Lots of smoke without Fire

Phil & Nikki Hoskins
Mon 16 Jan 2012 23:19
We have been getting to know Roatan a little better since we resolved the port engine head gasket issue which, fingers crossed, still seems to be holding up. Our engines are like two small children. When one acts up the other is never far behind in misbehaving meaning that the onboard engineer's duties quickly switch from one side of the boat to the other.
First, for some inexplicable reason, the brand new 'fitted in the Rio Dulce' starboard raw water impellor, which supplies the cooler sea water to carry away the heat created by the engine, completely failed. The neoprene lobes acting as the pump came adrift from the central spindle which keeps it spinning. This unit had been changed under the heading of 'preventative maintenance' just a few weeks ago. No cooling water was entering the heat exchanger and  the water temperature alarm sounded just as we were re-entering French Harbour on our trip back from West End. Choosing not to enter the reef strewn harbour on one engine and with benign conditions outside we turned away and drifted downwind for an hour whilst the fault was rectified and in we went. Maybe this preventative maintenance lark isn't all it's cracked up to be!
Not content with having played up once this engine pulled a real sulk again when, close to reefs for the second time we lost power on starboard engine. It would just idle and nothing else. Skip went below to check out the problem expecting to find a broken control cable. Lifting the main engine hatch boards he was met with clouds of black smoke pouring out of the compartment along with gallons of sea water flying everywhere. Immediately the smoke alarm sounded in the cabin adding to the chaos.  With lungs choking from partially burnt diesel fumes, but also aware there was no risk of actual fire breaking out, Skip threw open the aft cabin hatch to evacuate some of the acrid smoke. The effect on the 'Admiral' at the helm was instantaneous as she thought, quite understandably, that we had a major fire onboard and could not conceive why a calm grinning skipper appeared at the companionway to explain the situation. The effects were out of all proportion to the cause in that the exhaust hose which carries both the burnt diesel gasses and the expelled cooling water had after 2000 hours of remaining in it's correct location had become detached and was now dumping everything into the engine compartment. The puzzling loss of power, after some consideration, was attributed to the massive increase of 'humidity' which was being sucked into the cylinders causing only partial combustion, hence the smoke exiting the exhaust. The reason for the fitting becoming detached could only be put down to the exhaust box, which is plastic, having been overheated when the raw water impellor failed earlier meaning that both incidents were linked. The mess took an entire afternoon to clear up whilst we sat in an idyllic anchorage at Port Royal in the north-east of Roatan.  Another day fixing the boat in paradise.
Not that we are superstitious but Skip did loose his St Christopher medallion whilst snorkelling the other day.....................
But, it hasn't been all work or breakdowns onboard.  Whilst in West End we took a local 'Collectivo' mini bus to Coxen Hole the capital town of Roatan. This is also one of the two cruise ship docks on the island. We were surprised to find quite a run-down town full of stray dogs which dramatically contrasts with the magnificent shiny leviathans moored just yards away. However, like many of the Caribbean cruise ship venues, passengers are greeted with a spanking new shopping mall contained within the dock area.  Full of expensive jewellery and clothes shops that could be situated anywhere, although there must be a 'Welcome to Roatan' sign to remind passengers where they have actually arrived at.  We certainly saw few other visitors that looked to have escaped the confines of the great white hull that towered above the town and assumed they are merely whisked away in taxis to other more salubrious locations around the island before piling back onboard to sail onto their next destination.
Bring your galoshes if you want to shop in the colourful stores in Coxen Hole
You have to walk round the dogs, and there are plenty of them
How the other half lives! whilst we take our cosy 'collectivo' ride back to West End with our shopping (No 16 works the sliding door)
Just a mile down the beach at West End is West Bay which is perhaps the best beach on the island and frequented by hundreds if not thousands of sun worshipers that are either staying in one of the nearby resorts or been delivered there from their cruise ship for the day. We could not see West Bay from our mooring ball at West End where the weed strewn beach is virtually deserted except for shoreside villas. It's a real culture shock to stumble upon the sunburnt masses enjoying all the facilities at West Bay. We walked all the way to the end and back - one of the best walks we've had on the island since arriving.
