The things that happen on an Ocean Passage--particularly a ROUGH one....

Sea Mist > Sold to New Owners July 2016
John and Cheryl Ellsworth
Tue 10 Nov 2009 21:10


19 05 N  65 27 W


NOTE: I am hoping the formatting of this account holds for presentation on the blogsite; if it doesn’t, I will discover that once I get to an internet café in St Thomas….and I will edit it for readability at that time. If it is a mess now due to the formatting not holding, just ignore and check back in a number of days once it is in proper shape for reading.


Fair warning: This is a long blog entry…..not for the faint hearted, easily bored, blog aficionado…hope you can enjoy it …if you read it


I thought it would be a good time to jot down a bit of an account of things that went wrong on this passage…always an interesting aspect….especially for the ones that have to solve the issue that presents itself….solve it in real time …solve it at sea……make it work….and keep going …and keep the crew’s confidence that all is well…despite some nonsense:


-          Day 0 – Nov 2 (Monday - Intended departure day);

o        freezer compressor raw water intake line blocks with biological junk…miniature mussels, clams barnacles and the like. Clearing line (and protecting a totally full freezer load of food)….. took the day….and caused departure to be pushed to Tuesday.

-          Day 1 – Nov 3, Tuesday:

o         for some yet-undetermined reason, the on-board wireless network started to become erratical and the troubleshooting….. in the wee hours of the morning as we stepped out from the Chesapeake onto the broad Atlantic…. made things worse > to the point of losing most of the technology on-board for some hours.

o        Lost Radar, lost AIS (Automatic Identification System), and a mixture of failures/reboots of 3 laptop computers that are either primary or back-up units for managing the ship’s navigation, etc. Computers …can’t live with them…can’t live without them!

o        Finally, problem solved for the passage by shutting down the wireless network as not essential in any way to the boat’s operation…just a nice to….will investigate and solve in Caribbean.

-          Day 2 – Nov 4, Wednesday:

o        Lost Radar Functionality; Could not determine whether problem was the Radar Unit, Data transmission from Radar to charting application, or the actual Nobeltec navigation software…???

o        Captain noted that the reading on true and apparent wind speed on the B&G instruments seemed to be erratic and did not seem to reflect the reality of the wind speed being experienced. Suspicion of a problem had first surfaced on passage from Bermuda to Newport  in June but after a lot of subsequent diagnostic work under direction of B&G, no problem could be found…..until now when it seemed to be perhaps reappearing…..more later. Problem was confirmed as attempts to engage wind controlled autopilot steering were unsuccessful with faults indicating “Bad Wind Information”. Carried on with compass controlled steering.

o        In middle of night, during a change from Port Tack to Starboard Tack with the wind well behind us while we were on a RUN…wind 120 to 150 off the nose….the novice wheelsman made a mistake in pushing buttons on the autopilot and caused the steering to go way off intended direction ….. definitely a bit of a fire drill as subsequent recovery to proper course had Sea Mist make some wild changes in direction with resulting backing of sails (no damage)…before course was reestablished in the St Thomas direction.

o        In the middle of the night, success came after several hours of troubleshooting: Radar began working properly…..and did so for remainder of passage without any adverse symptoms whatsoever

-          Day 3 – Nov 5 (Thursday)  

o        Just after darkness prevailed, when unfurling the main from the in-mast cavity, there appeared to be some problem causing a jam up in the unfurling action. Captain was wary that there might be a serious problem with the sail or the in-mast furler rotator/swivel. Investigation would require going aloft to the top of the mast to inspect. Decision was to attempt inspection by stabilized binoculars at first light in the morning….and then decide about going to the mast top in a bosun’s chair.

-          Day 4 – Nov 6 (Friday)  

o        Captain awoke at 3:30 am during his off-watch rest period and thought that he heard a small change in the sounds coming from the autopilot electric drive motor/hydraulic ram. Captain explained potential problems to on-watch crew and went back to rest.

o        At daybreak, binocular inspection of mast furler/ head of sail was not successful in ruling out a potential problem ….. nor did it confirm that a problem existed. Captain’s opinion was that an inspection from aloft was necessary.

o        At 9 a.m while considering climbing the mast, the Autopilot FAILED….and the fault diagnosis pointed to a very premature wear out of the brushes in the electric motor….which is buried/installed deep in the aft lazerette right up against the hull on port side. Diagnosis and repair would entail unloading the aft lazerette to gain access to the motor and the captain had a reasonably founded guess that a repair might not be possible due to brush arcing with the motor’s stator when the brush failed. However, the alternative would have been to hand steer Sea Mist all the way to St Thomas ….or an alternate destination perhaps in Florida to make it more achievable to do so with the limited crew on-board….particularly given the now current forecast for some heavy winds and seas.

o        9:30 am  - latest weather download showed increasing wind strength and sea heights would develop in the next couple of hours and would be sustained for the coming days.

