A discussion about weather and mechanical issues

I posted a couple of messages on the NordhavnDreamers board on Yahoo, that I thought might be interesting reading for people here. The first discusses all the bad weather that we DIDN’T experience on our way from Seattle to Japan, and the second, is a summary of all the mechanical issues we faced. Neither is particularly interesting, and can be summarized as “We had good weather and didn’t have many mechanical issues.”

But first, I thought I’d pass along a couple pictures from a party on Sans Souci last night.

It was a bit of a special party for Steven and Carol Argosy (Seabird), and one that meant a lot to them. We met on top of Sans Souci to watch Steven give a speech, and toss a key overboard. The event is a little hard to explain. Steven and Carol have been on a multi-year campaign to simplify their lives. This has meant selling their business, their home, their cars, etc. Steven has always thought of it as wanting to get their life down to a single key, the one to the boat. Recently he sold a building, which represented his last key other than the one to Seabird.

Here you see us having dinner on the back deck of Sans Souci. This is the first time the whole group has met to discuss next year’s cruising plans. I published some preliminary thoughts in my last blog, and our plan didn’t shift much from what was there, other than there is now some interest in going to China (Shanghai) and to Korea. The next step is to start researching all of the issues. Are there marinas? What about typhoon season? Where can we safely leave the boats? Are there issues with our dog? Etc.

It was also the first time we’ve discussed whether or not we’d stay together as a group. The discussion took about 5 seconds. Everyone unanimously agreed that we’re a good group, and that we’d like to keep cruising together. Yay!!!

Thank you,
Ken Williams
Nordhavn 68, Sans Souci

PS I’m not sending this blog entry out … my policy is to not send the entries out when we’re not cruising, and we’re sitting still for a couple weeks. That will change soon though. A week from now, we’ll be back on the road!

OK … here are the two message board postings I mentioned:

 I had a fun discussion today with Steven and Carol Argosy on Seabird that I
thought I’d pass along.

We were talking about our current trip, and how fortunate we had been with the
weather. Over the past four months we have run over 6,000 miles, from Seattle to
Japan, through Alaska, the Bering Sea and Russia. We did this against the advice
of some very smart boaters, and even earned the nickname ‘the wrong way gang’
for swimming up stream.

I probably shouldn’t admit this, but it really wasn’t that bad a trip. We were
trying to quantify how many hours we had of rough seas. The term ‘rough seas’ is
subjective, and means different things to different people, and to different
boats. Amongst our group, out of the 6,000 miles run, the highest estimate was
that we were in rough seas for about 20 hours, and the lowest was closer to 8
hours. In other words, we ran some of the nastiest seas in the world, crossed
the Pacific, and had a good time doing so. It really wasn’t a rough trip at all.

Braun (Grey Pearl) and I had this discussion a few nights ago. I said that we
were lucky (with the weather), and Braun said that I was being unfair to
ourselves. The truth is that we had an easy time of it because:

1) We chose the best months to make the passage
2) We picked a route that had lots of places to hide from bad weather
3) We had good weather routers
4) We listened to the weather routers, and supplemented them with our own
5) We moved only when there was clear agreement that it was safe to move.

In other words, the secret to dealing with rough seas is actually fairly simple:
avoid them. If you follow the rules above, you can go anywhere, and most likely,
you will have a smooth time of it.

Actually, we had it far better than anyone anticipated or predicted. I asked
Steven and Braun whether they thought the currents were against us, or with us,
the majority of the time. None of the three of us thought the currents were
overwhelmingly against us. It seemed balanced. Sometimes the currents helped us,
sometimes they didn’t.

Braun advised me against admitting that we had so little pounding into bad
weather. His thought was that we’d have [censored] owners, and [censored] owners
trying the passage, and someone would get killed and we’d have blood on our
hands. Braun is right. I shouldn’t downplay the potential seriousness of the
seas, but the fact of the matter is that we did have a trip in which 99.9% of
the time, we were in benign seas. And, the other .1% really wasn’t all that bad.
I don’t think any of us ever felt in danger.

So … if there is any skillset I’d encourage those wanting to do long-distance
cruising to acquire, it would be to get good at reading weather faxes, and to
work with a good weather router. We had two on our trip; Weather Bob, from
ocmarnav.com, and Rich Courtney, who is a NOAA weather forecaster, who is a
friend of a friend, guiding us just because he’s a good guy, and we
needed/wanted all the help we could get.

