How to sink your boat
08 April 2014 | Port Denarau Marina, Fiji
After much discussion, it was decided that I would post this most embarrassing tale about a series of events I put in motion that took Tanga precariously close to sinking, in a marina!
While we were on the hard, I had several chores that could only be accomplished while Tanga was out of the water. Two of these items were replacing the packing material in the shaft gland and the rudder gland (aka: packing glands). The two glands allow the propeller and rudder shafts to pass through the hull, but keep the water out (when done correctly). The packing material in both the glands were worn down and needed replaced so I removed the old packing glands and re-installed new.
When I reinstalled the propeller shaft gland, I spun it until it was hand tight, as had been done with the old worn out material. It was at this point I missed a VERY critical step. I forgot and failed to tighten the locking nut that keeps the gland in place! For some reason, I did the rudder gland correct but not the propeller shaft gland.
When we were lowered into the water and still in the boat lift, I checked all the hull penetrations, including the two packing glands for leaks. Everything looked great and we proceeded to move to our water slip. We had to be towed over to it (about 100ft) because our engine ignition switch had built up some carbon over the years and wouldn't start. While we were in the slip that afternoon, I was able to fix the ignition switch and test the engine. As part of the engine test, I placed the engine in both forward and reverse positions to verify that the gearbox was in good condition. Everything SEEMED to test out great, so we shut off the engine and headed to marina restaurant for dinner. As I discovered later, placing it in gear forced the gland to spin back off the shaft.
About 2 hours later, we returned from dinner and settled into a good movie. About an hour into the movie, we wanted some chips, so I stepped off the couch into 1 inch of water!! Very very very bad! Monica grabbed the hammer and bungs (bungs are corks that are hammered into any holes in the hull) since we both assumed we had an unkown hole. While she was doing this, I was trying to determine what was going on, and where the water was coming from. Also, why wasn't our bilge pump alarm going off? I had turned off the bilge pump while we were on the hard and I didn't turn it back on.
So now, we have sea water coming in the boat and nothing removing it. I switched on the pump and it started working great. Then I dropped an emergency bilge pump that I built just in case such an emergancy arose, into the bilge in the engine room. After getting the two pumps going, I also started hand pumping to keep the water level below the engine (it was 2 inches from hitting the engine). While I was doing this, Monica was tearing the boat apart to find the leak, which we still couldn't find!
The hand pump I was using sits directly above the propeller gland. As I was pumping, I looked down and saw the gland had backed off and was allowing the ocean in. Bingo! I spun it on and stopped the water flow. The two pumps had her dry again in about twenty minutes.
Had we stayed at dinner longer, or not needed potato chips, this story would have a very bad ending. As it was, I put a series of mistakes and bad work ethic together to start the catastrophy chain.
I knew to tighten the locking nut, but I blew it when I did the job, and forgot. Then, not turning the bildge pump on prior to going back in the water is another in-excusable mistake. Furthermore, when I placed the engine in gear, I should have re-checked the bilges.
Looking back, I am impressed that we both went about our tasks in a calm and precise manner.
Since that evening, we have been continuing to complete various tasks and have left Vuda Point Marina. We are on the other side of the bay, in an area called Port Denarau Marina. It's very touristy with lots of shops and restaurants.