Wednesday, February 10, 2010

I learned about sailing from that: Always carry tools! And spares!

The year was 2001 and we had just left the dock for the San Juan Islands. Not long after killing the engine and raising sail, while Eolian was sailing herself under autopilot, I was walking the decks, enjoying the sun, the wind, and the boat moving thru the water.

Then I heard the splat of the bilge pump discharging onto the passing sea. It didn't run long... but it shouldn't have been running at all. So I went looking. After pulling up the third floorboard, I found the problem - there was sea water dripping off of everything. It seems that one of the sea water hoses on the engine had split, and had sprayed sea water all over everything. The hose was still drooling.

I shut off the relevant sea cock, and cleaned up the salt water to try to avoid corrosion problems. I removed the (short - about 3" long) hose, and went thru the ships stores looking for something to use as a replacement. Nothing aboard would match the approx 1 1/4" dia. Eventually, Jane found a short piece of 1" white plastic head hose that I had bought to use as a chafe guard on the docklines - this was the best we were going to do.

So I fired up the inverter (wonderful invention!) and heated up the heat gun. I softened the plastic hose enough so that I could stretch it over the pipes, but it was a tricky operation. This hose connected two 1 1/4" pipes whose ends were about 1 1/4" apart. This means that the hose had to be bent and slipped over one pipe far enough to get the other end into the gap, and then slid back so that it would go over the other pipe end. The tricky part was that if the hose cooled enough to become stiff, it was unlikely that I could reheat it with the pipe inside it. Moving quickly was paramount. I got it on almost completely and applied the hose clamps again. Starting the engine, it dripped a little, but that was all. In the picture, the black hose is the one that ruptured and the white one is the one I stretched into place with the heat gun.

Later, we pulled into Everett and walked up to the West Marine store near the marina. In the "scrap" bin was a short piece of rubber hose the right size, which they gave us. I installed it and we continued with our voyage.

When we returned, I replaced all the hoses on the engine on the theory that if one had failed, the others were near to failing.


  • Inspect the hoses on your engine - replace any that appear questionable in any way. Do this at the dock - it is much easier than under way.
  • Carry tools and supplies to make repairs under way. Be ready to improvise!
  • You can get an amazing assortment of hoses at an auto parts store. I was able to replumb the engine on Eolian using pieces cut from only two hoses.
  • In an emergency, you can reduce the pressure in the cooling system to near zero if you remove the radiator cap (let the engine cool first!). With little pressure, duct tape, or even electrical tape can provide a temporary repair.

Years ago when I was a kid, I used to read Flying magazine. I particularly enjoyed a long-running series of articles entitled "I Learned About Flying From That." Each article was written by a pilot, who humbly admitted to having made a mistake, and then having lived, told about it in the hopes that others would not have to make the same mistake. I thought then that it was a good format, and I still think that now. This series of postings is my attempt to recreate that article series with a new subject and new technology.

(If you would like to help others to learn from your mistakes, please send your article to: WindborneInPugetSound at gmail dot com)

Note: This material appeared first here as a portion of a larger posting,


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