Journal From Guam-Yap Sail

Journal From Guam-Yap Sail

These are my thoughts as recorded on the water during the nine day trip back from Yap to Guam with only a few minor edits.

Wed 08 May 1420

We left Yap.  We didn’t want to but we decided it was what we should do.  We want to get back to Guam to try to fix the engine and power train so we can still go to Pagan and the CNMI.  We both love Yap.  Jackie finally understands why Yap and its people are so special to me even if I can’t always articulate why.

We planned to leave by noon so we could clear the reefs in the daylight but still didn’t manage to leave until 1615.  We pulled up the anchor and managed to sail away only engaging the transmission for less than a minute to get us underway in the right direction.  We sailed out of the anchorage and all the way out of the channel.  We started out sailing SE so that we could get a little bit of Easterly direction and clear the Northern reefs of Yap.  We turned North just before sunset at about 1845.  We saw the green flash of the sun just South of Yap before we headed North and skirted only a little more than a mile East the reefs in the dark.  I would prefer to be at least 4 miles from any reefs but we were never in any danger.

The waves were big and choppy the first night and day with a fresh wind.  We were spoiled by most of our sail having been downwind.  The boat was heeled to the port rail and moving around below was sure to make one frustrated and sick.  I was excited to be back on the water again and inspired to write about all that I saw but realized quickly that my body needed to get used to being on the ocean again and all my energy would go to the basic necessities and nothing else.    I ate some spaghetti O’s Monday night which got some fuel to my body but is generally terrible to eat.   We tried to both rest in the cockpit that night but we kept taking waves over the gunwales and I couldn’t rest while constantly being splashed.  Jackie was sea sick Monday night and I took first watch.  Once Jackie felt a little better and relieved me I went below and slept like a rock.

Leaving Guam with 15 coconuts.  Fighting off seasickness in the choppy waves.

Leaving Guam with 15 coconuts. Fighting off seasickness in the choppy waves.

The sun was hot and beating down on Tuesday. And the waves were still big and wind pretty strong.  We rigged up a tarp in the cockpit for a sunshade on Tuesday afternoon which really helped a lot with our melting brains and hot sick bodies.  We saw a tanker off our port bow around noon and we actually changed course briefly to cut behind it.  We made radio contact to make sure they saw us.  Jackie found the energy to boil water so we could have ramen for lunch.  It’s funny how much energy the smallest things take when you are underway, tossing around, and heeled over.   The wind died down around 1530 and shifted more Northerly.  We were going due north so we tacked at about 1615 to try to take advantage and get a little bit East.  We were hoping for ESE but were only able to go SE.  We headed that way for a couple hours and were heading straight toward Ulithi Atoll so we tacked back to North again before sunset.  We saw another tanker at about 1745 which came from our aft port quarter and passed less than a mile behind us.  It seemed amazing to me that in the middle of the big ocean we can come so close to so many other vessels and most of them seem to be oil tankers.  We decided for a second night not to reef the sail since we seemed to be making good time and the Aries windvane was doing a good job steering us reasonably close to the wind without heeling beyond reasonable (water over the rails).  Jackie fixed mac and cheese with canned tuna fish for dinner so we can start building our energy back up. We had to scoop out the bilge to a bucket because the boat heeling made the float switch activate but the pump is on the other side and was just running all the time without moving any water.  Jackie took first watch Tuesday night and I relived her at 0000 when I woke up and got riled up because I couldn’t figure out how to tell what time it was on Jackie’s watch.  I thought it was in stop watch mode but really I just happened to wake up right at midnight.  My watch was in the cockpit set to beep every 20 minutes to remind the person on watch to look out and check the horizon for more ships.

Wednesday has been nice.  We took the sun shade down at night because it is a tarp and it’s more quiet with it down and you can see the stars.  The sky Tuesday night was amazing with no moon and few clouds.  We put the tarp back up and lay under it and listened to an audio book and some podcasts on Jackie’s iPad Wednesday morning.  We compiled our waypoints and updated/corrected our plot on our paper charts.  We are both feeling better from sea sickness.  We had grilled cheese sandwiches and coconut juice for lunch.  We had a strange encounter with a fishing vessel at about 1530.  Jackie had just asked for the fishing lures because she saw a bunch of birds.  Then she spotted a boat coming straight towards us, fast.  It stopped and pulled up near us but then went in circles.  It went away but came back later and pulled up beside us about half a mile away.  Jackie was a little freaked out that they were so close to board us.  We turned on the radio and realized they were trying to hail us.  They did not identify themselves but asked where we were going.  We told them we were going to Guam and they said, “OK. Bon voyage. Bye bye.” Then they headed off just over the horizon.  We could still see the glow from their lights after sundown.  We sent a message to Yap with our position.  I think they were acting squirrely because they are illegally fishing inside FSM waters.  They are staying close to the border of the territorial waters so they can get out if they think they are being pursued.  The FSM police brought in a Taiwanese fishing vessel while we were staying in Yap.  They will probably add it to Yaps collection of two other illegal fishing boats they have confiscated.  Jackie took first watch again and I tried to get some sleep between 2100 and 0200.

