When we arrived here in Geraldton, we anchored behind a small breakwater just off the town's foreshore. As we were dropping the anchor, Marcie observed that the windlass was making a new and unusual noise – never a good thing. Since we will be depending on the windlass in half a dozen anchorages during our crossing of the Indian Ocean, it seemed like a good idea to find the cause. Parts aren't always easy to get in a small town in Western Australia, but it is a lot easier to get them here than it will be at an island in the middle of the IO. Once we were settled in and convinced that the anchor was holding, I removed the capstan and gypsy. The shaft had quite a bit of movement in it – enough so that when a load was applied, the gypsy was binding against the base plate. This was the cause of the new grinding noise, and in fact, it had already started wearing a groove in the top of the base plate. Apparently, one or more of the internal bearings were beginning to wear. This was a repair that would be much easier to make if we were in a marina, and we arranged to move into the Batavia Coast Marina the next day. Then, I began my internet search to see how soon I could get the repair parts.
The only Australian distributor for our Lofrans windlass is in the Brisbane area – on the other side of the continent. The good news, however, was that Michael Date at McIntyre Marine was someone we had worked with before when our Katadyn watermaker had problems, and our experience with him was quite good. He had the repair parts we would need and would air freight them to us – we should have them in 2-3 business days.
The next day, we moved into the marina and I set about removing the windlass. This is a bit of an ordeal. To access the bolts holding the windlass, I have to climb down into the sail locker then crawl headfirst over the chain locker and into the forepeak. It takes several minutes to slither into place, over and around various obstacles. It is a very tight fit and quite uncomfortable once there. This is one of those times when I wish I was 5 feet tall and weighed 75 pounds. There is no place to set the tools I needed or the parts as they are removed, so Marcie patiently passed items back and forth to me – no easy feat in itself, since this required that she climb in and out of the sail locker each time I needed something.
After an hour or so of whinging and swearing, the windlass was almost ready to remove. Only several turns of one nut was holding it in place. Most of the weight, 50 lbs or so, is attached to the underside of the deck, and must be lowered down and removed from below. Since I was directly under it, I was hoping we could manage this in a controlled manner. I had a recurring image of the windlass falling on top of me, pinning me in the forepeak, and watching the local firemen use a chainsaw or the Jaws of Life to cut a hole in the deck large enough to extract me. I slid partially out from under the windlass, positioned a plank under it, and between Marcie holding the shaft above and me lifting from below, the last nut came off and we were able to ease the windlass down onto the plank. Then, as I crawled back out of the forepeak, I slid the windlass along the plank with me – no chainsawing required.
Now that it was in the light, I could see that there was a lot of corrosion on the motor housing. It would take considerable work to grind, prep, prime and repaint it if it was going to last for any length of time.
A worse problem, however, was discovered as I began disassembling the gearbox. Apparently the deck seal above it had been leaking for awhile, and saltwater had made its way to the top of the unit, causing the alloy around the upper seal of the gearbox to corrode. The corrosion had gotten so bad that water had begun to make its way around the seal and into the gearbox. The gear grease was milky and the internal bearings were shot. On top of that, I broke three screws off in the housing while trying to get them out. I could replace the bearings, I could replace the seals, I could replace the gear oil, and I could find a machinist to extract the screws – but I couldn't repair the corrosion around the seal.
All told, it would cost about $500 for the parts, supplies, machinist's time and tools I would need, and I could maybe fix it well enough to last until South Africa, where I would most likely need to replace it. Or I could replace the whole windlass here.
Time to call Michael back...