Wednesday, March 6, 2024

It's been a while

Sea Rover II safe in Puerto Aguirre
When we last left off (November 2022), Gary and Mark were stuck in an anchorage waiting for weather, just after crossing the Gulf of Penas. To make a long (and sometimes barfy) story short, they managed to make it the rest of way up the exposed coast (in 4 m seas – hence the ‘barfy’ part) and into more protected waters. As there was no room at the inn (ie, marina) in Puerto Montt, Gary left the boat in the small town of Puerto Aguirre a few hundred nautical miles south and came home for Christmas. He and I then returned in January and completed the trip up to Puerto Montt, where we hauled out for the season. Sea Rover II wasn’t much of a sailboat in the 2022/2023 season.

Our original plan was for Gary to return to Chile in October 2023 to get Sea Rover ready for our departure from the country. However, life intervened and we spent the fall celebrating 80th birthdays, digging a trench in our backyard (don’t ask), and replacing aging infrastructure on our pier. At the time, it didn’t seem that leaving the boat on the hard for three extra months would make that much of a difference.

Fast forward to mid-January 2024.

Meat!! (and vegetables)
Day 1: Gary and I arrived at the boat after a long 27-hour journey. At first glance, everything looked good. The cockpit wood was still in good shape despite being exposed to the elements for 11 months, and the mold wasn’t too bad. Everything looked clean and orderly. Then we stepped on the floor. “Squish”. Oh dear. Up came the floorboards – there was water up to the very top. We had left a through-hull open to prevent exactly this scenario, and we had 2 separate bilge pumps that were supposed to keep things dry… But the bilge pumps failed, and the tilt of the boat on the stands meant that the engine room and battery compartment were lower than the hull opening. One of our start batteries and all the lithium house batteries were completely submerged, as well as the lower 6 inches of engine. Not an awesome thing to deal with in our sleep deprived state. We immediately started manually pumping all the water out the bilge. One hour and one very large blister later, the water was down to a more manageable level. Step 1 complete. Step 2 was to figure out how to get power onto the boat as the batteries were not useable. After accomplishing that, we set out to the local fruit stand to buy something to eat. There would be no cooking for us until we got the batteries sorted out. We ate a few plums and nectarines and set about unearthing our bed, hoping that things would look up in the morning.

Day 2: Things did indeed look better after 15 hours of sleep. A shower and more fruit put us into a better frame of mind. We worked through all our options (walk away from boat, sell boat, fix boat), made a list and started working through the problems. We did some shopping and discovered an excellent place for dinner. A heaping platter of pork, beef, chicken, vegetables and French fries (typical Puerto Montt fare) was a welcome sight as the last hot meal we had had was in the LA airport several days before.

Day 3: Cleaning day. We pulled about 20 L of sludge out of the engine compartment and cleaned the battery compartment. On a positive note, we determined that all the engine fluids were still in their correct compartments. Then I worked my day-job.

Day 4: Finally got one battery hooked up so that I could use the stove. Food!!! And tea!!!! Everything got better after that and we just got on with it.

 A hole!!

Unrelated to our little flood disaster, we discovered that we had a second major issue to deal with. For the last few years, the heat exchanger on our engine has been leaking a bit of coolant from the end cap. When we had the engine rebuilt in 2013, our Volvo mechanic told us that this was the one part he was unable to replace. As such, he told us to never touch it and predicted that it would be the thing that killed our engine. Eleven years later, he might be right. While it didn’t look awesome last year, it looked much, much worse this year. Gary decided to take it off to have a closer look…better to do that on land than offshore…and discovered a good-sized hole just above the end cap. Sigh. The heat exchanger is a critical part of the engine. We knew that if it couldn’t be fixed, the engine would have to be replaced. Here. In Chile. While not ideal, as it would create an issue with the boat and Chilean Customs, we decided it was a viable option. We agreed that we would start with Phase 1, which was to see if we could get it fixed. If it could be, and if the engine ran, then we could put the boat fully back together and plan to heat north.

A chance encounter with another Cruiser in the yard that afternoon sent us into town the next day in search of “Mauricio”, who could apparently ‘weld anything’. Despite cyptic directions that included a photo of the building and an approximate pin location on Google Maps, we managed to find his shop. Mauricio took a look at the heat exchanger, nodded and said “Wednesday”. We were delighted! We had a short conversation to make it clear that we only wanted the hole welded and he shouldn’t touch any other part of the exchanger. Gary explicitly said, ‘do NOT take it apart’. And so began the saga of the heat exchanger.

We went back to pick it up on Thursday full of hope and optimism, only be discover he hadn’t looked at it yet. “Next week”, he said. We returned the following Tuesday. “Later this week”, he said. Gary returned on Friday – some progress - the heat exchanger was now in pieces and the hole still wasn’t welded. Oh dear. Would it go back together??? Regardless, Mauricio said he’d have it done by “Tuesday”. And so on. Sometimes Gary would go up there, sometimes Mauricio would send a preemptive text saying it wasn’t ready. On it went. Four weeks later, Gary told him that we needed it by the following Tuesday or he was taking it back whether it was done or no. Apparently the threat worked, as he texted Gary on Monday night to say that it was done. Gary picked it up on Tuesday and it looked beautiful! Mauricio had managed to reassemble it (a miracle), the hole was filled and he’d even painted it Volvo green! Mauricio told Gary it shouldn’t be touched again but would probably last another 1-2 years. Gary was ecstatic. Until Wednesday. Gary went to complete the re-assembly and realized that Mauricio had installed the heat exchanger core incorrectly. Doh! It would have to come apart again. Thursday – back to Mauricio. I’m sure he was horrified to see Gary again, but he spent the next 3 hours pulling it apart. Gary then spent Friday reassembling it (very challenging!!). We put it back on the engine on Sunday and started the engine on Monday to see if it leaked. So far so good. We won’t know for sure until we are back in the water and can run the engine for a long period of time, but we are confident enough that we can move on to Phase 2: launching the boat and preparing to leave Chile!


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