Fuel system – the Final Chapter

Warning. Geeky stuff ahead, no wildlife pictures. Those without a deep interest in fuel systems or human suffering might consider skipping this post.

We are back in La Paz and I made arrangements for Rob Cross to help me get to the bottom of the fuel system issues.  From the last post we know that the air leak that I see as bubbles forming in the Racor filter housing must be coming from somewhere between the tanks and the supply manifold. I had the opportunity to talk to a technical specialist at Racor since the last post and he agreed with my conclusion about the potential source of the leak. He also convinced me that the fuel levels in the filter housings have reached a steady state around halfway full, and that still provided adequate filtration. Any additional air coming in was passing through and going out as bubbles in the output line. He said that the bubbles in the output is common and not a concern. So, I eventually stopped refilling the housings every day and in fact have not even checked the levels since leaving Marina Puerto Escondido at the beginning of April. That has been 289 miles and 49 hours of engine run time over 14 voyages in the last month. I am pretty sure that this leak is not going to cause the engine to stall at an inopportune moment, but I am still determined to track it down.

Rob got to the boat and we started by pressure testing the fuel supply lines.  To do this, we removed the supply line at the tank and plugged that end.  Then we used the fuel transfer pump to create positive pressure in the fuel line.  We shut all the other valves in the supply manifold, leaving open only the valve for the fuel pump input and the line to the tank.  We turned on the pump and… no leaks.  The pump is rated for 8-11 PSI of pressure, equivalent to 16-22” of mercury, which is easily 4-5x the amount of vacuum on the system when the engine is running.  No leaks on either side. 

The next step was to take the inspection plates off the tanks to inspect the fittings and dip tubes.  As I observed before the thread sealant on the fitting that goes between the plate and the fuel lines was old and cracking.  Bad thread sealant could be the source of the leak. 

On removing the inspection plate we saw the dip tubes for the supply and transfer circuits, both with stainless steel screens at the ends.  The welds on the tubes looked good, as did the tubes themselves, and the screens were free of debris.  Rob took them to his shop for pressure testing, and they are fine.  He used a high quality thread sealant on the fittings, so that should be eliminated as a leak source.

Cleaned up with well-sealed fittings, the cover is ready to go back on.

The next step was to reprime the system and fire up the engine to look for the telltale bubbles. Before we did that, Rob suggest that we pressure test the Racor manifold and supply manifold, again using the transfer pump to create positive pressure. The pump is rated for 8-11 PSI or 16-22 inches of mecury, the unit of measure displayed on the Racor vacuum gauge. This is at least 4 times the normal vacuum level when the engine is running (2.5-4 inches of mercury). We found no leaks anywhere.

Next, we primed the transfer and supply dip tubes using the transfer pump, and topped off the racor filter housings. There was about 3″ of fuel in the housings before we topped up, one month after I last checked. The filter elements are 5″ tall, so we were about 60% full, as good as I have seen when I was measuring every day.

We selected the starboard tank for fuel supply and return because it has a shorter hose run and therefore lower vacuum in operation compared to the port tank. We selected the forward filter on the Racor manifold and then started the engine….

Disappointingly, there were still bubbles forming in the filter bowl. We could reasonably expect some bubbles from residual air trapped in the system as we disconnected and reconnected various lines. We used a rubber mallet to tap on the supply manifold and the filter manifold hoping to dislodge residual bubbles. Even after tapping for a while, we were still seeing a small but steady stream of bubbles, perhaps less than before, but the goal is zero bubbles (or, at most, tiny “champagne” bubbles). When we switched the selector to operate both filters, the bubbles disappeared (after some transient air bubbles in the aft filter bowl). What remained were champagne bubbles in both bowls. Progress, but I was not satisfied. At Rob’s suggestion, we checked the fuel tank vents to eliminate the unlikely possibility of blockage there. Then, just to be sure, we plumbed some clear line into the input port of the Racor manifold reasoning that if there was any air at all, we might see at least some sign of bubbles. Nope. None. The fuel going in was absolutely clear. There was nothing more we could do. I believe we addressed any and all possible leak sources, summarized on the table below.

At this point, we called my technical contact at Racor and reviewed all of the findings. He had no suggestions for additional tests, agreeing that we had covered all the possible sources. He said that the bubbles we were seeing were due to cavitation, which, in his experience occurs when the filter is undersized compared to the delivery demands of the engine. However, he confirmed (what I already knew) that my filter unit was well within spec for the engine, and also confirmed that the vacuum levels were well within the normal range. His one suggestion in this regard was that I could replace my filter manifold with the next size up, whose filters were twice the size. The other area we touched on was the fuel supply and return to the tanks. When we told him that there was not a return dip tube into the tank he speculated that the return fuel dropping from the top of tank could be aerating the remaining fuel in the tank, which he called the “aquarium effect”. He suggested that adding a dip tube returning the fuel to the bottom of the tank could negate this effect. In my opinion, neither of these suggestions are worth the time/effort/expense to implement at present.

As the last step, we removed both sections of clear hose from the Racor input and output ports and fired up the engine again. This time, we were seeing some small amount of bubbling when running the front filter, no bubbling at all when running both, and, surprisingly no bubbling at all when running the back filter. I suppose it is possible that it took a fairly long time of engine run time to clear all of the residual air out of the system, but this was quite encouraging. We observed this running the engine at normal cruise RPM, but at dockside. We will need to do a sea trial to be certain of the results.

Sea trial and videos

We got out of Marina CostaBaja on a warm, sunny Saturday morning. After we got everything stowed and up to cruising speed, I went down to the engine room to check on the filters. I decided to run the Racor on the aft filter and was drawing from the starboard tank. The first video shows me checking for bubbles selecting the aft, then both filters, then the forward filter. The results were pretty encouraging. Very little bubbling from the aft filter alone, some bubbling from the forward filter alone, and still less when both were selected. Pretty good, but not perfect.

I continued to run on the aft filter for the 22 mile, 2.5 hour run up to Caleta Partida. When I checked the fuel level in the housing, it was down to about 2″ or so of the 5″ height of the filter element… lower than I’d like to see.

On the way back from Caleta Partida, I decided to run in tandem filter mode, after having refilled the aft bowl. Here is the video with the results.

Again, better, but by no means perfect. There is still a little bit of bubbling even running in this mode, although less than I was seeing before. I’d REALLY like it if there were NO bubbles at all. However, I remain pretty convinced from following this all season that this amount of bubbling is not going to lead to an engine stall at an inopportune moment.

