Chapter 30. A Blue Job Turns Pink
Aboard Chewbacca there were scores of chores, many of which fell into either a "Blue" or a "Pink" category. Without being sexist, the pink jobs tended to lean more towards rotating the canned food supply, sorting weevils out of the flour or mopping up the gray-green mystery ooze that collected in the bottom of our icebox. The blue jobs happened when it was time to rebuild the clogged head, fillet a big Dorado, BBQ a rare steak or make popcorn. When we up-anchored, Team Pink drove the boat because only Team Blue was physically strong enough to haul in 200 feet of chain shackled onto a 35-pound anchor. Other tasks, such as laundry, chart plotting or homeschooling, were a blend of colors.
After a year of floating in a river of bionic sludge, a thick layer of crustaceans completely covered the bottom of Chewbacca’s hulls. No way we were going anywhere fast until that goo was removed. Luckily for me, it was a blue job to slip into the ooze and scrape off that growth of barnacles and slime. Visibility in the brackish water was about an arm’s length, tangled with dead branches and decomposing leaves. But that wasn’t the worst of it. While Blue Bruce snorkeled in these murky depths, my duties were to faithfully stand crocodile watch on deck. Really? Armed with a long aluminum boat hook I tried in vain to make out Bruce’s bright yellow fins just below the surface. Just how Pink was to prevent a crocodile from snatching Blue, I wasn’t quite sure.
Blindly scraping the boat’s bottom paint, Bruce came across an extraordinarily large barnacle. The stubborn bugger was hanging on tight, so he gave it a couple good swipes. The tenacious barnacle fell off into his hand feeling much like the flattened donut of a plastic thru-hull fitting. Thru-hull fittings are just what they sound like, a fitting that goes through the hull underwater to bring in salt water to cool an engine or pump salt water into the galley sink, or in this case to fill the toilet. Take it away and you have an open hole in the boat… underwater. Yikes! Calling to me Bruce calmly inquired, “By chance is there any water flowing into the head where the toilet intake valve is?” Calm is a good thing, but too much calm is scary. From his extra careful tone, I knew we were in deep shit.
I dashed below and saw the thru-hull valve connected to the head wobbling like a drunken sailor. Only a thin layer of sealant held it in place. I hate these freaking thru-hulls. The loss of this $10 part could sink a boat, as we almost found out on Raven while crossing the Pacific. For such emergencies, Bruce had bought tapered wooden bungs that could be tapped into a missing thru-hull hole much like tapping a cork back into a bottle of wine. Unsurprisingly, my Eagle Scout husband was prepared and had tied an emergency bung around each of our thru-hull valves. As I gingerly untied the knot from around the wiggling valve, I wondered; 1) Why were my hands shaking and 2) why had Bruce tied such a good knot? With the bung and a mallet in hand I was ready to plug the dike.
I shouted out YOU BETTER GET IN HERE AND LOOK AT THIS."
Bruce appeared over my shoulder dripping wet and without a word headed straight for the spare parts bins. No spare thru-hull. Shit. He left me in charge to monitor the teetering seal that was keeping the RIVER at bay, while he went in search of a thru-hull from the three neighboring boats in the anchorage.
Amazingly Bruce returned in less than a half hour with the exact plastic thru-hull we needed. It seemed another boater had one stuffed in a drawer and didn’t even know why he had it since all his boat’s thru-hulls were bronze. The Gods were smiling upon us, but we weren’t quite ready to do the victory dance yet. Now all we had to do was pull the broken thru-hull out and slide the new one in…all while two feet underwater.
We switched places and this time I donned the snorkel gear and slipped into the coffee colored yucky swamp water. Did I forget to mention the crocodiles? Funny what you’ll do to keep your home from sinking. Kendall and Quincy stood guard with the boat hook and a coil of dock line in case they had to wrest mama from the jaws of death. Suddenly I wondered how this became a Pink job.
Meanwhile, safely inside, Bruce methodically gathered his tools for the quick switch. The plan was for me to create a water dam on the outside, so he could extract the broken thru-hull from the inside without sinking the boat. I sank into the mire holding an empty plastic margarine container with some of the girls modeling clay squished around the rim. I pushed the makeshift contraption against the hull sealing off the hole. Now theoretically the only water that could get inside the boat was the little bit in the margarine container. I crossed my fingers praying that our jerry-rigged seal would be watertight. I knocked on the hull three times signaling that all was in place. Bruce steadily extracted the broken thru-hull pulling it inside the boat. Only a cup of water spilled in. Our temporary Play-Doh seal worked and as much as I wanted to jump out of the muck, I stayed at my post, keeping the container firmly pressed in place. What’s taking so long?
Bruce then cleaned the hole and gently tapped the emergency soft wooden bung into the breach. From the safety of the deck, Kendall handed down to me the new plastic thru-hull all gooped up with silicon sealant. On the count of three, I removed my cover and pushed the new fitting into the hole, dislodging the wooden bung as it entered. As soon as Bruce saw the threaded plastic pipe poking through the wall he grabbed it and spun on the retaining nut securing the new thru-hull in place. He still needed to reattach the ball valve and hose to the head before I could surface. Can you hurry this up?
Remaining in the water another eternally long five minutes, I waited for a crocodile nibble while Bruce tightened the hose clamps and checked for leaks. My imagination spun out of control envisioning rows of razor-sharp teeth waiting to strike just beyond my vision. I nearly jumped out of my skin when I heard three sharp raps on the hull. I didn’t need a second invitation and in record time raced for the swim step.
Before I even shed my snorkel gear on deck, Bruce came up from the galley with two cold Cokes and a bottle of 12-year-old Nicaraguan Rum. “People back home think all we ever do is lounge around the cockpit drinking Rum and Coke. I’d sure hate to disappoint them,” he remarked with a grin.
Blue clinked Pink’s full tumbler and toasted to staying afloat yet another day.