It’s been rather a long time since I posted anything. I could make claims to having been quite busy though, truth be told, I probably could have found time here and there to make entries. Instead, accept this one as a compendium of all the entries I meant to make.
I suppose the biggest thing to discuss is the termination of Opus’ trip northwards. To do that, there’s a bunch of context that needs to be given.
We bought Opus in April of 2021. Excepting this trip, Opus had made only a few trips under my command, and sat in the Marina for quite a long time getting worked on. Her engine needed a lot of work, a heater was installed (and de-installed, and re-installed and tinkered with and… etc. It still doesn’t work properly). Various leaks were tracked down and sealed. They say that a boat is a hole in the water into which you pour money. Opus continues that proud tradition, unfortunately.
We intend to take Opus into the Vic-Maui race in 2024. That’s a 2,300 mile race from Victoria, BC to Maui, Hawaii. This trip to Alaska was supposed to be a step towards that, proving out her systems on a long trip while still not being in the middle of the ocean beyond help if something went wrong, and stuff did go wrong, for sure.
We haven’t fixed all the leaks, and rain has kept us from continuing to work on that. The dinghy is also leaking water, which meant we were unable to tow it. It was “safe” in that it wasn’t going to sink, but it was certainly going to add more drag than I wished, and was uncomfortable to use without bailing it. The heater wasn’t reliable (and often didn’t work at all), which is an ongoing issue. Slowly – too slowly – things were being worked on, but I’ll be the first to admit that Opus was/is not in optimal condition. She still needs a lot of work.
The straw that broke the camel’s back, however, came during the trip from Prince Rupert to Ketchikan. That was intended to be a 3-day journey. First day being from Prince Rupert to the Dundas Island, still short of the U.S. Border. 2nd day was to be a cross over the border to Foggy bay, staying there overnight on sufferance from the US Border Services, and then the third day being the final trip into Ketchikan to clear customs. Unfortunately, as we were closing in to Dundas Island, Opus lost power.
We jury rigged a GoPro onto the boat hook so that we could inspect the underside and determined two things. The first was that the propeller and prop shaft were still on the boat. The second was that even with the engine in gear, the prop was not turning, though the engine was.
Compounding this problem was that I was sick with a combination of (later determined) a reaction to some food I ate, which then got me sea sick as well (I had taken sea sick medicine, but thrown it up earlier). Being in a cramped location, trying to work on the diesel engine, was not something I ended up being physically up to. Fortunately, we’re a sailboat and have alternate means to continue. Two of the crew (Kay and Karenn) took terms at the helm while third crew (Sam) aided and then took over diagnosing and trying to fix the problem.
It was determined that the prop shaft was no longer attached to the V-drive. Let me explain that a little more. The shaft that comes off my inboard diesel engine faces towards the bow. If we hooked a propeller onto that, then the propeller would be facing the bow instead of the stern. We need to make the shaft do a 180 degree turn to face backwards towards the stern. This is the function of the V-drive. It is connected to the prop shaft via two flanges that are held together by three bolts. It was determined that the bolts had all failed and there was no longer anything holding the prop shaft flange to the V-drive flange.
As we pitched and rolled in the waves, Sam and I tried to effect repairs together and then Sam by herself. Unfortunately, we failed to be able to extract the pieces of the bolts from the flanges and thus had no way to bolt the two pieces back together again. Meanwhile, Karenn and Kay continued to helm us under sail as our first, then our second, planned stop faded into our wake.
Approximately, 22:00 or so, it was suggested that we make a final call to the coast guard asking for a tow. We had alerted them earlier to our problem1 and they were standing by. After our call this time, they dispatched a boat from Ketchikan, which took us under tow. At 01:30, they nudged us against the bar harbor dock and did a boat inspection to make sure of things like floatation devices, number of flares, fire extinguishers, etc., met coast guard regulations. Finally the crew could turn in for a rest.
The next morning the harbormaster was knocking. He wanted to know what this boat was doing tied up to their temporary dock, and so I told him the story. After doing that and notifying him that we were currently unable to move under our own power, he agreed to let us stay there temporarily, which we ended up doing one more night, though not without one more problem due to tides.
The tide that morning was going to be low enough that Opus might well become grounded. Her keep is strong enough to take her weight as long as it’s concentrated up and down. I basically “sewed” Opus to the dock using every dock line I had and running the line back and forth between her “toe rail” and the dock so that she’d stay upright. However, upon measuring, it turns out that there was a depression directly below her – she never actually touched bottom even though her depth meter was reading less than 9 feet (her minimum depth to float).
Meanwhile I had set out to find someone to fix Opus. This took a bit but we finally found a mechanic that was willing to come out to look at her. Between him, his assistant and me, we worked on it all day and eventually had to completely remove the V-drive to effect repairs. Finally, at 18:30, we were done. It was a lot of labour, a couple of bolts in various sizes (so that we had whatever size was needed), but once again the propshaft was connected to the engine.
Unfortunately, that was not the full extent of the damage. It would be several more days before I had completed all the repairs on her.
