Crisis in the Mid-Atlantic – How Can So Few Chickens Make So Much Noise

A long day is ending, but crossing an ocean, there is no rest for the weary. This video shows the view from the fly bridge looking aft as we were topping up the hydraulic fluid after my first temporary repair.

Of course, I had been looking at the manual for the helm and Auto-Pilot.  They being connected, the Auto-Pilot has an Octopus pump which takes its direction from the ComNav AP computer. This pump then controls the rudder piston. Now that the broken hose was replaced, we had too much air in the system.

And believe it or not, the manual for the system says to just keep topping up the fluid at the upper helm station and in a few weeks, all the air would be worked out of the system.

Maybe a few weeks if we were on Jupiter, but in a few weeks of Earth time.

A Beautiful Sunset

So, two hours after getting the big repair done and getting underway again. I had cleaned up, showered and even took a nap because I was hit by a bad bout of seasickness or what until this time I had attributed to be seasick.

But now, we found the Auto-Pilot was hardly working.  It would hold a heading for a few minutes, but at a certain rudder angle, it would try to move the rudder, the air in the system was not allowing it to work properly.  At which point, it would decide to do a Walk-About.

Yes, I can speak Australian.  I saw Crocodile Dundee.

The problem with a Walk-About in 10 to 20 foot seas is the KK designed to go with the seas. So, lying dead in the water, we bob like a cork.  But underway, we do not fight the waves we go with them and underway, while turning beam to the seas, the first few rolls will be dillies, until the paravanes are totally effective again.

So, every few minutes, our heading would drift off and before you can say, here we go again, we would have a 20-degree roll. And the subsequent roll would almost always be greater unless immediate action is taken.

This at 20:00 the prospect of having to hand steer was a nonstarter, therefore, drastic action was needed.

So, I found myself once again in the hot, 100-degree engine room, on my belly, with feet dangling over the shaft that is still spinning since the boat is being pushed along my wind and current.  I had decided to “bleed” the system. The Octopus pump does have three valves for each line (port, starboard and return) that can be closed to stop fluid draining from the system if need be. In this case, I opened each one in turn until it literally comes out, and I let ATF run out until I saw no more air, while Micha turned the wheel in the specified direction.

15 minutes later we were back underway. The Auto-Pilot was much more responsive, but still only at 50%.  Worse, there was enough air in the copper lines, that they resonated like somebody playing the cymbals 6 inches from my head.

We decided to keep track of the number of walk-abouts. From 22:00 that night, it occurred 7 times an hour.  By 02:00 it was down to 3 times and only once at 03:00.

Though when I came on at 04:00, it was still not working as well as I’d like. This ComNav does really well in bad seas.  But now, with its impaired performance, we were getting into some large pendulum rolling motions. Motions that when working correctly, it has no problem stopping.

Micah was already in bed, it was dark out, but it drives me crazy when something is not working as it should (under the conditions).  I decided it needed burping.  So, I went to the fly bridge and totally took out the fill plug, thinking it needed more venting.

It didn’t hurt and I didn’t fall overboard.

For the next 6 days, we periodically worked the helm steering, trying to get air out of the system. Slowly, but surely, air came out and we would top up the system.

The bigger issue for me in particular was that the racket the air in the pipes would produce every few seconds.  It really hindered my sleep and made out last 6 days really hard.  Especially considering there were really no other issues until the last day and night, which of course, ended up being the worst night of the entire passage.

 

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