My brother Jim, that's him on the left with Mirador in her old home slip, and I left Delin Docks marina on Monday morning, August 30, 2010 with the intent of getting Mirador to San Diego as quickly, comfortably, and safely as possible.   We had tried to find a third crewman but no one that I knew wanted to make an open ended commitment to three or four weeks on Mirador, heading south in the cool and often uncomfortable NE Pacific. 

We had a decent forecast for getting out of Puget Sound and west through the Straits of Juan de Fuca so we planned on moving as quickly as possible NW and then West to the Pacific.   Well; that was not to be!

How can New Flares kill the Autopilot?
As soon we entered the Foss Waterway, just 50 yards from Mirador's home dock, I feared the Autohelm ST6000 autopilot was not working properly and would not hold a course for more than 15 seconds.  I figured that I could work on the autopilot while we motored NW across Commencement Bay and East Passage.   During the last 15 years I have installed and repaired, every component and wire in the system and I was "somewhat" confident that Jim and I could get the autopilot system working again.

Ninety minutes later I was losing that confidence and beginning to wonder if Mirador was really going to San Diego.  We had recalibrated the ST6000 compass and verified all the mechanical components were working properly.  

The problem was that the ST6000 compass was showing wildly erratic values, swinging from 087 to 260 to 313 degrees and back every minute or so.  The autopilot was working perfectly and steering wildly in an attempt to keep Mirador on the specified course of 313.

I hand steered the boat and thought about the problem while Jim crawled around the engine room testing all the connections for the myriad of fine little wires that provide input to the ST6000 system.   After several hours I remembered that the current symptoms were very similar to those I experienced in late 2002 down in the Sea of Cortez.   That problem had been caused by a intermittently broken wire that provided 12V power to the ST6000 fluxgate compass.   The break was in 22 gauge wire that disappeared under the aft cabin sole and reappeared in the aft head - not an accessible area.  I had solved the problem by running a new four wire cable that was encased in heavy protective wrapping. 

Jim then determined that one of the wire connectors that I had used in the aft head, it is really in the center of the boat and is where I mounted the fluxgate compass high on the athwartship bulkhead, was only making intermittent contact and thus the ST6000 course computer was getting inconsistent readings from the fluxgate compass. 

The darn thing had worked perfectly the previous week and during the 300 mile trip I took in mid-August.  Mirador had not moved since then so how in the world did the crimped connector come loose???

A couple of days before we left I purchased new flares and cartridges for my 25mm flare gun.  I keep that equipment in a waterproof ammo box that is stored under the tool chest in the aft head.  It appears that when I put the box with the new flares back under the tool chest - the handle caught the fluxgate wire bundle and when I pulled the box out to show Jim the new flares that handle loosened the suspect connector.

Jim redid all the connectors and secured them in a location against the bulkhead where nothing can disconnect them in the future.   By the time we were half way to Kingston, our first stop, the autopilot was again working perfectly.

Examination of my maintenance log from November 2002 shows that I had made a note that the wire bundle in question needed to be secured and protected.  Once again - deferred maintenance is the cause of many problems - often years late.





My brother John called me shortly after Jim repaired the fluxgate compass cable.  John wanted us to know that his plans had changed, he was flying out of Baltimore in the morning, and he would be at the SeaTac airport by 10 AM, AND could we wait for him?

John had no experience with ocean sailing or watch standing but Jim and I decided that John, our youngest brother, could quickly learn to stand watch by himself in the wet cold dark of the NE Pacific and he would be the perfect addition to the crew.  We could boss him around, let him take the dark watches, and ask him to be the official photographer and FACEBOOK interface were he posts videos of Mirador in near real time. .All subsequent pictures in any of  my postings about our trip to San Diego were taken and edited by John.

John is a wonderful photographer, has professional equipment, and loves to take lots of pictures so we answered his phone question with "Sure - it will be fun."   We did tell him to bring lots of cold weather and rain gear.  It was 98 degrees in Laurel Maryland where John lives so I am sure it was hard for him to understand that in less than three days he would be sailing in 54 degree fog and wind. 

We had planned to stop in Kingston Washington to take on cheap diesel and to visit with long time friends Lee and Lucy.  The problem was how to get John from the SeaTac airport, 15 miles south of Seattle, to Kingston, 15 miles NNW of Seattle and on the west side of Puget Sound?  The proposed solution was for John to take the new light rail train from SeaTac to downtown Seattle and then walk seven blocks to Coleman Docks where he could catch the ferry to Winslow on Bainbridge Island.  Lee volunteered to drive 20 miles down to Winslow and bring John back to Mirador on Tuesday afternoon. 

Further discussion with the ever helpful office staff at the Port of Kingston Marina led to John  catching a shuttle van from the airport all the way, non-stop, to the Edmonds Ferry landing where he caught the ferry to Kingston.  It was only about a 150 yard walk from the Kingston ferry landing to Mirador's slip.   You can see the ramp from the ferry landing down to the marina in the Kingston Rain video shown below. 

The addition of John meant another shopping trip since we only had provisions for two for two weeks.   The Kingston Marina has a cool electric car with a small box bed on the back that marina guests can use to get around town.  Lee showed up just as we were climbing into the car and offered to drive us in his Jeep Cherokee - a much more spacious and comfortable way to go.

The weather on Tuesday,  (see the YouTube Video at Kingston Rain & Whine), while we waited for John and after his arrival was horrible.  It rained very hard all morning and the wind was blowing at 30 - 34 knots much of the time.  So it turned out that waiting for John saved Jim and I from having a wet windy ride north thru Admiralty inlet. 

Click on the picture at right to see Mirador sitting in the rain at Kingston Marina.