Monday, July 20, 2015 8:30 am – I was informed by Bob (man at the marina) that George (previous owner) had a problem with the bilge pump over the weekend and had a new one installed. Everything is working perfectly according to Bob, good thing given how much water is coming in via the stuffing box. My daughter Elizabeth drives me to Wilmington. At the marina she and I are trying to fill the fuel tank with 5 additional gallons of diesel when she loses her balance. I dive forward to grab her so that she will not fall in. During the lunge I hit the cockpit combing and I hear and fell something pop in my lower left abdomen, in the area of the floating ribs. I was a paramedic for over 20+ years, so I know that this may be potentially bad. It fells like a broken rib and it hurts to take a deep breath… so I take shallow ones. This is not going to stall my departure.
The Start – Setting out… the diesel starter will not turn over, so I have to fiddle with the power connection behind the engine instrument panel that George showed me when we closed on the purchase. After fiddling with the power wires a bit, with Bob at the helm, we get the engine started and it seems to be running fine. I read in the ICW book that there was shallowing on the north side of the channel from the private marina to the ICW, so I planned a route to bare south until I’m clear of the swallowing. On departure day the marina is being dredged and there is a lot of confusion, boats and bares at the marina when I decided to head out. I get to the end of the slips and I’m baring south of the first piling when I slowed to an abrupt stop. Yes, you guessed it, I’m grounded. It seems that the pilings and markers have been reset to the new dredged channel. Not an auspicious start I’m thinking… The dredging crew pulls me off and tell me about the pilings being reset. So departure #2, off again heading for the Wrightsville Bridge, it opened on the hour. Each time I shift my weight from one side to the other, I get a sharp pain in the side. But I’m ignoring it for now. The plan is to motor to a Marina in Hampstead, pull the boat, inspect the bottom, add zincs (which I’m sure are missing), and relaunch to arrive in Swansboro this evening. I get lucky and make the Wrightsville Bridge opening on the top of the hour. I notice as I exit the bridge that the GPS tells me that I’m making about 4 knots, that means there must be a 1 1/2 knot current on the bow. At this rate I will not make the next bridge on time, and I miss the Figure 8 bridge opening and have to wait 30 minutes. My schedule is slipping. I’m past the Figure 8 bridge motoring and I can see that I have no readings on the volt meter, engine temperature, engine RPM, knot meter, or depth sounder. I remember Bob telling me that all the instruments worked when I first inspected the boat, so something is wrong, and since there is no autopilot I’ll be at the helm until we make the marina. So basically I’m motoring by feel alone, it’s a little concerning. After about 2 and a half hours I noticed black smoke coming from the exhaust and can see what looks like black oil in the exhaust water. Oh crap, this can’t be good. I’m worried that the Volvo MD11C might be on its last legs. But I’m not going to pull in anywhere I’m going to keep motoring north for as long as she will keep the prop turning.
The Pull – By 2:30 pm I get to the Marina in Hampstead and I think to myself… if they pull the boat right away I can still get to Swansboro by evening and stay on schedule. But no… there is a power boat to be pulled before mine and the power boat is not even at the marina yet! So I wait, and wait, and wait. It’s now 3:30 pm and I’m still tied up to the finger pier an no way in hell I’ll get to Swansboro today. I call Elizabeth and ask her to come pick me up and take me home after the boat is pulled and blocked. By 4:30 the yard crew is ready to move my boat from outside of the finger pier to inside the pier for the lift. I’m sitting in Elizabeth’s car in the cool AC watching the yard workers. Sitting in the car the only sound is that of the AC fan blowing cold air… so I’m watching the workers thinking to myself that Carlie Chaplin has got nothing on you guys… The yard crew is led by a young man in his mid-thirties and he seems competent enough. They start by tying normal length dock lines together to make them longer, this is so that one man, one very large man on the far finger pier can pull the boat toward the lift point between the two finger piers. I notice that the evening winds have picked up, which is normal, and I guage them at about 10 to 12 knots blowing from the South, the finger piers run east to west. The P323 is tied up on the outside wall of the north finger pier. The yard crew has to move the boat to the end of the finger pier and then pull it into the wind so that it can be backed in between the two piers. On the first attempt they push the boat to end of the pier and then try to pull it broad side to the wind and waves. I’m thinking to myself, these are people who work with boats everyday, and they are trying to pull the boat broadside. Something doesn’t fit… The guy on the furthest pier looks like a small man-mountain, built like a fire plug, damn good thing to he is being pulled across the finger pier toward the water. They give up the first attempt. They tried this same maneuver three more times… not unsurprisingly with the same results. Now I sitting in the car and I know better, but I’ve never inserted myself into a leadership situation without being asked first. Next thing I see is the crew starting to untie the lines and I figure they are giving up. I walk out to talk to the crew chief and ask what the plan is? He says that they cannot move it because of the high winds and they will do it the next morning when the winds are lighter. I’m not feeling good about this and I’m not sure why, but it just does not feel right. I tell him to hold on a minute… I get aboard the P323 and go below and start looking around, looking for a reason to not wait until the next morning, something tells me to look in the bilge. So I pull one of the floor boards and see water to within 1 ½” of the floor boards. I immediately go over to the panel with the new bilge switch and turn it on manual… I’m waiting to hear water pour out the side, and I hear nothing. I place the switch on automatic, still nothing, then back to manual, lots and lots of nothing. I’m figuring that the batteries are dead, something to do with that battery wire behind the engine instrument panel which prevents the engine from starting. I poke my head up through the companion way and tell the crew chief that the boat has to be lifted right now! The bilge pump is not working and she is taking on water. I ask him if it would be alright if a commanded the crew to get the boat into the lift, he agrees. I tell my crew that the plan is to move the boat up the side of the pier, turn the bow into the wind at the end of the pier, keep it pointed into the wind as we push her past the end of the pier and then let her slip backwards into the lift. I assign each man a job, 2 minutes later she is cradled by the lift straps and I’m breathing easier.
The Bad – It’s 5:45 pm and the boat is blocked. I plug in the shore power cord and verify that the battery charger was on. I try the bilge pump switch on manual again and still nothing is happening, so I pulled all the floor boards to see how a brand new bilge pump could have failed so soon. I reach into the water, the water half way up my bicep. In the bilge I pull out 4 wires… all 4 are cut. 3 wires go to the vicinity of the bilge pump and one seems to go to the float switch. No way in hell this pump was ever working. The water is so high I will not be able to see what is actually going on down there until the water is removed. I come to the realization that I’ll need to fix the bilge pump and repack the stuffing box before I can relaunch and continue the trip home. So I’ll need a new schedule, who knows when I’ll get her back in the water again. As Elizabeth is driving me home, I have to wonder… did someone want this boat to be sitting on the bottom with me in it or was this just a case of colossal incompetence. One or two wires might be happenstance or incompetence, but four? It is hard to believe it’s not intentional.
The Ugly – When I first examine the prop and prop shaft they are both completely covered with barnacles, so to are all the through hull transducers and seacocks. The engine water inlet is almost completely closed off by barnacles. I look at the exhaust, the exhaust where I saw what looked like oil and see some black stuck to the transom. I wipe it onto my finger and sniffed it. It smells like soot, it was not oil but soot. That is completely different, I’m starting to feel a little better about the engine, maybe it just needs the injectors cleaned or something simple adjusted.
The original Volvo Penta MD11C