After spending the past three months on “Nor’easter,” two of which were in the relative safety of Southern California, I have become so attuned to the various squeaks, moans, and hums emanating from this vessel, that anything out of the ordinary triggers an alarm in my brain.
On our short evening passage from Hiva Oa to Fatu Hiva last week, while motor-sailing in light airs, an intermittent “klunk,” sometimes accompanied by a whirring noise, presented itself. After exonerating the “usual suspects,” i.e. a loose reefing line inside the boom, an errant can of sunscreen rolling about a cabinet, of a slack halyard inside the mast, we got concerned. We were able to establish that the noise ceased with the engine stopped, which was concerning, and seemed to be coming from the bowels of the yacht, not on deck, which was even more troublesome.
After an hour spent removing cabinetry around the engine room, eliminating any “easy” sources of the noises, I recalled that on a recent underwater inspection of the Sail Drive, which is the underwater unit holding the propeller, I noticed the corrosion-protective zinc collar inside the prop was somewhat loose, which would be the most likely source of such a noise. Comforted by this seemingly logical hypothesis, we continued sailing, arrived at Fatu Hiva at 2100 hours, anchored, and after a great night’s sleep in this spectacular harbor, confirmed our suspicions. The collar, which is held in place by 2 stainless screws, had come undone and was spinning around the rotating propeller hub, hence the “klunk” and “whirr.” Unfortunately, reattaching this $30 part would require a $600 haul-out back on Hiva Oa, which, fortunately, had a boatyard capable of doing the job. If we were to leave it alone, the noises notwithstanding, our prop and Sail Drive would be unprotected from electrolysis (galvanic corrosion) and eaten away in short order.
After two idyllic days in Fatu Hiva, we returned to “civilization” on Hiva Oa, where I had scheduled what I thought was a 0900 haul-out at the Marquesas Marine Services boatyard. Checking in earlier that morning, I was told we were actually scheduled for 1400. Upon visiting the yard manager in person around lunchtime, I was informed that somebody else got “ahead of me” for 1400 and I was scheduled for that time the next day. Between my rudimentary French and Vincent, the yard manager’s passable English, this was just a misunderstanding. I think he must’ve told me to come in at 0900 to sign a contract and make a payment, and then haul-out later that day. I didn’t catch that nuance.
As a former yacht broker, I have presided over at least 200 haul-outs, but this one was unique. Picture a wide launching ramp, much like you see for small trailerable boats, but with a huge flatbed trailer fitted with hydraulic lifting pads, and towed by a large tractor. The flatbed went underwater, I drove the boat over it, and voila, the pads embraced “Nor’easter,” and the tractor, after minor disconcerting tire traction issues on the ramp, dragged her from the bay unscathed.
Having removed my propeller several times in the past, I promised Vincent we’d need just an hour and be ready to splash well before the yard closed and the tide dropped too far to re-launch. Travis had all our tools and parts staged in advance for the job, and we set to work. Apparently, the zinc collar’s two screws had both backed out of their holes, as they were both mangled from thrashing around inside the collar for a few days, but the screw holes were undamaged. Miraculously, we had spare screws to replace the zinc, which I did, reassembled the propeller, and as I was carefully tightening the last screw to secure the prop in place, immediately after telling Vincent we were ready to splash, the head snapped off. Now things were getting interesting.
I ran up to the yard to relate that we had a problem, and to borrow a screw extraction kit, which I had somewhere on board but couldn’t locate. When I returned with the kit, Travis, who was just about done replacing another zincs outside the prop, sadly informed me that he, too, had snapped off a screw head. It was now 1500 and the tide was dropping.
It would have been impossible to use our boat if we couldn’t remove and replace those screws. The prop would have fallen off without the one screw I broke, and would have been out of balance without the piece Travis was installing. We began the delicate process of drilling a small hole into the barrel of the prop screw, which was the larger of the two, into which we could insert the extractor and back it out. Vincent, who by now knew we were out of our depth, had joined the fray and managed to get this one free. Miraculously, we had a suitable replacement in our spares inventory, and completed that job. The second, smaller screw proved more intractable. We broke several drill bits trying to make a suitable hole in the barrel, and after an hour of drilling and unsuccessfully trying to extract, Vincent was ready to throw in the towel, and told us we’d have to take the boat to Papeete and have a bigger boatyard make the repair. It was now 1600 and the tide was still dropping. As Vincent walked back to his shop to get the lift operator, I grabbed my trusty Milwaukee cordless drill, got a larger bit, and with Travis squirting cooling water on the site, drilled out the screw. Vincent returned, saw what I’d done, inserted his extractor, and out it came with the screw in tow. I hugged him. His wife, Maria, who also works in the yard, gave us each official MMS tee shirts. The lift operator launched the boat, and yet another potential crisis was averted.
For all the work Vincent did, and the extra time we spent tying up his lift, he did not charge us anything beyond the haul out cost. He leant us his tools, skills, and moral support, and as we pulled away from the launching ramp, he and Marie stood waving to us as if we were their departing children. We love the Marquesas Islands.