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?
6 thoughts on “If It’s Called a Dripless, You Would Think It Wouldn’t …”
As Nelson on the Simpsons would say: “Ha-ha!” Too bad I can’t add the picture of him and his accusatory finger point just to shame you all the more. Sounds like dereliction of duty at the worst possible time. Failure to maintain a proper watch/lookout while in restricted waters. Ouchhhhh! Tsk, tsk. (cue Nelson again) That’s a court martial offense. You might as well say you had one of your “Oh, shit” drinks in your hand as well, just laughing and joking it up during the most critical phase of piloting a vessel. That’s as big a land lubber move as you can make, and I believe it calls for a demotion to 2nd mate! And since you are being tried in the court of my public opinion, I am the judge, jury and executioner, so, Done. You are hereby now a 2nd mate until such time as you demonstrate that you have redeemed yourself to be worthy of the position of 1st mate. Okay, enough shaming. Don’t ever do that again. Just like the texting phrase. ” It can wait”( till the vessel is properly secured and special sea detail is terminated). Also, might that perchance be an eyebrow flick that I see in your “dumb blonde” pic??? Along with a forehead furrow, and a downward mouth curl….cue Nelson again: Ha-ha!
Alright, alright … I deserve that. A cold, hard scathing from my fan-turned-executioner. But, at least I’m telling it like it is. Sailors make mistakes, too. And, we all learned a valuable lesson from this — Annie’s much better running the rigging than manning the helm. But, really? Giving my life and limbs to retrieve a halyard won’t allow me one teensy, tinsey run-aground?? Really?!? I may have to ponder flicking something back at you, and it won’t be an eyebrow! : )
Remember, life is not fair. It just is. And I’m still a fan if you can stay alive. I had already given you secret points towards your redemption for telling it like it is. That demonstrates character, and I am glad you learned a valuable lesson. It will also go far in your book as a word to the wise sailing newbies how quickly things can turn south when one does not pay proper attention at the helm. It aint all fair skies and calm seas now is it? However, you can’t use the fact that you did a stupid move doing a tight-wire routine on the boom to try to retrieve the halyard as a mitigating circumstance for the stupid move of running the vessel aground. That just makes no sense. You should just be glad I didn’t cue Nelson for that boneheaded move too! But, and it’s a big but, because I like big buts and I can’t deny…(ha couldn’t resist that one!) Anyway. You are a gutsy first.. er, 2nd mate, and you are quite the salt already. Now, if you can try to not damage yourself or the vessel in the next few installments I’ll see about reinstating your 1st Mate’s credentials. Oh, and no flicking! ANY flicking will result in redemption points lost. And get some sturdier mast stays. If they weren’t so spindly, maybe you wouldn’t go tumbling to the deck when you do your trained circus monkey routine. Take solace in the fact that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but try not to end up shark chum would ya?