The Ups and Downs of Cruising

By Carolyn Shearlock © 2015 • all rights reserved

The Ups and Downs of Cruising: When we dream of cruising, we think of all the fun stuff. But the reality can be a little different.

This isn’t the post I had planned to write for today. (Update: this was written April 6, 2015. We still have ups and downs, but they’re new and ever-changing.)

If you follow The Boat Galley’s Facebook page, you know that on Friday we finally found and cured an air leak in our fuel system that would periodically cause the engine to lose RPMs and eventually die. We’d been working on it for over two months, and after checking many things and repeated testing, had finally run for 3+ hours in chop with absolutely no problems. We were ecstatic.

On Saturday, we went out for a day sail. No testing anything. Just a sail in beautiful weather with wind 10 to 15. And we sailed for over four hours, going south of the reef into the deep water of the Straits of Florida. We were just grinning. This is what we’d dreamed of for the winter.

When we dream of cruising, we think of all the fun stuff. But the reality can be a little different.

Coming in, we turned on the engine and lowered the sails as we approached the entrance to Boot Key Harbor. And the engine quit. [It did start up again.]

Just like that, we went from a high to a low in about two seconds. Cruising can do that to you. Much more often than life on land.

Or maybe it just seems that way since, for most of us, “land” problems are familiar — what we’ve dealt with all our lives — and “boat” problems are new and unfamiliar. We don’t know what the consequences will be: what it will take to fix them, both in terms of time and money. And what those will do to other plans or dreams that we had.

And in our dreams, we didn’t envision any problems. No, it was pretty sunsets, white sand beaches and cute little rum drinks. I mean, who dreams of weather delays, leaking holding tanks or tearing apart a diesel engine?

When we first began cruising, we expected the “highs” that cruising would provide — seeing sea life, beautiful sailing days, gorgeous scenery, the fun of exploring new places. What we didn’t anticipate were the frustrations, or lows. To get those great times, we learned that we had to cope with the problems. The range of emotions is just that much wider.

As Beth Leonard has said: “The highs are higher and the lows are lower.” I can’t say I like the problems, but life aboard a boat is never boring!

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  1. We had an intermittent problem similar to yours on a police launch once. It would come and go and was seemingly unpredictable. The engineers checked for air leaks, cleaned the fuel lines, changed filters and were on the point of taking out and cleaning the fuel tanks when one day it was working fine until we put into a marina and in leaving the problem was back….I thought about what could have changed in that time and suddenly had a lightbulb moment….the stop solenoid was dry and was sticking, lubricated it and problem solved. It wasn’t returning fully home and was thus cutting the engine. Needless to say I wasn’t impressed with the engineers as it was cured by a complete novice. Was rather proud of myself but thought it should have been the first thing they checked. Might be worth a look on yours? Whether it’s an electric solenoid or a pull cable make sure it’s returning fully home after operation. Whatever it is….best of luck. I do hate those intermittent problems that are hard to trace and sap your confidence in your engine. Give me something broken that I can see any day!! Fingers crossed for you 🙂

  2. Never a dull moment. When it’s good its VERY good. When it’s bad it’s still pretty good!

  3. Well said!

  4. It’s always something!

  5. I continue to be amazed at how many things need repaired/replaced on sailboats, particularly older ones. Are we ever comfortable that all systems can be relied on?

  6. Reminds me of same issue we had. Bill cut hole in top of fuel tank to see what was going on. By the pickup tube was a marble size of black caulk type substance that was getting stuck & then unstuck when engine was off. Removed the substance & solved that problem. He then had to make a cover plate for the hole he made.

    • We were really suspicious of something like that but we’ve pulled the tank and cleaned it — frankly, there was nothing to clean. Also checked the pickup tube. It’s clear and no cracks.

  7. We have recently spent two weeks in Culebra trying to resolve engine problems that plagued us all the way up the south coast of Puerto Rico. It ended up we had three things really that were causing our problem, that really came to be apparent in rough seas (20 knots, 5-8′ on the nose). We had done a haul out and not closed our seacock for the seawater intake and when we launched we developed an airlock in our lines so above 1800 rpm the engines would overheat (lesson #1 close the seacock). We found a crack in the lid of our strainer which was contributing to the airlock (replaced the strainer lid). Finally, and this was the real kicker, we had a clog in our fuel pickups in the tank. We had replaced the original pre-filter which was really just a water separator, with a racor filter but were still having fuel supply problems. Only once we had polished the fuel in the tank for a couple of days and removed the clogged mesh from the pickups were we back in business. Now we’re on to trying to resolve a wiring issue that is only allowing us to charge at max of 20 amps – it’s never ending, but the highs are oh so worth it!

  8. What are the conditions of your flexible fuel lines? Any chance they can collapse and pinch off?

  9. A friend said when he heads out on a passage, he plots his course, puts the autopilot on, and just sits back and waits for s$$t to break! Sad but true.

