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Lessons Learned - Cabin Door Debacle

This is yet another story about a do-it-yourselfer and something that went wrong.

I needed to replace the refrigerator in my 24 foot Wellcraft cruiser.  Let’s not talk about why the fridge needed replacement but let’s just say that removing ice from the freezer with a screwdriver is not a good idea.  I figured the job would be easy.  A few screws, power connections for AC and for DC and it would be all done.  I estimated that the whole job would be 1 hour max.  It was a warm August Tuesday morning and I had decided to play hooky from the office.  After the job was done, my plan was to spend some time cruising around the lake, enjoying the nice weather and a cold beer or two from the new fridge.

The Bear's Den Sitting in her slip.

The Bear’s Den sat in her slip and the new unit was on the dock finger next to the boat.  All I had to do was remove the old unit, get it out of the boat and then do the reverse to install the new one.  I took my tools into the cabin and got to work.  Within a few minutes, the old refrigerator was disconnected and removed from the cavity.  I picked it up and made my way towards the cabin door but it would not go through.  I tilted and twisted it just about every way I could but it just would not fit.  I uttered a few (okay, maybe several) expletives.  Why would they build a boat where the refrigerator could not fit through the door?
I decided that to complete the job, I would need to remove the cabin door and this would provide the clearance I needed to get the old unit out and the new unit in.  I got my screwdriver and began to remove the 15 or so small screws securing the door to the hinge and shortly after the white polycarbonate folding cabin door was free.  Since the new unit was sitting on the dock to starboard, I folded it and leaned it against the gunwale on the port side of the boat.  Minutes later, the old refrigerator was sitting on the dock next to the new one.  After making sure everything was prepped, I picked up the new refrigerator. I turned towards the open passageway with the fridge in hand and then it happened.

What was the “it” that happened? Call it misalignment of the planets or maybe a bit of the curse of Davy Jones’ locker escaping from the depths.  Maybe it was Poseidon’s revenge.  Or maybe it was just bad timing.  Whatever it was, it happened.  It happened so fast, I did not have time to react, even though it seemed to play out in slow motion.  As I stood on the deck with a refrigerator in my arms, a larger than normal wave rolled in from the lake.  I still don’t know where it came from.  Maybe a large cruiser had just gone by and I did not see it.  It hit The Bear’s Den in the stern and she started pitching rather aggressively.    Instantly, I knew what was going to happen but there was nothing that I could do.  I helplessly watched the cabin door slide aft, fall perfectly in the open passageway at the stern, slide across the swim platform and into the water.  It then quickly slipped off into the depths of the lake and was gone in a second.

     conniption - noun, North American informal
      A fit of rage or hysterics.
     ‘his client was having conniptions on the phone’

It was a good thing that it was a Tuesday because during the week, there is typically not a lot of activity on the dock.  Most of my dock neighbors view me as rather even keeled guy that does not get too upset about anything.  They would have thought differently if they had been on M-Dock that day. 
I stood there with a refrigerator in my arms, staring at the water with my mouth agape.  I could not believe what I just witnessed.  Did I really just loose the cabin door of my boat to the depths of the lake?  After 30 or 45 seconds, I calmly place the new unit down on the deck, stepped onto the dock and then proceeded to burst into a fit of rage that would rival a category 5 hurricane.  Several minutes passed and I managed to calm myself down.  Not knowing what else to do, I proceeded to install the new refrigerator and verify that it was working properly.  I sat at the table in the cabin admiring my handiwork and managed to muster up a feeling of satisfaction.  But then my eyes once again focused on the gaping hole leading to the deck and the anger returned. 

The new refrigerator after installation.
“It’s not like I can just go to Home Depot and buy a new cabin door for my boat,” I thought.  “Hell, Wellcraft does not even make this model of boat anymore!”
I grabbed my cell phone and started dialing.  Within an hour or so, I had gotten in touch with a diver on Lake Lanier and he was on his way to my marina.  When he arrived, he explained how things would work.  It would be two hundred dollars for him to go down and he would continue searching for up to an hour.  At that point, if he did not find it, I could choose to have him continue for an additional $75 per hour.  Either way, there were no guarantees that the door would be found. 
Now, this may sound simple until you realize the history of the lake and the location of my dock.  Lake Lanier is a man-made lake and is located on what once was farm land and forest.  There are still trees, buildings, roads and who knows what else at the bottom of the lake.  A few years prior to this incident, my dock was struck by a tornado and much of it was destroyed and sank to the bottom 35 feet below.  To make things worse, when I saw the door disappear, I knew that it did not go straight down.  I imagined how difficult that it would be to find my sunken treasure but what choice did I have?

As the diver sank below the surface, I started the timer on my watch.  I stood intently on the dock and watched the bubbles rise to the surface and used this to surmise what part of the bottom that he was searching as time passed.  I could tell that he was searching based on a grid that he had set below.  At about 20 minutes, he surfaced and asked me if it looked like he was in the right area.
“Your guess is as good as mine.” I said. 

When the door first hit the water, I could see the direction in which it skated off but who knows what it did once it was out of sight.
“How is the bottom down there?” I asked. 
“It’s a mess.  Can’t see more than 5 feet in front of my face, even with the light and then when you touch anything, it stirs up a bunch of silt and makes things worse.”

He released the air from his vest and sank below to keep looking.  My heart sank.  This is not good, I thought.
At 50 minutes, he surfaced again to check his position and to tell me that there was still no luck.

“I’ve got a few more minutes.” He said.  “Let’s give it one more try.”
At that point, I figured that I was going to have to make a decision soon.  Is it worth another seventy-five dollars to have him keep looking?  If he has not found it by now, is there a real possibility that it could be found?  How much is a new door going to cost me?  Where am I going to find one?  How long will I have this gaping hole in my cabin?  I sat on the dock and hung my feet over the side to ponder these questions.  I could see that he was surfacing again.  I know, I know.  You need to know if you should continue, I thought.  The words he spoke, however, were different.

“Is this it?”
I looked down as he brought his hands out of the water, between them something white. 
“Holy s**t!” I yelled.  “You found it!”

I have never been so happy to see something as simple as a door.  After the diver was out of the water, I happily paid him (along with a tip) and sent him on his way.  I immediately reinstalled the door and let out a sigh of relief.  Then I wondered . . . there are some people who unfortunately have had their boat end up on the bottom but I wonder how many people have had just part of their boat at the bottom? 
Fortunately, I never had to remove that door again for anything but if the situation ever came up again, I would surely do it differently.

Happy Boating

Captain Frank
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