Have any of you ever wondered this? “How do they change their oil when they’re sailing around the world?” I’ll be honest, when we were first boat-shopping, I wasn’t even entirely aware the boat had an engine, much less one that had oil that needed changing, or that we (Phillip and I) would be the folks to do it. I was so clueless in the beginning! When I finally did start to ponder it, I thought we would just pull into one of those 10-minute oil change places, like you do with your car, and have it done. Yeah, ‘cause those exist on the water. It’s amazing Phillip has put up with me all these years. The blonde is real people.
After our beloved boat, primarily under the power of our engine, a Westerbeke 27A whom we lovingly call “Westie,” took us to fourteen stunning Abaco cays, it was time to change out his oil. A few years back, we found this nifty manual oil pump that allows us to do it ourselves right in the saloon. I put together a detailed, informative video for you all here from our “Maintenance in Marsh Harbour” and some photos below showing you how we change the oil on our boat, as well as the primary fuel filter and zinc. I also included one way, in particular, how NOT to do change the oil on a boat. You’re welcome! Watch and learn and we’ll hope an oil spill on board never happens to you. “Better get some towels,” the captain said. *gulp*
Ahoy followers! I hope you love boat maintenance as much as we do! While we’re not the best at it, we certainly strive to keep our beautiful baby ship-shape and in top Bristol fashion. Mainly, we feel very lucky to have purchased our boat from a previous owner who loved her just as much as we do and took exceptional care of her for twenty-eight years. WWJD: What Would Jack Do? is a running joke on our boat. We just try not to mess up what he started. One of the upgrades Jack made to our Niagara 35 was an ingenuous shift of the oil filter from a horizontal position (which forced the dirty oil to spill out of it during an oil change) to a vertical one, where it at least gives us a chance to catch the oil that will spill out when we swap the old with the new by placing a bag underneath. Thanks Jack!
We also found this great plastic oil pump kit (with a pump bin, hoses and fittings) a few years back in St. Pete (from a very interesting marine vendor, fun story for you here) that we stow on board in a big Rubbermaid bin that fits in our hanging locker. I’m not certain of our particular brand, but West Marine seems to have a comparable version of it here. We previously had a dirty old metal one, but the plastic one is much lighter and cleaner. Thank You Backdoor Marine Supply Guy!
We also feel very fortunate to have great engine access on our Niagara. The galley sink and cabinets simply pull back (we prop them on the table with a pillow) and we have instant access to all the major checkpoints on the engine. We can also remove the stairs for more access and I can crawl into the hatch in the aft berth and get behind the engine too, if need be. So, we can accomplish 360-degree access for major projects. Westie isn’t safe from our grimy hands anywhere! Ha!
Jack also installed a tube drain from the oil reservoir in the engine with a hose attachment that has a shut-off valve. The tube (currently capped and sealed off) is laying on the engine floor to the right of the transmission in this photo.
We connect this hose Jack put together for us (you will see the red shut-off valve) to that fitting by the transmission and then place the other end of the hose in the oil pump to literally suck the oil out of the engine and into our plastic oil pump.
Before we change the oil, we always crank the engine and let Westie run for about ten minutes to let the oil warm up and get viscous. Then we shut him down and rig up this pump and hose set-up. Once connected, we give the oil pump 15-or-so pumps to create the vacuum suction, then Phillip or I turn the red valve to the open position and you can literally see the black oil coming up through the hose into the oil pump. We can also hear it (a whooshing sound) and feel the heat of the oil going into the pump. We repeat this pump-and-release process about three times until there is barely any oil that comes through the hose upon release (meaning the oil reservoir in the engine is mostly empty).
In this photo, you can actually see the oil about halfway up the hose, about to come up over the bend and down into the pump near my hands. Phillip is watching that to make sure the oil is draining.
Once Westie is drained, we set to taking off the old filter (which Phillip is doing here with multiple Ziplock bags beneath), and I begin filling the new filter with oil. We put about a quart into the new filter and lube the gasket with it before putting it on the engine. We have also learned to wipe where the old filter was mounted and check to make sure the old gasket did not stick to the engine.
