We had moved house, from Orlando Florida, to Fairfield Harbour, near New Bern North Carolina, and I now needed to move Britannia from Cape Canaveral, where it had been docked for five years, up to Fairfield. Fairfield Harbour (fh-poa.com) . It was January 2022.
Britannia is a 50’ foot brigantine schooner, square rigged on the foremast. She is a powerful ocean cruiser, but had not been to sea for some time. I therefore thought it prudent to have a trial run up the Intracoastal waterway, “Just to check that everything works.” I told my wife, before stepping out into the Atlantic, and 430 miles to Beaufort Inlet, NC, then up a river, into the Pamlico Sound and New Bern.
My crew was Bob Snell, a very experienced mariner, and his girlfriend Lisa, who was quite new to boating. An intracoastal passage would also help Lisa acclimatize to the boat, before an ocean passage of possibly three nights.
All our friends from four years in the marina were gathered on the dock to see us off. The lines were let go, and I pulled the gear-shift lever astern to back out of the slip, but it was rock-solid. The lines went back on, while I freed the shifter with some WD40. Not a very auspicious departure.
We chugged north at a steady seven knots, expecting to easily make New Smyrna Beach, a mere 47 miles by nightfall. (Map).
CONSTANT AND UNUSUAL BREAKDOWNS.
We were just north of Titusville when the saloon suddenly started to fill with acrid smoke and I immediately cut the engine, thinking we were on fire. I eased Britannia into the side of the channel and she came to a halt in the soft mud. We flung open all hatches from on deck, and the stink began to slowly dissipate. It must have looked like a fire to anyone ashore.
An inspection all around the engine bay showed no sign of leaks. “Start her up for just a minute,” said Bob, “and I’ll see if we have any pressure leaks.” This immediately revealed a small crack in the pressure side of fuel lift pump, and fuel was being sprayed all over the hot engine block. Thank goodness diesel does not self-ignite, because if it had been a gas motor, there could well have been an explosion.
Bob wrapped the leak with duct-tape, to prevent fuel spurting all over the block, and we limped back to the Titusville mooring field, where we picked up a buoy.
The crack in the pipe was right up against the nut securing the pipe to the lift pump, so it was not possible to splice it with a piece of rubber tubing. I couldn’t find any rubber fuel pipe small enough to cover the 3/16” inch pipe anyway, so it meant a trip ashore.
I lowered the dinghy from its davits, and the outboard was screwed to the transom, but it stubbornly refused to run continuously, and would only fire with a squirt of engine-start into the carburetor intake. Then it would again die, indicating a carburetor jet blockage. Bob hitched a lift on a passing dinghy to try to find suitable rubber fuel pipes. I took the carburetor off the outboard and cleaned everything with carb’ cleaner, which finally got it running.
Bob returned with a selection of different sized fuel pipes, and we devised an intricate way to stop the leak. I sliced a short length of rubber tubing down its length at about 65 degrees, so it could be wrapped around the pipe and pushed up against the crack, near the nut. Cutting the tube at an angle instead of straight allowed the edges to overlap as they were clamped together, with more chance of making a tight seal. I then made a similar “bandage” of a larger diameter tube that fitted over the actual nut head. The two slices were positioned at 180 degrees to each other, then clamped tight with two small hose clamps—one over the nut head and one directly over the crack in the pipe. This done, I gingerly pressed the engine start button and waited for Bob to pronounce the success or otherwise of our seal. “Dry as a bone” was his exclamation. Wow! .
With a major breakdown repaired and a working outboard I felt we were getting somewhere, after all, this was the purpose of the ICW trip. The following morning we decided to continue north towards New Smyrna Beach, where we hoped to find material to be able to make a more permanent repair.
We had not gone three miles when steam started seeping up through the saloon floorboards. I immediately anchored in the fairway and stopped the engine. An inspection revealed a crack part-way round the rim of the water filler neck, on the engine header tank. This had reduced the engine pressure to zero and boiled all the water out of the header tank.
Oh! and did I mention that the engine water temperature gauge had stopped working? Not being able to read the engine temperature probably allowed it to overheat and blow the filler cap. The gauge was working fine when we left.
