The Leak, Part Two
21 April 2000, by Tom Waid
Those of you who have been following this web site for a while may remember that some time ago I related a story about a persistent leak that only occurred while we were motoring, never while we were at anchor or under sail. It came from the far aft end at a place where I could never situate myself in order to see where the leak was coming from. After quite a lot of deduction I concluded that it was either the swim ladder or the rudder seal. When I called Beneteau (the company that built Bellatrix) I was told that I could count on it being the swim ladder, therefore when Bellatrix was hauled for the season I rebedded the swim ladder. To facilitate the job and make it easier to inspect that area of the boat I installed an inspection port on the aft bulkhead. The following season the leak disappeared allowing me to conclude that the problem had been fixed. However, recently on the first sail of our voyage the leak reappeared. It’s back!
It immediately occurred to me that an important prerequisite for this leak must be that Bellatrix be heavily loaded. When it last occurred we were loaded for a two-week cruise and now we’re loaded for the voyage. All our sailing last season was on short weekend excursions with the boat lightly loaded so the leak never appeared. I was, to say the least, annoyed that the leak had not been fixed but, since there is now an inspection port, I can make my way to the aft bulkhead and see for myself where the water was coming from.
It’s the rudder seal, a simple plastic collar that fits over the stern tube. When we’re heavily loaded and under power the stern squats enough to put the seal just far enough below the waterline to cause it to leak. It’s not a lot of water and it won’t sink us but the question is will it get any worse? Undoubtedly it will and something needs to be done before we progress much further.
I decided that what needed to be done was to attach a hose between the stern tube and the seal, either the existing seal or a new one. In this way the seal will always be above the waterline. This would be quite simple if it weren’t for the fact that the hose and seal had to be dropped down over the top of the rudderpost. To do this we’ll have to have the boat hauled and the rudder dropped, something that would be complicated and expensive.
We sat at anchor at St. Michaels, Maryland getting used to the idea that we’ve barely begun and were facing an expensive boat repair. We concluded that we had to find a yard that would do the work and, since it was along our route and had a number of good yards, Solomons would probably be the best place to go. Meanwhile the leak was bugging me. I spent all my time in a blue funk trying to think of ways to at least temporarily stop the flow of water. What I needed to do was somehow build in place a tube extending from the top of the seal. Water leaking from the seal would only rise to the waterline and be contained within this tube.
Sailors the world over would understand and nod their head in approval knowing that when I finally took action and fashioned a temporary solution to our problem I made it with a material that has become legendary to voyagers. I made it with duct tape and it worked like a charm.
Many may sail the world with duct tape stemming the flow of the ocean into the boat and the day may come when we would also but we’re not there yet. So, we sailed into Solomons with a mind to find a more permanent solution. We quickly discovered that, because it was spring and the yards were busy, we were going to have to find a yard that will haul the boat and allow us to do the job ourselves. Fortunately we found Spring Cove Marina and they were more than happy to let us do our own work. On Tuesday the eighteenth of April they hauled Bellatrix and we went to work.
When, on the following day, I dropped the rudder and determined the actual design of the rudderpost I discovered that the idea of raising the seal wouldn’t work. It was designed to seal against a stainless sleeve that extended only about an inch above the stern tube. This sleeve fits over the composite rudderpost and forms the lower bearing. If I were to raise the seal, it would not even touch the rudderpost above the sleeve. Drawing inspiration from my improvisation with duct tape I decided that the only solution was to attach a piece of hose that extended from the stern tube to a point well above the waterline.
I attached a twelve inch piece of 3½ inch exhaust hose to the stern tube and re-launched the boat. After that I had Linda roar around the harbor at full throttle while I was below checking to see if any water would squirt up over the hose. Not a drop. It worked. Additionally, the next time I have to pull the rudder I won’t need to have the boat hauled. Just put on the dive gear, swim under the boat and pull it out.
When we finished giving our repair a sea trial we put Bellatrix in a transient slip next to a Ranger 33. The folks aboard had been cruising for four years and had brought her through the Panama Canal from California. When Linda told them our rudder story they told us that they had us beat. It seems that while transiting the Panama Canal their rudder completely came apart. They spend two weeks at the Miraflores Yacht Club on Lake Gatun rebuilding it. It would seem we only got a taste of what it’s like out there.
The work done we walked around Solomons. It hasn’t really lost any of its charm but it’s interesting to see gourmet coffee houses peppered among the more traditional waterman hangouts. Things are up to date in Solomons, Maryland.
From Solomons we’ll set out for the Northern Neck of Virginia just across the mouth of the Potomac River but before we set out and, owing to my accumulating experience, I’m buying another roll of duct tape.