Die Ratkas probleem

As we left our anchorage in Martinique we noticed that occasionally the gears would slip. It was the first time this happened, and it repeated itself a few times. Anchoring in the busy English harbor bay and docking in the narrow boatyard marina became slightly exhilarating and confirmed Exodus had indeed a problem with her gearbox. The captain started reading up and investigating, determined to get to the bottom of the issue. First an oil change was performed. It was obviated once more that the yacht services guys in Malta had taken the previous owner for a ride. They had not bothered to put in the right type of oil. Just like the depth meter that had plain water inside instead of oil, or all those screws that don’t even screw in, or the wiring that looked like spaghetti and used the wrong thickness and so on… Crap workmanship and they got away with it because our Italian friend did not know any better.

During the research the correct manual was downloaded, which stated in bold that while under sail you should never leave the gear engaged in the forward position. It can be neutral or should you wish to lock it it can only be in the reverse position, the way we always had it until we got the advice to do it differently!

Spares were ordered from the States to overhaul the gearbox. These took a while to arrive as the spares are put on 5 different planes, hopping from Virginia all over the US, Dom Rep to Saint John (Antigua) where they need to pass customs. When we finally had everything to get started it turned out the gearbox was bolted in with supertack (or so it seemed). No amount of physical persuasion or cursing made a difference. We simply did not have the appropriate tools to fit in the confined space. We had to order in a mechanic and consulted with the Slipway manager for that. Bearing in mind we are in the Caribbean and time is not considered of the essence in these parts. It took several days and somebody losing their temper before we got a mechanic on board.


Gearbox and overhaul kit were taken to the workshop on land over the weekend. The next Tuesday we found out that the overhaul kit was the wrong size. Back to the drawing board, measuring everything and ordering new parts… One of the problems was that our engine had been overhauled a few years back in Italy and they had sprayed paint over it, making any classification numbers illegible. It took several hours of looking at drawings on the internet to find the exact type. Same for the gearbox, no numbers to be found anywhere and 5 different models use the same housing. So you have a chance of 1 in 5 to get it right. But we are so much wiser now.

Once the right overhaul kit arrived, the mechanic replaced all the bits and mounted it together under pressure. But when fitting it into Exodus’s belly another rattle and hum was discovered… The drive damper, something similar to a clutch plate, was broken and needed to be replaced! This time spares were ordered from the UK…


Getting to know the neighbours

While we were sorting out the gearbox problem, we made the most of it. We spent the mornings boat schooling, doing research, writing, and trading. Apart from snorkeling, diving, beach time, we soon experienced a rather busy social calendar as we got to know our neighbours, our fellow long term residents in the bay:

  • Walter and Oanna on Chaball are the kindest, most peace loving people in this spot. They like yoga, zen stuff, being naturist, and let it be. But friendlinesss and politeness are seriously tried in Freeman’s bay! And if you cratch the surface long enough – or rather get too close to their boat- a vigilant German watchdog appears, alerting newcomers to the dangers of anchoring in confined spaces. As soon as the lights go off and one hears the anchor chains rattle on yet another French boat that tries to sneak in where there is no place, Walter’s blood pressure is in the red, or as another neighbor states ‘he is having kittens!’. His brand new boat and sole property on this earth has been bumped at least 4 times in this anchorage. That is one time too many.
  • Peter is the skipper of Sheila T, always ready to lend a helping hand, extend a dinner invitation, oil the dry throats in the bay, bake brownies for the birthday boys and girls, or court Gitane’s teacher (Viviane, our crew member from when we left Martinique).
  • Rob from Westerleigh, which sank on Christmas. Rob is busy picking up the pieces and fighting the insurance company. He gave us a full electronic library with about 8000 books on them. Feels like Christmas every time we open a new book…
  • Phill & Judy, fellow South Africans, from the zebra boat, who only occasionally stay on board as they have got a house around the corner.
  • Dave, the elderly American, who comes here every year and screams and swears at anyone who comes to close to his anchor or boat.

The Gearbox Headache

One thought on “The Gearbox Headache

  • March 31, 2018 at 10:33 pm

    I have now done some research (googling) on leaving the gear in ahead, neutral or astern. Evidently recommendations vary from one gearbox manufacturer to another, though it seems most recommend either neutral (which is noisy and can require the engine to be run every 10 hours to refresh the lubrication) or astern.
    Some gearboxes have cone clutches, and if left in ahead, will wear the cones away – the thrust being ‘pull’ rather than ‘push’. In the same way, leaving it in reverse jams the cones together, making it difficult to release.
    The original thinking, pioneered by Eric Hiscock, is to to leave it in ‘ahead’ so that in an emergency, one could just start the engine and motor away.


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