Summary and my conclusions

Here is everything we did to test the system:

  • Vacuum and pressure test Racor filter manifold. No leaks.
  • Vacuum and pressure test fuel supply manifold. No leaks.
  • Check/tighten all fuel fittings – hoses, supply manifold, Racor manifold.
  • Check/tighten all valve assemblies on the supply manifold.
  • Pressure tested supply lines – manifold back to tank. No leaks.
  • Inspected/pressure tested dip tube assemblies in port and starboard tank inspection plates. No leaks.
  • Resealed NPT to JIC fittings on the inspection plates.
  • Reinstalled inspection plates, tightened all fittings.
  • Checked all fuel tank vents. Clear.
  • Observed fuel entering the Racor manifold using clear tubing. No bubbles.

I can’t think of any part of the fuel system that we didn’t look at and/or test, and I am as certain as I can be that there are any extraneous leaks in the fuel system. I now believe that the residual bubbling that I see is normal for the filtration system. In fact, a Racor Technical Bulletin discusses air separation in diesel fuel, and starts by listing these facts:

Fact #1: There is AIR entrained in diesel fuel.

Fact #2: A very slight pressure drop can cause air to form visible bubbles.

Fact #3: Air can cause problems.


Racor, Products Parts, Service
and Technical Information, 7480F

I love how understated they are with fact #3. In another Racor document, “Turbine Series Rebuild”, they state in the troubleshooting section that “It is normal for fuel level inside housing to be about 1/2 full after lid removal“. They also mention that if the fuel level gets too low, the engine will stall, and that excessive bubbles indicate either a system restriction (high vacuum) or an upstream air leak.

Going back to the very beginning, I did have engine stalls on two separate occasions last year. I am certain that both of those stalls were due to leaks within the Racor manifold itself, which I replaced back in January. From then until now, I have still seen some degree of bubbling, and have seen the fuel level in the housing consistently down to half full, but not lower. Until now, I have not been able to rule out an upstream air leak as the source of the bubbles. After this week, I conclude that there is no upstream air leak. The final question – is the bubbling that you can see in the videos excessive. I have decided, because it has never caused the engine to stall, that it is NOT.

Done. Really. Finally.

Puerto Los Gatos

Our next stop on the way South from Agua Verde was Puerto Los Gatos, twenty-some odd miles down the coast.  On the way North we stayed at Tembabiche, just a couple of miles south of here.  When we arrived, the anchorage was empty save for a panga that seemed to be setting up a camp on the beach.  We chose to anchor in the S lobe of the bay in anticipation of SW winds.  In retrospect, it may have been better to tuck all the way up into the NW corner.  Los Gatos is known for its beautiful pink sandstone formations, buffed smooth by the wind action.  It also has several reefs that are good for snorkeling.

Pink Sandstone at the North end of Puerto Los Gatos.

The anchorage is completely exposed to the east and as the southerly winds picked up in the afternoon, swell wrapped around the small point on the South end.  As usual, we had the flopper stopper deployed, but wound up deploying the other one for the first time this season.  That flattened things out nicely.  Later in the afternoon a few sailboats arrived, and the beach camp took shape, with nearly a dozen dome tents, a cook tent, a sun shelter, and what looked like a “pee pee tee pee”.  Soon afterwards, a group of kayaks pulled in, led by another panga.

Kayak tour on the beach. Can’t see the pee-pee tent in this pic.

After a pleasant night, Gwen got up early to catch the early morning light on the rocks. 

Sunrise.
The rock formations in the early morning light.

We got the big dinghy down to go ashore, and as we were doing that, we saw spouts jut offshore.  We motored out and saw a couple of humpback whales swimming back and forth just outside in about 100 feet of water.  We wanted to get a little bit closer… until one surfaced nearby and we realized how big they were.  Gwen says I screamed like a girl.  I steadfastly maintain that I was merely commenting on the majestic creatures.  Afterwards we went ashore to walk along the beach, explore the rock formations, and walk out on one of the reefs at low tide.  The sandstone was very cool.  It was easy to rub off bits of it from the rock, so you could see how the jagged bits of it were eventually worn down into smooth shapes.  There were lots of tide pools on the reef, but as we have come to expect, none were particularly rich with life.  There were a fair number of crabs on the rocks and Gwen got some good pictures of the increasingly rare Sally Lightfoot crabs.

The water was very clear and reasonably warm, about 71 degrees.  We went ashore and had a good time snorkeling along one of the reefs.  As we finished up, the wind had shifted from SW to SE and started blowing vigorously, creating a bit of surf on the beach.  We were in the big dinghy and had a bit of excitement getting it turned around and launched into the surf and freshening breeze. 

Miss Miranda with both flopper stoppers out at Los Gatos.

After a rolly night and more SW winds forecast, we decided to bid Puerto Los Gatos good bye and move further South.  On the way out of the anchorage we spotted a fairly large pod of whales we had not seen before, which we think were pilot whales.  They were swimming back and forth in a leisurely manner, again just off the anchorage.  The depths drop off quite rapidly here, so we assume that this must be a good feeding spot.  After watching them for a while we turned Southward bound for San Evaristo.

Pilot whales.
Mother and baby whale.

Return(s) to Agua Verde

We set off from the S side of Isla Coronados to return to Agua Verde, where we had spent some time on the way up North in mid February (https://mvmissmiranda.com/2021/03/07/agua-verde/).  It was a calm and pleasant cruise of about 5 hours, with sunshine and rising temperatures.  By the time we arrived at Agua Verde it was 91 degrees.  There were already 4 sailboats anchored in the “Agua Verde Yacht Club” or AVYC, also known as the fisherman’s beach, in the Northwest corner, so we elected to drop the hook right off the beach in front of the village.  There was one other power boat anchored in the mouth of “Pyramid Bight”, and that was all.  We put out the flopper stopper as usual and were a bit surprised by some swell coming in from the NE, where the bay is open.  The afternoon heat drove us into the water, which was just under 70 degrees.  Gwen put on mask and snorkel and swam over to shore.  I took the more genteel approach of inflating a floaty toy and swinging on a line tied to the back of the boat.  The swell calmed down by bedtime, and we had a pleasant, if warm, night’s sleep.  When I awoke before dawn the next morning there was another power boat anchored not far from us, and two more heading in.  One was the gigantic Megayacht Ulysses that was anchored near our friends Ron and Nancy the day before in Bahia San Francisco.

Ulysses, at over 300 feet long, the biggest megayacht we have seen yet. The 70 foot motor yacht is one of the tenders!

It was a bit cooler in the morning, but overnight temperatures hovered around 80 degrees.  When Gwen got up we noticed that the yacht anchored behind us left… actually, it simply pulled up to Ulysses.  Why?  This 70 ft flybridge motor yacht was a tender (one of many) to the megayacht.  We watched for a while as the dual cranes dropped boat after boat from the foredeck, from a 20-some foot wakeboat to a 50 ft speedboat, along with the usual assortment of jet skis, landing dinghies, etc.  The capper was the giant slide set up off the upper deck on the port side.  I can tell you that some group was having big, expensive fun!

They don’t anchor – their captain rotates the boat in place into the sun at all times.

