Thursday 29 August 2013

Sailboat 'At Sea' Problem Events and Solutions

Reflecting on my last post 'Sailboat Cruising in High Latitudes in the Baltic, and Russian Coast' and the timely discovery of the loose nuts on the transmission coupler saver of s/v Bear, reminded me of a couple of similar incidents that occurred and could prove disastrous at sea. Because Mark Clarke is meticulous in what he does and carries out regular engine checks he discovered the problem and was able to fix it before it uncoupled and became a REAL problem.
Coupler saver on s/v Bear
Here is another case, this time involving a stripped gearbox nut whilst on passage from Panama to The Galapagos. Alan and Patricia Lucas had recently transited the Panama Canal in their 47ft cutter 'Tientos' and were anchoring off a small island not far from Balboa in Panama Bay. Here is their story:

Clearing the final lock, Panama City was bypassed in favour of Taboga Island, a two-hour sail away to anchor for the night and tidy the ship ready for the Galapagos leg of the Pacific Ocean crossing.

On going astern to dig the anchor in there was a heart rending CLUNK! after which the engine revved mercilessly with no semblance of sternway as the prop shaft flew back and jammed the rudder. Obviously, the gearbox-coupling nut had sheared, payback, no doubt, for its abuse in the lock. It was an unhappy situation with Australia 8,000 miles away.

After checking for external damage, my most urgent task was to pull the shaft back to the gearbox to free the rudder then prevent it from running back again under sail.With no semblance of thread left on the nut, this involved wrapping fencing wire around the back of the shaft coupling from where numerous strands were secured to the engine block and twisted up tight Spanish Windlass-style.

Gearbox coupler nut and shaft - a nylon coupler saver would normally be inserted between the two 
The spline being intact, rotational integrity between gearbox and shaft remained useful for forward gear, but only if the fencing wire could be released at the precise moment of engagement. One slip and the shaft would run back and jam the rudder again, denying both forward power and steerageway again. Under the circumstances we chose to remain engineless until reaching Australia.I confess to unkind thoughts about our Panamanian Pilot, but at least the engine was available for battery charging and, despite our sails feeling their age, they were more than adequate for the job. However, manoeuvring in various congested ports along the way had lost its appeal deciding us to stop only at Galapagos, Marquesas and Western Samoa, a regrettable but entirely acceptable compensatory package.

With months at sea to reflect on how tiny and inexpensive is the Achilles Heel of motor-sailing, I cursed myself for not having a spare nut aboard despite swearing blind that I bought one a few years back in Darwin. And knowing from years of experience that the best way to find a missing object is to buy or make a new one, I wasted a lot of time raking through my bulging bits-box seeking creative alternatives, the results being outstandingly negative.

Immediately after clearing into Maryborough, Queensland, I bought a new nut for around two dollars from a local engineering shop and reconnected the shaft to the engine in a mater of minutes.I also bought a spare nut that I wired to the engine block, a departure from my normal parts stowage procedure that ran the risk of ‘the bleeding obvious syndrome’ where you tear your boat apart before remembering where you put it!

Article reproduced courtesy Alan Lucas and Afloat magazine
Another situation during my own voyage was on passage between the Galapagos islands and the Marquesas when we were sailing in loose company with a well known brand production sailboat. One day around half way through the twenty day passage, their skipper discovered that his helm was a little sloppy. On inspection he discovered that the rudder stock that passes through a fibreglass cone that was affixed (glassed) to the inner side of the hull was gradually working its way loose. 

With all the downwind sailing, the pressures on the rudder being enormous, the glass cone had begun to delaminate itself at the base from the inside of the hull. If this was left unchecked the cone could eventually totally detach itself from the glass of the hull! This could mean that the rudder stock could possibly drop out of the bottom of the boat, but furthermore and much worse, leave a gaping hole in the hull into which the Pacific Ocean would gaily ingress itself with catastrophic results.
Fibreglass fabric construction

A temporary fix of many layers of glass fibre fabric and resin were slapped on all around the base of the cone. With a day hove to to have it cure, they were then able to carry on sailing, albeit under reduced sail and speed so as to reduce the pressures on the rudder. This fix lasted all the way to Raiatea Island in French Polynesia where a permanent fix with instructions from the European boat builder was effected.

These events ram home the fact that no matter how well you think you are prepared at sea, you may be sure there will always be something crop up that will need your ingenuity to solve, so you can continue sailing and make your next land fall. This is part of the challenge of cruising.

Gearbox Nut article courtesy Alan Lucas and Afloat Magazine

You can read much more about events on passage in my ebook 'Sailing Adventures in Paradise' downloadable from my website 


Friday 23 August 2013

Sailboat Cruising in High Latitudes in the Baltic, and Russian Coast

One of our members, the Wirta-Clarke family made up of Mark and Yvette and their two girls Maya and Jenefer are sailing their steel ketch s/v Bear in stages around the world. This summer they have been sailing and exploring ports in the Baltic sea from Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia - throw in Estonia as well.
s/v Bear at anchor, Scotland 
What an adventure they are having and what an education for children (adults as well)! You can imagine how well rounded the two girls are going to be when they are older and venture out into the world on their own account.

