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Free Diesel at 26S, 178E

Day 6, underway to New Zealand. 550 miles to go.

Yesterday I was woken up by a sound, a really really strange one. We’d been motoring in nearly flat calm all night long, working our way out of this windless high pressure area. Over the noise of the rumbling engine I heard a hissing sound, then a grinding. My eyes shot open and I was awake immediately. Just as I jumped out of bed Michael shouted out the obvious, “There’s something wrong with the engine!” and he quickly shut it down as it had ceased propelling us forward anyway.

It didn’t take us long to figure out that the R&D damper plate he’d installed 3.5 years ago, the “fail-safe” one, had failed. It’s located deep inside the bell housing and connects the engine to the transmission. Without it there’s no way for the engine to turn the propeller. It would be impossible, if we had a spare, to replace it out here as that requires hoisting the engine and other tricky maneuvers. Five minutes later the reality set in: we are now a purely sailing boat.

It’s amazing the calm that quickly sets in when something like this happens. Maybe it’s because so much uncertainty has been alleviated. Will we run out of diesel before we make Opua? Nope! Will our engine keep running? Nope! Will we be able to sail most of the way to NZ? Yep!

We settled into the cockpit and tried to eke out some miles in the very light wind for the next few hours. When we could see our reflections in the water and the sails hung limp we took them down and cracked open some beers and watched the girls build a huge fort in the cockpit.

Last night we continued to drift in oily smooth seas. The very last bit of the crescent moon set in the late evening. They sky is so clear here you can even see the rest of the moon behind the brightly lit crescent and we’ve never seen so many stars before. After we tucked the girls in bed, we set a double-reefed main to help minimize the rolling in the light SW swell and made sure our AIS alarm was all set. Then we went to bed ourselves.

It was luxurious to have a full night’s rest, just taking a quick check around every couple hours. After breakfast this morning the water started looking ruffled in the southwest and soon after a light breeze had reached us and we set the sails again. We may only be going 2 knots or so, but it’s movement and that’s something.



  1. How cool is that, to have so much “uncertainty” “alleviated”? Sending good thoughts your way for a safe arrival in NZ.

  2. Trevor says:

    So cool to react in a zen manner like that… well, what good does it do to fret when you have limited options. She’s a sailboat, after-all, and you have the power! Enjoy the new perspective you’ll have when you look back on this episode. Here’ to wishing you smooth seas and fair winds!

  3. Steve Hulsizer says:

    Curious which engine you have. I had a PYI damper on a Westerbeke M40B. Service manual says check every 1000 hours, which means removing the engine. I checked it once, and changed it to a spring plate style. Nine years and 2500 hours later, no worries. Same spring plate damper on my last engine lasted 24 years. Bought a spare PYI across the counter at PYI for $140, Westerbeke wanted $240.

    There was nothing to check on the PYI. Just a piece of rigid plastic between two steel plates. Either intact or destroyed, nothing in between. Transmission rattle all the way to 1500 rpm. New one much quieter.

    Good luck, Steve

  4. Terry says:

    I too have had failures with the PYI flexplate. I have a Yanmar. It turns out that they need to be sized to engine and torque. The originally published torque for my engine was half the actual torque. Too soon to know if this will solve the problem for me, but it may be of help to you.