Steering Surprise in the Lake Worth Inlet with
Captain Jerry Taylor
Wendy and I met Bruce and Joan Kessler in Portland Maine, and spent two days underway together, travelling between Portland and Branford, CT for indoctrination and familiarization with ‘Spirit of Zopilote’, their Northern Marine 58.
After provisioning and carrying out repairs on both generators in Branford Connecticut, we said goodbye to the Kesslers, and our frequent crew-member (and friend) Hans Baier joined our merry band. With an eye on the weather, and some trepidation, Wendy, Hans, and I set out for a non stop run to Florida on Saturday, September 1. ‘Spirit of Zopilote’ is a big boat with many complex big boat systems, but most of the trepidation came from the desire to make a picture-perfect delivery. Because we have known Bruce and Joan so many years, uppermost in our minds was the fact that Bruce had never before trusted a delivery crew, or anyone else to captain his boat.
On our departure, the late summer weather cooperated with light to moderate northerly winds, and Sunday night found us off Norfolk with increasing E-SE winds in the forecast. Things got a little bumpy, but ‘S of Z’ demonstrated her Northwestern work-boat heritage with comfort and certitude in the choppy conditions. Monday evening we rounded Cape Hatteras with the wind in the north, and 4’ to 6’ following seas. Perfect running conditions! Tuesday evening we rounded Cape Fear with the wind and seas still in the north. On Wednesday afternoon we left St Augustine abeam. Thursday at sundown we adjusted our course for the Lake Worth inlet at Palm Beach, as we didn’t want to arrive in Ft Lauderdale “after business hours”. We had an appointment with the fuel truck to ‘top up’ the tanks at the Lauderdale Yacht Club, before the final 5 miles up the narrow winding New River to Bruce’s slip at Lauderdale Marine Center. We anchored for the night in Lake Worth just south of the inlet, and had our first uninterrupted sleep in 5 days.
At 0645 Friday morning we upped anchor and started out the inlet on what we thought was the final leg of the trip. Midway out the channel, between the breakwaters, with a large container ship just starting in, ‘Spirit of Zopilote’ experienced a total loss of steering! In rapid succession we dropped and set the yacht’s 250 lb. anchor and made a security call explaining the situation to the inbound container ship. Of course the wind was blowing around 20 knots from the East, with an ocean swell and chop running directly in the channel, so it took all the chain and some of the wire before the big yacht settled to the anchor. The container ship aborted it’s trip into Palm Beach and stood by offshore while we sorted things out. Meanwhile we called Coast Guard and Tow Boat US, and both were soon on-scene. Our investigation showed that the main hydraulic seal in the steering ram had experienced a catastrophic failure, and gallons of pressurized fluid were sprayed all over the lazarette space. The ram had shown no signs of leakage before departure or during our hourly checks while underway offshore. Tow Boat US assisted us with tow boats, bow and stern, and took us to the Rybovich North Yard in Riviera Beach, where we reflected upon how many things can go wrong before breakfast. It took us a few days to have the cylinder shaft straightened, source and obtain the parts, have the steering cylinder rebuilt by American Hydraulic Systems then reinstall, bleed and pressurize, then test the entire steering system.
On Tuesday September 11th we began the final leg to Ft Lauderdale, arriving at Lauderdale Yacht Club at 1800 to take on fuel. The following day we navigated the New River, and tied ‘S of Z’ securely in her slip at Lauderdale Marine Center, with huge sighs of relief. Some delivery trips are a little more stressful than others!
Total Distance: 1128 Nautical Miles
Total Running Hours: 144
Average Speed: 7.8 Knots
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