Meanwhile, the crew had decided to move on – they could no longer continue the voyage with Opus. This left me with yet another problem. How would I get Opus home? So I sent out word on various boards that I was looking for crew. I’ve had a couple of responses. However, I’ll give you the words of one of these exchanges so you have an idea of the troubles I’m having:
Them: Wave/Request to check mutual interest
Me: Hi, which trip are you interested in?
Them: Prince Rupert to Vancouver
Me: ** Asks for contact information so we can discuss details **
Them: Hi, Kevin, I’m in Ontario now I don’t know how long it will take to get here from bc but I’d love to hop on your boat and go to Europe or something like that.
As you can see, they had no interest in the trip that was proposed. That is typical of the interactions I’ve been getting recently.
And so now I’ve been planning and preparing Opus for the journey southwards uncrewed – just me and the ship making our way over 600 miles back to our home. It’s daunting and scary, for sure. It starts with a 16 hour trip back from Ketchikan to Prince Rupert. 16 hours of me on the helm, steering and managing the entire boat, non-stop, over 80+ miles. Then I spend a few days in Prince Rupert recovering before another 70+ mile leg, whereupon I anchor, and recover for a few days, then another 70+ mile leg to Klemtu. After that things get easier.
However, anchoring comes with its own challenges. Opus’ windlass is underpowered for the anchor and chain we’re using on her for this trip. Thus, to bring the anchor up, I’ll need to man three stations – the helm, the bow, and the chain locker. This will mean I’ll need very protected anchorages as there will be times that the anchor won’t actually be holding the boat, but I need to be away from the helm to bring it up and stow it, plus adding my muscle to the mechanical power of the windlass, plus making sure that the anchor rode and chain are distributing themselves in the chain locker. With a crew of me and one other person, that can be a 20 minute job. With just me alone, I’m guessing it will be more like a 45 minute process.
I have the route planned and so now I’ve been concentrating on rigging the boat for single-handing. That means getting the entire boat secure, rigging attended to, and most of all planning how I’m going to eat and drink while under way. If Opus had an autopilot, that would be easy. Turn on the autopilot and take my hands off the helm. Unfortunately, getting Opus’ autopilot re-installed was not a high priority for this trip. Thus, no autopilot. Somehow I’ll have to be able to prepare meals under way, consume them, and still keep the boat pointed in the right direction. It’s going to be boil-in-a-bag meals at best during the day, or simply high protein, high energy snacks and drinks while at the helm.
Other repairs I’ve had to make:
- Replacement of the starboard safety line. I have no idea how this broke. It happened when I was asleep. Unfortunately, there are no facilities that can handle making a new one here since it requires a heavy-duty press to swage fittings onto wire. I wanted to replace the wire safety lines with dyneema ones anyway. Unfortunately, they don’t have dyneema of the proper size here either, so I’ve had to make do with nylon line. It’s not as good as wire or dyneema because of how it stretches, but it’s a lot better than no safety line at all.
- Rigging of jack lines. These are the lines that run along the deck and to which you hook a tether that either will not allow you to go overboard or else keeps you with the boat if you do, rather than letting the boat continue on without you. If there’s a crew, they can come back to get you. If you’re single-handing, well, the boat won’t be turning around to come get you on its own.
- Replacing the hardware that has gone missing because things like the running back stays were not properly stowed. I don’t blame the crew for making a mistake. It is, after all, my responsibility to teach them. I DO blame them for not asking about it. Considering the back stays are part of what holds the mast up when it’s under tension, they are kind of important…
- Ensuring that the repairs that were made are up to the strain. To that end, I’ve taken Opus out and run her engine for hours both at normal cruise RPMs and also at very high cruise RPMs to test the repair. I’m happy to report that she is running more smoothly than she was prior, though there’s still a fair amount of work that should be done on the engine when possible.
- Oil, oil filter, and fuel filter changes. Although diesel engines could likely run with mud as lubrication, it’s not good for it and will hasten the day that the engine decided it ain’t a-gonna run no more, no more, and is sent to the old engine’s home.
So the big day is approaching. Weather is favourable for a trip this coming Monday. I’ll be setting off some time before midnight on Sunday and then arriving in Prince Rupert a bit after noon on Monday. This will allow me to make best use of tides. There doesn’t look to be much wind, so it’s likely to be a motorboat ride the entire way, so I need to make sure that the fuel tank is full. With a fuel burn of 0.71 gallons/hr, and 25 gallons in the tank, that gives me over 30 hours of operation, which is well more than I need for the 16 hour transit.
I have three night’s reservation in Prince Rupert, so that should work out well enough. If necessary, I hope I can extend that further.
Anyway, I’ll try to keep up more on this blog as things progress. I find myself both anxious and excited by the prospect of bringing Opus home solo. Hopefully the excitement is real and the anxiety is just pre-performance buttterflies. I’ve helmed Opus for more than 16 hours before, though that was in the protected waters of the Georgia Strait. Solo past Dixon Entrance and part of Hecate Strait is a bit more complicated than that.
1I have a membership in BoatUSA for towing, which I got specifically for this trip. It turns out that BoatUSA does not have any tows available in the Ketchikan area. They did coordinate discussions with the Coast Guard, which was about all they could do. Apparently they do have resources in Juneau if we had been up that far.