On my most recent positioning trip north, things got a bit rough, about as rough as I’ve seen on these little ships that I work on. It wasn’t so much that the seas were huge, I’ve seen bigger, it was that winds were blowing something fierce.
As we left Ensenada, Mexico the captain gave us the weather forecast, and all seemed to be well. He gave us the warning that we might be heading into 12 to 14 foot seas, which is plenty for us, with a 10-20 knot wind coming at us from the North. Being the Salty Sea Dogs we were, me and the other engineer both kind of laughed in a sick way and went about our business. We both know that weather forecasts are worthless most of the time. Unfortunately the three green deck hands and the galley crew had no idea what they were in for. At least there were only twelve crew on this journey.
The waters off Tijuana and San Diego were about where the captain had told us they would be, and a few hours into our trip most of the crew was already “Green” and down for the count. After taking up the slack and making sure that everything was going to stay with us on the ride north, I finally headed to my rack to get a little sleep at around midnight.
At two thirty I get up, with a feeling that something is not quite right to the ship pitching and swirling like it was getting flushed down a toilet. Front to back and side to side motions in no particular order always makes life interesting. I hadn’t even bothered to get undressed, I had just kicked my shoes off and closed my eyes. It took a couple minutes just to get my shoes on, I had to sit on the deck and lean up against the bulkhead. Pretty funny, actually, now that I think about it.
So I get up and head back to the galley and crew mess, to find the deck hands and the other engineer running around with sopping wet towels and and shop vac’s like mad men.
“What’s going on?!?!?!” I say.
“There’s a leak around the ‘watertight’ door.” Justin the deck hand says, completely unamused.
“Oh, crap.” I say.
Perry, the other engineer and my mentor says to me, “You ready to get wet?”
“Sure, let’s swim.” I say, Just then, I look out the window of the door, which is normally seven or eight feet above the water line and it is literally five feet under water. I just look in amazement untill the water receeds a minute later. “This is going to be interesting.”
“Yeah, take a look at the doors for the trash locker.” Perry points to the doors that got ripped off their hinges that were now effectively shrapnel for anyone silly enough to be in their way.
“Uh, I guess we better fix those too!” I say.
So we go forward to the ladderwell in the center of the boat, up a deck then back to the aft deck above where the water tight door is. Standing at the top of the ladder going down to the area where the watertight door and garbage locker are, the “fantail”, we stand and watch the waves splash for a couple of minutes. “It’s not looking good” I say to Perry.
“Let’s do it!” He cries as he starts down the ladder. I follow with my hand on his back like I was going to hold him on the boat or something if a wave came up and got us.
Half way down the ladder the first wave splashes us and we are wet from head to toe. We take the shock of the cold water in for a second then head down as the wave receeds. First we go over to the doors floating around on the deck and put them back on the hinges. No easy task, considering the waves are trying to rip them right back out of our hands. A few waves later we have them back on and tied off real good with some line. That problem solved.
On to the “watertight” door. Five minutes of getting splashed and my toes are getting a little cold. After close inpsection it looks like the gasket got ripped out of the door. The force that waves are hitting us, I can understand how. “Ok, I have a plan” says Perry.
I nod and we head back up to the next level.
“I’ll grab some line and you grab a wax toilet ring.”
“Got ya, good idea” I say.
After retrieving the goods we meet back up at the aft upper deck. Perry grabs the wax and rubs it into the rope, making a seal for the door. The man is a genius.
We head back down, wet and cold don’t really matter anymore. We push the wax covered line into the gap between the door and the frame slowly and surely. When we feel good that we have it sealed up we make our way back inside.
I remember thinking to myself that I wished I had just worn my swim shorts and sandals. I wasn’t, though. As we laid in the dining room sopping wet and shivering we had a new found respect for dry and heat.
The seas took days to calm down. At one point we were up to 20 foot seas with a 60 mph head wind. It was the worst conditions either boat had seen in quite some time. It was quite a ride.