Day 113 – Horse Latitudes

Where Next?
Bob Williams
Tue 5 Apr 2022 08:49
Noon Position: 33 25.6 S 079 34.1 E
Course: Drifting
Wind: nil Sea: calm
Swell: SW 1.5m
Weather: sunny, warm
Day’s Run: 23nm

To get from the roaring forties to the SE trade winds we have to cross a big high pressure belt known as the Horse latitudes that sits between the two. It was perhaps inevitable that as we made our way north we would end up becalmed, which has been the case since sunset yesterday when I gave up on trying to sail any further and handed all sail. We have been drifting since.
I slept to Sylph’s gentle rolling in the long easy swells coming up from the south but awoke at 0100 with thoughts of the flooded engine in my mind. In particular I was thinking about what I did with my previous engine when it had been flooded a couple of times, before I installed the exhaust valve. In its case, being an older style engine with decompression levers and a hand cranking facility, I would lift the decompression levers and turn the engine over by hand. This would eject the water from the cylinders and invariably the engine would fire up straight away afterwards. Now the Beta engine is a marinised Kubota tractor engine and does not have decompression levers nor a hand cranking facility, but I wondered whether the engine might not be seized but rather that the water in the cylinders, water being incompressible, was what was preventing me from being able to bar the engine over. I thought if I could decompress the cylinders maybe I could turn the engine over, clear the water out of the cylinders and still have some small chance of getting it going again.
I thought I would give the idea a go in the morning but, unable to get back to sleep with my mind whirring away over the problem, I decided to get up and give it a go straight away. When I got up I noticed a light breeze was blowing so before setting to the engine I set the mainsail and jib, allowing Sylph to close reach to the light NW’ly breeze. I then made a cup of tea and opened up the engine box. The rocker cover was already unbolted and I soon had worked out a way of opening all the exhaust valves. I then got the big socket driver with extension and tried to turn the engine over by hand with the socket on the end of the crankshaft nut. Initially I got some movement and was feeling hopeful but I soon realised that the valve rockers were not moving and all I was doing was tightening the nut on the end of the crankshaft. Clearly nothing was budging and I had to conclude that the engine was in fact well and truly seized up. Disappointed, I gave up and cleaned up.
Now it was about 0230 and the wind was fading again. I hand steered for an hour with another cup of tea. It was after all a beautiful mild starlit night. As dawn approached the little breeze there was disappeared and the sails were simply flopping from side to side as Sylph rolled in the long swell. I once more handed sail and returned to my bunk to catch up on some sleep.
I awoke at 0900 to a dead calm sea. A long swell was still running from several directions, mostly the SW, but the sea itself was mirror smooth. This I thought was too good an opportunity to miss to go for a swim, my first for the voyage. I got up, dragged the swim ladder from out of the cockpit locker, found a mask and swimmers (why I needed swimmers is perhaps a mystery but I guess it is the consequence of being ‘civilised’), and eased myself into the pleasantly cool deep blue water of the Southern Indian Ocean. I had also provided myself with a plastic scraper as I had noticed that some gooseneck barnacles were growing under the counter. I had assumed that they were limited to above the water line where there is no anti-fouling but my inspection revealed that there were also quite a few below the waterline immediately under the counter. Why they had managed to attach themselves there but nowhere else on the hull, which was perfectly clean, is a bit of a mystery. I suspect it is perhaps a combination of the way the water flows in this area and maybe they prefer the shaded parts of the hull. I scraped quite a few off but after about half an hour in the water needed a break. Sylph’s hull was also moving up and down quite a bit in the swell which was making the job more difficult. So I will have to go for another swim later when I can to finish the job.
Now we continue to drift. According to ‘Bowditch’, periods of stagnation are less persistent than in the Doldrums so hopefully we won’t be stuck here in the Horse latitudes for too many days, and our water won’t run short so that we won’t have to contemplate throwing the horses over the side (if we had any). If the engine was working (zero horses here too I am afraid) I would motor for a bit but … c’est la vie.
All is well.