I had a pack of JB Weld, a two-part epoxy, which is supposed to be heat-resistant up to 450 F. Bob meticulously cleaned the filler neck and applied a good thick layer of the goo all the way around the rim. Unfortunately, the pack was the extended curing version, so we decided to let it set overnight, before we started the engine. We were safe enough (I thought), anchored at the edge of the calm channel—that was, until 2.30 am, when the wind came up and pushed us to the side of the channel, where Britannia began bumping sideways on the bottom. This became excessive as the wind picked up to 25 knots and we had no engine with which to pull her off, or which we could even rely upon to get us back to Titusville in the pitch-black night.
OUR KNIGHT WITH SHINING TWIN VOLVO'S TO THE RESCUE
I called Towboat US, which I had only joined a week previously, “But I don't suppose we will need it” I told my wife. Only an hour later Kevin Derr, the towboat Captain, passed over the twin looped hawser bridles which we fed through Britannia’s bow fairleads and over the Sampson post bits on each side of the bowsprit. The anchor was hauled in and we were swiftly on our way back to the mooring field where it took Kevin a few tries to steer us onto a mooring buoy in the wind and dark. It had certainly been a memorable night for Bob and I, Lisa having stayed in bed the whole time—it would have been nice to have had a cup of tea.
One of the things that had continued to work faithfully was the 6.5-kilowatt generator, which powered the air conditioning, but while the genny kept going the AC suddenly failed, showing a water shortage fault, but that could wait until the morning. We all went back to bed, presumably also Kevin our gallant rescuer.
In the grey light of dawn, with the wind still blowing, the AC water filter was unscrewed and I was absolutely astonished to find the whole of the 6” long round gauze filter completely solid with muck! It must have been drawn into the filter when we were bumping against the side of the channel. The pipework from the seacock to the AC pump was also clogged, so it all had to be removed and blown clear before the AC would work again. Anyone who has lived on a boat in Florida, will know that air conditioning is very nice to have, even in January.
Another annoying fault was that the engine-stop-solenoid began to fail intermittently, and it was sometimes necessary to lift the floorboards to pull the lever by hand, to stop the engine.
It seemed like as soon as we fixed one problem another reared its ugly head, none of which were apparent before setting out.
RETURN TO BASE.
Over breakfast I held a council of war, and it was reluctantly decided we should return to Cape Canaveral to repair the faults, then think about trying again later. In retrospect it was the correct decision.
The water filler cap repair looked like it had set hard, but after only half an hour the pressure blew through the edges of the sealant and we had to slow the motor to a tickover, as we limped back to our berth continuously refilling the header tank as we went. It took five hours in light airs, assisted by the squaresail and ‘tweenmast staysail.
Poor old ‘Perky’ Perkins, (and his owner), were worn out, and I think it is a fine testament to these sturdy old engines that it ran at all, considering the condition it was in.
To say I was exhausted, both physically and mentally, would be an understatement. I simply could not bring myself to start the repairs, and was quite happy to close the boat down, then rent a car and drive for 10 hours, 700 miles north to our new house, where it snowed.
Apart from the outboard motor refusing to start, none of the other breakdowns could have been predicted. A fuel pipe break, a water filler neck crack, and a failed temperature sender are rare failures. Therefore the moral is that a boat owner needs to learn every single aspect of his boat and develop many skills, plumbing, electrics, mechanical, engine, AC, etc., in order to be able to fix the unexpected.
Over the next few weeks I bought a new filler cap for $195, yes $195!, a new water temperature gauge sender for $17 and a section of new pipe for the lift pump costing $50. I also bought a new fuel lift pump for $50, and a new fuel filter for $15. Upon fitting the new pump I discovered two cracks in the fuel line from the tanks to the pump, that meant a new 9’6” long fuel pipe for $105. Total $432.
The engine stop solenoid did not fail in more than fifty repeat bench tests, and turned out to be a bad earth to the engine block.
I returned to the boat and fitted all the new parts. The new fuel pipe enabled me to make a good connection to the old pipe, using a short piece of rubber fuel line and line clips. The pipe snaked round the back of the block to the fuel filter, then the injection pump. These types of fuel line clips are better than tiny hose clamps, because they exert equal pressure all the way round a rubber pipe. On a tiny regular hose clamp the worm drive part is not exactly circular. That’s why it is recommended to fit two at 180 degrees from each other.
It took a long time to bleed the new fuel line, all the way from the tanks, through four filters, then the new lift pump, and to the engine, but eventually it fired and has worked perfectly thus far.
Boats! Who’d av’ em?