30 knot winds, smoke and a rescue - the Can Drac Maiden Voyage

If you read our previous blog post about our plans for Can Drac's Maiden Voyage you'll know that we were planning a slow and uneventful cruise down the Delaware river and up the coast of Jersey over three long days with a fantastic weather forecast.

Well, that was not to be.

After averting a fire in the middle of a champagne toast and participating in a sea rescue in the middle of 30 knot gusts, Can Drac in its new home on the afternoon of Memorial Day. But that's the only thing that happened as planned.

The weekend started with the news that our departure would have to be delayed by 30 hours in order to complete last minute warranty work that was not done during the week due to bad weather. That gave us all day Saturday to provision, fuel up and learn all the new systems aboard. But it also meant that we would have to do the passage non-stop sailing through the night. Goodbye nice dinners on land, hello night watches! Hey, at least we didn't have to worry about docking this thing until we got to our marina...

But the major excitement of the day came at the very end, when we were having a glass of champagne on the cockpit. Just as we started to relax and enjoy the fact that everything was working fine for the first time, alarms started sounding at the chart table. Apparently, both the engine and house batteries were losing voltage fast and the familiar smell of an electric fire started to fill the cabin. Sure enough, as soon as we opened the engine compartment we saw thin smoke coming from the back. After turning everything off, the smoke stopped but the mystery remained. What do we do now? What has caused it? See my e-mail exchange with our friend Chuck from Eliora for a full description in real time:

From: Chuck
Date: Sat, 24 May 2008 18:48:41
Are you all set for tomorrow's maiden voyage?

From: franc
Date: 09:18 PM
All set. EVERYTHING works! Only concern is getting out of the marina at low tide but once we hit that river at 10:30am we're GOLDEN! Having champagne in the cockpit. Just toasted to Eliora too!

From: Chuck
Date: 21:30:54
Thank you -- we are talking about it with our friends here
Fair winds

From: franc
Sent: 09:33 PM
Its over. We just had some sort of electrical problem. Smoke coming from the engine when plugged in having drinks with the owner of the dealership. Seems that smoke is under control now. More later gotta go.

From: Chuck
Date: 22:18:42
I'm so sorry to hear that -- I hope its nothing serious and you can still make it tomorrow

From: franc
Date: 10:27 PM
I don't think so. No one's here to figure out what it was and I'm not going ANYWHERE until someone tells me what caused all batteries to drop below 12v in 2 minutes and the whole engine to heat up and start smoking when it had not been run in a week! Didn't stop until we unplugged from shore so we're spending the night aboard with all batteries off and most likely going home tomorrow... I'm so depressed.

From: Chuck
Date: 22:18:42
I can only imagine....just thankful that it happened shore-side at the dealer than underway and then have them regard it as user error. We're also feeling bad as we knew this was a memorable event for all of us.
Does it smell funny -- an unusual burnt smell?

From: franc
Date: 10:48 PM
Of course. That electrical burning smell. Charger was cold, batteries looked fine, but smoke was coming from the back of the engine; same amount that would come from a cigarette. Boat had been plugged in for days so I hope it was somewhat related to what we had on at the time. Otherwise this could have happened when we were away and set the whole boat on fire!

From: Chuck
Date: 22:58:15
I wonder if it was the inverter since it was coming from the back of the engine and the batts were down to less than 12V. The inverter may have shorted and drained the batts to nothing in an instant which is the only thing that could do that -- or a direct short on the batts -- like droping a screwdriver on both batt terminals, but that you would have known. It also explains why it stopped as soon as you unplugged the boat. Did anyone turn on the inverter inadvertantly?

From: franc
Date: 11:58 PM
Good thinking. The inverter could be what drained the battts. But the boat is set up in a way that you cannot inadvertedly start the inverter when shore power is on. Of course, something could have caused that behind the scenes but def. not at the panel.

From: Chuck
Date: 23:09:35
Go sniff the inverter -- the burnt smell will be very distict at the source.

From: franc
Date: 11:30 PM
Inverter is totally fine. No smell at all. It all came from between the intake silencer and the air heater in the engine.

From: Chuck
Date: Sun, 25 May 2008 09:09:26
Really -- then it might have been the glow plug system -- a short there would definitely drain the batts just the same way as you described. ....but were you trying to start the engine or had you just started the engine? Do you have to hold down a button (for the glow plugs) a few seconds prior to starting the engine?
Talk to me

From: franc
Date: 09:59 PM
Nope. We found the culprit. It's the 12v plug at the helm. 5min before the smoke started we plugged in a phone to charge. We just opened it and it looks like it wasn't grounded and the engine is the main ground... Shouldn't 12v plugs be grounded?

From: Chuck
Date: 10:32:53
Absolutely. Otherwise you wouldn't even have a working circuit. It could be insufficient ground. But did they install it? It usually comes with an inline fuse. But then why was there smoke coming from the engine compartment and stopped after unplugging the boat? Did you turn off the batts at the same time as unplugging the shore power and was a mere coinsidence?