Once the new filter is on, we set to filling Westie back up with fresh, new oil. He loves that! We usually put about 2 – 2.5 quarts into the engine (plus the quart in the filter which equates to about 3- 3.5 quarts total. We have over-filled it before so we try not to do that. Our goal is to shoot a little low (plenty of oil for Westie to run and stay lubed, but definitely under the “full” mark on the dipstick) as we have found the new oil tends to expand a bit when we first run the engine after an oil change.
“While you’re down there,” I can just hear our buddy Mitch saying now. He was the friend who helped us deliver our Niagara when we first bought her back in 2013 from Punta Gorda up to her home port in Pensacola and all 6’3” of him didn’t seem to enjoy the process of climbing up and down our “little toy stairs,” which meant every time I went down to grab something, it would be immediately followed by a request from Mitch that started with “While you’re down there … ” So, while we were down there, with the engine all opened up and in our grease suits, we decided to also check on the sacrificial zinc in our heat exchanger and the primary fuel filter.
The zinc actually looked pretty good. We’ve pulled this guy out before to find just a little grey nub. We also try to occasionally (I’d say once a season) drain the heat exchanger and clean out all the little leftover zinc bits in there. It usually looks like a zinc graveyard, and those guys all tumbling around can restrict water flow. So, a little bit of maintenance in that regard can go a long way.
The fuel filter did not look near as good. All that black grime around the bottom means it’s time to change it out.
Thankfully, that’s a rather easy job on our boat, just pop the lid off of the globe, pull this piece out, dump the old filter, and put a new one on. The only tricky part is making sure the two (2) spaghetti size o-rings on the globe wiggle back into place before you tighten the lid down.
We are also lucky in that our engine is self-priming. When we turn the key, it starts to bleed the air in the system (that we allowed in by opening the globe). We wait about thirty seconds for it to do that (and you can see the globe filling while it does) before engaging the glow plugs then turning him over. He cranked like a champ. Way to go Westie!
Now … about this oil spill. I share here because I hope this never happens to one of you. While we are definitely pleased with our plastic oil pump, it does have one drawback. One we were not in any way aware of when we bought it. Apparently, when dumping the old oil out, if you tip the pump more than 90 degrees, oil will fill the pump chamber and it ruins the pump. Not only will it no longer be able to suck oil in, the awesome side effect of doing this causes the pump to actually shoot oil out of the handle when you engage it. You’ll see at the end of the video above this is what happened to us. Not knowing this “90 degree dump” issue, I had taken the pump to an Auto Zone for proper disposal of the oil and the guy behind the counter dumped it for me. I saw him, and he definitely tipped it completely upside down, I just didn’t know that would cause any kind of a problem. But, the next time we had to change the oil and we set the pump up, oil shot out of the handle on both sides when I pulled the handle up. Fantastic. “Get some towels,” Phillip said.
You can see now why we lay so many sheets and towels down when we change the oil on the boat. If any of you use one of these types of pumps to change your oil on the boat, I hope this tip helps an oil spill aboard from never happening to you!
Best of luck out there grease monkeys! Keep those diesels purring!
These were some of the varying pieces of advice we were getting when we reached out to folks about our shuddering shrouds on the Freydis. To this day (primarily because of this experience) I am not a fan of rig tuning. I don’t like the science behind it (or should I say the lack of science). It’s like Matthew McConaughey’s “fugazi” from Wolf on Wall Street.
“It’s not on the elemental chart. It’s not real.” That’s about what the “proper amount of tension” on rigging feels like to me. Thankfully, Yannick, with the seemingly endless supply of information he had compiled about his boat, found a very small notation in the back of a manual made by the previous owner of the boat when the rig was replaced in 2012 about the amount of barrel that should be visible in the turnbuckle. It was the only resource we had that included a non-subjective component. You know, actual numbers not just “I’m okay, the rig’s okay” feelings. For that reason, it had my vote. And Yannick’s as well. According to the previous owner’s notation, the starboard shroud needed to be tightened until 2.5 more centimeters of thread were exposed in the turnbuckle. The port shroud needed an additional 3.57 cm of thread. With heavy PVC tubes that had to be lifted while two others handled the tightening and measuring below (while the boat was still bashing around underway), it was not the easiest of chores but it was do-able.
