Day 25 – 410 miles from Bermuda

Rip spoke to me this morning about his concern that readers of my daily reports might be getting the wrong impression. His concern is that people will think that Sans Souci “breaks a lot” or that Nordhavn boats generally have problems. This could not be further from the truth. Roberta and I chose Nordhavn because we wanted the best, and after six years of ownership, we believe that more fervently than ever. I would be very surprised to see us ever own a non-Nordhavn boat. They have my strongest recommendation.

In the off chance that anyone reading my emails shares Rip’s concern, I’d like to tell a little more of the story. Contrary to what you might think, I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by how Sans Souci has performed on this voyage. To tell you why requires a bit of explanation.

Personal powerboats capable of crossing oceans are a rarity in US marinas. When Sans Souci was at Roche Harbor, in the Pacific Northwest, we were somewhat of a tourist attraction. Not a weekend went by that someone didn’t come begging for a tour of the boat. It took us a while to get used to the concept that there was nothing we could do about the constant stream of people wandering past our stern.

As unusual as Sans Souci was, we had no problem keeping her properly maintained. The Pacific Northwest, and Seattle, has some of the top maintenance facilities in the world. Several of the companies that built the systems aboard Sans Souci are based there, such as Lugger (the engines and generators), and Nick Jackson (the Davit).

For the past four years, Sans Souci has been in France, where it is an even rarer boat. There are plenty of top quality shipyards, but they aren’t accustomed to boats such as Sans Souci. Seattle is a major fishing port, and the propulsion system that powers Sans Souci is more similar to an Alaskan fishing boat than the mega-yachts one sees in the south of France. In the Med, power boating is speed-focused, even speed obsessed. We always felt culturally more at home with the sail boaters than the power boaters, for reasons I’ll perhaps talk about in a later report.

Actually, I’m just making excuses for something I’m not very certain about. To jump to the point: When Sans Souci was in France, Roberta’s and my perception was that we were working with great people, who were making an honest effort to maintain Sans Souci, but that it was outside of their core competency. We never had a major mechanical problem with Sans Souci, but I always had this sense that we needed to get back to the US sooner or later for some catch-up maintenance.

One of the benefits of this rally was the opportunity it presented to have Nordhavn directly involved with Sans Souci’s maintenance. Over a six-month period we had the attention of Nordhavn’s top people. I also took advantage of the opportunity to upgrade Sans Souci to as close as I could get to Nordhavn’s current “state of the art.” Nordhavn is constantly upgrading their boats, and Sans Souci represented their best effort, as it was six years ago. Since then, there have been innovations in many areas. The ones that interested me most were the electrical system upgrades and the improved cooling systems.

To make a long story short, between October of 2003 and May of 2004, Sans Souci became a very different, and greatly improved, boat. If I were to list everything that was done, I suspect there would be at least a hundred different entries on the list. Rip flew to Florida a week before Roberta and I arrived, for a test drive. His first words to me were something like “Ken – you won’t believe it. It’s like a completely different boat.” He was a very happy camper.

As a software guy, I am intimately acquainted with a process called debugging. Whenever software is developed or modified, it needs to be tested for bugs. It has been my experience that there is not a straight-line correlation between the amount of code and the time it takes to debug it. There is an exponential relationship. Twice the amount of code means four times the debugging time.

Sans Souci had hundreds of upgrades, each of which needed debugging. I remember calling my contact at the shipyard to ask if he wasn’t concerned that we were taking a boat that had had so much work done across an ocean, without a proper shakedown period. His response was that I was being overly nervous; that they had checked everything out, and would be prepared to meet the boat in Bermuda if problems showed up.

There have been issues that I suspect have their origin with the repairs that were made. The bolts coming loose on the steering may have happened because someone forgot to put lock nuts on when the rudder assembly was inspected. Dan Streech wrote this morning to say that he was 99% sure that when we study the alternator we will find that it is an enfant mortality issue. It was a new alternator, and perhaps a small percentage of them fail immediately.

Anyway, my only goal with the preceding paragraphs is to say that I see this differently than Rip. He sees what we are undergoing as “normal” maintenance, whereas I see it as being more issues than I’m accustomed to seeing, but that they are well below what I expected to see. I just do not believe you can have a boat in the shop for six months and expect everything to work on the first try.

Which brings us to the “issues” we’ve experienced today. Garret spent hours working on the large water maker to get it going. Apparently we had a badly leaking hose for the second time during the voyage. We were making water, but then pouring it into the back of our boat, rather than the water tank.

We also had an unscheduled main engine shutdown earlier today. We have a fuel transfer system aboard Sans Souci that helps us to move fuel from tank to tank. We have a total of six tanks, and are running the boat from one particular tank. We have the option to take fuel from any selected tank, or we can transfer the fuel to a particular tank and have the engine take it from there. I’ve always run by just taking fuel from whichever tank I wanted, and let the boats balance tell me which tank to pull from. If the boat felt heavy in the front, I pulled from the front tank, etc. Only one of the six tanks is physically higher in the boat than the main engine, the engine room starboard tank. We decided it would be nice to move the fuel into that tank, and keep life easy for the main engine, under the assumption that gravity fed fuel is simpler for the main engine to grab than fuel that has to be forcefully sucked from a tank 30 feet away. This also gives us the advantage of filtering the fuel one extra time, as the fuel transfer system has its own filter.

