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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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