Fishing at sunset

Fishing at sunset

Thursday 09 May 2013, 1330

Got some sleep but not as tired as I was so I didn’t sleep as hard.  Nothing interesting during my watch.  We tacked SE this morning at 1000 to start our long slog East toward Guam.  We are just barely going East and are mostly going South which is frustrating since we’ve been mostly going North so far.  It feels like we are just going back to the same place we already were.  On the GPS/chart plotter we are getting farther away from where we were when we tacked at 1000 and closer to where we were at 0200 when I started my watch.  But we have to start tacking back and forth because we have covered most of the North distance we need and need to start getting some East distance.  It is going to be long and frustrating without a motor since we are going mostly perpendicular to the actual vector toward Guam.  We covered a lot of distance in three days going north and it feels like we should be home soon but now we will just go back and forth, back and forth and slowly creep East for many more days before we are close to Guam.  Jackie boiled water for breakfast oatmeal and lunch ramen.  I boiled water for coffee this morning because I had to throw out three canned coffees this morning.  One of them leaked in the cockpit cooler with no ice and I couldn’t figure out which one was broken.  The whole thing stank of rotten milk so I dumped all of them overboard and cleaned out the cooler.  It was sad for me and the Folgers I made tasted terrible.  There are a few more canned coffees in the cooler with ice and maybe I’ll open the bag of starbucks coffee tomorrow for a little better morning.  I got the Folgers because Jackie likes the plastic containers it comes in.  She likes to use them for things like trail mix.  Not that I’m a coffee snob but I don’t think I’ll choke through another thing of Folgers just so Jackie can have a plastic container.  I’m OK paying a couple bucks more to buy reusable containers and half decent coffee.  We both took bucket baths this morning in the cockpit and felt better afterward.  We didn’t feel bad to start with but being clean is always kind of a boost to morale.  I think we are both a little frustrated with the not going East very fast thing and we were a little snippy with each other before lunch.  We watched a movie on the computer in the cockpit yesterday.  It was a nice way to pass the time and I think we will do it again today.  It’s hard to do much else during the hottest part of the day besides lay around under the tarp in the cockpit.  It’s too hot to go below and do anything.  We were worried about using anything with batteries unless we had to in case we couldn’t charge them back up.  The batteries seem to be doing OK with the solar panel out on deck so we have decided it’s OK to use the computers to do things like write about our trip, watch movies, and listen to podcasts and recharge them using the little inverter.  We didn’t put a switch in with the solar charger so we can only charge the one bank of batteries but I think that will be fine since we aren’t trying to run anything like a refrigerator and we are keeping most things off unless we need them like the VHF and chart plotter.  It’s time to start the movie so it will be done in time for us to fix dinner and clean up before sundown.  We miss-timed that yesterday and things got a little tense while we ran around trying to get everything done before the sun went down.


Getting ready to watch a movie under our cockpit tent.

Getting ready to watch a movie under our cockpit tent.

Saturday 11 May 2013, 1000

Well, yesterday was a low point in the trip.  Hopefully, it was the low point in the trip.  Both of us had diarrhea all night Thursday and didn’t really sleep.   The chart plotter/GPS stopped working Thursday night as well.  We had our first accidental tack while I was standing on my head tracing wires to try to figure out why the GPS stopped working.  Then Jackie reminded me that I had said I would make dinner.    I was a little irritated.  Jackie ended up making burritos for dinner which were delicious.  Unfortunately, we have both been sick since then.  Jackie is a little worried about eating anything as it might be what was bad since we can’t seem to trace it clearly to any one thing.    Jackie was really down yesterday and kept saying things like, “We’re never going to get there.”  We argued over whether it was better to go a little more east than south or a little more north than east.  We need as much East as we can get.  We are only 1 degree South of Guam and four degrees West of Guam so we need to go the direction that takes us the most east…  Then we argued over me deciding to clean the dishes without telling her.  Granted we had decided to listen to a podcast together but I went below and there were dishes everywhere after a tack.  We are working on communicating…  Anyway, we watched movies in the afternoon and settled down a little.

