Putting a boat back in water can be adventurous in itself

Published October 19, 2015 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2015 Susan Scott

BUNDABERG RIVER, QUEENSLAND, Australia >> When I left my sailboat, Honu, here in July, it was in a slip in the marina. But while I was home in Hawaii, my friend found a problem that required taking the boat to dry dock. Colin repaired the boo-boos (fix one, find another), and that made my first chore here to splash the boat, meaning get it back in the water.

Splashing a 37-foot sailboat weighing 20 tons is accomplished with a contraption called a Travel Lift, a machine so huge, loud and odd-looking that it reminds me of a movie-style Transformer.

While I stood on the deck with Colin, workers drove this roaring robot over Honu to straddle her and fastened two giant belts under the hull, front and rear. When all was deemed secure, up rose the boat from its land supports, and off we drove to the launch site, Honu swaying in her slings.

During the short journey, I remembered boatyard tales of belts failing and boats dropping, but all went well and soon Honu was hanging over the water. Because boat engines pump seawater for coolant, you can’t start the motor before the hull is afloat. The driver lowered the slings and boat into the water, and it was time to try the repaired engine. The engine started right up — hooray — but when Colin and I dashed below to check for leaks, we found a geyser of that cooling seawater spurting throughout the engine room.

Quick, get the socket set!

Just as Colin finished tightening two loose hose clamps, plop, into the bilge fell the socket. The marina had assigned Honu a slip, and off I drove. I started out OK, but as I turned in, a gust of wind hit the boat on the side.

As a result, Colin couldn’t throw the rear line to a helper waiting on the dock, so he threw the front (bow) line instead. When the guy pulled on the bow, Honu’s rear end swung far from the dock. Nuts. I was going in sideways.

The result was six men shouting various instructions as Honu drifted askew. Fortunately, the two-slip space was large and empty. Eventually, with the help of my well-working motor and neighbors, I got Honu straightened out and tied up. In the wrong slip, but still.

The boat was afloat, and I didn’t crash it or hurt anyone in the process. Well, I hurt myself a little. I discovered three oozing scrapes on my right shin, a small gash on my left hand and a deep scratch on my thigh. I had no idea how or when each injury occurred, but my friend Alex maintains that if you’re bleeding and don’t know why, it means you’re having a good time.

We borrowed a Shop-Vac to suck up the seawater in the engine pan, and Colin drove to town and bought a replacement socket. When I reported to the office that I ended up in the wrong slip, the worker there did the typical Australian thing. Turning to the marina map grease board, she rubbed out the name Honu from slip 9 and rewrote it in slip 8. “There,” she said. “No worries.”

Now I’m provisioned, fueled up and at anchor in the Bundaberg River, the ideal place for our 2 a.m. departure. Yes, our. My longtime friend Colin, a shipwright and crackerjack boat fixer, said he’s heard enough about Pancake Creek and Lady Musgrave over the years that he wants to see them.

Alex is right about the bleeding. I’m having a blast.

Marine biologist Susan Scott writes the newspaper column, “Ocean Watch”,
for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, www.staradvertiser.com

©2015 Susan Scott