Calling all boat project fanatics, this one’s for you! Boy, did we have a time trying to get our engine aligned. While Phillip and I knew we had some kind of issue going on with our prop shaft, the key that fits in the shaft (which was always coming out and we were hammering back in, brilliant plan!), and our coupling, we didn’t know it was quite as bad as it was.
Watch along as Brandon, Shane, and the great team at http://www.perdidosailor.com help us diagnose and solve many issues relating to our prop shaft and how it seats in the transmission. We had a machinist re-engineer our old coupling and make us a new one. We also re-bedded the strut and replaced the gutless bearing.
And, just as boat projects always do, the boat had a lot of extra hidden work in store for us in the form of a rotten engine stringer portion (under the raw water pump on starboard, no surprise) that we had to repair along the way. Fun, fun! Misery loves company! Give it a watch! More photos and write-up available at http://www.havewindwilltravel.com.
I hope you all have been enjoying these shipyard videos while Phillip and I were off galavanting across the Atlantic Ocean. We’ll have plenty to share from that adventure once we get our heads back on straight. It can be hard, at times, to transition from offshore sailors back to full-time lawyers/marketing gurus. But, the work is always worth it. In exchange for all of those photos and videos of us out sailing and traveling the globe, enjoy seeing us here all grimy and greasy wedged down in the engine room on our boat! You’re welcome! B.O.A.T., am I right? : )
Maybe they should change that B.O.A.T. saying to “bonded or about to.” The hardest part of our rudder drop was getting the stinking quadrant off! Heat, impact, cheater bars, nothing would work. So, the creative guys at Perdido Sailor had to come up with a different fix, and boy did they!
Ahoy crew! Shipyard Vid #2 coming at you, from Cascias, Portugal nonetheless! I put this video together a while back so you all would have something fun to watch while we were embarking on our second Atlantic-crossing helping deliver a new Lagoon across the pond from France to the USVIs! I know how you all LOVE boat project videos, so here’s another one for you from our interesting work at the shipyard this past summer.
While I wrote about this project several months back here, some of my followers love to see the video! This one’s for you! Phillip and I always enjoy working alongside the guys at the yard because we learn so much. They point out problems we didn’t even know we had and teach us fixes we didn’t even know were possible.
Watch here as we (finally!) get the quadrant off and make the necessary modifications to do that, check on our G-flexed keel seam from 2016, replace the cables for the throttle and shifter (because, according to Video Annie, they sounded like “Grandma’s panties coming down”), and shared some fun lighthearted joshing at the yard!
We hope you are all enjoying the shipyard videos and having a great time tracking us along while we are sailing back across the Atlantic Ocean. Follow on our facebook page at www.facebook.com/havewindwilltravel for real-time updates and locations via our Delorme!
Hey hey crew! As I write from La Rochelle, I have a confession to make. I’ve been saving a treat for you! I was holding this for when I knew we would likely be shoving offshore, so you all would have a fun video to watch as we struck out tomorrow into the notorious Bay of Biscay. We’re planning to head out tomorrow for either a short hop to a new port or a quick shakedown and turn-around. Either way, we’ll get water moving under the hull, learn a lot about the boat and crew’s capabilities and quirks, and hopefully make it to a new port in southern France or even Spain. The adventure begins! And, to celebrate the moment: a gift for you all! Your favorite, a (drumroll please) … SHIPYARD VIDEO! : )
I know how much you guys loooove our boat project/shipyard videos. Misery must love company, although I will say Phillip and I are far from miserable when we’re working on our boat. It beats sitting at a desk any day! While I wrote about this project previously (Shipyard Project #1: Reinforcing Our Rudder), this will be a very fun “catch-up” video for my folks who are strictly YouTube followers as these videos will bring you up to speed on all of the very cool work and upgrades we’ve been doing on our boat this past summer while Phillip and I attempt to complete our first Atlantic Circle this winter by helping some new friends deliver their new Lagoon 42 from La Rochelle, France to the BVIs. You’ll meet Kate and Cyrus with CruiseNautic soon, a very fun, adventurous pair. I guess you have to be to willingly hop on a small boat and sail across the Atlantic, am I right?
When we finish that voyage, Phillip and I will fly home to Pensacola, work for several months and then shove off on our baby girl, the beautiful Plaintiff’s Rest, to sail her as south as possible for hurricane season next year. Likely Grenada. We are not riding out another season in the corner pocket or the Gulf. It is horrendous to see what hurricanes can do.
I’ve got several more Shipyard Videos coming over the next few weeks so you all will have some fun things to watch while we are crossing the pond. Be sure to follow along on our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/havewindwilltravel) where we will be posting via satellite through our Delorme. That way you can track us in real time across the Atlantic. Giddyup!
Many props to our prop for hanging in there with us for so long (even though we were blind to her suffering!). We’ve been battling this problem for several years now and simply did not know what the underlying problem was. We did not know the “key” to the issue was the fact that the key kept coming out. Here’s what we were dealing with:
Our prop shaft and coupler both have a matching notch that fits a key which helps the shaft sit tight in the coupler so it can be rotated smoothly by the transmission. You can see the key here.
Yes, the one with the red goop all over it. That’s Loc-tite, what we thought would be the answer to this problem. You see, this key kept coming out. Phillip and I are pretty diligent (we try to be, at least) about checking on our engine. We always check the oil, transmission fluid, and coolant levels before starting. And, if we are motoring for a significant number of hours while underway, we try to make a habit of pulling back the sink (which gives us access to our engine) and checking on Westie as he is motoring along hour after hour.
We look for oil or coolant leaks, water leaks, any loose parts, etc. And, during our trip down to Cuba and our fantastic sails back up along the coast to Pensacola in early 2017, we noticed this key kept coming out.
Often we would find it halfway out, spinning around like a wild tea-cup ride at Disney, as the shaft was spinning. Or, we would find it spit out about six inches forward of the transmission into the bilge. Phillip and I would start to wager bets as we would be trucking along under motor and heading down to check on the engine: “Do you think the key is halfway out by now, or already spat to the bilge?” (Most times it was already jettisoned by the time we checked.)
Phillip and I knew this key issue was a sign that some bigger problem was likely the cause and that there was something going on that wasn’t right with our coupler or shaft. We just did not know what. I can’t tell you how many times we located and re-Loc-tited that sucker back in place. Dozens, if not more.
While this little key popping out might seem like a minor problem, we were worried, if it continued or worsened, the transmission could potentially lose the ability to turn the shaft. That would be a huge problem. So, the key was legitimately discerning. Our first thought was to have a new key machined that stuck out a little further past the end of the shaft, with a hole drilled through it, that would allow us to run some seizing wire through it to prevent it from coming out. That would solve the problem, right?
If that was the root problem.
As we continued cruising, to the Bahamas this past season in 2017-2018, and watching further changes occur with our prop shaft, we soon learned it was not.
Our first discovery: There’s a set screw for the key!
I’ll just have to admit, we did not know that. For whatever reason, each time we were checking and re-hammering in this stupid little key, we just didn’t see it, or if we did, we did not know it was a set screw for the transmission key. So, “Aha!” Moment No. 1 was making this discovery, finding the set screw had indeed rattled itself far too loose, and re-tightening him down onto the key to hold it in place.
And, of course, we goobed that guy up with red Loc-tite, too. That seemed to be our solution for many boat problems at the time. “Just Loc-tite it. It’ll never come loose.” Right, cause that’s how it works on a boat. Nothing ever rattles. Nothing ever breaks free. At the time, we were using the same method with the three nuts on the back of our rudder post cap underneath the cockpit floor and you now know, from our rudder post reinforcement post, we have since come up with a better-than-Loc-tite solution there as well.
When the set screw, much like the key had, started to break free from its repeated Loc-tite baptisings and allowed the key to continue to spin out, we knew we were going to have to do something else when we hauled out in 2018. At the time, machining a new key was the best conceivable answer. And, in the meantime, we just continued our “locate and Loc-tite” drill to get us back from the Bahamas to Pensacola to really troubleshoot and solve this issue.
But, then something funny started happening. Not only did the key continue to drift forward and come out. Toward the end of our Bahamas voyage, the shaft itself began to move forward. Yes, the shaft. This is not the best angle, but in this photo it is sticking about an eighth to a quarter of an inch out.
This movement of the shaft itself (not just the key) prompted Phillip and I to inspect the coupler further. We found the set screws on the coupler had also rattled themselves a bit loose, so that the coupler did not have a good tight grip on the shaft. Phillip tightened these down. This was during out trip back up the west coast of Florida on our way back from the Bahamas. And, to get us back home to Pensacola so we could haul-out and investigate this further, for good measure I cinched them down with seizing wire.
At least I thought I did. Turns out I’m not the best cincher. Or maybe it would be seizer … I’m sure I’d make one helluva Ceaser! But, knowing what I now know about how to run seizing wire (which I just learned from the boys at the yard – thanks guys!) I know this is a total useless loop. Hell, that design probably helps both screws loosen one another …
Way to go Seizing Wire Annie. Thumbs down. But, I can confidently say my seizing skills have since improved after we got a custom lesson from the boys at the yard. This is why we love working with them. I’ll show you the trick when we get the coupler issue figured out.
