Sinking Just a Little Bit

5 Nov

We woke up on Monday to discover the boat was sinking.  On my way to the bathroom, I heard an unwelcome drip drip sound coming from beneath the companionway.  We pulled up the floorboards, and, sure enough, the centerboard trunk was leaking.  The bilge was full.  We were going down.

“Ugh,” I said, slapping the bilge pump switch.  “Does it have to be now?  I haven’t even made tea yet.”
Erik stared at the spitting centerboard and sighed.  “Well.  Let’s get ‘er fixed.”

Those are little darts of water jetting out of the centerboard trunk.  Not happy morning news.

Where, you might ask, was our natural panic and discomfort as our home slowly slipped into The Big Blue?  The problem is, we are jaded.  When you live on a boat, emergency repairs are just another part of everyday life.  An annoying, unwelcome, tea-withholding part of life, but a part all the same.  It wasn’t as bad as losing all of our electrical systems in the middle of the night off Cape Hatteras.  It wasn’t as urgent as our alternator fire.  Fires.  On the grand scale of worrisome situations, this didn’t rate.  It was a slow leak, and no one was going to die.  We were anchored in 15 feet of water right beside an inhabited island.  At worst, we would have a boat nestled gently among the seagrass.  Admittedly, that’s a pretty bad outcome, but there are really only four things I care about rescuing from Papillon, and we all share the same surname.

“It looks like the threads have corroded around a bolt,” said Erik.  “For now, I’ll put a rubber gasket under the bolt head to seal the flow.”
He sifted through the washer bin, but there wasn’t a 3/8 nylon washer to be found.  Of course not.  So he started to enlarge a 5/16 washer.

“Mom,” said Indy, “can you help me put on my wetsuit?”
“Honey, the boat is sinking.  I have to help Dad.”
Mo-om.  Fine!  Stylish, can you help me?”

As the girls wrestled themselves into snorkeling gear and muttered about the inadequacies of their parents, Erik busied himself deforming the shaved washer.  After a minor bout of cursing, he went in search of gasket material.  Because if you can’t find it, you have to make it.  Out came the punch set.

As he was about to install the newly-fabricated washer, Erik poked his head a little further in the bilge.  “Hmm.  This problem is further in than it looks; there is a pinhole back there.”  He heaved himself out of the bilge.  “We need some underwater-setting epoxy putty.  And I used mine up.”

Off to the VHF.  I called our friends next door.  As Mario went to check his stores, I hear fresh cursing from below.  Erik was busy with a carb pick, trying to clean the surface to ready it for the putty.  “I need that putty now-ish,” he called.  “I made the hole a little bigger.”

I grabbed the kids, jumped in the dinghy and motored next door.  The girls jumped out, I grabbed the Starbrite from Mario and was back at Papillon in a twinkling.

On went the putty.  The leak stopped.  We gave a small cheer.  Once it had set, Erik covered it with JB weld, and we cheered a little more.  Papillon would live to float another day.

And so we add another job to our haulout list.  One new thrust bearing and propeller shaft assembly.  One new centerboard sheave housing.  And if we are very, very lucky, the list will end there.


  1. Amy Schaefer

    Thanks for the tip, Elan! That will be my next stop on the internet this morning. We are still working through our options on the prop shaft, so your suggestion comes at a good time.

  2. Elan

    Ahh, the joys of cruising… we have been there :)

    I don’t know how your blog showed up on my iPad newsreader (some google magic), but I figured I would post a suggestion. If you guys need a new thrust bearing, take a look at Powertrain Marine’s shaft couplers. They can handle something like 12 degrees of misalignment and are priced at a fraction of everyone else’s prices. You may be able to simplify your drivetrain, get rid of alignment problems and save money all at the same time.

    It is amazing how you take a few feet of water in the boat in stride no? I suppose the big problems offshore make these littles ones seem more trivial. Best of luck!


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