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The Art of Learning “Do It Yourself”

A friend defines yachting as fixing a boat while in exotic places. The marina where we keep CAYUGA, while not exotic, is a pleasant place to tie up and a suitable yacht yard to make repairs.


There is an old saying that necessity is the mother of invention. Out of necessity, because of difficulties getting expert assistance these days, we are rolling up our sleeves, bloodying knuckles, and fixing what we can ourselves.


Our most recent self-fix earlier this month, was to bleed air out of CAYUGA’s SeaStar hydraulic steering system. The play in the wheel was way too loose. Holly was making almost 3 full turns before the wheel would "catch". While not difficult or a knuckle-buster job, hydraulic fluid bleeding can get messy.


Holly and I prepared by watching a few YouTube videos. Holly found a person who showed a way to do it without needing two people. I ran it by SeaStar tech support (trust but verify) and got instructed to stick with the instructions in the SeaStar manual, and here's a link for your reading enjoyment.


So, along with needing a bottle of SeaStars' hydraulic steering fluid, filler bleed kit, tools, and lots of paper towels, I needed a friend to volunteer to help me (it turned into a weekday job, as Holly could not break away from hers.). By the way, this story is not intended as another “how-to” bleed a Sea Star system, but more “lessons learned” by me for the next time.


Anyway, as luck would have it, longtime friend (a retired airline Captain) John Yackus offered to lend a hand. And, John has done the job on his Saberline 42. What could go wrong?


the seastar helm

John showed up at the marina at the appointed time, and we knocked it out. Start to finish took less than thirty minutes – except for the clean-up afterward. John took the helm end of the job and I the hydraulic cylinder at the back of the boat. Assuming the bottle of fluid gets properly connected to the fitting at the helm, that part of the operation should be a breeze. However, my end of the job was to be a mess.


Full disclaimer, the reason for the retroactive photos is that my hands got coated in hydraulic fluid at the time, making holding onto my camera impossible.

the hydraulic seastar steering ram

The short version description of the job is as follows. John held the fluid bottle at the helm and turned the wheel from side to side as instructed. I loosened the two fittings on the ram where the fluid comes out while simultaneously holding the cylinder rod and trying to contain the fluid squirting out of the fitting as John turned the wheel. And re-tightening the fittings.


I should have gotten a piece of tubing to attach to the fittings to control where the fluid bleeding out of the system went. Instead, I sawed the top off an empty Modello can (from out of the trash!) and attempted to catch the fluid in mid-air as it squirted into the bilge. The lesson learned is to connect a piece of tubing to the fittings next time.


keeping it clean

John’s debrief echos that the plastic tubing would have made the job go better and cleaner. It also would have enabled me to watch the air bubbles come out of the fitting, as well as regulate the flow to a container. With a hand free, I could have adjusted the fittings and held the ram. John also suggests that when referring to instructional YouTube videos, look for the helpful pointers derived from experience.


The videos about bleeding SeaStar systems always seem to have that clear tube going to a containment bottle. Yep, I should have gone to the ship’s store and purchased a foot of clear tubing before, and my day would have been easy-button. Then again, CAYUGA’s bilge is even a bit cleaner now! The bottom line, proper tools help, but patience, patience, patience is always the key.


In the end, we got the feel of the wheel better than it was, and Holly would be the judge. John went on his way, and I stayed behind to mop up the mess. Other than that, I felt it was a modestly successful “do it yourself” job.


But! In the true spirit of I Love Yachting, there is more to this story... and tomorrow morning, Holly (on a day off) and I will be doing it all over again.

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