Triton has the Sniffles Again -
August 8, 2002
Triton gets a runny nose when it rains
One of the discouraging aspects of many boat maintenance projects is the numbing regularity with which they must be repeated. Bottom paint is designed to either fall off or lose its toxic components through leaching. When you slap on a couple of coats, you're only buying time. You know it, the paint companies know it, and the barnacles know it. Stainless steel is just that - it stains less, but it still stains. As you polish off all those rust spots on the lifeline stanchions you know you'll be doing it again in a few months.
The only way we've found to break the cycle of re-coating exterior wood is to adjust our sense of aesthetics. "I think the natural look is quite attractive," Eileen said one day, and tossed her varnish brush into the trash bin. "That grey patina on the teak gives the boat an authentic look." David nodded in agreement. "Those other boats with all the glossy wood are incredibly garish, no class at all."
As for the fibreglass topsides, we started out with a twenty foot rule - our wax and polish job had to look good from twenty feet away. Minor blemishes were acceptable. Our standards have gradually shifted and now we have a hundred foot rule. Anything short of a collision with a container ship doesn't need to be addressed. "After all," we reasoned, "We're at anchor 99% of the time. If we hear anyone making snide comments about our wax job, we know they're anchored too close and should move."
While we've learned to lower our expectations to meet the reality of our maintenance schedule and budget, we can no longer ignore Triton's runny nose. Triton is the name we've given a wooden mask that is strapped to our mast inside the main salon. We bought Triton in a highland market a few years ago when we were waiting out hurricane season in Guatemala's Rio Dulce. He has a beard and a crown of fishes. He fit our image of the half fish, half human son of the sea god Poseidon, although we doubt the Mayan artist who carved him was very familiar with Greek mythology.
Triton serves two useful purposes. When we're doing a passage in heavy seas, we appeal to him to calm the waves. Mariners have been doing this since the time of Odysseus. It didn't work for Odysseus (he was buffeted around the Mediterranean for ten years before he finally made it home) and it usually doesn't work for us, but it makes us feel good nonetheless. Triton's other primary function is to tell us if it's raining. When it rains, our deck leaks at the mast partners and Triton's nose begins to drip.
Unfortunately, Triton's nasal condition has been worsening lately. It used to be that a good downpour would produce a slight case of the sniffles and we could stem the flow by stuffing some towels around the mast above Triton's crown. Now, a mere drizzle will result in a major outpouring and we have to place a plastic dish basin on the cabin sole under Triton's nose or risk sinking the boat. We endured this deteriorating situation while in the Bahamas this past spring mainly because it didn't rain much. Since arriving in the Chesapeake this summer, however, we've had some pretty wild thunderstorms that have threatened to turn the main salon into a wading pool. Triton's runny nose took number one priority on our list of maintenance projects when we hauled the boat a couple of weeks ago.
To put things in perspective, our deck has always leaked at the mast. This is not unusual. John, the owner of the boatyard where we're currently parked, claims that masts were an insidious invention intended to channel water into a boat's interior. We've tried a lot of things to staunch the flood. A couple of years ago, we thought we had found the ultimate solution. A fast talking salesman at a boat show convinced us to part with a hundred bucks to buy an epoxy-type product that you pour into the space between the mast and mast partners. You have to make a temporary dam on the underside of the deck to contain the goop while it sets up. Everything was going well until we got to the part in the instructions that suggested if you don't want your mast to become a permanent extension of your deck, you have to prevent the goop from sealing to the mast partners. You do this by coating the surface with Vaseline. Since we could foresee having to unstep the mast in the future, we got out the jar of Vaseline. As we smeared it on, we realized our hopes for a watertight deck had just been shattered.
Approximately 900 square feet of sail area can put considerable pressure on our mast when we're underway, and, combined with the force of waves pounding the hull and deck, most things on Little Gidding tend to bend, flex and shift a bit. It's not surprising, then, that what started out as a slight separation between the mast and deck has assumed chasm-like proportions. A few days ago, David got out an assortment of tape, hose clamps and caulking compounds and spent a few hours adhering various parts of the mast, deck and himself together. Our mast boot now looks like something out of an old horror movie, "The Return of the Mummy". It hasn't rained since.
A history of damp failures has taught us not to get our hopes up. Eyeing David's handiwork, Eileen commented, "Actually, it won't be so bad if Triton's nose still drips a little. How else will we know if it's raining?"
Cheers, David & Eileen