Jackie took first watch and we were on a good ESE heading.  I couldn’t really sleep because it was too hot below deck so I relieved Jackie a little early at about 0140.  I checked everything (direction, horizon for boats, windvane steering, etc.) got my little cockpit nest arranged and set my watch to make sure I was awake every 25 minutes to check for other boats.  Usually, I just pop my head up and then lay back down.  However, at about 0220 I noticed a light on the horizon.  Then I realized it wasn’t on the horizon but was well within our little dome.  It got closer and closer and I called Jackie to bring up the BFL (big light).  She couldn’t find the light right away and I had to tack to avoid the other boat.  We couldn’t see the boat except for its lights.  It’s hard to estimate distance in the dark if you don’t know what you are looking at.  The boat must have been some sort or small fishing boat.  We wanted to tack around them but they started up and were going the same direction as us.  Eventually they got beyond us and cut across our path to get away from us.  We could just hear their motor which meant we were way closer to them than we wanted to be to anything in the middle of the ocean.  It seems like every time we come across another boat out here we are on some kind of collision course.  Jackie is a little worried when another boat gets too close.  I do too but not as worried as she does.  She takes the SPOT from its rail and puts it on her ankle.

Right after we were finally clear of the other boat there was a storm rolling in around us.  The storm was mostly to our starboard side so we stayed on our northerly tack from our boat avoidance maneuver rather than tack back into the storm.  We were managing a pretty good ENE heading but had strong winds for a while.  It took us a bit to settle back down after that and by then it was 0430.  We had good wind after the storm and the boat steered herself (with Aries) until 0630 when the wind just stopped and we lost any bit of control.  We were just bobbing in the ocean.  I pulled in the jib that was just flapping around.  This was really annoying and not a big morale booster.  And the rocking back and forth, slamming the sail around knocked one of the battens loose and almost tossed it into the ocean.    I had been thinking about our engine/drive train issues since we discovered them and it occurred to me that they might not be as bad as I thought.  The broken bolt on the transmission shaft is a big bummer but I realized it might not be a problem if the boat is in forward.  Meaning it might stay in place in forward since the prop will push the shaft toward the engine and not rub on the stuffing box.  Which means that most of the damage and rubbing on the stuffing box happened while we were sailing and dragging the prop.  Which means it happened at relatively low speed and torque so the heat may not have been as high as I originally thought and therefore the damage may not be as extensive as I first thought.  So, we might be able to run the engine without causing significant further damage and or destroying the transmission/propshaft or sinking the boat…   since the forecast is for really light winds for the next five days and we would drift west the whole time and have to make that back up when the wind started again and we don’t want to take another 10 days to get to Guam or end up in the Philippines, we decided to run the engine.  Now we are motoring toward Guam.  We are monitoring the engine temeratures and water level closely.  We are also monitoring the gap between the split coupling and the stuffing box very closely.  The engine has been running for two hours now and so far so good.

Since the chart plotter went out we are using the back up to our back up for navigation.  Our two back up handheld GPS devices are not working.  One was left with the batteries in it and corroded.  The other was apparently crushed and one of the buttons is on perma-press so it will come on but then constantly pans to the left.  It turns out, Jackie’s tiny point and shoot camera has a GPS, electronic compass, and barometer.  So, we are using that to tell us our position and plotting it on our paper chart taped to the bulkhead in the boat.  It seems to be pretty effective.  Our satellite phone also has a GPS and displays its position which agrees pretty well with the camera.  Its good to see our position on the big chart as we slowly gt closer to Guam but the enginerd in me has an overwhelming urge to compile our position data in a spreadsheet.  Obviously, a simple X,Y scatter plot will graphically approximate our route and we could calculate our average speed and distance with some basic vector formulas.  We could probably also dump the data to a KMZ file when we get back and show people where we’ve been.  We’ll see if that happens.  I think the jock part of me is making fun of the nerd part of me for really wanting to put all my data in a spreadsheet…