Choosing your route is as important as choosing your weather. A friend wrote me
last week asking who our weather router is, so that they could consult with them
on their passage from San Francisco to Hawaii. Unfortunately, the weather router
is somewhat irrelevant for that particular passage. Once my friend leaves the
dock, the weather is what the weather is, and there isn’t a darn thing anyone
can do about it. Weather forecasting is only accurate 24 to 48 hours into the
future. Consulting a weather forecaster during a 20 day passage is a futile
endeavor. On a power boat, fuel is tight on major passages, and once you are out
at sea, your abilities to hide from bad weather are non-existent.

So, I guess my message is: If you are worried about bad weather, don’t be. By
developing a reasonable understanding of weather forecasting, and perhaps
speaking with a weather router, you can limit your exposure to bad weather to a
tiny fraction of your cruising. The vast majority of the time you will be
enjoying gentle seas and having fun.

And since this is the Nordhavn Dreamers board, and in deference to Braun’s worry
that our good fortune will lure [censored] and [censored] owners out into
hazardous waters, I’ll add that even with all the forecasting in the world,
there will still be that tiny percentage of the time when you get caught in
rough seas, and those are the times you’ll be darn happy you have a solid boat
beneath you.

-Ken Williams
Nordhavn 68, Sans Souci

 The GSSR – Any mechanical failures? (Renamed topic, was Pros and Cons of APH)

N4061 asked a fun question, “Ken, I would be interested to hear what type of
mechanical failures, if any, did the three boats experienced on this journey.
How were they fixed or what type of work around was used?”

Technically, the GSSR is not complete. We still have at least 400 miles to go,
so there is still plenty of time for things to go wrong.

Thus far, I am very thrilled to be able to say that, through our first 6,000
miles, we have had no serious mechanical problems on any GSSR boat. No boat has
had to be towed. No boat has had to quit a run early due to mechanical failure.
And, no departure has been delayed for mechanical reasons.

There are a few reasons for this.

1) They’re Nordhavns, and built to take it!
2) Prior to the start of the GSSR all three boats had a lot of work done. We
knew we were starting a long run, in potentially difficult waters, and we wanted
the boats to be in perfect condition. When we left the dock in Seattle, the
boats were `as good as new’.
3) We kept the boats well maintained during the run. Systems were checked and
re-checked often.

We did have a few minor issues, but none that kept us from moving. I’ve included
a list below. Sans Souci’s list is longer than for the other two boats, but this
probably just reflects that I know more about the maintenance issues on my boat
than on the other boats.

In looking at the lists, autopilot issues seem the only common denominator. We
all had at least one hiccup. I don’t remember anyone having issues on the Fubar
or NAR, so I suspect this is just `one of those things’. We saw some very
strange sea conditions, and perhaps this confused the autopilots.

The interesting year will be next year. It is too soon to say where we’re going,
or if we’ll even stick together as a group. My best guess is that we will, and
that we’ll rack up a bunch more miles, but I really have no idea. I’m not aware
of any of us who have major maintenance being done this winter. We’ll be
starting next year with boats that aren’t in the same pristine shape as last
year, and in water that is much warmer. We’re now in 85 degree water and will be
heading further south. The hotter weather can be tougher on the systems than the
40 degree water we had farther north.

Ken Williams
N6805, Sans Souci


Grey Pearl

*** Couldn’t pump out black water tank

I’m not sure what the fix was. I think a cracked pipe was found and repaired.

*** Auto pilot glitch

A couple times, when running, the Pearl popped out of auto-pilot. This was never

*** Hydraulics quit

This turned out to be water intrusion to an electrical box that was somehow
related to the stabilizers. It was resolved by cleaning things up and relocating
the electrical box. I believe the water was just condensation.

*** Anchor wouldn’t come up

A hydraulic hose burst. A new hose was made up and installed at our next stop.
The anchor was brought up by hand.


*** Generator stop solenoid failure

I’m not 100% certain I understand this issue. It affected both Seabird and Sans
Souci. There is a solenoid on the generator which shuts down the engine. Seabird
and Sans Souci have essentially the same Northern Lights generator, except that
mine is 20kw and Seabird’s is 16kw.

As I understand it, there is a `new technology’ stop solenoid, and both Seabird
and Sans Souci were among the first to try it. Unfortunately, it was apparently
a flawed design, and both our solenoids failed. Our backups were of the same
`new improved’ design, and they also failed. Old-style solenoids were flown in.

