Jammed Propeller but Still a Great Day Cruising Auckland, New Zealand

After exploring Kawau Island – awesome hiking and even exploring an old copper mine – we sailed down the coast and anchored near Gulf Harbour in Auckland. The next day we sailed into the harbor to pick up our new kayak but the day went a little differently than we planned…

After breakfast we pulled anchor and motored into the marina and tucked into Fairway Bay marina, a small boutique marina nice enough to let us lay alongside to pick up the kayak. Well, once the Hobie dealer arrived we knew there was an issue because the kayak on top of his black land rover was yellow – not the red one we requested! He apologized for the mistake and we made plans to meet down the coast nearer to his store….so we took on some fresh water and tossed off the dock lines….and then everything went sideways…

I was backing us out of the side-tie in very confined quarters (around some beautiful and very expensive yachts) and at that moment, the thought crossed my mind that if we were ever to have a prop/transmission issue, now would be the time it would happen. I really hope it wasn’t my worried thoughts but a moment later I shifted the port engine into forward and instead of a gentle forward propulsion I got a hard shift into gear and a very violent shaking! I tried to shift into reverse (as there was another motor yacht less than 8 feet from our bow) and it wouldn’t go into neutral but instead it was a hard shift into reverse and more violent shaking! I wasn’t able to get the port transmission into neutral but I still had control of starboard so I asked Alyssa to look in the engine compartment and inspect the cable linkage. She was scared half to death as the engine was shaking pretty violently so I immediately decided to shut that engine down. I focused on using starboard engine and getting us out of there. I calmly (at least I tried my best to stay calm) said to Alyssa that we lost port engine, the prop was jammed, and that we only had starboard to get us out of there. Luckily, we had enough way going (forward motion) to slide between the docked boats and get out onto the main fairway. Once we were in the main fairway I radioed the port control for the marina and apprised them of our situation since there is a lot of traffic in this marina and we were now limited in our ability to maneuver. I also asked if we could land on an end tie to make repairs to our prop and they assigned us a location that I did not feel comfortable landing at. They sent us a small tender and he stood by as we exited the marina (to keep way) and came back in to come alongside the fuel dock. It was a somewhat crash landing on the fuel dock as we only had starboard engine but no damage was done and we were tied alongside without too much drama.

I knew immediately what had happened – it was our haphazard prop adjustments made 90 miles north of here when we dried out the cat and thought we would go above-and-beyond and “adjust the props”. My suspicion was that the blade I adjusted had tightened itself to the point of locking the blade and that was what was causing the issue on the port side – a suspicion that was later confirmed.

For those not familiar with Autoprops – they are amazing (when they work). The propeller blades automatically feather to allow the engine to deliver optimal load and maximize forward thrust at any given RPM and it also feathers to allow for faster sailing. It’s an ingenious piece of engineering, that was compromised by some amateur on a remote beach with the help of an impact driver and improper torquing …. more on that later….

So, as retribution for my mistake, I donned the dive gear and went overboard. Alyssa carefully had all the required tools lined up on the swim step (we rebuild an Autoprop in Fiji so were very familiar with the process). I removed the prop and once it was aboard we rebuilt the entire prop and replaced all the races and bearings. Once we finished the prop was better than it’s been in a decade. When rebuilding the prop we figured out that when I used the impact driver to tightened the locking nuts, the torque spec was not very high. This part is hard to understand if you have never rebuilt an autoprop but I will go on for those who have (Hi, Dave).  I used the impact driver because that was the only way to get a “bite” on the tapered locking bolt that holds the blade adjustment in place (a regular wrench would just spin the bolt) . But my mistake was that I then didn’t follow it up with a torque wrench and tighten to spec. So my hypothesis is that the lack of torque on the set bolt allowed the blade to spin the hub and tighten itself to the point of locking the blade in a fixed position, which caused major issues for us in those tight quarters! And as a reminder – 100% my fault!

We carefully torqued each lock nut and bolt on each blade and after replacing all the bearing races and ball bearings we were very confident we had done the rebuild correctly. I even used red threadlocker – for good measure and per the manual. I then jumped back in the water and re-installed the prop. I also carefully inspected the starboard prop, which we will rebuild this year as well.

After fueling up (we were on the fuel dock already, remember), we exited the marina and headed south. The Hobie dealer was going to meet us hours earlier so we re-scheduled and he ended up kayaking it out to us in the evening! We enjoyed an amazing sunset off of Milford Beach, where we are anchored.

