Ch. 13: Auto Turn-Notto

“You know, I knew it was going to be things breaking, stuff needing to be fixed, repaired, maintained, but I thought it would occur at a rate that I could keep up with it.  If it’s like this all the time, it’s no fun.”

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I quoted that right from my log that day.  I remember when Yannick said it.  He had just come out of the “engine den” beneath his bed on starboard yet again and was blowing off some completely understandable steam and frustration with the amount of systems on his boat that were giving him trouble.

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Yannick’s engine den.

As I have said many times, while an ocean-crossing is going to be hard on any boat and luck has a lot to do with it, looking back on it, Phillip and I believe the reason Yannick was having to deal with so many issues was because his boat had not been sailed recently.  She had been very well-maintained and newly refitted and upgraded, but she hadn’t been out on a passage in over a year.  She hadn’t been shaken down.  That’s what we were doing … for 4,600 nautical miles.  And, while Yannick truly was a trooper through it all, facing one headache after another, like anybody would, he did have his “this sucks” moments.  Frankly, I think he handled it better than I would have had it been my boat.  I’ve had my moments …

And, sadly, after all Yannick had suffered so far (engine troubles, the watermaker, the generator, the spinnaker), the worst of our problems still laid ahead.  The first of which started to rear its ugly head when we found Auto would turn-notto.  I wrote about it to my Patrons in my mid-crossing Atlantic Log #3:

Atlantic Log #3: Auto Turn-Notto:

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This is what it usually looks like when you’re on watch on Andanza.  If the conditions are calm or otherwise manageable, the auto-pilot does all the work and you can easily kick back, hands free and read a book during your stint as long as you periodically monitor the conditions (wind speed and direction and engine temp if motoring) and do an occasional 360 to check the horizon for ships and obstacles (few and far between out here) or, more likely, rain clouds or squalls.  Since we left Pensacola Bay on May 29th, the trusty auto-pilot has been holding us on a steady course to France about 99.94% of the time (give or take).  The crew is very aware of our luck in this regard and happy to do anything which keeps “Auto” happy, fed and functioning to continue this trend.  This would be a very different passage if we had to hand-steer this boat all the way across the ocean and we are very aware of that.

Through a freak series of events, we learned yesterday, however, that if Auto WERE to shut down unexpectedly, we might not be able to properly steer this boat.  When we put Auto on standby yesterday to test something completely unrelated, we were surprised to find … Auto turn notto (to the left anyway).  It was wild.  Once Auto was on standby, you would turn five, maybe ten degrees to the left, then the wheel would tension up and become too tight to turn any further.  You could turn to the right just fine but when you went back to the left you’d lost whatever ground you had traveled to the right, leaving only another five, maybe ten degrees then the same insurmountable tension.  Yannick described it as “ratchet steering to the right.”  Surprisingly, each time we re-engaged Auto, he would take over just fine and turn to the left with no problem—almost as if he was mocking us.  “See guys. It’s easy,” he would say with a laugh.

Because Auto kept successfully re-engaging, it was kind of a not-yet-big problem.  As it stood, Auto was working fine, but if he went out (and we all, of course, separately imagined this happening to us during one of our lonely night shifts), we would have a good bit of canvas up, with often 20+ apparent winds on the beam and only the ability to turn right.  NOT a situation in which you want to find yourself.  So began our hunt for the cause and potential fix.

We started with the steering cables and the chain behind the helm.  A long series of turning, tugging, pulling and checking ensued only to find the tension was not in the cables.  The afternoon continued with many focus group sessions, diagram-drawing and plenty of head-scratching.  After several hours we finally determined it was the arm itself of the linear drive Auto that—for whatever untold reason—did not want to disengage and allow the quadrant to move freely to the left when both put on standby and turned off completely.  That Auto is one stubborn dude!

After some more configuring and brain-storming, we decided if Auto was to go out the proper procedure would be to remove the cotter pin and disconnect his arm from the quadrant so we could hand steer (to both the right AND the left!).  Unfortunately this procedure will likely take place in a frenzied hurry while the boat is drifting off wind with canvas up and ratchet-to-the-right steering only.  Again NOT a situation any of us are looking forward to but it is one we are prepared for and can handle thanks to some inspection, forethought and communication.  Until Auto goes out, however (a prospect which may not happen) it is, as I mentioned, a not-yet problem.  For now, we thank our lucky Auto karma and continue during the day to hold hands-free watches while devouring read after juicy read at the helm.  It’s my watch now so you’ll have to forgive me, but I really must get back to this book: Horn Island Dream, written by our very own Pensacola small business owner at Intracoastal Outfitters, Wes Dannreuther!


