If It’s Called a Dripless, You Would Think It Wouldn’t …

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.

Diagram            Box4

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.

Roll2       Roll

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.

There’s one!


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.

Haul1      Haul3

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?

November 20, 2013 – Day One: The Rode Out West

With Big Mom tended to and Alabama in our rear-view, Phillip and I set to planning our Thanksgiving voyage.  Due to the rush trip to North Alabama for the funeral and the lost time from work, we both needed to put in a few days at the office to make up for it before we took off again, so we settled on a departure date of Wednesday, November 20th, which would still leave us 10 whole days at sea.  Now, while a trip east to Carrabelle, Apalachicola and the like was still do-able, it would be a stretch as Carrabelle, alone, is a two-day passage, assuming good weather, and I can tell you what we did not have that week was good weather.  A front was set to pass through, leaving us with 25-30 mph winds and a predicted 6-9 foot sea-state.  Not something you want to jaunt out in just for fun.  There were plenty of anchorages we had heard about on the western route, so we decided to stay protected along the ICW inshore and head west in search of (what else?) — women, whiskey and gold!

Here is an overview of our planned voyage:

West map4

We planned to head over to Fort McRae first for a couple of days on the hook, then ease in to Pirate’s Cove to dock up and hang out with the local riff raff for a day or two.  From there, we would jump over to Ingram’s Bayou (a place many of our sailing buddies kept telling us was one of the most beautiful, pristine anchorages over that way) to drop anchor for a couple of quiet nights, before we made our way over to The Wharf in Orange Beach where we had reserved a slip for Thanksgiving.   Phillip’s clan was also planning to rent a condo there for the holiday and we – as true cruisers tend to do – were planning to make full use of their facilities!  There is nothing like a hot shower and a washer and dryer after seven days at sea!

All told, our trek out west was going to be about an 8-9 day trip and we had planned one last anchorage on the way back (likely Red Fish Point – just near Fort McRae) for one last night of solitude before heading back to the real world.

So, we set off on a brisk sunny Wednesday afternoon (Nov. 20th) and headed to our first stop — Fort McRae:

West map1

Now, we’ve been to Red Fish Point many times, so the passage across Pensacola Bay and through the little inlet by Sand Island was all too familiar territory.  No sweat.  We could make that sail with our eyes closed (assuming, of course, no other boats, bouys, or a shore).  Stevie Wonder style!


Yeah baby!

But, we had never made the “uey” around the corner and into the inlet between Sand Island and Fort McRae.


And I’ll have you know I had to Google the word “uey” for the proper spelling.  Urban Dictionary says: 


To take a U-Turn 
   I guess this is a New England thing.
   Cab driver : “I’ll just bang(make a/take) a uey on the next stoplight”
Although I’m not sure that’s just a “New England” thing.  I think ‘to bang is to make’ rings true just about anywhere.  
We had a phenomenal sail over.  But, I will say, we had not been out on the boat in weeks and I think just about any conditions would have been ‘phenomenal’ to us as we were just thrilled to finally have water moving across the hull.  Although many may disagree, runny noses and chilly fingers just aren’t enough to make any sail UN-phenomenal in our book.  But, apparently we were a little rusty.  I’d love to say we executed the ‘uey’ around Sand Island perfectly and eased right on up into our anchorage by Fort McRae.  But that’s just not how it happened.  As we were making (banging I guess the New Englanders would say) the bend, the boat lurched forward and let out a slight groan.  With my hands on the bimini bar, I could feel the soft, thud of the ground we hit below.  And let me just say for the record – although I’m a little reluctant to admit it, we have done it a time or two now (run aground) – but it’s never a feeling you get comfortable with.  It’s a sickening, discomforting movement of the boat and instantly identifiable as contact with the treacherous bottom below.  Thankfully, for us, it was a soft, sandy bottom and Phillip had the sharp skipper skills to back us out, “bang out” a bigger loop and get us into Fort McRae with our keel in tact.
New path

Now, I’ve heard some people refer to this anchorage as “party alley” because it’s usually chock full of sailboats, power boats, trollers and the like.  Hence the “party.”  But, we were hoping that on Thanksgiving it would be pretty sparse so we would have plenty of room to spread out.  Sadly, that wasn’t the case.  There were three other boats in there, a marker for some sunken hazard, a bouy and a tight shoreline that we had to deal with.  Enter the infamous Swing Radius.  Now, most of you are smart enough to make a pretty good guess as to what that is, but humor me for just a moment for the newbies.

