Bailing With a Shovel

By Tom Neale, 12/24/2009


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This morning at around 7:30 AM Mel and I were out with a snow shovel. But we weren’t on a sidewalk or a driveway. We were in our 1985 center console Mako bailing out the snow. It was hard work and it was very cold work. It had snowed almost a foot the night before, and it was still snowing. I’d worried all night about how much was accumulating in the Mako, as it bobbed around at the dock. We’d left our “Chez Nous” down south to come to Virginia to experience a cold Christmas, hoping maybe to see a white Christmas for the first time in many decades. (When you’ve had 19 winters in the Bahamas you begin to appreciate season changes.) This was a classic case of the wisdom of that old saying: be careful what you wish for.

Tom Bails With A Shovel

Around 2:00 AM, I considered going down the hill and out on the dock in the dark, in the blowing snow, to check on my boat, but I didn’t. I knew that this would be dangerous, with branches of snow-laden trees snapping off in the wind and a slippery snow covered dock with frigid near freezing water beneath. So I lay there, listen to the wind roar and the snow hitting the window as though it were sleet, and worried. It was a great feeling, as I cleared the tree line on the shore in the light of morning and saw her still floating proud and high.

We have a friend who, some years back, had a nice center console, well cared for, sitting snugly at a dock, well protected from wind and waves and ice on the water. But there was no way he could have protected it from the unexpected blizzard that dumped untold pounds of snow on the ground, on the trees, on the dock, and, yes, on the boat. He awoke the next morning to find that the weight of the snow had pressed the boat down so far that the water had flooded into the scuppers in the transom. The snow, of course, didn’t run out like rain; it was just piling on, and so the water from the scuppers remained over the deck of the boat, creeping higher and higher as the snow piled on. The water began to find its way through various cracks and crannies to the spaces below. The bilge pump began pumping it out, but this didn’t make the boat rise enough to keep the sea off its deck. Water kept trickling below and finally the battery gave out. With all the weight of the snow on the gunnels, the tilted outboard and the center console, the boat didn’t just settle beneath the waves. It flipped upside down as it settled. What a mess!

Many, if not most boats like this are self bailing. Water from rain and waves will run along the deck and out the stern. There’s a space beneath the deck and the bottom, in which you’ll find tanks, perhaps foam, and a sump aft where the bilge pump takes care of whatever water may find its way down there. Usually there are ports or hatches over the bilge pump area for access. This is a great design concept, and it’s been successful on many boats over many years. But, true to form for boats, there can be problems. Snow can be a big one. Fortunately our Mako was buoyant enough so that all that very heavy snow hadn’t lowered her enough to flood her scuppers. As we threw each heavy shovel full over onto the surrounding ice sheeted water, we wondered how much more she could have taken. Boats in a way are like babies. You’ve got to pay attention to them all the time and you never know what unexpected problems can quickly develop.

If we’re expecting a huge amount of rain or snow (and we almost never expect snow, we’re accustomed to being in southern latitudes during winter months) we’ll temporarily seal with duct tape the edges of the round hatches that are just inside the transom scuppers. These are normally for access to the bilge pump. The rubber O rings are supposed to make them relatively water proof, but one never knows whether water will find its way through if water is standing over them for a period of time.

Tom’s Tips About Bailing With a Shovel

1. Even if ice on the water is very thin, it can be very sharp. It cut into your bottom paint and take it off. It can also cut into the gel coat. This may not happen at first, but will as the ice begins to melt and wind pushes the sharp sheets against your hull.

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I’ve known some people to plug the scupper holes in the transom to “keep the water from coming in.” WRONG. In this type of boat those scupper holes need to be open in normal circumstances so that the water will run out. When you plug them, a very heavy rain storm can sink your boat while it’s sitting at the dock. If you’re expecting a really heavy rain it’s a good idea to check the holes to be sure they’re not plugged with debris such as leaves. And it’s important, when storing the boat on a trailer, to be sure that these scupper holes are kept free. Otherwise water can rise with every rain until the boat is filled like a bathtub.

Some people try to avoid a snow sinking by covering their boats. This can be a good solution. But the cover should be water proof and tight enough (and that’s very tight) to not sag. It should also be peaked enough so that the snow will slide overboard. To achieve this, you must have a well designed and strong structure under the cover to hold it up. If you don’t do it right, a cover can quickly contribute to the problem. And by the time you build the frame and spread the cover, you might as well have pulled your boat out of the water because it’ll be a huge hassle to use it again.

The best thing for me to have done, obviously, would have been to have pulled the boat out and left it sitting on the trailer. But anybody who’s thinking this is not thinking about something else. That something else goes to the essence of owning a center console. At least it goes to one of the very essences in my mind. It’s still rock fishing season. You do some very serious stuff for some good rock fishing and eating—even shoveling snow from your boat.




Copyright 2004-2009 Tom Neale

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