To move fuel into the engine room tank we need to run the fuel transfer system periodically. I’ve personally never used the fuel transfer system, but it isn’t really complicated. You move some levers that tell the system where to get fuel, and where to put fuel, and then you turn on the pump. Minutes later, you are done. Or, at least that’s what it says in the book.

The fuel transfer system is being stubborn today. It’s not a huge issue, as I ran the boat quite happily for six years without ever using it – however, it has been frustrating Rip, who would like to see it working. After a bit of discussion we decided that we should replace the fuel filter on the fuel transfer system to see if that would solve our problem.

Oops. We now know that if you are not careful, it is possible to suck air into the engine through the fuel transfer system. At about 1:00pm today, our main engine quit. That got everyone’s attention. We suspected immediately what had happened, and that the fix was to bleed the lines.

Kirk White is a senior hauncho at Nordhavn, responsible for the final outfitting of the boats. He is also a crewmember here on Sans Souci. His reaction spoke volumes about his personality, and taught me a lesson. He never blinked. He saw this as a valuable opportunity to teach a lesson, and nothing more. He had no doubt that the engine would be going again in a few minutes. He simply challenged us to think about what happened, why it happened, and what the next step should be. He knew that if he ran down the stairs and fixed the problem, a valuable opportunity to advance our knowledge about engines and fuel systems would be lost.

Getting the main restarted only took a few minutes, but getting the fuel transfer system working correctly has proven a larger challenge. I’m sure it will be going by the time you read this, but for right now, we’re still in the learning phase. Currently, our primary hypothesis is that the fuel transfer system has been working all the time. The operating manual for the boat says that it transfers 60 gallons of fuel per hour. The brand name on the pump doesn’t match the manual, and the pump looks small. We think it is pumping just fine – but at only a small fraction of the rate we were expecting.

As I was typing these last couple of paragraphs, we were “attacked” by Goleen, who snuck up on us and then started hitting us with giant sling-shot launched bio-degradable water balloons. We defended ourselves well. I was involved long enough to make a decision as to what music we should blare through our ships hailer. I chose “Yellow Submarine” which seemed to be a hit with both boats. For a brief period, Sans Souci’s front deck was consumed with “Pull, Launch, Duck and Boogey” (all of which are verbs that seemed to be acting upon our respective crews). I thought our crew was the most innovative when we launched a flying fish at Goleen that had washed up upon our deck. I took photos, but will not be uploading them. Been there, done that. We need a new outlet for our creative energy…

I’m now looking out the window at a sailboat. It refuses to answer calls via radio, and is the first small boat we’ve seen. We did get close enough to see its name, “Anna”, and a French flag.

It still won’t answer on the radio, after repeated requests from our group and various horn honking. We got close enough to see a man in the back, and tried to communicate with him in both English and French, but he stubbornly refused to respond, or had no radio. A water balloon attack was briefly discussed, but we decided we had probably already frightened him more than we should have. Can you imagine being approached out in the middle of the ocean by six boats that shouldn’t realistically be there? We must have been quite a bizarre sight for him.

Everyone is settling into cruising. Time seems to be moving both fast and slow. Bermuda now seems a distant memory, yet we were there within the last 48 hours. Perhaps time is moving slowly because so much is happening. Days are filled with activities; twice daily roll calls, meals, watches, fishing, water fights, repairs, calculations, research, engine room checks, deciding what music to put on the iPod, etc. I’ve been finishing my days thinking: “Darn it, another day went by with no time to read, or to get work done,” Boredom has not been a factor, which is nice. But, as strange as this sounds – if I didn’t know better, I’d swear we have already been at sea for a month, and at this pace it feels like it will be years before we arrive.

P.S. – The weather outlook continues to be depressing (as compared to my dream of a totally flat ocean), whereas the reality continues to be near perfect. We have spent much of the day in fog, but it has otherwise been smooth sailing. For a while we ran within 50 feet or so of Emeritus. It was a very cool feeling…
Following is the current outlook: For the Slow-Group, along the rhumb line to Horta expect:

Thursday/03: Variable to occ W-N 07-16kt. Swell NW 5=7ft. 6-8sec periods.
Friday/04: WSW-SSW freshen 10-20kt. NW-W 5-7ft.
Saturday/05: WSW-NW 15-25kt. NW 6-8ft with occ 10-11ft sets.
Sunday/06: NW 15-25kt. NW 6-8ft.
Monday/07: NW-WSW ease 10-18kt by noon. NW 5-7ft.
Tuesday/08: W’ly 20-30kt. West 8-10ft 8sec periods.
Wednesday/09: W’ly 20-30kt. West 6-10ft occ 11-12ft sets.

For the Fast-Group, along the ‘apparent’ rhumb line to Horta, expect:

Thursday/03: S-SW 11-21kt. Swell confused to West 4-6ft.
Friday/04: SW-WNW 12-22lkt. W-NE 6-7ft.
Saturday/05: NW 10-20kt. NW 6-8ft. 7-9sec.
Sunday/06: Freshen NW 15-25kt. NW 7-9ft.
Monday/07: NW-W 10-20kt. NW 5-7ft.
Tuesday/08: W’ly 20-30kt. NW-W 7-10ft.
Wednesday/09: W’ly 20-30kt. West 7-10ft.

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