Cue the haul-out!
When the boys at the yard got their hands on our boat, they noticed several things immediately that were adding to our issues with prop shaft movement. First, they could feel and, actually with their hands alone, re-create the forward and backward movement of our prop shaft inside the coupler. Again, not the best quality video, but it was sent to us from Shane at the yard and you can easily see the movement of the shaft in and out with just Brandon below pushing and pulling it.
This was their first cue that something far more serious was going on with our prop shaft than a loose set screw on the transmission key. The boys could also feel that the strut had a little play in it, as they could physically move it from side to side—just a hair, but hairs can make a mess out of things offshore. They recommended it would be best to remove, clean, and rebed the strut for a more secure fit to the boat and tighter hold on the prop shaft.
That was a fun morning I spent unbolting that guy. Can you find the Annie in this picture:
Thankfully, I will say, almost every single part of our boat is accessible. While it may be uncomfortable and require the talents of an inconceivable contortionist, it is reachable. We can access, remove, and repair just about any part of our boat, because it was designed to do just that—be accessed, removed if need be, repaired if need be, and otherwise worked on! It’s one of the very great features of our boat. I was happy to find our four strut bolts were (with just a smidge of boat yoga) rather easily accessible right behind Westie on the engine room floor.
The shipyard guys, when they disassembled the strut, also noticed our cutless bearing was worn out. While this surprised Phillip and I as we had replaced that cutless bearing only a few short years ago in 2014, if you consider the amount of play we had in our prop shaft, and the number of miles we put under our keel while that play was occurring, it made sense.
Lastly, when Brandon removed our coupler, he found the coupler itself was wallowed out with the movement of our shaft and it simply (tightened down its full capacity) could not get a good grip on the shaft.
When Brandon removed both the prop shaft and the coupler from the boat, he showed us the movement he could exert with his hands on the shaft. Brandon explained the coupler should slide on and have an absolute snug fit with no movement. He and Shane also said we were lucky the shaft was going forward. This happened when we were in forward gear because the propeller is trying to work itself forward through the water. If we had backed down hard enough in reverse, the prop would have been working to move itself backwards through the water and could have worked its way right out of the boat with the condition our coupler was in. Now, I have a new boat nightmare. Thanks boys.
Here is a video of Brandon showing us the movement in the coupler and having fun at my expense. You will be surprised by the play in our coupler. You can hear it audibly in the video. You’ll also enjoy Brandon’s response to my joking that he had “purchase discretion up to $800.” “Oh, it’s $799 then. $799!” Gotta love those guys at the yard.
So, with this revelation, we were in for a re-bedding of the strut, a new cutless bearing, and a new coupler. But, if we were going to replace the coupler, we wanted to re-engineer it so the coupler would not allow the key to come loose or the shaft to try to move forward again after the many more miles we plan to put on our boat. For this reason, Brandon hired a local machinist to create a cap that bolts onto the end of our coupler to hold the shaft in place. He kept a window hole in the cap so we could see the shaft and visibly confirm its location in the coupler. The machinist also included a threaded hole in the center that we could use to twist a bolt down to pop the shaft out if it had, for whatever reason, seized up in the coupler. Overall, it was a better, stronger design for our boat and eliminated all movement in our prop shaft. Here is the new coupler!
And, fun little lesson for all you boat project fanatics today. Notice Shane’s method for fastening seizing wire in the photo above. While everyone can do it differently, I definitely liked his idea of purposefully routing the wire in a way where one bolt’s attempt to unthread and turn to the left would result in a tug on the other bolt toward the right, and vice versa. Meaning, as the bolts try to loosen themselves they are, in fact, tightening one another. Thanks Shane!
Little things like this can make all the difference out there on a two-week passage where you are working all systems so hard twenty-four hours a day. Phillip and I know we will sleep better and have more peace of mind knowing this system, too—our prop shaft, the coupler, the cutless bearing, and the strut—have all been inspected, re-mounted, secured, or re-engineered to be stronger and more stable for our rough passages.
This is the reason Phillip and I decided to devote the time and money this summer to haul-out and do these “mission critical” repairs and upgrades as we have some big cruising plans this fall. And, some big destinations to announce! We can’t wait to share our plans with you (you know, the ones written in sand at low tide ; ). But, next up, we’ve got some more cool shipyard projects to share with you. Hope you all are enjoying our boat labor this summer! You get to pick next week’s topic. Because:
I can’t make heads …
… or tails of it!
Would you like to see our swap to the composting head or re-painting of our Westerbeke engine. You decide. Leave your vote in a comment below!
Maybe they should change that B.O.A.T. saying to “bonded or about to.” I’m sure many of you have faced this. One of the hardest parts of a boat project is the initial disassembly. Trying to get bolts that have been in place for thirty-plus years to budge. Or how about a stainless steel bolt in an aluminum piece? I know you’re cringing now. But, at least I can say we had access to our curmudgeon bolt. I had a follower post recently in order to get to bolts he needed to access to re-bed his strut, he had to remove two diesel tanks. Just to GET TO said belligerent bolts.
Shout-out to follower, Rob Miller, who tacked that job! Rob, you’re my hero. In our case, with access, albeit uncomfortable and tight, to our bolts, I’ll consider us on the lucky side. Here’s what we were dealing with. These are the components of our rudder/steering system:
The quadrant (which is in two half-circle pieces) mounts on the rudder post by fitting onto that slotted “keyway” mentioned in the diagram, and it is then bolted together, four bolts at the base, inserted in opposite directions, which thread into opposite piece of the quadrant. You can see here, the two bolt heads on port (your right) and the two holes that the shafts of the bolts on starboard are threaded into.
We knew in order to drop the rudder we were going to have to get these two quadrant pieces apart in order to remove the quadrant so the rudder post could be lowered. For this reason, Phillip had the idea to spray (well, I should say Phillip had the idea to send his bendy grease monkey down in the lazarette to spray) PB Blaster on the four bolts under the quadrant periodically for a few weeks before we hauled out hoping that would help loosen those suckers.
But, as many of you know, when you allow two different metals, here stainless steel and aluminum, to sit together for years upon years, the metals can undergo a chemical reaction and literally bond themselves together. When the boys at Perdio Sailor got in there, that is what they found. The bolts holding our quadrant to the rudder post had thoroughly seized.
With Brandon in the starboard lazarette (which stinks, that one is super tight and uncomfortable) and Shane in the port lazarette (which is a bit more spacious, but not as much for a 265-pound guy), the boys made several attempts to get the bolts to budge. First they tried manually.
Then with a cheater bar. Then with the impact driver.
Then with heat (lots and lots of heat) followed by the impact driver.
Thankfully, three of the bolts finally gave up the ghost with heat and impact and came out, but we had one last stubborn holdout on the port side. The boys continued to battle it with the impact driver, then heat, then impact, then cursing. Still nothing. More heat, more impact, more cursing. No movement. Shane finally dropped his wrench and said “I’m cutting it out.”
Breaking a Bonded Bolt
I’ll be honest, I didn’t exactly know what “cut it out” meant, but watching the guys at the shipyard—who have to deal with obstacles like this every day—think through a problem and engineer a solution is the exact reason we like to haul-out with Brandon’s exceptional team and learn from their thought-processes.
Shane’s idea was to cut the bolt head off, so he could at least pull the two quadrant pieces apart and remove them from the boat.
Then he could try to drill into and perhaps extract the obstinate shaft or, if that would not work, he could drill the shaft out, enlarge all four holes slightly and either re-tap them for new bolts, or go with through-bolts instead. Shane chose the latter and we now have four bigger, stronger, more-secure bolts, locked down with Nylocs, holding our quadrant on the rudder post.
And, it was educational for Phillip and I to learn how the crew at Perdido Sailor work around, what might seem to us, an insurmountable obstacle. You’ll also notice Shane really cleaned and spruced up our thirty-three year-old quadrant.
Thirty-three … pssssh. That pretty gal would get carded in bars. “Can I see your ID Ma’am?” : )
Proof TefGel Works
In addition, to ensure this unwanted bonding did not happen again (because you never know, we might need to remove the quadrant again someday down the road), Phillip and I used TefGel during the reassembly to ensure, this time, the stainless steel bolts did not try to bond with the aluminum quadrant.
Our tiller arm served amazing proof of the power of TefGel to prevent different metals that are in contact from bonding over time. Phillip and I installed our below-decks hydraulic auto-pilot (which we lovingly call “Lord Nelson,” because it came from a Lord Nelson boat) back in 2016 when we were hauled out to repair our rotten stringers under the mast and replace the rigging. In order to remove the rudder from the boat, the tiller arm also had to be removed. This is the bronze tiller arm mounted above the quadrant.
And, although the arm had been in place for two years untouched, with TefGel in the mix, the stainless steel bolts that hold the bronze tiller arm on the rudder post easily unthreaded. Proof: TefGel works people. Use it!
Alright, one problem solved. What’s next? Alignment of our steering cables!
