Disclaimer: There are a few jokes here at the expense of various people involved in the story. This is solely in the interest in making a good story and is not designed to be a slight on the folks involved.
The lovely old boat sat in the unglamourous setting of the police impound. Sad old boats, ugly fiberglass tubs way past their primes, sat waiting for their eventual fate. And among them, the Hallberg, over 30 years old and still looking good. Or at least interesting.
I've been interested in boats for a long time, and the Hallberg looked like a way to do something about this instead of the aimless dreaming (together with the purchase of many, many books) that had heretofore been my specialty. Since she was stuck in this undignified setting, her owner was asking just $ 1,500.
I had the $ 1,500.
The obstacles were my anxieties - and Fred Pouch of the Department of Beaches and Harbours (whose name I am mispelling quite incompetently). Not to mention the Other Buyer, lurking ... well, not quite lurking. The seller admitted that he'd already received a deposit, and so the boat was effectively sold.
This was fine with me, since I was very curious about the boat, but after seeing it, figured it was probably too small for my purposes.
One look inside showed that I was spot-on. My basic requirement for standing headroom would not be met. And the bilge was full of water - it was getting ominously close to the 110 volt outlet in the salon. Apparently the vessel had nearly filled with water at least once while it was in the impound.
The seller got into a panic. He told me, Fred Pouch and anyone else who cared to listen that the boat had never been like this, that it was a good boat and that the bilge pump always worked. With trembling hands he found the plug for the battery charger and waved it around, asking for an extension cord so he could plug it in.
It works, it always works, he told the world breathlessly.
The battery charger terminals were corroded miserably. They looked like they would never, never work. "Maybe it's the battery charger," I suggested. "No," he said, "it's a new battery charger and it's always worked."
There was an agonized tone in his voice that made me suppress my thought: there's always a first time.
Fred Pouch had one of the trusties - a prisoner who was released to do this sort of thing - to grab their pump and pump it out. He did, not condescending to look at our hapless owner's plug.
When the owner was presented with the bill for getting the boat out of impound, you could see him almost keel over in horror. "This can't be right" he said, shaking his head. "At $ 0.90 a foot per day, times (mumble) days, plus $ 50 impound fee, plus (mumble, mumble)" said Fred Pouch, merciless bureaucrat.
I knew I wasn't going to buy the boat, but something attracted me to it enough to want to hear the rest of this story. Perhaps it was the cruel attitude of Fred Pouch; surely a nice old boat like the Hallberg deserved better. Or maybe it was the story of the Canadian buyers, who were coming next Wednesday, a week from now, to pick up their boat and start their dream cruise. After seeing the boat, I thought they were nuts. So did the owner; he tried to talk them out of it, but failed.
So I asked Adam if I could help him get the boat out. I asked him how he was going to get it out without a functioning motor (the current one supposedly needed only a magento, but I'd already seen most of it buried in the bilgewater). He bravely said that we would sail it out tonight.
* * *
A lovely night, but - like most nights - dark. Adam let the folks at the impound talk him into taking it tomorrow, when it would be safer.
* * *
Adam paid the money, not without flinching. He got the enormous mainsail up - not without difficulty, since the rig seemed a bit tangled, and winches were not in evidence. With numerous fits and starts, he got the rig together and the wind started pulling massively at the sails.
There was already water in the bilge. Fortunately, I brought my portable battery (a device designed for jump-starting cars, but adaptable to all sorts of uses) along, and was able to hook it up to the battery terminals to run the bilge pump. It worked surprisingly well. Just as Adam had claimed, the boat had a working bilge pump. After seeing the rat's nest of wiring elsewhere in the boat, "Wow" was about all I could say when the pump started whirring and a stream of water started pouring off the side.
The wind was fairly brisk, but without the jib, the boat sailed sluggishly. However, the scene was nothing less than idyllic - the lovely old wood boat, the marina spread around us, and the sun shining brightly with a pleasant breeze. As a result, it took us a while to realize that the steering wasn't working. The tiller was all the way over, but we were not turning towards our destination: The guest docks at Burton Chace Park, right near my office building.
