So, as December 22nd dawned, (end of Day 13 and beginning of Day 14), the little problems that had popped up were solved quickly.
Though during the night, my last second and last preventer stick broke. It wasn’t critical, I had not used it since it was made three years ago, but still, this morning I wanted to find a real solution.
The winds had been very strong since daybreak, in the low 20’s, gusting to 35 knots.
I decided to stop the boat, just put her in idle and adjust the paravanes somehow. It nice to know that the boat will bob more than roll when stopped. While not underway, Dauntless rolls at about half the rate of our underway roll. So, we’d been rolling 10 to 20 degrees, pretty consistently, now we settle in the trough of the waves, but bob as much as roll.
Now, months later, my brain refuses to remember why I actually stopped the boat. It must have gotten superseded by the traumatic events that followed.
Autopilot disengaged, Idle, then neutral, the boat will coast to a “stop” in about three minutes. Winds and current are still pushing the boat, in this case about 1.5 knots.
Then before I did whatever I had intended to do, I decided to turn the rudder to see if it made any difference in the boat motion. Not a stupid plan; yet.
The rudder was already hard over to port. And then in an act of gross stupidity, I turned the wheel more to port. Why? Why? Why?
I knew the rudder was at or close to the stops. The steering system had had some air in the system for a long time. No matter what I did, I could not get it all out. So, I thought a little more turn couldn’t hurt.
Oh, my God, it could hurt. After turning the wheel about a quarter, I felt it go slack in my hand.
I knew exactly what happened and turned to Micah to say, “We’re fucked now”.
I knew because I’ve had this sickening sense before: pushing on brake pedal that goes all the way to the floor or turning a steering wheel and nothing happens. When a hydraulic system goes slack: clutch, brakes, steering. It means the hydraulic system has no more pressure, A hose, fitting or part has given way.
He knew from my tone that I was serious, very serious. I was so angry at myself. Had Micah done something like this, it’s an accident. For me, I knew better than anyone the consequences of over-pressurizing a system.
The Kadey Krogen has does have an emergency tiller that connects through a purposeful hole in the hatch. But I hate even manually steering the boat in a sea. To stand, sit in the stern deck and hand steer for 7 days like were some god-forsaken sailboat, fuhgeddaboudit.
But I also immediately realized I couldn’t afford the Pity Party. I also could let Micah start thinking of the consequences. Now was the time for solutions and solutions only.
When the Going Gets Tough; the Tough Get Going.
We had 200+ feet of hydraulic lines and the failure could be any place. gain, trying to control the sickening feeling in my stomach, If I’ve learned anything on this boat, it’s to always look for the easiest solution first.
So, we’d start at the rudder piston in the lazzerrette. Open the hatch, and at this point, a wonderful sight (on a boat everything is relative), hydraulic fluid oozing from a hole in the hose just above the fitting. This hose, one of two, for the rudder piston.
First thought, let’s try easy, easy solution, rubber tape, with hose clamps around it.
It worked. We got our filing funnel for the upper helm station, from which the entire system is filled with AFT, Automatic Transmission Fluid, which conveniently, both the hydraulic steering and the Borg-Warner manual transmission use for lubrication and pressure.
The system took about 2 liters of fluid. But I only had a total of 4 liters. I’m starting to think of chickens coming home to roost.
We get underway just under an hour later at 10:28. Everything is working reasonably well. You can see from the Maretron data how the boat roll is about half, while the pitch increases when dead in the water.
Coastal Explorer, our main navigation program, running on a dedicated solid state 12-volt boat computer had been acting up. For a few days, it had not been displaying AIS information, no matter what little tricks I had used in the past to “wake it up”.
Now, I knew I was still sending, which is actually far more important, as since I have had transmit capability large ships always stay away. Having seen only one ship in 13 days, the display wasn’t critical, but I wanted it working. I like everything working.
So, as a last resort, I decided to reboot everything. Everything off and on again, in order, about a 4-minute process. The log shows at 12:15 all was well.
We had been checking our repaired hose every hour, as well as topping up the fluid as needed. In the last two hours, we had put another liter into the system. The hose was leaking enough, probably a few liters every 12 to 24 hours.
Now this would have been no problem in coastal cruising. We would have just topped it off until port. I didn’t have that option. So about 7 hours after the first fix, I knew I had to find the real fix.
Two Issues I had to solve: Hose & Fluid.
- For the hose, I knew I had a number of spare hydraulic hoses in two different places in the engine room. One set stored with all the extra hoses and tubing, the other set stored in the long-term spares containers on either side of the generator.
- The fluid was a bigger challenge. I used the Delorme InReach to text my contact Roger, who got in touch with Ski in NC. Ski, a long-time diesel expert, had been really helpful in the past, so I needed to figure out what I could use as substitute ATF.
The answer turned out to be simple and vexing, 4 parts diesel fuel to 1 part engine oil. Yes, the engine oil of which there was not extra. The engine needed every bit of oil. Dauntless was now full of chickens. They had all come home to roost.
OK, first I had to clear out all those chickens. They were all over the place. Before we did anything, I found the spare hose with the correct fitting in seconds. So far so good. I then stopped the boat again and also the engine, as I wanted to check the oil level to make sure of my calculations (on a passage like this, I just fill the engine at its usual use rate, without turning it off).
Oil level was just were I expected, so I decided I could spare one liter of oil. Worse case, we would arrive in Martinique one liter low, but that’s not a big deal for a day.
I got my tools and wrenches. Getting the old fitting off the three-way control valve ended up taking me 15 minutes. I even heated it up with my kitchen torch, but I was very careful not to make my hose problem into something far bigger and unfixable.
Finally, it came out. I put pike gunk on all the new fittings, makes for a better seal and I don’t want any more leaks.
In the video Micah took, you see one time water came across the deck. That’s water that enters thru the scuppers, usually on rolls of more than 15 to 20 degrees. As I said, dead in the water, we bob more than roll, so I was only inundated with water twice in this operation which took about 40 minutes. I wanted Micah to get more pictures of the outside scene not just the top of my head, but he was nervous and I think he felt better not looking out much.
Me on the other hand, I may not look it, but I was pretty ecstatic. I’d fucked up and was able to fix it. We now had 5 liters of substitute ATF which would be more than enough.
The finished product
At 18:00 we were underway again. Immediately, it was apparent that I had way too much air in the system. The Auto-Pilot was acting errantly. It would work for a few minutes, but once the rudder got far enough over, there was not enough pressure to get it back. We would have to turn off the autopilot, then turn the wheel lock to lock three times until pressure built up in the system, check and top up the fluid at the upper helm station and reengaged the autopilot. This went on for a couple hours until I realized I needed to go to sleep to get ready for my 04:00 watch and the boat almost needed hand steering at this point.
That would not do. I did not do all this to have to hand steer for 7 days.