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

Day 652 [July 16/10 JST] -- Leak now under control

Today's Report
July 16/10 0800 JST 

Position:  22°22'N, 166°11'W

Remaining distance to Yokohama finish:  11.6%

We were on pins & needles for a time yesterday after Saito-san called to say that the leak had doubled in volume. Saito 8 Safety Officer Mike Seymour advised that he stop using the engine and concentrate on stopping the leak, in addition to the pumping which, even at the earlier flow rate, was requiring Saito-san to hand-pump 200 strokes every 2 hours to clear the bilge.

We waited to hear back from him and as the hours passed it seemed that he was OK but there was also that OTHER possibility.

Tokyo eventually received his 8 pm position call and we quickly asked, "So how's the leak?" Not realizing the concern he'd raised earlier in the day, he sounded a bit surprised at our urgency: "The leak? Oh, not bad. I could close the seacock and now it's very little."

This was the same seacock that had defied efforts to close it 2 days ago, apparently foiled in its job by something blocking full closure. But after Saito-san worked at the balky saltwater shut-off valve some more, the leak is now down to only a slight trickle.

He said that overnight it produced about 5 or 6 buckets of water, requiring 120 strokes to clear at daybreak. "So it's still leaking, but not as bad as before," he asserted.

It is not clear whether the hole, now thought to have been caused by corrosion of the saltwater tubing in the oil cooler unit, is getting bigger or just was leaking more water from the added psi with engine operation. Saito-san hopes to apply some bonding compound to seal the hole. However, the slight continued leak is preventing that since the surface must first be dry.

In the meantime it appears he will sail only, at reduced DMG. Fortunately, the winds are predicted on ClearPoint to freshen over the next several days.

Since this morning the winds improved, in both direction and velocity. They became much more favorable out of the ENE at 7-11 kts, rather than the less than 5 kts out of the E he experienced during the night. In fact, ClearPoint is forecasting that they'll become even more favorable out of the NE at 14 kts within the next 19 hours. This is an ideal wind direction for a reduced tacking angle with the bow directed at the next waypoint, thus achieving optimum DMG. That next waypoint, in 1,217 nm, is exactly half-way between Hawaii and Yokohama.

Due to the weak winds overnight, he made just 83 nm DOG (81 nm DMG) during the period.

At the time of his morning call ClearPoint showed a very weak 0.1 kt ENE current, though it was much overnight at 0.6 kts SSE.

Distance in last 24 hours: 83 nm over ground /81 nm DMG
Total distance completed: 24,980 nm
To Yokohama: 3,312 nm
To Mid WP1: 1,217 nm (halfway point from Hawaii to Yokohama)
Heading: 270°
Reported boat speed: 4.5 kts
Average boat speed: 3.5 kts
Engine: 9.5 hrs at 1900 rpm
Generator: 6.0 hrs
Average daily DMG over last 5 days: 97 nm 
Weather: Sunny, warm
Temperature: 25.5° C
Barometer: 1015 hPa
Wind (from): 7-11 kts ENE, expected to be 12-14 kts ENE and NE over next 19 hrs
Waves: 1.5 m
Current (from): 0.1 kts ENE, mixed
Sails: Genoa 100%, staysail 0%, mainsail 3-pt reef

Position Map