With Yannick serving as our Chief Measurer, and Johnny and I awarded the honor of Turnbuckle Turner Nos. 1 and 2 we set to tightening the rig in the early morning hours of June 8th, eleven days into our trans-Atlantic. I learned a good lesson from Johnny that day too. I would say he cracked me up, but I think I actually cracked him up. As we bundled up the tools, a towel and the cotter pins we would need for the job and headed up on deck, Johnny mentioned tying a safety line in case we dropped things. Good idea I thought and I carefully tied a tiny Dyneema line from the turnbuckle to the new cotter pins we would be putting in once we finished tightening the shrouds. When Johnny settled in next to me and saw what I had done, he doubled over chuckling and said:
“I meant tie a line to the tools. We have plenty more cotter pins. We don’t have more tools.”
Ahhh. That Johnny. You can tell he’s been around boats a while. These were the kinds of simple tips and tricks I was picking up out there. All part of why I went.
Once we had tightened the shrouds to Yannick’s measurements, the murderous shuddering definitely subsided. It was so comforting just to hear that sound in particular—such a horrid metallic clanging—stop. That shrill cry is not something you want to associate with a boat beating its way across the ocean. Water on hulls. That’s fine. Taut sails and crashing waves. All fine. Shrouds vibrating themselves to death. NOT fine.
It seemed about the perfect time to tighten the shrouds, too, as the winds continued to howl through our rig that day, holding steady between 22 and 26 knots. We knew exactly where there winds were coming from too: Tropical Storm Collins.
As I mentioned, we got incredibly lucky with the weather on that trip. No matter how much intel, satellite equipment and cautious planning you have or make for an ocean-crossing, a good bit of your fate still falls in the category of “pure luck” because once you shove off with the intent to cross an ocean, you’re exposing yourself to a big open body of water and a boat that doesn’t travel near as fast as storms. We had been watching TS Collins forming in the Gulf and had actually heard from friends first with the worry that it might be coming toward mine and Phillip’s Niagara 35 back in Pensacola. *gulp*
Yannick’s going to kill me when he reads this, but I’ll just be honest. I pleaded with the storm to continue heading west to Texas, or perhaps hook and go east, go across Florida, go anywherebut to our poor little, just re-built boat in Pensacola. Apparently the storm heard me because that’s exactly what he did. The Wednesday on that storm tracker chart above is June 8th, when the storm was just starting to make his turn toward the Big Bend of Florida. We were following it closely out in the Atlantic. Thankfully, on Andanza, we had fantastic weather intel in the form of a hired weather router, a friend of Yannick’s (who proved equally capable) doing the same, as well as Weather Fax, GRIB files and unlimited Delorme texting available to reach out to anyone on-shore with the ability to follow the storm. This may sound awful, but it actually became a little tedious trying to respond to everyone who reached out to us then warning us about TS Collins. Our weather router kept us on a more southerly route while TS Collins dissipated over head in the Atlantic. But, Collins sure brought the freaking wind!
It didn’t seem thirty minutes after we’d finished the rig tightening the morning of June 8th that the blow started to creep to 27, 28 and upward.
Although we had just finished our rather rigorous rig tightening, Yannick instructed the crew to drop the sails down to Reef 2. I told you it’s never boring out there! If you think it’s always sitting around, reading, writing, napping. It is sometimes, but the other days feel like a flurry of projects, one after the other, and you can’t believe it’s time for your night shift already. This was definitely one of those days.
And, sadly, while we did now have our reefing procedure down (thanks to Yannick and his typed-up, taped-up list at each crew member’s station), we still had so many things to learn about that boat. I believe every day crossing an ocean will teach you something new about sailing. However, I also believe every day on passage will teach you something peculiar or particular about that boat (or boats like it). I am actually grateful that we all made it safely across the ocean so that I can now sit here and merely write and share some of these experiences as lessons learned (as opposed to tragedies) because some of the things we survived out there were just pure luck. On that day we battled the Barber Hauler and almost lost in a big way. Our critical lesson learned: Detach the Barber Hauler before reefing.
For many of you who sail with a Barber Hauler often, this may sound like a very basic proposition. Common knowledge. For those of you scratching your head merely at the sight of the word “Barber Hauler” … well, this is why you make trips like that. To learn critical lessons like this. Recall the Barber Hauler was a secondary line we ran from the clew of the genny down to the deck to pull the sail outward away from the center of the boat to open up airflow between the genny and the main sail.
