01 April 2016

While waiting here in San Juan we have been staying busy for the most part; Puerto Rico offers many of the same luxuries as the US, if you don’t mind the inhabitants speaking broken English.  There are shops and restaurants within easy reach, but to get to a real mall you need a car or time to navigate the complex public bus system that exists.  A cab ride is not cheap:  $30 round trip for our venture last week to one of two West Marine chandleries on the island, but the trip was fruitful and helped us knock several items off of our to-do list.

We had to replace the Linear Drive unit in our Autopilot system; that’s the arm that pushes and pulls the rudder to keep us on the desired course.  Jose Nazario, the technician that was recommended by the local marina turned out to be a fruitful source.  I was able to remove the unit myself and open it up to inspect for something obvious like a broken belt or gear, but nothing jumped out at me.  When Jose met with me on the dock I hoped that he would be able to bench test the unit and determine what part(s) needed replacing, but one look at the unit and he said, “It’s obsolete, and repair parts are no longer available.” Not really what I’d hoped to hear.

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He offered that a new unit would work with our existing system, and after a quick internet search he quoted a price.  Ouch; so much for staying within budget for this month.  Now, If we were sitting at a dock somewhere not waiting to travel I might be able to hunt for parts in someone’s storage room to fix the old unit, but out here in the “wilderness” that doesn’t seem like a viable option.  So I asked for how long delivery would take, expecting a week or more, and his reply was, “Tomorrow” (with a straight face).   Our experience with purchasing and shipping parts to the Caribbean made me very skeptical, so I said I’d call him back.

After some research on my own I found another option to purchase a new unit through West Marine, at a price close to what he had quoted, but without any delivery estimate.  We talked it over and I called Jose back that afternoon, confirming the delivery time and asking what shipping costs would likely be.  He reiterated that he’d have it tomorrow and said the price included shipping, so we ordered it.

A day came and went and when I called him at the appointed time, I fully expected a song and dance about a revised delivery date and additional cost to get the unit into my hands.  When he said he had the unit in hand and could deliver it to me in 45 minutes, I repeated his statements in slow clear English because I didn’t believe it.  Stunned, but still able to respond, I said I’d wait for him in the same place we met before.

When he arrived as promised, he handed me a box from Raymarine which we opened and inspected a brand new unit.  Now, he may well have had a new unit on the shelf at his workshop, but he stated it was from the manufacturer in Massachusetts.  When I asked him how he could get it here so quickly he said he was the authorized Raymarine rep in Puerto Rico, and smiled.  I signed the invoice, boxed up the unit, shook Jose’s hand, and dinghied back to Brilliant with our new Linear Drive unit.

The next morning I installed our new unit and so far it has tested OK.  It’s time to get underway and check it out because, as Captain Ron says, “If it’s gonna happen, it’s gonna happen out there.”

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