*** Shutdown solenoid failure

The solenoid which shuts down Seabird’s main engine fried. A replacement was
bought, and it also failed. I’m not certain how this was resolved, but believe
some rewiring was done.

*** Radar couldn’t spot remote targets

Seabird had a new radar installed. It needed some tuning to get it working

*** Dead autopilot

One of Seabird’s two autopilots failed. A new one was flown in, and Seabird ran
on the backup for a while.

*** Dead alternator

The alternator on the main engine failed. Seabird runs fine without it. I don’t
know if this has been repaired.

Sans Souci

*** Generator solenoid failure

This issue was common to Seabird and Sans Souci. See my write-up above.

*** Toilet failure

One of the toilets on Sans Souci failed. We carry complete `guts’ replacements
for the toilets. This should have been a simple swap but apparently Sealand
upgraded their toilets, and our backup was not an exact replacement. We were
able to repair the existing toilet.

*** Stabilizer failure

The stabilizers quit. The problem was a stuck pressure valve. We adjusted the
pressure and in minutes we were back up and running.

*** Nobeltec glitch

Once, Nobeltec inexplicably decided to ignore the GPS input and entered `Dead
Reckoning’ mode. A simple reboot of Nobeltec fixed it.

*** Autopilot glitch

Once, Sans Souci’s autopilot kicked out of Nav mode, causing the boat to veer
off course. I put it back into Nav mode, and all was fine. I’ve run a thousand
miles since without incident.

*** A/C and Heating instability

I completely replaced my heating/cooling system during the off-season, and have
made great strides forward, but still have occasional glitches. Sometimes, I
have to reset the system a few times to get it going. I haven’t quite figured
out the pattern.

*** Hole in tender

We accidentally popped the tender landing a 275 pound halibut. Patching the
tender was non-trivial, with the toughest issue being to get the glue flown in.
I had a patch kit on board, but it was for small punctures, not a giant rip.

*** Failure on one seachest intake

The seachest has two raw water intakes. During engine room checks we noted that
one intake didn’t have water flowing. We bled air from the strainer and this
solved the problem. Our best guess is that the air was pushed in during rough
seas, but this remained unresolved. It only happened once.

*** Rope on prop

We had to cut some rope off one of my props. The boat was running fine, with no
noticeable vibration.

*** Internet instability

My new Mini Vsat has worked reliably all the way across the Pacific and here in
Japan. EXCEPT: it seems to hang two or three times a day, and needs reset.
Rebooting resolves the issue. I’ve called KVH many times, but do not yet have
this resolved.

And lastly, here’s a bit of fun; this is the invite I sent out announcing the party. No one ‘got it’, but it seemed appropriate at the time.

As we discussed, you are invited to dinner tonight on Sans Souci!

It’s ‘BYOWYWTTOTBPSTS’ (bring your own whatever you want to throw on the barbecue, plus something to share).

Assuming you drink red wine, or alcohol-free beer, diet coke, or scotch I have you covered.. otherwise, you may want to bring something to drink.

See you tonight!

-Ken W

PS A riddle… (which you’ll never figure out if you don’t speak French)

5 Responses

  1. Ingenious!
    I was wondering why one letter was a capital and the other one not.
    I do speak some French (it is second language in Switzerland) and I also asked a French guy at work who didn’t know.
    He said they had different ways to speak at that time and we couldn’t figure it out.
    In hindsight it is so simple. Thank you!

    Andy B.

  2. Andy:

    Great work! You got the question. The response is:

    “G a”

    which is:

    J’ai grand appetit.

    Here’s how they get to it:

    The letter G is pronounced like the english J in french, which happens to be the same as “J’ai”

    It’s a capital G, hence the word “grand”

    Then, you have the letter ‘a’ small, or ‘a petit’.

    I did warn that no one who doesn’t speak french would get it.

    -Ken W

  3. Adam:

    I remember that it was the computer brain, but I don’t remember exactly what the issue was. It wasn’t mechanical. We had a new computer flown in.

    Shelby doesn’t like the heat here, but the air conditioning has been working well, so she is fine. She normally likes to go on walks… but, not when it is hot and humid. She fights going outside here.

    Thank you,
    -Ken W

  4. Ken, do you know what part of Seabird’s autopilot failed? (Pump, head, computer, etc.)

    How is Shelby handling the Japanese summer? I’ve never experienced muggier weather than in Tokyo.



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