Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Zihuatanejo, Steering Clank Mystery Solved

We motored the short distance between the Ixtapa marina and Bahía de Zihuatanejo yesterday after giving Intermezzo a quick freshwater rinse and filling her fuel tanks.

We decided to anchor in the Playa de Ropa side of the bay, across from the main town in much cleaner water, less crowded and less traffic. It will be a longer dinghy ride when we want to go into town, the better quality of life afloat is worth it.

This part of the bay is open to the prevailing swells from the ocean beyond. Yesterday and last night we experienced a bit more rolling than we would like, as the wind clocked from a sea breeze to a land breeze and Intermezzo swung on her anchor to lie broadside to the swell. So this morning we set a second stern anchor using the dinghy to keep the bow pointed into the swell and life aboard is comfortable again.

After setting the anchor, Renee and I got to work to figure out the source of the mild clanking sound that has started coming from the steering system. I crawled into the utility "room" behind the helm and inspected the steering sprockets, chains and wires. All looked good, except the sprocket for the autopilot was a bit loose. I tightened it, but that didn't eliminate the noise. Renee turned the wheel dozens of times as I listened carefully from behind it to try and figure where the noise was coming from. I don't know what possessed Renee to look into the tiny hole in the steering shaft for the wheel brake knob, but she saw a small piece of metal that moved from one side of the hole to the other as the wheel was turned and the source of the little clank every 180 degrees. Nice job, Renee! I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have thought to have looked into that little tiny 3/16 inch diameter hole for the problem and the source of the noise would still be a mystery.

I examined this piece of metal more closely and figured out that it was the rod that the wheel brake nob pushes against to engage the brake. The rod was badly gouged, probably from turning the wheel while the brake was engaged. The force exerted on it must have caused the pin to come loose from the holes into which it is press-fit and it now moves back and forth as the wheel is turned.  The bad news is that we will have to disassemble the entire wheel system to replace this rod. The good news is that the wheel brake still works fine and it isn't an essential component of the steering system. We just have to put up with the little clank-clank-clank noise while underway, like a rattle from a car glove compartment. Freaking annoying, if you can't get over it.

I know Intermezzo's systems very well, we have a good set of tools and spare parts and we are both pretty handy, with engineering backgrounds. Yet when something goes wrong, I still haven't gotten completely comfortable with not having access to the marine expertise and supply/repair facilities like I'm used to back home. Sometimes there is just no other option but to persevere and figure out how to fix it, even if it has to be a boer maak 'n plan (google those words if you don't know what they mean).

We hung out on the boat during afternoon heat (high daily temperature is over 90 degrees F from about noon to five p.m.). When it started to cool down around 5:30, we took the dinghy, anchored it 30 yards off the beach beyond the break line, swam to the beach and went running. The sand here is nice and soft, much easier on bare feet than other beaches I have run on in Mexico. We cooled down after our exercise with cold beer at a beach front restaurant and watched the sunset. The sun sets right across the narrow opening of the bay and both this evening's and last have been really lovely.

Zihuatanejo sunset

Bahía de Zihuatanejo anchorage with town beyond at night