Wednesday, May 1, 2013

May Day

We are at the Midway Marina and Motel, in Coinjock, North Carolina.  There are two marinas in this town, each with a face dock directly along the ICW, which is a canal here.  We chose this one simply because it was a good deal less expensive, offering free power to MTOA members.  It turned out to be a fortuitous choice, as the wind was more favorable for docking than at their more popular competitor across the channel.

This last item became somewhat more important because, once again, I was docking with no bow thruster.  I have to say, I am really, really tired of the bow thruster quitting on me, and then spending hours crammed in the bilge fixing it.  We also managed to run aground on our way here, right dead-center of the channel, even though all the notes said that's where we needed to be.  A passing boat was able to tell us they saw deeper water on the "red" side, and I was able to power through the soft mud and get into the deeper section with no harm done.

It did not help that we did all this in 20-knot winds, which is what we awoke to this morning in our otherwise peaceful little anchorage.  We briefly considered just staying there another day, knowing we had a challenging stretch ahead, but the forecast says this will persist another three days, and you may recall we absolutely needed to pump out our tanks.

Just bringing the anchor aboard in these conditions can be tricky, and it did not help that the chain came up thick with mud and even mollusks.  I had to keep jockeying the boat around in the high winds, which required lots of bow thruster time -- we use the thruster more during anchor retrieval than most docking situations.  Just before the anchor was up completely, Louise noticed a distinct change in thruster sounds, never a good sign.

After we got away from the shallows, thick with shellfish, I did a quick thruster check and realized the motor was spinning with no resistance, which was one of the symptoms a couple of months ago when the drive leg went out.  This time, though, there was only a motor sound and no high-pitched screeching.  That gave me a clue right away to the problem.

I neglected to post it here, merely an oversight, but when I got down into the thruster bilge a couple of weeks ago to repair the battery terminal, I noticed seawater was seeping in around the thruster mount.  There were perhaps two quarts of water in the bilge, and a trickle mark on the tunnel.  It's hard to see down there, so I took a photo of the mount, to see if I could identify the source and magnitude of the problem.  A troubling discovery from that photo was lots and lots of black rubber dust, presumably from the rubber isolator coupling that connects the motor to the drive leg.

I made a note to pull the motor off and check the drive leg mounting when we have the boat out of the water at the boatyard, in just about three weeks.  So when the motor started free-spinning today, my first guess was that the coupling had failed.  As soon as we were tied up at the dock here, I got down in the thruster bilge, and felt the joint with my hand to discover that, indeed, the coupling was sheared.  I immediately got on the horn to Max Power to order replacements to be sent here overnight.

That done, I set about removing the motor from the mount so I could get the coupling out.  Sure enough, it was sheared in two.  More troubling was the fact that the drive was hard to turn by hand, and I could feel some spots where it seems to grind.  As long as I had the motor off, though, I put a wrench on the drive leg mounting bolts.  They were very, very loose.  That would explain the seawater intrusion; my guess is that Thunderbolt failed to apply any thread-locking compound and/or did not torque the bolts to the proper specification.

I didn't do this, either.  I can't remove the bolts while we are in the water to put thread compound on them, and I did not have the specs handy, but I did tighten them up considerably.  That made the drive much easier to turn by hand, and also cleared up much of the interference.  There is still one small spot in the full rotation where I am feeling a bit of grinding.  With the boat in the water it's impossible to say if the drive leg is going bad, or if there is a spot where one of the props is interfering with the tunnel.

In any event, I ordered two replacement couplers for overnight delivery.  UPS will not guarantee a morning delivery here -- it's too remote.  So we may be here another full day, depending on when my parts arrive.  Once I have the couplers in hand I will put one in, re-mount the motor, cross my fingers, and fire it up.  Until then, there is really no way to tell if the props are even turning.

We only traveled, as planned, ten miles today.  That was a very long ten miles, indeed.  Tomorrow or maybe  Friday we will have a much longer day ahead of us, as it is 38 statute miles from here to Great Bridge, Virginia.  We plan to tie up at the free dock there for the night, but we may end up at a yard if replacing the coupler does not fix the thruster.  This evening's project will be researching 60-ton (or bigger) Travel Lifts between here and Norfolk.

There is nominally a restaurant here, but it is apparently closed during the week.  The marina has offered us a ride across the channel to the competition's restaurant instead, so that's our plan -- everyone here is friendly and helpful.  Oh, and happy May Day.


  1. Well, I guess all that "pretend your bow thruster just went out" training is continuing to pay off.

  2. When I was crewing on my brothers Taswell I often wished we had a thruster, but now I am not so sure. Following your journey is sure whetting my appetite for getting back to sea.

  3. Frustrating to say the least!
    Especially when maneuvering in tight areas and waterways.

  4. Atlantic Yacht Basin, just before the Great Bridge, has one.We were there last week for survey on our new boat. They seem like good people, James the yard boss has been there 40+ years.It's funny we met you guys @ Trawlerfest in Feb., and our paths almost cross again.
    We arrive on the 13th to take possession @ AYB and head south. Good luck w/ the thruster.

  5. Someone else may have already mentioned, but with all of these issues going on below the waterline (thrusters, anchors, etc.) one of you might want to become SCUBA certified. It's a lot of fun too besides being handy around the boat. I"m catching up on reading after a long absence. Enjoy your boating adventures as I have thought of a sailboat some day. Although Chris has vetoed live-aboard I may still eventually get a day-cruiser for the Keys. Happy travels!

    1. Hi Mac. Thanks for following along. So far, no casinos to dock at (although I remember a marina at one of the IoC properties on the river).

      We are, in fact, both certified divers, and we even recently purchased a kayak helmet for emergency work under the boat (nothing worse than having a heavy steel boat slam down on you in rough seas).

      We don't have tanks, but we will be putting together a "hookah" rig for boat maintenance and for diving in the ~30' range within a hundred feet of the boat.


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