November 17, 2005
Life would be pretty boring if there weren't a few unexpected occurrences to keep things interesting. When we're in the boatyard working on "Little Gidding", we'd just as soon be bored. We don't need any surprises; they usually translate into more misery or more money or both.
Three weeks ago, just after hurricane Wilma had motored across southern Florida, we returned to the Indiantown marina where we had left the boat for the summer (see our last entry, "Luck of the Draw"). The first surprise we discovered was that a fire ant colony had established residence under our boat. Actually, they discovered us. David was just putting the ladder up at the side of the boat when he suddenly started hopping from foot to foot. Eileen walked up with her arms full of bags and said, "You've picked an odd time to dance." The words were barely out of her mouth before she was jumping about wildly as well. We got back in the car, drove to the local building supply store, and loaded up with a lifetime's supply of ant poison.
The ants weren't the only unexpected form of wildlife that had decided to move onboard in our absence. The first night we spent on the hard, we were awakened by a loud plop on the deck, followed by two more in quick succession. "Someone is walking around up there," Eileen whispered, elbowing David in the side.
David mumbled, "Maybe he'll go away. Let's pretend we're not here." Eileen jabbed her elbow harder.
"The person who sleeps on the outside of the berth has responsibility for getting up and repelling intruders," she said.
"I don't remember that rule," David replied as he put on his glasses and grabbed a flashlight.
David climbed out of the cockpit and shone the light forward on the deck. Several little pairs of eyes stared back at him. The deck was littered with tree frogs. He tried to grab one. It jumped down the deck drain. Another hopped under the liferaft and a third sought refuge in a cockpit coaming cubbyhole. David went below. "I hope you like frogs," he said.
The next day we found that small lizards were vying for space with the frogs. One poked its head out of a fold in the cockpit bimini. Several more showed up in various outside lockers. None demonstrated any inclination to abandon ship. "Whose idea was it to leave the boat stored in a swamp?" Eileen asked.
"Hey, it could be worse," David answered. "At least we don't have any stowaway alligators."
"Have you checked the bilge yet?" Eileen countered.
David examined the bilge a while later. He didn't find any alligators, but he did discover that the automatic bilge pump wasn't working. "Put that on the list of boat projects," he sighed. "I guess we should consider ourselves lucky that we don't have any holes in the hull." It was only a few minutes later that he found that we did, in fact, have a hole in the hull. The head of one of the mounting bolts on our grounding plate had completely corroded away. Inertia was all that was keeping it in place.
"That's not the sort of surprise you want to encounter after the boat is launched," Eileen said. "You'd better make sure there aren't any other potential disasters lurking about."
"Like the engine exhaust hose that we've talked about replacing for two years now?" David asked.
"Exactly," Eileen said.
The hose in question is three inches in diameter and twelve feet long and has lived undisturbed in our engine room for eighteen years, since the day our boat was built. It's black and ugly and reinforced with wire. In making its way from the lift muffler to the through-hull fitting under the transom, it assumes more twists and turns than a Clive Cussler adventure novel. There are few things on the boat that appear to be more permanent. It has been giving David nightmares ever since a marine surveyor pointed out that it was cracking in a section where only a very thorough marine surveyor would ever look.
"How am I ever going to get it out of the boat?" David groaned. "And even worse, how am I ever going to cram another hose into its place?"
"Oh, I'm sure you'll find a way," Eileen said brightly. With that note of encouragement, she promptly left for four days to attend the St. Petersburg sailboat show, where she was promoting her music.
It was probably a good thing that Eileen was not within earshot when David descended into the engine room the next day and began his assault on the hose. He did not utter pleasant words. Armed with pliers, wire cutters, hacksaw, and serrated knife, he was locked in mortal combat with the hose for most of the morning. He cursed the boat's architect for designing an engine room the size and shape of a coffin. He cursed the boat's builder for his liberal use of adhesive caulking. He cursed the hose manufacturer for producing a three inch ID hose that was somehow smaller than its corresponding three inch OD hose barb. But in the end, the hose succumbed and David emerged triumphant. His elation was short-lived. That night, in making a telephone progress report to Eileen, he said, "Now we're committed. The boat has a three inch hole in the stern. We're not going anywhere until we've replaced that hose."
We had to special order the hose because the local marine store only stocked ten foot sections. The new hose arrived a couple of days ago. Eileen decided it was a good time to drive into town and do some provisioning. David grimly hauled the black beast up the ladder and into the cockpit. He snaked it into the engine room through the opening under the helmsman's seat. Much to his amazement, it compliantly made all the necessary turns between through-hull and muffler. He smeared some hose lube on the through-hull fitting and positioned one end of the hose over it. With a wild yell, he threw all of his weight onto the hose. It smoothly slipped into place. "I don't believe it," David said.
He crawled over to the muffler. Dispensing with the war cry, he slid the other end of the hose onto the fitting. It offered no resistance. David shook his head. "I think I've won," he said.
When Eileen got back from town she asked, "How did it go with the hose?"
"Piece of cake," David said.
"That's a surprise," Eileen said.
"Yeah, let's hope it's the last one."