4/30/2014 – What’s wrong with this picture?

For all you old boat experts out there, this will just seem like a silly entry.  But try to remember the first time you took the helm of your boat and had to move it from point A to point B.

Our friends Markita & Tony asked us a favor the other day.  Her Dad’s Catalina 34, Guadalupe had just been sold to young French guy after being on the hard for a long time.  Fabrice was going to launch the boat this morning but Tony & Markita would be on their way to Guadalajara and wouldn’t be available to help.  Would I help?  Of course I would.  They also asked a local guy, Jimmy, who does lots of work on boats around the marina.

So, this morning at 9:00, Jimmy and I were waiting for Guadalupe to launch.  They were supposed to put her on C dock but there’s so much work going on on C dock that it was unclear where she was to go.  I asked at the office and they finally decided to put her on B dock until things get finished on C.  Looked like a port side tie so we wouldn’t have to change the fenders or mooring lies or anything.  Looking good.

Finally, about 9:30, Guadalupe showed up.  The yard crew backed her down into the water and tied her off.  Before they could leave Fabrice crawled down below to check the thru-hulls for leakage as well as the dripless shaft seal.  The thru-hulls were fine but the shaft seal was leaking a little.  Not much, maybe about what you’d expect from regular packing but a dripless seal isn’t supposed to drip anything.  Fabrice asked me to come down and take a look, which I did.  Clearly, it was leaking a bit.  Certainly nothing to be alarmed about, though.  Keep in mind that I speak English and a little bit of Spanish.  Fabrice speaks French, some Spanish, and a little bit of English.  We found that our best common language was Spanish.  So, I’m trying to explain in Spanish, with a lot of sign language thrown in,  just how a dripless seal works and that, after running the engine a bit, the faces would probably polish up and seal tightly.  He was asking me if I thought it was OK to stay in the water with the drip.  I didn’t have a good enough handle on the language to be able to get across that it was his boat and therefore, his decision, so I just said, Yes, I thought it would be fine to leave the boat afloat.  The alternative would be to pull the boat out again, screwing up the haulout schedule for the rest of the day, and take him back to Marina Seca where he’d have to sit waiting for someone to bring a new seal down from the States or pay Star Marine’s ridiculous markup, if they even had one in stock.  No, if it was me, I’d launch.  Like I say, the drip was no worse than a packing gland.

Next step, fire up the engine.   Fabrice turned the key, pressed the Start button and…. naturally the engine didn’t start.  Tried it again.  It still didn’t start.  Had me try it while he was down below with the engine exposed.  Still nothing.  I asked if there was fuel shut-off valve.  He didn’t think so and he’d started it 3 times in the yard.  He got on the phone to somebody and they discussed it.   After he hung up, he didn’t try anything new so I suspect the phone call wasn’t any help.  He asked what he should do.  I started to say the we could go to the office and arrange to have a panga pull him to his slip.  This is what we did when Siempre Sabado wouldn’t start after a lay-up.  But Jimmy said that the marina won’t do that anymore.  Only other thing I could think of was to try to get some cruisers to bring their dinghies over and act as tug boats.  Didn’t really hold much hope that I’d get much response.  So, we were all really happy when Fabrice tried the engine again and it started right up.  No idea what the problem was but at least she fired up.

Jimmy and I untied the dock lines and jumped aboard.  Fabrice started to back away from the dock but his stern wanted to go to port.  Jimmy called his attention to a whole bunch of little runabouts right behind us on that side.  Fabrice asked Jimmy if he’d like to take the wheel.  Not in a snarky way, he just really wanted someone else to drive.  Jimmy said no and called me back to help Fabrice out.  Next thing I know I’m driving!!!  WTF?  This is a 34′ boat with a dinghy hanging off stern davits making it closer to 38′.  And I have enough trouble with my own boat.  But, I knew just how helpless and overwhelmed Fabrice was feeling and I just couldn’t bring myself to say, “Sorry, bud, your boat, you drive.”  So I drove.

