Powerless in Paradise

Cruising is working on your boat in exotic locations.

This is one of those cliches that every cruiser knows, and knows to be true.

We are still enjoying Savusavu. We are thankful to be in a place that’s easy to enjoy: A protected anchorage, ready access to well-stocked markets, a number of good restaurants, lovely people, and good facilities for guests. We’re getting to know people, both local residents like the friendly and efficient marina staff, and our fellow cruisers.

When we arrived from Tonga, we did not anticipate staying in Savusavu for more than a week or two, three weeks at the most. Events intervened, and we are now halfway through our fourth week. Here’s what happened to change our plans:

The day after our bus ride to Labasa (see last post), Ruth began coughing. And coughing. It was a dry, persistent, spasmodic cough that was worse in the evening but bad all day. Cough medicine and cough drops didn’t seem to help much. She didn’t have a fever and there were no symptoms of an infection. But the cough was tiring, and she didn’t feel she had the energy to go anywhere until the cough got better. Over the past couple of days she has been feeling better and the coughing seems less, so we made plans to depart for the smaller island of Taveuni as soon as the weather forecast was favorable.

Then …

A few days ago, we decided to top up our water tanks with the potable water readily available from the marina. We prepared to drop our mooring and move over to the dock, where the spigot is. After securing the dinghy to our mooring buoy to keep it out of the way, and save a great spot, we put the engine in forward and started toward the dock. Immediately, we knew something wasn’t right: The engine sound was “off,” and the boat felt sluggish going forward. Some experimentation told us the engine seemed fine in reverse, and okay up to 1400 rpm in forward. At that speed, it started to sound really rough. Not good. The trusty little Beta had performed flawlessly and had sounded completely normal when we motored into Savusavu on July 4. Something had changed between then and now. We topped up our water tanks and returned to the secure mooring, knowing we had a project of some sort ahead of us, but not knowing its exact nature yet. We do not want to leave Savusavu for one of the more remote anchorages until we have confidence in our engine again. Channels can be tricky and there’s a lot of coral in the water around Fijian islands!

Yesterday, Rand dove in the water to examine the propeller and have a good look and feel of the shaft and cutlass bearing. He scrubbed and cleaned the propeller and moved all the parts that ought to move. All okay at that end. He has a checklist he goes through, methodically examining the engine and the entire drive train, to diagnose a problem. The problem turned out to be a broken engine mount. This was one of the four flexible motor mounts that secure the engine to its bed logs. It failed catastrophically, i.e. no warning, at 1,222 hours, and is the starboard forward mount, in the same location as the broken foot that we had to replace while in Papeete and attaches the engine foot on the crankcase to the engine bed log. Rand suspects that this is a follow-on failure from the broken engine foot. We have now begun the process of ordering parts, contacting both our Beta representative in California and a distributor in Auckland. We could make a temporary fix, if we needed to. But we don’t need to. We’re good where we are, and so remain – for now – powerless in paradise.

Spectacular destruction of a flexible motor mount. The shiny threaded knob at top center is supposed to fit tightly in the shredded rubber mount to the right, and permanently attached to the rectangular metal cap below. Oops.


“Bill’s Water Filter” at work as we fill the main tank. We have a policy of filtering all water that goes into the tanks, even from apparently clean municipal sources.

This is how we fill our main water tank when we have access to potable water from shore. We fill using available potable water whenever possible; it saves energy and is faster than our small water maker. Also, when we are in a marina area, as we are now, we don’t run the water maker, since the water around us is often contaminated with small amounts of fuel or oil from outboards. Fuel and oil are death to water maker membranes. The home-made filter shown in the photo is made from a 10-micron fabric filter “sock” that fits into a short length of white PVC pipe with a hose fitted on the bottom for the tank. Thanks to our good friend Bill Kramer back in Portland, who made & gave us the filter before we left. A 10-micron filter will remove most all of the floating particles. This not only gives us clearer water, but eliminates the media on which bad bugs will hitch a ride. Of course, we also treat the water in our tanks. We have an in-line filter under the sink as well.

