The Great Harbour Cay Era
Our last post of this unforgettable journey. Here is Paul’s story of rebuilding the engine followed by Lynn’s marina memories down below.
So here we are in Great Harbour Cay Marina with a broken engine. After Chris and Kelly left I was finally able to make phone contact with, Victor the mechanic, and had him scheduled to come the next morning.
In the meantime, I took the fuel lines apart and cleaned everything out after discussing ideas with local boaters who graciously helped diagnose the problem. I cranked the engine after that and the hissing sound was still present and the engine shut itself down after 5 minutes of running and would not crank back up. It wouldn’t even make a turning noise that signified the engine was turning over. From my online reading, it was seized. Victor is a Filipino who lives on the island and works a full time job for a powersail company as a mechanic. He was a chief engineer for Royal Caribbean cruise ships for years and he is quite qualified. The issue is getting him to come after working all day at his dayjob…
Two days later Victor finally shows up in the afternoon. He tries to turn the crankshaft over by hand with some vice grips. It won’t budge. He says, “engine lock up” and proceeds to tell me we need to remove the engine. REMOVE THE ENGINE!! This is quite a shock to me, and seems like a huge job. It is. He acts very nonchalant about it and says “we take out piece by piece”. I ask him what his hourly rate is. He says “I not break you” and says he will rebuild the engine for $1000 and he will need me to order the parts. I told him to give me a day to research and then I would let him know. After hours of reading online and getting quotes for new engines, the $1000 rebuild was looking like a deal.
I tell him lets do it. Easier said than done. He comes back the next day and removes the exhaust, air intake, injectors, fuel lines and cylinder head. I then removed all hoses, heat exchanger, alternator, and every wire that connects to the engine. A few days later he comes back to take the engine out of the boat and to his shop. Easier said than done. Luckily I had some straps and some people in the marina that were willing to help: 5 other boaters. After a hell of an effort and lifting, we manage to get the heaviest 32hp engine ever created out of the engine room and into our main area of the boat (known as the “saloon”). We realize that this engine is way too heavy to take out of the boat and Victor says he is going to rebuild the engine IN OUR SALOON!. This was quite disturbing news since this is our home and our living quarters and I live with Lynn and foxy and space is already quite limited. But after realizing how heavy the engine is, I agree since I didn’t have much of a choice.
So now we have an old rusty engine block in the middle of our boat. I cover it with a sheet and this is how we live for the next month. When we were first doing all this we didn’t really realize how long everything would take. I knew it would be awhile since I have experience working on engines in foreign countries from my days of working in Brazil, so I kinda had an idea of what we were in for. Getting Victor to show up after his day job turned out to always be a waiting game. Sometimes he would show, sometimes not. Finally he was able to get the engine apart and get a part list together. From this part list I took to the ordering side, and sourced vendors and airfreight cost to get everything I needed from the states. After getting the run around from numerous companies in south Florida I finally got a great company called Beta Marina out of North Carolina to provide all the parts I needed for my 1979 Universal engine. This engine is based on a Kubota V1501 engine, which is what Beta Marina is (Beta Marine makes Kubota engine that has been Marinized). A ton of research went into finally getting the parts, the right parts, and the parts in time. I had them ordered and overnighted to Ft. Lauderdale (Tropic Air) which flew them to Great Harbour Cay.
This whole ordering process cost me about 2 week in itself. The parts finally arrived Monday June 29th, and Lynn and I celebrated with some beers at the beach bar and a swim in the ocean. I thought we might be able to leave in a few days and get back to the states by the 4th of July… I was wrong. Victor had plans to go to Nassau and was busy at work and I couldn’t get him to show until Thursday, Friday and Sunday (Sat the 4th we took a break). These days we reassembled the pistons, oil pans, seals, cleaned cylinder liners, and painted the engine. I have never worked so much on an engine in my life. Talk about greasy hands and a greasy boat, in 95 degree temps with mosquitos showing up everyday around 5-6pm. It was draining.
Sunday the 5th was a monumental day. This is the day we were able to get the engine block back into the boat. I was quite apprehensive about this day since I know how heavy the block is and since I got all new engine mounts, the engine has to land perfectly on the new mounts and line up very close with the shaft. On top of this, the engine is SOOO HEAVY so imagine trying to get sometime like that lined up perfectly. It took a hell of a lot of effort. see pics.
