April 30. 2014:
So, we’d done our homework. We knew we had a Lasdrop stuffing box and that it wasn’t sup-POSED to drip. We also knew the guys at Gasparilla Marina would be sending a mechanic back out to our boat early the next morning to follow-up on our leaking stuffing box so we grabbed a bite at the Waterside Grill — buffalo shrimp, grilled grouper (plate and sandwich) —
enjoyed a sliver of sunset over the marina,
and crashed hard on the boat. We woke the next morning, though, to excessive buzzing, dinging and chirping of our phones. It seemed the masses were trying to reach us. After ignoring the first few, we finally lulled ourselves awake to see what all the buzz (no pun intended) was about. And, that’s when we got the terrible news. Our home port of Pensacola had endured 20 inches of rain in 24 hours. There was extreme flooding with inadequate drainage. Many homes were flooded, cars submerged, roadways engulfed. It was unreal.
We started making frantic calls – checking on friends, family, the office, the condo, other boat owners. It was a mess. And, it was so ironic that everyone had been calling often checking on us as we were out making passages, crossing the Gulf of Mexico, putting ourselves in the path of potential storms and yet home is where she decided to strike, while we were tucked safely in a marina in Gasparilla. We felt a slight tinge of guilt that we were sound and secure while others back home were dealing with such damage and loss. We weren’t even sure yet about your own place or our cars. We just did what we could remotely and set our sights on making way back to Pensacola.
We got on the phone with the guys at the marina and they sent out a sprite little stick of a man (stiff breeze would have blown him over) to come check out our stuffing box. But, he was sharp, friendly and super-knowledgeable. You could tell he’d been working on boats for a long time. That’s just the kind of guy I want sticking his hands up under our transmission. Guy cracked me up though. Just before he bent over into the engine room, he snapped back up real quick and said “Better empty my pockets first. Don’t want these dumping into your bilge.” And, then he proceeded to set not one, but two packs of cigarettes and a lighter on the nav station. I’ll bet that’s a one-day supply for this guy.
He maneuvered some things around, wiggled it – just a little bit! – and said he was able to create a decent seal. One he thought would hold well enough to get us home. You mean, no haul-out?!? We were certainly relieved to hear that news. But, we were certainly going to test it to be sure. We decided to crank her up and go for a test run. Much like the crossing we did last year when we were catching and dumping transmission fluid back into the transmission, I found myself again, hunkered down next to that noisy engine, watching a drip.
But, that was fine with me. I’d much rather have an engine that’s running but requires a little drip supervision than one that’s not. So, I busted out the all-important boat tool used last time to capture the name on the stuffing box – my PHONE – and did my best to capture the drip so we could accurately time it and see what we were dealing with. I caught three drips in 30 seconds, meaning roughly 10 seconds in between each drip. In the video, I move the flashlight beam to indicate each drip. Riveting footage I assure you …
After watching her under various amounts of load, we determined the box was dripping roughly every 5-7 seconds at idle, every 10 seconds under moderate load and every 20-25 seconds under heavy load. The more load that was on her it seemed the more pressure on the box which created a better seal. So, on average, one drip every 10 seconds when the engine was running? We figured that was probably common, if not less, than the intended drip on most stuffing boxes designed to drip. Certainly something our bilge could handle, assuming we found ourselves having to motor a lot on the way home. If we were able to sail most of the way – no issue at all. So, we decided to go for it. We were going to make our way back home with the very minor dripping-dripless and address it once we got back.
As usual, we had been discussing the stuffing box ordeal with some fellow cruisers and our broker-turned-boat buddy, Kevin, offered some sage advice. While our electric bilge pump was working fine (in fact, its frequent automatic activation is what helped us uncover the leaking stuffing box in the first place), Kevin suggested it might be a good idea to check our manual bilge pump(s) before leaving the dock. Just … in … case. Smart man, that Kevin.
While Phillip always tells me the most effective “bilge pump” you can have is a motivated sailor and a bucket,
we thought it best to follow Kevin’s advice and check on our other mechanical bilge pumps. The manual pump in the cockpit,
and, the almighty Thirsty Mate!
It seemed the Thirsty Mate was working fine.
That thing sucks. In the best way possible. And, I rigged up a hook on the end of it that attached to the drain in the sink in the head so it could be used single-handedly by a crew member to pump water out of the bilge and into the sink to drain out (in case Captain’s holding the helm, and I’m doing the sucking – a likely scenario if we found ourselves really taking on water). So, Thirsty Mate – check!
Unfortunately, we didn’t have the same luck with the bilge pump in the cockpit … The suction was incredibly low and we didn’t think any water was actually making it out of the boat.
After some troubleshooting, we were sure there was some crack or poor connection in the hose from the pump at the helm to the bilge that was hindering suction (like a straw with a hole in it). We decided to get a new hose for it. Not that we planned to re-run the hose under the cabin floor and back up to the cockpit before we left, just so we would have a secure hose that we could connect to the pump in the cockpit and hand-feed down to the bilge just in case we had a sufficient leak, and the electric bilge pump went out, and we couldn’t sufficiently drain it with the Thirsty Mate. A lot of prerequisites there, which sufficiently met our concerns for getting back under way. Some friends, however, didn’t seem to have the same reaction. I explained our situation via text to a few non-boating gal pals of mine, advising them we did have a small leak, but we were able to pump “gallons out at a time,” so we felt it was fine to head back out into the Gulf, and THIS was the reaction I received:
She mentioned experiencing something similar to “heart palpatations” at my use of the phrase “gallons at a time.” Where’s your sense of adventure? I’m kidding. I have some really great friends who worry a great deal over me, but in secret, they live vicariously and they know they love it! ; )
We felt good about it. One drip every 10 seconds, no haul-out and no costly mid-trip engine repair. Yee-haw! Let’s go! The only downside was that the marina said they couldn’t get the manual bilge hose we needed until the next day, so it was one more day in Gasparilla, which was fine with us. I will say, the marina there is pretty impressive. Hundreds of boats just stacked up on shelves like toys. The scale of it kind of blows your mind.
Those are all 18-20 foot center consoles sitting on the shelves like dolls. And, they have this HUGE forklift that plucks them out of the water like they only weigh ten pounds.
It’s so cool I filmed it for you!
And, you’ll find it highly entertaining to know that I forgot about the whole “Just Cause” conclusion in the video until I was just now re-watching it, thinking the whole time … Oooh, ooh, I know what I can say as the caption for this video — “Why did I film this … ” I’m so good I beat mySELF to the punch sometimes!
So, after all of the pumps were checked and our hose was ordered, we decided to clean up and hit the town! Or … the … Waterside Grill at the marina. But, hey, that counts. Look out Gasparilla!
It’s Happy Hour on the Plaintiff’s Rest!
Peel-and-eat shrimp, a fully-dressed hot dog and live music out on the deck. It doesn’t take much to suit us. After a few glasses of wine and a hearty dinner, we sauntered around the marina in high spirits,
entertaining ourselves with inSPIRed but obvious observations:
“How many you see there, Cap’n?”
In all, we were thrilled to have received good news about our stuffing box situation and excited to start making way the next day – one drip at a time. Look out Venice! We’re taking this inspired-but-obvious act on the road!