Before buying a boat, I had the naive notion that boats worked by keeping all the water on the outside, and all the people dry on the inside. I believed that any hole in the boat was an anomaly to be addressed and filled. Apparently, that’s not really the case, and boats live in more of a balance, managing the right amount of water inside and outside. The engine is cooled by seawater, so the seacock must be open and allow water through the strainers while the engine is running. (Don’t forget to clear those strainers of sea grass and debris!) There’s a foot pump to bring in sea water to rinse the dishes, or to use for other cleaning jobs. There are drains that allow water from the sinks in the galley and the head to escape the boat. There’s a bilge pump to clear whatever water does make it to the lowest parts of the hull. And then of course, there are the deck fittings that aren’t quite sealed correctly in a 25 year old boat, and allow water in where it was never intended.
Troubleshooting the water intrusion issues that we encountered on our trip from Marathon to Rodriguez Key, we decided that the anchor locker was the likely culprit. There are holes in the foredeck that allow a primary anchor chain and a backup anchor line to pass through the deck, into the anchor locker. Water that comes over the bow and through those holes should drain into the bilge. However, after contorting himself into some unnatural positions to investigate the anchor locker, Mike discovered that the deck had separated from the bulkhead, leaving a wide crack that could allow water in the anchor locker to get into the cabin. This crack in the fiberglass probably occurred over time, perhaps caused by the heavy windlass installed on the foredeck, or to forces pulling and flexing the bow of the boat.
So the name of the game played in Dinner Key Marina became “Plug All the Holes.”
Stan, of SE of Disorder, gave us some excellent tips he learned from doing similar repairs. We armed ourselves with four tubes of West Systems Six-Ten self-mixing epoxy, fiberglass mat fabric, respirators, and acetone, created a mound of fenders and cushions for Mike to balance on, and proceeded to do some boat yoga to fit into the cramped quarters of the anchor locker. After many painful bumps on the head, today was the day Mike first started swearing like a sailor.
I folded myself into the space where the mattress usually fits, donned gloves and respirator, and cut the fiberglass into rectangles of the size Mike requested. The hairy fabric immediately started to fall apart, resembling a muppet with a bad case of mange. Then I used every ounce of strength in my arms to squeeze the epoxy out of the caulk gun, mixing it as I squeezed. (Sometimes Mike had to leave his little cave to help me, especially when we cut the hole in the tab too narrowly.) I would goop up the fiberglass with amber colored epoxy, spreading it with plastic epoxy mixers, chopping and cutting, and completely inundating the mat with goo on both sides. Then I’d hand the oozing pile of muck to Mike back in his cave to roll and squeeze into the crack and cover with even more goop. After the first attempt, our gloves, scissors, knife, caulk gun, and screwdrivers were covered with goop and fiberglass hair and everything within reach stuck to everything else.
Four tubes of epoxy, dozens of gloves, and fiberglass everywhere, Mike had most of the bulkhead crack filled. Now we just had to let it cure for 12 hours without moving. Wait, without moving? Did I mention we were executing this procedure on a mooring ball in Brennan Channel at Dinner Key Marina, a half mile off shore, with plenty of choppy waves? To reduce movement at the bow, Mike moved the boat to a new mooring ball, and tied to the ball from the stern (the normal and accepted method is to tie the bow to the mooring ball and therefore to face to the wind.) He put me in the dinghy to get me out of the way during this maneuver. Did I mention I am not very good at driving the dinghy? I have a hard time starting the motor, and I can’t get through my head that I need to steer left to go right. So I put on a sun shirt, grabbed a bottle of water in case I was swept out to sea, and sang the theme to Gilligan’s Island to myself. I may have rammed Sanitas with the dinghy like a pirate once or twice.
we will find out if this worked the next time we sail to weather!