Re-Aligning Our Steering Cable Pulleys
When Brandon first crawled down into our lazarette to inspect the quadrant and steering system, he noticed immediately that the alignment of our steering cable pulleys to the quadrant was not ideal. (Even though the cables are off) can you see what Brandon saw in this photo?
The base of each steering cable pulley was about one-quarter to one-half inch lower than the “seat” (the center of the groove) in the quadrant for the cables.
This meant our cables had to travel uphill to fall into the seat of the quadrant. Not something you want them to have to do.
It should be a perfectly-aligned straight shot from the pulley right into the seat of the quadrant. All of these years, and I hadn’t noticed that.
Just another reason we love having professionals, like Brandon and his team, crawl all over our boat looking for potential issues. “Look in every locker! Check anything you want! Sure, wiggle it. See if it works.” I say that because we want the Perdido Sailor guys to find anything they can that needs to be fixed while we’re in the shipyard. And I stress “need” because there is a time and money factor; no boat is going to always be in 100% pristine condition. But, we want them to find problems while we’re in the yard, because that’s when we want to fix them—when he have great tools, supplies, and experts readily available to help and supervise, rather than finding the problem when we’re out there underway with less resources and knowledge to devote to it.
And, the joking and ribbing that goes on at the shipyard is just part of the fun. Here, Phillip had missed the measurement of the additional height we would need to be jacked up in order to drop our rudder by just a couple of inches, and the guys never let him forget it. If you don’t do it absolutely 100% perfect (because we all do that, all the time, right?), they’ll pick on you. But, the more they pick on you, the more they secretly like you. Shipyard Fact No. 64.
When Brandon saw the steering cable issue, he had the idea (since he knew we were dropping the rudder which would mean the quadrant would have to come off) to lower the quadrant just a bit to make it line up better with the pulleys. I immediately laughed when he said it. Just as a knee-jerk reaction, because I knew how very little room we have between the quadrant and the aft strut. How do I know this? Because I saw that tiny little space disappear one exhausting night in a beat-down underway when our rudder had tried to make a sneaky exit out of the boat.
That was a fun night. And, a fun little video for you here of our quadrant literally grinding its way into the aft strut that supports the post, why it happened and what we learned the very simple remedy was: tighten the cockpit nut that threads the shaft up higher into the boat.
But, lack of space between the quadrant and the aft strut in order to properly align the quadrant with our steering cable pulleys did not hinder Brandon either. I swear, they don’t see obstacles, they see solutions taking shape. And Brandon certainly had one here:
Cut it. Re-engineer it. Make it work better. You gotta love that guy.
Brandon had his main guy, Shane, modify the aft strut by cutting a nice even chunk out of it that would allow us to mount the quadrant back on the rudder post at a lower spot to make it align perfectly with our steering cable pulleys. Here is a video of Brandon checking Shane’s work after Shane and I reassembled the quadrant for inspection:
And, do you know what “get in there and square that up a bit” means? Another disassembly of the quadrant by Shane and I to finalize the cut and sand it out, then reassemble the quadrant and steering cables …. again … to make sure everything worked and operated perfectly. I’m telling you, by Day Two at the shipyard, I am quite confident I could disassemble and reassemble everything on the rudder post myself. What an awesome confident feeling!
But, it will all be worth it when our quadrant now has free space and no chance of making contact with the boat if it the cockpit rudder nut gets a little loose in heavy seas (although Phillip and I now know to check and occasionally tighten that nut), and our steering cables are no longer having to step up to fall into the seat of the quadrant. Now they are perfectly aligned. Little things like this I’m sure will add years of awesome cruising years to our beautiful boat. And, while we continue to learn the more we work on our boat, I know she still has many lessons to teach us. And, I know we’ll be ready to learn them, whether they occur at the yard or out in the big open blue. It’s a great big school out there!
I know some days will look like this …
But many others will look like this …
And I wouldn’t have it any other way! More shipyard projects to come. Next up. We’ll give props to the prop shaft by re-bedding the strut, replacing the cutlass bearing, and re-engineering a new coupler. Stay tuned!
Schadenfreude. I know it’s German, but I have no idea how to say it. A good friend of ours taught it to us when he was telling us what great pleasure he took in seeing Phillip and I knee-deep in boat projects instead of wading in crystal green waters, cocktail in hand. “Somehow I like the idea of you two working hard instead of playing in the Bahamas. That must be the German side in me coming out. And, did you know that Germans are the only culture that has a word to express joy in another’s discomfort or pain? Schadenfreude. Says a lot about the culture doesn’t it?” He’s a funny guy, that one. So, for Conrad and all the other brutal Germans out there who would take great schadenfreude in our boat project phase, this one is for you. Misery loves company! Although I wouldn’t say Phillip and I are anything near miserable when we’re doing boat projects. Seriously! We’re usually smiling most of the time. I know. We’re those people. Don’t you just hate those people?
We don’t! We are those people!
Ahoy followers! Following our awesome voyage to the Bahamas this past season, Phillip and I definitely (as we always do) racked up a pretty extensive list of boat projects to tackle when we got home. Some were necessary repairs that we had been watching for a while and knew we finally needed to get serious about (think hauling out and dropping the rudder). Joy. Others are just for cosmetic or comfort reasons—some inspired by our cruising this past season—but we’re eager to get on those just the same.
And, if you’re starting to think we might just have a bit of a falling-apart boat because we sure spend a lot of time every year doing boat projects and maintenance, we’ll I’d have to say you’re just crazy. Plumb cRaZy. Boats require a ton of maintenance and upkeep. Even ones (well, I should say especially ones) in great condition. It took a lot of work, time, and sweat to prepare our boat this past year to take us comfortably to the Bahamas, but it was all totally worth it. Phillip and I feel privileged and lucky to own such a fantastic, old blue-water boat that we’re honored to get to work on her. At least that’s the word we use when we’re stinking, hot, sweaty, and cramped into some ridiculously-uncomfortable places while working on her. “I’m sure honored to be here pretty gal,” I will whisper. But our Niagara has definitely earned all of our spare time and money each time she cranks right up, pops out her sails, and whisks us away to another fabulous distant shore, usually steering the entire time all by herself.
With plans this coming season to likely head back to the Bahamas to truly enjoy the Exumas, which we did not have time to explore this past winter, Phillip and I are eager to dig our teeth into this summer’s list and get it knocked out so we can start the long and arduous process of provisioning and packing for our next adventure. Hooray! Who’s on board? Let’s get this party started already! Here is the actual (always growing) list:
Project No. 1:The Rudder
That’s a pretty important part of the boat, right? Next to hull integrity, a sturdy keel, along with solid rigging and sails, the rudder is one of the only things that, without it, the boat simply cannot go. In fact, without it, the boat might easily sink. I have to admit that’s one of the things I really dislike about the rudder. Its cruciality to both the ability of the boat to both navigate and remain bouyant makes it almost too connected and powerful. Like a frenemy.
If you recall, we first noticed an issue with our rudder during our voyage to Cuba.
Yeah, that passage. Bashing our way to windward for five days. That was fun. (Okay, it was, actually, but it was exhausting, too, and very hard on the boat.) That much heel and that much wind puts a lot of pressure on the rudder and, after a few days of it, we started to notice some athwartship movement in our rudder. I know what you’re thinking. That’s not a part you want to see movement in. It makes me think of the keel and how gut-wrenching it might be to watch it bend, even just slightly, from starboard to port as we heel over. Uggh. That seriously gives me goosebumps. Unfortunately, that’s what we were noticing. Each time the boat would heel with a gust of wind and climb to weather, the top of the rudder post in the cockpit would move about a quarter to a half inch from port to starboard. We had a Rudder on the Loose!
Phillip and I both spent a good part of that voyage hanging upside down in each of the lazarettos adding extra nuts to the three bolts that hold our rudder cap in place on the cockpit floor.
For this reason, one of the projects on our list last summer while we were preparing to travel to the Bahamas was an interim reinforcement of our rudder by fitting some extra wide fender washers on the three bolts that hold our rudder cap in place.
We knew this would be a temporary fix for the season, though, and that, when we hauled out the following year, we wanted to drop the rudder and really do this project right. After doing some research (which we are always thankful for the helpful and insightful fellow Niagara 35 owners on the Niagara 35 Owners Facebook Group who share lessons learned from projects like this) we found other owners head dealt with this play in the rudder as well and decided to reinforce the backing for the rudder cap on the cockpit floor. It really is a sh&*-ton of pressure to all culminate at one very small round hole on the cockpit floor, secured by three small bolts. For this reason, you will see in the photo below, one Niagara owner decided to add a very substantial backing plate around the top of the rudder post to help reinforce and secure it.
Meet Larry Dickie! Ironically named after my own people, the infamous Alabama Dickeys (albeit a slightly different spelling). After Larry posted this photo and a brief write-up about the project, we reached out to him and he proved to be a treasure-trove of information for this particular project and many, many others. Here is what Larry had to say:
“A couple of days ago I posted pics from the N35 rudder rebuild I did. I neglected to add this critical piece, applicable to all versions of Niagara (IMHO). The area in the cockpit flooring is, where the top of the rudder post exits, simply not strong enough to take the very severe and continual torque associated with long passages (or possibly even much shorter passages). I had been warned about this by another N35 owner, years ago. But this repair/upgrade somehow fell off the hundred-job list before we departed. Even though I had placed straight thickened epoxy for several inches around the area when I recored the sole, it was still not strong enough. A few days off Horta, during a dismal night watch, I noticed the top of the rudder post moving slightly as we came off each wave – boy, not a good feeling in the pit of my stomach there.