o        9:45 am– With much angst, captain had the Admiral hoist him to the top of the mast to do the deemed necessary inspection where he did his best to limit the occasions of being swirled around like a tether ball at 75 feet above the deck/water ….as the wind as seas quickly and steadily built towards 25 kts of true windspeed. With much difficulty, a reasonable inspection was made of the condition of the head of the main sail and of the in-mast swivel furling mechanism.  All was determined OK….no worries for the rest of the passage on this front….but still the captain had to get back down to the deck….and success with that…phew!!....almost but no malade de mer but as close as it can be.

o        10:30 am – captain heads for the aft lazerette with new brushes and essential tools in hand. Crew member Vincent again flawlessly steered Sea Mist so that lazerette could be emptied without taking in seawater or losing gear overboard….and captain could access autopilot…..and SURPRISE > successfully removed old brushes and installed new ones…..and reloaded lazerette….without any water in or any items lost. Autopilot now operational and that worry was removed from the concerns list. The cause of the premature brush failure is known and will be addressed in the Caribbean …..and a spare on-board motor will be installed and will carry Sea Mist’s requirements while the troubled unit is rebuilt.

o        4:00 pm After winds have picked up considerably, the wind instruments then appeared to be accurately measuring the existing conditions > tried wind control of autopilot and SUCCESS !!...All working fine. Now the crew can relax and just monitor cross track error as Sea Mist just follows the wind which was remaining fairly stable in its direction at 060 > 070 degrees magnetic ….allowing us to steer approximately 70 – 80 degrees magnetic off the wind and keep our 165 degrees magnetic course to St Thomas. Autopilot steering worked flawlessly for remainder of passage.

o        6:00 pm Started generator to recharge house batteries. Discovered Mastervolt 24V/100 Am charger was faulting out….would not start and was giving a fault alarm that did not make sense in terms of something one could address without expert help from Mastervolt come business hours on Monday, Amsterdam time…..what about all the hours in between over the weekend.. Had to switch to using the main engine with its 150 Amp Hi-Output alternator installed on the Perkins…..diagnosis/repair to the Mastervolt charger that runs off the Westerbeke Genset would have to wait for the coming week.

o        During dark hours just before midnight, while Autopilot was steering by wind control, captain forgot to flip control over to compass control before making a VHF radio call to a passing Cargo Ship….AND…autopilot steering was disengaged by the RF (Radio Frequency) Signal noise with immediate warning being a uncontrolled change in direction. A scramble by the captain from the nav center to the wheel enabled recovery without any serious problem. (This interference of RF with wind control of steering is a well known/documented problem: you just have to remember to not touch the VHF microphone without disengaging the wind controlled steering….captain now puts warning tape across each hand held microphone so that this won’t happen again….as long as the practice of applying the warning tape is kept up when a shift to wind-controlled steering is made.

-          Day 5 – Nov 7 (Saturday):

o        12 noon…mysteriously, the Mastervolt charger started up without faulting out….all has remained well for the duration of the passage. Will have to follow up with Mastervolt’s technical experts in Amsterdam after arrival in St Thomas to investigate the fault code that had come up …and that prevented charger operation.

-          Day 6 - Nov 8 (Sunday):

o        Peaceful day….no problems….if you ignore the atrocious seas that were making it untenable to move around Sea Mist other than to carry out essentials like toilet and on-watch / off-watch climbing up the stairs to the cockpit

-          Day 7 – Nov 9 (Monday):

o        3 pm > heard loud snap > could see that the dinghy had changed its orientation where it hangs on the stern davits. Investigation found that one of the aft through hull eye bolts, by which the dinghy is attached to the davit cables, had spontaneously severed at the floor of the dinghy. ……luckily the belly straps that independently support the underside of the dinghy had taken the resulting load when the davit hanger suddenly failed. Using some short lines and the passerelle halyard, the dinghy was successfully resecured.

-          Day 8 – Nov 10 (Tuesday):

o        6:00 am discovered that the forward head has something caught in the macerator flush mechanism making for wild noisy flushing…..have had crew resort to aft head for remainder of passage. At this late stage in the trip, no need to effect inspection/repair while underway…..will handle once at anchor in St Thomas. Expect to find some sort of “foreign material” has wound around the macerator blades….likely no problem with toilet in terms of a mechanical nature.


And that my friends is the way to think about Ocean Passages as being something less than idyllic wanderings all the time……but certainly great when it is just that….like today…watching whales blow off our starboard quarter, watching a dolphin play around at the port side for a brief encounter even if not a full show….and all in all soaking up what sailing is really all about…..and quickly forgetting the nonsense that is recorded in this blog… that would not be fun memories so why keep them….but maybe worthwhile to record them for prosperity as they are forgotten from active memory.


Crew of Sea Mist

Now less than 60 nm from dropping anchor at Charlotte Amalie