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A Portal Into Hell

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Ganesh, our 1981 43-foot Wauquiez ketch, is a very commodious, very livable cruising vessel. Even better, her comfy aft cabin is a bit of a Tardis—bigger on the inside than the outside. Few sailing vessels under 55 feet LOA sport such a posh aft cabin. 

Alas, our vessel was designed for northern climes. Her first liveaboard owner spent most of his time in the Med. Her second liveaboard owner, a Frenchman by the name of Roger, brought her to the Caribbean—and promptly installed an opening portlight low in her transom, at the foot of the spacious bunk, to increase ventilation. While I didn’t particularly like the way this mismatched port looked from the outside, I was amazed how effective it was in cooling the boat. 

It made a huge difference in tropical livability. 

One of my concerns about this portlight was how low it was. I thought that even tiny wakes would wash right into the boat—and swamp our huge double-wide bunk. They didn’t. Ganesh has tremendous reserve buoyancy aft. Amazingly, we could even leave the port open offshore, while running downwind in brisk conditions. Even better, the rain didn’t enter while at anchor because the boat pivoted into the wind.

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Port Hole into Hell

Thus, the port that I disdain—well, I fell in love with it. We’d leave it open for months at a time in settled weather. 

Of course, the Lesser Antilles aren’t very hot. They’re always cooled by the Nor’east Trades. Singapore, however, where we currently reside, is a different matter. We’re directly underneath the equator. Worse, it is windless here nine months out of the year. 

What to do? 

Above the small opening port which I mentioned, is a large half-inch Lexan window. The forty-year-old Lexan is old, cracked, and needs to be replaced which is not a problem for us because I custom-made an additional half-inch ‘storm cover’ out of the identical Lexan that we bolt-on while circumnavigating. Thus, we’re watertight and super strong. The strength of a full inch of Lexan is extreme.

Since the center of this transom window is over a foot above the opening port, I came up with a brilliant idea while sweating in Singapore. I’d mount a much larger opening port in the middle of that Lexan window. Then when we returned to ocean sailing, I would replace the cracked original Lexan with new Lexan, and remount the storm covers also made of Lexan—and sail off. 

Cool, eh? 

Being a man of action (rather than, say, thought or intellectual capacity), I immediately took a jigsaw to the window, installed the larger, much higher opening port—and enjoyed the now-cooler cabin. 

Of course, I patted myself on the back. Am I a genius or am I a genius? While other sailors might have agonized, I took bold, decisive action. Hooray for me! 

Now, let me tell you a little bit about S’pore—besides the fact that I live here almost for free in the world’s most expensive city. 

It’s small—just a tiny chip of continental Malaysia that has broken off. It would be totally unremarkable, except for its clever, money-hungry residents and an amazing fellow named Lee Kuan Yew.   

Lee talked nearly all the ships in the world to headquarter out of Singapore. I won’t go into the exact details of how he did this (“Free,” he repeatedly shouted truthfully, “Totally free!”)—only that he managed it. We have thousands of ships moving through and around S’pore continuously—plus thousands more at anchor, and, believe it or not—thousands more under repair. Oh, and they are loading and unloading too. We’re also the busiest transshipment port in the world, which is why we have the wealthiest citizenry on the planet as well. 

Of course, wealthy people like their yachts. And, of course, their watersports. Asia is totally enthralled with exercise. 

Oh, and back to those freighters—each one requires supply vessels, oilers, tankers, ferries, and a dozen other craft to service it. 

The point is—there is no body of water in the world more crowded and more active with large commercial craft, floating cranes, and drifting oil rigs than Singapore. Plus yachts. Ditto kayaks, foiling kiteboards, and various pedal boats. And these craft are all jammed together in a glorious chaotic mess. Half the shipping tonnage on earth passes right by my porthole daily. 

Efficiently and fast—really fast. 

Did I mention the current? There’s a big tide here. The current roars. Which is nice because 99% of the time, it keeps Ganesh aligned parallel to the ship traffic that is speeding past within boathook reach. 

