I confess, it’s been 8 long months since I’ve put fingers to keyboard to peck out a blog update. Ever since my now mended, but slightly crooked pinkie finger was mutilated in a fishing mishap, circa-Whangnella Banks-April 2019, I’ve been land-locked. While I wish I could blame my literary desert to a typing handicap or writer’s block, the simple truth is that it’s due to a lack of fishing in recent times.
The long drought in our recreational boating life was brought on by a dirty four-letter word, “WORK” which screamed nasty obscenities at both Garry and myself in 2019. This drought was compounded by a 3-month stint for November Rain, languishingon the hard stand, waiting for work to be done.
In October 2019, we had scheduled some minor repairs with our boat builder that turned into major “oh shits” after Garry ran aground, only one day before the scheduled haul-out. The resulting damage added a few more weeks to the job, not to mention the back and forth tangle with the insurance company, which chomped up 6 additional weeks of precious time.
It’s not too long of a story, really….Over the course of two days, Gaz transported the boat from her home-berth in Whangaroa, traveling south along the eastern seaboard of New Zealand’s north island, to Auckland. I was slaving away in the salt mines of that previously mentioned four-letter word and had to miss out on the delivery trip. Gaz and I had made plans to rendezvous on Sunday, to enjoy a bit of snapper fishing and just relax in one of Auckland’s many beautiful bays before our haul-out on Monday. As we didn’t have a berth in Auckland, Gaz had agreed to pick me up at the guest dock in Pine Harbour in the morning.
When I arrived to the dock Sunday morning at our pre-arranged time, November Rain was nowhere to be seen. She’s a little hard to miss, at 56 feet long, 22 feet wide, with a massive shiny tuna tower and gleaming white flybridge. I was a bit concerned that he had run into problems so I grabbed my cellphone and gave Gaz a bell, relieved when he answered on the second ring.
“Where are you?”, I asked, concerned that he might be having mechanical difficulties.
“I can’t get into the channel, there’s not enough water,” he replied. “The boat in front of me just hit bottom and it’s still another hour to go before low tide”. “It’ll be 4 hours before there’s enough water to pick you up”. He must have heard the disappointment in my voice, for he quickly formulated another plan.
“Drive over to Half-Moon Bay,” he said, “the channel’s deeper there”. I’ll pick you up on the fuel dock”
As I drove the 20 kms, along the circuitous coastline towards Half Moon Bay, I was half-annoyed that my one-day weekend was getting shorter by the minute. It had been a really hard week in the salt mines, compounded by a plumbing leak and flood in our new home. I was desperately looking forward to some R & R aboard November Rain.
Garry motored over across the bay to our new meeting point. By now, the tide was at full low, and as he moved aside to give way to another boat in the channel, he was jolted by a hard shudder and spine-tingling grinding as the twin hulls scraped along the sandy bottom. There’s a saying that if you find yourself walking through hell, you best keep walking. And that’s what Garry did, except for motoring instead of walking. After 20 meters of grinding along the bottom, using the forward momentum already in play, November Rain broke free into deeper water.
Running aground is every mariners’ nightmare. Not only can it wreck your vessel, it can ruin your reputation as a skipper. But to be fair, Garry was in a marked channel, using electronic charts, an operational depth sounder and a good knowledge of the local waters. However, the super-low King tide, a shifting sand bottom and obeying the rules of the road, all conspired together to ruin his day, not to mention, lighten the pockets of our insurance company.
Garry soon picked me up at the fuel jetty and as we cruised out, he casually mentioned that he had just run aground. He didn’t seem too concerned, as we had scraped bottom once before, the worst part was having to remove dredged up sand and shells from the seawater intake strainers. As I looked around the bay, half a dozen yachts were lying on their sides at 45 degree angles, keels wedged hard into the sand. All their skippers could do was to patiently wait for higher waters to release them from their temporary prisons. It was apparently that this king tide had caught more than a few weekenders off guard.
Because we were scheduled to haul-out the next day, we knew we would be able to access that true damage in the morning. We also knew our depth sounder had probably taken a hit; it wasn’t flush mounted to the hull, and protruded down about 6” from our bottom. Regardless, we cheerfully made our way toward Rangitoto Island, to enjoy what was left of our Sunday afternoon.
Garry was the first to notice that our trim was off, that we were starting to list to the port side. At the same moment, the port engine temperature gauge started climbing, never a good sign. Gaz bolted down the stairs from the flybridge, threw open the engine hatch, and was shocked to see seawater rapidly flooding the engine bay. The water has reached all the way up to the level of the shafts. A few more inches and the salt water would have reached one of his precious engines, (second only to me as the love of his life, but that may be debatable at times).
At first, we feared all the water was pouring in through a breach in the ship’s hull, from the morning’s grounding incident. We tore open the starboard engine bay, and thankfully, it was dry. Further inspection revealed a gaping 2” hole in the port engine’s saltwater intake. The stainless steel metal has been eaten away by electrolysis, for the want of more frequent anode changes coupled with improper grounding. As long as the engine was running, we were actively pumping in seawater into the engine bay. We quickly shut her down, effectively stopping the floodwaters, and we both simultaneously let out a deep sigh of relief.
As is a common theme in disasters, it is a series on unrelated events, which, when occurring together, conspire to create a catastrophe. The hole in the saltwater intake line was compounded by a previous issue; a faulty bilge pump on the port side. Over the past several months, this particular bilge pump’s float switch was constantly getting stuck in an open position, causing annoying and numerous false alarms. Garry had disabled the nagging bilge pump for the 2-day trip down the coast, planning on replacing it, once he was back in the boat yard.
We sheepishly limped in to Rangitoto Bay on our remaining engine, all while the now re-engaged and screaming bilge pump told us off as she dutifully pumped the water out of the bilge. I joked with Garry that he had tried to sink the boat three ways to Sunday that day. He wasn’t amused.
The haul-out the following morning revealed the true extent of the damage. The sounder, as expected was sheered off, and the anti-foul paint had been scraped off down to the bare fiberglass. There was additional damage to the rudders, which had transmitted up the rudder stocks, taking them out of alignment.
Fast forward a few weeks and we are finally back in the water and up north again. November Rain is better than ever with a brand new flush-mounted sounder, reconditioned shafts, aligned rudders, some paint touch-ups, a couple of marlin-bill holes repaired and two freshly overhauled engines with properly grounded anodes. Garry even ponied up for in a new VHF radio as a Christmas prezzie for the old girl.
A week away over the Christmas Holiday reminded us of how much we love the boating lifestyle and we desperately need to get back to it full time. While we didn’t even see a single marlin that week, we caught up with friends and family, enjoyed some snapper fishing and beautiful weather in Whangaroa. Come winter, 2020, we are heading back to Vanuatu to continue our dream. Now back to the salt mines to pay for it all. #$@!<