Lisa Blair blog: Engine crisis averted

On Monday February 21, Australian sailor Lisa Blair set sail from Albany, WA in a second attempt to sail solo, non-stop, around Antarctica in record time aboard her yacht ‘Climate Action Now’.

Blair is still trying to raise money to cover project costs. To sponsor Blair, see: https://lisablairsailstheworld.com/sponsors

In the latest blog post, rope chafing and engine trouble causes grief for Blair. And Climate Action Now sails past its 2017 dismasting position.

Blog day 64
Latitude 48 00.861S
Longitude 24 57.962E
Barometer 1008
Air temp 3c
Local time 0326 am UTC+2
LIVE TRACKER

Hi all,

Oh, what a long 24 hours I have had. Last night while I was trying to sleep the winds continued to build until they were reaching 47 knots. Most of the night, the winds were peaking at 40 knots and occasionally gusting to 45 knots. This was still enough to cause poor Climate Action Now to round up into the wind often which always trips the auto pilot alarms, so sleep was hard to come by. I was already up at 6am when the worse of it hit and I was debating on putting in the fourth reef. 

The forecast hadn’t really indicated that it would be this bad or bad for long, so I was trying to ride it out. After a decent knockdown the decision was made. I could suddenly hear the port side wind generator vibrating like mad and I assumed that we had just broken another wind gen blade, so I needed to go on deck anyway to deal with that.

It wasn’t quite daylight yet and it was so cold, however with the vibrations being so bad I didn’t stop for gloves. I was thinking it will be a quick duck to grab the wind gen and tie it off and then back inside. I made it to the back of the boat okay but the time it took to lash the wind generator down was agony. I was fully crying from the pain by the time I got back to the shelter of the cuddy in the cockpit, and by this point my hands were useless. I needed to dry them and warm them fast, but you need to be careful not to rub the skin or you can cause more damage.

I grabbed the boat towel that was hanging just inside the hatch and wrapped it around my hands and proceeded to spend the next 10 minutes huddled in the cockpit with tears streaming down my face, while power breathing to ease the pain. While I was this shivering huddled mess the winds started to hold at 47 knots and the mainsail was flogging in the wind. As soon as my hands were bearable, I climbed inside and grabbed a pair of already wet gloves, jammed my hands inside and then climbed back out to put the fourth reef in the mainsail.

Once that was done, I needed to get warm again as I was feeling the whole-body shiver. I reheated my hot water bottle and made a hot bowl of porridge before climbing back into bed at 10am. I managed another two hours of sleep before the weather gods decided that it was enough, and I was needed on deck. 

So much for storm winds, we were now sailing in 20 knots of wind with the fourth reef in the mainsail and the storm jib up and not going anywhere fast. I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and after a few deep breaths to ease my frustrations I got up, kitted up in my Musto gear and went on deck to shake out the reefs to the first reef in the mainsail. 

I have also been well overdue to deploy another Bureau of meteorology weather drifter buoy but the weather hasn’t allowed it for a while, so before I shook out the sails I went ahead and deployed the next buoy. 

This buoy is dedicated to Sir Robin Knox Johnston for opening my eyes to solo sailing 10 years ago and for founding the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race that allowed me to race around the world in 12 months and gather over 40 000 nm of ocean sailing experience. Without that I never would be here today doing what I am doing, so thanks Robin for being an inspiration and allowing people like me to learn about ocean sailing.

After the successful deployment of the weather drifter buoy I was setting up all the lines to shake out my reefs when I noticed that the topping lift (a line that runs from the back of the boom to the top of the mast and is used to support the boom) had managed to wrap itself around the top spreader (the first, top most cross arm of the mast) on the port side. I really needed to free this before shaking out those reefs if I could, so I spent the next twenty minutes doing anything I could think of to flick the line clear of the spreader, but it was playing hardball. 

I was just getting too frustrated with it, so I left it and started to shake out the reefs, I had been undecided on if I only went to the second reef or if I went all the way up to the first reef. The whole time I had been on deck the winds were blowing at a max of 20 knots and showing signs of easing to 15 knots, so I decided to go the whole hog and winch that mainsail up to the first reef. I could have gone for a full mainsail hoist but the out-haul line that controls the back of the mainsail is heavily chafed, and I need some calmer conditions to be able to replace the rope.

So, until then I am not able to have the whole of the mainsail up. It was likely going to take me 20-30 minutes to winch the sail up because I was hoisting so much of it, so I finished setting up and got started.

It was when I was almost finished, and the sail was up at the first reef that I noticed an issue. For some reason the second reefing line on the outboard end wouldn’t release, sometimes I can get a little twist in the line that can cause it to jam but it normally winches out however this time it was well and truly stuck. I stopped what I was doing and went forward to the mast to see if the internal boom clutches had tripped or something. 

When I got there, I faced my second frustration of the day. The reefing line cover had been stripped.  Most rope these days have a core that then covered by a braided cover and as I looked inside into the boom, I could see that the cover had stripped and the core of the rope was now exposed. The cover had bunched up on one side of the clutch so badly that it was stopping the rope from passing through. I hoped that if I winched in on the line, I might be able to pull the cover down and secure it with some electrical tape.

I returned to the cockpit and decided that I would need to lower the mainsail to the second reef to be able to get enough slack to pull the cover through and tape it off. I was really starting to stomp around the decks now because this was so annoying. I now needed to lower the sail and make all that hard work of winching it up null and void…  calmed down and lowered the sail before winching in on the broken second reef line and was able to get it far enough down that I could tape it. 

The line will either need to be replaced or end to ended (flipped over) to continue using it, but the conditions were still at 20 knots of wind, so it wasn’t going to do too much damage just yet.  I added it to my mental tally of jobs to complete and after tidying up the decks I finally went below.

