Holes in the water

By Dan West | Jan 16, 2014

Anyone who has purchased a boat, owns a boat or is thinking of owning a boat has probably heard the saying "A boat is a hole in the water you pour money into."

I bought a boat this summer with my girlfriend. We both enjoy sailing and found a very good deal on a 28-foot O'Day down in Massachusetts. She was in good condition, although the previous owner had drilled several small holes into the hull, and the price was right.

Last summer we had the holes filled and sailed her the 130 miles up the New England coast to Rockland where we stored her on a friends mooring. The sail up the coast revealed a few problems with the boat we hadn't been aware of, though they weren't catastrophic. The engine runs beautifully, but the control cables to the throttle and to change gears are both more or less useless. On top of that the throttle handle snapped off the first time we tried to throttle her up. These were minor issues and we were able to take care of the throttle handle when we got her up to Rockland.

We only had her in the water a little more than a month — we sailed up from Massachusetts in September — before she had to come out of the water for the winter. However, when we finally managed to schedule a time to take her out the ignition was acting up and the engine would only turn over by turning the key in just the right way.

Once we figured out the trick though we were able to get on our way. We planned to motor from Rockland up to Rockport where we'd have the boat moved to Appleton for the winter. Before we'd even made it to the Rockland breakwater we heard a snap followed by some thumping. A belt had torn off the engine.

With a tight time frame and no wind we had to get the engine working, and after 15 minutes of frantic MacGyvering we were able to fashion a new belt out of Gorilla tape. This fix held up for the hour-long motor and we got the boat out. It was about this time that I really began feeling like something new went wrong every time we touched our boat.

So we tucked her in for winter covering her with a large blue tarp and hoped to not have to worry about her until spring. We weren't so lucky.

The snowy December piled feet of snow on her, stretching the tarp, weighing it down in the stern. This was followed by a warm few days and rain at the beginning of January. The tarp funneled the rain and melting snow into the boat's cockpit, filling it with water, which froze solid during the frigid days that followed.

The hundreds of pounds of ice weighed down on the stern, lift the bow off the front stands and causing the back stands to depress the fiberglass hull. The boat was teetering dangerously, supported only by the back two stands and the blocking under her keel, and the hull was beginning to crack. A crack about two feet long opened near one of the back stands.

It was a week ago Tuesday when I got a frantic call from my girlfriend, who rushed to our boat's aid, armed with a hammer and more than a hundred pounds of salt. She was able to pound out some of the ice and left the remainder to melt slowly during the 20-degree days.

I went by a few days later and hammered out even more of the ice, leaving only a small portion of the cockpit still covered.

By Saturday the temperature had warmed to almost 50 degrees and the ice was melting fast. Worried that the thawing ground could exacerbate our boat's problems we formulated a plan to get her back on her stands.

We moved her front stands behind the two rear stands that were holding her up. Slowly, half crank by half crank we jacked the stern of the boat up, bringing the nose down. The depressions that formed around the stands popped out as the pressure on the hull was relieved. The cracks in the hull closed up, and do not appear to have gone through further than the outer gel coat. They'll still require repair, but the damage was not nearly as bad as I'd feared. We moved the back stands that had been holding the weigh of the boat toward the bow and secured our boat on all five stands once again.

Looking up at the boat on her stands in the rain after a week of working to save her, I couldn't help but feel a sense of accomplishment. Did I want my boat in such a precarious situation to begin with? Of course not, but by working steadily on addressing the problem we managed to get her back on her feet in less than a week.

She isn't out of the woods yet, but our boat is looking far happier than she did. I'm not sure how much the damage will cost us to fix in the end (certainly less than I thought upon seeing her in her distressed state for the first time), but I can tell you this: a boat maybe a hole in the water to pour money into, but whether you're holding your engine together with tape or hammering ice from her deck, when everything goes wrong on a boat and you are still able to over come the problem, you get a feeling like you can take on anything and prevail. Anyway, on to the next disaster.

Dan West is editor of The Republican Journal and lives in Lincolnville Center.

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