Now, let me be the first to admit this is not the prettiest fix. But in the Azores, you can only really get good boat work assistance in Horta (Mid-Atlantic Yacht Services). They made this plate for me, as per my napkin drawing; it was based on the fact that there was limited space undernearth to place thru-bolts. Yes, those hex-bolts are not the prettiest, but all that was available. If back in Canada, I would most likely have buried this whole plate within the sole and epoxied over it. All things considered, I’m more than happy with the end result – top end of the rudder now does move at all, even in heavy seas.
All this to say to other N35 owners who are, or contemplating heading off: shore-up the rudder post at the top end (assuming many of you already have).”
Did you note Larry’s location when he posted that? Horta, Portugal! That’s right. The Azores. Those magic islands Phillip and I were exceedingly lucky enough to be able to visit and enjoy during our Atlantic-crossing with Yannick. There is something special about that place, I tell you. Something indescribable.
We certainly plan to sail our boat across the Atlantic someday, stopping at both Bermuda and the Azores again, so it was nice to see another Niagara 35 making the trip. Larry was very generous to share his experience with this issue with us and his extensive upgrade. When we haul-out this summer, we plan to drop the rudder and install a similar wide backing plate in the cockpit floor, likely glassed in, to reinforce and further support the rudder post, particularly at the potential pivot point here where it is secured at the cockpit floor. Our buddy Brandon with Perdido Sailor, Inc. also advised us he has seen this issue before where the rudder post also actually becomes worn down from use and is not as tight in the bushing, allowing for play. If he finds that is the case with our rudder, he recommended we add a thin layer of epoxy along the post to literally “widen” it back up so that it is a snug fit in the bushing preventing movement. This will be an extensive project. Likely our most complicated and costly of the summer. But we never want to see movement in the rudder post again. That is a very frightening thought when your boat is pitching and tossing, trying to hold course in heavy seas. Stay tuned.
Project No. 2: Prop Shaft Key
This is key. We’ve been battling this guy for a while. And, I have to laugh because at times I have to really feel sorry for our boat. It’s like she tries and tries to gently show us there’s a problem. She wiggle a nut loose, squeeze out a few drops of fluid, or let out a repetitive thud, thud, thud which should translate to “look here,” “hey, check this out,” or “I need tightening here,” and what do we do? Wipe the drips and turn up the radio! Not really. Honestly, Phillip and I are pretty diligent boat owners, but it still surprises me at times even when we were looking and listening, as we always try to do, that we still miss the very obvious cues. So, this key. It is kind of hard to see in this photo, but it is about a three-inch long square rod, basically, that slides into a slot along the prop shaft.
In our boat, we have a v-drive transmission where the engine sits in backwards and the transmission is actually in front of the engine. When we pull the hatch back (which is actually our entire galley sink and countertop (it’s pretty freaking badass if you ask me, one of my favorite design elements of our boat for sure!), the transmission, coupling, and end of the prop shaft are immediately visible.
And, at the end, we have a key that fits in a slot on the prop shaft and helps the shaft grab and turn the coupling (in addition to a set screw and two bolts on the coupling that tighten down onto the prop shaft. All fascinating stuff, I can assure you. But, this stupid little key.
My God, the hours Phillip and I have spent dicking around with this key. The thing would not stay in. I can’t tell you how many times we have spent watching it wiggle out, sometimes halfway, other times entirely and we would have to fish around in our super clean bilge to find it, all to then hammer it back in with some Loc-tite and hope for the best. It seems like such a terrible design. Eventually we watched as the prop shaft itself began to—much like the key had—inch forward toward the bow of the boat and actually protrude a quarter-to-half inch in front of the coupling. Those were good times. And, I’m saving for you the story of what happened when the shaft creeped too far forward. My point in all of this is to hopefully get you chuckling as much as we were when we finally realized what our amazing boat was trying to tell us with all of this key business. “My coupling is loose!” she was screaming. Poor boat. She’s such a trooper when it comes to us, I tell you. While the two bolts that tighten the coupling down onto the shaft had seizing wire on them, which is why we did not suspect they could loosen, we have learned anything that rattles on a boat can loosen (and wire can stretch!). After we finally tightened the bolts on the coupling back down, the key hasn’t given us any further trouble. But! We’re thinking about having a new key machined that has a hole for a seizing wire so we can prevent any further “rattle out” issues in the future. Rattle is real, people. We’re taking measures!
Project No. 3: Some Westie Love!
Boy does he deserve it. “Westie” our 27A Westerbeke engine in the boat. He’s been performing like a champ.
While we try to take very good care of him, always looking for leaks, tightening screws and bolts that rattle loose, keeping a very close eye on his coolant system, and changing the oil every 50-75 hours, Westie is getting up there. He is the original 1985 engine on the boat with about 3,600 engine hours on him. Plenty of life left for sure, but we do need to replace the exhaust elbow that goes to the manifold and the manifold gasket, give him a super scrub down (knocking off the flaking rust) and perhaps re-paint him and reinforce his stringers as they have spread and deteriorated a bit with water leaks (particularly on the starboard side under the water pump).
We will probably also drain the coolant system and change out the coolant and replace the gaskets around the thermostat as those tend to leak often.
Project No. 4: Forestay Maintenance
As many of you are aware, we replaced our original rod rigging with universal 5/16 wire rigging when we spent three months in the shipyard back in 2016 re-building our stringers (and doing a hundred other things). Those were good times. Videos for you here if you haven’t seen them (Raising the New Rig, Part One and Two).
Brandon said we deserved a “Boat Yard 101” training certificate when we splashed back because that was an absolute hard-core crash-course in boat maintenance and repair. But, while it definitely sucked finding out the very important stringers under our mast were rotten and that it was going to cost several thousands to fix, those three months (and all the money) we spent in the yard in 2016 was the absolute best thing we could have done as boat owners. There is no way we could have learned as much as we did from dedicated, knowledgeable boat repairman, craftsmen, experts, had we not spent that time side-by-side with Brandon and his crew at the shipyard. So, we don’t regret it. Ever. And, it was time to replace the rigging anyway, so the timing actually worked out.
But, although our rigging is new (or, better yet, because it is new) during the course of our sailing the past two years, it has stretched. Phillip and I noticed a little looseness in our forestay that caused it to (for lack of a better word) “warble” while we are furling the headstay, particularly our larger 135 genny, and particularly during the last 5-6 rolls of the drum. So, we contacted Rick over at Zern Rigging and his guys came out to check our forestay tension. While one of his main guys, DJ (we love you!) inspected it and said our forestay was actually tighter than most, he found we could afford a bit more tension so he and his guys tightened it up for us.
He also noticed immediately the grinding and difficulty in turning our furling drum (something Phillip and I have noticed for a while but figured it might have to do with the looseness of the stay). DJ, however, explained that it would be easy for us, and quite prudent, to re-build the furling drum and replace the bearings inside as they just age and wear over time with salt and dirt build-up in there. So, Phillip and I will plan a day while we’re in the shipyard to do that as well and I know that will work wonders when we’re furling in heavy (or any, really) winds.
Project No. 5: Swap to a Composting Head?
We’re hoping to. At least I’m hoping to. We are definitely keen on the idea of gaining the additional storage space where our 25-gallon “turd tank” currently resides under the v-berth and the theoretical convenience of no longer having to pump out or worry about holding tank leaks (been there, done that, gross!).
Phillip, however, is a little skeptical about the size and fit of a composting head in our rather small (and awkwardly-shaped) head compartment, as well as the comfort of sitting on and using a head so tall. We’ve done a lot of research and talked to many boat owners who have switched to a composting head and have heard really awesome pros (like the ones I mentioned above) and the ease of dumping and cleaning the unit, no smell, etc. with just a few cons: the inability for urine to drain when on a particular heel, overflowing of the urine bin (if you don’t monitor it closely enough) and, to reinforce Phillip’s fear, the size and “comfort” of it. Overall, we are on board if a composting head will comfortably fit, but our floor space in the head is very small and triangular-shaped. I have been going back and forth with the Airhead guys (we believe they offer the right balance of look and fit that we want) and they actually drew a pretty to-scale CAD drawing for me showing how the head might fit (cocked slightly at an angle) and we will likely have to build a small shelf to support the urine bin.
A friend of ours (you recall Phil who bought his first live aboard sailboat, a 1992 Catalina 28 which we helped him deliver last year) recently switched to a composting head so we’ve been learning a lot from him (always good to have a boat buddy make all the disgusting mistakes first, right? ; ) and he let us borrow his head to get a feel for whether it is going to fit in our boat.
