Learning from mistakes, ours and theirs. - SailNet Community
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post #1 of 52 Old 09-10-2018 Thread Starter
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Learning from mistakes, ours and theirs.

I was away from this forum for almost three months, during which I crewed on a 60' steel Bruce Roberts ketch heading to Panama Canal and parts beyond, from Moss Point, Mississippi. I could not post any updates because Either I forgot my password, or my iPad refused to connect. I'm home now using my old laptop which remembers my password to this site.

We (crew of 3) have spent almost month and a half preparing the boat for this trip. The boat was more like a floating condo. The builder/owner had sailed it only a couple of times in short day trips in some 10 years since the boat was completed. That did raise some red flags for me, but I was young and naive... OK, I was definitely naive...

I was told the boat was ready to sail and just waiting for the crew before I came on board. That was not really true. All the gear was old and some of it was in rough shape. There was a LOT of rust on the inside of the hull (I will NEVER buy a steel boat, likely not even take one for free, unless I plan on scrapping it for parts).

By the way, check out my Facebook profile Kris Sailor, for some pictures and more content, but I will continue to spin this yarn here as I have time.
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post #2 of 52 Old 09-10-2018 Thread Starter
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Re: Learning from mistakes, ours and theirs.

When I signed up for this trip I knew the captain was not very experienced. I have talked to him several times, suspecting that the boat is not as ready for this trip as he thinks it is. There were a couple of delays in our coming on board date, as he still did not have new set of sails he ordered. I have sent him a pretty detailed list of things that I wanted him to address, from cleaning out fuel tanks (fuel was some 10 years old), professional rigging inspection, to provisioning. He thanked me for such a thorough list but pretty much disregarded it's content, as I have found out later.
When I got on the boat we worked on the rigging, water maker, AC system, repairing the old set of sails, cleaning out and painting various rusty spots inside the hull, stowing gear and supplies, and so on. When I was cleaning out the bilge, I had my first moment of serious doubt whether this boat is going to make it all the way to India. Bilge was plain scary. It was awfully rusty (3-4 inches of rust scale on the bottom) with crabs and midge maggots for extra fun. But once I cleaned it out and painted, it stayed dry. I banged on the steel plates to knock off the scale and there seemed to be quite a bit of steel left. So I stayed. I really wanted that trip to succeed.

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.
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post #3 of 52 Old 09-10-2018 Thread Starter
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Re: Learning from mistakes, ours and theirs.

When we finally left the home port, the first thing that broke down was our roller furler, holding a big 175% genoa. After several uses, when we were a couple days out into the Gulf of Mexico (we were heading for the Yucatan Channel) the mainstay pulled out of the turnbuckle. That was pretty scary, as the mast on that boat is almost 70' tall. Fortunately, it happened during a light wind day, under 12 knots. We managed to re-connect the mainstay at the turnbuckle, but each time we used the furler, the stay was turning in the turnbuckle, trying to come out. The furler was not assembled correctly, and the turning part was bottomed out on the turnbuckle. We were trying to figure out how to fix it without going back to US. That night we had a huge thunderstorm with torrential rain and we lost a good part of our navigation system, such as chart plotter, speed, and depth. I suspected electrical short as the nav station was poorly sealed. We made a decision to turn back and pull into Pensacola, Florida. Another thing became apparent: the boat was a total pig to keep on course. It tracked so poorly, if you lifted your cheek to fart, the boat would go 20 degrees of course. Did I mention we were pulling an 18' Hobie Cat behind us, captains favorite toy? That Cat was making steering ever harder. I was pushing to get an auto pilot or wind vane even before I came on board, with captain having none of it, and claiming that the boat was holding the course beautifully. Now it became apparent to all of us that AP was a must if we want to keep our sanity.

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post #4 of 52 Old 09-10-2018 Thread Starter
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Re: Learning from mistakes, ours and theirs.

