A Stay in Emerald Bay

If there’s a theme to the 2018 cruising season in the Bahamas, it must be “Waiting out the Nor’easters.” In the same way that a New Englander can tell you about every school closure and flight cancelation due to snow this past March, a cruiser can tell you where she got stuck, usually someplace unplanned or undesirable, waiting out those northerly blows. That’s how we initially ended up at The Marina at Emerald Bay. We needed to stop playing in the Exumas, and dive for cover yet again. Our buddy boats pressed on to Elizabeth Harbor a couple of hours south on Great Exuma Island. But Sanitas and her crew craved a few days of marina amenities.

The Marina at Emerald Bay was just the ticket; providing a nice contrast to the past couple of weeks of living on the hook. It provides a large, protected harbor with floating docks, hot showers, free laundry, access to beautiful running trails, and beaches. Oh, and best of all, they provide an unadvertised special rate for cruisers. If you don’t need to be connected to shore power, you can tie up for $1.00 per foot – an unheard of rate in The Exumas. Plus, as an added bonus, our friends Pat and Melana on Tapati were here! The last time we’d seen these St Petersburg friends, we were sadly watching them sail east from Rodriguez Key to Bimini without us, as we instead headed north to Miami to perform some boat repairs. We eagerly anticipated catching up and hearing about each other’s cruising adventures.

For once, our timing was impeccable, and Sanitas was safely docked just in time for the weekly manager’s happy hour event. Since there’s little that cruisers enjoy more than free food and free drink, the club was full by the 5:30 start time. We enjoyed meeting a new crowd, and matching faces to the boat names we’d heard on the radio, such as Archipelago, Full Circle, and Polaris. And it was great to hear of Tapati’s journey across the central and southern Bahamas, while we had taken a very different route to the North.

We grew to appreciate our good timing and safe harbor even more the next day, when we watched a large fishing boat get washed up on the rocks guarding the mouth of the harbor. Everyone aboard escaped safely, but the vessel itself was lost; good only for salvage. After that, our daily routine included a walk to the bluffs overlooking the harbor mouth to view the white capped waves, and to trade guesses with the other cruisers on when it might be safe to leave again. And somehow, our plan to stay in the marina for a couple of days turned into EIGHT nights. That’s one good thing about living on a small boat – $1 per foot doesn’t add up very fast when you’re only 37 feet long!

We put the time to good use, continuing to perform boat repairs in exotic places. Capt. Mike gave Sanitas an oil change, and I washed the deck and all the port lights (sort of like a spa day for boats). It took two days to do all the laundry, fill the diesel and water tanks, top up the propane, and reprovision. Mike fixed the strike plate on the cabin door, refilled all our spice canisters, and defrosted the fridge. Most importantly, we continued our quest to FIX ALL THE LEAKS by scraping, cleaning, and re-caulking the port side toe rail, all the way back to the chain plates. That’s a continuation of the work we started in Miami and Marsh Harbor to keep sea water out of our forward cabin. Hopefully, this last attempt does the trick, and any additional repairs can wait until the next time we have Sanitas hauled out in a boatyard. A huge sense of accomplishment here!

Unfortunately, the marina is a bit isolated with nothing in walking distance but a liquor store. So we had to resort to piracy, inviting ourselves to a nearby resort for pool time, sushi and surf ‘n turf, and evening entertainment. The resort had a very diverse clientele – all kinds of middle aged white folk – so after showering and donning our best athlesiure wear, we fit in just fine!

To celebrate the successful completion of our leak project, we hosted a little party our last night in Emerald Bay. The bad thing about living on a very small sailboat, is there’s not much space for entertaining. But we squeezed the crews of Archipelago and Wavelength into the cockpit; broke out every one of our plates, bowls, and cups; and enjoyed a lovely spread of charcuterie and cocktails during another amazing sunset.

Tool of the Day …. Pump Diaphragm

After the rough passage from The Abacos to Eleuthera all three boats in our little flotilla were bruised and battered. On Sanitas, the propane sensor was alarming and cutting off propane to the stove. This first occurred after the ingredients for dinner were chopped but before they were actually cooked. Doh! And more importantly, the bilge pump failed. Yes, that bilge pump. The one that drove Mike to stay up late every night in Marathon to ensure it was installed and working before we left Florida.

