Thursday, July 5, 2012

Working on a boat in exotic places

Interabang’s windlass has been a nagging problem for about six months.  A windlass is a heavy piece of machinery that raises and lowers the anchor.  The electric windlass on Interabang consists of a large motor below deck that turns a vertical drum on deck that engages the anchor chain.

In the early days of our windlass problem, the drum would occasionally slow to a crawl for just a few seconds.  Over time, both the frequency and duration of these slowdowns increased.  Eventually, the windlass would just barely spin for extended periods of time.  We called the manufacturer for help with our problem and were told that there must be a bad electrical connection.  All of the connections were taken apart and cleaned, but there was little improvement.  Not sure what to do next, we lived with the problem.

The months went by and then one day the drum stopped turning altogether.  The windlass was silent except for the clicking sounds made by the solenoid.  This was really bad news and we feared that we might need to go all the way back to La Paz (125 miles the wrong way!) to get it fixed.

Much of the following day was spent checking connections, testing voltage, and head scratching.  Finally, Rick from Hotel California stopped by to see how we were coming along.  We were stumped.  Rick suggested holding down the ‘ON’ switch and hitting motor with a hammer.  Hammer in one hand and remote control switch in the other I gave windlass power and gave the motor a whack.  The windlass immediately came back to life, indicating that the motor was the problem.  Fortunately for us, Rick had recently been in Loreto with Patrick on Just a Minute looking for someone to work on his windlass.  We were able to contact Patrick and get the windlass repair guy’s phone number.  The next morning I disassembled the windlass and Rick used his phone to call the repair guy in Loreto (Interabang no longer has a phone).  

The really bad news was that, once the windlass was disassembled, the anchor must be manually pulled up hand-over-hand.  This is really hard work, especially in the heat.  So, hand-over-hand the anchor came up and we made the ten mile trip from Puerto Balandra on Isla Carmen to Loreto.  Rick came along to lend a hand.  The windlass repair guy met us at the dock and we handed over a fifty pound motor/gearbox assembly.  An hour later, Rick gave him a call and learned that the springs holding the brushes were broken.  The repair would be completed the following day.  The seas were getting pretty rough and we needed to get Rick back to his boat.  Hand-over-hand the anchor came up and we headed back to Puerto Balandra.

The next day Trisha and I got an early start back to Loreto, without Rick this time.  Hand-over-hand the anchor came up.  We picked up the repaired windlass and some provisions and headed back to Puerto Balandra.  Hand-over-hand the anchor came up.  When we dropped the hook back in Balandra, Rick came by to give us a hand getting all the pieces back together.

The windlass is now working better than ever and the muscles in my back and legs are slowly returning to normal.  There is an old joke in the sailing community that defines ‘cruising’ as working on a boat in exotic places.  After three straight days devoted to diagnosing and repairing the windlass problem, we see that this is no joke.

A big thank you goes to Rick and Pam on Hotel California for all of their help and support!

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