I came up with a lift system to hold the strap around the engine using the winches on the sailboat. I was soo proud of this design and it worked to perfection. My mounts even lined up perfectly. I was so relieved about this. From then on it was all downhill.
Victor reinstalled the cylinder head, and all the pieces. I installed everything I could everyday before Victor would show up in order to maximize his time to his specialties each day. Like I said, I learned a lot. Wednesday July 8th was another big day as we cranked the engine back up and it ran without much of a glitch… We had a few small oil and water leaks that we were able to fix and Lynn and I were able to push off the dock and leave July 9th ! We were ecstatic!
It was a testing experience for both of us. The heat of the days, the bugs at night, the engine in our living room, the un-organization of the boat, not knowing if Victor was coming, the parts ordering fiasco, etc, etc. It was very hard on both of us. But we did it. Lynn stayed by my side helping with whatever she could including putting wet cold rags on my head, and making little bottles of lemonade and putting them into our small cooler each day so we had a little “treat” and something cool to drink. I couldn’t have done it without her.
As we left the Harbour we had some bittersweet reflecting of our time there, and went out for a 5 hour test run of the engine. We anchored nearby a reef and I got a final spearfishing session in. I was able to get grouper, hogfish, mackerel and 14 conch on the last dive. Gotta love the Bahamas! We anchored in GHC leeside and then departed for Bimini at 4am the next day. We had an uneventful sail over with winds behind us and motorsailed the whole way. The engine gave us minor trouble and died 3 times. I was able to troubleshoot this to the ongoing fuel issues we have had since the beginning of the trip. It seems air is getting in the lines somewhere. We anchored in Bimini on the east side and had a final drink, meal and swim in front of an epic sunset. The next morning at 5am we left Bimini and had a great motorsail to Palm Beach. We made amazing time with the gulfstream and light ENE winds for a perfect Beam Reach sail. Averaged 10kts and arrived in palm beach inlet by 2:15pm. My mom greeted our arrival with a hug and kiss and fresh la croix and a cozy bed with AC in Juno Beach at her townhouse. It was epic. I am so lucky to have the support from her. Lynn and I had the adventure of a lifetime and we are so proud to have accomplished everything we have done together.
First Mate Lynnie
It was pretty surreal to me when the engine broke down. When your brain runs through the worst possible scenarios (that aren’t life threatening), engine failure is at the top of the list. We had over come some great obstacles earlier in the trip, persevered and it had paid off completely. Every day aboard Floridian has been a combination of adventure, reflection, and achievement while growing the relationship with the man I love, great friends that visit and people we meet along the way. My life-tank has been overflowing.
It’s a good thing we were living on the high of this amazing experience because in just a few short moments, everything changed. Tension was high when the engine died. We were facing so many unknowns (timeline of repairs, costs, importing parts, the mechanic’s abilities) but with Paul leading the way, we were eager to push on. The next month was a true testament of Paul’s incredible determination and the unrivaled comradery of the boating community. The Floridian, Foxy and I were in the best of hands.
Adjusting to dock life vs. anchor
When traveling by boat, people typically gravitate towards one or the other: dock at a marina or anchor. (Of course many switch it up.) For us, the difference is huge! Our solar panels provide us with the power we need to detach completely. We love to research the maps and decide where we will anchor depending on the wind protection we need and scenary. Most days we are the only boat in the area. This is what we live for.
Docking has a lot of advantages. Marina neighbors come and go constantly so you meet a lot of amazing people who share and inspire the travel/YOLO outlook. Let’s not forget the shower accessibility! We love our solar showers but were happy to store them away and use the facilities. We were incredibly lucky to lose the engine where we did. Great Harbour Cay Marina is our favorite marina and located on our favorite island. Rebuilding the engine proved to be a lot of work centered around a lot of waiting and the island has a lot to see. The major downside to our delay in the Bahamas was that it had turned summer and the marina’s main attraction for boaters, protection, now kept us from a cool breeze. I pinned up sarongs along the Bimini top and rotated them throughout the day to keep the sun at bay.
By the time we met with Victor, the diesel mechanic, 5 or 6 days had passed and Paul was eager to go spearfishing again. Our marina had become our neighborhood, with Dottie and Mike (the ever friendly and helpful couple from “Cool Beans”), the amazing Fox Family (on “Blue By You”) along with our old friends from the marina: Hans, Mico, Ramon, and Miss. Kim. We met the great crew of “Shallow Up” after drooling over their beautiful catamaran a few slips away from us. John, the captain and his wife Janet, are from the Sanibel, FL area and had been sailing for a couple of months with their sister and dad. Brenda, his sister, makes chocolates and shared some tips for me to do the same.