Oh well, how hard can this be?  It’s a fin keel, after all.  Those things are supposed to back up like a car.  Not like our stubborn full-keeled mule.  But, for some reason, I could not get the beast to back in any direction except to port.  Maybe if I’d been able to get some way on it would have straightened out but we had no room to make way.  So I pulled forward to try again, but still no luck.  Each time I tried pulling forward to get straightened out, I found my bow just a few more degrees to starboard than before.  Basically, by going forward-reverse-forward-reverse-forward, etc, I was making a tight 180 degree turn.  Not what I’d planned seeing as how the width of the opening is barely wide enough to accommodate the length of the boat, but that’s what was happening anyway.  Finally I just decided to go with it.  With Jimmy at one end and Fabrice at the other to fend us off pilings and other boats, we made the turn and were then headed forward out into the main fairway.  Whew!

We’d no more than made the turn into the fairway than we had to stop because a trawler was doing some maneuvers to try to get backed into a slip and had the fairway blocked.  Knowing so little about how this boat handled, I was rather nervous but managed to pretty much maintain position until the trawler was out of the way.  Okay, should be pretty smooth from here on out.  I hoped.  We went the short distance and made the turn into the space between B and C docks with no mishaps.  Now I had to do what I hated most: pull up alongside the dock between the dock and another boat.  In my experience, sometimes this goes well and sometimes it goes to shit.  I came in really slowly, made my turn at what turned out to be the right moment, and slid on into the slip.  Jimmy and Fabrice and a guy on the dock took care of the lines and I secured the engine.  Big WHEW!  Lulu said that when she looked out and saw Guadalupe coming down the fairway the first thing she thought was “What the hell is he doing driving that boat?”  Kind of wondered that myself.  But Fabrice looked so relieved to be in his slip that I couldn’t help but feel okay about my decision.  Oh, and we checked the dripless seal again after docking: not a drop.

One of the things I found out from this experience is that docking a boat with wheel steering and the engine controls right in front of you at about chest level and no dodger is WAY easier than docking with a tiller, with the engine controls down in the footwell and a dodger obscuring your vision.  I felt so much more in control and was.

IMG 2394

Looks like there’s a ton of room, huh?  Doesn’t look like that from the helm when you’re coming in.


About sryoder

Steve & Lulu... retired. Had enough of the cold wet dreary fall/winter/spring in the Pacific Northwest. Bought a boat, fixed it up, sold our home and sailed to Mexico in November, 2010. Been here ever since except for occasional forays to the States (summer only, thank you) to visit the kids, parents and siblings. If you're looking for a sailing blog, this is the wrong place. This is a traveling, hunkering in, eating blog. Sailing is just how we get from place to place when we can't walk.
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17 Responses to 4/30/2014 – What’s wrong with this picture?

  1. Sandy Holeman says:

    Good story. I was rooting for you!

  2. vraymond108 says:

    Good job Steve! Sometimes I find that I handle the boat when I haven’t done it in a while and have little confidence than when I feel overconfident.

  3. The difficulty of backing the boat is directly proportional to the number of people standing around watching. Sounds like you gave them a good show.

    • sryoder says:

      I hear that, Mike. I really didn’t notice an audience. I was too busy trying to get that beast turned around. But, I bet it was a good show. I’d wager that there aren’t that many who use this approach to leave the haulout dock. Nice to know that that Catalina can turn around in her own length. But the next guy can drive his own boat. Aw, who am I kidding? I’d do the same thing again.

  4. Scott Wedge says:


    That one was my fault, sorry.

    How, you wonder, could I have anything to do with your situation?

    OK, I’ll explain. About three weeks back, Sandy and I went out sailing with some friends who own a Catalina (I think) 36 (I think) named Diver Down. Santa Cruz harbor, C Dock. The plan was to back her out turning her bow to port to head out toward the fairway, I think you called it. But there was this wind, you see, coming from the direction we wanted to turn toward. As we motored slowly back, the boat turned, but not enough, so it was about to run into boats in slips on D Dock. A quick bump of forward motor stopped that, but the boat was refusing to turn the right direction. The lady owner at the helm called for her husband to take over, and before long we were exactly 180º the wrong direction, and right up against the sterns of the board on D Dock. And an audience was forming on the various other boats. She later explained that the wheel makes it hard for her to visualize the rudder, so steering in reverse is not only ineffective, but damn confusing as well. She figured the husband had a cooler head and a better idea of how to proceed.

