Tuesday, June 22, 2021

The Journey from Panama: Chapter 8, Reflections

What a trip! Six days planned out to go straight from Panama to Turks and Caicos, sailing, avoiding high winds and currents, turned into  11 days with way too much hand steering, too little sleep, and too much wind and current in our faces.

But we made it and it's said "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger". Each time we face major obstacles we learn a lot, about ourselves, about Rhapsody, about sailing, about life. Here are some Reflections on things we learned on this passage, or were reminded of, or just had reinforced.

Shall I begin with saying that it is important to have a partner that you can count on. Everything becomes easier to handle if you have another person you can trust implicitly. Thanks Bob.

Also important is to have a boat that you trust. Sure, things break, it is, after all, a boat, but nothing that broke ever threatened our lives or the ability to carry on. Thanks Rhapsody.

Let's start with the big things that went wrong, starting with the autopilot. When the autopilot broke the first time and we had to abort our passage to the Galapagos, the problem was a sheared bolt. When the autopilot went out on this trip we assumed it was the same thing. We cleared out the back lazarette and Bob climbed down to look at the bolt and felt that was not the problem. Since the message we were getting was "No autopilot computer" we made the assumption that it was an electrical issue. When we arrived at the South Bank Marina in the Turks and Caicos we brought an electrician on board. He determined that the issue was not electrical, but mechanical. It was the bolt, after all. The bolt sheared off in such a way that the separation was not evident. It turns out that when the bolt was installed, it was installed incorrectly, over, instead of under the steering arm, causing just enough torque that a strong wave could, and did, break it off. New bolt installed correctly. Problem fixed.

The next problem was the windlass, which is what raises and lowers our anchor. Our initial thought was that we damaged the windlass itself. There is a large breaker that controls the electricity flowing to the windlass, and that was continually tripping. It turns out the breaker was the issue. It was toast, and had to be replaced. New breaker installed. Problem fixed.

Mark Clayton from Cream Puff commented that perhaps it was a  good thing we didn't head to French Polynesia. If the stuff that broke happened when crossing into the South Pacific, our options would have been much more limited. In one sense that is true, however, if we had headed to French Polynesia when we had planned to before the pandemic, then perhaps we wouldn't have be struck by lightning which caused the autopilot to be replaced incorrectly, which caused it to break, which caused us to need to anchor in Navassa, which caused the windlass to go out! Domino effect, or if you are familiar with the story "If you give a mouse a cookie"... If you give the world a pandemic...

I want to talk a little about the autopilot. As a child I dreamed of having an automated car. Now we have the self driving cars, and that is what autopilot is like. We can sit back, read a book, and enjoy the sail. Not having the autopilot on this passage reminded me of how much I rely on it. While it was uncomfortable and tiring to hand steer, I do feel that I enhanced my sailing skills on this passage, not just because the autopilot failure forced it, but also because we had to conserve fuel and we needed to continually adjust the sails and the angle of the boat to gain the most efficiency from the wind we had. It is easy just to turn on the motor when the winds die down or the current is too great, but we didn't have that option this time. Looking on the bright side, it was educational, but not something I want to repeat.

Hand steering, although I look way too happy here!

Compared to steering with the autopilot!

This passage taught us that we can be quite resilient when we have to be. We step up and do the things that need to be done to get us where we want to go. 

Here are some of Bob's take aways from this passage:

Always have an alternative destination ready, whether it be for weather, mechanical issues, water/fuel issues, health issues or other problems. Know where to go, how to get there, where to anchor and how to get help if needed.

You don't always end up where you were headed.

Remain flexible in your expectations, where you are going and when you will get there.

Tell friends and family not to worry, we will get there eventually. (But thanks for watching!)

Buddy boats are a great idea if you can find one going at the right time in the right direction. We have rarely been fortunate enough to find someone going where we are heading at the time that we are heading there, but we have certainly appreciated it when we did.

And finally, keep learning about your boat and your systems. Something is going to break, something is going to go wrong and you will wish you knew more about it.

But for now, we are safely in the Turks and Caicos Islands, enjoying the diving and looking forward to sharing it soon with our son, Rivers, and our daughter-in-law, Laura.

We love to hear your comments.

Andrew Holyoke said...

I really appreciate your “lessons learned!” Particularly “always have an alternate destination” and “you don’t always end up where you planned,” which I like to paraphrase as “always have a plan B.” I showed a movie once, name forgotten, that had a guy saying “always have a plan D.” Personally, I don’t want to think THAT hard.