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Venerable voyaging boat sinks at the start

Nov 1, 2017
Eric Forsyth’s Westsail 42, Fiona.

Eric Forsyth’s Westsail 42, Fiona.

Eric Forsyth

Editor’s note: Contributing editor Eric Forsyth has won the CCA’s Blue Water Medal and sailed more than 200,000 miles, but he sometimes has to scramble like any other voyager when things go wrong. Here he relates the unexpected outcome after the launch of his Westsail 42 Fiona.

The start of this year’s cruise was hardly auspicious; Fiona began at the bottom, or more literally, on the bottom. She was launched at Weeks Yacht Yard late on a Monday afternoon. A quick check of the bilge seemed normal, and we all went home. On Tuesday morning, she was resting on the bottom of the travel lift slip with water inside the boat about a foot above the engine. A panicked call from the yard when they started work that morning got me rushing down. The yard crew had already got pumps in the boat, but they would do no good until the leak was stopped. I splashed my way forward with water up to my thighs. I could feel quite a strong current coming from the head; it didn’t take long to find a severe leak from a hose on the starboard side, and I shut the through-hull valve. With the valve closed, the pumps would be effective — by lunchtime, Fiona was floating again. They maneuvered the lifting straps back under the boat and by mid-afternoon she was back on the cradle where she had been the day before, considerably worse for wear.

Fiona flooded at launch when a hose failed.

Colin Forsyth

After a drowning in salt water, it’s crucial to thoroughly wash down everything in fresh water before the seawater has a chance to dry. Fortunately my son Colin was staying with me, so the two of us rushed through the boat, emptying lockers and washing the interior with a hose. The deck was soon littered with gear from the interior drying in the hot sun. The next priority was the diesel engine — we pumped out the sump and removed the starter, which was obviously ruined. This exposed the starter ring, and Colin laboriously turned over the engine after adding new lube oil by prying the teeth on the ring with a large screwdriver. Eventually he completed six full revolutions.

The 12-volt system had destroyed itself by comprehensive electrolytic action, starting with four heavy-duty batteries. These we replaced and I bought many feet of thick marine-style wire and large swage-type terminals so that I could start to rebuild the backbone of the 12-volt distribution system. In the meanwhile, I hired three teenagers — sons of a friend of my daughter — to thoroughly wash down the insides of lockers and the cabin furniture with detergent; all were covered with a nasty scum of dirt and grease. All the electrical accessories — starter, alternators, shaft generator, etc. —were dispatched by the yard to an auto electric expert. Some items were replaced and some rebuilt. After a few days, Fiona was refloated when the errant hose was replaced. To my relief, the engine fired up nicely after a new starter was installed and the lube oil was recycled again.

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