Looking back on the day, it actually wasn’t a bad program.  We got to watch a parade of beautiful boats pass us while on the fuel dock making repairs.  The Autoprop needed a tune-up anyway.  I got to go diving.  It was sunny and warm.  The boat is fueled up. We have our new kayak.  It’s funny how a boat problem can be turned from crisis to “just another day afloat”. I love this life.

By the way, we are definitely in the city. This beach reminds us of San Francisco blended with Newport Beach. We were told the homes on the beach are at least $5 million each! We can even see the Auckland Skytower in the distance. We’ll have to do some city exploring before heading back to Fiji. Doesn’t look like great weather for departure in the next week or so – but we are watching closely and plan to leave on the first great window. In the meantime we may head out to Great Barrier Island – our friend on Cavalo said I can’t miss it, so I think we’ll go do some ‘splorin!

Here are some pics from the day and also some shots we took while exploring the Whangamumu whaling station ruins.

Milford Beach, Auckland, New Zealand
36 46.01 S, 174 46.30 E




We Beached QUIXOTIC in New Zealand! + Tips for beaching a Cruising Catamaran

Our heads are pounding from stress and our bodies ache from cleaning barnacles but we successfully beached QUIXOTIC today! The saildrive fluid is renewed, the props are tuned and about 5,000 barnacles have been scraped from her hulls. It was a very demanding day and we are certainly exhausted now. The day started early pulling anchor in the Bay of Islands at sunrise, then we sailed around “hole-in-the-rock” and down the coast reaching Whangamumu Harbour by 10am. We were very nervous beaching our catamaran for the first time but we learned some helpful tips for next time:
First, pick a spot with hard packed sand so you don’t sink in too much. When the tide was coming back up the back of the keels dug in further and scared the hell out of us as the stern dropped a foot while we were onboard and Lyss was in the engine compartment cleaning up the mess I made when overfilling the saildrive! Second, keep the engines in forward until she takes the ground (sticks in the sand) – for us it took about 20 minutes before I could shut the engines down. Third, wait until the swell is at a bare minimum because when you are taking the ground and when you’re floating off she is going to rise on the swell and drop on to her keels and sometimes hard. It’s unnerving to say the least! We yanked her off the beach hard and drug the keels through the sand so we didn’t have more rising and falling than necessary. Fourth, and perhaps this is just us, but don’t go overboard with your underwater repairs while on a remote beach in the middle of nowhere. When I was tightening our autoprop blade with an impact driver I broke a very custom bolt and if we did not have a spare onboard we would have been resorting to our fixed (backup) props! Luckily we found a spare and I was able to fit it just as my blood pressure was boiling over…
Here are some pics of our stressful day. In hindsight, it wasn’t that bad (tell that to my pounding head!) and probably easier on the boat then coming out on the slipway / railway. Although we’d like to stay floating and keep QUIXOTIC away from land of any sort for a long time.
We’re cruising down the coast this week headed for Auckland. We were tipped off about this great beach by our friends Dave & Wendy (sv ELYSIUM) – thanks again guys! We are going to explore the ruins of an old whaling station tomorrow morning and then head further south. Stay tuned! Cheers!



New chainplates are in! Stanchions on! Let’s sail to Fiji!

Well that was one hell of a week!!  We are elated to report that we have replaced all four chainplates and 90% of our passage prep list is complete!  I am typing this with multiple cuts on my hands from wrestling with stubborn cotter pins on our turnbuckles, but the sweet smell of victory reins triumphant – we did it, and in record time!  Let’s sail home to Fiji!  We have started looking for the right weather window and expect to sail north by mid-April.

Earlier this week we started installing the stanchions (which we had previously removed and sent down to Auckland for passivization and electropolishing) while at anchor but we kept hitting major snags.  First we didn’t have the right bolts, and then a much larger issue presented itself…  In the cyclone last year, about 20 or so boats were kind enough to give QUIXOTIC a nice little bump on their way down the creek.  Well a few of these boats snagged one or more of her stanchions and pulpits and in doing so completely ripped out the bolts, stripping all the threads on almost all of the stanchions on the port side.  The builder had glassed in the nylocks behind a backing plate so that the bolts did not stick out into the cabins – a nice system, when it works; a nightmare when it doesn’t. So we decided to drill through the backing plates and through the bolts all the way into the cabins.  But once drilled there was no backing plate in the cabin and they also came down on a curved angle so using washers as backing plates was out.  The prospect of making these backing plates – or rather wood backing blocks – ourselves was daunting. So we decided to sail for the marina and see if the local talent could work some magic and creates these blocks for us.  To our relief and amazement, on Tuesday when we put into the marina, and in less than 2 hours, SeaPower, a local outfit here, had come aboard, measured and made mock-ups, cut, shaped, ground back the interior to the glass, and epoxy glued the new teak backing blocks in! It looked awesome and the next day the mermaid carefully painted all the backing blocks and the finished product is a thing of strength and beauty that should last the life of the boat.

