Taking advantage of the kayak, we began rising early and paddling increasing distances upriver. The exertion reminded us how our bodies had lagged from lack of exercise the past year. Weeks later, and with vigor restored, we began jogging regularly. And becoming more ambitious with time, we began running almost daily to Queens' Park, to visit the wallabies and emus in their large chain-link pen.
Continuing Suka's spring cleaning, or in this case, winter cleaning, we scrubbed the bilge from stem to stern, cleaned the water tanks inside and out, and sorted the contents of the ship's lockers. Many items of clothing, extra blankets and other unneeded goods we donated to the local St. Vincent de Paul thrift store. And we sent a special package containing some of our extra clothing, and a variety of men's, women's and children's clothes purchased from the thrift store, to our friends Siale and Naomi in Tonga.
As Suka lay to her moorings day after day in the temperate water, her hull below the waterline began flourishing with marine growth. We planned on hauling the ketch out during the first part of the new year, in order to give her a new coat of anti-fouling. Until then, however, we needed to keep the propeller free of growth, to insure the safety of vessel and crew. So one afternoon I jumped overboard to clean the propeller. In the murky river water I was unable to see more than two or three inches in front of my face mask. Working by feel with scraper and a scrubbing pad, I tried not to think about snakes, crocodiles, platypus, large fish, or whatever else might have been swimming or squirming in the depths.
We bought a well-used motorcycle, and on it we toured the surrounding districts, visiting nearby towns and beaches.
Touring the beautiful countryside by motorcycle.
One evening we visited Mon Repos Beach, and by moonlight observed, at various intervals, perhaps a dozen loggerhead turtles swim through the surf, climb across the beach, and struggle up the steep embankment. After scraping away sand with all four flippers to form a body-sized indentation, each turtle would use her hind flippers to excavate a pear-shaped egg chamber. The loggerhead then laid ping-pong-ball sized eggs, as many as 120 of them, into the chamber.
Loggerhead turtle laying eggs.
With Christmas drawing near, a festive spirit filled the air. Most shops were closing for the long holiday, and all work seemed to come to a halt. Our work continued aboard Suka, well within range of the church bells ringing out familiar Christmas carols. We were nearly half a world away from our familiar "white Christmas," and as the hot, tropical sun shined brightly in the austral winter, strains of "Dashing through the snow..." wafted over the sultry Burnett River.
December 25th was a typically warm and sunny day; we celebrated quietly on board, then later in the afternoon we rode the motorcycle to Bargara, where the beaches were packed with holiday crowds. The "barby" at the beach is a popular Christmas tradition.
Our first extended excursion away from Suka was to Brisbane, the capitol of Queensland. To the motorcycle's gas tank Ray strapped our large hiking pack, over which he could barely see the gauges on the handlebars. On my back I carried a fully loaded day pack. The ride was exhilarating, whisking along at 60 miles an hour. Trees lining the roadway flashed by in a blur, and the clear plastic face shields of our helmets accumulated a splattering of insects.
As we neared Brisbane the congested traffic reminded us of the crowded freeways in the U.S. In the heart of the city we visited a few yacht chandlers, and at one shop we stood talking with a cruising couple, Keith and Marion Fletcher, comparing notes on past and future passages. The storekeeper informed us that the shop was closing, so the four of us left the building, still a'yarning. We had walked three blocks before I realized we had left our motorcycle helmets in the chandlery. Quickly I ran back, but the chandlery had closed, and a sign on the door indicated that the store would not reopen until Monday. Without our helmets we could not legally use the motorcycle, so we spent the weekend traveling about the city by foot and by bus.
At the Koala Sanctuary.
Our visit to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary was the highlight of this excursion. The furry little mammals snoozing in the eucalyptus limbs quickly won our hearts, and with child-like excitement I held a cuddly koala in my arms while the camera clicked. We wandered through the kangaroo and wallaby pens, petting the docile creatures. Soon we realized that tucked away in one of the female's pouch was a joey, with only its tiny head, the size of a small child's fist, protruding.
The majority of our time in Brisbane we spent in the main library. Ray researched an engineering project while I browsed newspapers and magazines, reviewing the past year's global events.
Monday morning, wearing our helmets, we headed home. We had found the city excessively noisy and congested, but had nevertheless enjoyed its attractions, the window shopping, the library, the chandleries, and especially the warm little bundles of fur with the glued-on noses. We had put nearly 600 miles on the bike during this trip, and while returning past the now familiar cane fields and through the quiet, country towns of Maryborough and Childers, I sensed a happy, heart-warming feeling of coming home. I was glad we had chosen to stay in Bundy for the season, for I could not have felt so fondly about Brisbane.