It’s going to be a game of Tetris for sure, but I would really like to make this change this summer so I hope it works out. Phillip has put this item exclusively on my list. We’ll see how Boat Project Annie does. Things might get shitty … : )
Project No. 6: The AC Inlet
The “AC Power” on the list. We honestly had so many projects piling up, I forgot what this one was and had to ask Phillip. I was worried we were going to have to re-wire our AC power system on the boat or something equally major that Boat Project Annie had decided to selectively forget because she knew it was going to be financially and physically painful. Thankfully, it’s not too bad. On our boat, we are always chasing leaks. All. Ways. And, we believe we’re getting some water in from behind the AC power inlet on the outside of the cockpit on the starboard side.
Phillip tells me it looks like a “mangled rat’s nest” in the back all gooped up with silicone and other adhesives. So, we’ll be popping that out and re-bedding it anew with butyl.
Project No. 7: Re-Bedding Stanchion Posts
While we’re on re-bedding (which it seems we are always doing). We’ve got a few stanchion posts that are looking a little red around the bed. Once we start to see rust streaks leaking out around the base, that’s a sure sign that puppy is leaking. We’ve re-bed approximately six of the ten on the boat, so this will be another 2-3 and will hopefully seal those up for the next 2-3 years. I can’t stand having unknown leak sources on the boat! We’ll keep hunting and re-bedding till we have a dry bilge darnit! Boat Project Annie is no quitter!
Project No. 8: Jib Sheet Turning Blocks
Our previous owner (Jack, you fantastic boat-owner you!) re-routed the sheets for the headsail to come through a set of blocks mounted on a stainless steel plate to improve his ability to trim and tack the sail single-handed. If you recall, our previous owner used to single-hand our boat in the Mackinac race. Pretty awesome, right? Our boat has such a cool history. We are very pleased with the upgrades he made, this being one, but over time the bearings in the blocks for the genny sheets have failed and we need to have these blocks and their brake levers re-built.
We’ve been very pleased with the products we have ordered previously from Garhauer so we will probably send them a photo or the block itself to allow them to rebuild blocks for us.
Project No. 9: The Fridge??
Hmmpffh. What to say here. Honestly, we’re not quite sure yet what we’re going to do here, if anything. Bottom line is our fridge is original to the boat, which means it’s now thirty-three years old and operates on an antiquated Freon system with inadequate insulation.
We’ve had the Freon refilled and we’ve spent some awesome Saturdays wiggling ourselves into that torture chamber squirting Great Stuff around the seams to try and improve the fridge’s insulation and ability to hold temp.
The fridge, particularly in the hot summer season, is easily our biggest power suck while on anchor. We’re going to debate dropping in a new Freon fridge this summer or upgrading to a more efficient, more modern model that fits in our boat. Stay tuned.
Project No. 10: Switching to LEDs
This has been an on-going project, but one we want to continue pursuing until we have converted all of the lights on the boat to LED. We swapped out a few of our reading lamps and fluorescent lights to LED before we left for the Bahamas and we were thrilled with the minimal output.
Think 0.1 amps an hour to light the boat. Ummm … yes please? So, we’ll be ordering and installing LED lights throughout and adding more red options where we can for better lighting options during night passages.
Project No. 11: Canvas Work!
If our time in the Bahamas during December and January taught us one thing, it’s we do not like to be wet, drizzly, and cold on our boat. Thankfully, we were not, mostly because we spent those wet, chilly, super-windy days toasty warm in our wetsuits kite-surfing! Heck yeah!
But, it did show us that the more comfortable cruisers were the ones who still had a warm, dry “living room” they could enjoy despite the wet bitter weather. They just had to zip up their enclosures in the cockpit and *bam* it was a toasty day on the boat. While we may not use them often, Phillip and I decided when you need them, you really need them, so we’re going to get a quote and consider having a full enclosure for our cockpit made so, on those occasional cold, wet days either on the hook or especially on passage, we can zip up our cockpit and stay toasty! We’ve already put in a request for a quote from our trusty local canvas guy, Tony with Coastal Canvas, for a complete enclosure (which we are sure will run us a couple thousand, if not more …. but it is what it is) as well as having him fix some of the snaps on our hatch covers that have ripped off.
Project No. 12: BOTTOM JOB!
And, of course, what do you always do when you haul out? That’s right, you got it! Unfortunately we had to scramble and pull of a bit of an emergency haul-out last October for Nate, we feel incredibly fortunate, however, that Nate was just a tropical storm. Do NOT ask me how I’m feeling about this coming season. Makes my stomach turn … But, it was a very good hurricane prep drill for us (thankfully just a drill) and also a chance to scrub the bottom, scrape off a few obstinate barnacles, and slap a few coats of bottom paint on for the cruising season, and we plan to do the same when we haul out this summer. A bottom job has to be my absolute favorite job on the boat, you? ; )
We may throw in a little buff job, too, while we’re there. She always looks so pretty when she’s all shined up!
Let’s see … what else. That’s quite a bit. You guys are going to have a mighty fine Schadenfreude feeling watching us work our tails off this summer making our beautiful boat even more comfortable and getting her ready for more cruising this coming season. While all plans are written in sand at low tide, the vague plan is to go back to the Bahamas and spend our time really enjoying the Exumas and then maybe heading south toward Grenada to keep the boat there next season. We will see. Either way, you know we’ll find a dozen other boat projects to add to the list once we get in there and that we will share with you and conquer.
It’s a boat, right?! Broke Or About To. But that’s why we love her!
“Never cross with a north wind!” Can you hear it? Pam Wall’s little energetic voice? She repeated this warning many times when we first saw, heard and met her at the Miami Boat Show back in February, 2015. I had no idea that amazing little enthusiastic woman would soon thereafter change my life.
Love that bubbly little lady!
After listening to her inspiring “Cruising the Abacos” seminar (and finding ourselves in dire hunger soon after for some “fresh baked Bahamian bread,” Pam always squeals when she says it) Phillip and I had originally decided back in 2015 that the first place we were going to cruise our boat to outside of the states would be the Bahamas. And that decision held firm for a long time until we heard Cuba had thankfully opened up for American cruisers. Heck yeah!
While the Bahamas were hard to pass up, we knew they would be there waiting for us the next season, and with the tumultuous state of American-Cuban relations, we weren’t sure Cuba would be. That was when we decided to set our sights first on Cuba, and it was a fantastic decision. Mine and Phillip’s cruise to Cuba in December, 2016 was a monumental, memorable voyage for us both. It was our longest offshore passage (five days) just the two of us and it was the first time we had sail our beautiful little boat from the shores of one country to another. What an incredible feeling! I still remember when we watched the sun come up over the horizon on the fifth morning.
“That’s a Havana sunrise right there,” Phillip said and he played “Havana Daydreaming” most of the morning as we made our way towards the inlet to Marina Hemingway, singing heartily along as his late Uncle Johnny would have, who had also wanted to sail to Cuba but he unfortunately was not able to do so before he passed away. I know Johnny was there with Phillip in spirit and I can still hear Phillip’s voice from that morning as he sat on the foredeck and sang. “Oh he’s just scheming … his life away.”
Thankfully, we’re not just scheming. We are going! Our voyage to Cuba was a phenomenal trip and only told Phillip and I that we are ready to travel further and longer, just the two of us, on our boat. So, in 2017 we decided we would set our sights on the Bahamas this season and enjoy the wonderful pristine patch of islands we have so close by. It’s amazing to think that jewel-toned paradise is really only a 12-hour sail from the states. How lucky we are! All we needed was just a sliver more luck to give us a nice “no north wind” window of favorable conditions to allow us to sail from the Keys and across the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas.
In the months before our departure date from Pensacola, Phillip and I (well, and I will admit Phillip far more than me) spent many hours studying the Explorer Charts for the Bahamas making decisions about where we planned to enter the Bahamas, where we wanted to check in and what islands (called “Cays” in the Bahamas, pronounced “keys”) we wanted to sail to and visit and in what order, although knowing every plan is and will always be weather-dependent. Having just recently completed my first Bahamas article for SAIL Magazine (thank you again, Peter Nielsen, for requesting more articles from me!) which will focus on preparing and packing for a trip to the Bahamas, Phillip and I both agree an intense study of the Explorer Charts and determinations as to where you want to go in the Bahamas and what route you want to take to explore them is a great first place to start when preparing to travel to the Bahamas. Much of what you will need aboard will depend on how you are planning to traverse the Bahamas and what you are planning to do there as supplies are readily available in some places, limited and altogether unavailable in others.
After talking with fellow sailors back home who had cruised the Bahamas many times and taking into consideration what time of year Phillip and I were going (during December-January, when we knew we could expect many sudden and intense north fronts, the “Christmas winds,” and some chilly water and weather), we decided to make our way as far north as possible first and check in at West End.
We would then start dotting our way along the Sea of Abaco seeking protection from the northerly islands as needed when storms and heavy north winds were expected. (And boy did they come. I recorded 36 kts of wind on the boat one afternoon in Green Turtle Cay. Just wait.)
