Don't leave home without a Marine

Mathias at the helm in the Straits of San Juan de Fuca on Day 2: A lot of chop, and wind on the nose all day.
May 12, 2015

When I started planning The Trip, I hoped that Mathias would join me for some segment of the voyage.  He is on a walk-about year after a long stint in the Marine Corps as a helicopter pilot, and I had it in mind to reserve the trip home from Sitka for him. Weather patterns and prevailing winds suggest it would probably be the best segment of the trip, and with the most sailing.  His other plans mitigated in favor of his joining me for the start of the trip instead.  This turned out to be a fateful adjustment in plans that probably made the whole thing work.

Ripple's regular home is on Lake Union, which means that the Fremont Bridge and the locks stand between us and Puget Sound.  The bridge is less than a half mile from my marina, and is the only bridge in the area that I need a lift to get under.  The night before departure, I took care of that by staging the boat on the Sound-side of the bridge so we wouldn't have to worry about the morning bridge traffic embargo (7 to 9 AM).  We got away early, and through the locks without mishap and motored north to Port Townsend.
Mathias tending lock lines on the way out to the Sound
More experienced cruisers than I will probably recognize that early days in a voyage often have some rough edges.  We had our share -- some minor, some rather more challenging.  Indeed, we had a crisis-a-day for the first week or so, and that week tested my resolve and my confidence.

But that first day, our optimism was unsullied by reality.  We had an easy trip to Port Townsend, and (because of Facebook postings) arrived with an invitation to a dinner get-together -- a feast of duck, and steak, and salmon tacos hosted by a PT Wooden Boat Festival friend, Emily Caryl.  We met some friendly folks there who all wished us well for the trip, and sent us to our berths well-fed and eager to head north.

Arriving back at Point Hudson Marina that night, the first crisis weaseled its way onto my list of concerns.  Checking the oil, I discovered a fuel leak. I had replaced the fuel filter canister on the engine block the week before, the bleed screw threads having been stripped during a recent overhaul. Short of time and discipline, I had reused the copper compression washers on the banjo fittings.  Bad idea.  The leak was enough to leave a tablespoon or so of fuel absorbed by diaper lining the engine compartment sole (for the non-mariners... diapers for marine applications are sheets of fuel/oil absorbent material that prefer petrochemicals to water... they are useful for absorbing small spills, and are used beneath engines as leak tell-tales). Compression washers are the simplest of engine parts, and size is critical. Suitable instances simply were not available. Enter Rescue Tape.

As every Rescue Tape sales person will tell you, there are myriad uses for this stuff, and I have to say, I am a believer. Improvised fan belts, electrical cable repairs, wrapping a fractured arm or a leaking water hose, taping yourself to the mast in a storm (think Moby Dick).  Also good for stemming the leak of a (low pressure) fuel line.  With the caveat that you have to redo it every few days, because diesel fuel weakens the stick-to-itselfness of the tape. A second layer of masking tape on top of the rescue tape increases the service life of this fix, but the best I got from it was about a week at a time.

Lessons learned:
  • Do not re-use compression washers.  I knew this, but sometimes you just need a dope-slap.
  • Your mechanic may screw up, but BOTH of you have to fail for it to become a problem.  It is the skipper's responsibility to assure that work done is work done correctly. 
  • Rescue Tape lives up to its billing.  It will always have an honored place in my tool kit.


  1. Stu, Very enjoyable reading. What a trip. Looking forward to future episodes.

  2. Just an idea... You could wrap the tape with the sticky side out around the leaK first and then wrap the tape around that to contain it. That should keep the leak contained and keep you from changing the wraps so frequently. Great blog! :-)


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