Whoever coined the phrase "Don't sweat the small stuff" has never owned a boat. We sailors know it is always the small stuff - that long chain of tiny things and little details lead up the rig, down into the bilge, through the electrical and mechanical systems, right to the bitter end of the life raft tether.
I have always believed that the outcome of a safe passage at sea is determined at the dock. Prior planning and preparation can lead to a calm and collected passage under a tight draw-bridge, where the confident captain tosses a jaunty salute to the bridge tender as he passes, or to a last second white-knuckled back-in-drift-jibe, with the captain upside down in the bilge bludgeoning a recalcitrant diesel back to life.
A small clevis pin found on the deck beats a burning bush hands down in converting hardened heathens. That sailor looks immediately to the sky imploring, "Please God, not the rig. I'll devote my life to charitable deeds, but please, not the rig!"
When Diana and I decided to leave the Roger Henry in a marina near Seattle, Washington for a couple of weeks for a Christmas visit to friends and family, we went through our usual routine.
Diana shut off the heater and the diesel supply. She closed the thru-hull valves in the head and under the galley. I checked the dock lines for chafe and tension, secured loose equipment in the event of gales, tied off the halyards, coiled the dock hose and disconnected the shore power. We locked the boat and left a flashlight in the cockpit in order to see the combination should we return in the dark. We notified our neighbor of our plans and contact details then headed down the dock without a worry in the world.
The grinch that tried to steal our Christmas was approximately 3/4 inch in diameter, and made of nothing more substantial than an o-ring in a plastic case. The seal on our engine's raw-water pump was replaced in Japan, not so very long ago. Nevertheless, the seawater dripping out of it ran down the underside of the intake hose and was not easily spotted. None of that should have mattered anyway, because I had wired an automatic bilge pump switch directly to the batteries that would trip the electric pump when the water reaches a dangerous level.
I have not read the life of Einstein yet, but I am sure he was a sailor. My empirical proof lies in his statement that, "The universe tends towards disorder." The bilge filled ever so slowly. True to its design, the float switched connected the terminals of the bilge pump - the bilge pump I had tested just prior to leaving the boat.
Ah, but apparently that little bit of corrosion in the fuse holder reached a tipping point at this critical moment. It blocked the pleasant flow of electrons, and left the 2500 gallons per hour pump inert and useless.
I am not proud of the words that leapt from my lips upon our return home. As a writer I should employ more appropriate language. "Man the Pumps!" comes to mind.
When we got the substantial amount of the Pacific Ocean back outside where it belongs, I set to work doing what obviously should have already been done - inspecting and cleaning the electrical connections from battery to bilge.
Between the seal and the fuse holder there was barely an ounce of material or a dollar of value. Yet they were links, however small, in that long chain of material, equipment and parts that, in totality, make up our boats. And a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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