With the plan to enter the Bahamas at West End, Phillip and I knew we wanted to “ride” the Gulf Stream as far as we could north before jumping out to make entry into West End. Initially, we weren’t sure we would get a window large enough to allow us to sail all the way from Key West to West End. If we did not, our plan was to dot along the Florida Keys to Marathon then perhaps Rodriguez Key while waiting for a good window to make the jump. But, when we saw a beautiful two-day window blooming on the horizon, we started to top off the provisions and ready the boat to make way. While we had a ton of fun in Key West (we always do!) meeting the new Geckos and getting to spend some time with them, seeing our old pals Brittany and Jeremiah and getting to watch their beautiful Alberg splash, as well as enjoying the many great restaurants and poolside views, we are always eager and excited to get back underway.
On Wednesday, December 20th, with expected 10-12 kt winds the first day (which would offer us a fun, comfortable sail around the Keys) and light, fluky winds of 5 kts or less the following day (which would allow us to at least motor safely across the Gulf Stream), Phillip and I decided to toss the lines and seize the window! You’ll see in the video, Annie de-docked like a boss (I tell you I’m getting much better at this), and we then had a fantastic cruise all the way from Key West to West End, just shy of a two-day run.
Man, that’s living …
So, is that. With all the work comes all the rewards.
There’s the entry to West End!
Don’t tell Pam this, but we totally broke the rule because you know what kind of winds we had throughout the entire Gulf Stream? That’s right. North! We crossed with a north wind, Pammy. I’m sorry! But, when it’s howling at 3 kts, a north wind isn’t really going to affect the boat that much, particularly when it had been blowing from the south for a short time before. Meaning, the sea state was just starting to turn around and we essentially crossed on a smooth, glassy lake. It was beautiful though. While I always prefer to have wind to sail, there is nothing that can replicate the beauty of a hull sliding through silk at sunrise. It’s just stunning.
I hope you all enjoy the video. I have had such a great time filming just for pleasure and putting these videos together for you all, just for pure fun. Not to make any money from them. Not in hopes they will get a lot of hits so I can get YouTube ad money. Just because our views were amazing, so I clicked the camera on occasionally, and because the videos are such a vivid personal scrapbook for us. I really will be excited to sit down when I’m 70 and watch my Atlantic-crossing movie. Can you imagine that? I wonder if YouTube will still be a “thing” then? Who knows. If any of you have read Dave Eggers’s The Circle (one Phillip and I both read in the Bahamas), apparently we all will soon be be filming and uploading every moment of our existence for all the world to see. Heck, with the immediacy of Instagram and Facebook these days, we’re almost there.
But you know where you can truly unplug and get away? Out there. On the big open blue. I can’t tell you how good it feels to be out there, nothing but satiny water all around you and nothing you have to do but eat, sleep, mend the boat and read. I could sail offshore forever, happily, I do believe. I hope you all love this bit. As always, I try to capture the beauty of the voyage, the work and maintenance it requires, and the reward of having your beautiful, strong boat carry you from the shores of one country to another. Next up, we’ll begin sharing the Bahamas with you, one Cay at a time. Be ready to pick your jaws up off the floor because it’s breathtaking. Stay tuned!
Since our Buffett debauchery started early, our night ended pretty early, too. After a few hours hooting and hollering and bopping flying beach balls at the Buffett concert, we were beat.
We crashed hard on the boat but woke well-rested and were glad we still had one more day on our Buffett voyage. It was Saturday, April 25, 2015. We had no real plans or agenda other than to make way west during the day over to Red Fish Point or Ft. McRae to spend the night on the hook before heading back to Pensacola on Sunday. Some coffee was lazily brewed and the docks were meandered before we decided to go ahead and get under way. We had no idea what was coming that day. As I said, no one did. But, by some stroke of luck we decided to toss the lines and head out just in time to tuck in safe for it.
Our de-docking was an unexpected adventure. Reminds me of Cap’n Ron when he barrelled in, skidded up to the dock and jumped off with a hearty “Hey, hey!” — except ours was unintentional. We were tucked in here at slip L175, with a strong (17 knot) west wind on our nose.
Our plan was to back out of the slip, ease the stern around to port, then head back out to the ICW. Simple, right? Sure, in theory–not in execution. We started backing out just fine, got all the lines untied and on the boat and were making our way out. I’m at the bow, ready to push off poles if need be and the bow (not the stern) starts turning strangely to port.
“Are you going to pull back in?” I holler to Phillip, a dock line in hand. He doesn’t answer me immediately. I know not to ask a million questions when he’s struggling with a situation like this, but I did feel the need to ask the one important one. “What’s the plan?” I can see him looking around, handling the wheel, fettering out what the wind is going to let the boat do. But, seconds are passing, he’s pretty much all the way out now, stern to the ICW facing the dead end wall with what does not appear to be enough room to turn around, especially with the west wind and a wall of big, expensive boats behind us.
“Nope,” he yells back after a few calculated seconds. “We’re just going to back out of here.”
Oh Lord. I stood at the bow, ready to push off of boats on our port side where the wind was blowing us, ready to throw a line if need be, ready to–I don’t know, really, do anything necessary I suppose. But, none of it was necessary. Once Phillip got some speed, he was able to handle the boat perfectly in reverse. You should have seen the folks at the dock watching us, slowly easing their coffee mugs down, cocking their heads to the side, eyeing us strangely.
You would have thought Jimmy Buffett himself was backing out of there with the looks we were getting. I’m sure it was a sight to see, us backing out like that. Once I could see Phillip had it all under control, I kind of posed up at the bow, like a hood ornament, waving and smiling. We were rock stars in reverse!
Phillip backed us up into the ICW, clocked the bow around and we set off. It was around 10:00 a.m. With the steady wind on our stern, we threw out the Jenny for a fantastic day of sailing. This little box-of-a-boat passed us along the way (headed to Pirate’s Cove I’m sure).
We sailed all the way down the ICW, through all the turns and dog legs and everything–never cranking the engine once. It was an awesome day on the water. The winds ranged between 14 and 19 knots, strong, but, on our stern, they were nice. We sailed right up to Red Fish Point and were picking out a spot to drop our hook around 3:00 p.m. Looking at the texture and chop on the water, though, Phillip was starting to question our decision to anchor there.
“We’re pretty exposed here,” he said, looking at the weather and radar on his phone. I had to agree with him, bouncing around up at the bow, ready to drop the hook but seeing exactly what he was talkinga about–textured water, white caps, etc. “I think we ought to pull into Ft. McRae tonight. Get a little more protection,” Phillip decided.
“Fine with me,” I hollered back and set my anchor gear down so we could make the 15 minute motor into Ft. McRae. Right about that time, Phillip started getting severe weather alerts on his phone. He certainly wasn’t questioning his decision to pull into Ft. McRae then. When we saw what was coming on the radar, we kinew we needed some shelter. We tucked in on the south side of Sand Island and dropped 100 feet of chain to be safe.
The scene in Ft. McRae was deceiving. There was a guy kite-boarding on the east side of Sand Island, several families set up near the fort with tents and tables and chairs and such. It was cheery. We saw a big foil kite launch over on the west side of Sand Island so I decided to go for a quick run on my paddleboard to check out our neighbors and the goings-on.
The guy with the foil kite was paragliding–jumping off the sandy dune cliff on the west side of the island and letting the steady west wind push him back into the soft sand. It looked like he was just getting the hang of it and had found a good safe place to practice. He was fun to watch. I found some buddies of ours who anchor out at Ft. McRae often and said a quick hello as I was paddling by. They were on a trawler and had a center console rafted up to it. An older couple sat leisurely on the cockpit of their Catamaran on the south side of us, sipping cocktails and watching the sun drop. The guy kite-boarding on the east side was zipping back and forth, making some nice runs with the west wind. It was a quick, 15 minute paddle, but you would never have guessed any severe weather was coming with the look of things in the anchorage.
Phillip and I agreed when I made it back to the boat that it was high time for a cocktail. I mean, we had just dropped the hook. It is protocol. But, before I even got the paddleboard strapped to the stern rail and got back into the boat, Phillip got another alert on his phone. Severe weather alert No. 2 went out, but this time they were reporting the potential for hale and winds of 70 mph.
It was a quick consensus that we had better drop some more chain before we made those drinks. I headed topside and we let out another 25 feet, so 125 feet total and snubbed her off with our Mantus like we always do. By then, the sky had darkened.
Ominous black clouds hung on the north horizon, and the wind, blowing around 18-20 knots by then, took on an eerie chill. Phillip and I could both sense it coming. I wish our barometer on the boat still worked. I would have liked to have seen what was registering.
We started bringing cushions down below, shutting hatches, readying the boat for a storm. Our actions were precise and swift, our nerves pricked with energy. When we heard more chain rattle out of our buddy’s trawler up ahead, a sense of community urgency started to register. People on the beach quickly hustled kids and buckets and toys back to their boats as the wind continued to build. Center consoles and smaller motor boats started zipping by, parents huddling children and holding onto dogs for what was sure to be a bumpy ride home. We saw a sailboat barreling in the inlet to Ft. McRae and watched as they hauled up next to us, kicked the stern around and started dropping anchor the second after their bow fell behind us. I was worried–okay irritated at first–knowing we had some crazy wind coming and now we had a boat not 30 feet away to worry about. But, you could tell by their movements that they were sharp sailors, doing exactly what needed to be done to protect themselves and their vessel in the coming storm.
