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S/V Earendil
Rudderpost Tamed
03/01/2012, Thompson Bay, Long Island

One thing I've noticed about cruisers who've been at this for a while is that they don't get too excited about having to fix things. It is, it seems, all part of the experience and the more you do it the more confidence you have when the next problem presents itself. I say that knowing full well that a) the next thing that presents itself will be something we've never dealt with before and have no idea how to fix, at least until we start to dig into it and b) some things can be so bad that they end your cruise, or even your boat.

But to get back to our experience, I was pretty nervous when we discovered the leaking rudderpost while crossing Nurse Channel in the Ragged Islands. Salt water was coming into the boat! The bilge pump was coming on every 15 minutes or so and we were 80 miles from any parts and 100 miles from the only place around to pull the boat out of the water. When we got back here to Thompson Bay I was no longer afraid, but I was worried that we wouldn't be able to fix it without hauling the boat. Especially after Bud adjusted the stuffing box twice and the leak persisted.

Today, however, we tackled the problem and learned a few more things about our boat. The stuffing box consisted of two halves. There is a lower flange on top of a cylinder with a lip that turns in towards the shaft. There is an upper flange with a thick cylinder that also fits loosely around the shaft, but the upper cylinder drops partway into the lower cylinder. Then you put packing material (flax impregnated with wax or Teflon) into the lower cylinder, the bottom lip keeps it from falling out. You push the upper cylinder down so it compresses the packing material and you bolt them together. Tightening the bolts compresses the packing material and squeezes it more tightly against the shaft, sealing the water out but allowing the shaft to turn.

The instructions in the owner's manual say to use a small drift or similar pointy item to dig the old packing material out. What they don't say is that after 28 years the top layer of the packing material is so compressed that it's rock-hard, and falls into almost dust as you try to dig it out. They also don't tell you that almost no tool will actually fit in the space you have to work in. We ended up taking turns at the digging, using a small screwdriver, a piece of wire hanger, and a large upholstery needle as our tools. It took about four hours to finally get all the old material out. The good new was that the top of the rudderpost was above the waterline, just. The bad news was that the autopilot, that has a steering arm attached to the rudderpost just above the stuffing box and below the regular steering quadrant, was obviously installed some time after the stuffing box had been in use for a while and adjusted. With the new packing Bud couldn't get the stuffing box compressed enough so the autopilot arm would clear the stuffing box bolt. He ended up having to grind a bit of the bolt off! There's room on the shaft above the installation point, so the arm could have been installed higher, but it wasn't.

But, the job is done, the rudderpost no longer leaks. Although we still have to test it at sea under load, the condition of the old packing was so bad that we have little doubt that the new packing will have solved the problem. Probably the most amazing thing about this repair is that is cost us $6.50 for a second package of packing material. So I was feeling pretty happy as the sun set on this day!

Late-breaking News! Bud told me the Internet had a good signal late at night, so it's 1 AM and I just finished uploading the photos from the Jumentoes & Raggeds. They are in their own album.

The Problem's Not Solved, But We Have Hope
02/29/2012, Thompson Bay, Long Island

We took another little jaunt to nowhere today. We pulled the anchor and went out on the banks sailing with just the jib. We wanted to see if the rudderpost was still leaking. It was. We pulled the jib in and let the boat drift and Bud went down and tightened the stuffing box some more. We turned around, put out the jib again and sailed back. Still leaking.

5.78 nautical miles later we are about 100 feet from where we were. The anchor is set nicely again. Bud made a dinghy run to town for water and to refill our one propane tank. While he was gone I looked for more information on the stuffing box for the rudderpost in the Norseman Owner's Manual (I have an electronic copy we downloaded from the Norseman Owner's Group web site). It told how to replace the shaft packing in the prop shaft (which is obviously underwater) and said it can be done with the boat in the water. It said to do the rudderpost the same way, although the top of the rudderpost is supposed to be above water. We're not so sure it is, with the extra weight we have on the boat, but at least we have instructions on replacing it. Tomorrow I'm going to the marine store to try to buy some more shaft packing material, we have a little, but not enough. It's supposed to take 5 wraps, we probably have enough for 2.

So we are hopeful that our problem can be solved without hauling the boat. We'll see.

At least the propane was a good price. $25 for a 20 pound tank refill.

03/03/2012 | Colin
If you have the very thin plastic that they use when you get your dry cleaning, cut it into manageable sizes and pass them one at a time to the snorkeler who wraps them around the rudder at the point were it comes thru the hull. I saw it done on a big power boat in the north channel. The mechanic pulled the stuffing box off and there was nothing coming in. Colin
No Internet!
02/28/2012, Thompson Bay, Long Island

So the big deal today was going into Long Island Breeze to use the Internet. We decided to eat dinner there and I even took a shower for the occasion. When you have to haul your water in 5-gallon jerry cans, 20 gallons at a time from a dock that is a mile from the boat, taking the water for a shower is not done lightly. I can't wash my hair in this bay either. There is fine silt mixed with the sand and when the wind blows the water gets silty. You can barely see the bottom is 8 feet of water! Not what I want to use to wash my hair.

