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Lessons - What we learnt the hard way (On Part 1 of our Loop)

Before we officially started our Loop, some might recall, we had a few issues with water infiltrating the boat. After a lot of trial and error, it was finally resolved, much to our relief. Everything went well for a while, we had zero issues, and then, as everyone knows, things will start happening. Some of it was normal wear and tear, some of it was user related (or other) and all of it was a learning experience.

- Electronics will fail

When we were on the Trent Severn Waterway we lost our GPS/Charts on our Lowrance device. We both automatically jumped to the conclusion that our "electronic chip" was at fault, and that we would need a new one. We always carry paper charts on the boat and have a magnetic compass, so it was easy for us to fall back on those until we could buy a new chip. We weren't very worried about it. 

Once we got the USA/Canada/Mexico charts, we quickly realized we had a totally different issue. The chip was not the issue, it was the GPS external antenna. Papi did a lot of trouble shooting to find out our GPS has an internal antenna which we can switch to and have a working GPS with charts and location. The external antenna problem was resolved by changing the fuse. 

- Water does not need a very big hole to leave a big mess

We were in Georgian Bay when we started to notice water in the middle sections of the bilge/hull area. We assumed it was caused by recent rains. We were using the shop vac to clean it up regularly. We waited until we were in Little Current to try to find the source of the water. We checked everywhere, until the only place we hadn't was under the head (toilet). So Papi took the "head" (whole bathroom) apart. The toilet and the floor (and all the parts) were everywhere!!! Total chaos... We found the area where water was coming from and Papi was able to clean and get rid of the bit of rot caused by the water infiltration. But even with all that done - we still had water coming in. Not a lot - but a problem.

We didn't have a chance to take the whole thing apart again until we were in Sault-Ste-Marie. Papi started to work on it much earlier in the day, and since this was the second time he dismantled the head, it was much faster and less chaotic. He could see the water trace much better during the day and once he peeled back the vinyl wall covering he found the culprit! The gel coat and fiberglass isn't very thick and you can actually see light and shadows through it on a sunny day. There was a tiny micro pin hole in the side at the same height as the floor molding which you could see a white spot/hole.  As he pointed it out to me, we watched what looked like tear drops leak in. 

A fellow boater we had spoken with much earlier on our trip had suggested we always have a product call "Marine - JB Weld" on board for emergency repairs. We are happy we listened to him and had it on hand. It worked perfectly. We have not had any more water in that area (and we still check regularly).   

- Don't blindly trust that a marina's equipment works - double check after a pump out if in doubt

We usually do a pump out (empty the black tank/toilet waste) whenever we gas up or every 6 to 7 days. Some marinas have better pumps and or staff that are a bit more proactive. We had a very unpleasant experience where the job was not done properly due to the pump station not "vacuuming"... 

When you flush the toilet on our boat, you take the water from the river and it rinses the bowl... When you flush and you don't see clear water or worst, you see water rising after you're done - you start to worry... 

The horrible smell when Papi lifted the floor panels above the tank almost made us cry. You could see the liquid bubbles dripping from the elbow connecting the hose from the toilet to the very full holding tank. (that only one hour ago should have been emptied). It was a painful and long process (with our own shop vac and hose) to stop the dripping and clean the hull and under the tank. It left us with an unusable toilet until we could get another pump out at a different marina. I am very lucky Papi doesn't have sensitive gag reflexes - cause I do. I can only repeat - this was a horrible horrible experience. We always take the extra minute now to do a visual check of the tank before the dock staff puts the equipment away. 

- Keep lines inside boat or secured at all times

Everyone knows that you always secure your lines cause bad things can happen. We have a story to share... not one of our better moments to be sure.

The winds were very fierce when we arrived at Mackinaw Island Marina. I was ready to give the starboard stern line (right rear side) to the dock hand at the slip, as Papi was trying to bring the boat between dolphin posts (a new experience for us) when he told me to give the dock hand the forward line instead. I hurried to the deck and was in position to hand off the line when Papi started putting the boat in reverse, then forward (and repeat) until we where close enough for the dock hand to hold the line for us. Unknown to me, as I was trying not to lose my balance and fall overboard and was wondering what the "heck" he was doing, is that one engine had stalled, and that he was also unable to steer the boat - in high winds and waves inside a crowded marina. It was intense to say the lease... I was holding the mid ship line, when he jumped off the boat to grab the stern line, it wasn't there. We secured the lines we could and quickly realized what happened. In my rush to get up front, the line I was holding did not fall into the cockpit as intended.   

