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About Our First Boat
A Morgan 24 – Points Unknown
Lovely Day for Sailing
~ Lovely Day for Sailing ~
Points Unknown Icon
Stuffing Box Disaster
Getting Off the Ball
While the weather remained dry through the Christmas in July celebration, the wind continued to build up and the lake was thoroughly churned up in turn. Each morning we'd switch on the VHF to listen to NOAA'sNational Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. robotic delivery of the marine weather, which includes winds, wave height and interval, water temperature, and visibility.

Unfortunately for us, the forecast was for further deterioration. Though only 20NM, we were not enamored with the idea of sailing from Put-In-Bay to Sandusky Harbor in that turmoil. But the best day to get off the ball had dawned and small craft advisory or no, we needed to go.

There was a time when I wondered how the height of a wave – an undulating liquid mass of indeterminate shape, is measured. That curiosity was squelched on that particular sail back to Sandusky. Sitting in the cockpit of our little blue boat, and watching a big black wall of water rise up to completely occlude my view of the towering roller coasters on shore made me think "Yep! That is one tall wave alrighty!"

Slip Sliding Away
Points Unknown was designed with a retractable centerboard keel that gave us a draft of anywhere between two and a half and seven feet. When running with the wind or motoring to a shallow anchorage, we could swing the centerboard up and skim across the water. When conditions were otherwise, such as these, we'd swing the centerboard down for better stability. But something seemed to be snarled in the system and we were only able to deploy a sliver of the fin.

Flying full sails had us cruising at top speed and the grey skies weren't going to dampen our fun. Until I began to notice Marblehead's rocky shores creeping closer and closer. Though our bow was pointed south and we were making fine headway, our diminutive draft allowed the strong east wind to shove us sideways at almost the same speed!

Marblehead Lighthouse
~ Marblehead Lighthouse ~

I can't be sure if it was the fact that we were complete novices in heavy weather sailing, or that Points Unknown was drawing too little for sufficient lateral resistance but our attempts to correct the situation under canvas were thwarted at every turn. We were being brushed aside like an annoying gnat that'd landed in Mother Nature's freshly painted landscape. Don eventually overpowered her with manmade mechanics by starting up the engine and taking us further offshore.

Poignant Passage
All mariners have their first illuminating experience with being overcome by the enormous power of wind and water, and those moments never leave their soul. Sailor songwriter Eileen Quinn conceded that "Once scarred by the ocean's jaws, will forever give you pause" in her beautiful ballad 'Get Me Through This Night'.

And though we weren't sailing on an ocean, and this incident was comparatively minor to others that would occur later on in our cruising life, a lingering sense of great respect was implanted in me at that moment. These powers of nature, individually or combined, were not to be trifled with and I didn't need a deep wound to recognize or remember that.

Sunset Splashed Masts
~ Sunset Splashed Masts ~
Sweet Emotions
We made it safely into our slip at the marina, and immediately fell into a jumble of warm, wonderful emotions. A cleansing shower of unlimited hot water never felt so blissful. Sitting motionless for endless moments was never more comfortable. Our hunger was well earned and our meals couldn't have tasted more delicious.

That evening, Mother Nature seemed to commend our heightened appreciation by dripping a magnificent rosy hue over the forest of masts in the marina. Successfully surviving such a treacherous crossing made us feel stronger and I don't believe we'd ever slept sounder.

Stuff to Know About
Our last vacation day was spent tidying and putting things to rights. We'd a few lingering hours left onboard, so I curled up with a good book in the dinette below while Don fiddled with the centerboard lever from the cockpit. He traced the retracting cable down to a long narrow hatch right at my feet.

This cutout provided access to the stuffing box, a configuration of materials needed on a boat when there are moving parts, such as a propeller shaft, that run from the inside of the hull out into the water. It's not really a box at all, but rather a hose stuffed with fibrous packing and clamped tightly around a fixed fitting through which the mobile component passes. Our centerboard's release and retrieval cable ran through just such an arrangement.

We know all this now.

We didn't then.

Don had left the bilge hatch open and asked me if I could see where the bind up was when he released the lever. Nope. He raised the lever. Nothing. He released the lever. WOOOOOSSSHHH! It was like someone turned a bathtub facet on inside our boat!

Sandusky Marina's Long Docks
~ Sandusky Marina's Long Docks ~
Racing the Tide
Don jumped down below and began to futilely try and stop the gush with rags, while I ran to the boatyard for help. By now it was minutes to quitting time and there wasn't a moment to waste.

I believe I once mentioned that we were at the end of a very, very, very long dock. I went back and measured it after the fact. It was .3 miles, 528 yards, over five football fields to the boatyard office!

I'm not a runner by any stretch of the imagination – never attained an affinity for the sport. I always said that if you see me running, you'd best run too because something bad is chasing me. And true to my motto, I'd a beast urging me on in the form of a torrent of invading Erie water.