That leaves, alas, 1% of the time. Four times a day our vessel is momentarily held sideways to the stream of rushing freighters which, of course, kick up some of the largest, most dynamic wakes in the world. 

The practical effect of this is that every three months or so, we get a solid 14” by 7” stream of water shot into the boat through our open port… right onto our (increasingly crusty) bunk. This solid stream of exploding corrosive salt water not only nearly drowns us and often floats away our foam rubber mattress, it strikes with such massive force that all my electronics and computers in my aft cabin writing office are doused as well—woe is me, dude!

Or, as my darling wife likes to put it, “Aren’t you clever, Fatty!”

Yes, people wonder how my wife and I have managed 52 years of wedded bliss. The answer is simple. 

“I stay with him because,” she enjoys telling the milling crowds of Asians watching from the Changi beach every day, “I can’t believe that Fatty is going to do something stupider tomorrow than he did today!”

It’s true. In my own weird way, I continuously reach “within” for excellence. 

Of course, I could just dog-down the portlight. Simple right? And lay there, stewing in my own juices. I’ve done this. For months at a time. But eventually, my resolve dissolves and I foolishly open the bloody port once again. Within minutes, I experience a tidal wave of damp destruction—think soppy hanging lockers, dripping bookshelves, and stuck-together clumps of precious literary manuscripts. 

Of course, I take it all as a Zen challenge. After all, I’m an internationally famous marine advice-giver. 

Here’s the bottom line—no matter how worthless that advice might be, I’m still gonna cash the check! 

Once again, my wife Carolyn puts it succinctly, “Lots of yachtsmen around the world who haven’t met Cap’n Fatty—nor seen our vessel up close—respect him!”

Regardless, I nobly soldier on. 

My first idea was to put double screens on the port—to sort of strain the force out of the regularly-arriving tsunami. This didn’t work too well. When we surfaced from our sleep, sputtering indignantly for air, I had one of the twisted screens around my bald head. 

Damn, the indignities of aging!

Next, I tried to mount a curved plywood half-trough, sugar-scoop-style barrier outside—exterior to the transom—but, alas, the force of the arriving wake swept it away like it was paper mâché. 

Another similar device managed to funnel water in, not keep it out. 

Next, I went with a hinged piece of oversized Lexan that would—from the force of the onrushing wave—bang upwards and savagely plug the hole. While this did, indeed, lessened the tonnage of water taken aboard, it also increased the pressure of the squirts. Now things in the walk-thru were getting doused!

I shifted to fabrics—praying that an upside-down awning of Sunbrella would save the day—no way, Jose!

Perhaps my stupidest idea was mounting a folding swim platform that would hinge up and block the whole area from incoming tidal waves. I couldn’t make the hinges strong enough without making them too heavy. Plus, it would be instant death if we were getting into our dinghy at the wrong moment… think ‘eight foot wide transom rat trap’ on a deadly scale.

No, things aren’t going too well. 

My wife is now sleeping in the main cabin and I’m regularly wearing my Henry Lloyd foulies, a snorkel, and a safety harness to bed. 

Why? I’d hate to be dozing and unceremoniously swept out the hatch during a particularly strong freighter wake. 

Ah, the joys of living aboard during one’s sunshine years! (end) 

Editor’s note: Fatty and Carolyn continue to decrease the value of their nearly worthless boat on a daily basis. 

Motor Sailing and Other Sad Tales

Free Charters: No Experience Necessary!

What to do with Garbage and Trash While Cruising?


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  1. Fatty you need to return to these awful windy islands and leave that sporific place behind: Its not free but the wind is but I hope you plug well that porthole: though I liked your head hanging out of it-thought it was a poster. Perhaps with a little less stress and a lot or Rogain your hair would grow back?

    Happy Christmastide
    J and LL


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Cap'n Fatty Goodlander
Cap'n Fatty Goodlanderhttp://fattygoodlander.com/
Cap’n Fatty Goodlander has lived aboard for 53 of his 60 years, and has circumnavigated twice. He is the author of Chasing the Horizon and numerous other marine books. His latest, Buy, Outfit, and Sail is out now. Visit: fattygoodlander.com

So Caribbean you can almost taste the rum...

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