Perkins, our diesel engine, had been overheating, and its exhaust had grown increasingly smoky. And with two-thirds of our voyage still remaining, I was concerned for the engine's well being. A neighboring yachtsman, Charley, was a diesel mechanic by trade, and when I mentioned the problem he offered to examine the engine. After inspecting Perkins superficially and without the use of test equipment, he pronounced the power plant in dire need of a major overhaul, adding that he would be glad to accept the job for hire. However, his absence of any real tests, and his motives, left me skeptical.
Two weeks later Perkins nearly destroyed itself.
As a matter of routine, twice weekly I had run the engine for an hour or so, in order to charge Suka's batteries. Once the motor had started, I would quickly check the gauges. But this time the oil gauge indicated a complete lack of pressure, meaning the engine was running without the needed lubrication. Straightway I shut the engine down, to prevent it from seizing - which, indeed, would have necessitated a major overhaul.
For two days I searched for the problem. Both the gauge and the oil pump were working normally, so therefore something was apparently blocking the oil line. After hours of head scratching, I discovered that the oil filter check valve was working backwards. Perplexed, I visited the local diesel engine repair shop, and explained my dilemma to the mechanics. They agreed with my analysis: Perkins' oil was now pumping in the wrong direction, against the check valve.
“Someone had apparently boarded Suka in our absence, and had tried to sabotage the engine.”
Back aboard, as an experiment I switched the two external oil lines, disconnecting them, and reconnecting them onto the other's fitting. When I re-started the engine, this time the oil pressure gauge's needle swung to life.
One can safely discount any chance that the engine had reversed its oil flow of its own accord. That left me pondering the extreme likelihood that someone had covertly boarded Suka in our absence, and had tried to sabotage the engine. In the final analysis, though, I felt that the chicanery had been one on me. And by resolving the matter myself, I had emerged the benefactor - having learned a great deal more about our engine.
Haul-Out for Engine Work
Nevertheless, I was now even more determined to insure that Perkins was working at its best, in advance of our upcoming crossing of the Indian Ocean. So I resolved to dismantle the machine's top end, to inspect its internal components. As such, we arranged with the local slipway to haul the ketch out of the river.
Once on land, with Suka nestled in a cradle on the rails, Jenny and I began removing the big 4-108 diesel and its reduction drive from the cramped and awkward engine compartment. After a full day's sweaty toil we had wrestled the mammoth metal beast into the cabin, and positioned it onto a square of plywood resting on the sole. Suka's main salon then became a workshop, where her crew disassembled the power plant's top end. Once apart, I found no internal damage, beyond a mere glazing of the cylinders. Consulting with the mechanics in town, I learned that cylinder glazing is a common malady with diesels, and is largely a result of running the engine at idle speed - only - for untold hours while charging the ship's batteries. This glazing had been responsible for the exhaust smoke, they related.
Rebuilding the engine.
I honed the engine's cylinders, and re-ringed its pistons. And we took the head to the local machine shop where the mechanics refurbished the valves. They also chem-boiled the heat exchanger.
After I had reassembled, remounted, and realigned the engine (a task that could have filled a chapter of its own), I reattached the ancillary equipment, then bled the fuel system. Seven days after we had last shut the engine off, I activated the starter motor and Perkins roared to life. Because Suka stood on the hard, Jenny fed the motor's voracious coolant pump with a garden hose. After 15 minutes I pulled the kill lever then removed the valve cover and began readjusting the valve clearances. At my instruction, Jenny added another quart of oil.
When I attempted to restart the engine, the crankshaft would no longer budge. This was bad news. I removed the injectors, and found one cylinder flooded in engine oil. This was extremely bad news.
“Jenny had poured a quart of oil into the breather intake.”
I removed the rocker assembly and unbolted and removed the head. The head gasket was intact, and I found no cracks within the cylinder walls or on the head. So where had the oil so abruptly come from? Perplexed, I eventually sought the counsel of another yachtsman who had been cruising long enough to gain considerable knowledge of engines. For an hour we deliberated the problem, each proposing one unlikely idea after another, as to how the oil had entered the cylinder. Finally, the fellow noticed a trace of oil in the intake manifold. Now that was odd. Mentally retracing my steps, I recounted how I had shut the engine down, and had removed the valve cover - a cover that featured the orifice into which one normally added engine oil. Unintentionally then, Jenny had poured the quart of oil into the breather intake, from where it had drained through the open number-four intake valve and down into the cylinder.
