Four nights ago, while on the 2 to 7 am. watch, I heard a new, but faint, clicking sound I couldn't place. Over the next hour went from intermittent to occasional, and then it increased in repetitions and volume until I finally tracked it down as something connected to the steering. After a preliminary investigation by flashlight I found a wiggle in the bolt that connects the autopilot arm to the steering quadrant that was causing one to rub on the other...but only when a larger wave from the aft port quarter shoved our stern strongly to starboard. So waking Sarah from her favorite deep sleep session, (not happy, but ready to help), we emptied the aft port lazerette. This storage area is 5' deep and holds all our extra diesel and gas jerry cans so we don't have to store them on deck. We have knotted lines tied to the handles to help raise and lower the heavy cans when full as they are now, but in the dip and roll of 2 meter seas it can still be a challenge to empty the area safely. Finally, after collecting necessary tools, shims, and spacers, I got decent lighting set up and climbed down into the aft bowels of our boat, and stuffed myself into a seriously contorted position to access the quadrant. With Sarah hand steering and the autopilot off, I finagled a way to manipulate wrenches top and bottom, removed the nearly immovable nuts, and got the bolt released. After adding an additional spacer for just enough clearance, I had to time the reassembly with Sarah's turning us into the wind far enough so as to slip things back together as we fell off the wind, but quickly. I was truly relieved when all was tightened back down, the autopilot engaged, and no more rubbing cast steel on soft aluminum. But the final relief was getting my brittle old self out of that hole. After cleanup and repacking the lazarette, Sarah went back to bed, and I went looking for an ice pack. Just another chapter in the continuing saga of fixing your boat in the dark in exotic places.
Footnote: I've been down in that hole twice more since first writing this. Once to replace the same bolt broke in half, and once to retighten the nuts I had already installed as tight as I possibly can. Both times very near 5:00 am. I need more suitable hardware.
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