There are many bad things that can happen to a boat. Earth (running aground), water (sinking) and air (wind and lightning) are all enemies to our floating home and it was water that was threatening us now. Alerted by a hideous, high pitched squeal as we motored away from the Krka river, we found that Emerald’s propeller shaft was burning hot and an acrid smell of burnt rubber had filled the aft cabin, where under the floor the propeller shaft enters the boat.
Ideally we wouldn’t have any holes in the hull at all but unfortunately there is a need for water to come in and cool the engine or flush the toilet and for waste water to go out. The propeller shaft also needs a hole to allow it to pass between the engine that makes it spin and the propeller. Around the propeller shaft are two cutlass bearings and a shaft seal that in theory keep any water out.
As the prop shaft spins, things get hot and the shaft seal has a water feed to keep it cool. Our guess is that either the bearings or the seal failed creating debris that blocked the cooling pipe. From there the heat increased and rubber began to melt, damaging the seals even more and allowing water in along the shaft from where it was now dribbling into the bilge.
Having sloshed away the debris and reestablished the cooling water flow, we were able to run the engine and limp on to a safe anchorage to have a better look at things. We tried all the recommended fixes for the shaft seal but the damage was too great and the water flow couldn’t be stopped – we needed to lift out of the water to replace it.
By now it was Saturday evening. We were stressed and worried and had no knowledge of boat yards in Croatia – would we be able to live aboard and do the work ourselves? Phone calls were made and emails sent but as it was now outside of a working day we couldn’t get any confirmation for an immediate lift out.
Water gets in to the boat in every day use in various ways; when it rains we have a few leaks or if we overfill a water tank, and it runs to and gathers in the lowest part of the boat which is the bilge underneath the engine. In the bilge is a switch which is triggered when the water reaches a certain level; it sets off a pump which sucks the water out and sends it to the sea. As a backup we can also manually suck the water out with a hand pump into a bucket. To give an idea of the rate of leak, we were filling a 10 litre bucket an hour which was about the same amount of time between the bilge pump switch being triggered.
So a sleep deprived, anxious night was spent with the bilge pump waking us every hour and an alarm set for every two hours in case the pump failed – we didn’t want to be paddling when we got out of bed the next morning.
Sunday morning we decided to move an hour north to be nearer two marinas in Murter. One of them had confirmed they could lift us Monday morning so we just had another worry filled day and sleepless night to get through, hoping that the leak rate didn’t increase.
As it turned out the delay was a sort of blessing in disguise. It gave us time for some research and for friends to suggest another yard in Murter that would be better suited to us who we then contacted first thing Monday morning. Yes they could lift us, but not until the wind eased a little. We waited restlessly and watched the weather whilst Colin dinghied over to have a chat with the yard and check where we needed to go.
By midday boats were being launched and it was our turn. The wind was still gusting F5 and we had to go into the narrow lift out area backwards and Emerald doesn’t do backwards very well. Several failed attempts had my stress levels rocketing but then we caught a break as the wind dropped and we were going in almost the right direction rather than spinning around to port. The yard guys had clambered out as far as they could get onto the boats on either side of the slip, Colin got a line to them and a combination of reverse and pulling on the lines got us where we needed to be.
We clambered ashore and shortly afterwards Emerald was lifted free of the water. A blast with the pressure washer got rid of the unwelcome underwater growth and whilst she was chocked and settled ashore we enjoyed a cold beer in the boatyard bar. Never was a beer more welcome!