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27 January 2008 | Exumas, Bahamas
27 January 2008 | Exumas, Bahamas


21 January 2017
Ok, do you have that song in your head yet (Night Ranger, Sister Christian)? MOTORING, What's your price for flight, in finding mister right, you'll be alright tonight....

I'm a closet "motorer" and now that I think about it, a proud one. I have a feeling I am not alone.
There is a certain glamour to the idea of sailing, there is a certain practicality to actually "getting there".

First let's talk about sailing, the act of actually putting up sails and going. For many years I raced and this was all that was allowed. Perhaps that explains my canvas rebellion. Now before I get too far ahead of myself I must say good advice to any "newbie" is RACE. Being wet, cold, injured, verbally abused while inebriated will prepare you for much of what the ocean has in store. I personally was never entrusted with much aft of the foredeck so "cold and wet" pretty much encapsulate those formative years.

Racing prepares one for the inevitable and constant failures that plague even modern rigs. There is a degree of physical fitness, a step or two up from golf, and a large amount of problem solving under pressure. Racing also has a large social component which forces one to pledge allegiance to all things canvas. The part that is kind of funny is anytime we had to actually GET the boat anywhere we MOTORED.
That part I REALLY liked :-)

So how much do we motor over sail? I'd say 80/20 (ah Pareto's Law). Yes folks this sailing blog should be a powerboat blog. Heresy you say. Now this was not the case in the Pacific and the tradewinds. One of the most wonderful qualities of that stretch of ocean is the consistent beam to broad reach. The dirty little secret, however, was that the problem was rarely too much wind, the challenge, more times than not, was too little. At these times rather than sit there clanging around in the swell we would "fire em up".

Ohana (the catamaran) had two 27hp yanmars and with one ticking away a few things would happen. First, the boat would start moving, from four knots to seven. This alone was a great motivator to captain and crew. The boat would "quiet down" except for the hum of the diesel of course, but that was oddly comforting. On a light air trip from Fiji to New Zealand we had one engine on ALL THE TIME. That's seven days! It was me and a friend and as I recall he said "it made him comfortable" to hear the purring of a well tuned diesel. I'm all about making our crew comfortable.

The second reason I'm not shy about firing up an engine or two is safety. Generally I'm sailing short handed and being at anchor is a lot safer than being on the ocean. A well maintained diesel can run for thousands of hours and the engines LIKE being used. The key words "well maintained" opens up a whole new entertainment center for the cruiser. Maintaining a diesel engine is fun in itself and rewarding, at least in my world of limited entertainment.

This piece is basically a rationalization piece to those of us who like the hear the hum of a motor and are looking for an excuse to come out of the shadows and share our enthusiasm for the same. It is also a call to those who have the "dream" to consider not just looking up, but also looking down, into the darkness of their engine rooms and embrace that warm lovable hunk of iron. Let's take a few brief minutes to discuss what the little darling needs and what the benefits are of making her your best friend.

The ONE THING a diesel engine needs is CLEAN FUEL. That's pretty much it. An intimate knowledge of your fuel system is a must and if you bought a used boat, particularly one that has seen little use, you already have a challenge. Your fuel is dirty, just make that assumption. What to do? Filtration.

Now I'm not a fuel expert and I'm not recommending any particular products. I have used Raycor filters on just about every boat I can recall and the cartridges are EASY to obtain WORLDWIDE, carry lots. Now the best setup is one that has two filters in parallel and allows you to switch to the second filter as the first becomes fouled. I don't have this on the current Ohana nor on the previous (cheap bastard).

The key to know when your filter is on its way out is a vacuum gauge. Mount this invaluable gadget where it is easily seen and check it often. I watch ours regularly and for the first couple of 100 hours on Ohana 2 she would gum up fairly quickly. What was happening was we were essentially "polishing" the fuel. After two hundred hours or so this has become much less frequent. There is a filter on your engine as well and is often neglected. This filter does not need to be changed as often as the Raycor filter, which does most of the heavy lifting, but does need to be attended to on occasion.

