Welllll, that didn’t go quite as planned.  I was hoping to have sailed Panama by now, but instead my boat is still in St. Kitts and I’m back home in Lake Tahoe.

What the hell happened?

In a few words, I was a bit naive.  I had planned on leaving my boat in storage for six months, but six turned into eighteen thanks to that damn blood clot.  And even though I thought I left the boat in good condition, a year and a half in storage and two hurricanes really put the hurt on it. 

I should have come down a few weeks earlier just so I wouldn’t be rushed to meet my weather window and be home by Christmas.

Failing in diesel management

And I screwed myself over.  When I put the boat up in storage, I had fifteen gallons of diesel in my twenty gallon tank.  Good enough, right? 

Nope.  The damn thing needs to be topped off.  Even that small amount of extra space created a good amount of condensation cycles over the 18 months.  And that created a nice habitat for all the critters that live in diesel tanks, despite my biocide treatment. 

And not having cleaned the tank in a few years, that contributed as well.  There was a good amount of water and dead microbes in the tank.  A thick white sludge, if you will.

diesel sample

From my diesel tank: old diesel, dead microbes, and water, top to bottom.

So my engine wouldn’t start.  I couldn’t find anyone on the island who would clean a small tank like mine, so I tried myself with what I had aboard.  It was futile.  The tank was too dirty.  I could have waited over a week for parts to make my own diesel polisher, but I also had to order some specialty parts for my engine, and those were going to take over two weeks.

Boats leak.  And leak.

Add on top of that the mysterious water intrusion from my mast step.  I had some puddles of water in my cabin below the mast.  I could see water stains coming down the bulkhead next to the wooden compression post that holds my mast up.  The compression post was starting to split, and the floor below showed signs of warping. 

Why is this a problem?  Well, like I said, the compression post supports my mast.  And if water seeped into the layers of decking made of wood, that wood is now rotted and structurally compromised.

cabin sole

The cabin sole was covered in quite a bit of water, coming from two troubling sources.

I’m fortunate to have the folks at Pacific Seacraft at my disposal, though the company came under new ownership since the Orion 27 was built.  They were fairly positive that the area around the mast step is solid fiberglass, because that’s their standard now.  This would alleviate any concerns about structural integrity.  The water intrusion would simply be from the wiring conduit being flooded from hurricane rains.  But they can’t speak to how they were built in the early 80s with 100% certainty.

So if my mast & deck are compromised, and I don’t have a reliable engine, now is not the time to sail across the Caribbean Sea!  A low has been hanging over northern Panama for weeks, leaving light & variable winds, and I’d most likely have to motor for at least the last hundred miles.

I’ll be back in the spring!

I’m home doing some research, ordering parts, and coming up with a solid plan.  Call this a reconnaissance mission.

My next window for sailing the Caribbean Sea starts in early March, so you can bet your ass I’ll be back down to the boat by March 1st!

Sure, I’m disappointed.  But I’d still call this trip a success. 

I originally started storing my boat here in St. Kitts in 2013 after another medical emergency.  I came back in early 2015 to do some recon, assess her condition, and returned in late 2015 to fix her up and get her back in the water.  This is more or less the same situation, just shifted a few months to the right. 

I decluttered & organized a lot of the interior (cramming your whole life into 27′ is an art), repaired what I could, and made notes for some improvements I’ll make when I return in a few months.

So, I didn’t meet my original intent, but I’d still say I felt accomplished!

Rubbing salt in the wound

We had our first downpour just hours before I was supposed to leave for the airport.  And I noticed a lot of water coming into the v-berth, apparently from the overhead hatch. 

I was baffled because the gasket was good and I didn’t see any other obvious signs of defect.  Then I put my finger on the underside of the acrylic lens and the whole damn corner just popped right up!  Almost the entire 15″ square lens had become unglued! 

This explains the big pool of water in my v-berth; it didn’t stand a chance after two hurricanes.  But it didn’t look abnormal.  Just enough to let a good amount of water through. 

This could have been completely catastrophic if I put to sea without noticing this.  Especially, say, at night, when I wouldn’t necessarily see it missing, and seas swept over the deck.  I’d have a cabin full of saltwater!  

So I taped it up really well and added one more thing to the repair list.  This is a problem separate from the water intrusion at my mast.  Glad I found it now though!

forward hatch

Check out Episode 2 of Sailing Saoirse for more:

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