Tragedy East of Florida

K2MSmith

Sustaining Member
Being pretty new to maintaining my own boat and in the interest of keeping it safe, I'm kind of wondering about the different failure modes of a through hull valve. If the hose connected to it broke or popped off (maybe the host clamp failed), I could see how you would get a lot of water coming in. So, checking hoses is a good thing. How does the valve itself fail and let that much let water in ? If the fitting to the hull is tight, you could get a trickle but it's not going to be a gusher of water if there is a leak. Maybe around the handle ? I guess we will never know in this particular case, but something to think about in terms of our own boats.
 

Geoff W.

Makes Up For It With Enthusiasm
Blogs Author
also:

"boat took on water, from below the water line.. capsized for 5min...then, sank right away...30-35 foot seas..30-40 kts wjnd..crazy...."
 

Roger Janeway

Member II
. . . I'm kind of wondering about the different failure modes of a through hull valve.
When I bought my boat, the surveyor noted PVC plastic elbows on the foreward thru-hull valves for the head intake and discharge and recommended they be replaced. The boatyard where I'm a tenant was nonchalant about the PVC elbows and said that lots of boat manufacturers used them. But eventually I got nervous enough about them to replace them with bronze elbows. Those elbows are between the hole in the hull and the valve, so if they fail, you are out of luck unless you can stick a wooden bung in there fast. I expect the surveyor knew there was some good reason to avoid PVC plastic there.
 

Slick470

Member III
Probably not what happened here, but a few years ago after a distance race we were bringing a friends boat back in some very snotty and lumpy conditions where we were mostly on one tack. Well, an hour or so in we notice a bad smell, and think maybe we hit something dead with the keel, but it goes away. A couple hours later we notice the smell again but this time it doesn't go away. There were 3 or 4 of us and we've just been wrapped up in foulies and trucking along on deck. My buddy happens to go below and the smell is much worse below so he starts hunting for the source.

Turns out the holding tank was full to almost bursting which was odd since we had pumped out before we left the day before and there is no way we had filled it in that amount of time. We were getting the bad smell from the vent which was doing it's very best to handle the overpressure. It seems that the overboard discharge valve had failed and every time the boat pounded into a wave it forced a little bit of water into the tank.

My buddy closed the through hull, but instead of continuing on our course and potentially making the problem worse we bore off and diverted to another marina, got pumped out, fuel, a guest slip, and hot food.

I can only imagine if this had happened when my buddy was single handing. He might not have noticed the problem until he heard a holding tank fitting give way or split a seam, if even then. Shit happens out there, Sometimes literally.
 

Alan Gomes

Contributing Partner
When I bought my boat, the surveyor noted PVC plastic elbows on the foreward thru-hull valves for the head intake and discharge and recommended they be replaced. The boatyard where I'm a tenant was nonchalant about the PVC elbows and said that lots of boat manufacturers used them. But eventually I got nervous enough about them to replace them with bronze elbows. Those elbows are between the hole in the hull and the valve, so if they fail, you are out of luck unless you can stick a wooden bung in there fast. I expect the surveyor knew there was some good reason to avoid PVC plastic there.
You need to find another boatyard, Roger! BoatUS put me on probation until I changed those, which I was only too eager to do. PVC is completely unacceptable for that application.
 

Roger Janeway

Member II
I recognize your point, Alan, but we don't have much choice here in Marina del Rey, and I think they are over all OK. (I'm also their slip tenant.) Christian recently blogged about his repair experience at the same boatyard.
 

racushman

O34 - Los Angeles
If that's what happened here, it gives pause to the notion that one could easily find and block a broken seacock.
I imagine that, unless detected and identified very quickly, a completely failed seacock would fill the boat so quickly that most skippers couldn't get to it in time to block the leak. We probably also imagine in our mind's eye that the sea will be calm and the boat will remain essentially level, so that the water would rise slowly and evenly inside the boat.

Pairing that info (failed seacock) with the USCG video showing the boat very much bow-down in the water, one can imagine how difficult and dangerous it would be at that stage to go down below, in an angry seaway, duck under perhaps 3ft of water in the forward end of the boat, in a steeply angled cabin, to search for and block a broken seacock in a forward head.
I think it's also important to recognize the very practical human factor that this all happened at night.

