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How to survive a ‘What Next?’ season

There’s always something the matter with a boat. Well usually there isn’t and you cruise about quite happily in your craft. But, from time to time, things do go awry, to which our last several seasons can attest.

There’s always something the matter with a boat. Well usually there isn’t and you cruise about quite happily in your craft. But, from time to time, things do go awry, to which our last several seasons can attest.

Three summers ago aboard our Grand Banks 36, Sea Story II, my husband Warren and I had planned a cruise from our home port of Scituate, Mass., to Montauk, N.Y. We were soon thinking of it as the “What Next?” cruise as one thing after another began to go wrong.

We found we had a leak somewhere in the domestic water system piping in the engine room, which defied discovery and kept a steady slow dripping of water into the bilge. Then water began leaking out the base of the aft cabin head, again defying all efforts by the skipper in tightening bolts.

We secured the seacock on that head and became a “one head” (forward cabin) boat. Next, the extra (and larger) freezer, which my husband had installed beneath a cushioned corner seat, wouldn’t cycle off and — afraid of fire and battery depletion — we turned it off and emptied its contents into our regular refrigerator and freezer, a tight squeeze indeed.

Lastly our autopilot began to function erratically, so we turned around at Block Island and headed for the Fairhaven Shipyard in Fairhaven, Mass.

There, crews with a mirror and some heavy crawling discovered the cracked T-head fitting in the water system buried up behind the water heater. They fashioned a new fitting, got it installed and the leak was gone.

Then a local refrigerator man came aboard and we learned that the freezer problem had been caused by our stowing food up against a temperature control fitting, which prevented the freezer from cycling, something we’d evidently never done before, although we’d used the freezer for years without event.

The leaking head needed a new seal, that work done quickly and efficiently the next day at Onset Bay Marina.

The flybridge autopilot remained out for the rest of the cruise with the lower station, one working perfectly and the upper station receiving good old-fashioned manual steering.

Back in our homeport days later my husband located an electronics dealer in Portsmouth, N.H. (who he had tracked down by going through ads in boating periodicals) who indeed had a leftover model of the exact Robertson autopilot control box. They had been discontinued, but the replacement had also to be a Robertson since our vessel was wired for that and to substitute another brand would have involved all sorts of prohibitive, expensive boat work. Once installed it performed flawlessly.

Two seasons back we were heading for a two-week cruise to Cape Cod and the Islands. Twenty miles out of Scituate, the sea being extremely rough, we decided to abort that first day early and put into Plymouth instead of Onset for an overnight. Good thing we did.

When the skipper had shut the boat down and opened up the hatch to check the engine room he discovered that the hose clamp holding a raw water cooling hose between the raw water pump and the oil cooler had broken, allowing water to shoot out around the hose and spraying it all over the engine room, leaking down into the engine pan. This must have been going on for some time as a bucket of water was in the engine pan and another bucket in the bilge. If the hose itself had come off it would have been a really bad situation with an overheated engine and water being pumped all over the room and us out on a rude sea. Though you’re always charged with doing your best at all times, which most crews strive to do, we were reminded you sometimes need a little luck in boating and the decision to turn into Plymouth had proved a felicitous one.

Hit and run

But May 2006 took the cake as far as unexpected incidents. It had been a month of raw, gray weather capped with a wild three-day nor’easter lasting from the 24th to the 26th. We found that Saturday bright, warm and sunny as were our moods as we rode out to Sea Story II on our boat club’s launch.

We were stunned to see that our boat, which had ridden out the 50-knot gales, high tides, rain and waves on her mooring, had been struck on her starboard side well above the waterline and the rub rail, damage not visible from shore.

It turned out a 36-foot sloop, upwind of us, had broken loose from its mooring. On its way to eventually ending up on the beach off the TownWharf (where it would be later salvaged and hauled out), had whacked our yacht with her pulpit plow anchor midships and then bounced off.

Warren immediately called Brewer’s Plymouth Marine (where our boat is stored for the winter and she is serviced) and we then drove the boat there.

Once we were tied up, general manager Tim Moll inspected the damages. They consisted of about 3 feet of the teak, varnished caprail destroyed; fiberglass sections of the bulwarks inside and outside the caprail fractured; and a stanchion ripped off — with the glass fracture running about 4 feet.

Tim said the boat would have to be hauled and put inside to do the glass and finish work properly, that the job was very labor intensive, but that they could and would do the job as soon as they could, given the shortness of our boating season.

He would have a new section of teak railing made and put on and varnished; the fiberglass ground down and redone; the hand rails removed in the section running from the pulpit to the starboard boarding gate (which were the only two disconnect breaks in it on that side) so that the rail and glass work could be done; the stanchion repaired; then the whole rail reinstalled after the teak and glass work was finished.

Then the area between the rubrail and the cap rail, on the outside of the boat from the bow to the stern on the starboard side only, should be gelcoated or the patch would always show as a different color.

Tim estimated the total job would run about three weeks and the total cost would exceed $7,500, he thought. It actually finally cost $13,000, all of which was covered by insurance, except the $2,000 deductible.

We also lost the whole month of June to the reconstruction, with its planned shakedown, mini-cruise weekend excursions to such ports as Marblehead and Provincetown canceled and replaced by car trips to explore Boston.

On the bright side our cruise to Maine, scheduled for July, took off on the day we had originally chosen to leave, with Sea Story II once again her nifty self.

And what compensations there were for all the nuisance, aggravation and expenses of these trials? The usual inventory of moments:

Waking to mornings so tranquil that every boat in sight was reflected on itself. At night anchor lights on the tops of spars reflect like gold stars deep on the black glassy waters beneath. Seas alive with porpoises and seals. The romance of horizons. And even, on occasion, the privileged knowledge of consorting with the really rough leg, however short or long, with its consequent pride of passage. Positives, any and all seasons, are more than worth the negatives.