Galápagos>Marquesas 15-08-2011 (Day 13, 22:1 0 UTC): DTF 401nm (09:36.3S 132:01.3W)

Vries Peter Pons
Mon 15 Aug 2011 23:26
DTF: 575nm
Track: 2555nm
Trip: 2400nm

TWS: 17-23kt (15-23)
TWD: 100-125 (95-120)
TWA: 130-150 (130-150)
AWA: 110-125 (115-125)
HDG: 240-265 (240-260)
COG: 240-265 (250-265)
Drift: 200-320 at 0.5-0.7kt

All cruisers/sailors seem to have the same hang-up for sounds on board their
vessel: if you hear different sounds than those you're used to something is
the matter and often it is not good news. And the pump of the autopilot
going bezirk is such a new and alarming sound. Mentioned in yesterday's blog
that we would have a look at it, and we did: the 12mm attachment bolt of one
of the twin rams of the refurbished Simrad hydraulic drive to the arm on the
ruddershaft was broken, which caused the drive first to push that rod out
and in before it would activate the other one to actually push or pull the
arm and move the rudder, whereas they're supposed to work in tandem. Quite
amazing that for almost a day the system did steer on one ram. Although
initially it did not look that difficult to fix temporarily by screwing a
standard bolt in place of it, the scenario changed for the worse, when I
tried to fix the new bolt, and I held the whole rod in my hands: the axis of
the base of the ram had broken off completely and only a short piece of the
axis was still hanging in the hole of the base. Way too risky to leave it as
is with the forces such rams exert: if it would flip out while attached to
the other side, it would make extensive damage in that area. After a relaxed
sail thus far with the only thing breaking down the outhaul car in the boom
(a clear case of metal fatigue day on board Aquamante), this was the time to
catch up on STRESS. In doubt whether our back-up autopilot would work, as
the single ram of that hydraulic drive was spilling oil through a seal, our
worst nightmare scenario of having to manually steer another 600nm, so at
least three days, in running seas (waves from the aft quarters, heavy on the
helmsman) started to daunt on us. We decided to give it a try with the other
autopilot, which would buy us a little more time to find a temporarily fix
of the other hydraulic drive. Filled up the oil canister, switched it on,
but it sent Aquamante all over the place (they call that mushy steering) and
the pump was making an awful sound. Whilst Daph monitored that we were not
risking an accidental gybe, and running back and forth to get tools, I was
trying to bleed air from the hydraulic system, the most likely cause of
mushy steering. Initially that did not seem to help much, but slowly the
autopilot became more responsive and the wrong pump noises diminished. It's
been working perfectly for almost a day now, and the leaking is minimal.
We'll get it all fixed in either Marquesas if we can get the spares and can
do it ourselves, or, more likely, in Tahiti.

Although we reefed the genoa as well to have a more calm ride during this
crisis, we had continued at some 7,5 to 8 kts, so little sacrifice on speed,
although we would have been just as happy, if we had sailed backwards, as
long as we had a functioning autopilot again. Dinner (marinated and grilled
mahi-mahi with more than a glass of wine to get the adrenaline down) was
served around 21.30, and the sail during the bright moonlit night was superb
with 20kt winds and calm seas, just the type of weather for the new
autopilot to warm up.