Boat is getting tossed around in high winds and seas. Likely even the activity of moving around below is a challenge. Skipper suddenly notices that there's water above the floorboards... cushions and junk start to float around the cabin. You're trying to figure out where the water is even coming from. And it's coming in fast. You're trying to hold on to the boat with one hand, hold a flashlight in the other, and you really need a third hand to tear open lockers and find the leak.

I can see how this could happen to me, and how it could unravel fast.

Thank goodness for the nice folks at Garmin and the USCG
 

1911tex

Sustaining Member
My guess of an opinion: If the thru-hull valve had no before or after PVC connections...but bronze or another approved marine product, then my thoughts go to hose failure downstream from the open thru-hull valve. Personal example, the Galley sink flexible drain hose. I say that in retrospect because a week after I purchased the boat, there was the galley sink hose that had a small 1/2" split on the opposite side from view...the split was where the hose clamp attached to the thru-hull valve. I didn't notice it prior, neither did the surveyor. The leak was very, very slow when the thru-hull valve was open. I didn't notice the leak until I crawled down to open the engine fresh water valve and there was a small puddle of water. I can only imagine if an engine fresh water valve "hose" suddenly leaked with the engine in operation; or even an HVAC fresh water cooling hose if there is one!!!
HOSES, HOSES, HOSES ~~~!!!! Every time I crawl down to open or close a thru-hull......I run my hands up and down all the thru' hull hoses. Only takes a few seconds. No wet, no problem..I don't care if the hoses are new.

Now this thread emphasizes this inspection!!
 
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Drewm3i

Member II
Hey guys, my name is Drew and I am the previous owner of the 1987 E-38-200 that met its fate about 150 miles out to sea, due east of St. Augustine. I am not going to say much about Richard's journey, as that is his to share or not share, but I can provide some information about the boat that is of interest. This has been a very hard week for Richard, as well as myself and my wife as we loved "Walden," named for Thoreau's book of the same name.

I owned the boat from August 2018-December 2019 and did an extensive refit during that time. Long story short, my wife and I ran out of time/budget on the boat and reluctantly sold the boat to Richard--a nice gentleman and life-long sailor from out West who worked for Ericson back in the day and has owned many Ericson boats, including an E-32 and E-28 I believe.

A few things of note about this boat:

The previous owner before me kept the boat behind his house in South FL and used it as a day sailor/weekender for 20+ years so it was near mint in many ways, but not battle tested like it would be as a cruiser.

While we were under contract, the boat was struck by lightning (side flash), which fried most DC electronics like the stereo, vhf, wind instruments, wheel pilot, etc. This allowed us to purchase the vessel at a greatly reduced price.

The hull was surveyed professionally by us and passed with flying colors with the exception that the boat had hundreds of blisters when we got it, despite having been barrier coated by the p/o (his boatyard had barrier coated the hull without fixing the blisters). We ground them all out and fiberglassed them with cloth and resin before painting the bottom again. This took us about six months of hell.

The rudder on this vessel was solid and not an issue at all (no play), in fact Richard kept steering until the bitter end. It never leaked on us or gave us any issues, so I doubt that this could have been the source of the leak.

We replaced all of the standing rigging and re-bedded the fore and aft chainplates with new bolts. On our first passage in 20 knot winds and one reef and a partially furled genoa, we broke a port u-bolt chainplate (I caught it during a deck inspection 25 miles off the coast of SW FL). For me--after the refit--this was the straw that broke my will to continue on with the refit. Before selling the boat to Richard, I replaced 2 of 8 u bolt style chainplates and gave him parts to do the rest. Richard had also just outfitted the boat with new sails. As a result, the rig and sails sustained the gale conditions without failure. The mast had also been painted with polyurethane, not that it matters, but the point is that this boat was in beautiful condition as Richard can attest to.

We installed all new B&G instruments and Garmin radar and VHF. Richard added a below decks Garmin autopilot, so this vessel was in no way ill-equipped or in poor condition. I'm not sure if Richard ever installed an electric windlass on the boat, but I gave him a manual lofrans windlass to install with the sale.

