La Paloma, Uruguay
17 November 2008 | 34 40'S:54 10'W
To sit out a pampero (strong SW wind in the Rio de la Plata area) Saturday, we came into La Paloma, Uruguay.
We were having intermittent problems with the engine. I'd changed one fuel filter (which appeared fine), and suspected the other two needed to be changed, but was hoping to get the boat into port before doing so. By the time we got close to the port, the wind was about 25 knots, and we were motorsailing, noticing the engine was having a lot of trouble. There wasn't a good place to anchor, and it was bouncy enough, in an increasing wind, and we were tired enough to not want to try changing the fuel filters right there.
Traffic Control in the port had earlier told us we would go to a mooring when we arrived, and to call back when we were closer. Just outside the entrance to the harbor, after dropping the one sail we had up, and motoring into flat water, we called to say we were about to enter, and they told us we were to go to a dock. There followed a mad scramble to get docklines and fenders ready. The engine had lost a lot of power, and I really wanted to get tied to the dock quickly, before it failed. As it turned out, just downwind of the dock, the engine stopped, and both docklines that were thrown missed. As we blew off downwind, I restarted the engine, and found it did not have the power to retry getting upwind to the dock.
I asked if we could take a mooring, and they said we could. We had trouble getting the anchor ready to drop (wanted the anchor ready in case we couldn't reach the mooring), as the winch had become very difficult to turn after getting sprayed with salt water for the last six weeks at sea. George managed to get the anchor chain out of the locker without the winch as I approached the mooring buoy. I couldn't make the turn into the wind sharply enough with the power I had to clear a nearby boat, so I eased off the throttle for another attempt. Upwind, on the foredeck, George interpreted this as we were unable to make headway, and dropped the anchor. This was just as well, as the anchor held us away from the rocks that were 100m downwind.
The prefectura (harbor master) was very helpful, and came out with their launch and towed us to the dock. There was a Uruguayan navy ship nearby, and several sailors came out to assist. We got lines on the dock from about 6m (20 feet) away, but then the keel, which was locked down, went into the mud and we stopped. The keel is raised by a winch pulling a steel cable around some pulleys. Unfortunately, the cable broke when we tried to raise the keel. So we settled into the mud, 6m off the dock.
As we worked on replacing the winch cable (we had a spare), the prefectura kindly tied a wooden rowboat to the dock and to our boat, so that we could get to and from the dock. Two mechanics from a nearby fishing boat came over to help with the engine, and showed us that both the fuel filters were full of water and what seemed to be Sikaflex. The way the fuel system works on this boat is that fuel is pumped from the main tanks through a Racor water-separating fuel filter (which should take out almost all the water, and which I had changed, and which had only a little water in it), to a day tank. From the day tank, it goes to two more filters, one of which is also a water separating one with a metal bowl (so you can't see the water by looking at it). These two filters were the ones which had the majority of the water in them. The day tank is an old plastic tank, and it had been repaired earlier with some kind of sealant, but had started to leak. We had patched it up with Sikaflex (a sealant), but it appears that the fuel dissolved some of the Sikaflex we put in and some of it ended up in the filters. Draining the water and replacing the filters solved the problem, and the engine was running well again.
After replacing the winch cable, we got the keel up, and several navy men assisted us in pulling the boat closer to the dock.
So we got the warm welcome that visitors are assured of (according to the crusing guide) when visiting Uruguay. People are exceptionally nice here, and it is quite a pretty seaside resort area. It is quiet now, just getting ready for summer, which starts next month.