Thursday, October 09, 2014

Can Small Stuff Sink Your Boat?

New Bern, North Carolina
35 06.209 N 077 02.296 W

Can small maintenance items sink your boat?  Probably not; that's why we call them "small" stuff.  However, an accumulation  of small stuff could sink you.  Worse, each small maintenance problem reduces your safety margin in hard conditions or in case of a major problem.  I recently read, Rescue of the Bounty (by W32 owner Doug Campbell).  Loss of HMS Bounty was very much due to an accumulation of small problems.

An insurance surveyor once explained to me that theory of writing you up for seemingly trivial maintenance lapses is that the insurers want you to keep your boat ship shape.  I have big complaints about insurance surveyors and surveying as practiced, but I must admit the validity of their theory.  If I were an insurer, I would want to serve only customers who keep their boats well maintained, small stuff as well as big.

Illustrative case:  Two weeks ago we were sailing in heavy weather offshore from New Jersey.  A wave broke over the bow.  Water rushed down the leeward side and filled the cockpit.  That happens all the time on W32s.  This time I noticed that the leeward cockpit drain was draining very slowly.  Today at the dock, I decided to check it out.

I ran a plumbers snake down the drain. I felt an obstruction but I couldn't dislodge it.  So I had to take off the hose pipe between the cockpit and the sea cock, and then pushed out the obstruction.  What I found is seen in the picture below.  It appears to be some unidentifiable plastic material, plus a nest built by a creature, some pine needles, and a cap from a toothpaste tube.  I remember dropping the toothpaste cap while in the cockpit and being unable to find it, but the other things I have no idea how they got there.

Is a blocked drain dangerous?  Any vessel is supposed to be able to completely drain above-deck water in 30-45 seconds.  Why?  Because a boat with bulwarks like a W32 can hold tons of water above deck and the center of gravity becomes very high.   Every second that water remains you are at risk.  That's why why we have small cockpit wells, two cockpit drains, scuppers, and those beautiful sculpted curves fore and aft in the caprails of a W32.  But a single blocked drain eliminates some of the redundancy.  It is a small thing, but it needs attention.   When was the last time you poured a big bucket of water in your cockpit well to see how fast it drains?

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