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



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