Sunday 12 May 2013, 1000

Things are going pretty good right now.  We have been running the engine for 25 hours straight and there are no major signs of trouble.  The temperature is remaining normal.  The prop shaft has stayed put and not fallen back onto the stuffing box.  The engine leaks/burns some oil but we have been able to add oil and fuel and water without shutting her down.  When I sailed with Mike from Palau with a similar water pump issue we had to stop every time it over heated and wait for it to cool down before we could add more water.  We solved that problem by just leaving the cap off of the stuffing box and adding water when it gets low.  The water pump isn’t leaking very much right now.  It seems to leak when you shut the engine down not as much while it is running.  We solved that problem by not shutting the engine down.  I guess we’ll just keep adding fluids until we get to Guam, blow up the engine, or run out of fluids.  Or the wind comes back in which case we will sail again which was our intention from the start…

Since things are going pretty well we have increased our time interval for engine checks.  Yesterday we were checking everything every 25 minutes which kept us pretty busy.  Now we are checking some things every hour and some things every two hours which lets us do other things in between.  I made a spreadsheet for the position data.  It will be nice to be able to see it over a map but it is nice to look at the chart right now and see that we are finally making progress in the right direction.  At this rate, we should be in Guam by Tuesday around noon.

I called my Mom on the Satellite phone this morning to wish her a happy Mother’s Day!  It was nice to talk to her.  Technology is pretty amazing that we can basically call anywhere from anywhere.  I’m glad we got the satellite phone for the trip.  It has been nice to be able to get weather updates and messages from home.  It’s also been nice of Jackie’s Mom to update our website from our texts.  Thanks Julie!

When I talked to Mom about Mother’s day it was with much love.  We talked a little about floating around in the middle of the ocean but we talked a lot about my Grandma Marge.  She died last week while we were in Yap.  I got to talk to her on the phone a couple times the week before she went.  She wanted to remind everyone to Be Happy!  Mom and I talked about how she was able to spend 32 years with her Mother from birth and then got to have Marge in her life for 30 more years.  Marge married my Grandpa Jim after Grandma Evelyn passed away from cancer when I was four.  Marge is a really special lady and will be sorely missed here on Earth in our time and place.  She decided when she was ready and was able to visit with many of the people who love her before she said good bye for now.  She asked that a big smiley face be engraved on the plaque on her urn.  I am proud of Marge for her courage and wisdom to be able to make the choice to set sail for other shores.  It’s a hard choice to make.  Most people just fight nature until the very end but Marge has embraced it with dignity and grace.  I hope I can do the same when the time comes.  I was very sad that I couldn’t be there with her but I know she was happy that we were off having our own adventures.  You are missed Marge.  I love you!


One of many beautiful sunsets.

One of many beautiful sunsets.

Monday 13 May 2013, 1830

Well, clearly my thoughts yesterday were overly optimistic.  When things start looking that good, it is clearly time for me to go fuck something up.  Everything seemed to be going well yesterday morning.  The engine was running and we were making progress.  So, I thought maybe while the engine was running normally, I could figure out where the oil was coming from that was ending up in the bilge.  So I went down to the engine with a paper towel in hope of wiping around and figuring out where the oil was coming from

Tuesday 14 May 2013, 1300

So, like I was saying, it was time for me to screw things up.  So I did.  While searching for leaking oil, the engine sucked my paper towel into the air intake.  So, I immediately shut the engine down to figure out what to do.  I knew the right thing to do but I didn’t do it.  The right thing to do was to take the thing apart and get the paper towel.  The wrong thing to do was to think, “well, the engine didn’t immediately choke and shut down on its own, so, the paper towel must be stuck in the air filter and not hurting anything…”  So we started the engine again and were making good progress…  until the paper towel finally found its way to the intake valves.  Then there was clearly no more progress to be made under engine power.  We got to take the thing apart anyway.  Why take it apart if you haven’t broken it good?  Might as well break it good and then take it all the way apart.  Pisces is the company that marinized the isuzu engine for use in a boat.  They made a box that combines the air intake and exhaust manifolds with the expansion box.  So in order to get to the air intake manifold, you have to drain the fresh water side of the cooling system.  We opened her up and took the valve cover off to see what was going on and found most of the paper towel lodged in and around the rear cylinder air intake valve.  We had to improvise a tool by cutting up a bucket handle but we managed to remove most of the paper towel from that valve and got the little bit that was left to pass through the cylinder.  We thought we were going to be back in business but now the engine was back firing through the exhaust valve on the forward cylinder.  We used some of our precious satellite phone minutes to call our friend and diesel engine extraordinaire, Dave, in Guam.  He suggested putting some oil on top of the valve and manipulating it up and down to dislodge whatever was keeping it from sealing.  We tried that or a while with no luck and by that time it was late and we had some wind so we concentrated on sailing through the night.  The next morning when the wind died again we called Dave again and he suggested trying to turn the valve with oil on it.  We did that and still no luck.  He suggested as a last resort we could disable that valve and release compression on it with the old dime under the rocker arm trick.  We ended up doing that and running the engine on one cylinder for several hours while there was no wind.  We made really slow progress and blew heavy smoke since we were basically dumping half our fuel into the exhaust.  After a while running like that, I went to check on the engine and realized there was oil everywhere.  I think what happened was while things were going well, I overestimated how much oil we were burning and over filled the crank case.  Now, I think, the oil was splashing/bubbling up through the breather tube and all over the engine and engine compartment.  So, when we get to Guam, not only do we need to remove the transmission to drill out the broken bolt and replace it, and replace the fresh water pump, but we will also get to tear down the whole engine.  Hopefully, we can get away with just grinding the valves and putting everything back together.  But, as we found out, the engine was built in June ’76.  To think you can take a 36 year old engine apart and put it back together with a simple valve job is silly.  I worry that we are not going to be able to complete the North half of our trip and we already cut short the South part.  I knew that if anything broke hard on this trip it would be the engine but I didn’t think it would break quite so much and I didn’t think it would mostly be from me being stupid…