It was Adam who finally realized that time was passing, but we weren't getting anywhere. He was, after all, in a hurry to do something other than Messing Around in Boats. Apparently, our lack of progress had something to do with a lot of marine growth on the hull.
"Hmm, do you think the boat needs bottom paint?" I asked.
"No, of course not, the paint is fine, it's new," he said.
"It certainly isn't preventing marine growth, and that's its job," I remarked. However, Adam continued in his unshakeable conviction that the paint was fine.
I wondered if he had this same belief about the hull.
I started thinking about what the National Transportation Safety Board's Marine Accident Report would look like. We had, after all, neglected to carry even a portable VHF radio. I resolved to buy one before I went on my next trip in a used boat.
In the mean time, Adam started vigourously scraping the marine growth, which looked rather grasslike, and the rudder began to respond. We started heading more or less in the right direction. Our captain watched passively as we sailed slowly past the very docks we were supposed to be entering. I suggested that he take down the sails and let the breeze move us towards the docks. He interpreted that as a somewhat different suggestion, but whatever he did worked, and we were soon shooting bravely towards the dock.
BANG! A little too bravely, but no real damage done. No use crying over chipped paint.
But the leaks were worth crying over. They looked kinda bad, especially when we couldn't get the shore power working again: The guest docks had the wrong kind of electrical outlet.
In the end, we had to break down and buy the adapter so we could empty the boat of water. Surprisingly, the water-soaked extension cord and the corroded battery charger were effective enough to make the bilge pump run.
* * *
The boat had not fared so well.
It was full of water, way past the 110 volt outlet, right up to the top of the berths. A floorboard floated on the red-stained water, the colour of blood.
I saw redder. I didn't want to see the boat die. It wasn't the right boat for me, but I sensed it had a soul, and was in pain. Absurd? Perhaps. But who wants to see a grand old boat die?
Electrical hazards or not, my first idea was to start up the bilge pump. I plugged it into shore power and it didn't start. I got a fresh new outdoor extension cord, plugged it in, and no luck. I fooled around a bit with the corroded connectors, and it worked. The boat was saved! Hurrah!
The water didn't get any deeper, but it didn't get any shallower, either. I looked at it, thinking intently.
My thoughts were interrupted by the sound of twin diesel engines. I looked up to see a most impressive sight: A huge motor yacht, gleaming new, with radar rotating impressively, was making a stop at the dock's pumping station to empty its holding tank. I realized that huge motor yachts often had huge pumps and the kind of resources needed to make my little problem look like child's play.
As 100 gallons of unmentionable crud were pumped expensively out of the big boat, I told the captain my tale of woe. He was gruff and not particularly friendly; I don't think he appreciated the interruption. But he was willing to help, and dragged out his gas-powered emergency pump. Muttering dark thoughts about what kind of liability the boat's owner would have if it sank, saying that he'd have it hauled immediately, and mumbling that I really should have called the harbour patrol instead, he started up the gas pump, whose massive flow of water made the bilge pump look like the toy it no doubt was.
While this was happening, he looked around the boat and found two open seacocks, which he felt were probably the problem. He closed them, thus solving the mystery of The Boat Who Wouldn't Float, Part II.
I visited the boat Monday morning, and only a tiny amount of water, easily controllable by the bilge pump, had leaked in.
So, if you're a sailor and resent that loud motor yacht with the boisterous partying and the huge generator noise ... remember, it can be a pretty useful thing to have around.
The Canadians who bought the boat struggled for about a week in an attempt to get it ready for sea. They found very early that the boat was not in quite the condition they had anticipated.
Adam did something that I will freely admit I wouldn't have done: He bought back the boat from them, and they faded into the sunset.
He was last seen tying it up at the Sea Scouts dock with hopes they would accept it as a donation; alas, they were not interested.
The rest of the story became glaringly public: The Towboat/US boat that he hired to tow the still unnamed Hallberg yacht to Redondo was sunk when the Hallberg lost its keel and gave up the ghost. Both vessels were eventually refloated, and the Hallberg went to its final resting place. So alas, my attempts to save the boat only delayed the inevitable, but it was still a memorable experience.
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