While the stanchion project was in full swing we removed the running backstay chainplates (that we found cracks on last week) and delivered them to NSR (a local rigger) to create out of new 316 stainless steel stock.  Cutting chainplates and polishing them is one of those projects that we can’t do ourselves and this was sure to cut into our funds, which it certainly did!  While they were duplicating the running back chainplates we supported the rig with halyards and extra lines in preparation for removing the main chainplates.  We were under a bit of time constraint because there was rain forecast for the weekend through all next week and it was going to blow hard – not good for an un-stayed rig!  So we put major pressure on NSR and they said it could happen by Friday but no promises.  On Wednesday we got the running back plates back and had them installed by the evening, running backs tightened and the starboard main chainplate off.  We delivered the starboard plate to NSR by 8am Thursday morning and then had the new one (3mm thicker) back to us by 3pm and by nightfall QUIXOTIC had a new starboard chainplate.  We repeated this same procedure today (Friday) and had the last bolt cranked down and last bit of 3M 4000UV sealant cleaned up as the first rain drops began to fall and the skies darken – MISSION ACCOMPLISHED!  Then it was a few more hours in the rain tuning the rig, cranking the Mermaid up the rig to remove the temporary stays and then putting everything away.  But we did it, as planned, and the rig is 100% again and ready for the elements!

There are heaps of other items we ticked off the list this week.  Not the least of which was completing the 50 hour service on the new engines.  I did all the service myself but brought in the professionals to teach me how to properly check and adjust the valve clearances; now that I know how to do it myself I will do so going forward.  We also had new 316SS exhaust risers made for the new engines.  Our mechanic, Brian, suggested it and we agreed it made sense.  See, the stock elbows only dropped 10mm or so and the port one had a flat section where raw water can settle and the concern was in big seas if we fell off a wave the water in the waterlock could slosh up into the engine.  So being extra cautious, we had the new high rise elbows made and I have installed it on the port side, where the angle was much more of a worry than starboard, where the angle is much better and less of a concern to me.  It looks awesome and should provide a good 3-5 years of service before the sulfuric acid eats through the stainless.

A funny story about installing the new exhaust port and flapper…  So we didn’t want to be rushed when we dried out on the hard (for the first time) so we decided to replace the broken exhaust port while in the marina – in hindsight, perhaps not the best choice in the world.  I stood on the dock and the exhaust port was clearly 3-4 inched above waterline – cool, I can change that no problem!  Famous last words right?  Well I removed all the 6 screws holding the port in and removed the hose from inside the boat.  Then I got everything ready to put in the new one: Sikaflex 291 black – check, new 316SS screws – check, new port – check, sandpaper – check, acetone – check. We were ready to pull the old one and put in the new one, I had the Mermaid there to assist and even thought to have towels just in case there was a wake.  Well, the moment I had the old port off and there was a huge hole in the boat with the screw holes exposed, an enormous dredge barge with a big backhoe as an oar roared its engines and stared heading our way – uh, oh!  Alyssa called it to my attention just as QUIXOTIC (which has an un-stayed rig mind you) stared rocking and pulling at her lines.  I saw the wakes and yelled for the towel.  I shoved the towel over the port and screw holes and held on for dear life as the wakes overtook our position and QUIXOTIC rocked up and down.  All the while I was swearing and pulling my back holding that damn towel over my previously dry port and screw holes!  When the chaos abated, I removed the soaking wet towel and somehow I managed to keep the port and screw holes dry.  We managed to complete the install of the new port and new flapper with only a few more close calls. Another box ticked off the list!

Tomorrow we will wash the boat, fill our water tanks, pay the marina and get the hell out of dodge.  We plan to gunkhole down the NZ coast to Auckland where we will pick up a new hobie hard kayak.  Thanks again to our friends Jason and Emily (sv LYRIC) for falling in love with our inflatable hobie kayak and buying it from us to take home as a souvenir!