After pumping a 5-gallon bucket of dirty water out of the bilge by hand using a tiny portable pump (and dousing me with bilge water in the process) Mike started trouble shooting.

  • Sea grass clogging the input strainer? Nope.
  • Intake hoses clogged? Nope.
  • Output hoses clogged? Nope.
  • Thumb over the pump intake. Any suction? No suction.

So we took the whole darn thing apart. I have a lot of photos from boat projects so far of Mike lying on the floor in this same place and in a similar measure of contortion.

I am so impressed that Mike was able to find the source of the problem and to fix it! The diaphragm that performs the physical pumping is supposed to be held in place by a small metal cap. That cap had failed. Essentially this cap had bent in such a way that it no longer did its job of holding the diaphragm in place. But it was miraculously still sitting next to the diaphragm, instead of being lost somewhere in the dark corners of the bilge.

We jury-rigged a solution that should work until we can replace this specialized part. Mike re-flared the pin that holds the cap in place, using a #2 phillips head screwdriver bit. He pounded down on the head on the pin using a hammer onto the screwdriver bit until it was shaped more or less correctly and resumed its job of holding the diaphragm in place.

So far, so good! Of course while executing this project, we discovered that our back-up manual bilge pump doesn’t work. But rebuilding that pump will be another whole project for a later date.

Tool of the Day … Life Calk

In the latest episode of the quest to PLUG ALL THE LEAKS …. we had a carpenter / captain take a look at Sanitas in White Sound at Green Turtle Cay. He pointed out some small cracks in the teak toe rail on the bow, and suggested that they could be the source of the water intrusion into our forward cabin. You remember that “water intrusion”, aka leak, right? I now admit that we’ve been fighting this leak since the boat yard. So far we’ve:

  • Re-set the deck fitting for the head pump-out
  • Re-set the deck fitting for the foreword water tank input
  • Replaced the mattress and bought three different mattress pads
  • Side-tripped to Miami and re-glassed the anchor locker

Now we are trying again to get to the root cause and fix this dang leak once and for all by repairing the connection between the wooden toe rail and the fiberglass deck.

We grabbed a slip at the Conch Inn Marina in Marsh Harbour so that we’d have a safe and secure place to work, protected by wind and waves. Then I made the trip the Island Boy’s Tackle and bought them out of Life Calk tubes.

The material supposedly stays slightly flexible when dry, so it should work for the necessary flexing of the bow when we sail into waves. But it should also be well waterproof, and fill any existing cracks in the decking. Mike spent one entire day standing in the dinghy, tied to Sanitas, scraping old adhesive from beneath the toe rail, all the way from the bow to the beam. He did find several spots where the old adhesive was black and rotten – a good sign that this could be the culprit in our leaks. The black spots did roughly correspond with the places we see water trickle down the walls of the cabin too. Another good sign!

The second day, Mike spent back in that dinghy (core and balance workout?) filling the seam with a new bead of Life Caulk. We let her dry for 48 hours in the sun, and hoped for the best.

I really hope this does the trick. It would be great to be able to leave the mattress in the cabin while we sail. Lately, we’ve been folding the mattress in half, pulling out all of the pillow and blankets, stuffing chamois into the “ceiling” when the water comes in, and laying beach towels along the hull. Oh, and the headliner has been sitting in the salon on the floor leaning against the settee, so that it does not continue to get wet. It will be great to get back to normal, and clear up some of the chaos on Little Sanitas!

Here’s Mike putting the headliner back in place …

Tool of the Day…. Six-Ten Epoxy

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!

Tool of the Day…. The Bosun’s Chair

Sometimes you gotta climb…. although Sanitas is only 37ft long, she’s tall! About 49 ft tall (planning for 50 feet, just to be safe) And sometimes, something way up high on that mast will break. When that happens, someone has to climb the mast to fix it. We don’t have anything too seriously wrong with our mast, but just in case, we bought a harness, and a chair to let Mike or me get raised up the mast using a spare halyard and the winches. Today was a shakedown, to make sure we knew how to use all of this cool new gear, to make sure Jenn knew how to lift Mike up and down safely with her wimpy little arms, and to inspect the mast while we’re at it. And why not enjoy the view?