Imagine your anchor as the center of the circle.  The radius, then, is the distance from your anchor to the stern of your boat:

Swing radius

Using the radius, you can then plot out a hypothetical ‘circle’ your boat could occupy depending on which way the wind or tide pushes it.  Now, with several “obstacles” around us – three other boats, an immovable marker for the sunken hazard, a bouy, and a nearby shore with outstretched shoal, we had to be sure we dropped enough anchor chain (known as “rode”) to hold our boat secure while not creating a swing radius so large it would allow us to strike the surrounding obstacles.  We typically like a 7:1 ratio.  Meaning, if we were in 7 feet of water, with 4 foot freeboard (distance from the water line to the deck), that’s 11 feet total depth, so 77 feet of rode.

Now, while getting the anchor set right is important, making sure we had a proper cocktail at sunset easily trumps it.  So, with the tight parameters, we dropped about 55 feet of anchor chain (an approximate 5:1 ratio with our ten feet of total depth) and set to our evening ritual.  A book and cocktail at sunset.  Could there be anything better?

IMG_5084 IMG_5085

IMG_5087 IMG_5095

But then another boat pulled up nice and tight near us and set us both on edge.  We started looking around, running and re-running our calculation of the swing radius and speculating, once again, as to the approximate distance to the shore.


With both of us being born fierce litigators and each a few drinks in and, thus, a little more ballsy to boot, Phillip and I embarked on an exhaustive debate about the swing radius.  I made a rough calculation and explained to Phillip my educated guess as to the radius, to which he naturally responded:


With no one else on the boat with us, a riveting discussion ensued, in which I had to drop some serious geometry knowledge on Phillip that, if translated to a demonstrative aid, would look something like this:


Length of Boat +  [ (Rode )– (Depth + Freeboard )2 ]1/2

Simple, right?  I thought so.  Or at least I was sure, in my eloquent, unslurred, precise and persuasive frame of mind, that it was.  And, I told Phillip as much.  To which he responded:


Fine by me!  I had made my peace with it.  I offered my best pitch – full of reason and geometry and gin – and my plight had fallen on deaf ears (or ogling eyes – although I consider them to be synonymous).  I set about to “banging out” another drink or three and resting my weary mind while Phillip got up about every hour to try and make out the markers and shoreline in the dark of night as the wind began to howl over the boat.  I kept a shoulder turned to him, pretending to be sleeping soundly (lah-tee-dah) as he was checking GPS coordinates on his phone, but I was wide awake and just as worried as he.  The sounds and motions of the boat from below were incredibly deceiving.  What could just as easily have been the wind and a smooth shift of the boat in the water sounded, in the v-berth, like the keel wedging into sand and the boat preparing to tip over.  Neither of our weary minds were resting.  Phillip made one last trek topside, and I heard him walk up toward the bow, my eyes following the sound of his footsteps in the dark.  Then I heard them pound quick on the deck above as he scurried back to the hatch and shouted down to me:

“Annie, I need you up here now.  We’re moving.”

April 17-23, 2013 – The Crossing: Chapter Seven – Right of the River

We didn’t reach the mouth of Carrabelle River until around 9:00 p.m. on Monday night.  It had been a very long day (and an even longer night).  Nerves were worn and it was clear we were trying not to snap at each other but anything that had previously come across as an easy request or friendly suggestion (“Hey Mitch, can you had me that line?”) now seemed like a personal attack and was responded to in kind (“I was just about to give it to you” with a snare).  We were just exhausted.  We’d been at sea for about 36 hours, and the dinghy incident had really drained us.  And, we were hungry.  Which didn’t help matters.  All we wanted to do was dock, shower, eat and rest.  In that order.

We were able to find the entrance to the river on the Garmin, despite the sad excuses for markers.  I mean, it’s usually pretty easy to see the red and green blinking lights at night, they look like Christmas trees on the horizon, but these must have been the Charlie Brown version.

CB Tree

They were blinking once every four seconds, at best, and were barely eeking out enough light that it you squinted and turned your head to the left, you could just make them out.  We were like George Costanza without his glasses – spotting those dimes!



But, spot them we did and began making our way into the river.  Phillip asked me to find a marina on the river, whatever was closest that had fuel, water and pump-out, get directions in, and get us a transient slip for the night.  Sounds like a tall order, and for me, it was.  That’s a lot to ask of a blonde (I mean, directions?  Are you kidding?).  But, remember what I said about the personal attacks.  Phillip was in no kind of mood for questions.  I just started Googling and hoped for the best.  I got another Harry-Dick-Lou character on the phone.  He was with The Moorings marina on Carrabelle River.  And, I swear to you, these are the exact directions he gave me:

“Just stay ‘right of the river’ till you get around the bend, then you’ll see our fuel sign.”

