April 29, 2014:
Uh-huh. Go on. Say it. DRIP. We found while motoring that morning that we had a steady drip coming out from the stuffing box around our propeller shaft. The stuffing box is basically a seal around the shaft of the propeller to keep the water that’s supposed to stay outside of the boat … OUTSIDE of the boat.
While some stuffing boxes are designed to drip slightly when the shaft is turning, to cool the shaft, others are designed not to drip at all. Hence the name — dripLESS. But, ours was doing more than dripping. We had a steady trickle when the shaft was turning and a slight gush upon manipulation – think more of a heavy flow than light. We needed some protection!
While stopping the leak was a priority, until we could get to a marina to troubleshoot and diagnose, we certainly wanted to maintain the leak. It was dripping right into the bilge, which is not a problem assuming the bilge pump is working fine. We were certain ours was because the automatic pump actually seemed to have been kicking on a little too frequently during our last day or two in the Keys, a pattern we now knew was attributable to our dripping dripless. But, we decided to try and capture the trickle before it made it to the bilge to reduce the load on the pump in having to frequently dump the bilge. This called for the handy little pads we keep on the boat that I like to call “diapers.” Fancy name, I know. They’re those oil change pads you get at Auto Zone, CarQuest and the like.
We keep a roll of them on the boat and one always stuffed forward of the engine to capture fluids that might drip from the engine (particularly oil) before they can make it to the bilge.
We used them to capture the transmission fluid when it was leaking during our first Gulf crossing. You might recall the duct tape and Dasani bottle fix … good times!
Seeing as how we had a fresh new leak, we put a fresh diaper in to catch the water trickling in around our stuffing box.
Ahhhh .. that’s better. Motor-all-you-want protection!
We were making our way up the ICW by Sanibel Island where we had planned to spend a day or two at Costa Cayo.
But, that’s the thing about plans … They seem to all go to pot when you’re boat’s leaking! Granted, our leak did seem manageable. It was just a trickle (for now) and whatever made it past the diapers was only going into the bilge, which was pumping out fine as needed, but still. A leak is not something you just want to shrug your shoulders at, say “Ehhh” and keep on cruising. I believe it was a really smart man who said: “If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen out there.”
So, immediately our priorities changed from finding a neat, new anchorage along the ICW to finding the closest marina possible. Turns out that was in Gasparilla – ironically, where we had our survey/sea trial for the boat back in April, 2013.
Here, we were a year later, bringing her back in, but this time we were hoping it would NOT require a haul-out!
Unfortunately, it was pretty tight in the ICW and we did not have favorable wind to sail, so motoring was the only option. Much like when we had the transmission leak, we were taking turns kneeling down by the engine, watching the drip, and making sure it was remaining JUST a drip. We were making good way through Pine Island Sound and expected to make it into Gasparilla around mid-afternoon.
All was well, right? You would think. Until I made just about the stupidest mistake I have made on the boat. Well … aside from the recent slap on the deck. But, it involved that … kind of. So, we’re motoring through the ICW. Nice and easy, plenty of depth, plenty of fuel, our drip was just dripping and our marina was just a few hours away. Nothing to it. Phillip set the Otto so he could go down below to — take care of some business (that’s all I will say) — and left me to watch our course on deck. To his infinite credit, he showed me the red and green markers in front of us and told me where to keep the boat. Easy peasy. But, this dumb mate decided to do something I will never again do when I am manning the wheel alone. I made a phone call. I know what you’re thinking. Wow … that shouldn’t be too hard. Drive a boat and talk at the same time? Okay, but do recall that I am unfortunately blonde, so walking and talking gives me a little trouble.
Me? I know …
But, apparently driving the boat and talking have proven to be the real challenge. I decided all was well on watch so I could take a moment to call some folks to catch up and let them know we had made it back across the Gulf just fine (well, despite the slight leak issue). But, I didn’t realize at the time that I hadn’t yet actually told anyone the story about my fall. I can safely say it was certainly a frightening, eye-opening experience, one that had left me battered and shaken and thankful to at least be upright, walking and conscious. I was re-living it again for the first time while talking to my Dad. I’m up on deck talking and sort of re-enacting my out-stretched hand for that damn swinging halyard, “I was reaching out, Dad, on my tippy toes, and … “
when I hear Phillip shout up from the head — “Annie, what was that?”
“What was what? I’m just up here talking on the phone.” (stupid First Mate)
“No, THAT. I feel it. Annie, we’re hitting bottom!”
I hobbled back to the cockpit as fast as I could and glanced at the GPS — 5.4 ft. SHIT! While engrossed in my fall story, I had let us drift out of the ICW onto a shoal. I turned the wheel sharp to starboard hoping to pull off. The boat grazed the ground, groaned and started to list to port. I could hear Phillip scrambling up and I knew what I had done. I hollered into the phone “Dad, I gotta go. We ran aground.” SHIT. I was apologizing profusely when Phillip came up. It was just stupid, and I had done it and here we were. But, thankfully we had been here before – running aground is just going to happen when you’ve got a big, honking keel down below. While it’s best to avoid it, of course, it also helps to know what to do when it happens. We had unfortunately hit bottom coming into Clearwater, on our way down to the Keys.
That time, Phillip threw it in reverse and I hung way over the lifelines on the port side to tilt the boat off the shoal. This time, we decided to take it one step further. We swung the boom all the way over to the port side and I hung all of my weight from it. The knee might have been giving me trouble, but the arms were functioning! With the wheel all the way to starboard and the boat listing to port she finally started to ease off and move forward. Within a minute, we were off and motoring forward again. I was sick with guilt, embarrassment, anger. I was SO MAD at myself.
One of my favorite all-time books growing up by the way. (John – you remember this one!). As a kid, I would get SO MAD at myself when I couldn’t do something right. I would stomp and huff and get in a real nasty funk about it – an all-out, over-exaggerated one-woman pout show. I’m sure it was wildly entertaining to those watching me. But I was MAD.
I apologized profusely over and over. Phillip was great about it. He knew it was a mistake and that I was incredibly sorry but we decided – no more phone calls for Annie while on watch. She just can’t handle it … But that did remind me to call my Dad back and let him know we were alright — disaster miraculously averted again. I’m sure hearing me say “we ran aground, I gotta go!” followed by a *click* was not very comforting for him, but he seemed to take it in fine stride. “I figured you were alright. You usually are,” he said. A true statement and a common one he made when I was growing up, typically when I fell off of things as I seemed I did a lot back then too. But, knowing me as well as he did, he told me “It was an accident, though, Annie. Don’t get in funk all day about it.” Good advice. I apologized to Phillip just a couple more times and pouted (just a little) as we made our way into Gasparilla.
I mean … a near-death drop, a leaking boat and a run-aground. What else was in store?