That sinking feeling.....
15 June 2015
The last thing any boat owner ever wants to think about is the possibility of their boat sinking. Without a doubt.
Last week the kids and I went away. It was a wonderful opportunity to spend some time with the rest of the family in Canberra as we all gathered to celebrate Andrew’s 21st birthday. We had planned to fly down as the kid’s dad had offered to pay for them but at the last minute they were let down and our only option was to endure the epic 24 hour train journey instead! We survived – just! – and went on to have the best time catching up with everyone – lots of fun, visits, chats and good old family laughter as we sat around reminiscing about our lives in the past and shared about our lives in the present.
While we were away Argos was lovingly cared for by Tino whose boat Grape Shot has been anchored near us while we have been in Southport. Tino made the most of the opportunity to be on a larger boat while looking after his own at the same time, anchored alongside.
The morning of the party I got a very anxious call from Tino asking me about a fuse for the engine and how to pull up the anchor. He barely had time to talk and the anxiety in his voice told me something major was happening but he was only able to give me the barest details and then he was gone. A boat was dragging its anchor close to us and we were in danger of being hit.
Oh my. All I could do was wait. I pictured the boats anchored near us and guessed which was dragging and hoped all would be okay.
What seemed like an eternity but was only really about fifteen minutes later, Tino called me back. He was even more stressed than before, which was very worrying, and he told me that a very large boat was bearing down on us with no engine and about to hit and the anchor kept turning off. I explained about a fault in the winch and how to deal with it and again he hung up and I had to wait. And hope.
Turns out that what was happening was that a large trawler had come in to anchor due to engine failure. The wind had picked up and their anchor was dragging. The crew on board at that time consisted of some guys who had little hands on knowledge of what to do – presumably the rest of the crew was off getting parts or whatever to deal with the problem, so the boat was just dragging along and as the wind picked up they quickly got too close to Argos.
Robin from the lovely ketch, Norfolk, who along with his wife Sue have been such good friends since we came into Southport, saw what was happening and quickly came to Tino’s aid and together they started to get the anchor up and get Argos out of the way. But the trawler’s anchor must have gone down amongst our chain because as the anchor came up, the trawler began to swing into Argos and then – horrors – their snubber rope got caught up on our prop. Can you believe it? In an instant Tino was ripping off his t-shirt and diving in to untangle the rope which, of course, was no easy thing to do. The rope was freed and the anchor retrieved and as quickly as they could Robin and Tino had Argos away from the trawler and safely re-anchored. Meanwhile others had seen what was happening and had come with fenders to try and minimise damage, and the local VMR (marine rescue) and the water police were hovering and monitoring the situation.
The trawler continued its path and Robin had to hastily run back to his own boat and move it out of the way too and they all watched as the trawler continued to drag across the anchorage – if they didn’t get things in order it would have crashed into the set for the Pirates of the Caribbean movie which is being built nearby. Apparently the rest of the crew came back before that happened and later that afternoon they were able to leave with their engine repaired.
By mid-afternoon it seemed to be all done – the drama all over. I was so relieved. But later that evening (just after returning to our B&B cottage) Tino called again, the stress back in his voice, my concern raised yet again. The bilge was rapidly filling with water. I knew that we had a small drip from the stern gland and tried to reassure Tino that it would just have increased due to the engine being on – suggested that he just turn on the bilge pump and get some sleep and try not to worry. I hoped that was all it was, but I also knew that there was a possibility that the prop could have been damaged from the rope being caught on it and that the prop shaft could have been knocked which might have resulted in a significant increase to the water inflow. I went to sleep hoping that all would be well.
I heard from Tino the following morning and it sounded as if emptying the bilge had been all that was needed. Until the following morning I was oblivious of the drama unfolding back up on the Gold Coast while I was enjoying myself in Canberra.
The bilge had been emptied and all had seemed ok but it filled again very quickly. Very, very quickly. At that time water was pouring in. I woke early on Monday morning and checked my turned-to-silent phone – there was a frantic message from Tino that my phone said had been sent at midnight the night before, telling me that the bilge pump had failed and that he estimated at the rate the boat was taking on water that it would be 12 hours until the bilge was filled. Never has a sentence stopped me in my tracks as fast. I checked my watch and hoped I was getting back to him before Argos had sunk.
I rang. It was just on 6 am and a sleepy Tino told me that he had been able to speak to Erina late the last night, who had spent the night at her dad’s house, who had told him where to find the manual bilge pump and the wet vac and that the bilge had not overflowed and Argos had not sunk. As soon as it was reasonable to do so, I called Robin and asked if he would be able to help Tino look at what was wrong with the bilge pump, ready to call the marine electrician if it was too hard a job for the two of them to deal with.
