Three weeks ago was the first chance I had to go sailing on my own boat this season as I had been helping Graham Mitchell deliver Blue Ilex to Oban. As normal, being the first sail it certainly focussed the mind.
After completing a few jobs on the boat, I set off fairly late in the afternoon from my mooring on Loch Creran with little wind, but at least the sun was shining for a change. I did manage a very short spell with the jib unfurled, but spent most of the some motoring.
My intended anchorage for the first night was Oiter Mhor on the north east end of Kerrera, near Oban. I arrived at the chosen spot and did my customary circle around to check swinging room etc. (although the anchorage was empty) and picked my spot to anchor. As normal I put the engine into neutral and then gave it a burst astern to take off the forward movement. That’s when it happened – the engine revved up but no reverse gear. I was quite surprised at myself as I did not even swear, but got on with dropping the anchor. Once the anchor was set, at least I hoped it had set as I had no way of being sure at that moment as there was no wind to push the boat back. I would wait till later to make sure all was well. The wind eventually did come up a bit and allowed me to be sure that all was okay.
It was then time to sort out the problem. First thing to do was to check that the gearshift cable was still connected at both ends – it was. I then operated the control and found that the gear change arm was not moving, suggesting an internal failure. My control is the type with the button in the middle of the lever that you press to get neutral. I set about removing the whole unit and disconnected the throttle and gear change cables. Once I had it off I realised that it was a sealed unit and riveted together.
Luckily I carry a cordless drill and was able to drill out the top of the rivets which are part of the casting. I then found the reason for the failure – there is a small pin that engages with the gear shift cam and this had broken. When the neutral button is pushed in the pin disengages from the gearshift cam and operates the throttle only, when the control lever is put back to the neutral position the pin drops back into the cam, thus connecting the gear operating arm. The main problem I was having was removing the control lever as this was corroded onto the operating shaft. I managed to work around that, but it did mean some careful work with my hammer!
It appeared that the pin that had broken had been on the way out for a while and in fact one end of it had been broken off some time ago. After a bit of searching around in my spares box, I managed to find a screw that was almost exactly the same diameter as the broken pin. Once I drove the pin out of the shaft I was able to replace it with the screw, with the head sawn off. It was then time to reassemble it, this is where three hands would have come in handy. Ideally I would have drilled out the rivets completely and replaced them with bolts, but I was not sure that I had enough battery life left in my drill to allow for this. I clamped the casing together with mole grips and used the trusty old cable ties to secure it, not ideal but it would have to do. As it was now getting dark I decided to leave reassembly until the morning.
After a comfortable night at anchor I was up early to refit the control unit and the cables. This went smoothly and it worked! By 0900 I had a new part ordered (the wonders of the internet) but as it was a Friday it would be Monday before it would be delivered. I decided to cut my trip short and head for home early. As luck would have it I didn’t really need the engine to get back to Loch Creran as the wind was behind me all the way and I had a great sail. I did however give it a good test once back near my mooring and it worked perfectly. I sometimes think I carry to many bits and pieces on the boat, but it is at times like this that they come in handy.
PS I was back up to the boat the following week and the new control is now fitted and working as it should. Anyone want to buy a secondhand control unit – one careful owner!!!!!!!