Ready, Set…Not So Fast

For three of the 18 months since she had been splashed, the 100foot aluminum ketch had sat untended at a marina in St. Martin. As the height of the Atlantic hurricane season approached, moving the vessel out of harm’s way became imperative. Fly into St. Martin with friends, spend a few days enjoying the island and provisioning the boat, and then meander south through the Leeward and the Windward Islands and eventually tuck into Curacao, where she would be safe through the fall. The plan seemed so simple and carefree.

By the time I arrived, the owner had unsealed the aluminum girl and had been living aboard for a few days. She smelled a little ripe, but she just needed some airing out, he assured me. “ Almost everything works, and it only takes a couple of days to make her ready to sail again, ” he said confidently.

But I wondered, did she just need an “ airing out ” or was there more to this tale?

You should have seen the amount of growth on her hull, ” the owner continued. “ The diver insisted on taking photos before he started the job. Had he not shown me the film, I would never have believed that algae could grow that long. ” He held his hands shoulder width apart and then separated them further as if he were telling a fishing story.

It stood to reason, because the dock lines were draped with sheets of green slime where they had been bathed in the Caribbean’s warm waters for three months.

The conversation naturally turned to when we were going to dock out and explore the Caribbean. “ Oh, I need to find an electrician for the instruments. We should be ready to go in a couple of days, ” was the response.

I’ll cut to the punch line: A couple of days stretched into a couple of weeks, and I began to feel as if I was living out the marine version of Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence.

Our electrical issues had to do with the boat being built in France. Everything was initially installed to run on 220 volts, yet as the boat ventured out of French waters, 120volt items were added and shorts and surges occurred. We were able to find decent electronics specialists by asking around, and they put systems back in order. Using the systems when at sea was a bit difficult, even with programs we knew, because English is our primary language and many the manuals and computer program displays were in French.

The grey water and black water systems proved to be the most maddening. The longer we were on the boat, the less convinced we were that the ripeness would disappear. One day, I returned to the boat and found all of the floor panels pulled up in the aft living quarters and the forward crew quarters. The owner was busy tracing hoses and flushing systems with fresh water and “ product ” as he referred to it. (I’d like to say that it was eco-friendly “ product, ” but…)

Once convinced that he had one set of pumps and hoses working, he continued with the others. There were four working heads and showers, a clothes washer, a kitchen sink and a bath on board, so he was busy for days. “ The delivery crew didn’t clean it out properly and the drains and the pumps got clogged with hair and soap, ” he rationalized aloud.

Well, maybe. When everything was sorted out, the automatic bilge pumps were set low in the bilge, but not so low that everything was pumped dry. Dank water sat there for months, and the smell permeated everything. The shower and sink pumps were undersized and, yes, hair and soap scum does have to be cleaned out of drains. Finally, a hose clamp had never been installed, or it had fatigued, and when a fatigued clamp lets go, it’s a nasty mess.

Guess what creatures are attracted to moisture in the bilge, open boxes of cereal and crackers and also find hair and soap scum attractive? Before we left port, roaches large and small met their death in all of the roach hotels that we hid out of sight the moment we spotted the first one.

The inflatable dinghy had endured the transatlantic passage and three months in the garage without any attention. Needless to say, it didn’t start with the turn of a key. Treat your outboard motors kindly and don’t give gunk the opportunity to heat up, turn into a resin and then get shaken around.

Eventually, we reached that late afternoon when everyone converged on the boat to finish his or her work. It was comical. The cushion maker, her infant and friend were doing the final fitting of the cockpit cushions; the instrument specialist was finishing his programming; the delivery captain was still fixing grey and black water pumps; and the riggers were up the mast. All of this, just as showered and perfumed friends came by to join our sweaty selves for sunset cocktails.

The bottom line: Boats need attention. Large boats need a lot of attention, and most can’t be sealed up quickly following a transatlantic passage and left to sit for three months in the warm water, heat, humidity and storms of the Caribbean summer.

Though I think the owner found humor in the exercise and made a lot of friends during his extended stay in St. Martin, it would have been well worth his time, effort and expense to have a knowledgeable person routinely check all of the systems on the boat and report back to him. As is a popular saying among owners of boats large and small: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.