Friday, August 2, 2013

Disaster strikes again

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Well, semi-disaster. No pictures for this one, but the satellite photo above shows the present residence of Ginger, to wit, the Liberty Landing boatyard in Jersey City. High and dry.

I've had a hard time sitting down to write about this.  Let's start at the beginning.

When I bought the boat there were, of course, several things to worry about, at least a bit.

1) The drip through the stuffing box -- that is, the fitting that carries the prop shaft through the hull -- was perhaps a bit more rapid than it should have been. They say a drop every thirty seconds or so is to be expected. This was more like a drop every ten. Still, it didn't seem likely to sink the boat, especially since there is a nice automatic bilge pump that kicks in when the water in the bilge gets more than a couple of inches deep. I found that the pump would come on every hour or so, pump for a minute or two, then shut off with a self-satisfied gurgle.

2) The batteries. Who knows how old they were? They had been sitting for two years on a shelf at the yard where I bought the boat. Supposedly they had been trickle-charged and were in fine fettle, but I had only the yard's word for that.

Still, everything seemed fine for several weeks. I would go out and potter around on the boat at the mooring, and we took her out for several day sails, and there was never more than an inch or two of water in the bilge. The batteries always delilvered plenty of current and the engine always started after a second or two of cranking.

I figured running the engine regularly would keep the batteries topped up. So I did that.

I had ordered a nice solar panel as well -- belt and suspenders -- but it arrived without any hardware to mount it to the rail, and it proved surprisingly difficult to devise a mounting for it, and then find the right parts. A very different experience from the panel I got for Scapegrace -- that one came with a bracket and clamp and it was the work of three minutes to secure it to the rail. Strange. I'll devote a post to the solar panel one of these days; you'll laugh at the solution I came up with.

Anyway, there was no solar panel on the boat on the fateful Sunday, Quatorze Juillet, when I got a call from the nice people at the boat basin: "Uhh, Mister Smith? Your boat is kinda... low in the water."

Oh shit. I got on the bike, scrambled down to the boat basin, into the dinghy, out to the boat. Hip-deep water in the cabin. Batteries submerged, dead. Engine half-submerged. Tried bailing, but there was no way. Called Sea-Tow. They had to send somebody all the way from Sheepshead Bay, which took a while.

I would bail for five minutes, then rest for five minutes, just to keep the situation from getting any worse. Wherever the leak was, I could bail faster than it could leak, and my bailing lowered the water level several inches. So I figured we wouldn't sink -- as long as I could keep bailing.

The Sea-Tow guys arrived, finally. Very competent. They had a marvelous ultra-macho gasoline-powered pump which emptied the cabin and bilge in about ten minutes.

They called the Liberty Landing marina, about seven miles or so from the boat basin, and although it was a Sunday, Luis -- I didn't catch his last name -- and a colleague said they would come in and meet us. Sea-Tow dragged us down there. About a three hour tour, as they say on Gilligan's Island.

All who see him, laugh him to scorn. No other boaters waved at me during this Tow Of Shame, and I didn't wave at any.

Once we got there, Luis and colleague efficiently hauled the boat, considerately power-washed the hull, and put her up on blocks.

Since then my life has consisted of phone calls and emails between and among the boatyard and the insurance company. It's all incredibly slow. Just this last week the yard put the boat back in the water, to see where water was coming in. They report that the stuffing box is leaking like crazy -- 'gushing' was the word they used.

Sam Johnson once observed that he 'never had a Patron before'. Well, I never had an inboard before. Is this something that happens?  

I had planned on taking off for Maine on August 1st. Now, who knows when.

One thing that pleases me a bit: the Liberty Landing marina occupies the entry to the old Morris Canal. There's a footbridge to it, from poky downtown Jersey City, which passes over a slough of ancient timber, strewn like jackstraws, obviously a remnant of the canal days. I'll try to remember to take a picture.


  1. Bummer! I was happy to see that you got the new boat and I was eagerly waiting for some adventure stories. I'm sure they will check at the marina, but make sure any seawater that might have entered your engine in any way gets out. My mixing elbow blew out last fall and water entered (I didn't realize) I thought everything was fine, but over the winter motor seized due to the earlier water entry and corrosion/rust. I don't have a stuffing box, as I have a saildrive, so can't comment on how much they are supposed to leak. If you can stand the nonsense, the Sailnet forum is useful sometimes to get a consensus (if not the actual answer) to maintenance/mechanical questions. Anyway, I hope you can shove off for Maine soon. Good luck. Greg in New Bedford.

  2. Thanks for the good wishes! Sailnet is indeed useful, though as you say there's a lot of chaff. I did some research on stuffing boxes. They're not all that complicated, but they're new to me.