Anyway, we packed up our garbage (the dumpster is next door to the resort at the government dock), Fuzzy and his food and set out. Bud hung out with Fuzzy while I went up to get on-line...and I couldn't! For some reason my computer would not accept the password. I think the password had changed while we were away, but when Mike tried to enter it in the computer for me it timed out. I tried several different times, several different ways, but in the end I couldn't get on. So no pictures and I'm trying to post this via the free Internet we've grabbed from the boat. Now I don't know when I'll get good Internet again. We did have a nice dinner.

Tomorrow we're going to take the boat out and check out the rudderpost to see if adjusting the stuffing box got the leak under control. Then we'll make plans for the next little while. I'll post things one way or another, and add all the pictures as soon as I can.

Problem Solved?
02/27/2012, Thompson Bay, Long Island

We had a bit of weather last night. First it rained and Bud got up and shut the hatches before things got too wet. Then later there was a short time with a LOT of wind; Bud thought it went up over 30 knots. He went out on deck and made sure nothing blew away. I slept through all of that. I got up just after the rain for Fuzzy patrol, Fuzzy and I walked out on the foredeck. That was only about 11 PM. Then I slept out in the salon with Fuzzy for the rest of the night. Slept right through Bud going up during the wind. Fuzzy slept through until about 6 AM, then I took him on deck again.

This morning we wanted to do two things. We wanted to see about adjusting the stuffing box around the rudderpost, to see if the bolts would move and to see if it would have any effect on the leaking. We also wanted to defrost the freezer. We moved all the food from the refrigerator into buckets, put ice on top and covered them with towels under the dinette table (about the coolest spot on the boat). We then moved all the food from the freezer into the refrigerator and turned the fridge on and the freezer off. We put a pan of heated salt water (don't want to waste fresh water) in the freezer and let it defrost.

Meanwhile, I stacked all the bedding up on one side of the bed and opened the panel above the rudderpost. Bud crawled up there and took a look. He was able to turn the bolts. He turned them and dried things up and then waited to see if it helped. He also put WD-40 on the upper bearing while I turned the wheel. Later, when he inspected it again, he used a mirror to really take a look at things. He found nuts on the bottom of the bolts, so his first attempt hadn't tightened anything, he'd just turned the nuts along with the bolts. So he tried again. Happily he was able to tighten the bolts. It did slow the drip to a tiny ooze. He didn't want to over tighten them and risk stripping or braking them because then we would have a serious leak that would require taking the boat about 20 miles from here to the only marina in this part of the Bahamas that can pull a boat. It's Stella Maris, the one we went and looked at, and we have to go in their four-mile long channel at high tide. We think we're okay now, but like so many things on the boat, we're not sure. We plan to take the boat out, probably Thursday, when the wind drops a bit, but not too much, and sail around and check it under sail.

We did get the freezer done and both the freezer and refrigerator cleaned and repacked. We're still trying to get the freezer back to temperature, it's a good thing the wind is blowing and the wind generator is making power or we'd have to run the generator for sure.

We've been trying to spend a bit of time with Fuzzy on the beach. He won't walk far, but we do try to get him to walk some. He likes going to the beach, but he doesn't want to go far or stay long. I took a picture of Bud waiting with the dinghy while I give Fuzzy some beach time. Bud walks with us a bit, because that encourages Fuzzy to walk, but while Fuzzy should walk, Bud shouldn't, so it's a compromise.

I've posted this and the photos for the recent entries using wifi accessed with our antenna. It's not the best, so I'm not trying to update the gallery. Tomorrow Long Island Breeze is open so we plan to eat dinner there and I'll take the computer and do some put all the pictures from the Jumentoes and Raggeds into the gallery.

Domestic Stuff
02/26/2012, Thompson Bay, Long Island

The wind did start to blow today. Bud wanted to get more water, both before the wind got too strong and before they ran out. Since it's Sunday, Long Island Petroleum will only be open a few hours, so he got up about 7 AM to get ready to go. Neither of us usually sleep that late, but Bud took his turn with Fuzzy last night, so when Fuzzy woke me up at about 11:30 Bud took him out on deck. We put the deck light on, put his leash on him and take him out on the foredeck. In a few minutes he pees. We wash it off with a bucket of salt water we have ready and bring him back down. He seems to settle down then, but he won't come back to the berth and we can't leave him on his own, so one of us gets a bad night's sleep on the setee in the salon. I'd done it for two nights in a row, so Bud did it last might. I got up at 5 and let Bud sleep from 5 until 7, then the day began.

Anyway, Bud made two more trips for water. He got 40 more gallons, so altogether he's gotten 80 gallons. We are still down about 10 or 15 gallons in the starboard tank. While he was going for water I asked him to check the store for ammonia. One of the other cruisers told Bud they do their hand wash with ammonia and they don't have to rinse the clothes. The ammonia will evaporate along with the water. Since the laundromat is not open here in Salt Pond and we aren't sure what we have to do with the boat with the leaking rudder stock, I wanted to do some laundry by hand. Bud brought back the ammonia and I did two bucket loads. I used the same water, starting with the underwear and ending with some shirts and one pair of shorts. I hung them out on the life-lines where the rising wind whipped them around quite a bit. I'm not sure how clean they are, but they smell nice from the sun and wind.

