After leaving Brunswick GA at 12:50 PM, Friday afternoon, we motor sailed along the coast under calm sunny skies, watching storm clouds emit lightening and thunder over the land to our west. The storm crept slowly toward us threateningly. At 4:00 PM we took the sails down, zipped down the cockpit Bimini vinyl panels to keep us dry. Lightening streaked across the clouds and down into the sea. The gusty thunderstorm pounded down upon us. Thirty minutes later we were through it. The sky softened as evening descended.
We thought our dirty fuel troubles were behind us. Our four-hour helm watches were going well, despite that my having trouble sleeping off-watch as we motored northeast, toward Southport, then Morehead City, NC.
About 46 nautical miles (nm) from Brunswick, my hope for a smooth trip collapsed. The engine sputtered and died. Was it an air bubble? A bit of dirt from the tank that was supposed to be clean? Cindy dove under the companionway to the engine, successfully restarting the engine. This should not have happened, but we proceeded nervously, crossing our fingers, praying to the engine gods.
Motored for another six hours. Maybe we were in the clear. But, once again, our hopes for a smooth trip were crushed. At 2:00 AM, Saturday morning, the engine sputtered into silence again, as I gripped the helm, my eyes stinging and my body aching from sleep deprivation. I opened the Genoa (jib) sail, stabilizing the boat somewhat as Cindy worked below. The diagnosis was swift. The fuel pressure was too high, but Cindy was able to release the pressure and restart the engine. She too was exhausted from sleep disruption.
I continued my watch at the helm. At 3:00 AM, the autopilot did an unexpected and sudden “pilot reset”, then restarted, and continued to steer the course. Since, we had this self correcting issue crossing back from the Bahamas, I didn’t think much of it.
My worry was the engine. Would it keep running? Were there still bits in the tank or some other part of the fuel system that would cause fuel starvation? At 3:30 AM, I decided we should head to Charleston, NC, about 40 nm northwest of our location to seek further diagnosis and repair. I didn’t want us caught out in the ocean with no motor and no wind. My husband, never a particularly adventurous sailor, agreed, ready to throw in the towel on this last leg of our adventure. He made it clear that he doing this solely because he loves me.
I turned the watch over to Cindy at 4:00 AM, but, once again, couldn’t sleep. Every sound, splash and movement kept me awake. I worried about what might happen next. I became the weak link in the watch team. Sleep deprivation can cause serious judgement mistakes.
At 7:00 AM, Captain John, our professional captain, recommended that we continue to Southport, NC, and not divert to Charleston. The engine was running well at 2000 RPMs, the weather was good, and Southport was only 125 miles to our north. I relented, knowing they were not as tired a I was, but just minutes later — the autopilot shut down and could not be resuscitated. That was the last straw for me. We were not going to manually steer for another 15 hours. We were going to Charleston! It was only 6 hours away.
How tired was I? I could not think straight enough to dock the boat when we arrived in Charleston. I turned Dolce Vento over to Captain John half way through the docking procedure. He easily got us to the dock, safely against a strong Charleston current at 1:15 PM, Saturday afternoon.
Cindy and Captain John reconnected the linear drive to the autopilot motor (a single small hitch pin had broken) and diagnosed the fuel problem with the help of Cindy’s friend Billy, a diesel expert, back in the Chesapeake — the Racor fuel filters needed cleaning and, perhaps, the switch for them needed to be rebuilt. I ordered the parts on Monday morning. We found a local diesel expert to confirm the diagnosis and clean the Racor filters. They had bits of silicon clogging the filtration system. We also scheduled a second tank cleaning for Wednesday morning.
Amid all this work, John and I decided we needed to leave the boat. After discussing options for proceeding, the Dolce Vento team agreed that Captain John and Cindy would bring the boat home, even though Captain John couldn’t get a third crew member on short notice. Their sleep cycles were good, Cindy wanted to do it, and they, not us, had they expertise to deal with any mechanical issues underway, should they occur again.
The wind around Hatteras was from the north, slashing any possibility of sailing around the infamous ship eating coast. We decided that once they reached Morehead City, they’d take Dolce Vento up the ICW to Norfolk, then head up the Bay. To prepare, I went up the mast to remove the wind speed and direction instruments. I was the smallest on our team, am not at all afraid of heights, and it helped me feel less helpless over the whole situation. We were not going to risk losing the instruments again under those ICW fixed bridges.
John and I said good-by Tuesday afternoon as Cindy and Captain John waited for the fuel cleaners to arrive. We landed at National Airport late that afternoon. Captain John and Cindy headed out from Charleston after fueling up about the same time.
Thirty-two hours later, Dolce Vento motored sailed and arrived safely at Morehead City without incident. We’ll meet them at our marina in about four days. Yesterday we bought a car and are making arrangements for an apartment by September. Until then we’ll live aboard Dolce Vento.
It’s not an elegant end to our sailing adventure, but it was worth every dollar spent, every mile traveled, every place where we anchored or docked, and every expected and unexpected situation. For me, a life without challenge and constant learning, is not a life worth living.
Dolce Vento once again is running well, everyone is safe and we’ve traveled well over 2000 miles in the last eight months, starting from the Chesapeake Bay, down the ICW and coastal sailing to Key West, to the Bahamas and then back to the States.
We are did it. We’re happy to be home in the DC area once again. With our sailing days behind us, Dolce Vento will be sold later to other folks seeking an adventure. Dolce Vento is very capable of handling anything that comes at her, she’s been well maintained, and she’ll be aching to be out on the water once again.
We await our next adventure — maybe hiking in Scotland, a trip to the UK for sure, and possibly a train trip across Europe. We are definitely going to visit friends and family out west this fall. The rest — well, we just don’t know. Whatever it is, it will be once more — an adventure.