The boat had 300w of brand new solar and a quality Avon dinghy and 10hp Mercury outboard. The boat had three bilge pumps--two electric (2,000 GPH+800 GPH) and one manual (10 GPM Whale Gusher IIRC). All three reportedly failed or couldn't keep up when needed, despite Richard having them professionally inspected/rebuilt (the manual whale). The electric bilge pumps worked when we had the boat (never needed or tried the manual as we spent most of our time in a slip or boatyard), but one had a quirk where it shared a thru-hull with the shower sump and a selector valve that the p/o had installed. I didn't get around to ameliorating this and I do not recall if Richard had asked me about this (there are so many systems on a boat like this to go over).

The Yanmar engine on this vessel was under the sink and had a traditional shaft seal (unsure the age, but it was flax packing material). I'm not sure if this could have failed or not, but it never gave us any issues minus dripping into the bilge for a few hours after a haulout.

When I had the boat surveyed, the surveyors were concerned about the OEM pvc elbows that Ericson idiotically used. As they didn't leak or appear weak in any way, neither Richard nor I replaced them (too much other stuff to worry about on boats this big and old). The boat had all marelon fittings below the water line and all were double clamped. One of my projects was to go through and replace all the rusty hose clamps I found with the best quality 316 SS clamps I could get, which gave piece of mind. Some of the hoses were newer, others were old but looked to be in good condition. The p/o probably did more replacing of this sort of thing than I did, as he owned the boat for two decades. The sink hose was ribbed and flexible IIRC.

The keel as far as I know, was never rebedded, but did not "smile." The bolts and nuts were not especially rusty, but the washers were (common issue on this forum). I had planned to rebed the keel if we kept the boat at a yard on the east coast and encouraged Richard to do the same because I think it is prudent. Despite this, the keel went down with the boat and clearly stayed attached from the video. Whether it opened or not under the stress of 20-35 foot seas (continually building during frontal squalls I believe), can't be known.

I replaced the paddlewheel depth/speed transducer, but left alone an old unattached one next to it. Like all of the other fittings on the boat, it was plastic. Maybe one of these busted? Who knows at this point. They were installed with plenty of 5200 and the factory fairing blocks. I had also replaced some of the thru-hulls at the stern of the vessel that were cracked plastic (above the waterline), with stainless. Nonetheless, the boat didn't sink in a matter of minutes, but hours from what I know. Again, the conditions were awful and getting worse by the hour. With a crew of one, this makes troubleshooting really difficult in these types of seas (I can only imagine).

We never had the boat out in more than 6 foot seas, but the electric head that the p/o installed did fill up with water under a heel to starboard in those conditions, which led me to close the thru-hull valve. It had just started to splash over the bowl after a few hours, putting a small amount of water on the floor. As a crew of three, I was able to constantly check for issues, while others slept or manned the helm. This was how I caught the cracked (corroded) u-bolt chainplate, for example.

Unfortunately, the cause of the sinking is not known but this was a well-maintained and well-inspected vessel overall. Richard was headed to the Carolinas to have new interior cushions and other further projects done.
 
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Drewm3i

Member II
This is the boat:


My friend got it wrong about the lightning strike: years ago (like 2014-ish) when the p/o had the boat, there was an EMP event from a thunderstorm that fried some electronics. Then, while we were under contract for her, she was side struck which fried some more, but not anything on the AC circuit curiously. She sure was a beauty! The only things I would have recommended for her would have been a proper two-part paint job and a keel re-bed.

I think the moral of the story is to be vigilant and replace any and all thru-hull fittings and hoses...maybe even close most seacocks before a long passage. If I ever get a sailboat again (have a power boat now), I think the first thing I would do is replace all thru-hulls with bronze fittings in light of this, including transducers.
 

toddster

Curator of Broken Parts
Blogs Author
Hard to know what to think, except post #27 is good food for thought.
I’ve noted previously that the rudder post on my boat is completely open to the rest of the boat, unreachable or observable in stock condition, and a little crack there is eminently capable of sinking the boat.
 

Drewm3i

Member II
Hard to know what to think, except post #27 is good food for thought.
I’ve noted previously that the rudder post on my boat is completely open to the rest of the boat, unreachable or observable in stock condition, and a little crack there is eminently capable of sinking the boat.
I do not think it likely that the rudder shaft was the culprit. It was in excellent condition with no leaks, play, binding, etc. I don't think you can compare a smaller boat's rudder to the E-38 which is very robust for a spade rudder as this was intended as a seagoing vessel and so the design tolerances were much greater initially.

