After long and steady progress, from Pèlerin’s 2015/16 winter quarters at Deltaville in the Chesapeake Bay to Nova Scotia, the boat, Louise and I were really going well.
There’s an underlying rhythm to a cruise when the boat is behaving and the weather is playing ball, and you settle into a steady groove that feels unstoppable. And that’s how we felt—ready to face anything. Newfoundland or bust!
We had known all along, though, that we’d be taking a break in the middle of the season to fly back to the UK for my son’s wedding. Unable to source a suitable mooring on which to leave Pèlerin during the three weeks of our absence, we opted to haul her out and leave her safe on the hard at East River Marine (now East River Shipyard), where John and Phyllis store Morgan’s Cloud in winter. At least that way we knew she’d be safe and sound and we could enjoy the festivities without any worries in the back of our minds.
And, having conducted a fairly thorough re-fit schedule at Deltaville, including replacing all of the rudder bearings, we looked forward to a trouble-free season…but that was to prove a vain hope.
We still had some play in the steering and it seemed to be getting steadily worse, so I set about tracking down the source of the problem before we left for the UK. Eventually I identified the cause. There was movement in the bottom section of the steering pedestal where the actuating arm exits the bottom mounting.
A quick call to the great Cliff Mogridge of Winch Servicing in the UK, master of all Lewmar equipment, confirmed that either the bottom bearing was moving inside its mounting, or the bearing itself was breaking up. Yikes!
The question was, did we need to fix it now or would it last until the end of the season? The answers to which were simple and short: yes and no.
It wasn’t going to get any better and, if it failed, well it would do so at the worst possible moment and the steering might lock solid. So we got on with the business of sourcing the parts.
It’s Seldom As Easy As It Looks
The moment I got back from the UK, out came the toolkit. I’d got the bearings and an exploded diagram of the pedestal, so I knew what to expect, and Cliff had briefed me on how to go about it.
It was no five-minute job, though, and there was plenty of swearing over seized fastenings and scraped knuckles, but eventually the bearing was out and ready to make the short trip to the workshop, where boatyard manager Donny and his great crew of guys were waiting to help me sort it out.
By now it was obvious that we’d done the right thing. What had felt to be relatively benign play when the steering was all set up, was far worse once disconnected, and the gritty feel of the shaft as it turned suggested that the bearing was well on its way out.
If It Was Easy, Everyone Would Be Doing It
However, when it came to pulling the shaft, what should have been a simple task was made onerous by the fact that the actuating arm was welded in place, so before we could even start to pull the shaft, we had to mark the position (so that it could be re-installed in exactly the same place) and grind back the weld to remove the arm. Then we could remove the bottom bearing in its housing and pull the shaft out at the top.
With the blessing of a well-equipped workshop, all of this was achieved without major trauma—you wouldn’t want to have to do this on your own in a remote bay—and we soon had it all apart. The new bearings fit fine and were soon glued in place with a special heavy-duty Permatex compound, and we were off to the welder to re-fit the actuating arm and begin the re-installation.
Ten days after we got back from the UK we were finally ready to launch, with our rhythm well and truly shattered. As if to reinforce the point, as we crossed the bay to Morgan’s Cloud‘s Base Camp to tidy up all of the loose ends, the main halyard snapped (again) and we knew we faced an uphill struggle to get our mojo back for the second part of the season.
By the way, our next boat is going to have a tiller.
Tucked away in a well-sheltered arm of Mahone Bay is Base Camp, from where John and Phyllis have set off on many adventures in Morgan’s Cloud. With her alongside the wharf as final preparations took place for their late-summer cruise, we profited from her huge mooring and began finishing off the jobs left over from the steering issue.
But it was hard to buckle down with so many distractions—at least when on deck—as deer, a bald eagle, ospreys, loons, and cormorants regularly appeared.
Some Visitors are Welcome and Some Not
Now, the deer and the bald eagle were very welcome, the osprey that sat on our masthead instruments and bent the wind speed and direction arm less so, and the cormorant that defaced our deck not at all.
