Swing Set

May 26, 201311:09 AM

Swing Set: Cruising Full Time

Just When You Think Things Are Going Well

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We left Rock Sound Harbour at 7:30 a.m. on Friday morning. The wind had let up, and there were a few clouds around, but the skies were not as threatening as the day before. We had a 40-mile run to Highbourne Cay, an island on the upper end of the Exumas. We'd been about an hour out, running in deep blue ocean a half-mile deep, and the steering started feeling "funny." Eventually, it was feeling not very funny at all. Our steering was failing us at a rapid rate, meaning we had a leak somewhere in the hydraulic system.

We could have turned around and went to one of the marinas on the southern end of Eleuthera, but as I'd mentioned, a weather system was coming in and we didn't want to get stuck in southern Eleuthera for who knows how long. Better to be out in the middle of the ocean with no steering, right? No steering on a twin-engine boat will not leave you stranded, I normally don't even touch the wheel in close situations, but it does get more serious if the water is rough. Also, traveling at idle speeds across miles and miles of open ocean gets rather tedious.

I kept our speed up to our normal 8 to 9 miles per hour and used engine throttle on one engine or the other to maintain our course. At one point, I tried putting the boat on plane, thinking torque against the rudders would increase our ability to steer, but the attempt had the opposite effect and I could spin the wheel around and around and nothing would happen. I'd say we were pretty happy to see Highbourne Cay when it came in sight, but we still had the challenge of getting through Highbourne Cut with a following sea, toward rocks and reef, without being able to steer as well as I would've liked. There's a dogleg coming in from the ocean, and I had all I could do to keep us off the rocks. You could say I was nervous.

We made it inside the reef, and I called Highbourne Cay Marina and told them we were coming in for fuel and that our steering "was compromised." I had decided that I wasn't going to say that I had no steering, as I was concerned that we wouldn't get clearance to enter the harbor. Highbourne Cay Marina is ritzy. There were megayachts in abundance, but none were at the fuel dock and we pulled in there without mishap.

One thing that was simply astounding was the water clarity. There were so many black tip sharks swimming around at the fish cleaning station that it was impossible to count them, and several other multi-colored fish were swimming around, too...the most we've seen so far on our trip.

We took on 51 gallons of fuel, not bad after cruising over 100 miles of the Eleuthera coastline. Even though the marina is ritzy, fuel was "reasonable" at $5.56 per gallon, cash.

In the office, I asked about finding a mechanic and the woman there was knowledgeable and honest. She said she could get someone to look at our steering, but getting parts would be an issue, meaning possibly hanging out there for several days of waiting. Our budget would suffer if we paid for dockage at the marina there, so I decided to anchor out until the next morning and then head to Nassau, nearly 40 miles away, where we'd have a better chance of getting services and parts, and if not, the U.S. was that much closer.

It was nearly 2 p.m. when we went to drop our hook just off of Highbourne Cay, amidst large megayachts and crystal clear water. But then the anchor wouldn't drop. We'd had an issue several days ago in Governor's Harbour when the windlass wouldn't actuate, but Rosie used the foot switch on the bow and it worked. I just thought I had a sticky switch at the helm, and we used the windlass several times afterward without any problems, so...

I weighed our options. Nassau was at least five hours away, but we had plenty of daylight, so I plotted a course for New Providence and away we went.

The Exuma Banks were calm as can be, and I had a brainstorm. I put Swing Set on plane and ramped her up to cruising speed, 25 miles per hour, and then used our trim tabs to steer the boat. Putting the port tab down would cause the boat to veer starboard, and vice versa. It was actually easier to steer than fighting the wheel, but this method would be problematic in a bumpy sea.

Within sight of Nassau Harbor, we stopped the boat and topped off the fluid in our steering system. Nassau Harbor is one of the busiest a cruiser will encounter, and I figured to give us the best chance of navigating our way through it.

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