Soon we saw that the boat moved out of pyramid bight, so we moved over there and tucked into a very nice S wind cove with a great sandy beach and, we would find, good snorkeling out to Pyramid rock.  We went to the beach for the day and did do some snorkeling along the shallow reef on the W side of the cove.  We saw lots of starfish here, including one called a chocolate chip starfish, and a pretty good assortment of small tropical reef fish.  The water was warm enough to snorkel just with rash guards.

Late that afternoon, our friends on N50 Duet entered the anchorage.  We have been corresponding with them for months (mostly me complaining to Ron about various boat problems) and they were on their first extended cruise since the boat returned from Australia in 2019.  They were vaccinated before leaving San Diego, and we all had been out of human contact for a while, so we… gasp… had cocktails on their flybridge without wearing masks (though of course, Drs Gwen and Ron insist that we include that we maintained 6 ft of social distance).

Our friends on our sister ship headed to take a ride on the slide :).

The next day we visited the little tienda in the village and picked up some avocados, tomatoes and bananas.. we were running short on fresh produce.  Later, Nancy and Ron joined us for some snorkeling around Pyramid rock. 

We had a dinner of burgers, roasted cauliflower and baked beans, with some nice red wine, again on Duet’s fly bridge.  Notably… the burgers had CHEDDAR CHEESE, the most valuable food commodity in Mexico.  Nancy and Ron even made a gift of a chunk of cheddar as we left.  I’m sure they will regret their generosity at some point.

We love the pyramid bight anchorage.  Apparently, so do other boaters.  We wound up with three other boats in there close enough to exchange jars of Grey Poupon.  The weather is quite settled so not a big deal… but Agua Verde is HUGE… I’ll never understand why people feel that they must tuck in no matter what.

This has been an absolutely fantastic stop.  Sunny days, calm weather, warm temperatures and crystal clear water.  What more could you ask for?

Well, you could ask for… more.  After going back up to re-visit Marina Puerto Escondido and Loreto with Ron and Nancy, we headed back down to Agua Verde while Ron and Nancy headed North.  This time several other boats had found our preferred South cove, but we managed to squeeze in (having decided to act as others do). 

Looking across the valley from the goat track trail at the cemetery.

Our mission this time was to hike on the trail from the north beach over the hill, past the village cemetery and on to the beach on the other side.  The trail was a typical human/goat trail, a mix of compacted dirt and lots of loose rocks.  Some other boaters were investigating the cemetery so we went onward toward the beach.  Soon we found ourselves at the head of an estuary, surrounded by palm trees and looking into a brackish water pool.  It was low tide, so we could cross the stream.  Once we did, we could see the estuary opening to the beach, several hundred yards away.  We tried bushwacking along some goat trails that ran next to the estuary, but weren’t able to get there, so we gave up and headed back. 

The esturary, looking toward the sea.
Some large paw prints – seemed large for a coyote.
Palm trees were growing sideways – reminded Gwen of dragons.
Larry the explorer.

We stopped in the “village cemetery” which is quite clearly abandoned and in a pretty advanced state of decay.  Most of the memorials that were still legible were from the 50s and 60s.  We assume that the descendants of those former residents have moved on and there is nobody left to care for the place.  Kinda sad, really.  We went back to the dinghy and then over to the main beach and the tienda.  Gwen was able to get some goat cheese, chips, and a couple of hours of very slow internet connectivity.  The goat cheese, while perfectly OK, was nowhere near as good as the stuff we had in San Juanico.

Abandoned gravesites. A few lived to ripe old ages but many legible stones had deaths at young ages.

Late one afternoon, a large pod of dolphins came charging into our little cove and were very active, jumping and swimming rapidly back and forth.  They seemed to be feeding and kept sweeping in and out of the shallows on the W side of the cove… it was crazy and lasted for at least an hour or so.  Meanwhile, Gwen was looking out in the other direction out into the bay and spotted a pod of Orcas.  At first I didn’t believe her, thinking it was just more dolphins, but a careful look with the stabilized binoculars made it clear that they were, in fact, Orcas, and at least a half dozen of them.  Gwen said she thought she saw one flipping a small animal, maybe a seal or baby dolphin, out of the water… apparently not an uncommon trick.

The squadron of mobula rays. Their wing tips break the surface at times which is how you get clued in that they are there.

We had more cool wildlife sightings.  Early one morning, Gwen saw a squadron of Mobula Rays (like mantas, but way smaller) cruising by the boat.  It was very cool to watch them slowly flying by just under the surface, in formation.  Later in the evening we saw an even bigger group come by, and saw a bunch of them trying to fly, without success.  They would launch themselves out of the water as if they believed that their wings worked in air, too, only to be disappointed when they fell back to the sea.

I can fly! Or not.

This time in Agua Verde, the water really was a deep green, and not at all as clear as it was on our previous visits, during which we could see our flopper stopper and the sandy bottom below.  This time we couldn’t even see the flopper stopper, not ideal for snorkeling but just fine for enjoying the sunny afternoons on our floaty toys behind the boat.

We spent a total of 11 nights over three visits to Agua Verde, making it our favorite anchorage in the Sea.

Return to Baja and Whale Watching

We decided to head from San Carlos directly back to San Juanico on the Baja side of the Sea, and left at first light.  Conditions for the 100 mile crossing could not have been better – flat calm seas and light, variable winds.  The crossing was uneventful and the wind gradually picked up to about 15 knots in the afternoon, coming from the SE.  Given that wind direction we decided to anchor in the South end of the San Juanico Bay.  When we arrived, however, the swell rolling into the bay was pretty substantial, and while we were getting some protection from the wind, we would have 2-3 ft of swell on the beam, not at all comfortable.  We turned around and headed back into the NW corner of the anchorage where we’d been before.  There were 3 sailboats but plenty of room.  In this corner, the swell was still coming from the SE, but so was the wind, so we were bow into it.  Much more comfortable.  Later in the evening as the wind died down so did the swell.  The next morning we headed down to the Puerto Escondido area hoping to anchor right across from the marina at a place called Honeymoon Cove.  There was another boat in the main anchorage, tour boats in the north lobe, and I couldn’t find a spot that I was happy with, so we went on into the marina a day earlier than expected.

The main goal for coming back to Puerto Escondido was to make a trip over to the Pacific side to go whale watching in Magdalena Bay, one of the protected bays that is a “whale nursery” during the winter months, from a (different) town also called San Carlos.  We rented a car and left the Marina at dawn for the long trek across the Baja Peninsula on MX Highway 1, the main road serving Baja.  It is a two lane highway and well maintained for the most part, but it is fairly narrow and there are no shoulders… hence the many roadside shines to people who have died in traffic accidents.  The cows that frequent the sides of the roads at all times of day likely also contribute to accidents.  Just S of Puerto Escondido, the road climbs steep canyons to get over the Sierra Gigante Mountains and then straightens out over a long, flat plain towards the West coast. 

