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  • Writer's pictureSteven Hopkinson

Lockdown Day #33

The good news is that Roatan and the Bay Islands on Honduras are still Covid-free according to the authorities. This is based on 31 tests taken, all with negative results, which is terrific, although one wonders if the testing were done on a wider basis if we might not find Covid here after all. It's the same refrain we're hearing from Cuomo and others, the rapid testing capacity just isn't there yet -- or if it is, the accuracy of the tests is suspect. Regardless, the state of emergency ruling authority, something called by the acronym SINAGER (the national risk management system) will need to either renew their decree tomorrow or enact a new ruling that all the departments (states) of Honduras will be obliged to obey.

Maybe they open things up again and permit a wider array of businesses than the BIG FIVE (banks, supermarkets, gas stations, pharmacies, and hardware stores) to operate, but even if they do, we're still looking at a closed island economy. No visitors. No tourists, no outside money coming in except for what's being donated digitally. (If you can donate, think about the Make it Count Foundation Support Roatan). We're still looking at a late 2019 or early 2020 possibility of the islands letting tourism resume, and that's predicated on the widespread availability of reliable rapid testing. Hopefully they'll find a way to get the islanders trapped overseas and on mainland Honduras home to their families sooner. Thankfully Andrea and I are at least together through this crisis. Neither of us could imagine having to weather this kind of storm alone.

It's another gusty couple of days here, lots of white caps out on the south side of the island, a nice steady breeze that keeps us cool on the hill. We've got plenty of food for ourselves and have lots of dog food -- thankfully they're small and don't eat much, although they beg a lot. We've got a place to stay and a place to go if things get really crazy here, so for the time being we've got everything we need. We're going to try to use the time we have "off" not sailing to do productive things, like learning how to use our sailrite sewing machine ourselves. We see a lot of cursing in our future. Back in what feels like another life when we were coming down here in Ft. Pierce, Florida at a marina we called Bartertown, when our lovely old 15 HP Honda outboard broke for the first time, a really nice lady a couple of boats over taught us how to attach the thread and walked us through how to work the machine. She was super nice, calm, and patient. Hopefully one of us can remember, but if not, at least we've got the wonderful people over on Youtube who upload "how to" videos. They're heroes too.

We're also boning up on our Spanish, because why not? We listen to Governor Dino Silvestri everyday in Spanish and in English when he does his great daily FB live broadcast, plus we're doing the Duolingo app thing again. It's not like we can say "we don't have the time", to learn another language, right? I mean all we've got is time. We're also becoming more familiar with parts of the beating heart of our Beneteau Oceanis 393 sailboat, our trusty Yanmar 4JH3e 56HP diesel engine. We used to look at an engine, shrug and be like, okay yeah, that's definitely an engine. But now we know what almost all of the parts actually do.

Take something that sounds simple like a coolant flush and replacement, something the manual and all the cruising books will tell you needs to be done once a season or every 250 engine hours. Well, we've never done it once on City Dogs and we've had the boat coming up on three years. So, we got the good concentrated ELC coolant imported from a friend (thanks Rob!!), and Steve got to work armed with two digital manuals and a ton of Sailing and Cruising forum posts clogging up his RAM with loads of helpful hints about how to quickly and effectively drain, clean, and refill the engine. Cruisers are super helpful, but boy do they love to tell their stories...

There are three main coolant drains for the engine: one on the starboard side a little aft from the oil dipstick, one in the front just below the fresh water pump, and one on the port side just in front of the exhaust. We started with the one in front, it has a little lever that simply needs to be turned to drain the coolant, only of course it didn't turn. With lubrication and force, of course it eventually did without breaking, but no coolant came out initially, which Steve thought quite curious indeed, so he moved to the port side plug.

The drain on the port side was the traditional Yanmar model he'd seen referenced online, a nice solid brass piece with a threaded end that, when backed off a quarter turn, was supposed to let coolant flow out from a small nipple (which you can attach to a hose and run into a bucket to keep the job from being a total and complete mess). When it finally turned, no coolant came out, so Steve took the whole brass drain plug off the engine block and when that came loose, coolant finally began draining out immediately. So Steve took the drain plug assembly off the front plug and coolant came from there too, but the port side drain plug would not bulge no matter how much force was applied to it.

