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Keel-Hauling In Havasu

By Jim Smith

"It’ll never leak now," Brian assured me. I’d just retrieved my boat from the third attempt at having the leak in the front of the keel trunk repaired. Along the way, I’d had the keel refinished and a new cable installed to haul the 300 pounds of cast iron into its leaky home in the center of my 21-footer’s cabin. There was an impressive amount of new fiberglass around the front of the keel trunk and new gel coat on the underside of the hull. The first test on a local lake proved that repairs had finally succeeded. This was important because the next sail was at Lake Havasu on Memorial Day weekend. The boat would be in the water for over two days. Even a slow leak could be a problem.

On the fabulous Friday, I checked into the Crazy Horse campground, deployed my camping gear and set out to rig and launch the boat. I intended to sleep in my van and boat trailers were not permitted in the campground. Fortunately, there was a trailer parking area near the launch ramp. After Lee helped me rig and launch my boat, he dropped the trailer off in the parking area. My crew, Rosalie, and I prepared for the initial sail. As we sat at the dock, I pulled the kick-up rudder into the down position and started to lower the keel, slowly turning the built-in winch.

Twang! Rumble, bang! The new keel cable had either broken or come loose, allowing the keel to fall to the down position. Now what?

After thinking about it for a few seconds, I knew there was nothing I could do without hauling the boat. "Well, might as well sail for the weekend," I thought. "I’ll deal with this on Sunday."

"Do you know there’s water coming in down here?" Rosalie yelled from the cabin. No I didn’t know that. I didn’t even want to know that. Now that she’d said it though, I decided to check it out. It was probably coming from the pivot bolt when the falling keel forced water into the top of the trunk.

When I got below, I saw there was a LOT of water coming in at the forward end of the keel trunk where all the new fiberglass resided. When the keel fell, it had slammed into the trunk, smashing the repairs into shards of resin and glass fibers that no longer did their job of keeping the water on the outside of the boat.

"Bail!" was my superfluous command. Scrambling onto the dock, I yelled for Lee to bring the van back. There’s an old nautical tradition that the best bilge pump is a terrified sailor with a bucket. It’s true. A Niagara of water was exiting the cabin as Rosalie made the bucket fly. Lee and I hastily retrieved the trailer and backed it into the water. I assumed Lee, with his great experience, would know all about getting a boat on a trailer with the keel hanging loose. "How do we do this?" I asked.

"Beats me," he shrugged. "Let’s try winching it on and see what happens." So much for great experience. We backed the trailer in as deeply as the ramp would allow and maneuvered the boat over the area where I hoped it rested. Luckily, the lake was warm because we were wading chest deep trying to position the boat. To make things more damp, the madly bailing Rosalie was emptying the bucket in my direction.

"Throw that on the lee side!" I yelled, meaning soak someone else for a change. By then Lee was working the winch while I steadied the boat. Bump, bump, bump. The keel slid over the trailer frame and snuggled into its now-fractured home. Lee drove my van up the ramp as Rosalie tossed a final bucket of water on my head.

Dry land inspection revealed that the damage was major and the sailing over for this weekend. Back in the boatyard, we discovered that the keel cable had slipped off the side of a pulley and cut itself in two on the pulley mounts. When I had the new cable installed, I fabricated a keeper to prevent it from jumping ship again.

 

I painted the bucket bronze and named it the Rosalie Memorial Bailer.

 

 

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