The village of Magdalena Bay from the water. It seems to us to have a few more buildings, including the yurts on the left, than when we were here in 2019.

Speed limits on Mexican highways are pretty conservative, Mexican drivers are not.  In many places the speed limit was 60 kilometers per hour, and at most 80.  I think 80 is the limit for any two lane highway in Mexico.  We were passed by all manner of vehicles as I made a rare attempt of complying with the posted speed limits.  We turned off highway 1 around Ciudad Constitución for the highway to San Carlos.  Around 9am we finally arrived at the little hotel and office in dusty San Carlos and were taken directly to our waiting panga and Captain Juan.  As we pulled out of San Carlos, everything was starting to look familiar.  We stopped at Magdalena Bay with the CUBAR rally in 2019 and did a big dinghy excursion to tour one of the estuaries in the area.  Captain Juan took us back to the main part of Magdalena Bay off the same town that we anchored in front of in 2019.

It was a beautiful day, sunny and pretty mild, with flat calm seas.  First we went by a spit with lots of birds, which made Gwen happy. Soon we started to see spouts and headed towards them.  They were Grey Whales, traveling singly or in pairs.  All were adults.  We’d approach the whales slowly as they swam along the surface and eventually, they would sound, showing their tail as they dived down.  When that happened, we knew that it could be a half hour before they surfaced possibly nearby… or not.  Over the next couple of hours, the whales were pretty actively working their way back and forth along the bay, and we would slowly follow along.  The captains were respectful, never approaching from ahead, and maintaining a reasonable distance from the whales.  At lunchtime we went ashore for lunch at the same beachside restaurant we visited with CUBAR. 

The kids from the Pueblo setting up the boarding ladder after lunch.

The enterprising village kids dragged over a wooden platform to the bow of the panga to make it easy for us to get off.  Gwen gave them a propina of a couple of pesos which the boy, at least, viewed with some disdain (she later found more coins and offered more on our return to the panga).  The kids offered to sell us shells but we were more interested in the Pacificos and fresh fish offered for lunch. 

We did another hour or so of whale watching after lunch, finishing with a pretty close encounter in which a large whale surfaced very close to the panga, swam alongside for a few minutes, and then sounded.  After that we headed back to San Carlos, just as the afternoon winds were picking up.  The panga pulled into a beach landing, but instead of climbing out, Juan had us stay in as they pulled it up onto a trailer, and we traveled overland by panga back to the car. 

On the long drive back from San Carlos I paid less attention to the speed limit signs and maintained what was still a stately pace by Mexican standards.  Eventually a large fuel truck approached close behind as we were getting to the twisty part of the highway.  I thought that I would be able to stay comfortably in front of the truck given the tight turns and steep descents.  I was wrong.  Even maintaining a speed of 100 kph, the fuel truck was bearing down on me.  I was having visions of Mad Max and all going down into a canyon in a ball of flames.  Sure enough, the truck passed me, and I was happy to let it go to menace some other unsuspecting gringo driver.

The graveyard outside of Ciudad Concepción. This is a typical one.

While we enjoyed the day on the water and the opportunity to view these magnificent creatures up close, we decided that we’ve had enough of whale watching trips.  I have to admit that I got interested in doing the trip after hearing from friends and reading a blog post about close encounters with grey whales including mothers and calves that actually approached the boats and allowed the passengers to touch them.  We had no such experiences and honestly it seemed that the whales in Mag Bay barely tolerated the pangas, never approaching, and sounding after a few minutes.  So rather than “oh the whales will come right up to us”, it was really, “we will follow the whales until they tire of us and sound”.  Honestly, we’ve had many fantastic experiences viewing whales from our own boat – Orcas in the Salish Sea, humpbacks bubble feeding in Alaska, and Grey whales popping up all around us as we approached San Francisco, and we’ve seen humpbacks several times here in the Sea.

San Carlos Area

Beginning of our passage day.
Approaching San Carlos, with the distinctive Tetas de Cabra in the distance.

We arrived at San Carlos in the state of Sonora on the mainland after a very pleasant, calm passage from Punta Chivato. We found our slip in Marina San Carlos and went up to the office to check in.  By late that night, a cold front was moving through and it started blowing hard.  We saw upwards of 34 kts in our slip, which happens aligned perfectly with a gap between the protective hills around the bay. 

The dip between the hills allowed strong winds to blow right at us.
The two derelict boats seem to be permanent fixtures – they are attached to mooring balls. The floating dock is populated by birds and gave a distinctive odor to our moorage when the wind wasn’t blowing 25 knots.

The wind stayed fierce until the next afternoon.  That was fine because it was a chore day on the boat.  I changed the oil and filters on the main engine and Gwen took the laundry in to the hotel and arranged for a boat wash for the next day.  The next morning, it was calm and sunny.  We had the boat washer at work – she is from Guaymas, the industrial city about 10 miles away, daughter of the captain of a shrimp boat and an incredibly efficient and hard worker.  We also found Francisco, the diver, to clean the bottom of the boat, which had been developing some shaggy green growth along the waterline.  As early afternoon came around, the winds started picking up again, and by mid afternoon we had whitecaps, 2 ft chop and 25+ knot winds again, coming right through the gap.  This was getting old!

The next day we decided to get down our folding bikes to ride around town a little bit and see what stores were best for provisioning.  We rode from the marina down the main drag of San Carlos which ran along the bay down the “Charly’s Rock”, a big rock formation that looms over the commercial strip.  We stopped at the Ley supermarket for some key items (big limes and butter) and found a wine and liquor store where we managed to get several bottles of wine and booze packed onto the rack of our bikes.  We also stopped at a bank for a reload of Pesos.  Once back at the boat we turned around and walked up to the nearest supermarket, just up the road from the marina with our folding wagon.  I made a side trip to the Modelorama store to pick up a case of Pacificos, having gotten over the annoyance with the tall, narrow cans.  Back with the groceries, and guess what?  The winds and waves were up again.  Our beautiful boat wash was being rapidly undone by salt spray down the back third of the boat.  We mounted the bicycles again and headed to the beach for lunch at Palapa Griega, which had an excellent menu featuring Greek and Mexican dishes.  We had a couple of cold beers, spanakopita, Gyro salad and coconut shrimp while enjoying a sunny afternoon on the beach.  

(A note on our restaurant going relative to COVID risk. We only go to outdoor seating restaurants – which for us means no walls to impede air flow. We also look at table spacing, and we don’t sit with others. Servers are masked and we wear our masks when not eating or drinking. In San Carlos – the wind was pretty much blowing 15 knots anytime we were at a restaurant so Gwen was confident that any aerosolized virus that could be around was blown away! )

We got back to the boat with the wind still howling.  I wrote an email to Shawn Breeding, one of the authors of our cruising guide, saying that his reports of wind in San Carlos was accurate, to say the least.  He wrote back saying that they used to refer to the winds as the “Afternoon gale”.  An apt description, which somehow did not make it into the guide.

