Normally, by this time of year, our boat Ginger Lee would have been floating for a month now. But the weather hasn’t been kind to us boaters. It is May 20th and I can’t think of any day so far that was nice enough to go boating. There were a couple of days in March, and maybe one in the beginning of April. Cold, raw, and windy has been our month of May. That is, until today. It’s an awesome morning: sunny and plenty warm enough to make any mariner happy. My wife and I are smiling because today is the day we launch.
A couple of days ago we cut away Ginger Lee’s warm plastic cocoon that has been protecting her for seven months. It was a chilly day that required a heavy hoodie.
Thank goodness the weather has turned. The boys at the Moby Dick Marina fire up the tractor and run it over to our boat. We’re gonna be the first one in this morning.
Oh goodie! Both engines start right up. While they warm I check the bilge for leaks before they retract the trailer. There’s a packing gland that needs adjustment. No problem: I get my tool and handle it in five minutes. The XO unties the lines and hops aboard. The shakedown cruise begins.
I hail the New Bedford bridge on channel 13 and ask what time they will be opening. “In nine minutes” is the response. I guess the radio works. The new depth sounder is working as well. The old one, however, is not waking up. That’s okay, we only need one.
Nothing has blown up and we’re still floating. So far so good.
After passing the New Bedford Hurricane Barrier, I give my wife the helm for the three-hour tour to Wareham. She is the long haul driver. Meanwhile, I get busy checking stuff out and quickly discover the little red bilge pump light is not working. The pumps work, the light doesn’t. A minor problem but I make a note to replace the bulb.
Suddenly the new depth sounder starts going bonkers. It reads over three hundred feet of depth. It should read about thirty feet. I shut it off for a few seconds and turn it on again. The image on the screen freezes. I push all the buttons to no avail. It wont even shut off, so I unplug the power cord.
I can’t get the new sounder working so I open the console access panel to see what’s up with the old sounder. I wiggled the power wire it loudly comes to life. BEEP!
So far, the only thing that’s not working is the brand new instrument. I call the help line number listed in the manual and the nice people at Hummingbird talk me through a few diagnostics and a reset procedure. The unit comes to life and is working perfectly. I thank the nice man and hang up. Two seconds later the new instrument goes bonkers again. Oh well, it’s obviously something I can’t fix now and we have the old unit which is just fine.
Bird Island Light, our gateway home, presents itself dead ahead. A massive swarm of birds rises from its rocky shoreline as if they were welcoming us back. It’s been so long since we cruised these friendly waters. The New England boating season is way too short.
Home safe. No one died! And mostly everything worked.
Avid kayaker Joe Mullins paddles over to greet us, children play loudly on the beach, and happy boaters are coming and going. What a great day!
We dingy to shore and walk across a the salt marsh to our house. I’m a happy guy. It’s finally tee-shirt weather. Let the 2016 boating season begin!
What is a packing gland, and why did it need to be adjusted?
Sorry. I probably should have explained in the text. A packing gland wraps around the rudder shaft or the propeller shaft where it passes through the hull. Its function is to keep the water out yet let the shafts turn. It’s filled with material that’s sort of like graphite impregnated rope. With a large spanner type wrench, you can screw it down and kind of squish the graphite rope tighter against the shaft to seal out the water. But it’s tricky because you need to let some water in for lubrication. They’re supposed to leak a little bit. Five drops per minute is perfect. Too loose and your bilge pumps work overtime. Too tight and you can damage the shafts.