Voice of Experience: Shafted in the Jumentos

The prop shaft is broken, and bad weather is coming. Now what? We were not going anywhere under power now for sure, and in the light air the tide was taking us down onto the rocks of the northern Jumentos Cay at a rapid rate.  
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Illustration by Jan Adkins

Illustration by Jan Adkins

My wife, Molly, and I were well into a winter in the Bahamas after a summer spent in the Canadian Maritimes and New England. We had traded the cold water and grandeur of the fiords on the south coast of Newfoundland for the crystal-clear, many-hued water of the Bahamas.

We’ve owned Allegria, a Whitby 42, since 1994 and spent three years cruising the Caribbean and U.S. East Coast back in the ‘90s. We’d both recently retired, and following a refit that included replacing the engine’s drive train, we were ready for another more open-ended cruise. The trip up the East Coast had gone well, without any major problems, and after spending the holidays at our old stomping grounds at St. Petersburg, we were excited to revisit the Bahamas.

We crossed to Bimini, checked in, and then sailed past New Providence to the Exumas. After that we bounced down the chain, revisiting old haunts and were continually amazed at the growth in the local communities and the number of cruisers. Eventually, we made it down to Georgetown and, following a visit from our daughter, set out to explore the Jumentos and Ragged Islands.

The author and his wife, Molly

The author and his wife, Molly

We left Georgetown, steering southeast to Thompson Bay, Long Island, and spent a restful night there before heading down Comer Channel underneath Hog Cay toward the northern Jumentos. We were motorsailing in light air, taking it very easy, when suddenly the motor revved up. I quickly threw it into neutral and went belowdecks to investigate. The stuffing box looked normal, but when I checked the tranmission coupling, I couldn’t believe my eyes—the prop shaft had snapped in two, clean as a whistle, about about eight inches aft of the coupling.

We were not going anywhere under power now for sure, and in the light air the tide was taking us down onto the rocks of the northern Jumentos Cay at a rapid rate.

We quickly launched the dinghy off the davits, mounted the outboard motor and strapped it to the side of the boat. After firing up the outboard, we were able to generate enough forward motion to keep off the rocks and head toward Water Cay, our anchorage for the night. We covered the four miles to Water Cay in a couple of hours and found several boats there already at anchor. We picked a spot, got our anchor down and set, and began to assess our options.

The forecast was for another day of no wind, followed by building southeasterlies for about a day and then a cold front with the wind shifting to the south, west and northwest. To effect any kind of repair we felt it necessary to get back to Long Island or Georgetown. But we knew it would be a difficult sail, beating into the southeasterlies up Comer Channel with all the shallow water about. We also knew we did not want to stay where we were as the front passed. Calling out on the radio for any vessel headed back to Georgetown, I got a response from Paydirt, a Defever trawler anchored nearby. Onboard we met Mark and Karen, who generously offered to give us a tow to Georgetown.

We made our plans, and I set up a 250-foot towline on our bow and rigged a bridle to both bow cleats and around the windlass. At the same time, Mark set up a bridle on the stern of Paydirt. At dawn the following day we passed Paydirt our towline and hauled up our anchor. After we’d paid out about 100 feet of our towline, Paydirt throttled up her big Lehman engines and slowly picked up speed. Before we knew it we were heading to Georgetown at 6.5 knots. We covered the 65 miles easily and were in the anchorage at Sand Dollar Beach by 1430.

Checking our options, we found the most expeditious way to get a new shaft was to have it shipped from Florida. There are limited facilities and no machine shops on Great Exuma, but my brother Denny lives in Jupiter, Florida, which meant he could provide us with some logistical support. We needed exact measurements for the shaft and that meant pulling out the old one. We started by removing the old coupling from the tranny and pulling the prop off. I had a puller for the prop and a Hookah breathing device to facilitate the underwater work. It took a day of heating and spraying penetrating oil to separate the coupling from the fractured piece of shaft.

The next step was to get the remaining shaft out of the boat, and with it came a moment of truth. As I pulled the shaft out from underwater, Molly pushed a bung into the shaft log from inside, after which I pushed another bung in from outside. Everything worked as planned, and we laid out the shaft on deck and took our measurements and photos, then replaced the shaft in the log for peace of mind. We emailed the info to my brother and had a new shaft and coupling fabricated and shipped to us within a week.

Allegria at anchor in Nova Scotia

Allegria at anchor in Nova Scotia

The new shaft went in as before, and the coupling went together without problems. We replaced the packing in the stuffing box and had a dry boat. After that we began the process of aligning the engine and shaft. As we did so I found things didn’t jive as we made our adjustments. Further inspection revealed the port aft motor-mount bracket bolts had sheared off, so that part of the engine was now unsupported. This was undoubtedly why the shaft had broken.

Accessing that part of the engine was difficult and required some disassembly. I began by removing the exhaust riser from the back of the engine, which allowed me to get down to the engine mount. The adjusting nut was frozen and required some work to free up, but I was finally able to get it moving, only to find the entire shaft was spinning. I elected to pull out the entire mount and bracket, which allowed me to retrieve the fractured pieces of bolt. I did not have a replacement 7/16 bolt in my stash, but Mark on Paydirt came through again and produced not one, but two.

With some difficulty, I was able to replace everything and get it tight. After that the alignment process went much more smoothly, and a trial motor across the bay confirmed everything was in working order. We did further sea trials with an excursion to Long, Conception and Rum Cays. Everything went fine then as well.

All in all, our little misfortune gave further credence to the old saw that cruising means working on your boat in exotic places. It also reaffirmed our belief that the cruising community is full of the most wonderful people, with Mark and Karen on Paydirt now at the top of that list.

What I did right:

We kept our heads and assessed all our options at each crisis.

We had the tools and equipment needed to do repairs in the field.

We made sure our repairs were adequate by conducting sea trials before leaving our safe harbor.

What I did wrong:

We should have checked the engine alignment prior to leaving.

We knew the engine mounts were old and marginal. We should have replaced them.

The bolts on the aft engine mount brackets had fractured previously. We should have replaced them with stronger Grade 8 bolts at that time.

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