From the walkway inside the marina.

Finally, on Friday morning we were ready to depart.  It was another sunny, mild morning.  After checking out of the Marina, we went over to the fuel dock to top up our tanks.  I have to say that this was the best run fuel dock we encountered in Mexico with two attendants that caught our lines and then took care of fueling the boat.  All we had to do was tell them how much in each tank.  Very efficient and easy for us!  Next we pulled out of the harbor and did a little tour of the bay in front of town. 

Circling around one of many Islets named “Los Candeleros” in the Bay in front of San Carlos.

Our next anchorage was Bahia San Pedro, some 12 miles North, but we needed to make a lot of water (the marina water was reported to be notoriously non-potable) on the way up.  We cruised by the beachfront palapa, viewed Charly’s rock from the water and made a lap around one of many “Los Candeleros” islets before heading North.  As we headed North, the winds, of course, picked up and we worked our way into head seas.  Lots of whitecaps but the waves were not too bad. As we pulled into the anchorage we saw winds as high as 25 knots on a day forecast at 10-15.  No problem setting the anchor – just let the chain out and the wind did the rest for us.

Tucked into the anchorage.

Our friends on Last Arrow and Gitana had also come to Bahia San Pedro but left at sunrise the next morning.  I was up to wish them fair seas (and less wind).  Waiting in the predawn darkness, I heard the howling of coyotes that were obviously on the beach.  Unfortunately, it was too dark to see them.  Overnight the temperature in the anchorage went up quite a bit.  It was 77 deg at 5 AM, I think due to warm air coming down from the land in gentle N breezes.  Later in the morning as the wind picked up from the NW the temperature went down about 15 degrees with the wind over the chilly (57 deg) waters of the Sea.

Sea cave in the bottom of the colorful cliffs with cacti and palm trees.
Gwen was excited to get a shot of this Hermann gull – breeds only here in the Sea.

We took a little dinghy tour of the anchorage, looking at the sea caves that formed in Roca San Pedro right at the point of the anchorage.  It was interesting to see Palm trees growing all over this large rock, in addition to the usual cactus.  We went ashore, where there were remnants of a fish camp, particularly several dumps of conch shells that I called Conch Cemeteries.  These shells seemed recent, retaining their sharp spines.  The beach was mostly gravel and finely ground stone, forming a crescent shape and surrounded by low hills.  It offered very good wave protection from the N and NW, but the winds funneled around either side of Roca San Pedro.  The holding was very good as confirmed by our couple of windy days and nights.  Morning sunrise over the hills was beautiful.

One of the many conch graveyards.

After a couple of nights we headed back down to Bahia Algodones which is just 3 miles away and around the corner from Marina San Carlos. We anchored right off the beach with the Soggy Peso restaurant and bar and the Sunset Grill and several hotels farther down.  This location is famous (at least in our cruising guides) for being the setting of the late 1960’s antiwar movie Catch 22 (based on the novel). We watched Catch-22 that evening while anchored in the bay (thanks to our “Curator” onboard entertainment system invented by our friend John.), and seeing the distinctive scenery was absolutely uncanny.  It was obvious that we were sitting right off the runway from the movie. The guidebooks talk about being able to visit the runway and see the remnants of the set, so we were excited to do that.

The Tetas de Cabra, or Tetakiwi mountains, are the signature view of this area. In Catch 22 there wasn’t a single sign of development and it appeared completely wild.

Overnight, a bit of wind and swell came in, enough to make it pretty uncomfortable even with the flopper stopper out, so we elected to brave the afternoon gales in Marina San Carlos again.  The next day we rented a car to have lunch and look for the runway and ruins.  We drove over to Bahia Algodones and had lunch at the outside Sunset Grill. We asked the waitstaff at Sunset Grill about the Catch 22 movie site, but they knew nothing of it at all.  And we can see why. Everything on both sides of the road is fenced off and there are various bits of development happening or not happening in that typical Mexican way.  We backtracked and finally found a dirt road off the highway that was going to a ranch that offered horseback riding.  We took that road and veered off onto another that eventually crossed the runway.  We found the asphalt still intact in some places but clearly being overtaken by the scrub.  There were no structures whatsoever left.

Runway looking toward the water.
End of the runway looking to the hills.

The construction going on at the south end of Bahia Algodones is astonishing. The other marina (Marina Real) is completely surrounded by houses/condos, and the road up to the scenic viewpoint is full of construction on both sides, all apparently speculative based on big “Se Vende” sale signs in front of them.  The hills around Caleta Lalo have been carved and flattened for homesites, and  there was a private breakwater and pilings in the NW corner.  You’d think the entire US is moving to San Carlos.  Anyway, we enjoyed exploring the area in the rental car, and shockingly enough, we actually experienced a (single) calm day in the marina.

Caleta Lalo with new mansion and private dock.

San Carlos is obviously a resort town with a significant population of Gringo expats only 300 miles from the Arizona border, but also appears to be growing in popularity as a destination for Mexican tourists. It was established in 1963, and is only some 20 miles from the gritty port town of Guaymas. We actually drove into Guaymas for a look around (and some provisioning) but did not find it very interesting.

Next, we head back over to the Baja side looking for warmer weather!

Punta Chivato

The weather reports were finally showing an opening for crossing over to the mainland side of the Sea of Cortez, where we wanted to visit the San Carlos area.  It looked like Monday would be a good day to cross, and we decided to head up to Punta Chivato, North of the town of Mulegé, to jump off.  We departed on a sunny Saturday morning.  The North winds were about 10 knots creating a little bit of chop for the 24 miles out of Bahía Concepción and across Bahía Santa Inez. 

Punta Chivato has a very long beach with a significant number of houses, an airport for small planes, and what looks like an abandoned hotel (more on that later).  When we arrived there were 4 other boats in the anchorage, but there was plenty of room off the beach in good depths.  The wind, as one might expect by now, kicked up after we arrived.  The anchorage has wave protection from the North and some wind protection, and has excellent holding.

When the wind died down we went in to the beach, which had a huge number of shells spread along its length. There were so many piled up it was like “shell dunes”. The entire area out to the Islas Santa Inez a couple of miles offshore is very shallow, so this must have been a great place for shellfish at some point in time. All of the shells did look very old and worn.

Highlights of the shells on the beach.

Sunday turned out to be a bit milder than Saturday.  In the morning a fisherman and his two sons came by in a panga and offered fresh fish.  We bought a small (6 lb) halibut and they filleted it up for us.  It turned into some very tasty fish tacos later that evening.  They also had a good sized Pargo (snapper) and some lobsters, but we passed on those. We paid in Pesos, cans of coke, and a bag of chips – the dad was hungry.