This afternoon Bud made another batch of conch stew. We thought we ought to take Fuzzy ashore for a bit, since otherwise he spends the days sleeping (then he's up at night) and Bud needed to bruise the conch (bruise is the official word for beat the heck out of it with a plastic hammer). So we took the conch, the cutting board, the hammer and Fuzzy and headed for the beach. Fuzzy and I walked while Bud pounded. It's all I can do to get Fuzzy to walk a few hundred yards up and down the beach. Even at that he gets a bit tottery at times. It's very hard to see his decline, it's so pronounced this year.

We came back and I worked on some sewing while Bud worked on the stew. We've been officially in the tropics for 5 weeks now, and my pajamas have long pants and long sleeves. I tried to find shorty pajamas before we left Florida, but in the fall in north Florida they weren't selling them. I finally gave up and cut the sleeves off two of my pajama tops. Bud says they look like muscle shirts, but they are a lot more comfortable.

Fuzzy had his supper and we had delicious conch stew. We took Fuzzy to the beach one more time, and that was it for the day. We didn't tackle the rudder post because Bud wants to be sure businesses are open and help and parts available before he tries something. I did spray WD-40 on the bolts before I made up the bed.

No picture, I have internet and posted the others, but dirty laundry didn't inspire me.

Back at Thompson Bay
02/25/2012, Thompson Bay, Long Island

Sailing in to Thompson Bay is beginning to feel like coming home. It is nice to come in to some place familiar. We know right where we can set the anchor, we know the depth is right, we know the anchor will set. We've been lucky, our spot has been open every time we've come back. Today there weren't too many boats here, I think I counted 12 or so. That's less than there were at Hog Cay! Most of the boats have gone to Georgetown for the Cruiser's Regatta. It's a week of parties, games and sailing. It's also a week where there are likely to be 400 boats in Elizabeth Harbour. It's not really our kind of fun. It starts either the 28th or 29th of February, but since it's supposed to blow like stink for the next four days, I think a lot of boats got to Georgetown today.

We had an uneventful trip here today. We got a fairly early start after taking Fuzzy ashore and then lifting the dinghy on the davits. We left Water Cay before 7:30. We tried to sail the first leg, but it was too close, so we motor-sailed. Our course then took us 12 degrees further off the wind and we were able to sail for about 7 miles. Then the wind began to shift towards the front of the boat and die a bit, so the engine came back on. It's not like you can decide to fall off the wind and make it up later. A lot of these places have shallows and reefs not far off the course. Not long after we turned the engine on we saw some dolphins. A group of 5 came and swam at the bow of the boat. They stayed there a couple of minutes until I managed to get the camera out, then they were gone.

When we got up the the wide, shallow channel that cuts east back to Long Island the wind was almost on the nose and very light. We pulled in the jib and stay-sail and motored on with just the main. There was so little wind that the surface of the water was just lightly ripppled. The whole 11 miles of the channel the water never gets more than 12 feet deep, even at high tide. I told Bud it was sailing across a huge swimming pool (the water is that clear). I was trying to get a picture of the starfish we were passing, and managed to catch one with the shadow of me and the boat alongside the starfish. I'll post it once I have Internet access again (Long Island Breeze Resort is closed Sunday and Monday, so Tuesday looks like the day!).

The wind got so light we ended up putting all the sails away on the last leg of the Comer Channel. We even got the main zipped up in the stack pack. Then as we got near Long Island the wind picked up a bit and was from the North, so we pulled out the jib again. We gained 0.4 knot. Wow. Bud said he's just concerned that I get enough weight bearing exercise to fight osteoporosis. How thoughtful. Anyway, that worked for about a half an hour, then the wind shifted back east and we pulled the jib in again.

Once we were anchored Bud took the dinghy in to get four jugs of water (20 gallons) and one jug of gas. He was also going to reserve a laundry spot for Tuesday at Long Island Breeze, but found out their laundry is closed due to a water shortage. Mike, at Long Island Breeze told Bud he wasn't sure how long Long Island Petroleum would have water, and Bud should stock up on water right away. So Bud made a second run and got another 20 gallons and he'll go tomorrow morning (before they close at 11 AM) and get 20 more.

Fuzzy is having trouble with incontinence and we need to get him to a vet. There's a good vet in Georgetown, but before we take the boat anywhere else we need to figure out what's going on with the rudder post. So that's our agenda for the next little while.

By the way, we never heard anything about the flare last night, so we think the Bahamians set it off for fun.

02/26/2012 | Gordo
Thank you for generously sharing your experiences and thoughts. Your description of all aspects of your adventure; sailing, navigating, boat maintenance and social makes yours a most interesting narrative. You are an excellent writer. Regards -- Gordo
02/27/2012 | Lynne Taylor
I'll second the previous comment...we also enjoy following your blog as we prepare to make the trip in 2012. We 're learning plenty from your blog!

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