Jun 192014

In addition to hurricane season coming upon us here in the sunny Florida Keys, it’s also rainy season now.  If you have never experienced the rainy season in Florida, it goes something like this:

The morning starts out nice and sunny and warm.  You think it will be a nice day.

Clouds begin to form up as the heat of the day moves in.

Early afternoon, said clouds turn black and menacing.

Late afternoon all hell breaks loose as said clouds release the rains from the nether regions.  Lightning, thunder, gusty winds, and around the water, waterspouts.

Early evening, the storms have moved offshore or fizzled out and things get back to normal.

The time and duration of the storms will vary depending on where you are in Florida.  The southwest coast, about 120 miles to the north north east of Key West gets some real heavy weight storms.  Down here in the Keys, it’s hit or miss.  You can be standing on one side of Key West, having a sunny, warm, and Chamber of Commerce kind of day, while on the other side it’s the end of the world.  As I am writing this sure to be award winning post, there is a small storm cell to the north east a few miles off shore.  You can hear some thunder now and then and it’s really dark and menacing up there, but here it’s downright purty.  Such is the way of the weather in Florida and the Keys.

For us on the rocks at the end of the world, the rainy season is more of a nuisance than anything.  It’s difficult to plan for some things as you never know quite where a storm may crop up.  This is not a big deal unless you are planning some activity on the water.  Then things can get a bit worrisome.

For those of us who make a living on the water, these storms can wreak havoc with one’s income stream.  You can have a trip booked well in advance, spent the money on fuel, food, drinks, bait, whatever, and have the whole thing cancelled on the day of the trip, simply because a storm cropped up right where you want to go.  It happens a lot here and there is little one can do about it.

While these storms are small in size they do pack quite a wallop.  A few miles of thunderheads can generate some serious lightning and strong wind gusts.  Being in the vicinity, especially on the water is not where you want to be.  A small boat can get pretty well tossed about in one of these things, not to mention becoming a lightning rod.  Even a small kayak can draw the wrath of Zeus out there.

As for living on a sailboat in Key West, or any live aboard for that matter, the storms are a way of life that you have to put up with.  If you are out on the hook or on a mooring field, you are going to get bounced around.  In a marina, you always have to be checking your dock lines regularly and occasionally tightening them up or replacing as needed.  And if you are on a sailboat, you have a nice tall lightning rod attached to the middle of your boat, called a mast.  Lightning loves masts.  Nice tall ones made out of juicy, tasty aluminum are a favorite.  And one strike can do some serious damage to a boat.  There are tons of articles about how to ground a mast here, but probably the most foolproof way is to sell your boat, move to the desert and live underground.  Otherwise, you take your chances.  Here, on my 23′ feet of paradise, I take my chances.  I’m docked in the middle of the marina and there are many more taller masts than mine around here.  So, chances are, they will go up in flames before I do.  However, when it comes to living on a boat and dealing with the rainy season, the lightning is not the problem.  It’s the leaks.

Every boat leaks.  Each and every one.  It don’t matter how good they were built, they will leak.  Not on the bottom part, you know, the part that keeps you from sinking into the cold, dark, depths of a cruel and heartless sea.  Nope, I’m talking about the cabin and upper structures.  They all leak.

Boat cabins have lots of holes in them.  Hatches, companionways, portholes, deck fittings, and at some point in the life of the boat, they will all leak.  Most openings have been sealed at one time or another with some sort of sealing stuff, like the ever popular 3M 5200.  5200 is a boat owner’s duct tape.  Relatively inexpensive, it can be used to seal up just about anything.  But over time, even the sealant will give up and start to leak.  Years of exposure to sun, heat, and salt.  Constant movement of parts against parts on the water.  The older the boat, the more leaks one will have.  It becomes a full time job, every time it rains, to track down the latest intrusion of water inside where water should not be.  And if there is one guarantee beyond all others, you can be sure at least one leak will always occur directly over the berth where you sleep, and most likely while you are sleeping.  There is nothing more flusterating than being woken up in the middle of a sound sleep because a steady drip of cold rain water has seen fit to start falling on your ass.

As you may expect, on my boat, built in 1979, there are a lot of leaks.  The companionway in particular, now that I also have an ac unit stuck in it is a major source of water intrusion.  I should go build something a bit more water tight to fit around the unit but for now, duct tape and some tarp will have to do.  A lot also depends on which way the winds are blowing.  That can cause leaks on the forward hatch or the overhead hatch if the winds come from the pointy end of the boat.  And there are some older deck fittings and old hardware holes that have now given up any semblance of usefulness and now leak at the slightest drizzle.  A boom tent would help a lot, that is, a piece of sailcloth draped over the mainsail boom to act as a tarp would keep a lot of rain out.  Regular plastic tarps are not allowed in the marina so I will have to wait until I can get up the few extra dollars to get the real thing.  As I said, it’s a constant battle.

The big thing, especially if you are not on the boat all the time, is too make sure you have a bilge drainage system that works.  All water eventually makes it’s way to the bilge, which is the lowest part of the hull.  From there you must pump out the water.  On small boats like I have, you pump out by hand with a small hand held bilge pump or a sponge and a bucket.  On larger boats, you have an electric bilge pump hooked up that sits in the water and pumps out the through a hose to the outside.  These pumps wear out fast and need constant care.  They may clog up with debris or the wires to the batteries will corrode through.  If you are going to leave your boat for very long periods of time, make sure the bilge pumps are in working order and you have somebody come by now and then to check and make sure your boat is not flooding nor sinking.

For land based life forms, the rainy season is little more than a nuisance.  It rains, one can stay inside, and do insidey type things until said rain stops and life can move on.  But for us liveaboards, the rainy season brings on a whole new set of issues that must be dealt with on a near daily basis.  Failure to deal with said issues and you too will wind up living back on land, or on the bottom.

Capt. Fritter

  2 Responses to “Living Aboard: It’s Also Leaky Boat Cabin Season…”

  1. actually….
    you don’t really make a good argument for living on a boat!
    but at least it lets those who never think of the drawbacks… contemplate the unpleasant reality of it.

    • It ain’t all beer and skittles living on a boat. Better to know now than spend the money and find out later all the down sides.
      C. F.