“That won’t last another 500 miles.”  Johnny’s not one to sugar-coat things.  And he sure didn’t here.

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He knew the fact that the auto-pilot arm would not properly disengage when we put her on stand-by was a sign the unit was deteriorating.  No one disagreed with him, but we really didn’t have grounds to say otherwise.  When Auto was on, everything was sunshine and hands-free steering.  So we decided to not let it be a big problem until it WAS a big problem.  The Sea Gods seemed to reward our faith by sending us a few days of sunshine, relaxing hours spent reading with fish on the line!  Remember in the last segment when we told Johnny what to wish for on his birthday?  It must have worked.  Can you say: “FISH ON!”

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Or better yet, get your “Sushi on!”

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Yannick’s best tuna smile!

 

Soon the winds found us again, though, bringing steady streams of 20-25+, thankfully aft of the stern, and we were really bashing and crashing through some big seas.

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The waves were set apart, mind you, with long periods in between so it wasn’t too rough but it did make for the occasional wicked bash on the catamaran floor and definitely a wet, spitting ride in the cockpit.

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For that reason, Captain Yannick shut us all in the cabin and we monitored the instruments from the interior nav station during our respective shifts.  All the more reason we were praying Auto would hold out there.

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But Johnny’s prediction was holding true.  It wasn’t 400 miles into Johnny’s predicted 500 that Auto started his “death squeal.”  Yannick monitored vigorously and decided to take off the auto-pilot arm to see if he could disassemble the unit and perhaps repair it underway before it eventually died altogether.

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Unfortunately he found the unit was crimped shut by the factory making manual disassembly and repair underway impossible.  Yannick re-attached the arm and set to making an auto-pilot failure contingency plan as the unit squealed in the background.  The B&G began to register “no rudder response” often, perhaps every 1-2 hours.  But if you turned the auto-pilot off and back on, it would pick back up and work just fine.  When this began to happen every half hour, however, Yannick knew it was done and all hands were ready and waiting on deck when the auto-pilot eventually gave out on the evening of June 16th.

Now, why did Auto die?  Because he was 82 years old!  In auto-pilot years that is.  Yannick’s RayMarine linear unit had over 10,000 miles on him and he had already steered the four of us over 3,000 miles across the Atlantic, so, he really was on borrowed time.  You couldn’t really fault him.  He’d done his job.  Like several systems on Yannick’s boat, it was simply time to replace or upgrade.  Yannick knew he was going to have to do it, but whether or not to stop what was supposed to be a NON-stop trek across the Atlantic ocean to try and replace the broken auto-pilot in the Azores or have the crew hand-steer another 8-9 days to France and replace it there was Yannick’s dilemma.  We all knew going into this voyage with Yannick, one that if you recall he was fully committed to make entirely on his own, that Yannick did not want to stop.  He had even said this himself in the power point presentation he made for us to help us prepare for the trip.

Remember this??

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But, also within this power point, Yannick set forth his four hopes for this voyage, one of which was that we all would:

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I swear, that is straight from the Captain’s checklist.  But Yannick also wanted to get his boat across the pond to France as quickly and safely as possible.  This was no pleasure cruise.  It was a yacht delivery with a strict mission and the crew was instructed to “have fun” within the bounds of that mission.  No one faulted Yannick for this.  No one said a thing when we sailed right past Bermuda.  We had all signed up for a potential non-stop voyage.  But, now, safety was playing a role in Yannick’s mission.  Whether or not the crew could hand-steer the boat all the way to France (which we all told him we could and we all were committed to do if that was his decision) would not answer the more important question of whether or not the crew should hand-steer the boat to France.  We all began to dress warmly, donning gloves, hats and full foul weather gear for our now far-more intense hand-steering shifts at the helm while this very hard decision fell on the shoulders of our Captain, Yannick.

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Fun little video I made for you all from the Atlantic-crossing movie footage capturing some of the heavy bashing we were doing those days and the unfortunate demise of our auto-pilot.  The saga continues.  Stay tuned!

 

Also, exciting news!  We will be drawing our Andy Schell offshore voyage giveaway winner THIS WEEKEND.  I will announce the exact time soon and we will try to live stream the drawing if we have good wifi on the hook, so you can watch us pull the lucky winner out of the hat.  If you’d like to be IN that hat, opt-in!  Become a Patron, read Andy’s FAQs and email me for a chance to win this awesome Gift of Cruising!

andytn

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