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water’s coming in!

Posted by on February 12, 2013

While this post is a little out of line, I want to let everyone know where we are and what happened on our journey here.

January 28, 2013 . . . enroute from Jamaica to San Blas Islands, Panama . . . NE winds 25 knots, seas 8-12 feet . . . starting at about 1530 . . .

“Water’s coming in!” Colin was shouting. I immediately put the helm on autopilot and ran into the salon. The escape hatch was gone, and water was rushing into the salon with nearly every wave. I grabbed a nearby towel to cover the hole and prevent any upward spraying of water, and yelled at the kids to get more towels. Then, I yelled for Wil who was on his off-watch nap. For the next day and a half, we had to work to keep water out of the boat.

Wil grabbed a square sheet of PVC to put down over the floor grate of the missing hatch, and then had Colin stand on it. Justine and I worked quickly to soak up as much of the water off the floor with an arm load of beach towels. Wil went on a search for a piece of plywood that we supposedly had onboard.

Suddenly, Colin went slightly airborne as a wave gushed up through the floor, sending Colin on a brief surfing moment atop the PVC sheet. Immediately, I hopped on top of the PVC, replacing Colin with my weight. Water still continued to flow out from under the PVC sheet, so we added beach towels on and around the escape hatch area. As Wil continued his search for the plywood, I remained on top of the PVC sheet and towels, and the kids kept soaking up water from the floor.

When Wil returned with Colin’s skim board to use to nail down to the floor, the look on Colin’s face told us we’d better try something else. We made sure to let Colin know that we may not have a choice, and we could easily repair or replace his skim board. Fortunately for Colin, Wil found some wooden dinghy seats that could be used.

The next step in the process was going to be tricky. In order to be able to stop water from coming in, we needed to remove the towels and PVC sheet, and lift the floor grate. We were going to get drenched with every wave. Therefore, we got all of our ducks in a row before removing even the first towel.

Working quickly, we tied string to the dangling empty frame, pulled it up, and secured it to the floor grate. Next, we screwed the floor grate down, the electric drill taking on some green water. After sticking a foam seal on one side of the dinghy seats, the seats were placed on top of the floor grate and screwed down to the floor. Then, after using a hot air gun to dry the area, we sealed the edges with shrink tape. Of course, this took a few tries because every time the edge was just dry enough to put down the tape, another wave would seep in from under the dinghy seats. We finally got the tape in place, and covered the area with freshly wrung towels.

We were finally able to take a breather. However, we weren’t sure our contraption was totally secure. As bigger waves hit underneath the bridgedeck, air and water were being forced under the floor board, and spraying up the salon wall. It wasn’t a lot of water, so we placed a rolled towel along the edge of the floor board to contain the water. Then, we went to work soaking up the remaining water and wringing out towels.

Eventually, the floor didn’t hold the force of the waves anymore. Before we knew it, one wave forced it’s way under the floor, ripping the floor up along its edge near the wall. Wil quickly grabbed the drill, and with me sitting on top of everything again, we added extra screws along the edge of the floor.

Again, we were secure for the moment, but more was going to have to be done. Our brainstorming continued. We had to figure out a way to slow the force of water coming in under the floor board. We came up with a new plan, but we would have to work quickly to take apart and reassemble our floor contraption. No matter what, we were, along with everything else, going to get wet again.

After undoing the dinghy seats and floor grate, we stuffed a waterproof IKEA shopping bag with two bed pillows into the open hatch area, allowing the bag edges to come up from under the floor grate. Then, we screwed down the grate and dinghy seats again, and returned to soaking up water and wringing out heavy beach towels.

IKEA bag with bed pillows plugging the hole

dinghy seats screwed down over top the hatch






attempting to stay water tight for a day and a half

Water and air were still working their way in along the edges, but not nearly as much. We covered the entire area with towels again, but we knew we still couldn’t stop there. The screws would only hold for so long. We needed extra weight to hold everything down.

Wil came up with a plan for a support brace. He placed a block of wood on top of our contraption, a strip of wood on the ceiling, and wedged a boat hook vertically between them. While everything was a lot more secure, I hoped we weren’t going to end up with a hole in the ceiling!

Our watches for the remainder of the passage consisted of a new chore. The towels needed wringing every few of hours, and the bilge needed to stay pumped. The automatic bilge pump worked beautifully. However, an area of bilge with our speed and depth transducers would fill first before draining into the deeper bilge. Therefore, to keep the electrical wires from staying submerged, we used a hand pump and carried the water out in a bucket.

During this time, we were in twice daily radio contact with Magellan Net boats. s/v Saliander had sailed out of Providencia on their way to Porvenir in the San Blas, and they would be arriving a day ahead of us. If we were going to Porvenir, he had a piece of plywood we could use when we got there. He also offered to keep their radio on frequency throughout the night, although we didn’t think that it would be necessary. It was a comfort to know we weren’t alone.

At the same time, we were also in daily radio contact with family members and another good ham friend. Between all of them, there was a wealth of information pouring in for how to possibly deal with getting parts ordered and sent to Panama. And, we received extremely helpful information from s/v Morning Glory who is currently in New Zealand, but they had been in Panama last season.

