Nigel North
Sun 20 Dec 2015 19:22


Thursday, 10 December 2015          CORAL COVE MARINA, TRINIDAD




Its not hard to know you’ve got a leak when in the water.  Out of it, not so easy.  The plan was, replace the stern tube seal and then see if the leak’s gone away.  But how to check without the expense of putting it back in the water (already paid for) and then possibly having to be hauled out again? (expensive)

Having removed the old seal - a corrugated rubber tube that presses against a rotor on the propellor shaft - I could find nothing wrong with it, but knew there was a leak from somewhere in the stern tube area (where the prop shaft exits the hull), as water could be seen dripping out when Pinball was hauled out having deliberately left a lot of water in the bilge for this reason.  The replacement, ordered from the USA, arrived an astonishing 4 days later, and took a day to fit, so now it was time to test it.  

There are two water vents around the prop shaft to allow seawater into the stern tube, so blocked one of these up, wrapped rope around the end of the prop shaft and wedged a water hose up the other vent. This would apply water under pressure to the stern tube, simulating being in the water, and show up any leaks inside.  

No leak from the new seal.  Good.  

But what about the stern tube?  Maybe there was a leak there?  

There is nowhere on a boat, NOWHERE, that is more difficult to get at than the stern tube.   On Pinball, its behind the engine and underneath the fuel tank. To get there you have to squeeze in over the top of the engine and hot water tank, and then you can just about get one hand down far enough to hold a camera above the stern tube and take some pics.  No visible leak on the pics.  I had brought an endoscope from UK and tried this, but the picture wasn’t really good enough to leak spot.  

Only thing now to do was block off underneath the engine with a pillow and rags and fill the whole compartment with water until the whole stern tube and seal were underwater…and have a look outside.  Still no leak.  Good.

Not so good was the appearance of a slight water leakage from the joint between the iron keel and the bottom of the boat.  The keel is bolted to the underside of the hull, the keel bolts of necessity go right through the hull, and can therefore leak.  David, the previous owner, had had the keel dropped, bolts renewed and joint re-sealed, but there had always been a slight trickle from the forward bolt area. Now it was a bit more.. So I’ll have a go at tightening the keel bolts (not optimistic) and get some more sealant in the joint.  

But at least the stern tube seemed to be ok, and there definitely had been a steady dripping from there before.



 Pic:  Stern tube, where it exits the hull.  Prop is on the other side of the bulkhead.  Nice huh! 



Pinball’s most faithful crew member - brother Stu - once again has offered his services over Xmas, but I am not optimistic that the boat will be ready in time, which will be a real shame but this is the place to get all work done. Talking of which, received the genoa, sprayhood and covers back from Ken the sailmaker, who has done a good job repairing what I can’t, and for a reasonable price too.  Unusual in the sailmaker’s world! 


I want to re-instate the sat-phone.  To do that, I have to have another sim card sent out from UK, sign a contract somehow and email lots of paperwork and a photo. Godsake!  Luckily good ‘ole Tim is back in UK for a break and has agreed to bring stuff out on return, and so have also ordered another mobile GPS as my excellent Garmin 76 refuses to work any more, I think due to battery leakage whilst away.  Should have removed the batteries. 

This is important as backup in case the chart plotter fails and secondary GPS system fails too, as almost certainly will happen if struck by lightning. 

Other things I wish I’d done before returning UK:  rewired the starter battery to the solar panels (forgot) - probably will now require replacing - I will carry out a load test on it to see.  Having taken the large books out from behind the bunk seatback locker - 50% now ruined with damp, i.e. 3 sailing how-to-do-it books and worse, expensive guides to crossing the Atlantic, and to the Spanish and Portuguese coast.   Amazingly, the battered Atlas and my much loved sheet music books including The Beatles Complete survive.  There must be a moral in there somewhere. 


Books, especially large ones, are a real problem on board.  The humidity in summer is such that condensation appears anywhere not ventilated.  So I should have taken all the books out.  You live and learn..   


