May 26, 201311:09 AM
Swing Set: Cruising Full Time
Just When You Think Things Are Going Well
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.
We had a couple of things going for us: We met a couple French Canadians in Marsh Harbour that live on their boat at Nassau Yacht Haven, Rick and Marie-Pier, or "MP" for short. We had called them on the phone and said we were coming in. We then called the harbormaster and said we were friends of Rick and MP, and could we get a slip? He said he would squeeze us in, so then we called Nassau Harbor Control and got permission to enter the harbor, a prerequisite of entering Nassau Harbor.
So, 10 hours and 74 miles later, we were idling through Nassau Harbor and spotted Rick and MP coming into the harbor, too, on their sailboat!
Just before closing time, we got assigned a slip just four boats down from Rick and MP, plugged in our shore power, and because the temperature was hot and the air was still, we turned on our air conditioning for the first time since last October. Luckily, the A/C is working fine.
Holly was taking to the A/C wonderfully, and Rosie and I went down to visit Rick and MP on their sailboat. One thing led to another, and next thing we knew we were cleaned up and headed to a local club for a few beers and a night of dancing. Well, I don't dance, but Rosie danced with MP, and Rick's daughter Danielle, who was visiting from Canada.
The next morning, I walked Holly around the docks at the marina just to get the lay of the land. Not much happens in the Bahamas after noon on a Saturday, and nothing gets done on a Sunday, so we decided to not let a few mechanical issues spoil our Memorial Day weekend, at least the first day of it, so we agreed to join Rick, MP, Danielle and two more friends of theirs, Dan and Ashley, on a trip to Paradise Beach near the Atlantis Hotel and Casino.
We spent the afternoon on the beach and loosely formulated a game plan for getting our steering and windlass repaired, as well as finding replacement batteries for our house bank of batteries.
Rosie and I were the last to leave our group to head back to the marina. Everyone else had plans to visit a sushi restaurant, but Rosie and I were feeling the effects of not only the long travel day on Friday, but the late night at Johnny's nightclub the night before.
Taking the dinghy to the beach is somewhat of a trip. It's better to leave the dinghy at the dock of a yoga retreat and walk through the retreat and across Paradise Island over to Paradise Beach. As we walked through the quiet grounds of the yoga retreat, I was half tempted to join a swami and meditate as to how we ever decided to buy a boat in the first place. A person could dwell on that subject for days.
Nassau Yacht Haven is across the harbor on New Providence, right in the heart of Nassau. On our way back to Yacht Haven, we cruised with the dinghy through the Atlantis Marina. If we thought Highbourne Cay Marina was ritzy, the Atlantis Marina is definitely high rent.
Back to the boat, we left the dinghy in the water, locked, as per Rick's advice, and we were so happy to see Holly and have dinner. We ate the sandwiches Rosie had prepared for the beach but we never got around to eating. Then, we were both out of gas. We went to bed early, but at 10:30, we both woke up to gunshots. We are in the heart of Nassau, but it turned out to be a fireworks display over on Paradise Island. Gunshots would've made a better story, however.
After a big breakfast this morning, I sent an email off to the folks at Good Windlass, paving the way for a phone call to them that I'll make on Tuesday to find out what they think is wrong with our windlass, and to order parts if we have to. I'm hoping they deal with an outfit here in Nassau who can arrange things, but we'll have to see.
Rick and MP gave us the number of a mechanic in the area for us to call about our steering issue, but first I wanted find out a little more. Plus, I had no intention on calling anyone on a Sunday. No sense on making anyone mad right off the bat.
I laid out some cardboard and foam rubber over our water pumps and starting battery to enable me to crawl back and get a better look at the cylinder on our Sea Star hydraulic steering system. Unfortunately, I couldn't get as far back in the small area as I would've liked, because the cylinder is stuck behind our water tank and also behind our starboard exhaust lines, but I was able to stick one arm back and feel both ends of the cylinder and had Rosie actuate the wheel. I found out that the seal on my left-hand side of the cylinder was leaking for sure.
I can remove some equipment to allow better access to the steering cylinder, but I don't want to start tearing stuff out until I can find out if I can get the parts to replace the seals on the steering cylinder. If I'm going to go through the trouble of pulling the cylinder out, I'm going to replace everything on it possible, so it's good for another 17 years. This I assure you.
I won't worry too much about finding batteries at this point, or even ordering parts for the windlass, until I see if I can fix the steering. Without the steering, there's no sense on buying batteries here in Nassau at inflated prices, or waiting for windlass parts, if a trip back to the U.S. is necessary. We'll take one thing at a time.
Tomorrow, it not being a holiday here, I'll call Albert the mechanic and also visit Harbour View Marine, just across Bay Street from our marina. They are a Sea Ray dealer, so they may have the Sea Star parts, or be able to get them. If they have a smaller, nimble, savvy mechanic, we may just hire him to pull out the steering cylinder. (Rick and MP said that Albert was a "larger" fella.) We'll have to see.
So, that's our story. In the last blog, I was all proud of my ability to fix our steering, and it turns out I didn't fix "doodily doo," like my dad would say. (Try to spell check doodily doo.)
If we can get all our stuff fixed and feel confident, we'll turn around and head back to the Exumas by the weekend. For the time being, a weather system is heading in and the winds are going to pick up in a big way, making travel in any direction very unpleasant. Whatever we do, we'll be here at Yacht Haven at least until next weekend.
Enjoy your Memorial Holiday. We'll just be chillin'.