Saturday, November 21, 2015

Diverting to bear town

We are anchored in the Neuse River, about 20 miles downriver from New Bern, North Carolina (map). This was not our intended stop, but we had a critical equipment failure under way, and here we are.

Tonight's sunset over the Neuse River.

This morning found us anchored in the Pungo River, just a half mile or so from where the Alligator Pungo Canal joins it (map). We had arrived at the other end of the canal just past 2pm, and with a typical three hour transit time for the canal, we figured we could make the anchorage just past sunset. As it turned out, we had a favorable current in the canal and we made it before sunset.

Sunset over the Pungo, just after we anchored.

That put us well on track to make our goal of being at Osprey Marina in Myrtle Beach by Wednesday afternoon, even if we had to slog down the ICW the whole way. I had picked Osprey for several reasons, including the fact that it is one of the least expensive options, had access to $20/day rental cars, and made for the shortest drive to our Thanksgiving destination outside of Charlotte. Also, we were hoping our friend Sandy in town there could look in on Angel while we were away.

Alas, it was not to be. Today started out very well, with a leisurely cruise in mostly open water for the morning, affording me time to check my email and even catch up on a backlog of comments here on the blog. As we were crossing the Pamlico River, we came up on a junk-rig sailboat making way very slowly, and, passing them close aboard, I switched to manual steering.

When I went to engage the autopilot after making my pass, the unit did not respond and we did not hear the pump running. Now this particular symptom also made an appearance yesterday, most of the way across the Albemarle sound as I took manual control briefly to see how the steering felt in those seas, before having to negotiate the tricky entrance to the Alligator River.

The unit would not re-engage, and after fiddling with it for a few minutes, we had to give up and steer manually so our concentration was not diverted from the aforementioned tricky entrance. Once in the Alligator, I tried again and the unit came right back on. We chalked it up to the thermal overload relay in the control box, which has cut out once before.

Today, no amount of fiddling would get it to come back on, and we knew we had a more serious problem. I hand-steered through the Hobucken Cut, and when we were back in open water Louise took the helm while I set about opening up control boxes under the helm console. I would take over the helm through all the narrow parts and Louise would spell me while I worked on the controls, going so far as to pull the end cap off the motor.

The motor end cap. In the brush dust toward the bottom you can see a bit of copper, part of the commutator.

What I found behind the end cap was not pretty, and we figured we'd be in for at least a new motor if not a whole new steering pump. Hand-steering is hard work, and it's another 220 miles to Myrtle Beach, so we knew we'd have to shift gears. As we turned into the Neuse, we started looking at marinas in Oriental, Beaufort, and Morehead City for a week-long stay, to work on the pump and also rent a car and get to our T-day dinner.

There are no cars in Oriental, so we focused on Beaufort and Morehead City, where we spent last Thanksgiving. The best deal we found was $8.50/foot for a week stay, plus metered electricity. The rental car jumped from $20/day in Myrtle Beach to $37/day. Before we made the turn off the Neuse, though, I realized we could continue on up the river to New Bern, where we might find at least equal accommodations and services.

We found a place in New Bern for $7.50/foot for the week. While the $52 we'll save will barely cover the extra fuel to run the extra ~45 miles up the river and back, we'll at least get to make a stop we don't usually get to see. Also the car is a few bucks less, and it's a shorter drive from New Bern than from Morehead City.

And so it is that we will be in New Bern tomorrow, thus we stopped here for the night, right around 3:30 this afternoon, after a full five hours of hand steering. I was already exhausted, but I spent the next hour and a half tearing the pump motor apart, on the off chance that I could resuscitate it and we could resume our journey.

The motor armature. On the left side of the commutator you can see well-scored copper; on the right side it's gone completely.

Not a chance. The contact pads on the commutator, attached to the armature, have worn through and disintegrated. The whole end cap of the motor was full of carbon dust from the brushes, and I found shiny copper bits of commutator buried in the dust.

Some of the broken-off commutator bits.

The pump manufacturer, in their zeal to keep the replacement parts business to themselves, has concealed all labeling of the motor itself, and so I have no way to cross-reference it. I have dimensions, but not a HP rating or even a nominal RPM. And, of course, this pump assembly is now discontinued.