Now remember who I’m dealing with – your average, everday dockmaster:


I asked several times for clarification (knowing this probably wasn’t going to suffice Phillip), but that’s all he would give me: “Just stay right of the river and you won’t have any problem.”  Right of the river.  I have to admit I was a bit confused.  I was sure he meant stay on the right side of the river.  Surely that’s what “right of” meant.  But, I’d never quite heard it put that way (and mind you, I know a good bit of ‘country’ directional terms: up yonder, down yonder, past the ditch, up a ways, etc.)  But, I guess I’ve never been introduced to nautical country, and I was clearly struggling.  I came up to the cockpit and relayed the directions to Phillip, watching his face closely for what I was sure was going to be disapproval.  His shoulders dropped and he looked me dead on and asked, “Right of the river?”  He had the same reaction as I did.  What exactly did that mean?  Well, I tell you, we were about to learn.

We started into the river, trying to stay on the right side as much as possible, but Carrabelle River is about 100 yards across in some places, pretty narrow for a sailboat.  The left bank was marshy and overgrown, and the right bank was littered with docks and piers and homemade sea walls.  There were also plenty of boats docked up on the right side, jutting out and forcing us more toward the “middle” of the river, than the “right.”  It was also hard to see in the river at night.  There were just a few little pier lights and street lights casting a light glow on the water.  We found a great spotlight on the boat only to find the DC inlet it plugged into wasn’t working.  So, we relied solely on the ‘Costanza squint’ and kept checking the depth gage every few seconds.  Mitch saw some other sailboats anchored up ahead on the left side of the river, which gave us some comfort, but apparently too much.  Mitch was pointing and we were all looking ahead, trying to make them out, when the boat came to an immediate, gut-halting stop.  We all lurched forward as a thick, muddy sound erupted from the river.

We had run aground.

I couldn’t believe it.  I had spent hours (yes, hours, probably – all told) watching that depth gage and calling out readings to Phillip.  I knew it was a concern.  I knew it was a possibility, but it’s like I didn’t believe it could actually happen.  Surely the boat doesn’t go that deep …

Apparently it does.  I thought that was it, we were through, that was the absolute worst thing that could happen.  Images of the boat looking like this the next morning flashed through my mind:

Run aground

But, thankfully, it seems if you’re going to run aground, the best place to do it is in thick, soft river mud.  Phillip threw her in reverse and she lurched out, with a loud, muddy smack.  We all let out a monstrous sigh of relief and started looking around, apparently with new clarity, because it wasn’t until then that we noticed, right in front of our faces, was a string of red day markers (no lights), forming a line beyond the middle of the river, showing us how far out the shoal came, leaving only a narrow channel between the markers and the docks on the right side that was deep enough to travel.  Lou really meant right of the friggin’ river.  Phillip rolled his eyes and shook his head, but kept on.

We made it to the marina and, this time, docked with ease.  The river was protected from winds and we were a bit more experienced at bringing her in.  We got her tied up and buttoned down and hit the showers.  If I had to describe them, I would call them … semi-functional truck-stop showers.

Prison shower

Although some ‘stalls’ had flimsy, torn curtains, most had none at all, so they were pretty much like gym-class community showers, but at least I didn’t have as much to worry about as the boys.


Truth is, though, we were exhausted and smelly and dirty and salty.  Any rusty spicket that dribbled luke-warm water on us would have easily been deemed the best shower we’d ever had.  It’s funny how uncomfortable conditions can make you truly appreciate the smallest amenities of your everyday life.  A hot shower … it was like a Christmas miracle.

I was second back to the boat.  I climbed on board, every muscle and joint aching, deep, purple bruises forming on every bony prominence and just thoroughly exhausted, and I find Mitch stretched out on the settee.  I mean laid out, the full length, arms behind his head, ankles crossed, totally kicked back and he asks me, “So … are you going to make that sausage for dinner?”  It was a record-scratch moment.  Time stopped, at least for a second.  I wish I could have seen my face when he asked me that.  Because if this is what Mitch was thinking:


Here’s what I was thinking:

high five

I didn’t even know what to say.  Thankfully Phillip walked in and I didn’t have to (because I don’t think Mitch would have wanted to hear it).  I turned my back to Mitch, looked at Phillip and told him I was going to go check the dock lines while he got the sausage started for Mitch for dinner.  I bit my lip and threw up an eyebrow as I passed him on the way out.  I don’t know what conversation ensued while I went topside to emit some hot fumes but when I came back down Mitch was setting the table and pouring me a glass of wine and we all made dinner together and never mentioned it.  There wasn’t any need.  We were all tired, we were all hungry and I’m sure it was just his caveman instinct kicking in.  “I am man.  Feed me.”