We have spent 2 weeks in a nice marina in Pensacola, most of that time taken by installing an autopilot (with hydraulic ram hooked up directly to the quadrant - very beefy and very expensive) and correctly re-assembling the roller furler. We had to take the mainstay out and re-assemble all the furler parts on the dock. That involved re-doing one of the Sta-lok terminals, which was a PITA, as can be expected. On the day we were planning to leave, the top part of main sail just ripped apart from the rest of the sail - the thread on the top stitches was all coming apart, degraded by long term exposure to sunlight (translation: insufficient use of the sail cover). Another 3 days delay for sail repairs at a local loft. The main sail is so bad, the loft declined to put their name to the repaired sail. Too bad the captain did not order a new main when getting ready for the trip. The main has very poor, baggy shape. Bolt rope has shrunk, making it age very poorly.
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Re: Learning from mistakes, ours and theirs.

Good stuff.
Keep posting.
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post #6 of 52 Old 09-10-2018 Thread Starter
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Re: Learning from mistakes, ours and theirs.

Almost as soon as we left Pensacola, I noticed the engine oil pressure is near zero, firmly in the red zone. But the engine is not overheating or shutting down. Captain decides it's the sensor and we push on, towards St. Petersburg, Florida. I suspect it's the old oil and plugged up oil filter. As the winds were light and not really helping us go directly towards the Yucatan we plan on motor-sailing south to St Pete, refuel and hope the wind gets more favorable. The Hobie is banging on the hull despite the new and improved towing bridle and the captain finally decides to get rid of it, as it will never make it to India. The radar stops working and we can't see the night rain squalls heading our way. We get to St. Pete after 4 days. The engine sounds rough and will not build up higher rpms. In port we change engine oil - it's like tar - and oil pressure is back to normal. I wanted it changed even before I stepped on board. But the engine still is not building up higher speed. We stick to about 2000 rpm, 2500 max, as even the shaft starts vibrating a lot at these higher speeds. We fix the radar (bad power connection), get rid of the Hobie and head out towards Cabo San Antonio, Cuba. All is going relatively well but we motor sail a lot as wind is weak.

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Re: Learning from mistakes, ours and theirs.

I would have held on to the Hobie, sounds like the safer boat
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Re: Learning from mistakes, ours and theirs.

Somewhere near Cuba we discover that the Navionics chart chip for the Caribbean is not working. We have no detailed electronic charts for the area we are approaching. My iPad backup with Aquamap charts is only marginally better. But we have paper charts, even if they are large scale and lack the details. Captain decides to push on. I also do not see a big problem in it. I have detailed charts for Panama. We are fighting the Gulfstream big time, every day, for days. All is going relatively well until we get close to the Honduras Banks. We motorsail a lot, at times in seas 8 to 10 feet. The engine sputters and dies. Same with our generator. Bad fuel. The dregs at the bottom of our tank get stirred up and plug up the fuel filters. And the cooling water flows very poorly out of the engine and none out of the generator. The wind is getting stronger and keeps pushing us towards the shallows of Honduras banks. And we have no detailed charts to make it through the relatively deeper channels. Seas build up to 12 feet and stuff is starting to get lose inside the boat. Soon everything inside is scrambled and a very heavy bench pulls out of the floor. In the hold our supplies are doing a wild polka dance.
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post #9 of 52 Old 09-11-2018
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Re: Learning from mistakes, ours and theirs.

Excellent read, looking forward to more. However, I'm surprised you stuck it out past the first failed departure.
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Re: Learning from mistakes, ours and theirs.

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Originally Posted by RobGallagher View Post
Excellent read, looking forward to more. However, I'm surprised you stuck it out past the first failed departure.
Thank you. I really wanted that experience. And it was not all bad. I had some fantastic sailing. Especially at night. Because I see quite well at night, I had most of the night watches, with most hours sailed at night. It was really magical, sailing under stars alone, before moon rise, and when the moon was there, it was like daylight, only cooler. And I learned a lot. It was my first big boat as all my previous boats I sailed on were 36' max, and my first truly long distance sailing. We were also very fortunate that the weather was not too rough. We had some night squalls with winds in the 30+ knots sustained, and low 40's in gusts, but they did not last long, 2 hours at most. There was never a moment when I thought: "Oh crap, we are gonna die here..." So I stuck it out until I really had enough, and could not spend another couple of months working on the boat to get it to be ready again. In spring, I will be getting my own boat.
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