There's almost no room to work to loosen that one, so rather than destroy the plug, Steve called a friend (thanks Doc!!), calmed down and just moved on. It turns out the drain plugs were completely gummed up with what looks and felt like clay, a dark brown/reddish silt that had kept both of them from letting coolant freely flow. So Steve went on, took off the lines that ran from the fresh water pump to the hot water heater, aimed one into a bucket and blew into the other end. It's one of those fun boat work jobs when your mouth is on a poisonous coolant line just straight blowing all the air out of your lungs, watching some foul looking stuff come out of your engine. From there, it was simply a matter of cleaning the drain plugs out really well, reinstalling them, putting the hoses back on the fresh water pump and then filling the engine up with distilled water. We then ran the engine back up to temperature, making sure the thermostat opened up, then drained the fluids again. Then filled her up with distilled water again, ran her temperature up again, and dumped the water again. By the second time the coolant was looking pretty clear, the stuff coming out of the drain plugs was pretty much just looking like distilled water, clear, not that rusty dirty stuff that had been inside.

Then we filled her up with a roughly 55/45 mix of ELC coolant (red stuff)/distilled water, then ran her up to temperature with the cap off, then topped her off with coolant, put the cap on and ran her some more. She seems to be working fine, we know we didn't get all the old coolant in the system at first, but after flushing it twice with distilled water and running the engine both times, we should have gotten whatever was in the undrained section such that anything in there should at this point just be distilled water, but it was a typical boat job, one that sounds simple and turns into a PITA (pain in the ass).

Now, we've heard since that we should have used an Oxalic acid cleaner on the inside of the engine on the first flush. Let it soak for a while and then drain. Is that right? Let us know in the comments what you think so that when we get around to doing this job again in another 250 engine hours, the job gets done the best way possible. With all the buildup inside those drain plugs, we're worried we might need to think about replacing some of the hoses too. But those are jobs for another day. For now, we've got what should be a nice happy diesel engine, full of good new oil, with new filters , full of new coolant, fairly cleaned up and looking sharp for a girl about ready to go to her senior prom (she was born in 2003).

We also patched a little abrasion we had near the top of the mainsail with some fantastic tape that one of our friends recommended (thanks Gary!!), and had the spreader taped so that it wouldn't rub on the sail anymore. We've also reinforced our dodger, our bimini, and had a zipper added to the front so we can let a breeze into the cockpit. This is perhaps the feature that we're both the most excited about, as it should be a real game changer while underway or even just sitting at anchor. Previously, there would be pockets of dead air space in the seats the farthest away from the helm in the cockpit and now those spaces will be full of either real or apparent wind as we either sail or motor.

What's weird is working on the boat and not knowing when we're going to be allowed to take it out again. Sure, we could contact the Port Captain and our Patronado (community board leader) and let them know where we're going and when we'll be back, and it would be fine, theoretically, for us to take our boat out even now, but there has been a lot of hysteria about unauthorized vessels coming to the Bay Islands from other places with allegedly sick foreigners. A sailboat that tried to come into Utila was turned away by the Mayor when they tried to anchor. Travel between the Bay Islands is strictly prohibited, but we could go to one of our favorite places up in Port Royal, but we would have to worry about people freaking out, especially if we tried to say, move from one side of the island to the other. Thing is, most people, even here in paradise, are complying with social distancing and social isolation; they're staying home and they're bored out of their minds at this point. If they see a sailboat out moving from point a to point b, and they live near point b, they just might come out and tell us to get lost, even if we have permission from the Port Captain and the Patronado. Last thing we want to do is come back from a snorkel and find Fozzie and Mischa fending off an armed mob.

Technically, we could take the boat anywhere we want, but who would let us in? The US would, of course, but we'd likely have to go into quarantine. But there are boats out there literally without a country, we read today about one couple sailing from the Pacific who have been bouncing from country to country without being allowed to check in anywhere since leaving Sri Lanka, no one will take them but they've passed through dozens of countries since making their way down the African Coast (can't find the post now but will update with a link once we find it). No one is going to take them and it's only through a crazy effort that they're even able to get the basics like food and water delivered to their boat before being forced to "move on" to the next country that won't take them in. At least we've got a watermaker, and she's running just fine now, producing a little over her 1.2 gallon an hour average. We know it's not much but it's enough for us and it doesn't have much of a draw on our system.

Anyway. Stay home and stay safe, friends. And come sailing again with us once things calm down and the Bay Islands allow tourism operations to resume.


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