But the strange chatter and cries of the loon on a foggy night were amazing, strange and unearthly. It was a good job we knew the source of the noise or we’d have been truly unnerved.
Finally, We’re Off
Well stocked up thanks to John and Phyllis’s help, we finally began our (now) late-season cruise. As we carry a spare halyard we could keep moving, but we planned to get a replacement as soon as possible, as the spare (in 12 mm/.5″ Dacron) is on the small side for a hefty boat like Pèlerin.
By the time we got offshore in a bit of a breeze, however, it became clear that we’d have to bring the replacement forward, as the halyard stretched alarmingly. Having used Spectra, Technora and Kevlar lines for many years, I’d forgotten just how much Dacron stretches—perhaps as much as 18″ (46 cm) in our 120-foot (36.5 m) halyard.
So off we set towards Halifax to sort it out. Yet more delays. It was beginning to feel like we were glued to the bottom.
Always Another Anchorage in Nova Scotia
On the way we decided to stop off and visit Rogue’s Roost, one of the ‘must see’ anchorages along this stretch of coast. Of course, one of the problems with such places is that everyone else must see them too.
And so it was—the place was packed and there was no comfortable room for a boat our size. So we found ourselves a quiet spot in a corner of Cub Basin, just around the corner. With masses of space and far fewer boats this made for a peaceful stop. Though the pilot book we were using had scant information on this anchorage, so we had no information on the makeup of the bottom, the anchor seemed to bite immediately when we set it.
During the night the wind went round and the chain grumbling as we swung to the new direction spoke of boulders on the bottom. I made a mental note to shift to another corner of the anchorage in the morning—which is when we got a slight surprise…
This was by no means the first time I’d seen a ball of kelp this big. Thoughts of old favourite anchorages like Canna and Rum in Scotland immediately sprang to mind, including one night in the latter anchorage many years ago.
Kelp Can Be Tricky
Anchored by a 100-kg/220-lb Fisherman aboard a big gaff-rigged ketch, we’d felt ourselves immune to the solid gusts rolling down off the hills and slept like babes in the wood.
But the surprisingly different view from the deck the next morning told another story. We hadn’t been anchored at all, just moored to a gigantic ball of weed, and we had simply dragged at a snail’s pace across Loch Scresort, fortunately without anything solid interrupting our progress.
Now, as a result of such occurrences, Lou and I are fastidious about digging the anchor in, and in Cub Basin we had been as thorough as usual. The enormous ball of kelp had held us firm at over 2000 RPM astern, leaving us confident that we were firmly anchored. And we hadn’t dragged an inch according to the plotter and the anchor alarm hadn’t gone off. Just as well for us that the wind had stayed light.
But knowing that you have to expect the unexpected when you stray off the beaten track, we accepted this reminder with gratitude and thanked the Lord that we still seem to have that indispensable ingredient for this wonderful life—luck.
You Pick Yourself Up…
But it was still a slightly demoralized crew that limped round to Halifax to lick our wounds and try to source a new main halyard. Which is when the sun came out again.
As we made our way up to the anchorage off the Armdale Yacht Club, I was fretting over a niggling problem with our windlass and hoping we could find a mooring and buy the time to sort it out. But being August the moorings were full. We were just about to anchor when a Boston Whaler approached and the kind skipper offered us the use of her mooring—perfect.
The following morning I settled down to work and the windlass problem proved simple and easy to fix.
And phoning around we sourced the new Spectra halyard and by the next day it was safely aboard. We motored down to the Royal Nova Scotia Yacht Squadron dock and crane where their rigger Paul and I soon had the new halyard rigged and ready to go.
On The Road Once More
That night, back at anchor at Armdale, the full moon lit up the reach down to the Atlantic like a magic carpet beckoning us back to the open sea, reminding us that even views from a city can be beautiful. We were ready to get back on the road once more.