The Last 7 Days

A video of the morning after.

If I’ve learned nothing in the last 60 years, it’s that I need 6 to 7 hours sleep on a routine basis to not get into a sleep deficit.  The watches on this passage were set up to facilitate that.

In spite of the drama I like instilling in my life, for every one day of “crisis” we spend about 5 to 6 days of peaceful boredom. It’s even possible that the weekly crisis is not totally random.

Why, you wonder?

Not so much on this trip, but in the past, most of my problems were caused my me. Complacency, boredom, who knows, I decide everything is going so well, so I may aa well see what happens if I do this. This last crisis was a case in point. I was “experimenting”.

My only point here is that in spite of the appearance of the narrative, very little time is spent dealing with anything. The hardest part of a long passage is not getting bored, even more so in these conditions that virtually never changed.

So, December 23rd dawned to bright skies and easterly winds; we were feeling good.

The one lingering issue was the amount of air still in the Hydraulic steering system (which is controlled by the helm wheel or the ComNav autopilot), which caused a hellacious banging every few seconds as the auto-pilot moved fluid thru the lines.  This was exacerbated by the location of my cabin directly under the pilot house.

Normally our brains filter out routine noises. I once lived next to a church steeple in a small town in Germany. Every 15 min, some combination of bells would ring: 15’ after the hour 1 gong, 30’ after 2 gongs, 45’ after 3 gongs, then 4 gongs on the hour, followed by the number of gongs based on the hour, 1 = 1, until 12.

Within a few days, I didn’t even hear it any more. But I did find it nice to be able to know the time in the middle of the night, without turning on a light.  I do love Germany.

Even years later, when I would visit and sleep in the same house, after the first gong, I’d “hear” no more.

This wasn’t like that.  Since the noises had no pattern, with a variable duration and frequency, my brain did not do what to make of it, so it made sure I heard everything. As the days wore on, while the noises were decreasing, they were still significant and I found myself getting less and less sleep. Three hours overnight, then an hour here, maybe a couple there.

Did that contribute to our travails on the last night?  Probably a bit, maybe more, but Micah and I had the worst night of the entire trip on our last night before pulling into Martinique.

The days since our big repair had been good.  In fact, Christmas, December 25th, was one of our best weather days, with winds not going over 25 knots, thus our ride was great with light rolling to 10°, worst 15°.  I made our last big steak and candied sweet potatoes.  We even opened a bottle of Bordeaux that my French friend PJ had given me.

Micah meticulously pours our wine

That was also our second whale sighting.  There were two whales, about 30’ long cruised with us for about 15 minutes.  Very nice.

The Whale Video

Dauntless rolling along, watching this makes me miss the ocean

I do love our Weber Q-280 grill

Our ETA to Martinique was noon on the 28th. Therefore, the night of the 27th, was our 20th night at sea since leaving the Canaries.

I started the last 24 hours by putting the last of our oil, 1.1L into the engine. I estimated that at worst, we would arrive about 1 liter low, which is normal. (and we did). But there was no point in shutting down the engine to check at this point, as I had no more oil anyway.

Just as I go to bed at 22:00, ETA in 14 hours, the starboard paravane pole bounces vertical. This necessitates stopping the boat and letting the pole fall back into position, once the rearward pressure is taken off the line to the bir

The starboard pole has never done this before in the previous 15K+ miles!

25 minutes later, it does it again. Something is not right, but I am tired and even in hindsight, it’s not totally clear to me under the circumstances what I should have done.

All evening the winds had been increasing.  They were now easterly at 25 steady gusting to 40. Clearly the seas had grown, again with the annoying swells from both NE and SE and the wind driven waves from the east.  Our rolls were getting substantially more, routinely to 20° and the worst, a few times an hour to 30°.

Even on a rally boat like Dauntless, a 30° roll is significant. Or I should say, it feels significant in the pilot house.  If I am in the engine room, I hardly notice, even the salon is much better, but I digress.

I attributed the increased rolling to the winds and seas.  It was dark out, so it’s hard to estimate seas.  Also, since we were approaching the island of Martinique, the waves would start to change.

But at 02:40, all of a sudden, the boat rolled over at 15° (normal) to port, but was really slow in rolling back.  This meant the opposite stabilizing bird was not working for some reason.

Sure enough, I had gotten up to see why the boat motion was different and saw right away the starboard bird being pulling along the surface.

We stopped to retrieve it.  It was broken and later that morning as I looked at it, I realized the bolts that held the vane in place had come loose.  That was probably the reason the pole went vertical earlier in the evening, as the bird was no longer running straight. That added a tension that eventually broke the plywood wing of the bird in half.

Now, in a strange occurrence, maybe due to lack of sleep, after we pulled the bird, we continued on with just the one port side bird deployed.  I’ve run many times with only one bird.  It is quite effective on a beam sea with winds that are not too strong.

But with a following sea, only one bird, is only half effective, so we rolled our way into Martinique that way.

I say strange because all that morning, I had been tripping over the extra bird that was no longer in the lazerrett.  We had gotten the bird that was jammed in the lazerrett out and even cleaned up the lazerrett.  So, it was sitting, inconveniently, on the port side deck.  It would have taken all of 30 seconds to attach it to the starboard pole and throw it in the water.

Oh well, All’s Well that End’s Well.

And of course, as we approach the harbor of Le Marin, the only sailboat we’ve seen in 19 days decided to tack right in front of us.  Much like the last idiot on our first night out of the Canaries.

Warning. Harsh language is involved and I don’t hate all sailboats.  But for the life of my with an entire ocean in front of him, why he cut across our bow is beyond me.  I had been watching him for quite a while, had he delayed his tack 10 seconds or changed his course by a few degrees he would not have ended up directly in front of our bow. I had to virtually stop as to not hit him… umm, maybe that is the answer, could he have needed a new paint job?

And my feeling were certainly exacerbated by the fact that this was only the second SV we had seen and the previous encounter, our first night out, was eerily similar.






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.


Crisis in the Mid-Atlantic – The Chickens Come Home to Roost

Just After the 1st Repair. It’s 13:33 this is the normal screen I run with. I’ll minimize the Maretron data (black box on left) is there is more traffic or is I have a reason to look at the chart. In this case, what’s important: winds 090 at 23 g 28; Apparent Wind Angle (How is the boat feeling the wind) is right on our stern at 180 degrees. Bottom right shows the roll and one can see the roll reduction while the boat was stopped at the same time the pitch increased. Then the roll greatly increased once we got underway again.

 This video shows the day before, Dec 21st.  Even before the preventer stick broke (which you can see going form the fly beige rail to the middle of the paravane pole)

 This is from the afternoon.  GIves you a nice idea of the seas. This is what we had plus or minus for 21 days.

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.

 This video is after i had completed this repair and also shows how I stopped the paravane pole from bouncing by using a fender.

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

The offending hose, steel braid rusted to the core.
I’m replacing these hoses and standardizing the fittings.

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.