A community of saints

We’ve been on our boat for less than two years and except for a couple of ocean forays and short cruises on other peoples’ boats we were completely new to the liveaboard and cruising world when we bought Escape Velocity. Luckily everything we’d read about the community of boaters is true, that help is almost always just a dinghy ride away. In the time we’ve been aboard we’ve been helped in a hundred ways, from Marty on True Colors pulling middle of the night ferry duty when Jack had surgery in Ft. Lauderdale, to Alan of Snow White hauling himself up the mast to troubleshoot our wind instrument in Port Washington, to Nancy and Jeff Sternberger in Miami offering their guest room and their out-pilings as our official home. We’re grateful for every bit of advice, every nicetie, every sundowner invitation, every gift of baked goods before a passage, every loan of a tool, every word of encouragement.

There’s a special subset of cruisers who don’t just offer advice or help but pick a time and place and show up with their sleeves rolled up to do whatever needs doing. We’ve been lucky to count many of these saints as friends and we don’t know how we’d have come this far without them. Kris and Dean of What If first started their Save Escape Velocity program in Annapolis when they answered my plea to help us anchor in the tight squeeze of Back Creek during the boat show. Since then they’ve shown up with tools and parts and seemingly all the time in the world to climb the mast, squeeze into the engine rooms and burrow through wiring chases on more fix-it missions than we can count. They also took care of EV when we flew back to Miami for Jack’s medical visit, completely removing the boat from our worry list.

There’s Mark of Macushla who discovered the broken universal on our furler, helped reinstall the replacement, helped replace our anchor chain, tuned the rig, cleaned the bottom, replaced zincs, and generally got us on task when we needed a push.

There’s Ron in St. Thomas who’s not even on a boat anymore but who’s always there with the pithy but sage bit of wisdom that jolts us out of our confused paralysis like a ray of sunshine leading us to a confident decision. When we have an equipment problem I think he stays up nights mentally troubleshooting, then emails us detailed instructions to follow. When we were in St. Thomas he opened up our SSB radio to rule that out as the source of our communications problem.

There’s a new entry in our pantheon of cruising saints, George Huffman, caretaker of Summer Wind. He’s know as That Boat Guy and little did we know as we shared sundowners and gratefully accepted rides to the store in his rental car that he would become Escape Velocity Saint for Life. He listened patiently to our wailing about the autopilot, about the stonewalling we got from Benjamin Brown, the local official “certified” Raymarine technician, about the virtual shrug we got from tech support. When the replacement parts came back and didn’t fix the problem, George snapped into action. Despite being slowed by a painful paragliding landing he used Jack as his hands and eyes and worked through the autopilot installation, then formulated a troubleshooting plan that would work us out of the hole we were in. First up, he disconnected everything from the autopilot except what was necessary for it to run, then had Jack pull the sensor out of its “electrical storm” location and tape it temporarily out in the cockpit. We pulled up the anchor and motored toward the turning basin at the Port of Ponce. Before we were even there George hit the ‘auto’ button and just like that we had a functioning autopilot. (Damn. I buried the lead.)

Why, you might ask, couldn’t Ben Brown of Schafer and Brown, the authorized factory rep, do this? He had moved the sensor out of the cabinet but apparently not far enough away, and when it didn’t make any difference in performance he concluded that the sensor location wasn’t the problem, sending us off in the wrong direction of troubleshooting, then washed his hands of us and refused to finish what he started. It was the problem, and even Ron in St. Thomas knew this remotely because after reading our blog posts on the pilot failure he sent an email saying as much.

So we’ve made a huge leap forward. We still need to find a completely isolated location for the sensor, and to that end we’ve asked Raymarine to send us long cables which they’ve agreed to do at no charge, so good for them. Once we get the cables and get the sensor reinstalled we’ll start building back the system, adding one thing at a time until we know the problems are solved. At the very least, we know the pilot will work independently as long as the sensor has no electromagnetic interference. The installation instructions recommend the sensor be installed three feet from any potential sources of interference yet the original installer picked the location, and the local tech here in Puerto Rico blessed it. We’ve shared this information with Raymarine and suggested they might revise their guidelines because they obviously didn’t work on our boat. And because of their trained techs’ complete failure to put this thing in right we’ve suffered much frustration and heartache, not to mention the time and money involved.

George, in the meantime, hasn’t stopped with the autopilot, but helped replace our halyards, advised on our SSB antenna and watermaker and just generally set his mind to task on anything we mention that has us buffaloed. As I say, he’s a saint. And he apparently can fix anything.

All of these people share common qualities I wish we had, a cheerful no-nonsense approach to any problem and an endless curiosity about how things work and how to improve them.

There’ve been so many other people who have helped us and we’re so grateful to them all — the crews of Moana Roa, Flying Cloud, Field Trip, Sea Schell, Auspicious, Warrior for Life, Little Star, too many more to mention. Add to that the amazing ground support team of my sister and brother-in-law Nancy and Dave, and our son and daughter-in-law Drew and Ericka, and our niece Emily and we never feel alone or on our own. There’s always someone we can turn to for whatever ails us or EV.

We’re in cruiser heaven.


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4 Responses to A community of saints

  1. Dave Kent

    It’s a relief to those of us following your story to know you’ve finally turned the corner on the autopilot problem.

  2. Ericka

    Awesome news! Here’s hoping that’s the entirety of the problem.

  3. Nancy Smith

    Fantastic Guys. We are listening and keeping our fingers crossed for you with whatever you do. Sail on!

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