Fresh fish delivery right to the transom!

Later, we went for a walk on the beach where we met some fellow Gringos from Oregon staying in one of the nice houses up in the sand dunes.  They had been down here since November and commented on what a cold and windy winter it has been. We then took a little dinghy tour around the anchorage and looked at what must have been a very fancy hotel right on the point.  Our guidebook said it was the hotel Posada de los Flores and a great place to go for a sunset drink on the stone patio overlooking the anchorage. Well, the stone patio was still there but the hotel is out of business and obviously abandoned.

Very sad – clearly the weather is taking a toll quickly.

While sitting in the cockpit, we were amused watching large flocks of our favorite bird the lesser grebe as they popped up en masse, then suddenly would dive down again. Not clear what their signal is but they all disappear in just 2 to 3 seconds!

Just surfaced…
Dive! dive!
Almost gone…
Just a few stragglers.

We were up before dawn the next morning, ready for a departure at first light.  The weather was beautiful – calm winds and flat seas with sunshine almost the whole way.  The 9 hour, 72 mile crossing was uneventful – the kind we really like!  Next up is our visit to the San Carlos area on the mainland side of the sea.

Bahía Concepción

After spending 4 nights at San Juanico exploring the beautiful bay and surrounding areas (and waiting out yet another Norther) we pulled out on a sunny, calm Sunday morning to head North 55 miles to the many anchorages inside Bahia Concepcion, a 24 mile long, 3 mile wide bay just south of the town of Mulegé and the 27th Parallel.  We rounded Point Concepción after an uneventful trip and were planning to anchor at a spot called Playa Santo Domingo, just inside the NE corner of the bay, and across from Mulegé.  We were told that there was good cell signal there and we figured we’d spend the night catching up on internet.  However, as we were rounding the point, the winds were picking up, and by the time we reached Santa Domingo, the wind was at 20 knots and there were whitecaps and good little swells in this poorly protected anchorage.  We elected to continue on down the bay.  The wind was, for the first time of the season, coming out of the South, so we proceeded to a lovely bay called Playa Santa Barbara, our first S wind anchorage in the Sea of Cortez.  We were alone in the anchorage.  There was a camper and some fancy yurts set back from the beach, but none were occupied.

Mangroves and a heron at the tip of Gwen’s kayak.
First time we had seen the magnificant frigatebird in a long time

The next morning we kayaked around the entire anchorage, exploring the rocky shore on the E side, the mud flats and mangroves at the head of the bay, the estuary on the W side, and at the NW corner of the bay, a pearl culturing setup consisting of a 55 gallon drum float at one end of a line and steel mesh bags containing small oysters.  We didn’t find the sunken sailboat that was reported to be in the anchorage and wound up not having a good chance to look for it.

Later we took the dinghy a few miles over to Playa Coyote in search of a tienda and avocados.  We found the tienda, but no avocados as they weren’t stocking any fresh stuff because of lack of people to buy it.   We did enjoy a very nice meal of chili rellenos con camarones with rice and beans (and a couple of Pacificos, of course) at their outdoor restaurant, homemade just for us as the only people there.

Playa Coyote
This anchor was in the shallows we waded through to get back to our dingy after lunch.

That afternoon, I started noticing swell rolling into the anchorage.  I was surprised, as the wind was light and the forecast was for continued light winds overnight.  It was just about cocktail hour and I had already prepared our libations… but the swell was getting larger, and looking North, I could see whitecaps.  We decided to move.  Because this was a S wind anchorage, it was completely exposed to winds from the North.  As we were exiting the bay, the winds climbed up into the 15-20 knot range, which would have made for an unpleasant night indeed.  We moved a couple of miles up to a spot called Posada Concepcion in the NW corner of the larger bay.  There were colorful houses along the beach and up on the cliffs, and Highway 1 runs right beside the bay in this area.

Lining the hills above the anchorage.
This house in particular surprised us with the whole skeleton!

The next bay over from us is called Playa Santispac, and a couple of other Nordhavns we know from last season were anchored in there, along with a couple of sailboats.  This offers the best protection from the North winds that came every afternoon for the week we were there.  There is a palapa on the beach that has good food  – we had some tasty breakfast pastries – and internet service by the hour.  It serves an RV park that is nearly empty and the normally crowded anchorage.  Our friends on Gitana and Last Arrow told us that the beach was full of RVs at this time last year, mostly Canadians that didn’t make the trip down this year.

At anchor in Posada Concepcion. You may notice that both the burgee and Mexican courtesy flag are wrapped… to keep the noise down and preserve a good night’s sleep in the windy weather.
The long beach usually occupied by rows of RVs. The yellow building is Ana’s Restaurant Palapa.
Many sections of beach had structures like this for campers to set up in. In the entire bay probably 20% were occupied.

Right in front of where we were anchored was an island that the birds clearly felt was a good nesting spot, and was frequented by locals who were fishing and diving off their kayaks.  One man showed us the fish he was catching and said the name in Spanish which we didn’t understand. I thought it was a triggerfish.  He said it was good for ceviche and other dishes.  A reef just beyond it might be a good snorkeling spot, but the water is still too cool for that (for us anyway). 

Cool rock formations covered in guano.
The far end of the small island, our view from the boat.
The pelicans were clearly using this area as a bird bath and grooming area. The hillside was populated with what appeared to be nesting pelicans and the sound of birds we could not see.
Gwen just loves the green water contrast with the rocks.

On another day we spent a few hours on our own “private” beach searching for shells and soaking up some sun while the wind was down. 

The best of the shells Gwen found.

We ended up spending about a week of windy and somewhat chilly days here.  It’s a beautiful spot, and we actually feel lucky to have been here without the usual crowds.  We are sure there is a very different feel to it when beaches are packed with RVs and the anchorages with boats. 

Editors note: Gwen provides nearly all of the photos for the blog and the strain and pressure of our rigorous production schedule are getting to her. She recently suggested that we should reduce the posting frequency on the blog! So, if you love Gwen’s pics and posts, please comment and send her some love.

Puerto Ballandra and Isla Coronados

We left Puerto Escondido the morning after the big Norther turned out to be nothing much, at least at Marina Puerto Escondido.  Over the course of the morning, the winds came up a bit and by the time we left they were around 15 knots from the N.  Not a problem for us.  Our run for the day was a short two hours to Puerto Ballandra on Isla Carmen, which was reported to have good North wind and wave protection.  We planned to sit out the next Norther there, due in a couple of days.  

