Airship Goes to Alaska
Excitement at sea today! We were cruising from Icy Strait through Southern Lynn Canal toward Juneau, Alaska.
The seas in Lynn Canal were much heavier than forecast – seas 5-7 feet! (forecast was 3 feet for Southern Lynn Canal, 5 feet for Northern Lynn Canal…so, you know, trickle down happens, and then builds). We were headed right into it, and it was a pretty rough ride (but still kinda fun).
We'd brought the engine up to 65% power for about three hours as we crashed through the waves. (We normally cruise at less than 30% power.) The boat handled it like a champ (and we’d been in worse conditions before).
Watch this video, and then just picture that for three solid hours:
We turned the corner around Point Retreat into Saginaw Channel. The waves were still big, but at least we were going with them. In a following sea, it seems (and sounds) much calmer, but the waves are the same size and they just push you around a bit. It's way more squirrely. They boat will suddenly turn left or right as you surf down one wave, then the bow buries as you start up the next one. It's all about timing and picking the right boat speed for the seas. (Note: this will be important later.)
About 5 minutes after we made our practically 180 degree turn at Point Retreat, we both smelled SMOKE. On a boat, smoke is not good. At all. Our first instinct was that it smelled electrical, so we shut down all nonessential electrical busses and went around the boat sniffing. Engine room check – nothing, galley check- nothing, head check- nothing, stateroom check- nothing, lazarette check (where the auto-pilot gear is) – nothing. Oh, and all this while still dealing with frantic 5 foot following waves.
Finally, we opened the hatch where the drive shaft goes through the transom to the prop. Bingo! A bit of smoke! (and some noise and vibration…)
We throttled back to idle and the drive shaft was still making noises and there were a couple of shuddering vibrations. The bearing enclosure was hot and wisps of smoke were coming off of it. We immediately put the boat in neutral while we checked the water cooling on the bearing…water coming in, so working fine. We tried reverse, some vibration. Back to neutral, then forward again. The vibration was not happening anymore, and after a few minutes of cooling down at idle and then slow speeds forward (while we went up and down, and up and down, and sideways and up and down some more), we were able to make slow cruising speed with no more smoke and no more vibrations.
We still had 3 more hours to go to get to Juneau (the closest port), so we kept the hatch open and checked the seal every few minutes for any signs of heating. All was good for the rest of our slow cruise to Juneau.
We contacted Nordic Tug factory customer service to ask for some guidance. We sent them a long email with a detailed description of the problem. They sent us back an email that didn’t answer any of our questions, suggested maybe we'd "hit something" (we didn't hit anything), and then suggested things to troubleshoot that didn't really match the issue we were pretty sure we were having. To be fair, it was nearing 5 o'clock (5 til, in fact, PST), and perhaps they didn't have time to read our email completely. They said to have our marina check it out. We pointed out that we were about a month from our home marina and didn’t know a marina with repair facilities in Juneau. They sent us back a Bing results listing for “boat repair juneau alaska”
Ummm… Bing? Someone uses Bing?
And, honestly, we were hoping for a bit more from factory support than the equivalent of “Let me Google that for you”.
One of the results in the Bing “boat repair…” list was Wingnut Auto Salon, which is apparently an auto detailing service (nice to have good ‘ol Bing there to pick up where Nordic Tug support left off). Wingnut Auto Salon had one review on Google (one star) which began “I paid over $270 for a detail and they didn’t clean under my seats. My car mats were not in the car when it was returned to me…”
Think we should see if Wingnut will take a look at our PYI PSS dripless shaft seal?
Looks like we’ll be doing some mechanical work and diagnosis here in Juneau before we continue our long journey back south toward home. Even though things seem fine now at “normal” cruising speeds, we’d rather not start a one-month trip through remote waters with a shaft bearing that might or might not be okay and may or may not give us the option to "haul ass" across areas like Dixon Entrance or Queen Charlotte when we need to.
And here's today's map (70.3 nautical miles):
And so now, at Harris Harbor in Juneau, we are having a cocktail, and some caviar that we made from the eggs of salmon that we caught. Because….balance.