Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Dodging bullets in Viveiro

The story is getting to be all-too familiar on this bloody coastline:  the weather forecasts agreed on 10 to 15 knots of wind with an occasional afternoon gust to 20; we had 20-25 knot sustained winds with gusts to 32, and a nasty crossed swell just to make things more interesting.   It’s so frustratingly common now that it hardly merits mention.  Just Grrr!

Ria de Viveiro

But we did learn something new, or rather, gained a new appreciation of something we thought we understood.  Stiff winds and steep headlands make for strange bedfellows.  It’s very difficult to predict how the winds will behave in these areas, since the winds go both around and up-and-over the headlands, leaving strange swirls of both calm and accelerations where you would least expect them, even up to a mile offshore.  The situation calls for extreme caution and for avoiding any rash behavior such as, for example, deciding that all is well and shaking out your reefs prematurely, leaving you with full sail up whilst 32 knots of wind blast up your behind. 

The other thing Patrick learned (which I had learned years ago) was not to offer up your fingers to the mainsail traveler cam cleat while jibing vigorously in 32 knots of wind.  The flesh that was ripped off was, he insists, superficial, but blood in the cockpit does nothing to diffuse an already stressful situation.  Gloves, people.  Gloves. 

Since we were only 3 miles from the entrance to the Ria de Viveiro, we decided to treat ourselves and take down all sail to motor in.  Just as we entered the ria, the motor shuddered and started making a screeching, grinding noise.  We put the motor in neutral and the noise stopped.  We put it back in gear and the noise was still there, and getting worse.  For good measure, Patrick put it in reverse and the noise was different but still alarming.  A quick look at the motor revealed nothing.  The winds were calm once inside the ria, so we quickly rolled out the genoa and glided easily down the estuary, while Patrick looked up the telephone number for the port office.  Fortunately for us, the harbor master, a man of innumerable talents named Fernando, speaks fluent French and was still at work at 6pm on a Friday night.  We told them we would come up to the port under sail but needed a tow into the port. 
When all was settled, I went down and looked at the back of the motor from a compartment under the rear cabin berths.  The sight made my blood run cold.  There were metal shavings all over the floor and what looked like a cracked propeller shaft coupling.

A loose shaft and metal shavings
When we were safely in a slip, the harbor master came aboard to look at the motor.  The whistle he gave is, I’m convinced, instantly recognizable in any language as a combination of “bad” and “wow”. He started talking about having to pull the boat out of the water, or in the very least, pull the motor out of the compartment to re-weld the shaft.  Later (e.g., after a big and well-deserved whiskey) Patrick started poking around and discovered that it wasn’t as bad as it looked.  For some mysterious reason, the bolts that connect the shaft to the propeller shaft coupling had come loose.  One of the bolts had slid back far enough that it was scraping against the clutch housing as the shaft turned, cutting little ribbons of metal as it spun.  (See my homemade diagram for more information and, if you know anything about motors and/or mechanical drawing, a good laugh.)

Fully decoupled, but no other apparent damage

1. Clutch housing.  2. Shaft.  3. Offending bolts that loosened, slid back and scraped against the clutch housing.   4. Propeller shaft coupling.  5. Propeller shaft.

The mechanic confirmed the diagnosis, and simply replaced and tightened the bolts with generous doses of Loctite.  He also reduced the idle speed to 800 rpms so that when the motor is put into gear it doesn’t make that horrible Ka-LUNK noise (or not as badly anyway).  He was here and gone within one hour.  We haven’t received the bill yet, but we both agree that this incident clearly falls into the “bullets dodged” file.

Everything back in place.
Despite everything, Patrick smiled at me later that night and said “it’s a beautiful life, isn’t it?”  I gave him the “not amused” look, but then realized he wasn’t joking, and that it probably wasn’t the whiskey or finger pain fogging his brain.  “No, I’m serious.  I wouldn’t want a life with no excitement, no thrills, no danger.  I could never feel this alive by golfing or gardening.”   We realized that this was our 3rd tow and our 3rd surprise gale (the lightest) in only 2 years.  I hate to think we’re getting used to it, but when the motor went down this time, I had none of the regular cement-in-the-stomach sensations.  There’s no education like experience.   Keep calm and sail on…

But wait!  There’s more!  After only one night at anchor and a very windy day sail where the wind turbine should have been charging at maximum strength, the batteries still managed to dip down to 11.6 volts and shut down the GPS.  They are only 4 years old, but they were probably cooked when the shore power charger malfunctioned and died just before we left home.  Our trusty Fernando has found us some top quality batteries for cheaper than we would pay in France, and they will be installed tomorrow.  Now we just have to sit tight and wait for a 2-3 day storm system to pass over us and we’ll be good to go on to the next adventure.  Ah, la belle vie.