The Windlass Problem (again)

On our third weekend, one of the boat chores that had made it's way to the top of the list was to change the heavy oil in the windlass that we had repaired earlier in Acapulco. Since we had had new gears machined there, almost 6 months earlier, it was time to change the oil and inspect the gears. I had had the fortune of obtaining new seals for it on an earlier stop, in David, when I had to get seals for the genset.

I was very dismayed when I dismounted the windlass, disassembled it, and found that one of the gears had lost a tooth. Inasmuch as the windlass is a crucial piece of equipment, I did not feel comfortable with just putting it back together with the missing tooth. Even though it had given us no real problem, it could fail at any time, and a failure of the windlass, as we had already learned, could be disastrous.

So, on Saturday I started trying to find spare gears or a new gearbox on the internet. I was able to determine the part numbers and fired off an email to Maxwell Ltd (the manufacturer of the windlass) in New Zealand. Then, because New Zealand is 14 hours ahead of us, on Sunday afternoon, I began making phone calls across the Pacific to try to round up the gear box. The good news came back that Maxwell could ship me a new gear box, Fedex, in a few days. Not only that, but they could also locate the individual gears, if I wanted to rebuild the gearbox myself, at one of their U.S. distributors.

Being paranoid, I guess, is just part of learning to maintain a boat in exotic places, so I took a two-pronged approach. The boat from Miami had not yet left with our shipment, so on the one hand, I called and emailed Marine Warehouse in Miami and had them order the individual replacement gears, to be Fedexed to them in time to make the shipment to us. At the same time, I placed an order with Maxwell in New Zealand to ship me a brand new assembled gear box.

It's a good thing I pursued both approaches. For some reason that was never made clear, even after multiple calls to my bank in the U.S. and three days worth of emails to Maxwell in New Zealand, they could not get approval to use my credit card to process the order, even though I was using the same credit card with no problem on a daily basis here in Panama. My bank said it was not their problem; that my bank had never received an attempted authorization. Maxwell said that they had tried repeatedly to process the order, but that they could not get it to work.

In the end, I called Marine Warehouse in Miami, who had received the replacement gears and were in the process of putting them in the shipping container to Panama, and had them pull them out of the shipment and send them to me via Fedex. I didn't want to rebuild the gearbox with the broken gears, and we would not be able to make the Canal transit without the windlass (we might have to anchor in Lake Gatun or in an emergency). The shipment from Miami was not scheduled to arrive in Panama until October 15th, and our plan was to transit the Canal in the meantime and pick up our items on "the other (Colon) side", after the transit, so the the task of fixing the windlass could not wait.

It was Marine Warehouse to the rescue this time, and three days later, on Thursday, the gears arrived in Panama and I picked them up. I re-assembled the gearbox on Friday, and by Saturday, a full week before our planned transit, I had the windlass re-assembled and re-installed.

I kept the old gears as emergency backups.