From: franc
Date: 12:07 PM
We got it (you were right, how do you do that!?) the 12v was wired to the glow. Anyway, we're motoring past Philadelphia now!!!

From: Chuck
Date: 12:46:13
That's great -- I'm glad you're on your way home -- fair winds and calm winds to you

As you can see from the date stamps on those emails, the mystery was solved Sunday morning so as soon as we disconnected "the culprit" we decided to go. Of course, Andrea had already predicted that the 12v was the issue, but it took everyone else until the next morning to get to the same conclusion. Our delayed departure put us in an uncomfortable situation leaving Riverside, as the tide was nearing its low and with over 230 miles ahead of us we could not wait for high tide and expect to finish the trip that weekend. Fortunately, the dealer was kind enough to lead us through the shallow channel out to the Delaware River on another boat so at 11 am on Sunday we were finally off.

Of course, the relief of not having run aground lasted only a few minutes. Just down the river the Tacoma Palmyra bridge awaited the arrival of our 60plus feet mast without any intention to open on demand as expected. Despite the fact that our charts only showed 58ft clearance, the bridge operator insisted that the bridge now had 61 feet clearance. Still, that was not much comfort considering the antennas and the possibility of wake from other boats but it was low tide after all. The bridge operator guaranteed we would be fine and a quick call to our dealer confirmed it so we took the plunge with aprehension and made it through.

The rest of the way down the Delaware river was a comfortable and fast ride. Dan and I took some time to configure and test the AIS system that allows us to see commercial traffic on the chart plotter (see test in this 30s video).

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As we approached Delaware Bay, Andrea prepared a great plate of pasta for all and went down below to watch a movie with Patrice. Dan and I monitored the traffic in what seemed like a busy highway and anxiously waited for the wind to be at a good angle to test the sails. No such luck. For the next few hours we were constantly overtaken by barges and ships so we motored at the edge of the channel in the middle of the night. Thank God for AIS!

As we approached Cape May, we were tempted to cut through the shoals, instead of following the channel taking us far out into the ocean. The chart showed passages with plenty of depth (10-15 feet or more) but when our chartplotter started to reboot itself after every 5 minutes we had second thoughts. It was pitch dark, we had been advised "not to hug the beach" and visual navigation without GPS would have been tricky so we decided to avoid all risks. We stayed in deep waters until we were far enough South that we were able to just turn Noth East and aim straight for home without worrying about the shoals. At exactly 12:45, just ast the moon started to rise in the horizon we set our sails for the first time. At that point everyone went to sleep and I did my night watch alone, quietly getting to know Can Drac under sail for the first time. It was a truly memorable moment. A really special opportunity for us to bond and get to know each other. She handled just as smoothly as I had expected and moved fast at 7 knots, keeping our cruising speed without complaints.

By the time the sun started to rise on our starboard side, we were back to motoring and Dan and Patrice were on deck ready to take over. The wind had died during the night, we were 7 miles offshore and the course was set to Sandy Hook. All we had to do was wait and keep an eye for fish traps so I took some time to catch some sleep.

When I woke up, the wind had increased to 15 knots directly on our stern so it was tempting to turn off the engine and enjoy a good sail. But the delay in rounding Cape May and the fact that we were surfing at 9knots over the waves made us reconsider. We could not risk a late arrival with 7am meetings at work scheduled for the next day.

When we reached the Manasquan inlet the winds were above 25 knots and the waves were considerably larger. It was then that we heard the call for help on the radio. The Black Pearl, a 21 foot motorboat had lost its engines and was anchored, drifting towards the beach and requesting a assistance from SeaTow. At first we didn't see them but we monitored the conversation on the VHF. Then we saw a boat matching the description on our starboard quarter. There she was, tossed around with two people aboard. As we approached them we heard that SeaTow was having a hard time finding them based on the directions they had provided. It turned out that the Black Pearl did not have a GPS on board. We called them and asked if they could see us approaching and when they confirmed they did we knew it was them. With that certainty we called SeaTow and gave them our exact position and stood by the Black Pearl until we saw the SeaTow rescue boat approach us at full speed. Soon after that the Black Pearl was being safely towed and we were back on our way home.

At 3pm we "hugged the beach" off Sea Bright to say hello to our friends from Yachtasea. They were spending the day at the beach and waited to wave to us when we passed by. Back in familiar waters, we finally started to feel the warm welcome of coming home.

Can Drac crossed the Verrazzano bridge for the first time just a couple hours after that and before we knew it we were docking at Newport marina with the help of everyone on our dock, champagne and tons of familiar faces. It was the anticipated sight of a sailing season in full swing, the thing we missed the most this past winter. Thanks to everyone's efforts at Winters Sailing Center to get the boat ready and to Dan and Patrice's invaluable help during the passage we had completed an exciting and memorable Maiden Voyage. Now we can't stop thinking about what's ahead: A few daysails in the harbor and our first trip to the Sound in early June!

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Comment by Faris Ahmed on November 10, 2013 at 7:01pm

naw dan you look so good here .

how have you been mate ? 

hows your mesh banners and outdoor banners project coming along ? 

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