Coming out of Puerto Escondido and turning N into the channel between Isla Danzante and Isla Carmen we could see that the seas had been raised a bit by the presumably stronger winds farther north, but wind speeds were still low at around 10 knots or so.  Things started picking up after an hour or so into the middle of the channel.  The winds were now more in the 15 knot range, we were starting to see whitecaps on the waves and the seas were building into at least the 5-7 ft range.  Soon it started to feel like practice for the Baja bash, with the boat pitching into the occasionally large waves.  We had a few instances of “bow slap”, where the bulbous bow on the boat comes out of the water and then slams back in.  It’s quite noisy but otherwise harmless.  We were taking lots of spray and were very happy that we had invested in interval wipers.  They got a workout keeping the salt water off the pilot house forward windows.  At the very end it got quite sporty, with the winds exceeding 20 knots and lots of wind waves on top of the swell.  We were happy to pull into Puerto Ballandra, which was indeed well protected from the swell.  

Looking out the entrance from inside Puerto Ballandra anchorage.

A couple of weather lessons learned for me were: 1) If there is a Norther in the Sea, even if your local area is unaffected, it is going to create some swell.  2) With the fetch, 15-20 knot winds will cause the seas to build quickly.  Nothing that we experienced was remotely close to dangerous and was not even uncomfortable.  However, the motion did cause Gwen to have a mild bout of seasickness – enough to have her hang out in the salon where there was less motion. She had made the mistake of reading while underway while it was rough.   Our goal is really to avoid even conditions like this.  I think we may have been a touch too eager to get off the dock.

There were two sailboats tucked into the N end of the bay when we arrived but we had enough room to get into the NW corner next to them.  The bay has excellent protection from waves, but not so much from the winds, which funnel right down the hills to the North.  We hardly needed to back down on the anchor – the 20+ knots of wind did it for us.  It looked like we were catching the Norther a day late.  We saw 25+ knot winds in the anchorage for several hours.  We were also experiencing some rolling from swell wrapping around the point.  When the wind died down a bit we decided to put out the flopper stopper and got it almost ready to drop in the water when, yes, the winds kicked back up.  We pulled it back in, untangled the lines and got it dropped quickly in the next calm period.  Things were all comfy after that.

Alone in the anchorage, for a while.

The next morning the two sailboats that we shared the anchorage left and we decided to move to a better position at the head of the bay.  Of course by this time the winds and a tiny bit of swell were coming from the SW so we knew we would need to reset the anchor again before the next Norther kicked in on Sunday.  After getting set we had a lazy day exploring in the dinghy, reading, having a “Bloody Michelada” with lunch, playing a bit with fishing gear and Gwen going for a late afternoon kayak.  It was a bit cool and cloudy in the morning (by Mexico standards) but the sun came out in the afternoon.  

Because this area is so close to Loreto, it has clearly been quite picked over for shells. The few we found on the beach were quite aged, along with a fair amount of dead coral. There are some good shallow rocky areas that are supposed to be good for snorkeling – perhaps we will try them on our way back down in a month or two. We didn’t walk deeper into the island – there are big horn sheep and an active hunting lodge nearby, and a very marshy swampy area between the beach and the hills.

We were able to join the monthly Nordhavn 50 owners call.  We had enough cell signal from Loreto across the way to join the Zoom video call. 

After a peaceful night we began preparing for the Norther, bringing the dinghy and kayak back on board and resetting the anchor with more than enough scope for the expected winds.   

Speaking of resetting the anchor, I’d like to touch on the topic of Anchoring Etiquette.  Do a google search and you will find many articles on anchoring etiquette, that is, how to safely share an anchorage with your fellow boaters.  The general rule of thumb is that the first boat into an anchorage deploys their anchor as they see fit and other boats have the responsibility to anchor such that they do not collide with that first boat.  It is often not as straightforward as it sounds as you are trying to optimize depth and protection from the prevailing conditions.  It gets more complicated – power boats tend to swing differently than sailboats, and how much your boat swings depends on how much and what type of anchor rode you put out.   I’d like to propose a corollary to the general rule of thumb.  Please don’t anchor immediately upwind of me when we are expecting a Norther. 

The chartered catamaran anchoring on top of our anchor.

Some time after we reset the anchor another boat came into the anchorage and came by to ask how much chain we had out.  It was very good form for them to ask, and we told them how much chain we had out and that there was good holding off our starboard side.  What did they do?  Anchored directly in front of us.  Now the winds had picked up a bit, but were nowhere near the 30 knots we would see later in the day.  If they dragged anchor, they would be right on top of this.  I got on the hailer and expressed my concern telling them that I hoped they were well set because they were right on top of our anchor and would tangle with us if they dragged.  Eventually they called us back and after some discussion moved over to a (perfectly fine) spot to the west of us.

We happily settled in for lunch when another boat came into the anchorage.  This was a boat that was in the anchorage when we arrived but then left.  They, too, dropped right in front of us, even though there was room on our starboard side.  They realized that they were too close and moved, but then came back… splitting the distance between us and the sailboat that had come in earlier.  At least in this case, if they dragged, they would slide between us.  They came by for a visit by dinghy later and we learned that they were accomplished sailors, having come over from Europe via the Pacific and had been out cruising for 9 years.  That gave us confidence that they knew how to anchor their boat securely.  It seems to me that coming into an anchorage, particularly in windy conditions, the best thing to do would be to drop your anchor perhaps even with the boats nearby, and then fall back behind them as you let out your rode.  This way, you swing clear and don’t have to worry about dragging back on your neighbors.

We all sat through about 48 hours of the Norther, with winds up to 33 knots and swell coming into the anchorage and breaking on the beach.  When it finally settled down on Tuesday morning, we all cleared out of the anchorage, with us heading for Isla Coronados, an extinct Volcano only 8 miles north of Puerto Ballandra.  There was still some residual swell left from the Norther and the winds were up into the 10-15 knot range.  Apparently my memory for lessons learned is short.

Picture perfect west side anchorage. There were a number of pangas bringing tourists in for day trips.

The main anchorage at Isla Coranados is on the West side of the Island, with a big white sand beach North of a long sandspit and a small Islet to the West.  The other anchorage is South of the sandspit in the shadow of the 900+ foot volcanic cone.  We approached from the South and went around to the main anchorage though the narrow and shallow pass between the sandspit and the Islet.  It was exciting in the choppy conditions and heading over to the anchorage, it was clear that we would have no shelter.  So around back to the South side where we anchored in 25 ft of crystal clear water below a low bluff.  The anchorage was open, so was exposed to swell wrapping around the point.  Out went the flopper stopper again to smooth things out.  It was blowing about 15-20 here for a while before things calmed down in the evening.  We did spend a pleasant afternoon on the beach and Gwen explored the paths that are part of the park system.

There are beautifully laid out paths all through the area.

We went to sleep with the lights of Loreto to the SW, and woke up in the morning seeing the fishing fleet working the dropoff just to the south of the anchorage.  We decided that this was not the place to ride out the next norther, so got ready to head on up to San Juanico.  It was very cool picking up the anchor in the crystal clear water.  We could clearly see the chain laid in a nice straight line along the bottom, and as we retrieved it we could see where the anchor had buried itself deeply in the sand, with only the shank visible.  It was reassuring to see how well the anchor dug itself in!

