A Night to Remember

A Night to Remember

From Jaliut Atoll, SE Pass,


To Kosrai, Federated States of Micronesia

February 28 – 0200-0500

Starr left the SW Pass of Jaliut Atoll, Marshall Islands at 0945 on the morning of February 27. The sky was overcast and the winds were NE 15knts (on our starboard stern quarter). It was perfect weather to do a 400nm passage (2 days and nights with just Don and I on board), to Kosrae the eastern-most island in Micronesia.

It was a lazy, quiet day; we spent the morning finishing stowing items for a passage, we tried to nap to prepare for our 3hr night watches, and I wrote two entries for our blog. Don did his normal 1800 watch; I came on at 2100, and Don went to bed and slept until his 2400 watch. I was dead asleep at 0200 (my first sleep of the day/night) when Don woke me up saying: “The engine just died.” Starr has a single Cummins NT855 diesel engine; a very tough, reliable engine found in many of the boats that fish in the Bering Sea; but with only one engine, we were dead in the water. The winds had been blowing ENE 20-25, gusting to 30knts with black heavy clouds and squalls. Fortunately for us, at 0200 the winds had lightened to 15knts but the seas were still pretty choppy.

Without forward motion or working stabilizers, Starr lay in the trough of the waves and began to roll from side to side. I rushed about doing damage control, making sure that drawers and cupboards were secured shut with their sagasumi locking hardware, tossing items on the galley counters into the sink, moving computers from desktops to a safe place on the floor, etc. Meanwhile, Don was sweating away in the 130-degree engine room, trying to figure out why the engine had stopped. After about 45 min. he put the drive chain on the prop shaft and started up the “take-home” backup engine, run by the two Northern Lights generators. Whew, Starr stabilized her motion, I put her back on her coarse of 250 degrees and we moved forward through the dark night at 4.5knts.

Don continued to sweat away in the engine room for another 1 ½ hrs, trying to figure out why the engine wasn’t getting fuel. First of all there was no 24volt power in the engine panel and there are several ways that the power could be lost: an automated fire shutdown, or one of 3 emergency kill buttons at each of the navigation control stations. Don pulled a couple of wires so he could activate the starter. It would start and then die, starved- for fuel. Then he manually opened the injector pump solenoid activated fuel valve and the engine would just barely idle. At this point he thought the problem might be fuel filters or a problem with the injection pump. He wasn’t seeing any vacuum on the big Racor secondary fuel filters. The next culprit might be the primary filters, which do not have their own vacuum gage. His next step was to gravity feed fuel from the full wing tanks to the day tank in the keel so that there would be plenty of fuel delivered to the injector pump even if there was some flow resistance through the primary filters. This gave ample fuel to the injector pump. He restarted the engine; it ran but wouldn’t increase rpm. He had already screwed tight the knurled bypass knob on the fuel shut-off solenoid to the injector pump, but he backed it out and re-tightened it and VOILA the engine started and ran, and still is running. He had to disconnect the chain drive from the shaft before he could engage the ZF gear. He put the main engine in gear and off we went at 8.5knts. It is really great to have a simple engine, and it’s really great to have a husband who is a “motor head” who can fix it. Don was so dripping wet with perspiration that it looked like he had been swimming. He had to dry off, more than once, with a towel and his pants left wet marks on the pilot chair.

Around 0400, he was still finishing up his work in the engine room and we received a text message on our Iridium Satellite phone from Brooke telling us that there was an 8.8 earthquake in Chile and that a tsunami wave was headed our way, due to arrive at our location around 2400 Zulu (Greenwich Meantime). At this point the information that we received said that Hawaii was expecting a 15’wave. Don gave Brooke our position and asked him to get more information about our specific location. He and Don’s brother Dan told us that we should look for a wave around noon, but because we were in deep water we were unlikely to be in any real danger. That was good news.

By 0500 we were back to normal passage making and Starr was headed for Kosrae at 8.5knts, seas had calmed down and the almost-full moon had come out from behind the dark clouds to light our way.

I stood watch and Don showered and went to bed; he was exhausted. I sat in the quiet of the wheelhouse and wondered how could it have been possible that our engine died (for the first time in 10 years and more than 40,000nm of cruising) AND WE ARE ON THE ALERT FOR A TSUNAMI. I told Don before he went to bed, that I felt like we were in a Clive Cussler novel.

As I said many times before: “A boring passage is a very good passage.”

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