Phillip and I stood in the cockpit, donning our foul weather gear over our swimsuits, cocktails filling the last thought on our minds and watched as the rains began to engulf the boats ahead of us to the west. Then the wind came–30 knots, 35, 40, 42.
“HOLD!” Phillip shouted into the wind, his thunderous voice about as useful as a spit into the ocean. But, it was all we could do. The only thing that was going to save our boat was that anchor holding. I have never felt such power on the boat from wind alone. We were heeled on anchor. Our boat was swinging so violently to the north and south on its pivot point that it registered a hull speed of 1.2, again while on anchor. The wind didn’t blow, it howled, over the mast, the dodger, every shroud, before it shrieked past us in the cockpit. I wish I had videoed it. I really do. But, documenting is really the last thing on your mind when the only thing saving your boat from popping loose, smashing into the boat behind you and dragging both vessels to shore in a sickening cacophony of banging aluminum and crunching fiberglass is one little anchor in the mud and some chain.
“HOLD!” I hollered it with him. It seemed to help because she did. Thank the stars in heaven she did, even with the bow dipped down so far water cascaded up over the pulpit and the toe rails. It was a strange sight to see all of us cowered in our cockpits or looking out port lights just watching one another. I imagine it’s the same look of helpless terror you would share with someone on an elevator that’s dropping uncontrollably. Phillip and I watched with bitten lips as the head sail on that Catamaran south of us started to flip and flail and wiggle its way out. As soon as it started, it wasn’t ten seconds before it unfurled halfway out and ripped to shreds. The couple emerged and put on a frantic show, the man up at the forestay trying to wrestle the sail in 35 knots of wind, the woman back in the cockpit trying to sheet it in. I had just paddled by them not 20 minutes earlier and admired their serenity, sipping cocktails in the cockpit waiting for the sun to set. No one knew the fury that was about to be unleashed.
Tents ripped up and rolled along the beach. Little buckets and toys and cans raced and tumbled along the sand. We could see the hands and faces of the guys on the sailboat that had scooted in last minute pressed up against the port lights, looking out. The captain would pop his head up every once in a while quickly out of the companionway to look around as his boat whipped around as violently as ours. Then the paddle board zipped across our view. Stupidly, we had left it hooked by its springy leash to the stern rail and it was now airborne, 10 feet behind the boat, hovering and spinning like a pinwheel on a windy day. Like I said, I wish I had videoed it, particularly because I had my phone right there with me. I kept refreshing the radar to see the blob of shit that was upon us. It was huge but thankfully moving fast, up and to the north. I had at least thought to take a picture of the radar:
We were just on a little sliver of green on the south side of the storm and we were getting 40 knots? I can’t imagine what it felt like for the folks in Mobile Bay at the Dauphin Island regatta. Truth be told, I don’t think I ever want to. One of the last gusts on the boat registered at 44 knots. That’s approximately 55 mph. Ass-puckering is what that is. It’s the most wind I have ever felt on our boat and the most I ever want to feel. The anchor wailed and groaned and the bow dipped, but she held. Thank God she held. And, thankfully, the storm passed through quickly. It was about 10 minutes of terror and then it was gone. I finally thought, after the worst of it had passed to get a little footage and video, but it in no way does it justice.
The guys in the sailboat next to us starting easing out, blinking and looking around, taking it all in. They quickly determined the coast was clear and started working, just as efficiently as they had to drop the anchor, to raise it and get the heck out of there. The captain gave us a knowing nod of his head as he passed by. We had survived it. We had no idea at the time what went down in Mobile Bay and the people that were fighting and flailing in the water at that very moment. We just knew we had 30 more knots of wind on the boat than we wanted but we had survived it. Phillip and I slowly started bringing up cushions, opening hatches, getting things back to normal. Phillip checked the anchor line and snubber to make sure we hadn’t suffered any damage at the bow.
Afterward, we started joking around about that cocktail: “Okay, now, it is definitely time for that drink!”
And, as it always seems, nature likes to remind you sometimes, what had just 30 minutes prior been a treacherous scene–thick black clouds, sheets of rain, driving wind–cleared to reveal one of the most beautiful and serene sunsets we have ever seen in Ft. McRae. Aside from the littered beach and the shredded foresail on the Cat next to us, it was like it had never happened.
We fired up the grill, cooked some chicken and kind of sat wondering if it had in fact happened.
I know what we experienced was pretty insignificant compared to the mariners who were sailing, full canvas up, in Mobile Bay in the Dauphin Island regatta when that wicked storm hit. They reported winds of 73 knots, numerous passengers overboard, many boats capsized, damaged or lost. Here is some footage if you haven’t yet seen it:
I believe it’s been reported as the most deadly regatta race tragedy to occur in the states. Looking back on it, I can’t believe the day started so amiably–Phillip and I just sipping coffee, meandering the docks, lazily tossing the lines and making our way down the ICW. The fact that we made it safely into Ft. McRae before the bottom fell out was pure luck–not an ounce of sail savvy involved. The decision not to anchor at Red Fish Point, though, I will say was all Phillip. He’s good about checking the weather before we drop the hook, trying to see what winds are predicted and whether we are in a sufficiently protected area to weather them. (I’m usually planning my post-drop cocktail … )
I am also glad we decided to throw out another 25 feet of chain for a total of 125 feet of rode out. That is more than we would usually need in Ft. McRae but I’m certain it played a factor in our anchor’s ability to, as Phillip said, “HOLD!” We also had the anchor snubbed up, which we always do with a Mantus hook and rope cleated at the bow. That much weight and pull would not have been good for the winlass I’m sure.
Now, leaving the paddle board attached to the stern rail was just dumb. That thing could have easily ripped off and been halfway across the bay in 10 minutes. That’s an expensive toy to lose to a stupid mistake. But, it would have been a small price to pay for the storm we were able to weather. I hated to see the couple on the Catamaran lose their head sail. I don’t know if there is anything different they could have done. Sometimes these things just happen. They can’t be stopped. But, it did make us think we could have easily put some extra bungees around our head sail because you just never know. Looking back, we also probably should have put on our PFDs and grapped the EPIRB just in case. You might think that would be a bit much in the protected cove of Ft. McRae, but, with those winds, you could get sucked out and blown across the Bay pretty easily. It’s easy to panic in times like that and waste precious energy trying to swim against the conditions. We heard many of the folks who went overboard in the Dauphin Island regatta weren’t wearing life vests. Also, several who were rescued from the water were found only because they had cell phones or hand-held GPS devices on them that they used to help direct the rescue boats to their location.
In all, we took away several important lessons from the storm. However, while I hate to say it, it’s just true–for the most part, it was pure luck and that’s just a big part of it. We had several friends who we discovered later had been racing in the Dauphin Island Regatta when the storm hit and, though shaken, reminded and humbled at the power and magnitude of the weather, they all agreed–they were just plain lucky to be alive. But, take it as it comes. If you’re going to get out there and sail, you’re going to run into storms and, while you can be smart and cautious, often the determining factor of whether or not you survive them unscathed is just plain luck.
Thanks as always, to the many patrons who help make these posts just a little more possible through PATREON.
Last year, we spent the Captain’s birthday pillaging the shops of Duval Street, searching for “zee best key lime pie on zee island!” We were smack-dab, mid-way through our 2014 trip to the Florida Keys and celebrating both the journey and Phillip’s momentous event on the colorful streets of Key West.
This year, when we learned Buffett was putting on a concert in Orange Beach, fortuitously on the very day of our dear Captain’s birth (April 24, 2015), we knew exactly how we would be spending it — on a Bon Buffett Voyage baby!
Oh yeah. Our sentiments as well Mr. Buffett.
As soon as the tickets went up for sale, we had three laptops open refreshing, clicking and ready to buy. Thankfully, we were able to snag two tickets without much trouble in this general vicinity:
(Yes, I do wear my hair in a high pony with a blue bow … sometimes.)
We planned to head out a couple of days before the 24th and stop at some of our favorite local anchorages along the way — Red Fish Point right outside of Ft. McRae, where we drop the hook often, and Ingram’s Bayou, where we holed up last winter during our Thanksgiving Voyage — before we made our way over to The Wharf for the Buffett concert.
Very un-fortuitously, though, when we called The Wharf on the day we bought the tickets to reserve a slip the night of the concert, the lady on the phone just laughed at me, actually, it was more of a guffaw. “You’re funny,” she said. Apparently, the day the concert was simply announced, their slips filled up and a waiting list was started for us Johnny Come-Latelies. But, we signed up, figuring we had nothing to lose. As Number 93 on the Wharf Waiting List, though, it didn’t look like we had much to gain, either. So, we made a back-up reservation at the Homeport Marina with a plan to either dinghy to the concert (which would be quite a dinghy haul) or just cab it. That would also let us check out Jimmy’s sister, Lucy Buffett’s, place, Lulu’s at Homeport Marina. Either way, we were sailing our boat west for the Captain’s b’day, and we were going to that concert. “You’re Funny” Fran wasn’t going to stop us!
We also planned to finally install and sport our shiny new shifter arms for the trip! We’ve had these flaking-away old rubber-coated ones for a while,
And, it just so happened, the shiny new engraved set Phillip had ordered arrived in the mail day before we were set to head off on our voyage!