You can catch up with their sailing adventures on their website:
Yvette, Mark, Jenefer and Maya

and blog:

They have said their goodbyes to Russia and currently back in Sweden and enjoying the latter part of summer before heading back for winter storage.

On extended cruising such as this many problems arise in the maintenance of the boat and even though 'Bear' is a very strongly constructed and well found vessel, a lot of time is spent on keeping on top of the maintenance to ensure all parts are in 'best practice' condition for safe, happy and care free sailing.

Here is an extract from one of Mark's emails concerning the engine drive shaft coupler 'saver' he discovered about to blow:

'We have arrived at the Krestovski Yacht Club 59°57'59"N 30°14'48"E on Krestovski Island, St. Petersburg after the 200 mile from Tallinn, Estonia. We really did like Tallinn, it's a mix of the old Town from the new. We docked in the busy port 1000 yards from the cruise ships. The ships look so big from the water, we could not find the marina located just inland and behind the ships. There is good reasonable provisioning within a short walk of the Old Town marina. We had an excellent walking tour the day after we arrived. These poor  people only gained there country from Russia between World War One and Two, then the Russians took them over again after the The Germans occupied during the war.  We saw the old KGB headquarters, maritime museum. We found the Estonians to have a lot of resolve. 

I started  doing my engine room check before leaving and found a large 5/8" bolt in the bilge - not good! The engine coupler to the transmission was missing the bolt. The other three were very loose. What a lucky find! I think after all the lock dockings in the Gota Canal in Sweden they became loose. We pulled the transmission in Florida before leaving and I did not re torque them. Luckily, they were  able to be tightened.

Transmission coupler saver re-bolted. Note the LED strip lighting fitted
We left Estonia around 10 a.m. it was flat calm as the forecast predicted. We found a rocky shallow area to anchor around 11 p.m., off the coast of Finland but as the anchor went down, the wind came up to 18 knots, and got really rough, we pulled anchor at 1am and travelled the last 40 miles slowly as to arrive up the narrow channel in daylight to the border control of Russia on Haapasari Island Finland and arrived at about 0800. it is a small island off the Finnish coast about 6 miles total land. We were Able to check in at Russian Passport  Control outpost and then stay at the dock until 4 p.m. for some  sleep, but we paid the price with big black tire marks on the hull left from the black tire fenders of the dock.  We left for the last 100 miles to St. Petersburg.'

Now Mark, apart from being a great family man, is also a first class sailor, marine surveyor by profession and with a big heart from which he willingly passes on any information, technical or otherwise that can be of assistance to the recipient sailor. He is also pretty creative when it comes to solving problems around the boat and here are a couple more things Mark has found work well on his ship, Bear:

He has installed  raw water alarm to monitor raw water flow in the heat exchanger of his motor. This is a good peace of mind kit, especially if you are motoring over longer periods, say in a calm or you need some extra power to punch into rough weather. 

Raw water alarm by Borel

These alarms will monitor your raw water flow and let you know if the flow is less than sufficient at which point your engine can begin overheating very rapidly. You can check out the Borel site for further information and prices of these units.

Here's what Mark has to say and how he has it installed on his boat: 'The Borel engine exhaust temperature sensor. This inexpensive (under $100.00) US sensors strap onto the exhaust hose with simple plastic hose ties. You power with 12VDC and set the alarm in the cockpit or in our case next to the companionway. When the exhaust reaches 220 Degree, the alarm sounds. This is how the larger yacht engines are monitored. The exhaust gets hot when cooling water flow is not sufficient.  The sensor picks this up and sounds the alarm. The engine water temperature gauges only alerts you once the engine is entirely hot, by which time internal damage could have already been done, or the cooling hoses have been overheated and become soft'.

No electric winches on your boat? Here is another very simple but huge labour saving device if you don't. The mast on Bear is sixty feet plus and that is a lot of winching past the point where the mainsail can be be lifted manually! Mark's solution is to use a Milwaukee vertical 1/2 battery power drill with winch bit to assist in raising the mainsail. As he points out it won’t lift the sail all the way, but does a pretty good job on the first 7/8ths of the raise. So winching the final 1/8th with fresh muscles is not so hard!
Milwaukee drill set with winch bit
Mark has a few more innovations, problem solvers and fixes up his sleeve and these will appear in our subsequent posts.

We salute their ingenuity and wish the whole family to continue their happy and successful sailing adventure.

You can read much more about cruising the globe in my ebook 'Sailing Adventures in Paradise' by downloading it from my website