Ever wonder what cruisers do when they're in port? Does it get dull and boring? Not on your life! Here's a true life afternoon in a sleepy seaport town.
First published in Southwinds Magazine in the spring of 1997. Read, print for your friends, share it, but please don't publish it without written permission.Southwinds Magazine, P.O. Box 1190, St. Petersburg, Florida 33731 (813) 825-0433,
Austin.sailor at yahoo.com
We're sitting in Rockport, Texas trying to plan out our next passage. We haven't quite decided whether to take the quick route to Belize, Guatemala and Rio Dulce or the longer trip to Florida, Puerto Rico and on to the Virgin Islands. Either way, the eventual goal is to go through the Panama Canal and cruise the Sea of Cortez. One thing is for sure. Any trip from the Texas coast in the winter is not going to be an easy one. It's just a rough trip out of here. You must either fight a pounding trip to weather or get on the back side of a Norther and ride it across the Gulf of Mexico until it loses steam.
We are the crew of Rainbow Chaser, a 1981 Hunter 37 Cutter. We've been preparing her for cruising for about 3 years. I'm Gene Gruender. I used to design computers, but now I'm a part time Captain and a full time Mr. fixit, with Rainbow Chaser as my main project. Nellie Symm-Gruender is a registered nurse and used to be the director of a large emergency department. Since she now has a limited audience to direct, I'm sometimes in trouble She and I often get into a debate about whether she's the Co-Captain or First Mate. Zachary Symm, my stepson, is in the 5th grade in the Calvert home school program with Nellie as his teacher. Quite often they get the teacher/student relationship out of whack and I have to play Principal and straighten out the whole mess. We also have Ninja, the ship's mouser, who is ho-hum about the whole deal. She stands on deck and lets the wind blow her whiskers around when we're sailing and is the first to jump ship when we get to a dock. We have no mice so she must be doing her part.
Rainbow Chaser spent the last 4 years on Lake Travis near Austin, Texas. The last 3 years we've been working towards getting her ready to go. We installed equipment, fixed systems and replaced a lot of parts. We even sawed out big chunks of her and started over. For a time, the big question around our marina was what part of my boat I'd throw in the dumpster next. Last winter we moved aboard to start finding out how it was going to work for us. In August we moved her to the Texas coast near Houston aboard a semi truck and in September we sailed to Rockport to await the end of hurricane system. Hurricane season is about over but we're stuck for a little longer. A week after surviving a horrible sail in force 9 seas from Galveston to Port Aransas, Texas, Nellie stepped off the boat and shattered her ankle. It required surgery and 5 pins to put her back together.
What does a cruiser do while waiting for the crew to heal? Work on boats, of course. Your own and others. I wanted a little income so I spread the word that I'd be interested in doing some boat work. All we've had for so me time is outgo and it was starting to worry me. A fellow named Richard has a 1962 48' wooden catamaran named The Desert Mariner just down the street and is fixing it up to go cruising. It needs a lot of work and he hired me to build new handrails for the top of his cabin. A couple days ago I was on our pier sawing out the 11' long rails and doing a little sanding when Nellie drove up. She'd gone to Richard's house about 5 miles away to talk to his wife. Nobody was home, but their neighbor was putting a note on the door to let them know their boat was sinking. Someone who lives near where The Desert Mariner is docked had called Richard's house to let them know about this unexpected event. After getting no answer he called their neighbor and the neighbor wrote the note. Nellie debated for a minute or so about leaving another note but elected to come get me without taking the time to write it.
When she told me I grabbed my wetsuit and pump and we took off. Even from our boat 2 blocks away I could see that the catamaran was listing quite a bit. When we got there the front corner on the starboard side was up about 2 feet higher than it should have been and the rear on the port side was nearly under water. It looked awful. I opened the rear hatch on the port hull and saw that the water was about 2 feet over the motor. There was a broken portlight in the side of the hull and the seawater outside was about a half inch below it. If that eight inch by fourteen inch hole went under water the boat would go straight down.
I stuck my pump in and started with it. I was losing ground and it would only be a minute or so before it was all over. I tossed the pump and grabbed a 5 gallon bucket, jumped down on top of the motor and started to bail. Dip, dump. Dip, dump. About every 3 seconds. I don't know how much water that was, but I broke even with the water coming in. The water level stopped raising inside the boat. I stopped long enough to see how fast it was coming in. It was rising about a half inch a minute. There was not much time to waste. I bailed some more until I got it down 3 or 4 inches. Then I had time to climb out of the hatch to go inside to look at the living quarters. The engine compartment took up the rear 15 feet of the boat and was accessible only through that hatch. Forward of the engine compartment was about 30 feet of living area. Between them was a bulkhead. The living area was about half full. Water was coming from the motor area through some holes in the bulkhead. I hurried back to bail some more.
One of the neighbors, a rather old man, came over with a small electric pump. Nellie wanted me to stop bailing and help him hook up the pump. I'm not sure if I got them to understand that the boat would sink while I was messing with the pump, but I ignored them and kept bailing. I could get 10 times more water out with the bucket than that pump could do. I couldn't keep it up forever, but surely help would show up soon. I got the water level down a little bit again and went back to the living quarters to see if any water was leaking in there. Even though the leaking had clearly started in the engine room, with the hull so low in the water, other things could be leaking now. Sure enough, water was coming in the drain of the sink. It took a few minutes groping around underwater to find the valve, but I got it shut and that gusher stopped. I went back to the engine room and started bailing again. I had the water down about a foot when someone else showed up. He had a larger pump and we got it running. With it and the smaller one the other fellow had, we could gain on the inflow. I finally got a rest. Eventually Richard showed up and jumped in. While we were bailing and pumping, another guy showed up and went for a large salvage pump from the rental store. After that pump showed up we had a stream of water like a fire hose coming out of the boat.
We finally got the water down nearly to the floor. We discovered that most of the water was coming in the exhaust hose. Richard had removed the muffler, which was low in the bilge, to replace it. The exhaust opening in the side of the boat was above the water line, so it should have been no problem. Or so Richard thought. Each time a boat went by, the wake would hit the side of the boat and a little water would trickle in. Eventually it got a little deeper in the bilge and the boat would sit a little lower When enough water got in the bilge the opening for the exhaust went below the water level. Then the water started gushing in. With no bilge pump in the boat, it was a very short time until it would go down. After we figured that out I ended up diving in with a hammer and a wooden plug to stop up the hole.
When I left, Richard was down there trying to get the salt water out of the diesel engine. That old Ferryman 2 cylinder may survive, but it's going to take a little work.
I got the handrails finished a day or two later. So, you see, even when you are stuck in a port there is plenty to do.
We still have that decision to make about where to go, but ankles heal
slowly. We have a bit more time to think about it.