Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Sinking Just a Little Bit

We woke up on Monday to discover the boat was sinking.  On my way to the bathroom, I heard an unwelcome drip drip sound coming from beneath the companionway.  We pulled up the floorboards, and, sure enough, the centerboard trunk was leaking.  The bilge was full.  We were going down.

"Ugh," I said, slapping the bilge pump switch.  "Does it have to be now?  I haven't even made tea yet."
Erik stared at the spitting centerboard and sighed.  "Well.  Let's get 'er fixed."

Those are little darts of water jetting out of the centerboard trunk.  Not happy morning news.

Where, you might ask, was our natural panic and discomfort as our home slowly slipped into The Big Blue?  The problem is, we are jaded.  When you live on a boat, emergency repairs are just another part of everyday life.  An annoying, unwelcome, tea-withholding part of life, but a part all the same.  It wasn't as bad as losing all of our electrical systems in the middle of the night off Cape Hatteras.  It wasn't as urgent as our alternator fire.  Fires.  On the grand scale of worrisome situations, this didn't rate.  It was a slow leak, and no one was going to die.  We were anchored in 15 feet of water right beside an inhabited island.  At worst, we would have a boat nestled gently among the seagrass.  Admittedly, that's a pretty bad outcome, but there are really only four things I care about rescuing from Papillon, and we all share the same surname.

"It looks like the threads have corroded around a bolt," said Erik.  "For now, I'll put a rubber gasket under the bolt head to seal the flow."
He sifted through the washer bin, but there wasn't a 3/8 nylon washer to be found.  Of course not.  So he started to enlarge a 5/16 washer.

"Mom," said Indy, "can you help me put on my wetsuit?"
"Honey, the boat is sinking.  I have to help Dad."
"Mo-om.  Fine!  Stylish, can you help me?"

As the girls wrestled themselves into snorkeling gear and muttered about the inadequacies of their parents, Erik busied himself deforming the shaved washer.  After a minor bout of cursing, he went in search of gasket material.  Because if you can't find it, you have to make it.  Out came the punch set.

As he was about to install the newly-fabricated washer, Erik poked his head a little further in the bilge.  "Hmm.  This problem is further in than it looks; there is a pinhole back there."  He heaved himself out of the bilge.  "We need some underwater-setting epoxy putty.  And I used mine up."

Off to the VHF.  I called our friends next door.  As Mario went to check his stores, I hear fresh cursing from below.  Erik was busy with a carb pick, trying to clean the surface to ready it for the putty.  "I need that putty now-ish," he called.  "I made the hole a little bigger."

I grabbed the kids, jumped in the dinghy and motored next door.  The girls jumped out, I grabbed the Starbrite from Mario and was back at Papillon in a twinkling.

On went the putty.  The leak stopped.  We gave a small cheer.  Once it had set, Erik covered it with JB weld, and we cheered a little more.  Papillon would live to float another day.

And so we add another job to our haulout list.  One new thrust bearing and propeller shaft assembly.  One new centerboard sheave housing.  And if we are very, very lucky, the list will end there.


Anonymous said...

I am as cool as a cucumber because I know without a doubt that the 2 of you can solve anything. Hopefully your tea tasted even better after the fix was in place.
Love Mom

Anonymous said...

I recently stumbled across your blog in looking for boating families for my boating girls. This post made me laugh, as I had just finished uploading about a routine engine repair that turned into a we are sinking, all day, tear apart the boat repair.

Your humor is awesome and my girls think your girls are adorable.

Amy Schaefer said...

Thanks, four2tango. It is mildly depressing that we all seem to have these sinking stories. The cruising life is the fix-it life.

AndersonsAbroad said...

Love this! The first time I found water in the bilge (well, my parents found it, I was a kid) - it was terrifying! Now it's (usually) all in a day's work... We're hoping to head out cruising soon, so thanks for the stories and the inspiration!

Amy Schaefer said...

AndersonsAbroad: I'm starting to wonder if anyone has spent time on a boat without "sinking just a little bit." I'm glad the childhood memory didn't deter you - good luck as you begin cruising!

Anonymous said...

Amy- I agree it is slightly depressing. I always get a little adrenaline surge when my husband says "uh, oh," or "I have some bad news" during a repair. But, since a new boat was out of the question, my expectations are lowered to the point of being surprised when things actually work out. :)

Amy Schaefer said...

Even a new boat has these problems. We have heard disaster stories from delivery captains taking boats out for the very first time that would turn your hair white.

I like to think of Papillon as "broken-in" instead of old. :)

Bruce Richard Parsons said...

Erik, I was about to be cheeky and say, "never on my old boat", but, memories fade, and a east cuba cape, with the shaft coupling parted, ships, dark, currents, a cool Marcelle retreiving them bolts from the bilge, and that upside down circus stuff in the most unaccessible part of the boat.....listening to the bilge pump and audio alarm run......yeah comiserations!