Inside and I was tired. I really needed to get sleep. The short job of shaking out the sail had gone from a 30-minute job to a three-hour job, and it was now getting dark. I also noticed that I had crossed a rather important milestone of the trip. I had officially sailed past my position of dismasting of Latitude 48 32.18S and Longitude of 22 40.23 East from the last record in 2017, but as I had been on deck for hours, I missed the official time. 

So, I worked backwards with a speed and distance calculation and am calling 08:12:32 UTC as the official time. It is a big moment for me because that was the moment that it all went wrong. I lost over four years of work in a single moment, and I nearly lost my life. Now every mile sailed towards the finish line is another mile further than the last attempt and so regardless of the overall finish I am calling it all a win from here. 

I had one more job that needed to happen today and that was the main engine filters.  My batteries were getting close to needing a charge and the forecast was showing winds up to 60 knots tomorrow morning so I felt it best to get that job finished off so I could make sure to have full batteries in this next storm. I smashed a protein shake and a protein ball for some fuel and got to work. I knew that the challenge was going to be removing the fine fuel filter that is mounted to the engine block.

This was in an awkward spot and would be really hard to get any purchase to twist it off.  I started with some attempts with bare hands, then added gloves in the hopes that the grip would help, I then tried wrapping a sail tie around the filter and trying to leverage it off. Nothing was working. I actually have a special tool for removing these but I didn’t think it had actually made it onto the boat in the chaos of Albany, so I was down to improvising. 

I decided that it couldn’t hurt to drain the racor, or water separator filter that is under the navigation station first and then try the engine. I might just get lucky, and the problem could be there. I did this, then using the built-in lift pump on the engine I pumped the fuel back in and got rid of any air in the system before trying the motor. 

I stood near the whole time to pump more fuel through every time the engine hunted for revs. After 45 minutes of this it confirmed that the problem was going to be that fine fuel filter on the engine block, and I needed to figure out a way to get it free. 

I remembered that I had some rubber in one of the lockers, so I dug that out and then put a strip of rubber around the filter and then added the sail tie rope around.  After tying it in place I shoved a spanner into the gap and twisted it up like I was tying a tourniquet before wedging one part of the spanner and using that for leverage, bit by little, tiny bit I was able to work the filter free. Success finally. It had already been over three hours on a job that would normally take me one hour to complete.

I replaced the fuel filter then cracked the bleed nut on the top and started to use the little lift pump on the engine to pump fuel into the new filter. The engine won’t work if there is air in the system, so you pump it out of these little bleed nuts that are located in the highest parts of the engine before cranking the motor over. I completed the job and was just tightening the nut up when the worst thing happened. The nut sheared in half. The thread was jammed in the engine and the head was in my hands. Crap. This is when the real fun started… not.

I needed to get the thread out of the engine and after trying to drill it out I managed to unscrew it using two tiny screw drivers, I then needed to find another bolt that would fit the hole because if I couldn’t then I wouldn’t be able to use the motor. I dug around in my spares box and found a bolt that I thought would work and luckily the thread was the right size, but it was too long.

After father digging I without success I decided to cut this bolt down to size using the angle grinder. So, inside the galley, that had now been demolished and turned into a workstation, I had drills and drill bits and now the angle grinder out.  Holding the bolt in some vice grips I very carefully cut it in half with a cutting disk in a five-metre swell. It’s a new skill that I have now, but I don’t recommend it from a health a safety point of view, but I was in a bind and it needed to be done.

My new shorter bolt worked great, so it was crisis averted. It was now 1am and I was thoroughly over today…  I was really feeling tired now and had cried on more than one occasion from shear frustration. I was exhausted, but the fun doesn’t stop on days like today.  While I had spent the last four hours getting the engine to work the new winds had arrived and swung around from the SW to the NW, so I needed to gybe and put the third reef in the mainsail. 

My whole body was feeling sore, like I had just gone 10 rounds in a boxing ring. The reefing and gybing was a bit of a slow affair but eventually it was done. I was able to crawl back inside the boat and collapse in a heap for a while before motivating myself enough to make something to eat.  A hot curry later and I am now ready for bed. I am all set now for this storm and only need to put the fourth reef in if the conditions require it so I am going to sign off here.

But before I go, I would like to take the opportunity to thank tonight’s wonderful degree sponsors.

Thank you to:

020 East – Carol Street – Thank you Carol for your wonderful support, I really appreciate it and the trip could not happen without people like you.

022 East – Brenda and Victor Bimrose, in memory of Frank and Flo Mitchell (Nana and Grandpa) – Thanks Bren and Vic for your ongoing support putting up with my wild ideas but being there none the less. Nana and Grandpa were my biggest supporters and during my 2017 Antarctica attempt Grandpa lived and breathed my trip like it was his whole reason for being..

023 East – Women Who Sail Australia – thank you to all the ladies who supported this project by donating to sponsor not just one but three degrees.  I know your all behind me, so thank you for your incredible support.

And now I need some sleep so goodnight, all.

Lisa

How to follow Lisa Blair’s voyage:

Track Lisa Blair’s position on her website – https://lisablairsailstheworld.com/

To sponsor Lisa Blair, see – https://lisablairsailstheworld.com/sponsors

Lisa Blair’s Facebook page – https://www.facebook.com/LisaBlairSailstheWorld

To purchase Lisa Blair’s book ‘Facing Fear’, see – https://lisablairsailstheworld.com/eco-shop

Barton Skydock
M.O.S.S Australia
Nav at Home
West System 3
Barton Skydock
Windcraft
Coral Sea Marina Resort
Lagoon 51