I removed the offending oil from the cylinder, and a few hours later had Perkins reassembled and running again. Mere glazed cylinders had been responsible for the smoky exhaust, while the sediment coating the internal tubes of the heat exchanger, clogging them, had caused the overheating. At last we felt confident in Suka's power plant, touche bois.
A New Propeller
While Suka stood on the hard, we spent the next week sanding her hull below the waterline, and repainting it with fresh anti-fouling. Aboard, I also designed a new propeller using the book "Skene's Elements of Yacht Design." However, the results of the recommended calculations proved inconclusive: Suka's present propeller characteristics were close to the calculated optimum. Yet I knew that the prop's performance was deficient, so I sought the help of a local nautical engineer, an Australian gentleman by the name of Don Cameron. With an analytical mind, Don could reputedly solve about any engineering problem put to him. I visited his cramped workshop burgeoned with projects, and found him working on a design improvement of the camming leverage on the modern archery bow. Don listened to my propeller dilemma, then withdrew a calculator from his bepenciled pocket. While I related the specific data - prop diameter, pitch and slip, and the engine and gear box specs - he punched the figures into his calculator. In less than two minutes he equaled my three hours work, and concluded that, indeed, Suka's original propeller attributes were close to the calculated ideals. "But the specs are only half the story," Don instructed. "And I think I may know what's wrong."
Don accompanied me back to the yard, and with a pair of calipers measured the propeller's cross-sections. "These blades have no hydrofoil," he stated. "An airplane wing needs a cambered airfoil, and a marine propeller blade needs a cambered hydrofoil. There's your problem. And while you're at it, you need to fair this square-cut propeller aperture with a grinder, to assist the flow of water into the propeller."
Grinding the propeller aperture for better flow.
Painting the bottom with a fresh coat of antifouling.
The owner of the slipway telephoned our propeller specifications to a foundry in Brisbane, and ordered a new prop for us. Meanwhile I commenced the awful job of grinding fiberglass. Three days later I had installed the new propeller. Then, anxious to determine the results of our labors, we launched the ketch and took her for a test run. The results: the brig's maximum powering speed had doubled!
We moored our seagoing hot-rod mid river, and encouraged by the recent success of various projects, we set to work on Suka's stainless fuel tanks, which I had commissioned and fitted back in San Diego. These tanks had poorly designed inspection lids simply bolted onto the top of the tanks. With that design, any water that reached the tank could find its way under the lid and inside the tank. This was not a favorable design for crossing the notoriously scabrous Indian Ocean. Again, we converted the main salon into a workshop. One tank at a time, we hand-pumped its fuel into a barrel standing in the cockpit. Then we extracted both tanks and delivered them to Peter Hale's welding shop, where he fashioned standing collars onto each inspection port. Pete also did a few lesser welding jobs, and eventually allowed me the run of his shop, letting me work there whenever I needed. His generosity was very much appreciated, and I think typified the local Aussie hospitality.
Peter Hale in his machine shop.
Topsides, I strengthened Suka's stanchions and lifelines. Then I commissioned another welder, Gerry Cornellison - who owned portable equipment - to add bow pulpit uprights, to reinforce the bow railing. Gerry then left me with his equipment for a day, and I fabricated a stainless pushpit. These new rails greatly increased our security topsides.
The time came to rebuild the self-steering wind vane, the type known as the Auto Helm. This contraption was affixed to Suka's transom with tubular struts. Each end of each strut was secured with a through-bolt, and each of the dozens of these bolts had worn oblong holes in the tubings. I drilled the holes oversize, and installed larger bolts.
That repair project accomplished, I replaced a length of exhaust pipe that had corroded through, and wrapped it with new insulation. We fitted new manual bilge pump diaphragms, dismantled the galley stove for cleaning, and sanded and painted the propane tanks. We delivered the ship's hydraulic steering pump to a shop for its second rebuild, and I installed a hydraulic autopilot and two new depth sounders. We sanded and painted the booms, and re-caulked some of Suka's topsides leaks, particularly at the skylight and chain plates. From a reputable Hong Kong firm (Lee Sails) we ordered a capacious 140 genoa, a spare jib, and a diminutive storm-staysail.