The past several days have been particularly hectic. A few of the loose ends have been tied up. Our Mexican fishing licenses have been secured and we installed new AGM house and starter batteries (two deep cycle 12V 4D's and one 12v group 27).
Upon vigorous sea trial testing of our Raymarine ST4000 Plus wheel autopilot it gave periods of shuddering response when large course changes were demanded. Upon removing the unit from the wheel and taking it apart, the two-year old drive belt showed signs of wear, which would account for this type of response. Unfortunately, Raymarine does not provide reliable support for their autopilots either due to the fact that they have been purchased by Flir or because a newer model was introduced several years ago. In any case, the drive belts for the older models are not available through Raymarine.
Several days of searching the Internet, calling suppliers and going to local marine stores in San Diego yielded no results. Fortunately, there are several industrial supply houses in town and I went to these as a last resort. While Graingers and McMaster supply were very helpful in giving direction, they could not cross reference the belt in question. Motion Industries could tool up to make a lot of these belts for us but would require at least two weeks before they could be manufactured and a minimum lot size would have to be purchased. A final stop at Kaman Industries in Barrio Logan proved to be a success. They identified the belt as being metric and were able to cross reference it. I ordered five belts from Kaman that would arrive in San Diego on Monday, November 1st (our planned departure date). To counteract the effects of a one day delay in departure, the cost of belts from Kaman will come in at about half the cost charged by Raymarine (when they did support this autopilot). Not a sterling recommendation for Raymarine. Here is where the bone head takes over.
I noticed the two belt wheels adjacent to the drive motor on the inner control head for the autopilot did not turn smoothly. Being a cautiously circumspect individual, I considered all the possible methods for lubricating said wheels. Given that the construction of this older model control head is a composite of a couple of different polymers and stainless steel, I had reservations about using petroleum based lubricants fearful that there may be some incompatibilities with one or more of the polymers. Years ago, I had purchased a small tube of graphite that I used to lubricate our house locks. I searched the dark recesses of the garage shelves and found a small dirty tube, smeared with what appeared to be graphite. Thinking myself as quite clever to have considered all my options and come up with an elegant solution, I opened the tube of "graphite" and proceeded to apply it liberally around the stainless steel hubs of each of the two belt wheels. Satisfied, I left the control head on the bench and went into the house to get ready for dinner.
The following afternoon Kevin Young, an old work colleague and sailing friend, came over to the house to help load the boat with provisions. Noticing the control head outer ring in the dining room, the conversation turned to autopilots and I recounted my tirade regarding the idiocy of Raymarine for not supporting their older models. I went on to recount the time spent finding a suitable replacement belt. We then retired to the garage to begin loading our provisions from the garage to the truck so we could haul it all down to the marina.
Kevin spied the inner ring to the autopilot control head on the garage bench and was examining it to understand how it functioned. Walking up, I proudly pointed out that, in addition to the bad belt, the two belt wheels were not working as smoothly as designed but I had successfully addressed the problem by lubing them with graphite. Kevin went to spin the wheels only to discover they were frozen solid in place. In disbelief, I confirmed what was already obvious; the wheels were now unyielding posts. I snatched the tube from the shelf, put on my reading glasses, wiped off the black muck from the tube and in the light of day with the garage door open discovered the "graphite" I used to lube the wheels with was a tube of black Loctite. I'm still not certain what was worse, the shattering of my ego over such a bone headed error or the realization that I had just guaranteed the purchase of a replacement autopilot. It turned out to be an expensive contingency that included the purchase of five drive belts that I no longer need. Hopefully I can recoup a small fraction of the autopilot cost by selling the drive belts on Craigslist.
The last change in plans involves our crew. Captain Morgan (Ted, not the flavored rum) has concerns about his dear old pooch, Hina. She's not been doing well and Ted was reluctant to leave her for weeks on end. She's definitely Ted's dog and follows him wherever he goes. The bond is heartwarming to witness and Ted's attachment to his dog, who he's had since a puppy, is equally as touching. His decision to stay close to his aging companion is understandable. While we'll miss his presence on the sail south, we're sure Hina would miss him more had he decided to make the trip.
Given the crew size will be three, we may also find it necessary to modify our plan of sailing straight through to La Paz from San Diego. We'll discuss sailing plans when the crew is all together in San Diego to see if we might make stops along the way. We'll also have the advantage of looking at a seven day extended forecast for the coast of Baja. As of today, while swells are predicted to be large (~12') for part of the trip, the weather window looks promising.