Darth Vader Lives in our Head

When you hear the words Darth Vader, what do you think of?  The wheezing, mechanical, sounds like he’s in scuba gear breathing, right?  That’s what I think of, anyway.  Now, what would you think if you heard that sound coming from the forward head?  OK, maybe now you understand the title.  This is a post about all of the noises on the boat that can drive you crazy as you are trying to sleep in some remote anchorage.  

We are all sensitive to novel sounds.  On a boat it is important to pay attention to any unusual sounds, which can be warning signs for problems.  And when it is a windy night in the anchorage, we tend to be even more alert.  

The Darth Vader breath, as it turns out, comes from the sink drain in the head (nautical for bathroom).  There is a hose from the drain that goes to a thru hull to drain overboard, right near or even below the water line.  When it is rocking in the anchorage, the bow of the boat pitches up and down and air gets sucked down the drain and then pumped back out, making a very distinct wheezing sound.  We have plugs that we put in the drain that prevents Darth from breathing, but if it is really rolly, they pop right out.  Our friend Ron from Duet asks incredulously “why don’t you just close the through hull valve?”.  Of course we could do that, but then we fill the sink when we wash our hands and have the potential for sloshing water around.  So it’s usually jam in the drain plug and close the door.  

The forward head sink on a rolly night.

Last year when we were coming down the coast we got very good at eliminating all sources of banging, whacking, knocking, and clunking as there is nothing like a Pacific Ocean passage to expose all areas with laxity.  Ask any boater and you will hear a long list of solutions for the bangs and rattles that can happen both underway and at anchor.  Just the other night our friend Penny revealed her ultimate weapon – blow up beach balls.  Easy to store when empty and can be inflated to just the right size.  We have a very large collection of nerf-like footballs and basketballs that Gwen searched around Brookings Oregon to find after our first multi-night noisy passage.  

The usual suspects are easy.  All cabinets and drawers latch, yet we are often lax with securing them properly.  The bang, bang, bang synchronous with the waves is easy to track down.  More problematic are those less frequent thumps that only happen when things really move in a certain direction.  Since we returned to Mexico and have been anchoring again, we have been experiencing one of those slow rolling thunks, usually when trying to take a nap during a storm because there is nothing else to do!  This one sounded like it was coming from directly over Gwen’s side of our berth (bed in nautical lingo) and was obviously driving her nuts.  This is a bit unusual as I am typically the one driven to distraction by these things.  She had searched on multiple days to find it, and her most recent supposition was that the muffler guys had left a piece in the muffler stack (which does go right through the area near the thunking sound).   

Last night she suddenly announced, “I found it!”  Jubilantly, she reported that the culprit was a tequila bottle that was leaning back and forth against other bottles in the liquor cabinet when the boat rolled at just the right angle.  When we are on passage, we wrap the liquor bottles with that rubber cabinet liner material, but when we are coastal cruising, it is of utmost importance to have unfettered access to the booze.  I think this problem will soon be solved by emptying the offending bottle.  

Our current checklist for a sound night’s sleep at anchor:  

  1.  A well-set anchor
  2. Bridle to take strain off the anchor has chafing protection to cut down on noise
  3. Burgees and flags are all restrained
  4. Horn pump is off – this has the nasty habit of repressurizing with a very loud pump at 1 in the morning
  5. VHF radios are OFF
  6. Doors are secured
  7. Bow of dingy is tied to back of boat securely but far enough away so it doesn’t bang the boat (or it’s stowed up top)
  8. New addition – cushion the liquor bottles

(Yet another) Racor Fuel Manifold Update

I spent some quality time in the engine room while we were at Puerto Escondido trying to diagnose the problem with air bubbles forming in the Racor filters.

I have been suspicious that there was a leak in the Racor filter manifold itself, despite it being brand new. Fellow N50 owner Ron Goldberg suggested that I test this by creating a vacuum in the filter housing and seeing if it holds. The method for creating the vacuum is to run the engine at idle and then shut off the fuel valve at the supply manifold. The engine continues trying to suck fuel in and will create a vacuum, shown on a gauge mounted on the filter manifold. When the vacuum level reaches the desired point, shut down the engine and monitor the vacuum level for a period of time. This sounds scary, but in practice was pretty easy – the vacuum rose pretty slowly after I shut off the fuel supply, and I could shut down the engine by closing the fuel solenoid. The fuel manifold lost very little vacuum over an hour, even after operating the filter selector valve a bunch of times. I concluded that there is no leak in the filter manifold.

I did the same test on the fuel supply manifold and had the same result. It too was able to maintain a vacuum, which means that none of the valves or their connection to the manifold itself were leaking. That leaves the lines back to the fuel tanks (including the fittings) or the “dip tubes” in the tanks themselves.

The next experiment was to select different tanks (Miss Miranda has 4 fuel tanks, port and starboard, forward and aft) as the supply to the filter manifold and look for changes in the amount of bubbling. To get an idea of what the bubbling looks like, take a look at this very shaky video. You can see towards the end of the video that there are few, if any bubbles. That is the result we are looking for. The bottom line was that I saw many fewer bubbles when drawing fuel from the aft tanks. These are much smaller tanks (115 vs 500+ gallons) and have shorter dip tubes, and seem to have less opportunity for air leaks. This is very good news. It seems that we should be able to run from the aft tanks with much less air leakage and much less concern about pockets forming in the Racor filter housing. Oh, and in case you were wondering, we have a fuel transfer system so that we can refill the aft tanks from the forward tanks.

The very last check was on the fittings to the forward fuel tanks. I have pretty easy access to the top of the port forward tank via a hatch in the galley floor. I disconnected the fuel supply line from that tank and inspected the adapter fitting. That fitting needs to have thread sealant on it to prevent leaks. The sealant on the fitting was 20 years old and most of it seemed to be gone. I cleaned up the fitting and applied new sealant. The tests for bubbling, unfortunately, were inconclusive. It seemed to be less than before, but still more than the aft tanks. It is possible that the source of the leak is the dip tube itself or the hose, or the fittings at either end.

I was a little bit disappointed after doing some more testing while underway. Under more load, there are still bubbles in the filter housings when drawing from the aft tanks, and after a short, two hour run, the fuel level in the filter housing was down, though less than previously. Racor does say that it is normal to have the fuel level down about halfway when you open the filter housing, so not sure if this indicates a problem. I did try drawing from the port tank while underway, and there seemed to be less bubbling than when drawing from the aft tanks, so maybe the thread sealant helped. I’ll continue running from the port tank and monitoring as we continue along the way.

I now have a very good idea of where the air leakage is coming from. I will probably wind up having to replace the supply lines and fittings to the tanks (and maybe even the dip tubes) before returning to the US, but can I can get that work done when we return to La Paz.