I think the weak points on a boat like this are nearly 35-year-old hard to see/reach hoses, pvc fittings, and marelon thru-hull/sea cocks. With the engine under the galley, certain seacocks and hoses were even harder to see and access, including the bilge pumps and float switches. There were some that I had to just reach around to open by feel and could only see with an inspection camera and a flashlight...not ideal.

As a side note, here was the listing for the boat: https://ericsonyachts.org/ie/threads/1987-ericson-38-200-for-sale.16958/#post-125525

It was sold through this forum.
 

Parrothead

Member III
I'd be interested in knowing what thru-hulls were located in the forward section of the boat, if they were plastic or had plastic fittings attached and what equipment or stores were in the same area that may have been moving about in a wild seaway risking thru-hull damage. Same question regarding the knotmeter thru-hulls.
 

Loren Beach

O34 - Portland, OR
Senior Moderator
Blogs Author
I'd be interested in knowing what thru-hulls were located in the forward section of the boat, if they were plastic or had plastic fittings attached and what equipment or stores were in the same area that may have been moving about in a wild seaway risking thru-hull damage. Same question regarding the knotmeter thru-hulls.
Only thruhulls forward in most of our boats are for the KM and DS. They appear to be pretty sturdy, but still need inspection regularly. Most that I have (or have seen) are molded plastic material. Ours is a molded nylon casting, used by our Raymarine instruments. If, for some odd reason, one of those came loose, you would have a hole over an inch to 1.5" in diameter. Even if only the internal transducer popped out, it would leave about a 1" hole -- that is where the dummy plug usually goes.

That's a lot of water inflow potential. If that allowed enough loose water inside before discovery, it would be quite darned hard to find and insert the factory 'dummy' plug, or drive in a damage control plug, in a rolling boat in big seas.
:(

And that's if you Knew For Sure what the problem was before you waded into knee deep rolling waters in the forward cabin.
:(

So, if you fell or were struck by a boat part and were injured, and then discovered a lot of water below, you would be in the classic situation that can sink a boat -- "cascading failures". I recall reading somewhere that it's seldom just one problem that gets you, it's a sudden multiplying number of problems. (sigh....)
 

windblown

Member II
So sad to see such a beautiful, well-equipped and well-maintained Ericson go down. It heightens all of our awareness about the risks and wonder of tackling sea and weather in our little plastic boats. They are amazingly strong, and alarmingly fragile, which, I suppose, is some of the great attraction of sailing. With each post about this tragedy, my imagination goes more into what must have been a horrific experience for a solo skipper who first tries to save his vessel with all his skills and experiences and then must yield to trying to survive himself, in the dark of night, raging seas, and land a hundred miles out of sight. It is so good that Richard survived and was rescued. It is evident that to me that it was due to experience, preparation, and a heroic feat on the part of the skipper, as well as heroic response of the Coast Guard.
 

toddster

Curator of Broken Parts
Blogs Author
I do not think it likely that the rudder shaft was the culprit. It was in excellent condition with no leaks, play, binding, etc. I don't think you can compare a smaller boat's rudder to the E-38 which is very robust for a spade rudder as this was intended as a seagoing vessel and so the design tolerances were much greater initially.

I think the weak points on a boat like this are nearly 35-year-old hard to see/reach hoses, pvc fittings, and marelon thru-hull/sea cocks. With the engine under the galley, certain seacocks and hoses were even harder to see and access, including the bilge pumps and float switches. There were some that I had to just reach around to open by feel and could only see with an inspection camera and a flashlight...not ideal.

As a side note, here was the listing for the boat: https://ericsonyachts.org/ie/threads/1987-ericson-38-200-for-sale.16958/#post-125525

It was sold through this forum.
Indeed. I shouldn't have attempted a late-night post. That pretty much captures the incomplete thought I was going for - the daunting prospect of crawling into confined space in the dark, possibly underwater, and the possibility that the breach might not be the same place where the water is accumulating.
"Capsize for 5 minutes"? All kinds of mayhem could occur.
 
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