There are two electric motor repair shops in New Bern, and I hope at least one of them can either source a direct replacement, or else repair the commutator (the rest of the motor looks fine). And I will call Jastram, who made our steering system, on Monday to see if they can either supply a replacement motor or at least give me the full specs.

If I come up empty on repairing or replacing the motor, probably about a $200 item, then I will need to source an entire autopilot pump, probably $1,000-$2,000 for our system. That will also mean bleeding the hydraulic system after replacing the pump -- as it stands now, I have not had to break into the hydraulic circuit.

We should be in New Bern tomorrow afternoon, giving me three working days to deal with the pump. If we have to order parts delivered, we may well be there more than just a week. Fortunately, it's a lovely town with plenty of restaurants and a vibrant waterfront -- the place is familiar to us because we looked at a couple of boats there early on in our search, and we'd been there once before that, too.

Depending on how busy I get with all this, you may or may not hear from me before the holiday. So I will take this opportunity to wish all our readers a wonderful Thanksgiving. After the holiday, assuming we have a working autopilot, we will resume our journey south.


  1. Arrgh, and an epic cold front. Here's hoping you have resolution and headway before the cold gets ugly.

    1. Thanks, Charles. At least we have power for the heaters.

  2. Arrgh, and an epic cold front. Here's hoping you have resolution and headway before the cold gets ugly.

  3. I have been following your blog for quite some time and am so impressed with your travels and perseverance. as I read I notice you have quite a lot of break downs/repairs. do you find living on a boat vs. the rv to be more expensive to maintain day to day? safe travels! cindy & rick (bozo)

    1. Reflecting back on the breakdowns and repairs aboard Odyssey, it's hard to say that the rate of such things is any greater aboard Vector. Of course, Vector is larger and has more "stuff," so I'm busier. For example, we have twice as many sinks, toilets, and showers now, plus a water maker, anchor system, crane, seawater systems, etc. -- you get the idea.

      For the same reason, yes our costs of maintenance and operation are similarly higher. That said, the two worlds are more alike than different, and I would guess that our operation and maintenance budget is only perhaps 15% higher than it was on the bus. But I do spend more time on maintenance than I did before we moved aboard.

  4. Hope you guys have a great Thanksgiving! And a quick fix on the pump motor. Steve & Carol

  5. ? why is it so hard to hand steer with twin engines? seems like a drop kick to me.

    1. Good to hear from you, Barry -- did you end up getting the induction hob?

      Vector is a single, not a twin. I don't have the experience on twins to know if it would be any easier or not. Also note that "hard" is a relative term. I certainly don't consider hand steering in these sorts of conditions to be "difficult" -- it's just tedious, and a lot of work.

      Vector's helm is a 30" destroyer wheel moving a heavy steel rudder. I'm not sure what the full weight of the rudder is, but it took three strong men to lift it. It swings in a gudgeon on a simple sleeve bearing, so even with the boat out of the water you can feel it at the helm. The helm is about six turns or so lock-to-lock.

      Once the prop stream is on it, the effort increases considerably past four or five degrees. In close-quarter maneuvering, I steer from the spokes, about 10" or so our from the hub, so I can spin lock-to-lock quickly, but at speed in rough conditions, if I didn't have the big helm I'd have trouble steering at all; the extra leverage makes all the difference.

      In calm water such as we had on the narrower parts of the rivers and in the lighter weather, I can get by with one hand on the helm and adjusting it every five to ten seconds; typically the adjustment is a quarter turn of the wheel. But in 20-25kts with three foot seas, the boat moves around a lot, and you just can't null the ROT no matter what you do, so it's a constant motion of the helm, through a swing of half a turn or more.

      I'm not familiar with how the Albin handles, but it's a much lighter boat and I'm sure quite a bit more responsive. Also it has far less windage and not as much keel to be moved around.

      In any event, eight hours of hand steering is tiring. At least here in inland water it was manageable. If we had to cope with it in the ocean we'd have put in to the nearest port rather than wear ourselves out, unless it was flat calm and we could let the boat wander a bit.


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