Brandon taught us this during our very first sail on the catamaran as he has raced many boats in his days and learned this trick to increase the efficiency of the boat, particularly catamarans where it is often difficult to make good use of the genny due to the boxy shape of the boat. We had been using the Barber Hauler often on Andanza as it did, visibly, increase the speed of the boat on a close haul. But, we made a serious mistake when we left it on while bringing the sails down to Reef 2.
Recall in our reef drills, the first step was always to head into the wind so we could furl the genny a bit (so she wouldn’t snap and pop and beat Yannick up at the mast while he handled dropping the main). Once furled halfway, Phillip would then fall back off and fill her with a little wind while we set to dropping the main.
Here you can see everyone’s respective positions as well: Yannick at the mast, Johnny at the genny winch on port, Phillip at the helm, and me at the winch(es) on starboard. Here I’m furling the genny while Johnny is easing out the port genny sheet. This is what we were trying to do when the Barber Hauler incident occurred.
The precautionary genny furl was usually a no-sweat first step and one that we could easily accomplish with both Johnny on port and Phillip at the helm on starboard who were both easing out the tension of the genny sheets while I furled her. Our wild card this time was the stinking Barber Hauler, which we had fastened to the genny clew on port. Think of it like a wild, uninhibited bull whip. We had unclutched the Barber Hauler to allow slack to pull through so the genny could furl but we should have detached it from the clew because as soon as the wind came out of the genny the genny now had a live cracking wire in her hands and she started whipping Yannick at the mast with it and Johnny on port.
Soon after I started to furl, I heard shouts. I looked to see Yannick holding his head down at the mast with a hand clasped over his right eye. I looked to Phillip at the helm who was looking to Yannick for instruction, then I looked to Johnny on port and saw it. The snarling beast that was off its chain. The Barber Hauler was snapping on the deck, beating the windows, flailing out overboard and coming back again. Johnny was crunched down near his winch with a guarded hand held over his head. I cleated the furling line and bolted through the cockpit to try to catch the Barber Hauler as I heard Yannick shout to Phillip: “Fall off!” Thankfully, even with the Barber snapping at him, Johnny knew to cleat the genny on port as Phillip was about to put the wind in her before he ducked back down. And don’t think I was heroic. It was probably dumb of me to try to jump in as the hero and wrestle that line in the whipping wind. I could have probably been easily injured as well but (by luck yet again) I was able to get a hold of the flailing Barber Hauler, bring it down on the deck and pull and cleat the slack out of him before he could slap anybody else.
When we re-grouped in the cockpit, having only furled the genny a few wraps, we all could see now that Yannick had been popped in the face by the Barber Hauler. A thick red whelp traveled from the middle of his scalp down to the top of his jawbone on the right side and he said he thought he had blacked out for a couple of seconds when it happened. But, Johnny had truly got the worst of it. He lifted his shirt to reveal a clear, puffed up red slash across his mid-section which I’m sure was painful. But his voice was a little shaky as he rubbed his thumb and told us the line had got caught around his neck at one point and his thumb another.
We were all a little shaken up by the Barber Hauler incident, and were reminded—in a rather stark fashion—that things can go very wrong, very quickly and unexpectedly out there. Like I said, thankfully all we did was suffer some whelps and learn a lesson. We got very lucky that day with the Barber Hauler. But, we still had winds of 27+ and three-quarters of our main sail up. So, once we shook it off and realized the mistake we had made, we disconnected the Barber Hauler and secured it safely to the deck while we then went through, efficiently and safely, the rest of our reefing procedure to bring the main sail down to Reef 2. By that time, we were beat, whipped and each of us ready for rest.
With the second reef in the sails, the boat was still bashing along but it was much more manageable and the boat held steady, romping and ripping through waves, everything soggy and moist, but with each of the boat’s primary systems (the sails, the rigging, the auto-pilot, etc.) all performing beautifully as we clicked off miles and days passed in a wet montage. It was funny the things that would once seem abnormal on shore, now seemed totally normal out there. Case in point:
Doing laundry with saltwater, a bucket and a clothes line? Out there, it’s normal!
