By the time the rhodies peak, Puget Sound sailors are deep into plans or actions for spring commissioning and anticipating the sailing season ahead. Here in Mexico, springtime is when crews typically make plans to set sail for French Polynesia. Aboard Totem, we prepared for this last year, but the pandemic happened. We hoped to go this year, but French Polynesia remains officially closed to vessel arrivals. Our sights are now set on 2022, so we’ve reset again.

This reset brings the feeling of a fresh start as we recalibrate for 2021. Similar new outlooks spring from cruisers in our extended circle. Like Salish Sea boaters, they too are eyeing the season ahead, making plans, and preparing themselves and their boats as needed — down to small details like an engine coolant flush.

Springtime boat projects are intertwined with cruising plans and dreams, since many of those projects enable the upcoming adventure. As Jamie outlines steps to help newer cruisers through the first change on their marine diesel engine’s cooling system, I look across the range of springtime cruising plans.

Coolant Flush Step 1: Initial setups: unscrew the coolant system cap to allow air in (and coolant out). Check your engine manual to identify the coolant drain port location. Place a container below the drain port.

Jean Anne: Pivot to “The Other” islands in the Pacific. Steve and Chelsea came south in 2018 with the Coho Hoho in their Lord Nelson 35. Their sun drenched and margarita sprinkled pictures confirm they have mastered the art of cruising well in Mexico. The South Pacific beckoned and they planned to route via Central America and Galapagos last year, getting as far as El Salvador when borders began slamming shut. They returned to Mexico and retrenched to watch with the rest of us, hoping the South Pacific would re-open in 2021. It hasn’t, but are they disappointed? Not really. They hauled Jean Anne for a bottom paint job, solar arch and Hydrovane installation, and other projects to prepare for sailing to Hawaii this spring. And they’re clearly fired up about it. Now they watch weather for the passage ahead, a slip is booked at Ko Olina, and intentions are to hang out on Oahu for a while.

Coolant Flush Step 2: Initial drain: open drain port so coolant flows into the container. Remove the expansion tank: drain into the same container, rinse, fill halfway with water and put back in place.

Linda Marie: Shipping to new cruising grounds. After a decade of boat projects and planning, Ken and Linda departed for cruising adventures in 2017 on their Beneteau Oceanis 473, Linda Marie. Sailing south to Mexico and to the South Pacific in 2019, they’re now in New Zealand. Plan A for 2020 was to return to Fiji, then continue west. Like many cruisers who instead remained in place through the pandemic, they would like to continue their journey, and struggle with feeling a lack of control over their lives in New Zealand.

They’re prepping now for a Plan B: shipping Linda Marie to Florida, then resuming cruising ­— and regaining that sense of control over their destiny on the east coast of the U.S. this spring. It’s a difficult decision because, above all else, they express gratitude they’ve been “stuck” in New Zealand — exploring, learning about the history and culture, making lifelong friends.

Coolant Flush Step 3: Inspect coolant: depending on type used, it could be tinted red or blue or green or yellow. Note if darkened much beyond the tint, or debris present, indicating further flushing needed.

Katemba: Swapping oceans. John and Medea are professional mariners. This captain and crew traded life in the megayacht lane for cruising their Island Packet 38 to rack up quality time with their young son, Johnny. Passing through the canal and onto the islands, they provisioned up and had a zarpe (a port clearance document) for French Polynesia in hand when the pandemic hit and left them stranded between countries. As the door to Ecuador shut behind them, French Polynesia closed in front. A long sail to Mexico was rewarded with new friends, new adventures, and companionship with a safe-boat-bubble in the Sea of Cortez.

A few weeks ago, they looked at their budget and realized they can’t wait another year for the South Pacific to reopen. There just isn’t’ enough in the cruising kitty. Spinning from making plans to go west to gazing back east, Katemba’s crew is now on a fast track to the Caribbean via the Panama Canal, then across the Atlantic where Mediterranean ports place John closer to his work opportunities. It’s a scramble, but one the veteran sailors are up for. In a week, they hauled to repaint, provisioned up, and are already on the first passage towards the Canal.

Coolant Flush Step 4: Continued flushing: fill cooling system with fresh water, run the engine for 3 minutes, then shut down and with a cool engine (if it gets hot, wait until cool), drain out as before. Repeat this process until drained water comes out clear. If the original coolant seemed particularly dirty, then consider using an automotive radiator cleaner. Follow cleaner instructions, then repeat flushing until drained water is clear. It can take a dozen or more flushes.

Yahtzee: Rollin’ with the changes. When uncertainty and restrictions on movement peaked in Mexico last spring, 48° North’s own Andy Cross — along with his wife, Jill, and their two boys — lingered aboard their Grand Soleil 39 in a beautiful stretch of Mexico’s gold coast instead of following plans to head north for hurricane season in the Sea of Cortez. A small 8-by-5-mile section of coastline proved an isolation haven: uninhabited islands, good anchorages, a nice wave to surf… and not a soul to be seen, save a few other cruisers.

This year, they’re stretching south along the coast of Central America, following the same flexible cruiser vibe. “We took Covid tests to get into El Salvador and spent a spectacular month there. After another test, we just got into Nicaragua and aren’t sure what will come next.” Taking life one wave and one sunset at a time, along a coastline of extensive options — they’re adapting to changes, as cruisers do.

Coolant Flush Step 5: Finishing up: after final flush is drained, empty the expansion tank, fill with coolant to the appropriate mark, and put back into place. Close the drain port once again, then fill the cooling system with coolant. Run the engine for a couple minutes, shut it down, and check the coolant level at the top (be careful if engine/coolant are hot!). If a hot water tank is part of the coolant loop and set above the engine, you may have to bleed air from a coolant hose at the tank. Make a note to check coolant level after running the engine again (and let it cool).

Skookum V: Quick-start to cruising. Erin and Stu had a perfect life in British Columbia. Perfect, and perfectly trapped with 60-hour weeks while Erin shuttled between Vancouver and Whistler, and Stu kept family life with their two- and three-year-old daughters on track in the mountains. Covid was the catalyst for considering an alternate plan. Sailing someday was assumed; but while camping under the stars in BC, they sketched a plan to make it ASAP. They moved aboard a Leopard 40, named her Skookum V, and started cruising from Mexico in January. Embarking on life afloat during Covid plays well for them — anticipating years raising their girls on the waters of Pacific Mexico for now.


Far from being on pandemic hold in the continued limbo of 2021, these cruisers are resetting – and setting out. Their outlooks are one of the gifts of the lifestyle. We are accustomed to uncertainty; it is part of our everyday life. Delayed gratification is not a big deal, since time is our wealth. We are conditioned to be adaptable; change is our norm. To see cruisers in our community looking with clear eyes on this season ahead, preparing themselves and their boats to embark on newly re-imagined plans — it all feels entirely fitting for the cruising life, and a lot like a coolant change.