Read yesterday of another act of piracy, this time anchored off the coast of Columbia, a few miles North of Cartagena.  $20000 worth of stuff taken!   This is the third recently in this area of the world, the other two a stones throw from here.  So a plan is forming:  build a secret compartment and transfer high value stuff there at night e.g. computers, cameras, radio, handheld GPS etc.  Four blokes with guns are not something you can mess with unless you happen to be carrying a platoon of SAS, but maybe the damage can be limited.  Its replacing the stuff thats the problem..  Instead, I’ll leave findable one u/s GPS, two broken laptops, some money but not all, and an old handheld radio.  Just hope they don’t try them out first.  




Definitely a bit cooler nowadays, less than 30C at night which is better, with the fan only on for the first 2 hours.  By afternoon the likelihood is there’ll be a torrential downpour or two, with sunny mornings as often as not.  Last saw a cockroach 3 days ago, hiding in the forepeak.   


Pinball is right next to the launch ramp, so every lucky boat heading for water goes RIGHT past me, and its hard.  HARD!   


Things Pinball doesn’t have, and wished we did are a water maker and lightning protection. Panama area has a very high incidence of lightning strikes, so Mick, can you please come up with a WIN!  Water makers are damned expensive, and lightning protection is subject to a variety of ‘expert’ opinions most of which are contradictory, and some of which say its a waste of effort.  Take your pick.. But it is sobering to learn that a lightning strike may have a potential of up to 100 million volts, resulting in multiple current surges of up to 175,000 amps, with temperatures running as high as 60,000deg F.  And all coming down your mast… 

Even if this doesn’t blow a hole in your boat, the change of current from zero to 175,000amps and back to zero in a micro-second will induce (principle of a generator) a massive current in anything with wires in it, which will blow ALL your electrics, and this can happen even if its not your boat but one nearby.  

I love reading this stuff just before bed..


Other things on the mind are; ungrading the propane gas system to aluminium tanks or fibreglass - to stop steel gas tank corrosion as they only last 2 years  - and increasing capacity for a possible Pacific run; replumbing one of the four water tanks to become a dedicated drinking water tank with its own filter and hand pump; modifying the bimini to collect rainwater; and Cindy.  


Sunday, 20 December 2015


Filled the boat with water until it submerged the stern tube seal to see if there was any leakage from the stern tube or new seal, as a secondary check.  No leakage visible. Good.  Then afterwards noticed a damp patch around the joint between the bottom of the hull and the iron keel bolted underneath.  Water was clearly getting past the forward keel bolt.  No  problem, I’ll dig out the old caulking and re-caulk it.  

This done, it made no difference at all.  Not good.  



Went online and did some research.  

What did I learn? 

Well, its not a bit of water getting into the boat thats the problem - you could live with this. 

The problem is, this seawater ingress is allowing the stainless steel (SS) keelbolts to sit permanently in a highly corrosive environment - with little or no oxygen.  Its the oxygen that stops SS from corroding.  Deprive SS of oxygen and you can/will get corrosion, and it can act very fast.  Do nothing and you could lose your keel.  

Pic of keel bolt  (NOT MY BOAT!) Example of keel bolt corrosion. 

I thought I’d got rid of the cockies, but last night six either walked past or over me, or landed on me.  The little ones can fly..  I love my BOP spray.. 

 Brother Stu arrives Tuesday, it will be good to have his company.  Tomorrow I will go to Peakes - the biggest boatyard in Chaguaramas - and invite them to come drop my keel to check the keel bolts, clean up surfaces and reseal around the bolts, which may have to be replaced.  Its not going to be cheap but I do not have the resources to do this.  No matter, thats cruising.  Rather that than lose a keel at sea - which killed the whole crew of that yacht that they found drifting upside down off the east coast of Canada a while back.

Well at least I'm not suffering a UK winter! Poor you lot.

Its not just in Venezuela and Columbia that piracy prevails. UK has plenty of it.  I've now paid the £100 parking charge to legalised road pirates PARKING EYE, but only to save long suffering Jackie from further nasty mail aimed at me.  Otherwise I'd be looking for a JCB to drive through their office block.  UK used to be a free country, now its theme park.  

More when I feel like it..