One week ago we arrived back in Annapolis already. At times it’s hard to imagine it’s been a week already and at times it has felt like it has probably been the longest week of the trip so far. We are back on a mooring ball and it has been so peaceful here at the end of Spa Creek. The weather has been amazingly good with warm days and comfortable nights. We have ventured into the town of Annapolis a few times, particularly to use the showers available to mooring ball boaters, and to treat ourselves to ice cream. The Power Boat Show is next weekend and the Sail Boat Show is the week after that.
What we have been occupied with this first week was not something we had planned on at all. For a couple of weeks prior to arriving in Annapolis we had been hearing some noises as we would turn our steering wheel. I had looked inside our steering binnacle and hadn’t seen anything but the noise would reappear every once in a while. At times it would sound like a ting and most often like something creaking. While it didn’t seem terribly bad it was worth checking into more closely once we were here. Last Sunday afternoon I took the cockpit floor out to look at our steering mechanism more closely and that’s when I found out one of the pulleys of the starboard side steering cable was way out of alignment and the pulley was pretty drastically damaged. Oh brother!
Steering is quite important on a sailboat (duh!) so I started looking into it to see what could be done to fix it. In no way did I want to take our whole steering system apart, but that’s exactly what I ended up doing in the next few days. There is a bracket bolted to the bottom under the cockpit floor that I found out is called an Idler. It is the mechanism that turns the cable 90 degrees coming down from the steering wheel to go back to a big flywheel, called the quadrant, that turns the rudder. The damaged pulley is on an arm attached to the Idler. There was an adjustment slot on the Idler that looked like it would allow the arm to be adjusted side to side to allow a straight run to where the cable needed to go and the damaged pulley arm was definitely not at the same angle as the undamaged one on the other side. Underneath the cable on the arm there appeared to be a bolt coming from the underside of the Idler bracket, but the question was how to get to it without removing the Idler completely and turning it over to get at the bolt.
I spent two days trying to find someone to come and look at the system, but all repair companies are crazy busy with the Boat Shows coming up and would not be able to get to our boat until probably the end of October, if even. I talked with a repair guy, who didn’t think there was an adjustment screw, and got input from our Facebook 411 group who also didn’t think there was an adjustment screw. But it just didn’t feel right as there was a definite adjustment slot and the top of a bolt I could see. And the two pulley arms were definitely at different spots on their adjustment slots.
After much consternation and sleepless nights (of Dave!) Sharon and I successfully unattached the steering cables from the quadrant and took the pressure off the pulleys. I ended up having to buy a deep-set socket to remove the bolts holding the Idler down and we got the Idler out. Thankfully Sharon went in the aft cabin and found where the bolts came through. Whew! At least we could bolt it back when the time came.
There indeed was an adjustment bolt on the bottom of the Idler, but since it was a stainless steel bolt and the Idler is cast aluminum it was frozen stuck – dissimilar metals end up fusing together over time. For two days, and countless soaks of PB Blaster, I tried to get the bolt unstuck with no success. All I had to do was to move the pulley arm about one quarter of an inch! I finally took a hammer and tapped, with a bit of force, and IT. MOVED. OVER! Huge, huge relief!! I actually had contacted Beneteau who advertised a new Idler part on their parts website for $1,020.00, but they didn’t have them in stock. They contacted their supplier, which come to find out our Whitlock Steering System is now owned by Lewmar, and they eventually responded that they had not sold that part in over 10 years and said it would take them at least 6 weeks to get a new one – probably from overseas. After getting the Idler arm to move to where it needed to go I didn’t need to go that route, but I still had to deal with the damaged pulley. Neither Beneteau or Lewmar had any access to a new pulley.
The pulley could probably have been ok to use, but would probably be iffy especially in heavy seas with higher pressure on the cable. I took it to a local marine supplier and they couldn’t come up with anything either. I went to Bacon Sails Marine Supplier and Rob, one of their main sales people, referred me to a local marina repair guy, Keith at GPS Marine, who had the ability to make sheaves. I had tried other supply stores, such as Rig-Rite, McMasterrs and Grainger, but didn’t have any success there either.
Because the formidable task of finding a replacement pulley seemed almost impossible we wondered if we would even be able to continue our journey. We did decide we would not continue if we couldn’t get this fixed, so we were almost at a standstill.
After getting the name and number of Keith at GPS Marine from Rob at Bacon Sails I contacted him at around noon on Thursday and he said to bring the damaged pulley to him Friday morning to see what he could do. It was a trip of about 10 miles, too far to walk, so at 8:45 am Friday morning I got an Uber to Holiday Point Marina where his shop was. I arrived at 9:10 am, and by 9:15 he was already at work fabricating a whole new pulley. He had every lathe and tool under the sun and even happened to have a larger piece of 5” aluminum to make a new one. Seriously, by 11:45 am I left there with a brand new replacement pulley! What an incredible answer to prayer! Keith was so meticulous and detail oriented and I could see he took delight in making sure it was all accurate and precise.
On the Wednesday prior, since I had the steering cables all loose and apart, I took the old steering cables to Fawcett’s Marine and they are making new cables – just to be sure everything is set when I put it back together! When I get the cables back sometime next week Sharon and I will put it all back together, check the pulley arm alignment meticulously, and we will be good to go. And, we will be able to continue our journey this fall to Florida and back to the Bahamas! That is great! Whew!
Since we got the new pulley made and are just waiting for the new cables we will start to focus on the rest of the things on our to-do lists. We also want to enjoy the city and area of Annapolis and all that is around us. Sharon has been doing better with that than I have this past week as I have a tendency to become over-focused and obsessed about issues so I look forward to more enjoying our time here.
It is our plan to leave Annapolis on or around Oct. 12, after we have had a day at the Sailboat Show on the 11th.