    I think what the new helms person did was back up a ways, to get some room. Then he went forward and spun it around on a dime. Well, a quarter, or maybe a half-dollar, as a 36 is never going to turn on a dime… but it does seem to pretty much pivot on it’s center when going slow like that. Anyway, with very little manual fendering we got turned around and headed out.

    OK, so how does this make me responsible for your predicament? Well, I was going to ask you what the proper procedure would be in that situation. Should someone stay on the dock with a line to the bow and let the wind blow the boat to make it turn? Anyway, you were off-line, and I’d really need a diagram to explain the situation, so I didn’t ask. Now, if I had asked, you’d have thought it all through and been up to speed, so to speak, on how to handle a 36 going backward. All your stories about those close in slow maneuvers, and the stress and difficulty involved, maybe you are actually getting pretty good at it. That what I figure, anyway.

    All I could think was how cool it would be to have bow thrusters…. Right, one more (make that two more) things to leak.


    • sryoder says:

      Scott, I’m just as glad that you didn’t post your question before. There’s the theory stuff we all read and then there’s the reality when the goddamn boat will NOT do what it’s supposed to. What the hell you supposed to do with that? Boats! I’m so looking forward to getting back in Flipper.

  5. Jacaranda says:

    Also really helps to have a fin keel and a spade rudder. Unlike SS the Catalina will turn on good a dime. Good for you no damage is always a good thing

    Well the wet has started here and along with that heavy heavy rain and major thunderstorm and bolts of lightening. Yikes 3 more weeks and we will begin the uphill slog to Ecuador.

    Lulu is right WTF!!

    Boca Chica, Panama

    • sryoder says:

      In spite of the fact that I couldn’t get Guadalupe to back up in the direction I wanted, I was VERY impressed with her ability to turn around basically on her own vertical center axis. Good thing, too, because there was no room to go ahead or astern once we were sideways.

      What is this thing you call “rain”?

      You’re going back to Ecuador? You were there before right? If I remember right you went from Costa Rica to Ecuador and then up to Panama. Yes?

  6. honquesp says:

    Nice post Steve! For your future information, in case you are not familiar with the “Dripless Seal,” the newer Dripless seals have a hose bib on top that has a hose running up above the water line. This is to allow trapped air to escape, so the seal is not dry when the engine is started.
    If it is an older type Dripless seal there is no hose bib to clear the air, and if you start the engine it will damage the seal. To prevent this you have to burp the seal to clear out the air. You do this by pushing back on the graphite part of the seal, allowing the stainless and graphite parts to separate, thus allowing the air to escape, with some water of course. You can then safely engage the transmission/prop shaft without damaging the seal

    • sryoder says:

      Thanks Jay. I had the old style on Siempre Sabado before but changed it to the new style a year or so ago. On Guadalupe it wasn’t an issue since it was already leaking and therefore, had taken care of “burping” itself. So, maybe the leaking, instead of being a glitch, was actually a “feature”.

  7. Marquita George says:

    Oh Steve, thank you so much! We thought about you guys all day, I knew you were the right person to ask! I forwarded your blog to Dad. I think that is the way the ceramic is meant to work. Love you guys!

    Tony and Marquita George


    • sryoder says:

      Sorry for getting the spelling of your name wrong. The dripless seal has a ceramic face and a carbon face. The carbon side wears down to mate perfectly with the ceramic side, which is exactly what happened, fortunately. Hope you guys are having fun in Guadalajara. See you when you get back.

  8. strdon says:

    Steve: That fin keel and spade rudder are no strangers to prop walk, as you discovered.

  9. strdon says:

    What? The Westsail has prop walk? I was suffering under the delusion that prop walk is a fin keel disease.

  10. strdon says:

    Better to learn these things in a loving environment than on the cruel fairway of life.

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