Day 653 [July 17/10 JST] -- A prudent U-turn back to Hawaii

Today's Report
July 17/10 0800 JST 

Position:  21°32'N, 165°58'W

At a meeting of the Saito 8 Support Committee yesterday, a persuasive case was made to ask Saito-san to return to Hawaii for another round of repairs. He called in during the meeting and although voicing some initial reluctance, he as well agreed that in face of the several mounting problems that put the boat in jeopardy of sinking, a quick U-turn back was prudent. 

Mike Seymour described the situation in detail, pointing out the likelihood of the seawater cooling circuit leak becoming worse to the point that Saito-san would be unable to keep up with it. It was emphasized that with the onset of typhoon season, the engine is essential. While the leak can be controlled with the seacock closed, the thru-hull valve must be opened to use the engine. A sudden catastrophic rupture of the weakened tubing (discussed below) could flood the boat. 

Yesterday it was determined that running the engine even in calm conditions doubles the leak volume and it is impossible to say whether the weakened tubing of the oil cooler could withstand the added pressure from higher engine rpms. In a typhoon, or to avoid one, the engine potentially could be run at near red-line condition for several hours on end.

Adding to the committee's concern is the failure of the electrically powered bilge pump, which has forced the skipper to resort to the backup manual pump. His back, which had already pained him in Hawaii, has worsened from the new exertion, leading to worries about whether he could deal with frequent manual pumping for the next 30 days.  

Rather than leave it to chance, a return to Hawaii while still within relatively easy sailing distance was seen as the safest choice. While no decisions have yet been made, it is expected he'll remain in Hawaii for as long as two or three months to wait out the most-active portion of typhoon season in the North Pacific. 

As of the morning's 0800 call he was 450 nm from Hawaii, having turned around about 18 hours earlier, and closing 64 nm during that time.

Blame it on the gremlins of Punta Arenas. 

The corrosion in the heat exchanger is theorized to have been the result of stray electrical current in waters of the fishing harbor in Chile. This is a common occurrence in marinas with liveaboard residents who run shore power to their vessels. It would certainly have been the case during those long 9 months in Chile when NBSDIII was tied up to larger fishing vessels much of the time.

The sacrificial zinc used to reduce corrosion on the propeller was replaced earlier, but apparently not the 2 sacrificial zincs independently used on the oil cooler. Both were found to be completely gone when Saito-san opened the heat exchanger casing to search for the leak. After they were consumed, electricity began eating the metal of the heat exchanger tubes themselves.

During the 22 months of the voyage several mechanics have worked on the engine, but there is no immediate indication, and no record, of whether anyone thought to inspect the zincs on the heat exchanger. 

By the time NBSDIII left Hawaii, the damage would already have been done. Running the engine at cruising speed sprung the pinhole leak, and there is no way -- at least away from a mechanic's shop -- to judge the strength of the rest of the affected tubing.

And anything attempted by Saito-san without proper tools and parts, it is feared, might make the situation go much worse, very quickly.  

Distance in last 18 hours: 64 nm over ground
Heading: 138°
Reported boat speed: 4.0 kts
Average boat speed: 3.6 kts
Engine: 0 hrs
Generator: 13.0 hrs
Weather: Overcast, occasional squalls with wind gusts up to 28 kts
Temperature: 25.5° C
Barometer: 1015 hPa
Wind (from): 12-15 kts E, expected to be 11-16 kts ENE and E over next 19 hrs
Waves: 1.5 m
Current (from): 0.1 kts ENE, mixed
Sails: Genoa 80%, staysail 0%, mainsail 3-pt reef

Position Map