Dream Away Update 12-Dec-2004


I hope that I am able to get all of the information in here, beginning from the time we returned to Houston to fix our steering problem. On the eleventh of November, we got back to Watergate Yachting Center started cleaning the boat, resting, and catching up with our selves.

I decided, to be sure the steering problem was found and fixed, I would take all of the units out and have them checked. We took the pump from the binnacle, and the auto pilot pump from under the cockpit and the ram off the rudder. I took these to a local hydraulic shop to have them checked and see what the problem was. That was on a Friday. The shop said that they could not get the units looked at and fixed before the next Tuesday. As it turned out, it was the next Wednesday before we got them back. The shop said that they could find no problem with any of the units. Not really good news as it obvious to me that there was some kind of problem.

Because of this delay, we knew that we would not able to get to Miami in time for Thanksgiving, so we decided to stay in Houston for the holiday. The first plan was to leave on the weekend after Thanksgiving, but that did not work out. The second plan was to leave between the 2nd and 5th of December, and the plan that really got put into place was to leave around December eighth. I will attempt to fill in the time between the 10th of November and the 8th of December.

As mentioned above, getting the steering parts back took more time than I had anticipated. The reason for the first departure delay was an engine problem, unfortunately self- induced. I had one last small engine oil leak that I wanted to eliminate. It is very annoying to have oil dripping into the bilge. To do this, I had to replace the gasket between the block and the front plate. To get the front plate off of the engine, three drive gears had to be removed from the engine. The inner and outer cam gears and the injector pump drive gear also had to be removed. When we put the engine back together, one bolt was not correctly torqued. After the engine was started, the bolt backed out and caused the injector pump drive gear to break. This is not a good thing on an engine that was last built in 1970.

On Wednesday morning, I got on the Internet and started looking for the gears. The injector drive gear was completely broken, and the inner cam gear had four teeth broken off. I was able to find and order the two used gears. The parts did not arrive until the Wednesday after Thanksgiving. The engine had to be put back together and I still had to go out into the bay to verify that the steering was again working as it was designed.

Since I had all of this time, I decided to put it to good use. The first thing is that I put the hydraulic steering all back together, with one very useful addition. As it turns out the emergency tiller cannot be used to steer the boat without one first removing the hydraulic ram from the rudder shaft. Not a very clever idea if you have to use the emergency tiller in the first place. I decided to install a cutout valve so that the tiller could be used easily in an emergency (more on this later). This took a lot of time as we needed to bleed the system and install the new valve.

I also decided that I would get the ice machine and water maker working. I also wanted to install the dinghy davits before we left the Houston area.

By Friday, the third of December, the ice machine was working and cranking out large amounts of ice cubes in both AC and DC modes. The dinghy davits were installed and functional. The water maker was working, but had not been tested with seawater. I did not want to run the filthy raw water in Clear Lake into the system. We would wait until we got to Offatt's Bayou to test the water maker under real conditions. On this day we took the boat out into the bay to check the steering, and the steering was just as bad as it had been on our last Gulf crossing attempt. I was not a very happy camper.

My crew person, Al, and I decided to take out the steering pump and see if we could find the problem. To do this, we needed a couple of fittings that we could not find locally. It was recommended that we go to a hydraulics shop in another town, close by (20 miles). We went there and they had the parts. I asked the owner if he could check my hydraulic pump if I brought it in and he said yes, but it was 3 PM already and a very nasty, rainy day so we were unsure if we could get the pump back to him by close of business. At any rate, we got the pump to him by 1715. I assumed that I would leave the pump with him, and find out on Monday when the pump would be done. So much for assumptions!! He got right on it, found a stuck relief valve, cleaned the unit, made sure that the unit performed as advertised, and we were out of there by 1930. Very impressive.

The new plan was to leave Watergate Yachting center on the sixth of December, go to Offatt's Bayou, which is a deep water anchorage in Galveston. We would rest and get a good night's sleep, and than get going on the crossing the next day, December seventh. This plan was one day off, as Monday the sixth of December dawned rainy and awful, so the departure was delayed a day.

We did leave Watergate Yachting Center the morning of the seventh and we stopped and topped off fuel, then went out into the bay, we did a check of the steering system and it worked just fine. We then continued on to Offatt's Bayou and anchored. We tested the water maker, had dinner, and got to bed early. We were up at 0530, had breakfast, pulled up the anchor, and were on our way. We cleared the Galveston jetties at 1000.

