I feel like there are a million ways to loose steering or propulsion. I didn’t feel this way before I set out on my journey, but I feel that way now. I’ve experienced a few of them, and it seems like there are way more systems and little seemingly insignificant pieces to look that than I could have imagined. Coconut has hydraulic steering, so here are some things you should triple check before leaving the dock.
1. Make sure the system has been recently serviced and doesn’t have ANY leaks. Keep at least a gallon of hydraulic fluid on hand incase you need to bleed the system. Also have a bleeding setup you can do yourself if you need to. It’s a two person job, but when you’re alone you’ve got to figure out something.
2. Check the clevis pins and make sure they all have cotter pins. Yes, mine was missing cotter pins and we made it 48 hours offshore before finding out. Overall a stupid problem to have, and would have been much more frightening had we been closer to shore.
3. Inspect the bracket holding on the hydraulic steering. Mine snapped off when I tacked going the fastest so far we’ve gone, around 6 knots steady, all because it was only welded on one side (not both) all over. Have a backup of the bracket just incase and make sure the area it’s bolted on to is structurally sound.
4. Make sure your emergency rudder can work if the main rudder is no longer working. When the bracket snapped, the rudder was flopping around for several hours as I got towed. This not only resulted in damage to the rudder, but because the main rudder was still moving, the emergency rudder couldn’t out perform it.
5. Emergency Tiller: Coconut came with an emergency tiller as well as shaft to put on the rudder post. The only piece missing was the part to secure the tiller post to the rudder post. I now have this piece, although I could have (and should have) used it when I lost steering! Test it out while underway, several times. I will time myself doing everything from removing the mounted tiller and metal post to moving bedding out of the way to having it working. It’s good to know how much time it will take you to set this system up just incase something happens. By the 3rd or 4th time of doing something, you figure out a system that works. Write it down if you need to, with maps of where parts are!
6. Your wheel might have a “key” on it. When I had the hydraulic system serviced, I had a new key made. If this key snaps off, you have no way to steer with the wheel anymore.
7. Check your gear shifter and make sure all the nuts and bolts are tight! Mine rattled loose, thankfully I was already in an anchorage and ready to drop the hook anyways. Timing has never been my specialty, but damn, I couldn’t have asked for it to happen at a better moment! Had it been 10 minutes earlier I’d have been on the rocks of the jetty. My buddy James saved the day on this one, he came out in his boat to diagnose the issue. You can watch the YouTube video here!
8. When trying to diagnose what the issue was with the gear shifter, having a line wrapped around the prop was mentioned. I had of course heard of this happening before, but never knew what the signs were. What happens is the engine runs, but turns off as soon as you put it in gear. Now I know! And if you do accidentally run over a line, put the engine in neutral as soon as you notice, and wait to put it in gear again until you are sure you are past the line. That way the prop won’t suck the line in. The only way to remedy this issue is to jump in the water, so having a wetsuit is pretty important if you aren’t in warm waters.
9. Your rudder is supposed to have a “stopper” on it to prevent it from going too far in either direction while in reverse. I didn’t know this until I had the Autopilot installed, but apparently because I have hydraulic steering it can’t go too far in either direction anyways.
and last but not least…
10. If your wheel is suddenly turning and turning and turning and you’re thinking “dammit, not again!!!” Make sure the autopilot isn’t still on…. 😊
Overall, I’m glad these things happened or that I learned they could happen. A couple of things, like the clevis pin / cotter pin issue, several people had looked at and didn’t notice the pins were missing. Sh*# happens, it’s nobody’s fault in particular, but in the end it is your responsibility as the boat owner and Captain to keep your boat safe. Coconut hasn’t sailed since the late 80’s, I have to cut her a little slack as I shake her down and rattle things loose.
I am also eternally grateful for the mishaps I did have, as I did a lot of things right. I was not only several miles offshore (giving me time to figure out a plan) or in a safe anchorage, but I was fortunate enough to have received help when I made the call. I even got towed by a company who specifically does. not. tow. people. For all my friends reading who are scared for me, please don’t worry. I am one lucky lady, and with everything that goes wrong the boat gets better, and I get wiser.
HAPPY SAILING EVERYONE!!