I have decided to take some time off from my online consulting business so we can relax and get ready to sail north.  We will be taking some much-deserved relaxed sailing time down the coast.  We’ll write again before we take off for Fiji.  In the meantime, please continue to spread the word about QUIXOTIC Charters!  We have made some bookings this week and keep in mind that the limited time offer of 20% off ends May 1st!  Come hang with us in Fiji!


Lewis & Alyssa

Opua, New Zealand

The hottest Mermaid stainless polishing woman no money can buy!
See how much higher the new elbow is vs stock
Badass install with fiberglass lagging tape to prevent too much heat transfer to engine room. Note how high the water would have to flow to enter the engine:
Teak backing blocks epoxy glued to cabin top
As seen after the Mermaid paint treatment
Final product!
New Chainplate and new stanchions!! Done and done and gorgeous!
Had to cut the rub rail a few mils to fit the new chainplates
New chainplate on!
Mermaid was crucial in the acetone and prep and clean department!
Her expression says it all
See us in the reflection??? We did it!




Storms, Rain, Friends, New Anchor and Cracked Chainplates – Preparing to Sail to Fiji!

We are preparing to sail to Fiji in a few weeks and have begun our passage prep in earnest. The past week was storming so we put in to the marina. We put a tarp over the engine compartment and I spent two and a half days hunched over completely renewing every system on the generator – happy to report our efforts paid off and it’s running great now.  One step forward and two steps back though because upon closer inspection of the 20 year old chainplates, we found cracking on both running back chainplates and one stress crack on the port main chainplate.  We can’t sail to Fiji with cracking chainplates so we have removed the running back plates and had them re-made. We will be removing the main chainplates next week and having them made as well.  Should be an exciting exercise to support the rig with halyards and spectra line!

Our friends Jason & Emily (s/v LYRIC) were visiting last week and we all did our best to find activities in between torrential rain and generally crummy weather. We went kayaking, hiking, fishing, exploring, sailing, wine tasting and dining. It was a great visit.  Thanks again for all the help on the projects guys! Jason: we couldn’t have re-bed the pulpits and that new hatch without your humor to keep us entertained!  And the fish we caught will live in infamy as the largest guppy ever caught in the bay of islands!

Our new anchor arrived and is currently buried in the mud below us!  We are delighted to report that Spade Anchor has decided to sponsor us!  We loved our Spade anchor on Ellie so much but the price tag was prohibitive to buying one for QUIXOTIC.  Luckily Spade Anchor responded to our request for sponsorship and gave us a huge discount.  They air-freighted us the new anchor from Tunisia and after a few weeks in transit our new favorite anchor arrived!  The 55lb Rocna we had is a great anchor but (in our opinion) the Spade is better. It is 65lbs and has lead in the tip to help it bury deep in the sand/mud/rocks/shells/etc. The absence of a roll bar helps it keep digging deeper when pulled and it’s less likely to foul.  So far so good – we’ll keep reporting!

The rest of our to-do list is only one page long this time and includes items such as new chainplates, rig tune, replace hatch, install stanchions and lifelines, seal engine rooms, service engines, dry out and replace saildrive oil, re-commission watermaker, install that missing mid-ship cleat, etc.  We figure 2-3 weeks of work and we’ll be ready to sail north to Fiji.

Tell the weather to be nice so we can bed some stanchions and replace those chainplates!



It hasn’t been ALL work and no play….
Painting new gelcoat around the hatch before bedding in the new frame
New Spade Anchor!! Picture taken before assembling..
Assembly complete! We used a nylock soaked in red locktite on the bolt and then put three passes of stainless seizing wire to ensure the bolt can’t back out.


20 years of stress loading and then a cyclone have condemned the chainplates. We are replacing both next week.
Can you spot the crack?



Lat38 Magazine Article: The Economics of a QUIXOTIC Catamaran Re-power

Our friend Richard, an editor and founder of Latitude 38 magazine, asked us how much it cost to re-power our Voyage 430 catamaran, QUIXOTIC, down here in New Zealand. If you’re interested in finding out the answer, read pages 118-120 of March 2017 edition of the magazine below.  

And get some friends together to come charter with us so we can pay back our loans will ya?!  We have some excellent discounts being thrown out there right now – book soon before we come to our senses!