At first we thought we would alter course for Portobelo, where we could have easier access to repairs. However, after weighing all options, and knowing we would have to beat against wind and waves from Portobelo back to the San Blas Islands, we chose the San Blas as our destination instead.

water rushed in, getting under the floor and to the bilge

bilge area needing to stay dry










We arrived in the San Blas Islands on January 30 at about 0230, so using waypoint information we received from Magellan Net boats, we anchored in the lee of the Chichimi Cays. After the sun came up, we sailed over to Porvenir for clearance into Panama and the Kuna Yala nation. Then, we moved around to the back side of Sail Rock to be with s/v Saliander who was ready and waiting to help us with repairs.

an empty bag was discovered on our arrival to San Blas

drying out underneath the floor boards












A piece of plywood was cut to fit into the hatch frame. A smaller piece of plywood was cut so that it could be attached to the main piece of plywood, as well as fit through the center of the hatch frame. Once the two pieces were attached to each other, they were sealed with epoxy.

items found swimming in water

sealing the plywood with epoxy







After much measuring and fitting, the plywood was eventually mounted in the frame with fast cure 4200 caulk. In order to do this, Wil had to lie on his back in the dinghy under the boat, while I assisted from the inside. I shouldn’t dare comment on how much caulk ended up in his hair, or the frustration that went along with being in a moving dinghy when things needed to be still.

With Wil still holding the plywood in place from underneath, we thru-bolted the plywood to another piece of pre-measured wood that we placed on top of the original handle brackets. For additional support, another block of wood was placed next to the thru-bolts, between the plywood and the other piece of wood. Then, through drilled holes, precisely measured for proper location, we ran string through the holes and up through the floor grate to smaller blocks of wood on top. By turning the wood blocks, we created a tourniquet that pulled up on the plywood, sealing the hatch closed.

We are water tight again, and will relax and enjoy the San Blas Islands until it’s time to head towards a more modern civilization.

During this entire experience we realized that there may be up to thousands of miles between us, but we are surrounded by so many wonderful people who were able to help us in time of need. We thank you!

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10 Responses to water’s coming in!

  1. Jen

    Wow–that is excitement that you didn’t need. We were wondering about your tweet that your hatch was gone (referenced it in one of our posts); glad you were able to handle it so well…

    • Jenny

      That definitely was excitement we didn’t need! Of course, we now highly recommend looking after the caulking around the lens of those escape hatches. In a brief moment online, we got to see your reference to our hatch. We had a good laugh. We should be in Shelter Bay in a few days with more consistent internet. We’ll look forward to catching up on what’s going on with your new boat.

  2. Heather, Derek and Grant

    Oh, Jenny! We are very, very glad this wasn’t worse. Did Wil find out what happened to the plexi and/or frame to cause this escape hatch failure? Have you contacted the manufacturer? We know you are going to love the San Blas and we’re so glad you have friendly boats around you who will keep an eye out for you and help when and if you need it. One of the very nicest things about cruising — because the way it works the best is if we treat each other boat as part of our brotherhood of cruisers. Great job spotting, reporting, and surfing indoors, Colin!

    • Jenny

      We’re glad it wasn’t worse either! And it was definitely a time when we were glad we were in a catamaran, knowing we wouldn’t sink. Although a monohull doesn’t have these hatches to worry about! The culprit was the caulking around the lens of the escape hatch. We could hear the suction sounds through the air vent on the hatch as the waves hit the glass. Obviously, the suction was too great for the existing caulking, and a wave literally sucked the glass right off, taking both handles with it (both handles were closed). We’ll be re-bedding the other escape hatch once we reach Shelter Bay this week. We haven’t had enough internet to contact the manufacturer yet, but it’s on the list.
      The San Blas was a wonderful place to rest and regroup. Now, we’re focusing on our canal transit. So exciting! We’re looking forward to more extensive internet, so we can catch up with everyone else’s news.

  3. James Outland

    Hey Guys,
    Wow, sounds like a very scary day or two you had. I was just about to write saying it was odd we had not heard much and by the looks of your tracks I felt something a bit odd. I am so very glad to know everyone is ok. Reading your stories I really have to say you guys have team work. You know if there is anything we can send or help with we are just an email away. Steve and I will send anything you need or try our best to get it to you. I am amazed since I have been reading blogs and talking to cruising customers just how many hatches fail at some point. I never realized the underside of the cat would take such a beating but in 12 ft seas I guess everything is vulnerable. It was great to hear from everyone even if it was such a scary event. Its always interesting to hear it all but hopefully there wont be anymore failures and it will be smooth sailing. Thank you for adding life to our lives, best, James

    • Jenny

      Hi James! The whole hatch thing has been enlightening, to say the least. Not something we want to repeat, and we’ll be re-bedding the other escape hatch once we arrive in Shelter Bay this week. I regret we haven’t been able to do any posts lately. Internet has been a hard thing to come by in the San Blas. But, we are now making our move towards the Panama Canal, and are eager to explore this next new phase. We do know that if we need anything, we can definitely contact you . . . thank you! Hoping to catch up on some blogging once we have a more consistent signal. Hope you all are staying warm in good ole NC! Jenny & crew

  4. David

    Wow, that will be a good story to tell over and over at the campfire! Good fix on the run.

    • Jenny

      Definitely a good story to tell! Not an experience we ever care to repeat though! Although, it does make us realize just how capable we are when something goes wrong. We’ve always known that it’s not a matter of “if” water comes in the boat, but a matter of “when”. Thank you for your kind words. Jenny & crew

  5. James Outland

    Hello everyone! Well I have to report that my geography is improving. Following you on spot and trying to guess where you go next has made me much smarter about geography. Maybe I never learned it much in school because it just seemed mystical and not really tangible.I think following you along your journey really has opened my eyes. It’s kinda fun guessing your next port and thinking why you choose the next one. It will be interesting the next few months to see what direction you take. Just a comment. Warm thoughts, James

    • Jenny

      Hi James, We’re learning our geography too! It is fun learning about each area. We know our general direction, we look at the charts, and read the guide books, but each port is still a complete surprise when we get there. Love hearing that you even try to guess our next port! What fun! Jenny & crew

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