Sailing to Isla Isabela in the Galápagos Archipelago

More Boat Problems

After my 8:00 a.m. to noon watch I took a nap, and when I got up in mid-afternoon I thought we had been sailing for a while (it was blissfully quiet after hours of motoring through light air). Instead, I discovered that there was no wind at all and we were adrift. I found Marcie and David in the aft cabin with the floorboards pulled up. David was leaning over into the prop shaft area—not a good sign!

This is what they told me: While we were motoring (and I was napping), Marcie heard or felt a new noise/vibration and alerted David. Marcie has a keen and well-respected sense for boat noises, so David checked out a few possible sources. When he lifted the floorboards to inspect the shaft area he discovered a rather alarming problem. The propeller shaft was actually pulling out of the shaft coupling (where it attaches to the engine/transmission), and the whole assembly was vibrating as the shaft revolved. They immediately shut down the engine and now David was trying to diagnose the problem.

David already knew that when the prop became fouled by the huge mass of light line, some of the line had worked itself into the gap between the prop and cutless bearing. Apparently, this line had acted as a wedge, exerting enough force to pull the shaft out. But even this amount of force shouldn't have caused a problem if the shaft was properly secured in the shaft coupling. Back on the mainland, the Puerto Lucia boatyard had removed the shaft to change the cutless bearing, and we surmised that when they reassembled it, perhaps they didn't do it correctly or didn't tighten things properly. David decided to make some temporary repairs and worked out a plan of action: first try to re-secure the shaft in the coupling, then try to eliminate the vibration.

The shaft coupling has four big setscrews that should fit into dimples drilled into the shaft, plus there is a large shaft key and keyway. David found one of the setscrews loose, one that he couldn't loosen, and two others snug but obviously not in their shaft dimples (since we could see the dimples where the shaft had pulled out). Despite Herculean efforts, we were unable to re-secure the shaft properly. We couldn't loosen the frozen setscrew, so we couldn't slide the shaft all the way into the coupling (despite some strenuous whacking and prying). On the other hand, we couldn't pull the shaft all the way out, either. The shaft and coupling seemed to be jammed together so tightly that we decided the shaft wasn't about to fall out; instead David just tightened the setscrews.

The next step was to eliminate the vibration by aligning the shaft coupling and checking the engine mounts. We checked the coupling alignment and found it to be off, so we'd have to adjust the engine mount bolts. Naturally, a couple of these important bolts were extremely hard to access and adjust. In the process, David found that two engine mount bolts were loose, allowing the whole engine to vibrate. Adjusting and tightening the bolts seemed to help the coupling alignment, but it still wasn't perfect.

To finish the temporary repairs David repositioned the dripless shaft seal, since when the shaft slipped out, the bellows on the seal became overly compressed. As for permanent repairs, they'll have to wait for a more secure location like the anchorage at Puerto Villamil. We might need to hire a diver to help with the repairs, which we obviously can't do out on the open ocean.

Although it took only a few paragraphs to describe this problem and our efforts, it wound up taking hours of our time working in the usual cramped locations and getting greasy and very sweaty. But at least we got things fixed-up enough so we could resume motoring. While we had been working, the becalmed Nine of Cups drifted with the current, but luckily the current was pushing us in nearly the same direction we wanted to go.

"Thar she blows!"—a humpback whale spouts in the distance.  

Part-way through the repairs, Marcie (who was on watch) shouted "Whales!" and we rushed to the cockpit. Off in the distance we could see two humpback whales slowly swimming along on the surface. We watched them "spout" repeatedly as they exhaled great breaths of air; we also saw their broad backs and small dorsal fins. Suddenly the first whale sounded, lifting its flukes into the air and sinking into the depths. Then the second whale lifted its flukes and sounded. Despite having our cameras in-hand, neither Marcie nor I got a picture of the whales sounding. We were hoping to spot them when they resurfaced so we sat quietly in the cockpit, staring off to where they sounded and scanning the surface. After quite a while with no sightings, though, we assumed we missed them and gave up looking. It was quite a treat to see a pair of whales, especially in the Galápagos, an area well-known for marine wildlife.

By the time all the repairs were completed, it was dark out and we resumed motoring northward on my watch. Even though we had had some serious and time-consuming boat problems, we decided to continue heading towards the equator. After all, we had already spent a whole day heading there and it was only 14 miles away. We might as well go all the way.

Previous Page   Next Page   Section Contents Page   Main Contents Page   Sailboat Cruising Page   Home Page