The leak that almost was
It seems like extended cruising aboard a sailboat to foreign ports is nothing more than an adventure in repairing your boat in out-of-the-way places, locations that are inconvenient to finding parts and getting assistance.
We had been gone for almost two years, and while we had experienced our share of minor problems, we had not had anything of consequence occur that could be considered serious. You spend nights on watch, under sail, and wonder what may be in the water ahead of you: logs, half-submerged containers, fishing nets. The thought is always in the back of your mind. When things go wrong, it is often at night and in the worst possible weather conditions.
Our closest call to disaster occurred in broad daylight while at anchor. The anchorage was flat and calm, and the sun was shining. My wife, God bless her soul, always had the habit of checking the bilge for water and/or oil. On a previous extended passage, we had taken on water through the anchor locker in heavy weather, and from that point on she made it a habit to check the bilge when we reached an anchorage.
We departed Colón, Panama, headed to the San Blas Islands. We beat into big seas for about five hours before calling it quits and putting into a quiet cove for the evening. Upon checking the bilge, she noted that there was a small drip where the saltwater intake exited the seawater strainer. The strainer was quite large, about as big as, say, a restaurant-size jar of pickles. I told her it probably just needed tightening and that I would tend to it later. A couple of hours passed, and I got around to it. I thought that before I tightened the connection, I would close the seacock. Upon touching the leaking connection in preparation to putting the wrench to it, it fell apart in my hands. I was stunned. The connection at the hose end was brass, and the sea-strainer pot was stainless steel. There were about three good threads left on the male end of the connection, and I was able to put some plumber's tape around the threads and gently got things connected again. This connection was checked a dozen times a day for the next three months while we worked our way back to the United States and Florida, where I had it tended to in a boatyard.
This event has given me nightmares on what could have been. Had that connection failed while underway at night, the engine would have overheated, and the bilge would have filled at a rate faster than the pumps could have handled it. There is no doubt in my mind that we would have lost the boat. The thought gives me the shivers!
Mike and Yvonne Rose live on Bainbridge Island, Wash. They have cruised Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean and the East Coast of the United States aboard their 42-foot Tayana, Pacific Grace.