Yannick playing dinner-prep D.J.? NORMAL.
Phillip breaking out arbitrarily in “What shall we do with the drunken sailor?” NORMAL.
Daily disassembly of random boat parts? NORMAL.
Finding yourself happy to be awake at sunrise? NORMAL.
Discovery of unidentifiable black objects in the food bin? NORMAL.
Discover of unidentifiable “gobbly bits” in the bilge? NORMAL.
Annie pairing shorts with rubber boots (and 100% pulling it off I might add)? NORMAL.
Yannick taking his morning Nespresso in the engine locker?
Yannick actually just told me a couple of weeks ago when he first watched my movie from the trans-at crossing with a friend that his friend said: “It looked like you spent the entire trip in the engine locker.” To which Yannick replied: “It felt like I did.”
The movement of the catamaran, however? NOT normal. At least initially for us monohull sailors. It was such a strange new feeling. While the cat does not heel, I will give you that. It does do this strange four corners type movement that keeps you guessing which way the boat’s going to throw you at any second. It reminded me of that game we all used to play as kids where you move it right, left, backward, forward, trying to get that little silver ball to fall down through the right hole. Well, we were the ball, and the boat was having a hell of a good time bouncing us off the walls, down the stairs and into our beds. You could almost hear her laughing as she did it. But, it wasn’t miserable. I actually like the feeling of movement underneath me. It reminds me we’re going, traveling over a frothy body of blue to a new place. It’s fun!
The waves, too, were absolutely incredible. Just when we started making our way east of Bermuda, we saw some of the biggest of the trip.
It reminded me of fire. Something so natural and mesmerizing that you watched perhaps because of the seemingly inexplicable novelty of it—i.e., what it is exactly that creates a flame and causes it to dance? What forces move water into mountains and push them toward your boat? The sheer fact that it is threatening is entrancing. You want to watch it because it’s beautiful and because you need to keep an eye on it. The waves in the middle of the Atlantic would loom on the horizon, grow like lumbering hillsides until they appeared taller than the boat on the horizon. Then, as one neared, Andanza’s stern would rise up. You would feel her nose start to pitch downward as the wave lifted her high above the ocean. Sometimes the boat would catch the wave just right and start skidding and careening down the surface, surfing the wave at speeds of 14, 15 and upwards before she lurched into the trough of the wave in front of her. Other times, she would not catch the gravity of the wave on the front and instead it would roll heavy and foamy beneath her. Better still, sometimes her hull would toss around and land just right, contacting a wave dead on and causing a wall of water to slap up and swamp the cockpit.
Still I found it fun! Cool snippet from the Trans-At movie for you here, showing the height of the waves and the moment when I was honored to have witnessed the highest boat speed of the trip. Can you guess what it was??
Often a wave would grab the stern of the boat, kick her out almost 45, 50 degrees off course and you would sit at the helm, hands poised over the wheel knowing it would be your job to get her back on course if Auto did not do it for you but not 100% confident of your ability to do it. It was shocking to see the degree of deviations the auto-pilot could correct. A swift shove off course and he would diligently nose her back onto her heading. Every time. Every wave. It almost created a dangerous sense of nonchalance. We were definitely spoiled with the auto-pilot.
Our main concern at that time was making sure he had power. We were struggling with the generator at the time. According to the MasterVolt, it was only charging the batteries up to like 60%, then it would trickle off and not put any more juice in. Many discussions were had about voltage, amps, watts, generator cables, etc. While I listened, I mostly stayed out of those debates because—pitted next to Johnny, Yannick and Phillip—I certainly was no generator/battery expert. And, to be honest, even with all of their expertise combined, they seemed to be contradicting one another often. But, not discussing it (10 out of every 24 hours of the day like the boys did) did not mean that I wasn’t concerned about it.