  10. we can relate. On our trip from Beaufort to Charleston, our port engine overheated. They are working on it as we speak. Cross your fingers. Hope you get your issues resolved. We would like to be home in MI by the forst week of June. We shall see about that………

  11. It’s not all fair winds….

  12. Ann pls comment after fxd. We are dealing w/overheating & inching our way to boatyd for summer haulout. Have mechanic comg nxt wk

  13. Decals applied to the new boat yesterday, cleaning up the old boat for sale today…..working on the new boat is so much more rewarding. Thankful to be half of a boating couple.

  14. NAILED IT!!!

  15. Peter Simpson says:

    I have been working on boats, off and on, for over 50 years and have come up with a phrase that covers these situations: Boats are Brilliantly Organized Attitude TesterS

  16. We must be on exactly the same wave length here in Boot Key (maybe it was that solar eclipse) as my last two blog posts were about the highs and lows of living aboard. It always makes me feel better to read other cruisers experiences and know we’re not the only ones going through this.

  17. Haha ! Being catapulted backwards out of the high side starboard heads , then landing smack on the teak/steel bulkhead seal of the port heads door in a F8 off lands end wasn’t the best sailing experience of the weekend …..though it probably was the stupidest …..

  18. I am glad to hear I am not alone in my frustration! I am on my first “shakedown cruise”, left Coconut Grove on Wednesday, moored in Key West today (Monday), sailed Friday and Saturday. This is not my dream but hoping I can learn to appreciate it more.

  19. I prefer a fuel tank with head pressure. I have my tank mounted above and behind my engine and the suction side is at the bottom and return on top. I haven’t had any issues since getting rid of the top mounted stand pipe version. I have a sight glass on tank to see fuel level and all fittings have ball valves on them to close when not in use. I usually have no reason to close fuel feed suction but always the sight gauge.

  20. I’m new to this life style, and I am constantly amazed at how much work a “non-project” boat is. Sometimes I just spread out on the settee and read. Thanks to articles like this one, we are reminded that we all in this together.

  21. Did you have a similar experience on Que Tal? Or is it worse on this boat so far, but will perhaps get better after the first year once the kinks are worked out? We’ve had our boat a couple of seasons now, of course stuff breaks but it seems like this engine is being particularly troublesome for you!

    • I’m not complaining at all! With Que Tal, we didn’t really know to expect the ups and downs, and now we do. Our first year aboard QT was much harder, as we had no idea what to expect and as problems arose, thought that it was just because we were inept. Now we expect problems to arise . . . but we can still go from exuberant to down in the blink of an eye.

  22. Thomas Thomsen says:

    Hi I bought a brand new boat once and on my first sail after taking possession the engine quit after about 1/2 mile. The wind were great and the boat was moving well. Prior to heading back in I vented the engine and it ran again. For those of you that are familiar with Vancouver the engine quit again as we were coming under the Burrard Street Bridge the engine quit again and I docked in front of Bridges restaurant under sail. We spend 3 days troubleshooting found bypassing the fuel filter the engine would continue to run and hook it back up again the engine quit. There is not a lot of things that can be wrong there and we found the brass vent screw on top of the filter had a hairline scratch on the treat. Try to find a tabered brass screw. Eventually I but another filter system on the boat instead for a filter that I could not inspect.

    These “air leaks” are a real pain to find.

  23. John Brethauer says:

    Soooo, I’m confused, you still have a problem or you don’t? Friday you wrote that you found two things causing your problem?

    • We’re not sure. It ran great for three hours on Friday then had a dying episode on Saturday but started up again okay. Hard to troubleshoot when it runs more than three hours without a hitch.

      • Can you pull the line off the lift pump. Plug it. Pressurize fuel line and filters from the tank. Get out spary bottle of soapy water and start testing everything. Our wait for puddles. Also check and make sure check ball seals are orientated correctly. They go the opposite of which way it looks they should. Best of luck.

  24. The ups outweigh the downs most of the time. I loved sailing our 30 foot sailboat.

  25. I think Bob Bitchin said it best when he said “cruising is boat maintenance and exotic places. ” We had an intermittent engine a few years ago. After two long days with a mechanic, we found the top of the Racor filter gummed up. The metal filter top has numerous tiny passages that can get clogged if there’s any gunk in the fuel. Once we unscrewed that from the wall and replaced it we never had a problem again! On our new boat we have installed the Filter Boss Commander. Our hope is this system will save us the agony of an intermittent engine!

  26. I wrote this on our lizards on Ice page some time ago. Your post reminded me of it as I am trying to troubleshoot oil pressure flucations with our generator. We have gone through so many highs and lows in the past 7 months. We just keep woundering just how many shoes there all to fall.

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