Tag Archives: boat troubles 2

Boat Troubles 2 – The Day After

Readers of my Boat Troubles post (who know too much) have been clamoring for the  rest of the story.  As a kindness to my readers (if any) I decided to leave my previous post with a happy ending but those in the know want to be able to read the sad details of the day after.

I apologize for the dearth of pictures in this section (please stop reading now!) but as you will see if you read on I was in no mood to record what followed.

After the stem repair, which was documented in my first Boat Troubles section, we had the launch on May 17th and, as I wrote earlier, the stem didn’t leak.  The rest of the boat, however, did.  A lot.  This is not a huge surprise as wooden boats always leak when they first go in the water until the planks swell up and close off the cracks between them.  Old Trillium though, was outdoing any and all previous records to the extent that when we puttered out of the gates at 1.30 am to the aforementioned cheers of those still hard aground we kept it to a sedate three knots.  The hull was leaking badly and I didn’t want to add any strain by speeding up to our usual break-neck speed of, well, six knots.

I was confident we wouldn’t sink because I have equipped Trillium with two electric pumps on independent float switches and backed up by two batteries, although they are on a switch. You can use one or the other or both.  We got to the marina and monitored the situation.  The pumps were both doing their job, the system was on battery one, the smaller pump was able to handle the influx by itself, so I was quite confident.  A friend at the marina was charged with the duty of staying till all the boats were docked which would be after 3 am, so I asked him if he would move the switch to battery number 2 before he left.  This he did.  Two pumps, two float switches, a fresh battery taking over at 3 am, me returning at about 6.30 am, it all seemed safe at the time…  A sensible, sane, responsible, careful and thoughtful person would have curled up in a forward bunk just to be sure.  Apparently I am not that person!

I awoke around 5.30 and thought I’d doze for a few more minutes, then got up PDQ at 7.30.  Arriving at the marina I had never seen the boat so low in the water.  The water inside was an inch or two ABOVE the level of the bunks!  It was halfway up my newly (and expensively) restored engine.  Floorboards and hatches were floating aimlessly about the cabin.  Not a favorite maritime memory.

Reminding myself that the best bilge pump in the world was said to be a scared man and a bucket, I decided to test the theory, and grabbed a bucket.  The trouble was when there is that much water it is difficult to tell if you are making any progress.  I decided there had to be an easier way and went to get the battery out of my car, but the pumps wouldn’t work.

People with the intelligence to have slept aboard their boats were starting to surface.  I now realized that I was bucket bailing with my favorite massothérapiste looking at me like I was obviously ruining what was left of my back for all time.  (Things weren’t improving but at least they were starting to get funny!)  And I still didn’t know if the water was going out faster or coming in faster because I didn’t know why it was leaking so badly.

The poor guy that stuck his head out of his cabin in the closest boat to me got pressed into service.  The only sure solution was to beach the boat and for that I needed help.  There was still an hour and a half of falling tide so I grabbed him and together we pushed, paddled and wished the boat onto the beach near the Zodiac docks.  I have legs to keep the boat upright and now it couldn’t sink.  I needed an anchor to be sure the boat wouldn’t slip back so when we ran aground I went forward, stripped down to my boxers and went over the side, carrying the bow anchor up the beach.  A leg on each side, an anchor forward, the boat was secure.

The husband of my back repair gal, Charles, had run all the way around and was now at the end of the Zodiac dock asking if he could help.  Knowing how people want to help in these situations I asked if he could get a dinghy to take my press-ganged crew member ashore so he wouldn’t have to get wet or wait for the tide to go out.  Before he could move my worthy crew said not to worry, he’d just go over the side like I did.  (My guess is he couldn’t get off the boat fast enough.) But when I turned around I realized that he hadn’t stopped at his boxers and was taking care, in the middle of a waking village, that his clothes stayed high and dry.  I thought, “Aren’t I a prude,” for having stayed somewhat decent but then noticed Charles’s wife and two small children who had followed him to the dock beating a hasty retreat in the opposite direction from this way too early in the morning sight drip drying on the edge of the beach!


The dropping tide revealed an open seam about three feet long  just at the turn of the bilge on the starboard side and water actually started pouring out of it as the tide fell.  As I tried to temporarily caulk it, thigh deep in water, a whole crew of whale watchers showed up and their captain was giving them the instructions they needed before going out.  I was half-listening and when they all burst out laughing I rapidly tried to remember what had just been said.  Translating furiously I realized that he’d said “Don’t worry.  We’re not going out in that guy’s boat over there!”  By the time I figured it out the moment was past so I missed my chance for an enraged sounding “J’AI ENTENDU CA!!!”

The boat at that time was just off the end of the dock in the right of the photo above as that was as high as we could get it.  With the next rising tide I moved the boat up to the above position where I could caulk it properly.

When I finally got the water out I discovered the problem(s).  The first pump, in spite of a screen around its base, had eaten a sliver of wood, jammed, and died.  The second pump had taken over as it should but its float switch, in spite of being properly oriented, had remained open.  The pump drained the boat, didn’t turn off, drained the battery, and then the pump had no power and the boat filled.

My mechanic expert cousin visited the boat and gave the engine a clean bill of health (Grace à Dieu) but there was evidence of some pretty interesting electrolysis that had taken place in the few hours the batteries had been submerged.  One battery cable end (the kind that attaches with a butterfly nut) that I had disconnected when trying to get my car battery to work had dissolved completely off the end of the cable.  Below also are two bolts that held cables to one battery.  They were both like the left one the night before.  They had been under water (salt water) five or six hours.

Battery terminal bolts after electrolysis
Battery terminal bolts after electrolysis

The next day at noon Trillium was back in the marina leaking very little and behaving properly.  After the stem crisis it was an exhausting little marathon but she’s back on track and sailing well.

Now I know some people will condescendingly ask: “Now Al, what did you learn from all this?”

I learned three things:

1) Never abandon a badly leaking boat.

2) Always have a bucket on board.

3) Even in an emergency, keep your pants on!