Thursday, February 15, 2007

Hatches Away

Vero Beach

Tuesday was a very nice day. It was sunny, warm, and almost no wind. Around 17:00 I was sitting in the cockpit and I noticed a thunderstorm approaching from the west. I scrambled to make things ship shape -- to see that all things on deck that need to stay dry were put below and to see that all things remaining on deck were securely tied down. I didn't want to repeat the error of loosing my stay sail overboard.

Before I finished I heard an emergency weather report coming over the radio. They said that a line of severe thunderstorms with 50 knot winds were heading our way at a speed of 45 knots. I looked to the sky again. This time I could see a wall of clouds with low hanging scud rapidly heading our way.

I thought about the vessel Wing and A Prayer rafted up to us. The Captain, Bob, was on shore. I decided to break etiquette (one should not board somebody else's boat without permission under any circumstances) and to try to close up Bob's boat as a favor. I couldn't find his batter boards to close the companionway. However he had a tarp hanging over the boom so the open companionway should not be a problem.

I returned to Tarwathie in time to see the storm hit. In less than sixty seconds the winds changed from zero to 50 knots. At the same time, we got a torrential rain. I remained on deck hiding behind the dodger to observe. Suddenly, out of the corner of my eye I saw motion. I turned my head just in time to see Bob's forward hatch fly past. It was ripped off in the wind. It landed in the water about a boat's length behind us and floated neatly upside down on the surface.

I wondered what to do for a second, then I thought of the dinghy. I started to launch it, but a second glance backward showed that the hatch had already sunk. I abandoned the plan to rescue the hatch. Instead, I grabbed a canvas tarp from Tarwathie's desk, crossed over to Wing and A Prayer's forward deck, and covered over the open hole where the hatch was. Then at least, Bob's boat wouldn't fill with water and sink.

Five minutes later the storm front had passed us. Ten minutes after that we were treated to a beautiful double rainbow. A half hour later it was dusk and we could see a brilliant lightning show in the thunderclouds now over the Gulf Stream to the East.

The next morning, I got to tell Bob the bad news. He was devastated. The worst I'm sure was the feeling of stupidity he must have felt for not securing the latch on the forward facing hatch before leaving the boat. That's very basic seamanship and I'm sure Bob was very aware of it.

Next, Bob considered what to do about it. Buying a new hatch from West Marine would cost $500 or more, and the hatch probably wouldn't fit right. The missing hatch was curved to conform to the shape of the deck house on Bob's Bristol 26. A used Bristol 26 hatch would be very difficult to find. Making a replacement hatch would be very difficult because of the curved shape. The only solution seemed to be to dive and find the missing hatch.

Bob didn't want to dive himself in thse waters, plus he doesn't have the equipment. He hired a diver from another neighboring boat. This morning the diver came. I directed him to the place in the water where I thought the hatch had sunk. In less than 30 minutes the diver found the hatch, thus making Bob very happy.

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