Tough Night

With the exception of a minor leak at the rudder post just about everything I could think of aboard Matilda was ship-shape before our departure from Galapagos to Marquesas. This was important because it is a 3000 nautical mile passage with nowhere to stop along the way.

On our 1300 hours (1pm) departure from Galapagos we were pleasantly surprised by an un-forecasted 15kt breeze perfectly positioned on our port quarter. That made for a beautiful sail right through dinner. It was sometime around then that I noticed our wind instruments weren’t working. I reset the whole electronic system to no avail. By around 8pm the wind was diminishing and we started our planned three days of motoring out of the doldrums into the trade winds.

A short time later we are inundated with a caucauphony of alarms as the entire electronic network crashed. Electronic devices on modern sailboats like Matilda talk to each through a industry standard network called NMEA2000. When that network crashes the dozen or so devices aboard Matilda can’t communicate with each other rendering them all useless.

The first thing to do in such a situation is to panic and use a lot of swear words. This lets the crew know that it is a serious situation.

After several minutes of the chicken-with-the-head-cut-off routine (which is really stupid and dangerous on a boat) I decided we would just continue on our journey using our trusty old fashioned compass to navigate. It was going to be difficult with no autopilot, no radar, no AIS, none of the convenience or safety features we have come to rely on. But hey, we are mariners dammit.

Have you ever seen or heard of a compass that always reads as if you are going North regardless of your actual heading? Nor have I my friends. The compass was working perfectly the last time I looked at it several months ago, but now, whichever way the boat is pointed, the compass reads North. As a result, we have no idea which way to point the boat.

Panic and swearing aren’t going to work. This is becoming quite serious. Not fear, but very deep concern.

Fortunately, we are on a rally with 25 other boats. Even more fortunately we were just able to see the lights of one of the other boats. Had it not been a clear night or had they been an additional mile away we wouldn’t have seen them, but we did. We hailed them with our handheld radio and explained our situation. They agreed to maintain a steady course an speed while we slowly caught up to them. They were literally our beacon of salvation.

We took shifts hand-steering throughout the night following our beacon. During one of my shifts I picked up the Bose Mini speaker that was on the cockpit table right in front of the compass. Immediately the compass rose spun around to show us on a heading of 215 degrees. The magnet in the speaker caused the compass to always point toward it. What a relief!!!!!

After some rest and an hour or so of tracing network cables I figured out that the wind instrument had, after several hours of delay, eventually caused the whole network to crash. I disconnected the wind instruments, replaced a fuse, crossed my fingers and turned it on. To our great relief everything started working again (except the wind instruments).

Troubleshooting the wind instruments will require a trip to the top of the mast. I haven’t been up a mast for over 40 years and Fiona has never winched a person up a mast. Stand by for that blog.

9 thoughts on “Tough Night

  1. Kathy Hatfield

    Greetings Fiona and Matt – Truly love reading about your ongoing
    trip and interesting (or rather fearful) situations you are encountering and handling like the experienced sailors you are!! The old adage “safety in numbers” is proving to play out as you go. Just think of the fabulous memories and stories you can relate (embellish, not that they need it) to
    your grandchildren!

    Going to the Rodeo in Phoenix this weekend sounds rather mundane compared to your grand adventure!

    Love you,


  2. Rob S Seltzer

    That’s amazing! There’s a reason that I stick to my power boat on a lake. Glad that you got almost everything working


  3. Brad Hind

    Magnets and compasses don’t mix well according to the movies I’ve seen either. But without your chicken head, you would not have remembered that. Good job getting thru that episode unscathed.

    Looking forward to reading about how the “winching” goes. I’m guessing your crew does too.


  4. Andrew Sutherland

    Good work Mat and Fies. You know that if you wanted the easy option you would have take a cruise ship or jet plane. If all else fails, Fies is a good enough to swim home.


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