The Rest of the Story

Yes we made it from Seattle to Tokyo…but there were some mechanical speed-bumps. Here is a partial list of malfunctions that occurred on the Grey Pearl during the GSSR.


As can be expected on a long voyage there will be system failures. The weather, saltwater environment, motion of the boat and constant use of systems all produce significant stress resulting in malfunctions. The GSSR voyage from Seattle to Japan was no different. Each of the participating boats experienced their share of failures. Here is a list of some failures and resulting repairs on one on the boats which should give you an idea of the variety of things that can go wrong. Should the same failure occur on your boat this list may help you with the diagnosis and repair.

Preventive Care –

Considering the length and remoteness of the voyage and to minimize problems underway a careful pre-departure plan was developed to inspect, maintain, and/or replace every system, hose, connection, etc. on the boat. This resulted in extensive work being performed before departure on systems by the owner and contractors. This work was checked upon completion and then tested during sea trials which resulted in the ordinary and customary discovery of installation and parts problems. These were then resolved. Regardless of this careful checking and problem resolution some failures choose not to appear until the voyage was well underway in some of the remotest of areas. “Murphy’s Law”.

The failures were of two broad types – ‘worked on’ systems (those worked on before departure and believed to be repaired and operational) and ‘other’. The list below describes both types of failures and explains what went wrong with the worked on systems to provide a “how not to do it”.

The list –

is organized by symptom, problem, and problem resolution.

1. While at sea and stabilizers active a loud banging and pulsating noise in port Naiad actuator. Sleep interrupted in captain’s state room – big problem. Diagnose and replace failed port Naiad potentiometer. According to Naiad, these are wearable parts in the Naiad system. Both port and starboard potentiometers were replaced just two years ago.

Stabilizer actuator repair

2. No hot water in remote Alaska for 7 days. Dingying to other GSSR boats for occasional showers. Met by them with clothespins on their noses. Newly installed hot water heater thermostat failed due to water intrusion. Leaking overhead water hose had allowed fresh water to run down a power wire to thermostat junction box because of no drip loop in power cord. Replaced burnt up thermostat after arriving in port and receiving a new part. Put drip loop in wiring, spare thermostat added to parts locker.

3. Hot water level lower than usage would indicate. Repair leak from a hot water tank fitting that was improperly installed. This is a Whale hose plastic to brass adapter fitting that has an O ring in it and is to be hand tightened only. It was on very tight and may have been improperly wrench tightened which split the O ring causing a leak. Replaced O ring and hand tightened fitting.

4. Shower water collecting to bather’s ankles. Shower pan won’t empty. Rebuilt & replaced failed shower sump pump.

5. Band-Aids and medicines wet, medicine chest cabinet soaked with salt water after a particularly rough 3 day run. Repair leak around deck inlet for dock water take on.

6. 20kw generator leaking salt water. Found a torn rubber cap connected to heat exchanger – replaced the cap at both ends. Before departure the heat exchanger had been removed for cleaning and it appeared the installer may have used a sharp tool to refit the rubber end cap over the engine block receiving flange. This improper technique could have caused the rip in the rubber cap which eventually leaked at a remote Aleutian island.

7. Various small plastic mystery pieces on engine room floor. Repair broken main air filter AirSep gauge. No apparent reason for failure.

8. More fog in two showers than outside in the foggy Aleutians. Replace two failed head exhaust fans. Sea water had intruded into fans via deck exhaust clam covers due to heavy seas constantly washing over deck and sloshing up into the clam covers, through a mesh grate and into fan ducts. New pre-departure procedure is to plug up vents with nerf balls to seal out heavy seas.

9. Black water tank full and won’t empty. Heads unusable. Men using stern bustle for overboard platform but women upset. They demand action and boycott galley. Diagnose, locate and repair a fine crack in the Sealand waste discharge hose which admitted air into line but not big enough for waste to leak out of crack to reveal it, making it very difficult to locate the leak. Thus proving Techamediaes law that air is finer than waste. Part of diagnosis involved a novel approach fashioned by the crew to back flush a suspected clogged hose with pressure water. When pressure water was applied a fitting blew off dousing the captain with waste water. After intense questioning by the captain the crew “discovered” a check valve to which the wrong way flow had been directed causing the back flash. Crew claimed no prior knowledge. Captain suspicious. All ended well as after the heads were working again, women happy and chow resumes.

10. Starboard Naiad fin locked up at sea. Couldn’t move it with a crowbar. Diagnose and repair water logged Naiad actuator junction box wiring. The water ran into the box due to excessive condensation caused by external cold sea water and the resulting short locked the actuator in a fully extended position. Relocated and sealed the box to prevent recurrence. Vowed to get out of cold Aleutian water ASAP.

