Stuck In West Palm…

The engine was dead. We radioed Towboat US and after they had determined our position, they sent out a boat to tow us in. I arranged with Riviera Beach Marina for a dock for one night, and we started to try and sail Northward on turquoise seas. We were in about 40 ft of water and could see the shadow of our boat on the bottom! Fish were swimming below us as we tried to drift slowly North while waiting for the tow boat to arrive.

Mary and Mike were camping close by and came over and met us at the marina. We were very down. I called a Yanmar dealer and arranged for a mechanic to come out and diagnose our issue. We suspected a blown head gasket, but wanted to be sure. We drowned our sorrows at the local tiki bar where out waitress and  the bartender made sure we left happy!

Next morning the mechanic came over and sure enough, the diagnosis was a blown head gasket along with a multitude of other potential issues. We asked for 2 written quotes, one to fix and one to replace the engine. It was difficult to stay focused on work and the other little issues we had with this looming over our heads. After he left, the towboat took us from the dock out to the anchoring field and helped us to set our anchor so we could plan our next move without being charged $130/day for the dock!

The Yanmar dealer called the next day and verbally quoted $11,000 to replace the engine stating that the mechanic felt it was the best option for us. Again I asked for two written quotes which they said they would provide within a day or so, and then we sat down and talked our options over together. Either way it looked like it would be too expensive, so we reluctantly agreed that we would have to stop our journey here and sell the boat as is, return to Ohio and start over.

About two hours after making that painful decision, we received a phone call and things suddenly changed. It was a friend from Ohio. He convinced me that I could do all the work myself and he said he would help me if need be. All I needed was a torque wrench. He also had a friend of 40 years who worked in the marine repair business in West Palm and he told me how to get in touch with him.

With some new found hope, we started to dismantle the engine. I took a part off and Melanie would carefully label it and pack it into ziplock bags so we would not lose the pieces. Eventually we got the head off, then we took it ashore and I introduced myself to Alan, Bruce’s friend. He took me around to get replacement parts; a new head gasket and some hoses and then we dropped off the head to be checked over and planed if necessary.

We passed the days and weekends by with me working, then trips to the shore as well as Peanut Island, a park which we thoroughly enjoyed, and also meeting up with our friends Mary and Mike. They lent us their car so we could run errands, do some re-provisioning and pick up some of the necessities we would need to reassemble the engine.The grocery store was in a mall and they had an escalator for your shopping cart!

We also met a German couple, Heike and Herwig. They were anchored out near us and were having issues with their charging system. We met with them a few times and formed a friendship, they were very kind and hospitable and we shared some wonderful evenings together playing cards, eating and drinking and playing a game called “Die Welt” which means “The world”. Its a game that tests your knowledge of geography; we are going to have to find an English version of this game!

On Peanut Island, there was a large powerboat – 50 ft or so – aground, a victim of hurricane Irma. While we were walking the loop there one day, we met the owner and watched as a salvage company carefully lifted the boat, effected some repairs to through hulls and then re floated it. It took the whole day to get it off the shore and the next morning we saw it getting towed to port for repairs. The owner must have been relieved!

The first weekend was sunny and warm, and the tide was just right, so we went snorkeling on Peanut island. There were some artificial reefs close to the swim beach, so we took our gear and left the dog on the boat and enjoyed a wonderful few hours just drifting around among schools of all types of fish. The tide was coming in through the inlet and the water was crystal clear! We had a wonderful time, and we both agreed that we would have to do it again!

We motored over to the island almost every day for walking and to look for wildlife. On a few occasions we were blessed to see Manatees swimming around and were able to watch for quite a while from a bridge while they moved around slowly looking for food.

Alan called about 3 or 4 days after we’d dropped off the head and told me it was done. He dropped it off at the marina for us and the total to fix it was just under $100! We hauled it back to the boat and slowly started to reassemble the engine. It was the first time for me using a torque wrench, not that it was an issue, but I was so worried I would make a mistake and ruin the gasket. So we did it sloooooooowly. The torque spec was 140 pounds, so I did 60, then 80, then 100, then 120, 130 and finally 140, being careful to always tighten the bolts in the correct sequence. It took a good two days to reassemble the motor. On New Year’s eve we tried around 3pm to crank the motor over, having finally finished the assembly process. Second time it started! We were so happy!

We hauled anchor and motored over to the marina where we spent New Year’s eve celebrating with Mary and Mike at the Tiki bar. It was quite a night and so much so that I never made it to midnight, I was asleep in bed before then! Next day we motored out to the anchor field and tossed out the hook to hunker down again. A cold front came through and we experienced wind gusts above 50mph and sustained winds over 40mph for 4 or 5 hours. We actually dragged anchor right in the middle of a blinding rain squall, so we had to haul it up and reset it. When I was finally able to wrestle the anchor up to deck level (45 pounds plus 30 pounds of chain) we found a huge chunk of palm tree caught in the shank which was preventing it from setting. Once we had dumped that bad boy over the side, we were able to reset the anchor and ride out the rest of the storm. Although soaked, it wasn’t too cold, so we were able to go below and dry off and continue riding out the storm which lasted almost 3 days!

The second day of the storm the temperature plummeted at night down into the upper 30s and without heat we froze. While the engine was running we realized that one of the seals on the water pump had blown out when the head gasket went, so we ordered a rebuild kit for the pump; $75 instead of $800 for a new pump. Once that arrived we decided that if all looked well, we would depart for places further South.

After the storm passed we went into shore to pay for our marina dock as the office had closed early on New Years eve. They could not find our reservation and ended up not charging us for our 1 night stay! We picked up the rebuild kit and I spent the afternoon removing the water pump, taking out its innards and rebuilding it with new parts. Then we ran the engine for an hour, changed the oil, ran it for a few hours more and changed the oil again to ensure that we got out all possible water and antifreeze contaminants. The water pump looked good so we decided to leave and head South on Saturday morning.

Heike and Herwig got their issues fixed and Friday we took them for a drink at the tiki bar and then around 10 that night they left for the Bahamas. We left Saturday on a gloriously sunny day with favorable North winds and headed South towards the Florida Keys. We had been in West Palm for almost exactly a month and were ready for some new horizons but that is another story.

In looking back at our experience it was clear that God was moving in our lives and we never realized it until after we were called by Bruce. Then we started thinking about all those “coincidences” :

  • 2 miles further South in our trip would have resulted in us being towed to Fort Lauderdale where there was no local help for us.
  • The towboat towed us out to the anchor field and did it as part of the initial tow into the harbor, so we were only charged for 1 tow.
  • We surrendered the boat to God and were prepared to put it up for sale
  • We have no idea how Bruce found out about our issue but he called and convinced me to do the work myself
  • His friend of 40 years worked at the marina next door to where we docked our boat. Alan helped us get the things we needed and knew where to get the head taken care of
  • Mary and Mike were camping close by and they kept us company and helped us by letting us use their car to pick up all the pieces we needed to fix the engine.
  • Despite our best efforts to get an estimate for engine repair/replacement, we never received one and so Bruce’s suggestion to do the work myself became an attractive option.
  • The Yanmar dealer does not stock head gaskets for a 2QM20 – no plans to do so. The gasket was there because someone had ordered it and not picked it up – months ago!
  • We had perfect weather, the first storm we had that caused us to drag anchor occurred AFTER the engine was fixed. If it had happened before, we would have lost the boat on the rocks and breakwall to the East of us.
  • We had helped out a single mother (waitress) by giving her a nice tip, God rewarded our kindness by giving us a free dock for the night – almost a wash.

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