It was around 11:35 p.m. the night of June 9th and I couldn’t sleep. My shift didn’t start until midnight and while I usually sank into my berth like a log until the very moment when my relief crew member shook me awake or the alarm on my phone went off, this night I could not quiet my mind. I kept imagining the batteries were draining down to 10% and suddenly there wasn’t enough juice to power the auto-pilot. I imagined this would of course happen when someone wasn’t close enough to the helm (or with enough mental clarity, myself included) to turn the wheel in the right direction the moment Auto gave out in order to keep the wind in the sails and the boat on a safe course. It’s very easy to get disoriented—when you have to run up to the helm and you’re not in tune, at that moment, with the environment and wind direction—and easier than you think to turn the boat in a direction that backwinds the sails or causes a terrible accidental jibe or worse. I kept imagining this would happen during my 12-2 shift and it was ruining any sleep I thought might be possible in the hours that lead up to that dreaded shift. I finally just got out about bed around 11:45 p.m. to look, once again, at the percentage on the MasterVolt and confirm it was at least above 10%. It showed 65% and trickling in.
Yannick was bent over the instruments at the nav station when I staggered behind him, his head hanging like the sad ornament on a Charlie Brown Christmas tree. “I’ve been counting the minutes,” he said as he started to rise to go to sleep. I thought, for a moment, to protest saying it was only 11:45, not midnight yet, but I knew it wouldn’t do any good anyway. I wasn’t going to be able to fall back asleep and Yannick needed rest more than anyone. So, I just let him go. But then I sat and cursed him as my dreaded two-hour night shift was now a dreaded two hour and fifteen-minute shift and was starting now. Uhhhhh. Yannick told me before he went to bed, though, that he didn’t trust the percentage on the MasterVolt. He did not think it was calibrated correctly because the volts were showing 24.62V (plenty). Yannick said the the number to watch was the volts. If they fell under 24.0, then it was time to wake him. The Captain then stumbled off to bed and the boat was in my charge. Uhhhhh.
After thirty minutes of sitting at the nav station below as Yannick had been doing, watching the instruments (particularly the rudder indicator on the auto-pilot instrument showing how far, starboard to port, the auto was truly having to steer the boat) and praying Auto would hold, I couldn’t stand it anymore. I didn’t care if the wind was blowing, if it was wet and drizzly outside, if it was a little cold. My mind would not let up unless I was sitting at the helm feeling connected with everything and knowing exactly what I would need to do if Auto gave out. Bottom line is, I feel safer at the helm. So, I slugged it out topside and it actually was much better. It’s like sitting in a passenger seat of a fast, seemingly out-of-control car, or sitting in the driver’s seat, with your hands on the wheel. I can’t explain it, but it soothed me.
And, my shift actually went quicker because of it. The winds were finally easing off a bit. We had shaken out the second reef earlier in the day when the winds dropped below 25, followed by the first reef when they dipped below 20. While it was still blowing a steady 17-18 during my shift (an amount that would worry me on our Niagara) on the Freydis, with the sails fully up, it was a nice, steady ride. With reliable winds, the big seas were our main concern and I liked sitting at the helm imagining myself actually steering through those collosal waves (that way if Auto did lose juice I could do it when the time came.) Little did I know I would get more than my desired share of that experience on this trip. But, before I knew it, it was nearing 2:00 a.m., the winds were lightening up, Johnny was rousing down below and I was about to hand over the reigns of that bashing boat (one of my favorite feelings) and crash back into my soft, cottony palace of sleep below (another of my favorite feelings). Life was good.
Until the unmistakeable scent started to seep in. The smell of burnt plastic in your berth? NOT NORMAL.
It crept into my dreams at first. I was in a kitchen somewhere scraping an oven. Then footsteps thundered overhead. I started to rouse, but I felt so confused. Where am I? What’s that smell? When did we crank? I blinked my eyes awake to the sight of Yannick, his head careened downward into mine and Phillip’s berth from the hatch overhead, darting his eyes all over the room. I popped my head out of the hatch, coughed up melted plastic fumes and asked what was going on. Then Johnny emerged from the engine room on port with the sad state of the muffler in his hands.
Aren’t offshore voyages fun? If you just said, “Heck yeah!” we need to talk. I’m helping to light a fire under my followers who are serious about cruising by getting them booked on some fantastic offshore voyages this winter, starting with a Thanksgiving voyage with us to Isla Mujeres that we are filling now with Patrons. If you are serious about wanting to travel offshore this winter, send me an email NOW and let me get you on board this fine vessel! Boat tour coming soon.