With Bated Breath
I burst into the workshop so winded I couldn't speak. No worries. The one guy who hadn't punched out yet was tied up on the phone anyway.

I actually stood there thinking it'd be rude to interrupt his conversation. An absurd little battle went on inside my head with regard to the proper etiquette for politely disrupting what was clearly a casual chat in order to request immediate assistance for an urgent situation, a state of affairs Miss Manners had clearly overlooked during my upbringing.

Maybe the call would be wrapping up soon. No. Just a change of subject. Maybe it will be quick. Oh, dash the decorum! I gulped in enough air to blurt out "Excuse me, but my boat is taking on water."

"I gotta go…a boat is sinking at the dock" the fellow brusquely ended his call.

"Sinking? I never said it was sinking. OH MY GOD – OUR BOAT IS SINKING!" I rapidly realized as the two of us raced out the door.

Bad Stuffing Box
~ Bad Stuffing Box ~
Brain Bail Out
During my second 500 meter dash down the dock, my mind must have finally flooded with those happy endorphins that apparently addicts all runners to this inane method of exercise. I envisioned arriving to Don, who'd cavalierly wave us off after having fixed the issue with a screwdriver and some duct tape. I'd sheepishly apologize for creating such a fuss, and the mechanic would assure me he was just happy everything was alright.

We arrived to find a reality far from the fairytale rolling around in my oxygen-deprived brain. Points Unknown was sitting low in her slip, and Don's pant legs were rolled high above his knees. Our manual bilge pump could not keep up with the flow, leaving him to bail buckets of water out of the cabin.

"HURRY UP! HURRY UP! HURRY UP!" Clearly Don had no issues with conveying a rude greeting.

"Let's try to get her to the lift before she goes down!" our shipyard savior suggested.

"Goes DOWN?! She's just taking on water! Who said anything about…OH MY GOD – SHE COULD GO DOWN!" my irrational thoughts were finally slapped into cognition.

"I'll bail while you drive!" I jumped into our sinking ship like a true mariner (or moron depending on one's point of view) while Don started the engine.

Loose Ends
Fortunately, we made it into the slings, and Points Unknown was quickly lifted out of danger. Upon further inspection, we were told the stuffing box appeared to have aged beyond any normal lifespan, and the worn cable had a barb that eventually grabbed and bound up the stuffing, forcing everything to blow. The whole shebang should have been rebuilt long ago. But we just didn't know.
Safely in the Slings
~ Safely in the Slings ~

We were chastised for having an inadequate bilge pump as well. Our diaphragm model was designed to extract a normal accumulation of water from rain, dew, and splashing. But no manual pump would ever be able to deal with the gallons surging through a hole created by hull fitting failure. We just didn't know.

One, very apparent thing didn't need to be pointed out to us though. In all the classes we'd taken, and during all our various boating experiences over the years, focus had only ever been on the aspects of sail shape, points of wind, maneuvers, how to read charts and channel markers and weather patterns. We'd focused so much on learning the finer points of sailing, that we'd overlooked the very important bits about the mechanics that actually keep a boat afloat.

Perish the Thought
The thoughts of what could have happened were clearly disturbing. Less than 24 hours before, we were out on the lake in strong winds riding over six foot waves when that hidden cable barb hooked the packing inside that rotted tube and stopped the centerboard from dropping. Tremendous forces were pushing and pulling in every direction, and through it all that bulky 3 by 5 basically hung on by a fingernail, all the way back to the marina!

We slept peacefully onboard the night before while the knotted bundle of stuffing that kept us buoyant was continuously clawed by a steel wire. It was minutes to quitting time and only one marina mechanic remained onsite, one who was capable of operating the travel lift, a piece of machinery that requires very specialized training. And though I've never professed to be a professional athlete, my finish time proved sufficient enough to win that particular race.

A Bow to Fate
This near disaster didn't happen while we were 10 miles out over frigid, agitated water 40 feet deep. It didn't occur in the dead of night while we slumbered nearby, nor did it transpire when help was not around. And it didn't happen when we were 90 miles away, at home thinking we'd left our boat safe and sound in her slip.

Thankfully, it ultimately occurred while under our full attention, during normal business hours, in (relatively) close proximity to the essential services and equipment needed for salvaging a foundering vessel. But the fact that it catastrophically failed after only three more strokes sent yet another shiver up my spine. Had Don, upon leaving Put-In-Bay, futzed with the centerboard lever just a few more times, well…

Aside from all those possibilities was the most upsetting prospect of all – my mom tisking "I knew something like this would happen!" while preparing to embroider a marker for Points Unknown onto the 'Lake Erie Ship Wrecks' tee shirt she'd given me. All I could think was that we were living under a very, very, very lucky star indeed.

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A Morgan 24 – Points Unknown
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