Short Swells and Engine Drama

Canada Travelling
September 5, 2018

July 21, 2018: The idea was to overnight to Gaspé or at least, Gaspésie.  It was, at the time, a good idea.  We had just experienced a beautiful couple days in Tadoussac, had seen a day of seals and whales, calm waters and blue sky, and the weather looked good to push on.  As the day progressed, it seemed like our only concern was the dropping temperature.  It had already been a few chilly days on the water but it was getting downright cold and our full offshore gear with layers of flannel were coming out in preparation for the night shift.

At sunset, we were passing Rimouski, Quebec and all was well.  Shortly afterward the waves started.

The swell on the St Lawrence river is unfortunately not yet the swell of the ocean.  The swell here seems to be closer together.  My guess is about 4 seconds between peaks.  Not enough time for a 45 foot boat to glide over them, or even clear them.  Add that to a 15 knot headwind and they became just about as annoying as travelling an entire 401 length of highway full of oversized, badly spaced speed bumps.  We would clear the first, and then pitch at a different angle to clear the second, pitch even higher to climb the third, and then nosedive and crash into the fourth.  Every single time, our bow sprit and running lights would be buried in water and we would come to an almost screeching halt on the four-count.  And then it would begin again.  One, two, three, crash.

Now the pattern was nerve grating but not entirely harmful to the boat.  But it was doing a spectacular job of slowing us down to making practically no headway at all and churning up the fuel tank something fierce.  And since we had been having engine issues – which we now knew were fuel issues – having the fuel tank shaken like a toddler-held Latin American maraca was not a good thing.

I was half sleeping at the time when I heard the engine tone change.  We were so tuned in to its pitch that when it changed tone again, I was already half dressed into my offshore gear and making my way up into the cockpit.  A few moments later, it died altogether.

John tried to start the engine.  Nothing.  Again.  Nothing.  It was pitch dark.  Of course this couldn’t happen in daylight like the last time.  Oh no, we had to have a brand new nerve-racking experience at something-stupid-o’clock in the middle of the night.  So at 3am, while we were bobbing about in what felt like octopus ink darkness, John threw up a couple sails and worked on changing out the fuel filter on the engine for the last spare one we had and I took the helm.  Steer us parallel to the shore he said.  I looked at the depth meter.  It was flashing.  Three dotted lines.  Over and over again.  Apparently the speed-bump-swell had also pissed off our depth meter and sent it into seizure. I replied to him that the depth meter wasn’t working.  He was not in a frame of mind to have another problem thrown at him.  So I went forward on our tack, solely going off the charts and watched us seem to get closer and closer into shore.  Looking back, I know that we had lots of water underneath us and we were still a good distance from shore but it didn’t feel that way at the time.  I was full of adrenaline and insecure about my ability to handle the boat, at night, in conditions we had never been in before, and John was doing his best to fix the situation as fast as he possibly could.  As a piece of advice, don’t try to throw new problems that they can do nothing about at someone who is trying his damndest to focus on making sure you see morning.  It’s just not a good idea.  See rule #5.

After what seemed like hours but was honestly more like thirty minutes, John got the engine started and took over the helm.  I looked up the manual for the depth meter online and attempted to reset it.  (It wasn’t having any of it by the way and just kept right on flashing)  We turned around.

The map shown here is from our Garmin InReach Explorer (thanks Mom – it’s come in handy more than once now). Each dot represents 4 hours of time passed. We made it into Rimouski just after 7am both physically and mentally exhausted and after checking in at the office, promptly went to sleep.

Admittedly, what stings is that we passed Rimouski at sunset the previous night, and it took about ten hours of not making any headway, and then backtracking to get right back to it.  But it is what it is.  The way the cookie crumbles.  Live and learn…And all the other clichés.

In the morning, we promptly ordered more spare fuel and engine filters, provisioned, and recuperated.  I took a few photos (and slipped on the rocks, covering myself with slimy, highly aromatic seaweed) during low tide at the beach next to the marina.  We took advantage of the wi-fi, laundry services, and the liquor store while we camped out for a couple days until our new batch of spare filters arrived.

On Wednesday, just prior to noon, we got the call that our order had arrived. We were stocked up yet again with spares and left Rimouski knowing that this issue was something that could be fixed (although stressful) while underway.  The compound that we had decided to add to our tank the previous season to clean it obviously had finally kicked in, and blockages were likely to occur several more times before the fuel would finally stop going through filters like cheap Kleenex during allergy season.  It was good to be prepared – or at least a little more so than we previously were.




Michelle Kauntz
Wild Blue Yonder

Seems you've found us. I'm one half of the charming and somewhat frustrating duo that is John & Michelle. (I'm Michelle) We once had this one-day idea that we wanted to sail around the world. We made a five year plan. After ten years of talking and two years of prepping and postponing, we are finally underway. Feel free to follow us and live vicariously though our pratfalls and adventures as we take our almost-as-old-as-John Bayfield 40 Cutter Ketch out of the safety of Lake Ontario and out into the world. On a shoestring budget. With two fiercely independent people. In basically 300-ish square feet of living space and with not a heck of a lot of sailing experience (yet) ...This is going to be fun...

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