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Old 01-14-2003
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Stupid Sailor Tricks

I was writing this in responce to another topic:

I remember, one year, I was heading out on a single-handed two-week cruise “Down East”. I wanted to get underway around noontime to catch the outgoing tide, so I spent the morning working around the marina. At some point I somehow managed to twist my ankle quite badly, but as nothing was broken, I decided to still shove off as planned.

By late that afternoon, we were running with a southwesterly, about 30 miles off shore. The AH 1000 was steering and I was tending to the ace-bandage on my ankle. I noticed that dark clouds were building to the west and soon they were lighting up with the spark display heralding an approaching squall. I figured I had about an hour or so before it hit but considering that it might be getting dark around then, and with the condition of my ankle, I decided to reef and prepare the boat early.

When the squall did hit, it wound up being a rather anti-climatic event. Only its southern-most edge had brushed us. The winds had picked up to over 30 from the northwest for only a few minutes and there wasn’t even enough rain to completely wet the deck. Soon, the winds shifted back to southwest and from my perch in the companionway, I watched the mainsail jibe itself back over onto starboard tack.

It was just then, in the gathering darkness, that I saw the strangest bird that I had ever seen. He was about 50 feet away from the boat when I first saw him. He had a longish body and a funny, long tail with a knob on its end. He had a long thin beak and his wings beat so fast that I couldn’t even make them out! He flew in a long gentle arc and as he landed in the water about 75 feet away, I realized it was my autopilot that had gotten caught under the mainsheet during the jibe!

With quick presence of mind, I scrambled as best as my ankle would allow for the tiller. I brought her around, sheeted her home and set my course. I managed to come along side and grab my “bird” just as it was going under!

Cursing at my misfortune and the prospects of having to spend the whole night at the tiller, I started to fieldstrip the thing right there on the charts in the cockpit. I guess I didn’t hold out too much hope but I still allowed a gallon or so of precious fresh water to go to the cause. After soaking the pieces in a bucket, I laid them out on some paper towels.

After a couple of hours, I sprayed everything down with WD-40 and put it back together. I didn’t really know what to expect as I plugged it in, perhaps, if anything some sparks and a popped breaker. But what I didn’t expect was for it to run, which is exactly what it did!

I kept a close eye on it through the night and it ran just fine. It ran for the rest of the trip and for the rest of the season too. And, even though I’ve had it apart since, for general lube and maintenance, it’s still steering the boat 4 years later!


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