As a result, Papi changed into his wetsuit and jumped in the cold Lake Michigan water. It's never a good thing to go into the water at a marina - there is always a risk of electric shock from a boat that could not properly be grounded. It didn't take long to see what the problem was. The line was wrapped around the port (left) side prop, which caused it to stop, and the line was so tight that it damaged the starboard side lower unit cover and had immobilized to the point it would not move/steer anymore. A sharp knife took care of the line so that Papi could start to untangle everything. However, the bilge pump started spitting out water at an alarming rate, while he was still in the water! We had water in the hull now - not good. Every scenario went through our heads, and none of them were very good. We were sure we had damaged the transom seals somehow.

With the props now line free, we took out the shop vac and dried out the bilge/hull as best as we could.  It was clear lake water, so we dumped it overboard, no oil, or colored liquids. We did call a local marine mechanic and he talked Papi through a couple test to do, to ensure that no new water was coming in while we were at the dock. The engines both started no problem, the gages all showed normal readings and the steering moved as it did before. No new water came in and it stayed dry during our stay at the marina. 

We bought new lines as Papi had cut the fender line in his haste to clear the line from the props... (I caught the fender before it floated away). We knew we would have to order another cover, but we were really worried about the water and how our crossing to Charlevoix would go. We were very lucky the damage was not worst than a damaged cover and cut lines. (and that I didn't fall in the water when he had little control over the boat.)  

- Get a quote before any work is done! Or you will pay $$$

We stayed at the Charlevoix Municipal Marina (awesome place) and decided to get an oil/filter change and maintenance done, and order the cover while we were there. We got an excellent service and we were happy with the technician who came to the boat. However, they do not provide quotes, the hourly rates are posted, but how can we guess how long things will take? We were floored when the charge showed up on our visa statement. A positive experience got soured. 

- Don't wait / forget to replace broken clamps/collars 

Papi is very diligent about checking the engines and other systems. Tightening screws, bolts, checking levels and belts - he's been on top of things. However, we did a big "oops". Back in Georgian Bay, Papi noticed that one of the two clamps/collars on a couple of the manifolds exhaust had broken off. We would need to buy a few 4" clamps to replace them - we forgot - and were reminded in a rather epic way.

We left Charlevoix, the day after the oil change and headed out onto Lake Michigan. We were planing on making Frankford our next stop. About an hour or so after we left the engines started acting up, Papi slowed down to figure out what was going on. The gages where all normal, but then the bilge pumps and alarm started going off! (I was wishing we were doing a trip by RV at this point!!!) We were to far to turn around and go back to Charlevoix, not close enough to Frankford but lucky us, we were aprox 10 miles off shore at the height of  Leland. I don't recommend calling a marina on the VHF radio with alarms going off - it's hard to hear and understand each other. We were relived they had room to accommodate us. As I was driving, Papi was lifting the floor boards to see what he could do. We knew we hadn't hit anything, could it be something from the oil change?? He was checking everything until I turned around and saw something he hadn't spotted yet. Water was splashing the underside of the floorboards under the bench... It didn't take long for Papi to see that the remaining clamp had broken off and water was coming from there. 

We limped into the marina to realize the following: 

  • You can take a clamp from another area (if they are doubled) in an emergency to replace a broken one. (I can't believe they were only 3$ ea and we didn't have any on board!)
  • The manifold exhaust sensors (they don't have gages) where damaged by the water and need to be replaced - the source of the, stress inducing, non-stopping alarm. 
  • The bilge pumps did their jobs so we could safely make it to a safe harbor
  • The water infiltration at Mackinaw Island  could have been due to this - actually very possibly (it was just two travel days later).

Anyone who decides to live on a boat, and undertake this kind of adventure, likes water and should be comfortable around water. And that is true for us, however I much prefer the water to be outside of the boat, as it is to easy to imagine all the worst case scenarios. Having a dry boat turned out to be our biggest challenge on Part 1 of our Loop. Keeping calm, having good knowledge of our boat and of our competences went a long way towards resolving unplanned issues and emergencies (without freaking out).

As I was writing this, and remembering these events, I was like, really... we should have known better, it's common sense, some of it could have been avoided. But as we've said, every hurdle and challenge has been a lesson learned and we've been gaining more experience and confidence as we go.

Even though Part 1 hasn't been as smooth and uneventful as some thought, we are really looking forward to Part 2.  
Life is an adventure - we'll take the good , the not so good, learn and carry on!

Tina & Papi

"In life, it's not where you go, it's who you travel with" 

– Charles Schultz