I don’t even know what I think of when I think of Memorial Day. Summertime? A three-day weekend? Some sort of picnic situation? Counting down the 500 most overplayed classic rock songs?
I’ll admit that “contemplating the casualties of war” isn’t terribly high on the list. Senator Daniel Inouye, decorated WWII veteran with the 442nd Infantry Regiment, wanted Memorial Day to be on May 30, as it was before the Uniform Monday Holiday Act that took effect in 1971. He said “in our effort to accommodate many Americans by making the last Monday in May Memorial Day, we have lost sight of the significance of this day to our nation. Instead of using Memorial Day as a time to honor and reflect on the sacrifices made by Americans in combat, many Americans use the day as a celebration of the beginning of summer.” I’m probably in that camp, although I’m not sure that changing it to a fixed date would alter my thinking. For me, it’s mostly been about warm weather and poorly grilled meats.
I had neither this year. I had vague ideas masquerading as intentions to sail, but the weather was terrible. The shore forecasts for Saturday and Sunday didn’t show temperatures getting above the mid-50s, with high winds and soaking rains. They were correct. We tried to salvage something nautical on Monday, but it turned into mostly a day of maintenance.
Jenn opened up the cabin and reported that there was water on the cabin sole. This is never a good sign, but a quick look confirmed that it was just a tiny puddle from the rain and not anything serious. I was actually impressed that it was only an ounce, considering that the crib boards are merely “water resistant” and not exactly “water proof” and the surrounding area had over 4in of rain with wind gusts to 35kts.
We wiped it up and proceeded with the engine maintenance items that we overtly neglected to do previously. It was the typical stuff, with the standard measure of awkward inconvenience and a whiff of infinitely flat learning curve. I almost always change the oil in the fall, but last year was…whatever. I got to do it in the spring. I wiggled into the quarter berth, which is a space slightly smaller than a knocked-over Mr. Bob, and reached through the port to the starboard side of the engine compartment and felt for the mysterious lever that engages the oil extraction pump. Once that had been identified and toggled, Jenn sat in front of the engine holding an empty half-gallon Wawa diet iced tea jug under the spigot while I pumped the old oil out with a Hobbit-scale manual pump using my non-dominant hand. It was all straightforward.
With the oil drained, I changed the oil filter. The filter is easy to get to, but I always expect oil to gush out as soon as I break the seal, so I prepared an elaborate dam of paper towels and things to absorb it and keep it from going into the bilge. It’s surprisingly tidy though in practice. With the new filter on, I could add fresh oil back in. The oil fill port is on the top of the engine, which has a vertical clearance of about 2/3 the height of a bottle of oil, and far less if you have to use a funnel.
While I was waiting for the oil to make its way down to the pan to get an accurate dipstick reading, Jenn suggested that I could change the impeller, which was highly efficient of her. I removed the plate from the front of the water pump, water shot out, then I turned off the valve. This is not the preferred order, but this is how it goes sometimes. I replaced the impeller and put the pump back together, cleaned up the water, then proceeded to top off the oil.
The final major step of the intended maintenance was changing the fuel filters. The primary is a Racor near the fuel tank, which is trivial to replace, and there’s a secondary that looks like another oil filter stuck to the side of the engine, which is a complete mess to replace. When I got to the secondary, I again made a dam, reminding myself that it is the fuel filter and not the oil filter that is the gusher, and performed the swap. A diesel fuel system has to be free of air, and opening the filters lets all kinds of air in, so the system must be bled. I loosened the bleed valve and then actuated the lever on the lift pump. For the first 10,000 pumps, it appears that nothing is happening, then a tiny bubble pops at the bleed valve which gives a brief hope, then suddenly, after about 2,000 more pumps, diesel starts shooting out.
The bleeding never seems to get all of the air out, but running the engine for a while does. I briefly thought that I’d start it up, let it do its bubble thing, and go sailing, so I climbed up to the cockpit and turned the key. The starter clicked a little, but definitely didn’t turn the engine over. I had noticed last week that the batteries weren’t exactly exuberant, but I thought it was just because the marina didn’t put the shore power cable on after they moved the boat. I had also noticed all of last year that battery #1 wouldn’t start the engine anymore, but that’s why we have two batteries. A quick check with a meter showed that they were kaput, so I did what any normal person would do and ordered a front-end loader’s worth of batteries.
The batteries on Fortuitous are located in the port cockpit locker. Reaching them is like losing your heroin in The Worst Toilet in Scotland. At first you think you can just kneel and reach them, and you can, in fact, touch them, but before too long, you’ve gone all the way down, and find yourself scowling at the odd bits of detritus that have found their way into the abyss.
The new batteries started the engine without issue. The water pump was pumping and no fluids were spewing forth from the engine. By that point, it was late in the day, but I wanted to run the engine more and try to at least maintain the pretense of sailing, so we tidied up as the engine continued to chug and then set out.
We didn’t even prepare the main, but with the wind from the northwest, we could ease down the creek on just the jib.
It was still cool, but not as absurd as it had been the previous days. There was eerily little wind. The calm after the storm. We barely nosed into the bay, just to get a taste. There was shockingly little boat traffic for Memorial Day weekend, although previous days’ weather and our unfashionably late arrival probably explained much of that.
I wanted to allow ample time for getting towed back in case something had gone awry with any of the systems that we’d messed with, so we didn’t linger long. The engine started effortlessly, and we motored back up the creek and docked. It was not the Memorial Day weekend that I wanted, but at least Jenn and I got some maintenance items out of the way, and I feel like the boat is in good shape for the upcoming season.