But back to working on your boat in exotic locations: A couple of weeks ago, we noticed that our head pump was leaking. It was stepping into the puddle of water in the dark nighttime that clued us in. The leak is a slow dribble, and it’s salt water (not sewage, thank goodness!). Rand suspected the diaphragm was leaking; the pump is more than 12 years old. We have a rebuild kit on board, so a few hours labor will probably cure the problem. Like most boat projects, you have to take what seems like half the boat apart to get to the bit you need to work on. The pump is mounted to the inside surface of the under-counter cabinet panel, so the panel has to be removed to get at the pump. Getting at the panel means emptying the locker and removing the “throne,” to free up access space.

And, because I guess we need the practice, one of our two manual bilge pumps is not drawing a prime. The main symptom is a sucking sound with no discharge. It may be another diaphragm failure, more likely a valve; but future diagnosis will tell. The pump is located in the lazarette (the after-most cockpit locker, for non-yachties), so getting to it will be a little easier than getting to the head pump; we’ll just empty the locker, but do not have to remove any panels. And yes, we have a rebuild kit for this one, too.

Cruising is working on your boat in exotic locations, indeed.

The long and the short of it is that we expect to be in Savusavu for a while, at least another week. Things could be worse, though. We enjoyed another Fiji/Indian/Chinese lunch in town today, joined by Australian friends from another yacht. And this is Savusavu Carnival week, including the Miss Savusavu contest. The lucky young lady who wins will be eligible to compete in the Miss Fiji contest later this year, and the winner of that contest will compete afterward in the Miss South Pacific contest. Today was the parade day, “floats” for all the title contestants, the police marching band – very sharp-looking! – and general good fun.

Below are a few photos of the parade:






9 thoughts on “Powerless in Paradise

  1. Does the manufacturer have an upgraded or re-engineered part? Seems like the same replacement might have the same result?


    • This time the flex mount failed. Previously it was the fixed motor mount bracket; the part that bolts to the engine crankcase which rests upon the flex mount pillar stud and adjustment nut. Two separate parts bolted together. The slow failure of the fixed motor mount, or foot as I think of it, began the degradation of the flex mount. And due to the dust/oil cap above the flex rubber, degradation was invisible until final mechanical failure. I should have replaced the flex mount when I replaced the motor foot. But I only replaced the obvious and proximate failure, not all the implied damage. Cheap is not necessarily inexpensive.


  2. The head and the engine. The most troublesome thing on the sailboat. It seems everything else can go hundreds of hours and thousands of miles requiring no maintenance. But those two items you need to watch like a hawk.


  3. Glad it is working out and Ruth is feeling better, but just have to ask: did you order a spare? Just in case you are not in as convenient a spot next time?


    • A full replacement set of four (4) flexible mounts is on order. I expect to replace two; the destroyed one and the very rusty one. That leaves two (2) new flexible mounts as spares. The very rusty one, port aft, is victim to a leak from the engine heat exchanger. New sealing washers for the heat exchanger are included in the parts order. A set for the current service job, and enough for two more service cycles – about a year’s worth. Now, the operative question: What replacement parts and spares will be needed next that Randy has not yet thought about? At least we can surmise that there is a wide range of possible answers.


  4. We were just talking to friends in Cortes Island last night whose engine failed in Port Rupert a few weeks ago. Isn’t it convenient that you were in a safe place when that happened? We’ve been thinking about you as we’ve been sailing Dromen up to the Broughtons. I figured we were only 230 miles away from Alaska, but we decided to head south to change from our fleece to swimsuits. Now with all our solar power we’re able to make ice in our new ice maker. It’s now more than a luxury as our refrigerator stopped working. Boats!

    We so enjoy your posts. Fair winds and may may all your repairs work perfectly.

    Joy & Jerry


    • Solar powered ice. Wow! Send details of the installation. Velic is envious.
      Yes, it was very convenient and lucky that failure happened here is Savusavu Harbor. We are fortunate in this way. Especially seeing the coral reefs all around Fiji Islands.
      We’ll keep depositing chips into John Vigor’s black box.


    • Hi Shane. Welcome aboard our blog. Yes, cruising life has become easier with the internet, international shipping, Skype, etc. On the other hand, hamburgers and pizza have become the international foods. Ruth is getting better, by degrees. It’s good to hear from you. Our best to the family.


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