Gearbox failure at Tarifa and a tow back to La Linea.
Steve & Carol
Mon 6 Nov 2023 18:00
Well leaving Tarifa to sail to the Canaries didn’t go quite as planned! We had a restless night and were up early - looking at current/tidal flow through the Straits and weather we decided to leave at 10am our time so 09.00 UTC, engine on anchor up, put engine in reverse and out of gear again while lifting the anchor as we were over it and then went to engage forward gear when the anchor was up but engine didn’t go into gear, I quickly tried a couple of times before calling Steve who was at the bow still and quickly redeployed the anchor, we checked the cable - all ok, then Steve tried to manually put it in gear but still nothing! We quickly told the 2 boats we were with to go without us so they didn’t miss the tide and sadly watched them leave, We weren’t sure what to do there was no wind and obviously our anchor was just dropped and not dug in so we decided to call Tarifa traffic to let them know our situation and see if we could get towed into Tarifa to have a better look what the problem was! We were asked to wait while they made some calls and came back to say that there was no room at Tarifa and they had called the rescue boat to take us to Algeciras 😬, we tried to say we didn’t want to be towed all that way but the boat was on its way already and it seemed we had no choice! Once the rescue boat arrived they came alongside and then secured the tow to the bow - we were anxious that it may go too fast or pull the cleats out but actually it was a super smooth operation and tow with the current and little or no wind until we got into the Gibraltar / Algeciras bay where of course it piped up and by the time we were alongside the rescue boat in La Linea marina we had 15knots blowing us onto them and once they had gone the rather horrible fuel dock which caused some damage to the teak toe rail! We were moved round to a corner by the marineros and had a comfortable night before they moved us to a finger pontoon to begin trying to work out what was wrong with the gearbox.
Alongside the rescue boat on the fuel berth in Alcaidesa marina.
After checking oil level was correct we did a fair bit of google searching, downloaded a couple of manuals, watched some youtube videos to try to understand how it works and what may have gone wrong, the gearbox is a Borg Warner Velvet drive so it was made in America, we also used our phone to contact Lancing marine - who weren’t that helpful so called a friend ,Justin who was a lot more helpful and came up with some solid advice and possible problems to try and rule out.
At the Marina we met Lucie and John - a Canadian couple who had had some problems the same day we did on their catamaran Hahalua and lost 1 and a half rudders, it was great to make friends and socialise with each other when we weren’t working on our boats.
Firstly we managed to test to see if there was oil pressure in the unit, there wasn't any pressure which indicated it may be the drive plate.
Disconnect propeller shaft - which didn’t want to move more than an inch without undoing the packing gland - after which Steve managed to move it 3 3/4 inches before it didn’t want to budge more and we don’t want to force it while in the water incase we have a problem with water ingress!
So here we are stuck in Spain trying to get our gearbox out with the boat still in the water, it's a slow and difficult job as access to the gearbox is poor and there are some stubborn bolts to undo, one just wouldn’t budge with the access and tools available, including a small impact driver so in desperation we ordered a bigger dwalt impact driver which we had to wait 3 days to be delivered! With the impact driver in hand undid the offending bolt in no time so we could get the gearbox off - with the help of the blocks from our running backstays and the dinghy seat across the companionway to lift from, we eventually got to the drive plate which was as we suspected broken - a full week after it broke and we were towed into the marina!
The drive plate is probably 43 years old like the boat and was rusty and pitted so there were no marks etc on it but we took pictures and spoke to Lancing marine again who said they could get one made in about 5 days if we gave them accurate information re bolt hole centres for where it bolts to the fly wheel etc, after talking to people in Gibraltar and showing them a photo of the drive plate they suggested we went straight to a company called R&D in the UK who they thought had made the original, so Steve called them spoke to David who was super helpful and said if we took it in they could make one in an hour! so flights booked we flew from Gibraltar to Bristol arrived at 11pm - were picked up by my sister Jane and brother in law Chris. The next morning we set off to find R&D marine in Baldock and arrived there late morning, it turned out to be a small family business which exports drive plates all over the world, David was a lovely chap who had started the company with his brother 50 years ago and immediately recognised our broken drive plate as one of their early models 😁. He was impressed it had lasted so long and thought that we had had our moneys worth, while we chatted to him about the business and our travels his son made us a new one - not quite the same as the design changed slightly but it should fit and we will be up and running again (I forgot to get a picture of the shiny new one 😬).
On our way back to my mothers we popped into see Gill, Steves sister, who coincidently only lives 10 mins from R&D marine. As a bonus Lou drove down from Corby to see us briefly as well which was lovely.
We then had a day of rest before we got a 4am cab to the airport and flew back to the boat. Steve put the drive plate onto the fly wheel but as it was getting late we wanted to wait to start putting gearbox back until the following day. We were both expecting it to be difficult to line the spline on the gearbox up with the hole in the drive plate so that it would slot into place but after moving the gearbox around on the pulleys and trying to align it, Steve was wiggling it and it actually just slid into place! Once the gearbox bolts were done up it was time to tackle the prop shaft which again was easier than we had anticipated and soon Steve had it all back together and we were able to run the engine and see if everything was OK. There was a bit of a different noise and some more vibrations at low revs than usual but with increased revs it sounded good and we ran it for 15 mins. All good the following day we did a gearbox oil change - it actually was a little low when we emptied it and it all sounded better when we ran it afterwards.
John and Lucie had repaired Hahalua and left just after we flew to the UK so we had a quiet time, made a few trips in to Gibraltar, went shopping to get, replenish supplies and even took a bus to Palmones on the other side of the bay to a retail park before we decided it was time to leave the marina and head out to the anchorage - without a weather window to head south we want to have some time to get our confidence back in the gearbox etc.