At anchor Hogg Bay
Wind: Calm, F0
Sea: calm Swell: nil
Weather: overcast, showers, cool
Days run: 120 nm (port to port)
It became evident, as yesterday wore on, that we were more in the pattern of the weather report for Zone 120 – Cape Clear to Gore Point, than that for Prince William Sound, even though we were very close to the latter region. Initially I was well pleased for even though the winds were proving appreciably lighter than predicted, the forecast was for south westerly and southerly winds for today, which was largely why I chose to leave yesterday.
After making good progress though out most of yesterday, with gentle to moderate breezes and a clear sunny sky, come sunset the wind started to fade, and at 19.00 Sylph was left drifting in a short sea off Cape Fairfield. The chart indicated tidal rips in its vicinity so rather than endure the washing machine effect I decided to start the engine and motor a little way towards our destination, primarily to clear the turbulent waters but also in the hope that we might find some wind a little further out to sea.
We had been motoring for about ten minutes when I noticed that the battery voltage was not increasing as it should, but rather was continuing to fall. This caused me some concern for if the alternator was not charging than it was likely that the two battery banks might become fully discharged, leaving insufficient power to start the engine. So I decided to shut the engine down, separate the two battery banks so as to make sure that at least the engine battery bank remained in a good state for as long as possible, and proceeded to do some fault finding. I suspected the wiring loom between the engine and the control panel for this is where I have had problems before, due to seawater ingress after my encounter with the MSC Asya. The fault finding proved somewhat difficult, as we were bouncing around in the tide rips and it was dark. Furthermore, just as I was about to lift the engine box I noticed that poor old RC had been seasick, so I had to clean up his mess before tackling the engine. Meanwhile Sylph was drifting in the current ever closer to Cape Fairfield. I told myself to stay calm, as getting stressed would likely lead to mistakes being made and only slow things down.
It ended up taking me over an hour and a half to get the engine back on line. I had to pull all the connector plugs apart, clean the connections, and put them back together again. I attempted to do continuity checks with the multimeter but in the dark and bouncy conditions this proved pretty much impossible. Initially the problems only seemed to grow worse. At one point the control panel went completely dead, but I knew where to look to solve this problem. Then, with power back to the control panel, the engine would not start, yet alone charge the batteries. It was all very frustrating and, despite my best efforts to remain calm and collected, not a little stressful. A couple of times I had to go on deck and try to coax Sylph onto a course that might retard the rate of progress towards the cliffs, for there was a little wind, enough to get her moving parallel tot he coast, but insufficient to make any progress in the direction we needed to go in, and really I wanted to drop the mainsail as it was slatting badly with the choppy seas and light air.
At 21.05 I was pleased to note in Sylph's log, “Engine repairs complete. On engine, 1400 rpm.” I motored for a bit over an hour until we were well clear of Cape Fairfield. The seas were still lumpy but not quite as bad as they were closer in. I hoped that some wind might arrive within a few hours so that we could continue on our way. In the meantime I got some sleep, while keeping an eye on our drift.
Come 01.30 still no wind had appeared and we had once more drifted back to Cape Fairfield in the west setting current. I went to start the engine to motor back into clear water when I found that the fault had recurred, though this time not the alternator charging problem but the engine starting problem. Once again I lifted floor boards and opened up the engine box to access the various connectors. Having spent a couple of hours on the problem already I had a better idea where to look and this time it only took twenty minutes to have the engine running again. I think one issue that was causing the problem had nothing to do with sea water in the wiring harness. Rather, the problem was that one of the connectors mounted close to the engine had the weight of the wire hanging off it, not much weight, but seeing as I had applied some dielectric grease to the plugs to keep the seawater out this also lubricated the plugs and with the engine vibrations allowed it to come apart. I used a cable tie to clamp them together and thus far the problem has not recurred (touch wood).
With engine repairs completed for the second time in one night, I once more motored clear off the Cape and then shut the engine down and drifted while waiting for some wind to arrive. At a little after 04.00 a light air came in to which I set full sail. It was sufficient for Sylph to maintain steerage way under the wind vane, but not quite enough for her to hold her head up into the still lumpish seas. Even this air eventually deserted us just after dawn, which is starting to be rather late and getting rapidly later, but after an hour of drifting with the sails down the forecast south westerly at last arrived. I got all sail up again and we were soon running before a nice following breeze, which, as well as filling Sylph's sails, also blew away all of the previous night's frustrations.
The breeze carried us the remaining fifteen miles into Port Bainbridge, just to the west of Prince William Sound, leaving us only as we rounded Swanson Point into Hogg Bay. This time the engine started on demand and at 16.00 we dropped anchor in five meters of water in the north east arm of Hogg Bay. The dramas for this relatively short passage were not quite over however for on attempting to set the anchor by backing up on it, it promptly dragged. I hauled the whole lot in, motored back to the shallow ledge where I wanted to anchor, a little closer in this time, and dropped the anchor again. With fresh north easterly winds forecast for the next couple of days, and the area being notorious for strong local winds funnelling though bays and passes, I really wanted to make sure that Sylph was secure. So, rather then backing down on the anchor with the engine again and risk simply repeating what we had just gone through, I decided to set a second anchor.
This meant first getting the dinghy in the water, the first time for a couple of months, then loading it with the light weight Fortress anchor, some heavy chain, and 100 meters of nylon rode. I faked it all out so it would run out over the dinghy's transom, secured the bitter end of the nylon rode to Sylph's bow, then proceeded to row towards the shore. When then nylon rope was all streamed out I lowered the chain and anchor into the water and returned to Sylph. I then tautened up a little on the second anchor and only then did I start the engine again and attempt to set the anchors into the sea bed. As luck would have it the bower set straight away and the second anchor remained slack. But at least we have some insurance out in case the winds do pick up more than expected, and, if no weight does end up on the second anchor, it should be relatively easy to recover. I shall certainly sleep a little more soundly for having gone to the trouble of setting it.
And thus ends the little dramas for this particular passage. No doubt, given the time of year and the waters we are in, there will be more before we are clear of Alaska, but I will do my best to keep them to an absolute minimum.
It has been a long post, but before I sign off for the night I want to add my sincere thanks to Dave and his team at Raibow's where Sylph was hauled out for close to six weeks. Despite all the hard work I had to do, and the at times somewhat depressing discoveries I made in Sylph's hull, they made my stay there as pleasurable as it could have been. Thank you.
All is well.