Working the Priority List

6 May

Every sailor knows the true story behind the Odyssey.  It didn’t take Odysseus ten years to get home after the Trojan War because the gods were annoyed with him and he got blown off-course: he was late because his boat kept breaking and he had to fix it.  Heck, if I had ten years of repair delays to explain, I’d tell my spouse the same thing.  “Sorry, honey, I was fighting a cyclops.”  It sounds so much cooler than, “Sorry, honey, that hole in the bilge just kept opening up.”

There is no such thing as a boat in perfect condition.  There is always work to be done.  Always.  The goal is to make it just a little further down the priority list.  Our holy grail, like that of many sailors, is to redo the teak.  When we have fixed and maintained the boat to the point that teak makes it to the top of the list,I’ll know that our boat is pretty mint.  (Either that, or we’ll be trying to sell it.)

I’ve been doing my best to keep Papillon in good repair while the captain is away.  I run the engine, watch the battery bank like a hawk, and generally try to keep us above water while still making sure the young ladies are educated, fed, clothed and otherwise presentable.

Some weeks it is easier than others.

Number one on my list last week was to modify the beautiful splash guards Erik made for the dinghy.  Not a big project: some Sunbrella, some velcro, and we’d be in business.

And then the engine started to sputter.

I’ve been around long enough to know what air in the fuel lines sounds like.  Time to bleed the engine.  No problem: I have a handy 20-point list to remind me when to bleed which filter with what wrench, how not to destroy the fuel injectors, and so on.  And, to make a long story short, Stylish and I bled the engine.

A lovely meal and a sunset later, I decided to start my sewing project bright and early the next morning.  But as the girls were preparing for bed, all was quiet for just a moment.  And I heard A Noise.

No one ever wants to hear A Noise on a boat.  But even less do you want to ignore A Noise.  A Noise always means that you are about to be exhausted, dirty, and possibly a little freaked out, but you’d better track it down or Bad Things Will Happen.

This was a drip-drip-splash noise, which may be my least favorite of all the noises.  I opened the floorboards, and sure enough – the bilge was full almost to the brim.  On went the serious bilge pump.  And I started tracking.

When I found the source of the drippity-drip,I was not happy.  It was coming from the bottom of the sail locker.  Of course it was.  What, you thought I was going to have a leak in a convenient, accessible place?  Pfft.  No.  So, out came the sails.  All of the sails.  And because the sail locker is about five feet deep…

… now my cockpit looked like this:

And where, you ask, was that leak?  Down, down, way down in the starboard aft corner of the locker is a hose leading to a sea cock.  And just at the point the hose meets the floorboards, the hose failed.

Getting the seacock closed was another mighty task, because, despite regular care, it was stiff and salty and generally recalcitrant.  It required the attention of arms more burly than mine.  But there is nothing I like better early on a Sunday morning than to beg a favor from a neighbour, and so one duly arrived to help me out.  I modified the floorboard, washed everything and set it out to dry, and generally felt glad that we weren’t sinking any longer.

And there was much rejoicing.

All the girls wanted to know was, when were the pancakes showing up? Because I had foolishly promised to make pancakes for breakfast the evening before.  They weren’t interested in excuses such as, “the boat is sinking.”  (I should have tried that cyclops thing; I’ll have to remember that for next time.)  I could always sew the dinghy in the afternoon.

So I made pancakes.  We ate pancakes.  And then I turned on the tap to wash the dishes.


This is a time when you actually want A Noise.  Namely, the water pump.  But, no dice.

Up came the floorboards, out came the multimeter, and a lot of mucking around and more (different) neighbourly help later, it was determined that the pressure switch was shot.

A day and a half and three chandleries later, I found a new pressure switch. Amazingly enough, it was in stock, a situation I am not accustomed to any longer.  And now the water pump works again.

So today I am going to do my sewing project.  As soon as I am done this blog post.  And I make the kids lunch.  And I finish cleaning the cyclone lines and getting rid of the tire fenders we don’t need anymore.  Yep, by the end of the day, that sucker will be sewn.

If not, I think I’ll blame it on a witch named Circe…


  1. Maureen and family on Kamaloha

    Hi Amy!
    Cheryl on Happy Times forwarded this article to me. Wow, what a day! Makes me kind of grateful to be on the hard, where we have been the last 4 months, thanks to the grand ideas Eric gave Charlie about painting/gelcoating the boat, back when we were all in Cartegena. We looked into it while we were there but didn’t bite the bullet till this year in Guatemala. I remember that look you had some days, trying to keep the girls clean, fed, educated and entertained while your boat was torn apart….yeah, I can relate now! But at least we are not sinking. Where was Eric while all this was happening?
    Maureen, with Beth, Brendan, Charlie and dogs on s/v Kamaloha

  2. Amy Schaefer

    Hi, Happy Times Mike! My goodness, time flies. We are in New Caledonia at the moment, working a little, learning French, fighting weeping seacocks and hoping to sail on by August.

    And thanks for the kind words, everyone. Attitude is all.

  3. Will

    WOW! What a breath of fresh air. Coping skills at their best. Press on young lady. The world is your oyster. Your husband is lucky to have you and your children couldn’t have a better mother and role model. Bet your parents are proud too, I would be. I,m blessed with a daughter like you.

  4. Mike Lezovich

    Amy, you did a great job of writing by capturing the “fun” we have out in the water. I remember fondly on the time “Happy Times” was anchored with you in Cartegena. Where did this excitement take place?

  5. Amy Schaefer

    Jack, there are days I think a good attitude is the only thing that matters on the water. Or in life, come to think of it. Optimism keeps you coming back for more, even when you know the gremlins are still waiting.

    Evin, get your boats in the water. At least one. Boats cry when you leave them on land.

    Nick, this girl is ready to have some fun of the non-epoxy variety. Just for a few days.

  6. Evin Wallace

    Great story, I have 9 sailing yachts, none of them ever see any water so none of them ever leak, none of them ever break down nothing to fix. I wish to have your problems, like I said, they never see any water and nether do I!!!
    Hopeful in Mid-Missouri.

  7. Jack Gill

    Amy, that attitude should be on the prerequisite list for boat ownership.
    I was going to write,misery likes company, but truth be known the work is quite rewarding,once it’s done ! I often mumble to myself “glad I purchased a turnkey boat,what’d be like if it needed work !”,so just keeping up with the “normal” maintenance,inevitable part failure and the upgrade you want to do (as soon as I get this other stuff done!)keeps one busy enough. The rewarding part is ,at least,twofold:1)you really get to know your boat 2)you’re increasing your knowledge and honing your boat skills. Oh, one more,like the insurance agents like to say “peace of mind” knowing you’ve routed the gremlin. But beware, as most boat owners know you never really banish the gremlin it just moves to another area – waiting.

  8. RJ

    Bleeding the fuel lines, tracking down a leak, fixing the water pump, making pancakes and then a sewing project? You are amazing. Great snapshot of the day-to-day and your “just do it” perserverance. Nice to read! Keep it coming!

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