Wednesday, May 7, 2014


In my last post I mentioned that we like Panama.  I'm glad we do 'cause we are still here. 

A couple days ago we departed for the Galapagos Islands.  We only got far enough to reach the point that we put the autopilot on.  When we did the boat swerved hard to port.  Dang, its a new pilot.  It shouldn't be doing this.  We motored back and dropped the hook in Las Bresas anchorage, just off of downtown Panama City, to trouble shoot the pilot.  I had moved the pilot "brain" to allow us to move the salt water strainer to a more accessible spot.  The strainer catches stuff, like plastic bags (very numerous, second only to old sandals), before they get to the engine and block water flow.  Moving the strainer would allow us better access to it while underway.  I figured that there had been a mistake in wiring up the relocated pilot brain, and that hopefully I could switch a wire or two around and everything would be ok.  Well, there were no wiring problems.  This was turning into a big deal, so we decided to move the boat back to the Balboa Yacht Club while I dug a little deeper into the pilot.  As normal I checked the engine oil and cooling water levels before starting the engine and found we had lost about two quarts of coolant in the three hours we had run the engine the day before.  Crap, now I had a bad autopilot and an engine leak. 

Back at Balboa again I worked on the autopilot and was advised by the manufacturer's tech support people to switch the wiring to the rudder drive motor.  Lead "A" was to be moved to the "B" terminal and vice versa with the "B" lead.  Then we were told to take the boat out and redo our pilot commissioning, which involves turning the pilot on in "standby mode" and driving around for an hour or so, doing several 360 degree circles.  Once the commissioning was done we switched the pilot to auto and it worked!  That was easy.  Back to Balboa we went, sitting contently awhile the autopilot steered along side the Panama Canal entrance back to the Yacht Club. 

Now for the leak, which had continued during the commissioning.  I brought in a diesel mechanic to help with this and he promptly found some leaks at our hot water heater.  It has a loop of tubing carrying engine coolant through it that warms water in the tank when the engine is running.  We took the easy way out and bypassed the heater.  Our mechanic was confident that the leak was cured. 

No way.  The lose of coolant has dropped quite a bit, but not completely.  There are no apparent leaks anywhere.  I don't know what to do next, so tomorrow I will call the Volvo marine engine dealer in Seattle and get some suggestions.

I will shoehorn this into a day already filled with chores.  The boat bottom and propeller are going to be scrapped clean of barnacles plus I need to take a long taxi ride out into the country where propane tanks are refilled.  The tank farm used to be located in the city, but an explosion and fire in the plant induced the city to move them out of town.  Should be a fun day.

I'm not real happy about all this, but I am grateful as hell for the autopilot breakdown.  It saved us from possibly overheating and damaging the engine on the way to the Islands. 

This is not to say my joy in complete.  While working on the autopilot I had a hissy fit and threw open the lazerette lid with such force that it snapped the darn thing completely off it's hinges..  I am in and out of the lazerette all the time, so something had to be done to restore it.  I glued the split and splintered board back together, replaced a couple sections that were to badly damaged to repair and reinstalled it.  So far the glue joints are holding.  I doesn't look real good.  Maybe I'll replace the board when I can get a suitable piece of teak, or maybe I'll let the next owner do it.

The shiny thing is the piano hinge that runs the length of the lid.


  1. Glad to hear that you caught this before you got far along. Good to have a challenge. It will keep your brain from decaying with age or margaritas. Whichever comes first. 20 days to official retirement and counting.

  2. The repair to the board in the hatch cover looks pretty good in the photo. Your travails clarify how hard it is to actually make a crossing. Even harder if it has to be happy! The boat, the weather, and the crew all need to be very ready. Things break at such a high rate that readiness like this is actually hard to achieve. Our sails tore. How are your sails? We sewed them together at sea. It was (not) a lot of fun. Do not run this experiment at home.

    Thank for the update. We will continue to watch.