West Bay which can be crowded with tourists although this area was empty for some reason
Having returned to French Harbour to re-stock and escape the rolly conditions of West End, following the passage of a frontal system, we soon headed off to Calabash Bight.  We had been recommended to seek out two 'retired' cruisers who were in the process of opening up their own restaurant and bar in a pretty and secure part of the south-east coast. We stayed three nights and unbelievably dragged the anchor on two of the three nights when we were hit by bullets of wind coming from various locations through the surrounding hills. We wondered what we were doing wrong, especially the second time when we dropped the anchor in forty feet of water in the centre of the bight and laid 50 meters of chain up 'the slope' ending up with fifteen feet of water under the keels. Having dug in the anchor as we usually do we were stunned the next morning when we looked out to see we had pulled the whole lot a hundred feet backwards overnight! After that we set the anchor alarm!
Whilst at Calabash we explored the small network of canals that have been dug and blasted out of the mangroves to enable the locals to travel safely along this section of coast avoiding the sometimes wild seas that the Caribbean throws up. Whole communities, including quite a number of USA ex-pats live in places like Jonesville, Calabash and Oakridge.  There are few roads so they all have launches with high powered engines to get them around.
The network of canals and waterways behind the reefs includes little tiendas or shops. Most are on wooden piles
Most properties have the 'dunny' over the water here                            We challenge any broker to draw up a sales description for these two 'yachts'
For a break in scenery we left Calabash to spend a night at Port Royal a few miles to the north-east where a large anchorage exists protected by offshore coral reefs. The far end of the anchorage where we dropped the anchor was deserted apart from local fast water taxis that ply the inner reefs taking locals to shop or work. The night was star-filled and eerily quiet and a complete contrast from French Harbour where cruising boats nestle cheek by jowl, spending in some cases the whole winter anchored in the same spot. That's not the sort of cruising we like to do but can maybe understand the appeal.
We returned to Calabash the next day arriving just in time to attend the first lunch opening of the Turtleshack restaurant which was full of local ex-pats along with a smattering of cruisers. The hosts were rushed off their feet with nearly all arriving at opening time and glances into the kitchen revealed two very hard worked hosts battling to keep up with the orders which were flying in thick and fast. But they coped really well and we hope their venture is a success.
Great views from Turtlegrass over Calabash Bight and four 'boat doggies' make great 'Meeters & Greeters'
The busy hosts hard at work - who'd run a restaurant!
After a 'drag-free' night we left the next morning to motor the seven miles back to French Harbour to vie for space in the rapidly filling anchorage there. On arrival the wind was on the increase.  We had to try twice to get the anchor to set anywhere only to find out in the early hours that our chain was wrapped round the same coral head we'd already tangled with on the first visit.  Our chain grumbled most of the night as it sawed round the coral outcrop close to the boat. Fortunately a large cat ahead of us left the following morning and we nipped into its space having had to pirouette around the coral to extricate our anchor. So here we sit, waiting for a weather window to escape to Guanaja, the most north-easterly of the Bay Islands where we have to clear out and try and make a run to Panama. But with the winter trades now established chances will be few and far between. We could do with a ride from one of those cruise ships!
Post script....
This little twin engined aircraft has been giving tourists flights over Roatan probably for some exorbitant price, based at nearby Fantasy Island. We've enjoyed seeing it take off and land close by, with boaters in the vicinity having mixed feelings about whether they would brave a flight given a chance. Not anymore. It crashed at West End after an engine failed. Luckily nobody was hurt with just the pilot onboard. But the plane suffered considerable damage which, looking at it, is no great surprise  - Biggles flies undone!