17 March 2019
Even after six years there are a few parts of Leela that have not been closely inspected. After today's experience that ends now. We had never needed to remove the steering chain that goes over a sprocket on the wheel hub and connects to the steering cables.
Anyway, we decided to replace the steering cables as a precaution before going blue water. The photo is exactly as found. This is a critical center link in the steering chain. If it failed the two chain sections would fall down the pedestal and prevent wheel steering. In the worst case they could jam the cables and prevent the autopilot working.
So... neither split pin has been flared at all and one has almost fallen out. The way the chain was installed this opening link was not visible until the chain was removed from the pedestal. The previous owners were not DIY buffs so this was almost certainly yard work.
The lesson for us with this and the no-brand cutlass bearing that came unglued, is to trust no one and check everything. I'm pretty sure this is our last 'unexplored' territory but I'm going to lose some sleep thinking about it.
The good news today is we have reached the turning point. The steering is in pieces, the autopilot is disassembled, there are bits of Hydrovane scattered all over the boat, the prop shaft, stuffing box and cutlass bearing are all out, the boat is at maximum (and impressive) disruption. BUT, now we can start putting stuff back together having considerably de-risked our future travels. All good news - apart from needing some small and obscure parts that are almost certainly not available in Panama - it's a boat.....