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The right stuff

Apr 4, 2014
Getting hauled out isn’t always an option when things break.

Getting hauled out isn’t always an option when things break.

John Kettlewell

(page 1 of 2)

An artist must first gather the materials for the job, and it is the same on board when contemplating the start of a jury-rig masterpiece. Unfortunately, there appears to be a wrinkle in the space-time continuum that causes expensive things to break when you don’t have the specific part or tool and the correlation with the distance to the nearest marine store.

Because of this natural law, jury-rig artists must carry all sorts of universal repair supplies that can perform many different functions — often ones they weren’t marketed for. Over the course of more than 35 years of cruising I have collected a large quantity of these essentials that can be lumped together under the technical term “stuff.”

Water belongs on the outside
We were headed offshore from the San Blas Islands off the north coast of Panama. The weather was boisterous with six-foot seas and a stiff easterly. All seemed fine as night settled in except for the red bilge pump light clicking on more than normal. Considering the rough seas, with water and spray flying, at first I thought it must be extra water creeping in through spots like the unsealed chain pipe up forward. I decided to start pumping by hand to get a feel for the amount of water coming in.

Through the night and the next day as we bounced along I was pumping 20 or 30 gallons an hour! That wasn’t good, but where was it coming from? Finally, while anchored in Roatan, Honduras, after some more offshore work filled with nights of pumping, I found the culprit. The water in the Roatan anchorage was particularly calm and clear and at the forward edge of the keel where it faired into the hull there was a tiny crack not big enough to put a putty knife in. However, apparently when moving with greater water pressure and some flexing, that crack was big enough to let in lots of water.

John Kettlewell

Muffler repair while on a voyage.

I dug down into one of many lockers full of stuff and brought out some old rusty cans of Pettit two-part underwater epoxy. The current version is called Splash Zone. Underwater epoxy is a must-have. You mix the two parts 50:50, and then you have about 20 minutes or so to slather the sticky goop onto something, even underwater, and it sticks amazingly well. Of course, it also sticks to your hands, hair, and anything else it comes in contact with — wear old clothes and gloves!

I first discovered the wonders of underwater epoxy when I helped save a trawler in the Bahamas that was sinking after ramming a submerged object in Marsh Harbour. A diver was eventually able to slap some wooden patches on underwater using the special epoxy, and when I saw the boat hauled out, the patches could only be removed with a hatchet — amazing stuff.

A product designed to caulk underwater seams on wooden boats called Slick Seam, sold by Davis Instruments, is another miracle product for underwater plugs that require less physical strength than epoxy. I usually stuff my boat’s shaft tube with a bit of Slick Seam before launching as it stops the inevitable rush of water in through a maladjusted stern gland. The material eventually washes away with use. I’ve also used it when I had a poorly sealed through-hull leaking a bit — I could snorkel down with a blob in my hand and apply it from the outside. It sticks underwater well enough to last months and is not as messy or difficult to remove as epoxy products.

Slick Seal and Splash Zone, two useful sealant products.

Pay less, get more
The Pettit and Davis stuff mentioned earlier are examples of excellent marine-specific product that offer superior performance for all sorts of repairs, and I recommend products like that when they can’t be matched. However, landlubber discount stores like Wal-Mart, Sears, Ace Hardware, Home Depot, Lowes etc. are great sources of many fix-it supplies.

You don’t always need marine-grade and marine-priced stuff, especially when making a temporary repair that will soon be removed in order to properly fix whatever is broken. And, there are many quality products widely available in discount stores that aren’t easily found in most marine stores.

You can purchase stuff at landlubber stores that is just as good or even better for long-term use than what is found in the typical marine store. For example, every stuff artist needs an array of J-B Weld products on his or her palette. Many of these products are found in auto parts and discount stores. The original “cold-weld formula” epoxy is a staple of on-engine and other metal repairs. Blobs of this stuff can seal cracked engine components, and it can withstand temperatures of 550° F. Some people report being able to drill and tap J-B Weld in order to provide anchorage for a bolt. J-B also makes a two-part WaterWeld epoxy that can be used to make underwater repairs. One big advantage of purchasing these J-B epoxy products in small tubes is that they will last for years and years unopened, whereas I have found that large quantities of epoxy go bad after awhile. I have had a large container of liquid epoxy burst inside a locker. The mess was epic!

Another product category found in many different shore-side stores are sealants. I have found that high-quality landlubber silicone sealant appears to be just as durable and just as long-lasting as any marine silicone I have used. I have found the GE brand Silicone II products to be excellent, and I keep a variety on board in clear, white, and black. It is better to have lots of smaller tubes around than a few big cartridges, unless you are tackling a huge project.

I frequently use silicone to lube hose barbs before putting the hose on, making it easy to slip on the hose and providing a superior seal. Silicone is ideal for sealing electrical components from moisture that may be otherwise hard to cover. I have occasionally spliced two wires together by twisting them and then slathering with silicone sealant and wrapping with silicone tape. No, it is not the recommended method, but it works well for a temporary fix. Obviously, you wouldn’t use these products for mission-critical work like installing a new through-hull, but these caulks are fantastic for the many small leaks every boat gets.

Many different Permatex sealants can be found in auto parts stores and in the auto section of discount stores. Permatex High-Temp RTV Silicone (in the red tube) can be used to reseal things like head gaskets on your engine. I’ve found that even if you have the proper gasket you can get a better seal adding a thin layer of this stuff. And, it is critical when trying to salvage a damaged gasket that you don’t have a spare for. Their blue sealant is excellent for sealing water fittings like where a hose on a barb is maybe a tad too loose for a perfect seal. The blue provides a good seal against water, but doesn’t glue the pieces together so tight you will have trouble separating them later. Permatex makes numerous sealants for just about everything on and around engines.

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