The saga of Leo’s helm

Yesterday, I visited an engine repair shop in Puerto Plata. But, I could have been in any independently-run engine repair shop. With its familiar oily smell, shops like these provide a visual assault of black rubber belts and gaskets, along with colorful engine parts – most often red. Apart from speaking Spanish, the only obvious difference that I could see was the abundance of apprentices who appeared to be barely out of highschool.

For this trip, I was with two other cruisers – Leo and Fabio. They are both single-handers, which means that they sail solo in their own respective boat. And, when they sail for long periods they must manage sleep as they sail. One single-hander in the Luperon Harbour told me that the secret is to sleep in awkward positions so as not to sleep for too long. Clearly having a functioning and dependable autopilot is essential.

Leo (left) and Fabio (right) loading their groceries into our jeep rental.

For me, this trip to Puerto Plata was a rare day out without my children and an opportunity to visit a large grocery store. We ate lunch in a restaurant and I revelled in the sensation of having no responsibilities.

Leo, on the other hand, was worried. Although not prone to panic, the future of his sailing endeavor in some ways hinged on the success of our trip to Puerto Plata. I’ll explain.

Leo was visiting Puerto Plata in hopes of fixing the steering on his boat. Leo said that the steering had always felt a little stiff, but he thought it was because he was sailing a heavier craft to what he was accustomed. His steering was so stiff that his autopilot was unable to steer the boat. That can be deadly for a single-hander. And, since arriving in Luperon, the steering had seized completely.

Leo removed the seized part from his helm. It was the gear and shaft assembly holding the steering wheel. He brought the assembly with him to the engine machine shop. Leo was a bit worried that the shop might force it to the point of breaking something. If any part of it broke, it would be very difficult to replace, not impossible but almost. Leo’s boat is thirty years old.

When we arrived at the shop a man inspected the seized assembly.

Leo shows a mechanic his seized steering assembly.

In short order, another man sprayed it with an oily lubricant. That didn’t help. That was followed by putting the part in a vice while the owner of the shop brought out a blowtorch. He heated one end. Soon, the bushing was dripping black oil, which was the residue from the aforementioned oily lubricant.

A blowtorch was applied to one end of the pin that held together the seized steering assembly.

Following the blowtorch, the shaft began to move, albeit with force. The apprentices wrapped it in a cloth and took turns cranking on the part. After a few minutes, the owner took a product called Carb Clean from his store shelves. He sprayed the shaft and bushing, and within minutes the seized shaft was spinning like new.

Carb Clean: the miracle product that allowed Leo’s steering part to move freely.

I was amazed. I picked up a can of Carb Clean, inspected it, and put it back on the shelf. But, the dusty-looking product haunted me. For 185 pesos (about $4 US) I could not go wrong.

Back at the boat, I gave the can of Carb Clean to my husband. He was familiar with the type of product and said that it was stronger than the product we already had onboard – at least that is what he told me. I am so pleased. I didn’t expect to feel this excited about buying engine cleaner.

We returned to Luperon in the late afternoon. The day trip was a success in more ways than one.

Leo with his steering part, which now spins freely.



  1. I think what you are doing by having your family together and experiencing a different kind of life aboard a catamaran is commendable! I enjoy the updates so keep them coming.


    • Thanks so much! It’s pouring here as I write. But, we’re fine. Rick, on the other hand, is on shore and about to face choosing between stopping for beer or being poured on in the dinghy….


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