11. At the beginning of raising the anchor off the remote Aleutian island of Kiska, hydraulic windlass quit. Investigation revealed a ruptured hydraulic hose which drained all fluid. Decided to repair the hose at next port. This necessitated raising the 300 lb. plough anchor and 200 feet of chain (approx. 3 lb./ft.) by hand. Captain worried about retention of crew. Continued on voyage to Adak Island and on arrival were instructed by a native Aleut Indian to raft to an old WW II Navy tug in 25 knots of crosswind. Windlass and bow thruster share a hydraulic system. With no hydraulics there was no bow thruster to maneuver alongside the tug. Expecting a hard docking, rigged extra fenders. On final approach, well trained crew did an excellent job getting crash fenders dynamically positioned, all of which were squished flat on impact (the fenders).

Repair a split high pressure hydraulic hose caused by 10 years of chaffing on a sharp piece of original factory molded fiberglass. Leak at 3000 psi quickly sprayed and dumped 7 gallons of fluid throughout inverter bilge. Hydraulic hose repair in remote locations is particularly difficult because the fittings are properly fitted in a machine shop using appropriate presses, etc. Although the Pearl carries made up hose in all diameters and various lengths, in this instance it was not possible to run a length of hose and a splice had to be made with one end fitted to the existing hose. A helpful mechanic at Adak airport volunteered to use a surplus Navy press to help us out by attaching the fitting. Using questionable technique a replacement fitting was pressed on a new piece of splice hose. When this splice hose was attached on the boat and the hydraulic system powered up the fitting promptly blew out, with the same nasty results (dumping 7 more gallons of oil) as the original failure. Not trusting the airport volunteer a second time we “field fitted” a high pressure connector from the Pearl’s spares. This worked, restoring the use of the windlass and bow thruster. After careful inspection and a through test of the operating windlass, and over cocktails, the crew agrees to remain on board.

Tied to the tugs-getting to shore a challenge.

Sourcing parts for a fix. First class crew.

12. Forward bilge taking on water. Diagnose that Whale manual emergency diaphragm discharge pump is siphoning sea water due to heavy seas and filling the bilge. Shut thruhull.

13. Forward bilge filling with more water when bilge pump is running. Bilge pump leaking at its diaphragm. New bilge pump installed. Old one rebuilt for spare.

15. Crank case vapor breather filter hose on main engine split, oozing oil. Replace.

 16. Excessive water in forward engine room bilge. Visible flow down the bilge bulkhead. Water is hot and tasted fresh. Trace leak to a Whale hot water hose that blew out at a “T”. Replaced junction. Reduce temperature of hot water tank. The maximum that the Whale fittings can withstand is 150 degrees. Any greater temperature will cause tubing and fitting failure.

17. Naiad hydraulic fluid reservoir tank temperature 15 degrees too warm. Auxiliary cooling is by a “continuous duty” Jabsco Water Puppy pump that is prone to failure. Pump ingests sea water and in Alaskan waters pump head should be cool to touch and sweating from condensation. Pump head warm and dry. Replace pump. Tank temperature returns to normal. Old pump is swimming with the fishes.

18. Furuno NavNet radar fails to show targets (ships or land). But array is revolving, sweep is apparent on monitor and AIS targets appear. Disconnect all leads at both NavNet black box and monitor and at antenna array. Inspect for loose wires, poor connections, etc. Carefully and tightly reconnect. Nothing obvious found but the Furuno manual ‘trouble shooting’ in several sections directs this procedure so believe this is not the first time this fault has occurred and has thus been fixed. Radar worked after reconnection.

The People – 

The diagnosis and fixing of these problems was made possible by the extraordinary efforts of Captains Wayne Davis and Kell Achenbach, both highly experienced yachtsmen who crewed on the Pearl during the GSSR. Over 9 weeks voyaging through the Aleutians, Russia and Japan. Wayne and Kell have years of experience on their own boats and crossing oceans.They have seen it all and when these issues occurred many at the wrong time of night and in remote places it was business as usual. They are real pros.

And when the three guys were consumed with the problem du jour, who ran the boat? That would be Pat Davis and Tina Jones. Both of these women are highly experienced having crossed oceans in their own boats. They both shouldered more than their share of the boat’s operation, watch standing, and general deck work. Together with Wayne and Kell, what an outstanding team to have on board when something goes wrong!

So there is the rest of the story, all in all not so bad. There were other failures but this is probably a reasonable sampling of what can be expected on an extended voyage. The key as in most things in this life is the right people to deal with the situations. I hope in a small way this review of problems proves helpful with similar issues you may have.


2 thoughts on “The Rest of the Story”

  1. Hey guys,

    I am most impressed! I’ve just read through the list of repairs/jury rigging you did on your trip. American ingenuity and resourcefullness is alive and well, especially aboard the Grey Pearl. Well done!!

    And let me also compliment the “Blog Log”…it is one of the best written I have seen. It is interesting, humorous, and always informative.

    Sail safe and keep us posted,

    Warmest regards,


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