Except this guy is way better looking than Mitch.  Ooohhh … burrrnnn.  Okay, now I feel better.  (We’re even Mitch).

We inhaled our food, eyelids drooping and heads bobbing, and went straight to bed.  I don’t think I’ve slept that hard since my last college bender.  (Okay, my last bender – we all know it was well after college).  We woke up a little disoriented and groggy, each blinking and looking at each other suspiciously wandering where exactly we were and why we felt like we’d been run over by a Mac truck.  But, we rallied quickly, cracked some jokes about community showers and started readying the boat for the last leg of the passage.  It was Tuesday morning.  We were about a day and a half behind schedule, but we had crossed the Gulf.  Our plan was to cruise along the coast to Panama City for a quick stop, overnight if necessary, before making the last leg of the trip into Pensacola Pass late Wednesday evening.  We all moved with a little more spring in our step as we fueled up, pumped out and filled the water tanks.  Phillip checked and filled the oil and we cranked her up and started back down the river.

I went down below to start some coffee and breakfast for the boys, making some light joke about sausage.  But, just as I started to fill the kettle, a deafening blare filled the galley.  It was the sound the engine makes when you turn the key just before starting it, and it was a somewhat familiar sound (in that I heard it often during the trip) but it was usually one sound in a series of several familiar sounds that ended with the cranking of the engine: click, beep, rumble, crank.  This was just the beep.  A shrill, lonesome, ear-piercing beep.  Then it dawned on me (I know, I’m brilliant, try to keep up) that the engine wasn’t running.  That’s why the beep seemed so loud and persistent.  I heard footsteps pound overhead on the deck and Phillip shouted “Mitch, go get the … ” something.  I couldn’t make it out, but the tone in Phillip’s voice was urgent.  I climbed the stairs to the cockpit and saw Phillip looking frantically about, his hands on the key and ignition.  Mitch shouted back to him, “Did you try to re-crank it?”  Phillip looked at me and rolled his eyes.  It was a legitimate question, but I mean, really??  Nope, I’m just sitting back here watching the wind blow.  I could tell by now that we were having engine trouble, but I have to admit, as a sailing newbie that didn’t worry me immediately.  So, the engine won’t crank.  What’s the big deal?  I know what you’re thinking.  Remember, you heard it from me, first.  I’m brilliant.

Then I looked out and the gravity of the situation set in.  We were floating helplessly along the river.  The narrow, shallow, expensive-boat-lined river.  And, without the engine, we had no way to stop ourselves from crashing into any one of these options – the bank, the bottom, the half-a-million-dollar Catamaran that we were drifting effortlessly toward.  It then dawned on me why Mitch had run up to the bow.  He was trying to drop the anchor to stop us.

And, I know you boating enthusiasts and avid sailors are getting a big hearty laugh right now at my ignorance.  Go ahead, laugh it up, seriously.  Looking back on it now, I do too:


Golly jeepers Cap’n.  The engine won’t crank?  Are we in a pickle?

I was an idiot.  I know this.

Phillip scrambled in the cockpit and asked me to help him get the other anchor out of the lazarette.  We were both grabbing and throwing lines, jamming our hands in as fast as we could to get everything out because of course (of course!) the anchor was on the very bottom.  I tore a huge chunk out of my knuckle in the process that I only discovered later by following the blood trail back to the lazarette.  We finally got the anchor out and chunked it overboard.  We fed out line frantically, hoping she would catch.  We looked up to see where we were drifting and the owner of the half-a-million-dollar Catamaran, who, before, had just been gingerly polishing his boat, wiping away any small, unwanted spots and specks, was now watching a 35-foot, 15,000 pound unstoppable sailboat head straight for it.  I gripped the line to the anchor and watched as the Catamaran guy stood up and stretched his neck tall like a crane, his hose now hanging aimlessly, splashing water loudly on his deck, and his eyes opening wide as we inched closer.  There was nothing we could do.  We were going to hit him.