We had a bit of a situation in Nevis last week but we handled it. Perhaps, this was a blessing in disguise.
We were t-minus 18 hours from making a 120 mile overnight sail to Guadeloupe when Trent noticed the bilge pump was running pretty hard. The bilge pump sits under the floorboards and pumps out extra water that collects from various places on Pepper. For instance, a tiny bit of sea water comes in when Trent reels in the anchor chain. Water from the chain flows down under the v-berth and collects in the bilge; and there’s always a certain level of water (fresh and salt) in the bilge. Once the water reaches a certain point, the bilge kicks on and pumps it all overboard, no big deal.
We immediately began rooting around and pulling up floorboards to see if we could figure out why the bilge was running. It was fairly easy to determine that there was salt water coming in as fast as water spits out of a traditional water hose. Houston, we have a situation. The leak appeared to be so far up under the floorboards that we couldn’t see where exactly it was coming in from. Needing all hands on deck, we got on the VHF radio to hail our faithful friends on Vagabond and Aqua Vida. Ken was here instantaneously, meanwhile, Dan and Danielle located a boat yard to haul Pepper out of the water.
Ken brought over his bucket of Stay Afloat (emergency instant water leak plug and sealant). He and Trent quickly snorkeled around and found the crack at the top of the keel where it meets the hull. I dug up the scuba gear as Ken assembled it, threw it on, armed himself with a scraper and putty and down he went. The engineer knows best and Ken was willing and able. Trent and I were running around like chickens with our heads cut off. A couple of minutes later Dan came over with news about the boat yard. We already knew no one could help us in Nevis; St. Kitts had a yard and travel lift but that was 16 miles away and it was already late in the day.
The putty put a temporary quick stop to the leak which gave us some time to think. Once everyone went back to tending to their business Trent and I were completely devastated. Thinking our trip was over, I cried for two days before I saw the light. Pepper could have sunk in a mere 20 feet of water, tied to a mooring ball in Nevis, but she didn’t. The crack could have been irreparable which would have totaled the boat. Or the cost of making the repair could have been exorbitant, also putting an end to our grand adventure. It was almost too much to handle except we had friends ready to lift us back up.
We decided to stay the night tied up in Nevis and would begin the passage to St. Kitts early the next morning when the wind was supposed to lay down. Wind is still a big factor even if we’re just motoring the sailboat. Well, the first and second round of putty only lasted a few hours each so we were back to square one, it was dark, and now we were completely out of both kinds of putty. Thankfully the pump was easily keeping up with the intake. For dinner we packed up our waterproof backpacks with a few personal belongings, passports included, just in case, and headed over to Vagabond for one last get together with Dan, Lindsay and Aqua Vida. Thank God for friends.
Of course we didn’t sleep that night. I could hear the water flowing in from below the v-berth and couldn’t relax. We were constantly checking the intake and bilge pump. With no problems, other than being entirely worn out, we arrived at St. Kitts Marine Works and the boys hauled Pepper out late that afternoon. Saying goodbye to our friends who sailed over with us was difficult, I mean, we’ve been with them since we first met in the Bahamas and didn’t know if we’d ever see them again.
10 days later, the brilliant crew from Indigo Yachts almost has Pepper sealed up, like new again from inside to out. Tomorrow David, the owner, will come by and give us a total run down of the work completed and present the bill. We also plan on having a lengthy discussion as to why the keel was damaged. We knew it wasn’t from anything we did. There is a suspicion that the boat was stored improperly while on the hard, before we had her, which could have put lots of extra weight on the forward part of the keel, causing the damage. The crack let water seep in and over time it delaminated the fiberglass until it failed. The repair was extensive because, to do this the right way, all of the fiberglass had to be ground out and redone.
Here are the silver linings. There are actually so many! Boat work is tremendously cheaper here than it would have been back home or even in Grenada, where we planned on hauling the boat out again anyways. This type of work would have run $90 an hour in Alabama and here it’s between $20 and $30, depending on the contractor, and we’ve had 3 guys coming and going for about a week. Can you believe the difference in price is that substantial? There is no doubt in my mind that Trent could have fixed this but he wanted to know that it was done right, by the professionals. The crew from Indigo Yachts went to work immediately and David has taken our situation personally, as Trent put it. He checks on Pepper daily and really takes the time to talk everything through with us.
Additionally, we’re so lucky this happened where it did in Nevis (I even bought the t-shirt!), when we had friends to back us up. Fortunately, this is a safe hurricane hole too, and it’s affordable enough to dry dock for the season, should we decide to stay. As always, there’s plenty of maintenance, polishing, cleaning and repairs to keep us busy on the hard, plus it’s time to sand and paint the bottom again. All of this would have been done when we arrived in Grenada, so maybe St. Kitts is better, and it’s certainly more cost effective.
I’m optimistic that we will be able to catch our friends in Grenada at the end of the season. Everything just happened so fast this week. Trent’s already knocked out some really big projects. My little polishing/cleaning/organizing tasks are nothing compared to his accomplishments. I just can’t believe Pepper’s little crack is almost fixed now too. I’ll keep you posted on updates.
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