Arrecife towards St Lucia… via Pasito Blanco

Passage – Arrecife to Rodney Bay, St. Lucia Pasito Blanco, Gran Canaria

9-10 December 2018

Distance sailed – 188 Nm in 27 hours

So, we didn’t cross the Atlantic this time around. Instead, we had a fast and enjoyable sail and found out what still needed fixing on the boat after its first outing on the water in over three months. All minor things, but for us to be comfortable crossing an ocean they need fixing before we leave again. And as we love the peace of Pasito Blanco, we might stick around for a few weeks..

On the good side –

Despite a few hours sailing at 3 knots in very light winds, we averaged 7 knots for the passage. That’s thanks to a new setup (for us) for downwind sailing. We have two jibs raised on one roller furler, using one halyard. This was awesome, especially as the wind picked up. With a reef in the main both jibs stayed filled through a fairly wide range of angles (around 40 degrees either side of dead-downwind). And reefing them to reduce the amount of sail we had up was as easy as letting a couple of feet of the jib-sheets out to reduce the tension, and pulling in the roller furling line a touch. Awesome, and because reefing is so easy single-handed, we were both more comfortable letting the boat get up to speed while sailing in our usual relaxed style. Our best hour, taking a look at the log, was 1:30-2:30am in which we covered 10.1Nm while I was cat-napping. Not shabby. And all VERY promising for a long downwind passage across the Atlantic.

The kids settled back into sailing as they tend to do – feeling sick at times, but coping admirably and acting far more independently than they do when we are stationary. Theo, for example, generally needs coaxing/carrying to the toilet and then to bed (with as much fanfare as he can eek out of us). On passage, he got up from the sofa and announced “I’m going to bed”, took himself for a wee and then snuggled in next to Charlotte and Hector. They both enjoyed a bit more mummy-and-daddy attention than they had been having as we have been rushing to get the boat ready, too.

And it was quite a good passage from a sight-seeing point of view. I saw a few shooting stars in the night (the start of the Geminid meteor shower, I’d guess) and we saw many dolphins. Especially on the way in to Pasito Blanco which cheered us all up when we were feeling grumpy/annoyed/frustrated. Even managed to get a decent photo or two of them, for once.

And on the problems –

The port engine stopped working shortly after we left the marina. It was a very minor air leak in the recently serviced fuel system, which would have been easily fixed at sea if there was any need for us to have two engines: we sail most of the time, and if we have to motor for whatever reason only use one engine as it is more fuel efficient. The only time we have two engines running is when manoeuvring in close quarters, particularly (always) in marinas but also busy or awkward anchorages.

The wind transducer read zero wind speed throughout the passage. There are cups which should rotate, and they were not rotating. After launching we noticed this problem in the marina, and Charlotte brought the transducer down so we could service it – it seemed OK but then stopped again, so we tried some local professionals. They took it apart and reassembled it, found it OK, but evidently there’s something more seriously wrong. From internet searches, it appears that the bearings sealed into the unit are prone to failure after long use. Had this been the only problem, we would have had a longer discussion about whether to continue sailing anyway – we both have a fairly good intuitive sense of wind speeds, and our boat speed makes it fairly clear how strong gusts are. The wind gauge is mainly for reassurance (particularly when half-asleep) and to help notice trends a little earlier than our senses would pick up on them. Or, we could have sent Charlotte up the mast to give them a nudge and see if we could get them rotating again. Such discussions were left to the next morning, and then became redundant…

Overnight the autopilot decided to cut out, a few times. We had reasonable winds (gusting to somewhere between 25 and 30 knots) from behind, along with a swell that funnelled between the islands at an angle which put additional pressure on the steering. And the autopilot wasn’t up to it – which we thought was odd as I had just installed a much thicker cable for it so there’s no problem with power supply now, and the autopilot should cope with the load easily. This was why we decided to head to Pasito Blanco and stop for a day or two to diagnose. Having to hand steer and look after three kids for three weeks would be a touch tiring for us – we could cope, but it would not have been fun. A reliable autopilot, for passages longer than a day or two, is something we consider essential. Had this problem happened halfway across I would have got the spare autopilot out (a tiller pilot helpfully left by the previous owner) and connected it to one of the rudders. But we were not going to leave the Canaries already using the spare! So, decision made, and we changed our destination to Pasito Blanco, much to Arthur’s disappointment.

As we carried on sailing, hand steering at times, Charlotte noticed that the steering felt much heavier than before – which would certainly contribute to the autopilot failing. Our steering wheel is connected to a hydraulic pump which drives two rams each of which turns a rudder (via a short tiller arm). The wheel is normally easy enough to turn in any seas we have encountered with one finger. At times, as we were steering in the night, our arms were getting tired – so something was obviously wrong.

The next day we started to look for problems. The hydraulic pump looked fine (no leaks, oil clear/clean/topped up), as did the wheel connections, and there were no evident leaks in the system. So we looked at each side to try and isolate the problem. We can “bypass” each side of the hydraulic circuit, so that the pump only turns one rudder at a time – and from this found that the problem was clearly with the port side (with only the starboard side connected, the steering was as light as a feather). I disconnected the ram from the rudder, and determined that the ram was fine. But the rudder is binding, fairly heavily, on the top bearing – a bearing that the yard had replaced when we were in Arrecife. After a swim I saw that the lower bearing was fine, but guessed that the top bearing will need either sanding internally, re-aligning, or a washer adding on top (if the friction is coming from the collar on top).

A couple of days later, when the swell in the anchorage was reasonably small, we put a net under the rudder to prevent it from sliding out to the bottom of the sea, disconnected it, and tried to resolve the issue. I found that the binding was between the collar and the bearing, and have sanded both surfaces and removed some grit stuck between them which wont have been helping. The steering feels considerably looser than it did so I think the problem is fixed, but we’ll go out for a test-sail at some point to double-check.