As is usual for a Gulf crossing, the wind was not favorable or a very high velocity, so we motor sailed for the first day and a half. I had decided to get as far south as possible before turning east to get away from as many oil rigs as possible off of the south Louisiana coast. This plan worked out very well. The one bad problem was that after 18 hours we started having steering problems. We talked about the possibility of returning to Houston, but because of a large cold front (Norther) on its way, we would have had to beat back, and with the bad steering, this did not seem like the correct decision to make. We decided to press on, and make the best of a bad situation.

The cold front came on as advertised with increasing winds up to 30 knots and seas that got as high as 8-12 feet. We were in deep water but quite a few drilling rigs were around us, so we asked one if they had a mooring or an attachment point that we could use so that we could fix our steering. They didn't have any moorings, but they sent over a work boat to which we did in fact tether for a while. When we told them we would need at least 10 to 12 hours to take the system apart and find the problem, they said that it was not possible as they had this job thing to worry about!! Go Figure.

We decided to press on, using the emergency tiller, which was now working. It was very obvious after a couple of hours that this would not work without a compass in the after cabin, which was the attachment point for the emergency tiller. Our surplus GPSs would not hold a useful signal below deck.

We then decided that the best thing to do was to heave to. This is a method of rigging the sails and rudder so that the boat "parks", which basically puts you into a controlled drift. We raised the staysail for the jib portion of the rig and hoisted the mainsail with two reefs in it, and that worked out very well. The two problems of using this operation were, 1) we were worrying about drifting down on some rigs, and 2) during a particularly heavy blow, the staysail's stay rig point on deck broke off. This caused quite a bit of excitement. However, even without the staysail up, the ride was pretty comfortable.

The next morning it looked as if we were going to drift down on a rig named Deep Water Horizons, so we unlashed the emergency tiller, and powered out of their way. By the way, this rig was drilling in about 850 fathoms of water. As we were moving past them, they contacted us and we explained the situation to them. They were very concerned, but of course, they could not offer much help. Saturday morning we spent the time resting and trying to get some sleep. In the afternoon, we got to work on the steering. We took the pump off, took it apart, and cleaned the relief valve. That got it working, and it seemed to be just fine. We almost got it all back together before dark. We quit at dark and had a great dinner prepared by Kitty.

There were a couple of nice surprises. A USCG aircraft flew over us and made contact. They had gotten the word that there was a sailboat in distress in the mid-Gulf. We gave them the information that they needed, and they flew back home. As they say, nothing goes to weather like an airplane! The other nice thing that happened was that Deep Water Horizons had a boat that was at the rig for work, cargo transport, and anything else assigned to them. The workboat was named Sea Pacer, and they did not have any assigned work at that particular time, so they got permission to be our baby sitter for the night. This was great, as we did not have to stand a watch to keep on the lookout for other ship traffic. We were able to get a pretty good night's sleep. This was a very helpful service to us and we will be writing letters to their powers that be when we reach land.

Today dawned beautiful, with a flat calm sea and, of course, not much wind. The Sea Pacer had to take care of some work so the bid us adieu around 0630. Before Sea Pacer left, they gave us the latest weather report. Another front is predicted to be coming through tomorrow, Monday afternoon, and is forecast to be as bad as the last one, with anticipated 20 to 30 knot winds and 8-12 foot seas. It will last a couple of days before moderating.

We checked the steering and it was the same as before. We could steer, with tiresome difficulty, both at the wheel topside, or use the emergency tiller down below. We came up with a plan to try and address the steering problem, but because of the front coming, it was decided to get as far east as possible. We would sail, motor sail or just motor, but try and get as far away from the front as we could.

As it turns out we are making about 6.8 knots over the ground, the seas are flat, and the wind is close enough to our nose that we cannot sail. The wind is predicted to come from the southwest before the front gets here, so we will do some sailing then. When the front hits, we will heave to again and wait it out. When it passes we will again be heading to Tampa.

When we get to the Tampa Bay area, we will try and find a marina, perhaps in the Bradenton/Palmetto area, as that is the closest to the entrance to Tampa Bay. We will get the steering fixed and then decide what the plan will be!!



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