The engine with the valve cover removed.

The engine with the valve cover removed.

We were making really good progress while we ran the engine the first day.  It really got our hopes up and made us feel good.  Breaking the engine has made us a little less happy.  Luckily, there has been some wind the last couple days and we are still making slow progress toward Guam.  When we were leaving Yap, we told everyone that it could take us 10 days to get back to Guam.  We didn’t really believe it.  We were trying to guess high so we wouldn’t worry people.  Somehow, we are both over optimistic with how much time things are going to take.  So, it’s rough on us when things actually take the high end of the amount of time we estimate at the beginning.

1350. Wind just died.  Going nowhere.  Considering draining some of the over filled oil and running the half engine some more…

Thursday 16 May 2013, 1030

We made it back!  We are happy to be on dry land for a minute.  Mac and Mike and Michael (seawall crew) met us aboard SpinDrift as we came into the harbor and escorted us back to the marina.  We sailed right up to the dock where our friends met us to handle lines and give us cold beer and water.  We really enjoyed having fresh water to take a shower and our friend Charlie made us a big salad with lots of fresh green stuff and cheese!  Then our friends Anne Marie and Anna let us sleep at their place so we didn’t have to clean up the boat in order to have a place to sleep.  We missed our Guam family and friends while we were gone.  This trip has been so full of love visiting our Yap family and making lots of new friends along the way.  We are really lucky to have so many wonderful people who love us and are part of our life!

Our last leg in went reasonably well.  We got really impatient because we could see Guam and it seemed like we just couldn’t get there.  At least the wind started blowing again.  We tacked back and forth all night Tuesday night and I worried that we might not make it back by Wednesday afternoon.  It took us several tacks to get into Apra Harbor.  When we started to get close Jackie was singing and dancing while she drove the boat closer toward Apra.  Jackie was driving on the way in the harbor and wanted our gimpy engine going through the mouth of the harbor.  Unfortunately, in our rush around tacking back and forth and whatnot to get in the mouth of the harbor we didn’t check the water level and over-heated the engine.  So, we sailed across the harbor and Jackie still thought we would use the engine to maneuver into the marina.  I had given up on the engine.  Jackie started the engine again outside the mouth of the marina and started to take down the sail.  I yelled to leave the sail up and she yelled something back.  We had our most tense moment of the trip just before we got back as we drifted toward the reef.  We had a heated 15 second debate. We finally came to a reasonable compromise which was reefing the main just in time to catch the wind before we drifted into the seawall and we sailed into the marina.  Everything went amazingly smooth after that so all the people in the marina thought we looked like we had been sailing for years when we maneuvered through the construction, around all the other boats and sailed right up to the dock flawlessly with no motor.

We knew where Guam was on the horizon before the sun went down on Tuesday night but we couldn’t see land yet.  There were some clouds and big thunderstorm that came over us right before dusk.  But we could tell where Guam was from the brown spot in the horizon.  You could see the pollution from Guam before you could see Guam.  It was sort of sad.  It’s not like flying into LA or anything but it was distinct from the clear blue skies we had been looking at for 9 days.  Then the sun went down an there was no question where Guam was on the horizon as the glow almost blotted out half of the sky.  We both were sad and excited at the same time.  We were excited to be close to running water and electricity but we were sad that it signaled the closing pages of this particular adventure and the return to “reality.”