Sweat the Small Stuff
Sweat the Small Stuff
Whoever coined the phrase "Don't sweat the small stuff" has
never owned a boat. For we know, it's always
the small stuff; that long chain of tiny things and little details lead up the
rig, down into the bilge, through the electrical and mechanical systems, right
to the bitter end of the life raft tether.
I have always believed that the outcome of a safe passage at
sea is determined at the dock. For example, the difference between a calm and
collected passage under a tight draw-bridge, where the confident captain tosses
a jaunty salute to the bridge tender, or a last second white-knuckled passage,
with the captain upside down in the bilge bludgeoning a recalcitrant diesel
back to life, comes down to preparation.
So, when Diana and I decided to leave the Roger Henry
for a couple days for a visit to the mainland, we went through our usual
routine. Diana shut off the heater and the diesel fuel supply. She closed the
thru-hull valves in the head and under the galley. I checked the dock lines for
chafe and tension, secured loose equipment on deck, tied off the halyards,
coiled the dock hose, and disconnected the shore power. We locked the boat and
left a flashlight in the cockpit in order to see the combination should we
return in the dark. We notified our neighbor of our plans and headed down the
dock without a worry in the world.
But what we didn't know was that a seal on our engine's
relatively new raw water pump had a slight leak running down the underside of
the intake hose. Now a small leak shouldn't have mattered anyway, because I had
wired an automatic bilge pump switch that would start the pump when the water
reached a dangerous level.
I've not read the life of Einstein yet, but I'm sure he
was a sailor. My empirical proof lies in his statement that "The universe tends
towards disorder." The bilge filled ever so slowly. I'd tested the pump and
switch JUST PRIOR to leaving the boat, but apparently, a tiny bit of corrosion
in the fuse holder reached a tipping point almost immediately after I'd tested
it. The blown fuse blocked the pleasant flow of electrons, and left my stout,
2,500 gallons per hour pump inert and useless.
I'm not proud of the words that leapt from my lips upon our
return home. As a writer I should employ more appropriate language. "Man the
Pumps!" comes to mind. When we finally pumped a substantial amount of the
Pacific Ocean back into the harbor where it belongs, I set to work doing what
obviously should have already been done - inspecting and cleaning the
electrical connections from battery to bilge.
The value of the seal and the fuse holder were about a dollar each,
but the problems they caused could have cost a lot more. It is always the small
Merry Christmas and have a New Year full of fast, fun, and