We know that the deeper we get into the cruising life, and particularly the farther we get from North America, the harder it will be to fix what breaks, find what we need or get where we’re going. But we’re still in the land of big box stores, cheap shipping costs for mail order and tradesmen who speak English. So how hard can it be to get a hydraulic ram fixed?
We determined that the most likely cause of the autopilot failure is the leaking ram. Roger sent us detailed instructions for refilling it, but we decided to have someone who knows what he’s doing take a look and give it a good going over. There were a few hydraulic service places near Charleston, but nothing within easy access of the waterfront. Further afield there was Little River Welding and Hydraulics, 120 miles north, but located within 1/2 mile of the Intercoastal Waterway. We’re frustrated to be motoring so much in the ditch, but an autopilot is essential for any ocean passage so we decided to head for Little River.
With all this motoring we’re still coming to grips with the fuel capacity and burn rate. The first time we bought fuel the gauge read half but it only took 25 gallons. This is supposed to be a 100-gallon tank. We’re keeping careful records but we’re not too excited about the prospect of running out of fuel, no matter where we are.
Six hours north of Charlotte and facing a long stretch with no services, we stopped at Leland Oil Company in McClellanville, SC, to top up the tank. It was a tricky entrance, with wind and current pushing us all over the place, but Jack managed to get us gently docked for fuel and water. As we were leaving the proprietor helped us get away safely and as soon as we were free from the dock he hollered, “Get those fenders in! You look like McHale’s Navy!”
These are the longest days of the year. We can run much longer in a day than usual and we wanted to try to get to the hydraulic repair shop in two days. We kept at it ’til we reached Minam Creek, as quiet and desolate a place as we’ve been. We anchored safely about 7 pm just in time to batten the hatches as rain and wind blew through. Looking around after the storm we saw no lights, no houses or other structures, no cell service, nothing. In my mind I could hear the opening bars of Deliverance.
Later, we noticed the top of a sailboat mast in the creek west of the ICW, about a quarter mile from us. Jack got excited and wanted to call them on the VHF but I talked him out of it. I figure anyone who purposely anchors in such an out-of-the-way place probably wants to be alone. We made quesadillas and salsa and read and listened to music. Sometimes it’s nice to be unplugged.
Morning brought the worst windlass trauma yet. The chain jammed so hard that Jack had to completely disassemble the gypsy to get it out, and when he finally got all the chain aboard he was as angry as I’ve ever seen him. The bolts, which we had already replaced once, were bent again. We vowed to spend time on the phone with the windlass manufacturer and get to the bottom of this problem.
The rest of the day was better. We had a fair current and made great time toward our goal. I spent the day evaluating the various marina options in the vicinity of the repair shop. I also called the shop and let them know we were coming. They promised to take care of us as soon as they could as long as they had the parts available.
All day long we monitored the weather and watched as dark clouds chased us and threatened to force us to seek shelter before we reached Little River. I kept a running tab on where we could drop the hook or tie up if we needed to.
We arrived at Coquina Yacht Club and got EV tied to the dock about 5:30 just as the wind kicked up again. We showered and walked to a waterfront eatery and had the first unhealthy fried foods we’d had in a long time. It sure looked good at first, but we both felt a little sick later. Boat food is better.
When we got back to the boat we discovered that the outlets on the starboard side of the boat aren’t working. The last time we were plugged in to shore power they worked fine. Now ten days later no power on the right. It’s a good thing that our cabin and the galley are on the working side, but we need to figure this out. We also think there ought to be a GFCI on each of these circuits.
Tuesday morning Jack pulled the ram and we walked it across the street to Little River Welding and Hydraulics. Bill said he’d do it right away, we petted New Guy the cat and went next door to Sunny Side Up for breakfast. Back at the boat we tried to puzzle out when and why the starboard outlets ceased to function. No luck. Electricity is beyond us.
Jack also called Maxwell, the windlass company and went through the possible scenarios. At first the agent suspected a mismatch between the chain and gypsy, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Still, it’s not working the way it should and we need to get that fixed or Jack’s going to spontaneously combust one of these days.
Bill called after lunch and told us the ram was ready. He said the seal where the cylinder was leaking was cracked and crumbling, so no wonder. He charged us a fair price for the work, gave us part numbers for reference and sent us on our way with a cheerful “safe travels!” We took the ram home and Jack had it hooked up and tested it no time. No leaks, or at least no leaks at the dock where there are no forces on it. We hope this keeps us piloted for a while.
What looked like it might be an annoying ordeal ended up as easy as pie. Sometimes the magic works.