As they say, it's impossible to make plans when you're cruising. Ya never know what could happen next. We sure didn't see this one coming.
After a great long day of traveling from Annapolis to anchor in Rouge Harbor, Maryland we woke up and continued into the C&D Canal, a narrow waterway connecting the Chesapeake Bay and the Delaware Bay.
We enjoyed hot coffee and granola early in the morning as we piloted our way into the canal. As the sun warmed up I decided to sit below in the shade for a minute and when I plopped down on the salon cushion (which is on top of the engine compartment) I noticed a poof of smoke appear.
I quickly ripped off all of the settee cushions and found more smoke and water. We realized the raw water cooling the engine was no longer pumping out of the back of the boat but directly into the engine compartment.
We we're taking on water.
We shut the engine off and closed the thru-hull and thought we were in the clear. Until, we heard a slight trickling sound and discovered an even stronger flow coming in through where the propeller shaft attaches to the drip-less stuffing box. Taking on water from the prop has always been a fear of mine so there was a very quick “oh crap” moment before we sprung into action. I flipped on the bilge pump switch and let that baby drain as best it could.
Being in the narrow canal with lots of weekend boat traffic around we were at risk of drifting into the rocks or another boat. Dropping anchor wasn’t an option anymore with the boat taking on water. Wes waved down a small 14ft whaler with 5 people on board and set up a quick tow to ensure we’d stay in the channel while I called Tow Boat US.
About two minutes had passed.
Wes jumped below and was able to slow the incoming water flow down by holding the prop shaft to the stuffing box. I was on deck switching our tow line from the small whaler to a larger sport fish for safer towing before Tow Boat US arrived. These two passing boats willing to lend a hand felt like angels in the moment and we are so grateful.
When Tow Boat US arrived we set up our third and final tow of the day, a hip tow. With Wes out of sight the helping boats all asked if I was alone on board..
“no, my boyfriend is below trying to stop the leak"
With our tow safely set I began calling the nearest marina praying that they had a haul out lift. They did and were able to clear the slings for an emergency haul out before we arrived. With Tow Boat US’s propulsion I steered us 5.5 nautical miles through the canal and into Summit North Marina.
Wes held tight below for the 45 minute tow to safety which I’m sure felt much longer. Sliding her into those slings was such a moment of relief. We saved our boat! The water never came above the floor boards and stayed below the engine
- it was a great success.
Not knowing what caused this whole ordeal we headed to the marina bar and wracked our brains for answers. Believe it or not the IPAs did not solve the mystery but they sure did help us sleep easier that night.
Finally, after finding a mechanic we got some answers.
The big break down of the epic failure.
With one glance the mechanic saw that the previous owner had constructed some make-shift homemade exhaust mixing elbow literally held in place with tape. When this make shift piece failed the raw water cycling through the engine and the exhaust fumes began filling into the boat instead of out of the transom. But because the water was able to cycle through most of the engine it did not show signs of over heating or any issue from the cockpit gages. It was a real miracle I plopped myself down on the settee and saw the smoke poof out when I did.
Here's a little visual for you..
The failed janky homemade mixing elbow:
A proper stainless steel exhaust mixing elbow:
At this point we have not determined if there is any correlation between the exhaust issue and the drip-less stuffing box failure. From the mechanics first assessment he believes the drip-less stuffing box may not have been installed properly in the first place. Luckily, it doesn't look like any damage was done and that we may just be able to reset the stuffing box coupling but we still need to take a closer look.
We are now searching for new parts and getting ready to have a conversation with our surveyor. How this major issue was overlooked during the survey is concerning as this is exactly what you hire a surveyor to find before purchasing a vessel. We will make sure give you a follow up of that conversation.
Living on the boat on blocks in a yard is a whole different experience but part of the adventure for sure. We are looking forward to finishing the repairs and get to sailing once again!