What had been intended to be a few days in St Anne, Martinique to apply a few more coats of varnish to our teak and a few other tasks turned into a whole lot more. But on the bright side we should be nearly ready for a lot of miles that we need to make as we begin our trek back north.
The big item on the ‘to do’ list was to revisit the autopilot. Obviously I mentioned it failed on us while we were offshore, and after reviewing it in the Virgin Islands it was working again, although not without a few hiccups. Occasionally it would refuse to engage or on other occasions we could hear the motor spinning, but without a response at the steering wheel implying the clutch wasn’t holding leading to a failure message. Then on other occasions when hand steering we would sometimes get a stiff spot in the steering wheel. So I thought the clutch might be sticking.
So, I climbed into the cockpit locker armed with a multimeter and the tools required to pull the drive unit out. Before doing anything I checked the clutch voltage and discovered it was under 2 volts which seemed odd as I expected it to be 12 and the meter couldn’t resolve a meaningful current . A little back and forth between the computer to check a few more voltages and then I pulled the drive unit out anyway.
Once I had it apart, it again looked fine and the clutch certainly wasn’t sticking.
So I reassembled the drive and then applied 12 volts to the clutch and measured the resulting current to ensure that there wasn’t a short circuit. Everything seemed about right. So, fully convinced the drive unit was nearly as good as new, I set it aside to reinstall it. Then I went to work confirming the autopilot problem was with the computer, and had to find a new theory for the occasionally stiff steering.
Disconnecting the steering linkage between the binnacle and the rudder quickly led me to find the stiff steering problem. Water had passed an o-ring behind the steering wheel corroding the ball bearing behind it. Unfortunately, the bearing puller I have in my tool kit wouldn’t budge it, so it will need heat to get it out. Lacking a torch and a new bearing, I applied my mechanical engineering training and flushed the bearing with WD-40 (If it moves and isn’t supposed to you use duct tape or zip ties, if it doesn’t move and it should you use WD-40 – at least that’s what I took away from my degree). So, we have a working solution until I have access to all my tools.
Now with those items out of the way, we had to make a decision about the autopilot, so we moved the boat into Le Marin which is a huge boating center in Martinique and priced new units. The old computer is notably corroded along the terminal strip where all the wires connect and some of the spring loaded connections are siezed. It is quite possibly repairable, but for how long we don’t know.
We do know that with our plan to go north again, the autopilot is both a safety feature as well as a luxury. And, if we were to decide to sell the boat and not replace the autopilot, it would be sure to fail for the sale process and then I would be on the hook for a new one anyway after having possibly hand steered a few thousand more miles.
So, we found an in stock computer and decided to make the upgrade. A day and a half of pulling apart the boat chasing new wires and pulling out old and it was installed.
The old computer had been the point of connection for our 2 generations old instruments into the latest generation data bus that connects our chart plotters and radar. So I had to pull apart the navigation station to find a new tie in point. Fortunately HR did a splendid job of fitting the panels, so everything I disassembled to gain access, fit nicely back together afterwards.
Our old computer was mounted under the aft cabin and we had a ventilation duct that lead nearby that I suspect may have supplied too much salt air near the computer, assisting with the ‘aging’ process. I contemplated moving the new computer to a different location but instead decided to just re-route the duct to the cockpit locker.
Le Marin, has a number of chandleries, so during my browsing I stumbled upon upgraded mainsail slides for our battens. Our original mainsail had great ball bearing cars that we were going to use with the new sail, but there were a few headaches with getting parts (and they frequently needed rebuilding) so we just went with the simple ones instead.
The old ball bearing cars had so little friction I could pull the mainsail within a couple feet of the top of the mast before putting the halyard on a winch, where as now I’m lucky to get 2/3 of the way before I winch. Most of the friction is at the battens, so when I found in-stock Selden cars with little wheels I jumped at the chance. They are half the price of the ball bearing slides with I suspect 80% of the performance and 20% of the maintenance – a good compromise. If they work well, I may get the regular ones for the rest of the sail too. The easier the sail is to put up, the more you will use it and the more enjoyable sailing is.
Plus on the original slide in my hand, the ring fell out one night on our way south this year leaving a permanent scar on the mast when we discovered what had happened after the sun came up. The Selden cars, look more robust, so hopefully this will be a non issue going forward.
I employed my splicing skills and made a new securing point for our not-in-use halyards too so we no longer have to secure them on the hand rail where they scratch varnish and get in the way of the dinghy.
Lazy jacks were the other upgrade that has been on the table for a long time now. Pulling the sail down, flaking it and tying it to the boom worked fine on Georgian Bay where you could slip into someplace calm, but in the caribbean we often find ourselves dropping the sail with a swell and grabbing onto a swinging boom while wrestling with a sail has long lost it’s appeal. I’m sure we will have to tweak them over the next week or two, but the bulk of the effort is done. Next time around I would have a stack pack sail cover with lazy jacks, so you simply drop the sail and zip up the cover – a very common configuration on cruising boats.
And seeing as we are in a territory of France, they sell european rope, in METRIC sizes. Our boat is european with 10mm lines. I have struggled to find line that actually grabs properly in our rope clutches because America is determined to stay in the stone age with imperial sizes. They like to claim that their 3/8″ rope is 10 mm ( actually 9.5mm) and if that doesn’t work to go with 7/16 (11.1 mm). One slips right through the clutch and other other wont pull through. So now I have a spare set of reef lines and a main halyard that will actually work, although it seems pointless to install them now. They’ll last a lot longer if I wait a few months when we are out of the intense UV of the tropics.