Forwin alongside in Hong Kong, where Sperry Marine service engineers diagnosed and repaired its malfunctioning steering system. Image Courtesy Sperry Marine

Sperry Marine Delivers Superyacht Solution

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Northrop Grumman Sperry Marine service engineers are used to responding to urgent demands for repairs, maintenance and system upgrades. When the crew of 46m superyacht Forwin had no one else to call, they asked the Sperry Marine service team to fix a problem that they didn't even know they had.

Built in Italy and originally operated in the Mediterranean Forwin was en route from its new home port in Hong Kong to the Maldives when the steering system malfunctioned, forcing the boat to divert to Indonesia while the crew sought a solution.

The crew initially called the supplier of the steering system based in Italy but the only service engineer they had was not available to travel to Indonesia. Because Sperry Marine had supplied the autopilot integrated into the steering system, the crew reached out, hoping the company could help.

An engineer was initially dispatched from Singapore, reported no problems with the autopilot but was unable to service the steering system. Still the crew persisted, asking Sperry for its advice on how to repair the steering system despite not having supplied it.

"When we looked at the drawings supplied they quickly realized that the problems extended to the steering system which was seven years old and needed replacement if the boat was to operate safely," said Bo Rasmussen, lead engineer.

The service team were asked if they could perform the upgrade - which would normally require two months' work - in just three weeks, but that was only the beginning of the challenges.

The ship was due to be marketed for sale at an asking price of $19m, so it had to be in perfect order for potential buyers. Sperry Marine assembled the parts for a full steering system and the crew, having devised a manual procedure using two officers on watch at all times, got the yacht home to Hong Kong.

"This solution made sense for the yacht and crew, because if we replaced the steering system, then they could rely on being able to have it serviced in almost any location around the world," explains Rasmussen. "As it was they were relying on a system supplied by one company in one location with almost no means of support. In fact, we had only just begun to get near to the root of the problems."

Within two hours onboard, Rasmussen told the crew the situation was worse than he had expected. Analyzing the steering system and autopilot, he could still not understand where the problem originated or how to resolve it.

This meant talking to the crew 'like a doctor to a patient" because from the drawings supplied, the problem should not have been happening.

It was not until they started removing panels and examining the steering system that Rasmussen found an additional control box not listed on the drawings and unknown to the crew.

The box housed a series of relays which had failed, creating a short circuit that caused the steering system to behave erratically. Rasmussen replaced the relays from spares and the steering system was once again in operation.

"The experience we gain in working on all types of ships and systems means we were able to solve the customer's problems even though we were not servicing our own steering system," adds Rasmussen. "Although our engineers are trained and certified on Sperry Marine Equipment, a good engineer will draw parallels and in a bad situation you have to help people, you can't leave them with a boat that cannot sail."

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