The second key is keeping the tools needed to change the filter right next to the filter. This includes in our case a plastic folgers coffee can and a one gallon jug of clean diesel to fill the new filter. I do the same thing for the alternator belt. All three wrenches to change the belt are in their own pocket in our tool bag. Changing that belt should be able to be accomplished in 3 minutes or less (the replacement is hanging in the engine room ready to go).

The dreaded "bleeding" of the engine. For some reason this little operation strikes more fear into the hearts of mariners than warranted. Air is the enemy to your diesel and if a bit gets in, usually during the filter changing process, she won't want to run. If you change your filter, add fuel before reinstalling and generally do a tidy job, odds are she will fire right up, burp a few times and then purr like a kitten. If you don't and you find you have to bleed, fret not. It's an easy operation best done first at the dock on a nice calm day close to a NAPA store. If you are really hesitant to touch your engine hire a diesel mechanic the first time and "pay your tuition". While he is there question him down about every little trick and do your best to keep him well hydrated and happy. Start with a water/soda combination, transition to beer as the job appears to be reaching its natural conclusion. Money well spent.

After this it's oil and oxygen. Change oil often, engine AND transmission. Again have all the tools at the ready, no searching involved for the oil, as far as the oxygen goes make sure your baby can get it. I have not had a proper air filter on any our last few motors so have not worried about much.

Odds are you will leave your boat for periods of time unattended. Do yourself a favor and top up the diesel just before putting her to bed. This helps prevent condensation and depending on what climate you leave her in this could be considerable. Condensation equals water and water to diesel is like.......any suggestions? Let's just say it ain't good!

One final note regarding your power set up is that expensive bronze thing that sits at the end of the shaft, your prop. Successful long distance motoring is dramatically enhanced with the right one. This topic is so loaded and passions run so high that I will defer to your good sense to do your research and come to your own conclusions. For me I've stuck with a fixed three bladed prop, the largest that makes sense and it appeals to my sense of simple. This in on our monohulls, the cat came with two adjustable pitch max props. When we first got her she was terribly over pitched with the engines not able to get over 2100 rpm. Again setting up props and deciding on the right pitch is way beyond the scope of this short story but is something you must understand and address. Once you get it right you will motor with confidence into wind and sea and be able to back up like a pro. Take the time.

Back to motoring....

Enjoy it, for a few delightful years I had the opportunity to drive an Auckland New Zealand Harbor Ferry, the Osprey. Two BIG twin caterpillar diesel, great crew (nod to Captains Kent, Gordon, Alan, John and Jackie (stewardess who may actually read this if she finds it on FB), plenty of waterline, 24 knots at cruise. Three stories above the water, in the full beam pilot house, life couldn't get better. We would dock thirty eight times a shift in all sorts of conditions and get to see the harbor in every mood and season. Did I mention three stories up and climate controlled (sort of)?

Flash forward to the fall of 2015 delivering a little forty footer (Ohana 2) from Noank to Nassau. Out on Long Island Sound heading west into a brisk breeze, little Yanmar ticking away, foulies zipped up tight. As I listened to the engine hum "that" thought crossed my mind, as it crosses many seasoned sailors................memories of the ferry................and the idea that perhaps it's time to look for a Trawler ;-)

Have a blessed day all and fair winds! Use em when you get em, when you don't, smile and turn the key!

P.S. Speaking of Motoring Madison and I will be doing the same around the Bahamas from about January 25th 2017 to February 20th 2017. If you see us do stop on by!!!
Vessel Name: Ohana II
Vessel Make/Model: Hunter Legend 40.5
Hailing Port: Anchorage, Alaska
Crew: Paul, Becky, Madison and Kelsey
Started this back in 2008 and abandoned quickly for other options. Time has gone by and we're back! After many adventures across the Caribbean and Pacific aboard Ohana we are back on it aboard Ohana II. The idea was to find a simple inexpensive boat that Madison and Kelsey could sail. [...]
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