We took FL JR (our dinghy) out to meet them while they anchored one day. I stayed at Shallow Up while the guys took off to go diving. Brenda and I paddle boarded and soon the guys were coming back, Paul holding a big grouper and the guys telling great stories. A couple other friends met up in their dinghies to have a drink so we decided we’d have a family dinner back at the marina that night. Paul’s grouper fed a crowd! Thanks to Brenda for frying it up and the Fox’s for bringing the wine. It was a great day!
One day the Fox family insisted that we take advantage of their golf cart rental in its last hours. We took Kilyn along and explored some the the island we hadn’t seen including the beautiful caves.
Our next dive mission was with the adventurous couple, David and Lisa Crook of M/V “Lisa Marie”. We first met the Crooks at a marina dinner party and immediately noticed how much fun they are. They invited us over for a cocktail and we were instant friends. They recently moved on board their boat and are exploring indefinitely. They love to explore every crevasse of their surroundings and post to their facebook site, David and Lisa’s Adventure. They didn’t want the dive session to end. It was great for Paul to have a safety buddy and fun for us girls buzzing around the top in our dinghies.
Earlier this trip we met up with professional spear fisherman, Ryan Myers (Ryan Myers Expeditions) who happened to be here too. He has also been cruising the Bahamas this spring on a boat called “Pendana”. As luck would have it they decided to come back through the marina again! Game time.
DIVE DAY 2
DIVE DAY #3
This was the first Father’s Day I have spent without my dad. It was another one of those unforgettable days out on the water. We rode down to Alder’s Cay area and beyond. There is no therapy like the sea, the wind in my hair and a nice cold Kalik. Paul and Ryan both speared their biggest Black Groupers which were the biggest fish I’ve seen in my life. We ended the day at Bond Cay (where we spent Paul’s birthday 2 posts back) and Paul ended up giving Steven his grouper. I can’t wait to return there one day. Ryan immediately agreed, the place is just so special. Ok, here are the fish pics…
DIVE DAY #4
4th of July – Bahamian Style!
The marina held a fishing tournament the weekend of the 4th. On July 4th we borrowed the marina bikes to get to the Beach Club and beach out front for a swim. We tied Foxy’s leash to the basket and all of a sudden she springs out! I tried to stop as fast as I could and somehow avoided running over her or hurting her neck! Big scare but nothing a dip in the ocean didn’t fix. At night Hans shot off fireworks from the dock beside us, a local band and venders set up and they even gave us a Junkanoo! The whole island came to celebrate. We got to try Guava Duff for the first time which was so so sweet but oh so good. The night ended early when Foxy had another incident…she got on the tip of the bow, scared from all the commotion and either fell or jumped into the water! Thank goodness people were around and a man ran over reached down and pulled her out of the water from the dock. We all fell right asleep with firework views from our bedroom’s hatch. I would never expect to have such an amazing celebration of our Independence day outside of our country but it unforgettable.
Our last few days tied up
During all this time, we had growing anticipation facing the greatest obstacle of the engine rebuild. We had the 500 lb engine in our saloon (living area) and no concrete plan to get it back in its closet. As you can see in Paul’s recap above, the space is tight and access is very limited. The engine needed to be lifted about a foot and slowly moved about 6 feet back and placed precisely on 3 engine mounts. If the balance of the engine (alignment) is off by even 100ths of an inch, the vibration from the running engine can break from the mounts and even fall through the fiberglass, flooding the boat. That’s just peak into the concerns these guys were having to consider. One day, Paul thought up the pulley system that we ended up using and it felt like winning the lottery! With the help of a couple other guys, we were able to put the engine back in it’s place with ease. It was truly unbelievable. The greatest victory I have ever witnessed personally. Time for a Kalik celebration!
We left the marina a couple days later and anchored outside of Great Harbour Cay. We quickly hopped in the dinghy for Paul’s last dive of our trip bringing 12 conch, a hogfish, yellowfin grouper, a strawberry grouper, nassau grouper and half a huge mackerel to me in the dinghy (Cuda got the other half). It was as if the Bahamas didn’t want us to leave.
It’s worth it. It’s all worth it. I have no regrets and would do it all over again in a heart beat.
The Mitchems Take Great Harbour Cay! Next Post »
Post Sailing — Road Trip across the USA with my Sister!