the water pump belt means first removing the altenator belt. Yes, the same one I had just paid someone to put on. He’d spent almost an hour working on it and he knew what he was doing. I had little hope. I took out the altenator adjustment bolt, but couldn’t budge the altenator to get the belt off. I tried without success to remove the adjustment bolt for the water pump. I threw my hands up in the air, put the cover back on and said, we’ll just try to sail.
We had just enough of a tiny breeze to slowly tack our way offshore, and then tack back, but we were making little forward progress. I was concerned about what we would do once we arrived in Cartagena with no engine to help us maneuver through the channel and get anchored, especially with the forecasted wind predicted to be on the nose. Would there even be enough room to short tack? After pondering it for a few minutes, I decided the prudent course of action would be to turn around and head back to Puerto Velero. We could drift/sail downwind, and it would be easy to get to the anchorage in the forecasted wind, and worse case we could get a tow from the marina. It all sounded like it would work, so with sad, droopy faces, we altered course.
We had a nice downwind run making less than 3 knots. I couldn’t manage to get the whisker pole down to use the jib, so we were under mainsail alone. Not remedying that problem probably cost us a few hours, but I tried hard to pull it down, blistering both hands in the process (only later when we were anchored did I realize the pole’s halyard was wrapped around something). Still we were moving and it was comfortable. After about 4 hours, the wind completely died. We were twenty miles from Puerto Velero with not a breath of wind. We sat there bobbing, so I decided maybe I’d better try again.
Other than getting hot and dirty, I had no success, so put the cover back on again, and did my best not to get discouraged at my lack of mechanical ability. We were becalmed all night and I really didn’t like it a bit. It was our first time in eight years to be in that position, as always before if there was no wind we could use our engine to get moving. I really wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do. Keep the sails up or take them down, or what if we drifted too close to shore? I decided if that happened I would just drop the anchor.
I spent a lot of time thinking about my life choices and wondering if this cruising thing was still a good idea. I was very weary of working on the boat and thought that perhaps RVing would be better. At least I could pull into a place for repairs or AAA would come out. Or even better maybe I could find someone who would like to go with me who had mechanical ability and perhaps was a better sailor. I would make a good first mate. Those things that go through your mind when you stay up all night and don’t feel well and are stuck on a sailboat bobbing around like a cork.
Coleen and I took turns on watch. She would give me one hour to sleep and I would give her two… after all she is my little girl. She never once complained, always got up for her watch promptly which I appreciated, as that last five minutes of your watch is painful. It was a long night, and sometimes we would be moving at one knot, sometimes not at all. I would try all sorts of maneuvers with the sails, and must have rolled and unrolled the jib dozens of times. I thought perhaps we were aground or had snagged something, but there just wasn’t enough wind to keep up moving. I even thought of perhaps launching the dinghy and rowing to tow us, but that was a silly idea.
By six a.m. we had a bit of wind, but it was right on the nose. Still it was something and I thought well we will just make long tacks. Our first long tack was fun, even at six a.m. as we were sailing along as close reached as we could manage making four knots. It seemed like a race car after 1 knot or even worse 0 knots. We tacked back to shore, and I was very dismayed to find we ended up in almost the same spot.. making less than one mile to the good after two hours! I decided I’d better try that engine again.
We stayed within two miles of shore making small headway at one knot, with Coleen at the helm, while I tried again. This time I had my long time friend DJ, on Facebook Messenger, and he was texting me instructions as I would send him pictures. I worked hard for quite a while, with my blistered hands know covered black in belt dust. At one point the boat lurched sending all my socket heads into the bilge, which I had opened to close the seacock. That gave me a much needed laugh. Finally after many messages, I had a new belt on, everything was tightened and we fired up the engine. Perfect amounts of water shot out the back of the boat as the engine hummed happily. I put the cover on, took the helm from Coleen, put us on a course for Puerto Velero and cried like a baby for a few minutes. I was ecstatic that I’d been able to fix it. I vowed to write down a very detailed set of instructions for my ships notebook so next time it would be easy breezy.
We made it back in to Puerto Velero just before one o’clock, with our tails between our legs. The only one happy about our arrival was Prince. He perked up like crazy dancing around, like he’d come home. So our little shakedown cruise popped up a few issues, all which can be fixed, except maybe the autopilot. Through it all we both stayed calm and did what was needed. I learned that being becalmed is not that bad and that I need to have more confidence in my mechanical abilities.
I was incredibly tired, dirty, and hungry but ever so thankful it all worked out. I worked on the autopilot last night to no avail. Today the wind is not so favorable, so I will rest and hopefully feel a bit better by tomorrow when we set off again.