The Engine Mount Story

This is a bit out of order (as it all happened before we went to Roscoe Inlet), but we haven’t really had a chance to explain what we’ve been talking about with the engine mounts and what all happened. So here goes.

We had left Shearwater/Bella Bella to travel to the outer islands and work our way north. The first stop was the McMullin Group (see the post on that anchorage). From there we had a few rainy days as we sailed north, with a night in Higgins Passage north of Price Island, and then on to Chapple Inlet on Princess Royal Island. This is spirit bear country, and white fur or not, we were really hoping to see a bear in the deeper inlets and beaches, but unfortunately they were hiding from the rain as well.

Sailing north up Laredo Sound on our way to Chapple Inlet

In fairness, the rain was off and on, and the sail north from Higgins to Chapple Inlet was a pretty nice downwind run, including a humpback sighting. Leaving Chapple Inlet, we were headed for Campania Island and the anchorage in McMicking Inlet. Campania was one of the destinations we were targeting, both based on the recommendations from other cruisers and the guidebooks. We had a great sail over there and you could tell the weather was clearing a little which revealed the rocky, mountainous island with its white sand beaches. Campania was stunning.

Campania Island

Check out our Instagram feed for more pictures from Campania.

After our second night, we had plans to head one more step west to the Estevan Group, where an anchorage in Gillespie Channel featured a trail to an old WW2 radar site and views out over the coast. That morning had a surprise for us, however, as we did our regular engine check: the brackets that connect the front of the engine to its mounts had broken; sheared clean away and the front of the engine was sitting down around an inch, leaning on the beds instead of the mounts.

This was a serious problem. With the engine off its mounts, the gearbox and prop shaft were no longer properly aligned and operating the engine could cause damage to the system (since we weren’t sure exactly when the mounts broke, we also were worried there had already been damage). While we’re a sailboat, the engine is a pretty critical system. It’s our primary means of generating electricity when the sun isn’t shining (remember – this is the pacific northwest). It’s important for getting on and off an anchor or into a marina, and in situations where the wind isn’t cooperating. In an emergency, it’s pretty important to have your engine available.

So there we were, at anchor about 2 nm up a narrow inlet, 85 nm north of Shearwater – the nearest (well, only) marine service location between Port Hardy and Prince Rupert. The weather forecast wasn’t bad for us, though: the wind was supposed to switch from the southerly winds of the previous week to northwest winds that would blow 10 to 20 knots steady for a few days. Northwest winds would be ideal for us to sail back to Shearwater. Without the engine, however, we wouldn’t be able to anchor along the way, so we knew this would take a couple of days of continuous sailing.

It is possible to sail off an anchorage (after all, people have only been doing it for a few thousand years). You just raise a sail or two and let them flap in the wind while you hoist the anchor, and as soon as the anchor is raised, you sheet in (tighten up the ropes controlling the sails), and get moving. That’s what we did at Campania that morning, and with the south wind still blowing lightly, we tacked our way out of the inlet (~15 tacks back and forth before we were clear). The south wind held through the day and we made our way slowly down to the south end of Campania Island, when late in the afternoon the wind got lighter. By 7:00 p.m., it shut down completely, leaving us at the mercy of the tides and currents.

The purple line is our course from about 4pm to almost 4am. The backtracking was all due to no wind and a strong current.

With our sails flopping around we tried hard to keep the boat pointed in the right direction, but inevitably we were spun around at times and as the tide turned the current started to pull us backwards, fortunately safely away from land. After dinner we started a watch rotation and I went down to try and catch some sleep while Glenda struggled to little avail to make something happen with the wisps of wind in the dark. At 2 a.m. I was back up and it was Glenda’s turn to try to sleep off the frustration while I stared into the dark and at the glow of the instruments waiting for wind. Finally, around 3 a.m., after having drifted backwards and in circles for the last eight hours, the predicted northwest wind started to fill in. Just 3 knots of breeze at first, but it was enough to get the boat pointed in the right direction and recoup our lost ground by the time the sun rose.

By noon we were into Loredo Sound with clear skies and a boisterous 20 knot breeze behind us, and Innisfree was scampering along at 7+ knots. Despite our stress over the engine, it really was a great sail. We rounded the McInnes Island lighthouse late in the afternoon with 3 meter swells crashing off the rocks, turning east to head for Shearwater hoping to be in before dark.

As we entered Seaforth Channel, only a few miles from Shearwater, the wind was starting to go soft. By the time we neared Dryad Point outside Bella Bella, it was almost sunset and we were ghosting along from one light puff of wind to another, trying to figure out how we would navigate through the narrow passages to Shearwater in this light wind. Shearwater/Bella Bella are right on the inside passage route to Alaska, and we had already seen many boats working their way back south. As we drifted along, up behind us came a gorgeous 110′ sailboat, who radioed us on the VHF… I guess we looked pretty good with all our sails flying in the gentle breeze and evening light. When we explained over the radio that unfortunately it wasn’t exactly by choice that we were still sailing, they graciously offered to help. Before long they had us under tow into Shearwater, dropping us off in the anchorage across from the marina just after dark. Our sincere thanks to the skipper and crew of Paliador for the help.

Under tow behind Paliador at dusk

The morning after our long sail, feeling a little groggy but relieved to be safe in Shearwater, we took the dinghy over to the marina, and were back to the boat not long after with Behr, the Shearwater mechanic, to check out the problem and confirm it was something he could fix. Unfortunately, Behr was busy with other jobs and it would be two more days before he could start. We got a tow over to the Shearwater dock and spent the next couple of days on other chores – provisioning, laundry, boat repairs, and a morning going out salmon fishing with the wharfinger.

Taking time out to go salmon fishing

Two days later, with a jury-rigged hoist to support the engine, we had the broken brackets and engine mounts out and into the shop to be rewelded. The next morning I was putting it all back together, and by afternoon we were testing it all to make sure it was sound. Sore, but relieved, we treated ourselves to dinner at the pub and readied ourselves to head out on our Roscoe Inlet trip the next day.

Now, part of our surprise that this happened is because our engine is brand new. We knew when we bought Innisfree that the existing engine needed a rebuild, and the price of the boat reflected that. Rather than invest in an expensive rebuild of a 23 year old engine, we decided to spend a little extra and repower with a brand new engine. I don’t love working on “infernal” combustion engines, and an unreliable engine was just something I had no appetite for fighting with.

We’ve had some smaller issues with the new engine, but this was more serious. I don’t want to malign our engine installer, though – we’re not happy about this problem, but they jumped on it immediately and have been supportive and responsive. Based on our satellite text message from Campania, they had Shearwater tee’d up to do the work before we arrived and covered the cost of repairs before we even asked. We’ll plan a stop later this fall to have a thorough service and review of it all, but I still feel like we made the right call with the engine install. I just can’t wait until I feel like we’ve worked out all the kinks and don’t have to think much about the engine except regular checks and oil changes.