We couldn’t wait. We slapped those puppies on while we were provisioning and readying the boat for shove-off the next morning. They slipped right on perfectly and sure spruced up the helm. We were pimping now!
Unfortunately, we weren’t pimping for very long. The next morning we shoved off from the dock, smooth as silk, the Captain executing a perfect exit, but when the bow swung out and he tried to go forward, there was nothing perfect about it. I was tying up the docklines at the bow, but I could tell something was definitely wrong when the boat started to loop around to do another circle. I looked back at Phillip, and saw he was shifting and fidgeting with the new shifter arm for the transmission.
“I can’t … it’s … it won’t engage!” he shouted as I scrambled back to the cockpit. The problem was clear. Because of the unique location of the poles on our helm, we couldn’t push the shifter arm forward enough to actually engage the transmission into forward.
I won’t share the expletives we did in that moment. We tried to take the shifter arm off quickly, hoping we could adjust it but there was no adjusting to be done. It fit in only one position only–the no-forward-for-you position. There we were, out there, moving, with only neutral and reverse as options. Thankfully, the wind was on our side and she was pushing the boat forward enough to allow Phillip to steer and slow us down as needed with reverse. And, thankfully again (trust me, I realize how incredibly lucky we were that this worked out the way that it did), there was an open dock available just up the way. Phillip said he could pull up next to it so we could dock and he could run back up to our apartment to grab the old shifter arms which he had also thankfully (yes, a third) saved in case we needed them as spares.
I ran back up to the bow as we trudged forward with only neutral and reverse and re-tied the bow lines so we could use them to re-dock. And, I know I’ve said it a hundred times, but docking is just not my favorite thing, particularly when it’s somewhere we’ve never docked before and the winds are pushing us unfavorably (not to mention when we’re in a bit of a panic because our freaking shifter arm won’t work and we, you know, can’t go forward). I know the Captain is doing a lot (okay, pretty much everything) back there at the helm, but I can’t help but feel like a lone soldier up there on the deck, lines in hand, jumping off, scrambling to a cleat, strategically tying at just the right length and in just the right order, making sure our 15,000 pound boat neither touches the dock where there is no fender nor blows off out of line-tossing distance. It’s just stressful, that’s all I can say. My heart beats a thousand times a minute and I jump around like leprechaun on LSD. Thankfully, though (for the fourth and final time) we were able to ease up to the dock and secure her safely while we swapped the shifter arms out. Now — lesson of this little story? Always jump around like a lit-up leprechaun when docking? No (but good guess). To the extent possible, always check newly-installed equipment to make sure it does what it’s supposed to do before you leave the dock. You probably already knew that, but I’m happy to share our minor follies in case it helps some other poor sailor out there one day.
So, with our old very un-pimp shifter arms back in place and our first heart-pumping adventure of the trip under our belts (although it would be nowhere close to the last), we finally headed out into the bay to begin our Bon Buffett Voyage. It was a pretty sporty sail that day, but our boat romped and played in the waves like it was just good elementary school fun. “Tag, you’re it!” she’ll shout at the waves and romp away. She loves the salty spray!
Now, this might have been with a little help from the tide going out, but I don’t care. At one point, we were making 8.3!!
We made it to Red Fish Point in record time and prepared to drop the hook.
Those gloves help me grip both the anchor chain AND my rum drink! Both equally important.
The sun started to dip down just as we got her nice and secure for our first night of the voyage.
We cheers-ed to the first night of the voyage and let some soft Buffett play in the background while we kept a look-out for a green flash on the horizon.
Thanks as always, to the many patrons who help make these posts just a little more possible through PATREON.
Okay, so it was $3.76 after tax, but the part–the one itsy bitsy, tiny little part that made our whole engine run–was three dollars and forty-nine cents.
How long did it take us to figure that out? I’d like to say it was only three hours and forty-nine minutes. That would have been great, but it wasn’t. It took weeks ….
If you recall, we were having occasional trouble getting our engine to crank after we installed and began using the new flexible solar panels on the bimini.
Our “boat buddy focus group” surmised that perhaps the solar input from the panels was confusing the alternator and causing it not to re-charge the starting battery while we were motoring. For this reason, we installed two handy on/off switches in the aft berth locker to turn the panels off while we were motoring in (HIGH!) hopes it would prevent the alleged “alternator confusion.”
Apparently, though, our alternator isn’t the brightest part on the boat. Sometimes it was confused; sometimes it was not. The frustrating part was that the problem was intermittent. Sometimes the engine would crank fine, other times it would not–inexplicably. Like when you take your car to the shop so the mechanic can hear that ominous “clunking” sound and it won’t make it. Bullocks!
The next time we took the boat out (after the on/off switches were installed and after we had turned them “off” while we were motored), and the engine again would not crank to bring us home, the Captain decided he’d had enough. “We’re going to fix it today,” he said bright and early one Saturday morning, and I knew he wouldn’t stop until we had. We donned some cloaks and pipes and decided to really roll up our sleeves to solve this mystery.
What’s the best way to start troubleshooting?
Start taking crap apart!
We traced every wire from the:
1. Engine to the alternator,
2. The alternator to the combiner (the device that decides which batteries (the house bank or the starting battery) need and get a charge from the engine),
3. The combiner to the starting battery,
4. The starting battery to the battery switch plate (where we turn on the batteries we want to use — house, starting or both combined, which is what we had been required to do when the starting battery alone wouldn’t allow us to crank),
5. The switch plate to the starter.
Everything seemed to look good. None of the wires were corroded, split or compromised and the connections looked solid. We couldn’t understand why our seemingly “good” starting battery was not starting the engine. If it was the battery, that was going to be a couple hundred bucks to replace, which was a better prospect than the alternator. So, we decided to have the battery checked yet again. We disconnected it and hauled it to three different battery-check places (Auto Zone and the like), where every time a highly-qualified battery specialist would come out and hook his or her little gismo machine up to our battery to run the necessary gismo calculations.
I felt like I was watching Al from Quantum Leap bang around on his Ziggy handheld. Beep, bo-dum, boomp.
Each time, though (and three times total), the little Ziggy gismos came back showing our starting battery was good.
And, I’m not sure what “EXP DECISION” means exactly other than “Expert Decision.” I guess if they’re the alleged “experts,” (particularly when the consensus was the same among all of them), there’s really no reason to question it.
So, we hauled our alleged “good” battery back to the boat still stumped by our crank problem. We decided to replace the ring connectors on each end of the positive and negative wires to the battery just for good measure, and that’s when we discovered it.
When Phillip was putting the post terminal connector back on the negative post he noticed it was loose. No matter how hard he tried to tighten down on the nut, the connector couldn’t seem to achieve stable contact with the post.
Apparently, it had been so worn from age, jostling and electric current that the center of the ring had been (for lack of a better word) eroded out so that no matter how tight we cranked the nut down on the bolt, you still couldn’t get a good, solid connection, particularly when it was lowered onto the post one way as opposed to flipped over and put on the other way. By some stroke of luck, Phillip had put it back on the “other way” this time, which revealed the loose connection. That’s when we had our Aha! moment. We dropped everything and headed back to Auto Zone.
“One post terminal connection, please.”
Three dollars and forty-nine cents later, we were mounting a snug new connector on the negative post certain this was going to be the easiest and cheapest fix we could have imagined.
And, what happened next?
Mmmhhh-hmmm. A mighty fine crank indeed! We could tell instantly from the solid *CLICK* of the glow plugs that our starting battery was finally cranking out some solid juice. Our engine roared to life!
Now, why share this? A simple post terminal connector replacement? (Something we likely should have found pretty quickly.) Because sometimes you just can’t see the simple fix initially. With the new solar panels and the MPPT charge controllers, the new on/off switches and suspected alternator confusion, we were thinking the problem had to be more complicated. But, lesson learned. Most of the systems on the boat really are simple when you break them down and dissect them. You just have to remember to “think simply” when troubleshooting. I’ll never forget when we were trying to tell this ten-minute story to our buddy, Bottom-Job Brandon, and not three sentences in, he says:
“D’you check your post connectors?”
Sharp guy, that Brandon (but a total story killer!). Good thing I have a captive audience here! Ha!
In all, we were pleased with the simple $3.49 fix (not counting our “labor” which I felt we earned the “loss” on for having overlooked something so basic — a boat will humble you real quick). And, with the problem solved, the afternoon remaining and the wind picking up, we decided it was high time for a reward. A last-minute run to the beach that day offered up one of our best impromptu kite sessions of the year against one of the most exquisite sunsets I have ever seen.
That’s the thing about sailing, though, living near the water, which can be deadly one minute and overwhelmingly serene the next, and owning a boat. You can start the day out cramped, coated in gunk and sweat and cursing everything about your bleeping boat, but once the project is complete, the accomplishment of it serves as your unparalleled reward and wipes away all of your previous frustration. Suddenly the job is done and the day is still young. Suddenly, nothing can bother you. Life is still, and always will be, good.
Many thanks to the patrons who help make these posts just a little more possible through PATREON.