Hurrah, the next phone call I got was Tino letting me know that the pump was fixed and reassuring me that everything was now ok and not to worry any more. Oh what a relief.
We enjoyed the rest of our time in Canberra and began our epic return trip which included the cancellation of our overnight train trip from Sydney to Brisbane and the switch to an even more arduous and squishy coach trip – but eventually we made it all the way home!
Once we got back to Southport our concerns were all over – it was clear that the trawler had not caused any obvious physical damage to Argos, but it was pouring rain so we had to wait another day for Erina to be able to dive down and inspect the prop. She did that the next day and all seemed fine. I began to hope that there would be no more issues and the incident could just be a story to write about.
Maybe if I was more aware of electrical things I would have realised sooner what was happening – but my lack of knowledge has really let me down in this situation.
Tonight (2 days after arriving home) I have discovered that our power system is failing badly. After spending close to $2000 in the past few months getting lots of dangerous things sorted out, our solar rewired correctly and functioning better and a whole heap of other issues addressed, I am dismayed to find that there has been some serious damage to the batteries through all this.
The house batteries are adjacent to the engine – two just below the floor and two more below them. The bilge is immediately below the engine, so perilously close to the lower set of house batteries.
We started to notice anomalies as soon as we got back but didn’t worry – I assumed things weren’t working normally because they had been turned off for a while, so their internal battery systems were down. The freezer kept going into alarm mode. But it does that sometimes. Then the next night the lights flickered and I tried to work out what was drawing too much power. But the odd thing was the battery monitor was showing charge and good numbers. Strange.
This evening it has all become sadly clear. We got all the alarms from fridge and freezer, lights flickering and turning on and off and then suddenly nothing. We had no lights. No pumps. No 12 v power functioning at all.
I knew then what it would be but have not got enough knowledge or skills to fix it. This is going to be a costly exercise I think and likely to require at least two new house batteries – not to mention the expense of an expert assessment which I have to wait another day for when my marine electrician will have time to come and help us.
Looking on the bright side, as I know I must, I am thankful that we still have Argos, that she didn’t sink, and that we have only some electrical stuff to deal with. We have not returned home to a mess or to needing to clean and dry what was damaged in a sinking – there is no salvage – just some electrical repairs to deal with.
This is the longest we have ever left Argos in the 4 years we have been living on her for – and little wonder really! To think that one brief trip to Canberra could coincide with a trawler having engine problems, that they would choose to anchor alongside us, that they would drag their anchor as the wind picked up and then that they would get so close that their snubber rope could get caught in our prop causing just enough pull on the prop shaft to let water quickly flow into the boat……it was only a 24 hour period and yet all that took place!
I am so thankful to everyone who assisted – Tino and Robin first and foremost – but so many helped – other neighbouring boats raced over with fenders, VMR who dispatched 3 boats, and the water police who hovered ……our thanks and appreciation goes to the boating community who always band together to help – even when you are not there!
I also want to mention that just a few days before we set off for Canberra we suffered a terrible loss. Jack, our beautiful Burmese boy is no longer with us.
We missed him so briefly – one minute he was there on the steps and the next he was gone. We were sure he was just hiding somewhere at first – and hunted in all the usual spots, but to no avail. We searched the beach, everywhere we could think of – but in the dark we didn’t have much hope of spotting him. I can’t tell you how incredibly sad we all were – but we hoped – we still hoped that somehow he would be all right. As soon as the sun rose the following day Erina and I were back out again searching. Sadly we found him on the beach. I have no words.
He was the most lovely, affectionate, attached and entertaining cat I have ever had the privilege to know – he is and will always be deeply missed. He got us through those incredibly hard days after we were left and were so scared during the cyclone, he made us smile when all we wanted to do was cry and he reminded me what love really looks like. All that in one small grey furry body. Never underestimate the capacity of an animal to be a blessing.
My sister blessed us with a gorgeous little rescue cat while we were away, Sid, who was waiting for our return to meet us! He is a 6 month old ginger tabby who has not had an easy life. He came home with us on Saturday and is settling in quite well.
Life is full of ups and downs, and we try to roll with the punches as best we can – some of course are easier than others to face. We soldier on and are hoping that our current (sorry, no pun intended!) electrical damage proves to be not too big a problem to us or too costly to deal with.