Messing About

by John Karklins

While it is undeniably true that "there is nothing - absolutely nothing - half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats...", one should be aware that such activities sometimes lead down a chain of apparently unrelated events to strange and mysterious endings. Thus, the recently undertaken mundane activity of replacing the head on my Allied Seawind, ZVIRBULIS III ended up in the to date unsolved disappearence of seven unhatched ducklings.
To tell a story, one begins at the beginning. It started with preparations to pump out the holding tank in order to then test the various components of the recirculating MSD system aboard to pinpoint the cause of the failure of the system to, in a word, flush. In approaching my vessel with this purpose in mind one Friday morning I noticed a drake leaving the deck in some haste. I must have been unusually slow that morning In that I managed to board the boat, turn on the electricity and cooling water, start the engine, tie the dinghy to the mooring pendant, etc., before noticing the female duck stubbornly holding her ground between the lazarette hatch and the stern mooring cleat.
Since I needed to attach the stern mooring line to said cleat, I continued my somewhat unenlightened activities by unceremoniously shooing away the reluctant female. In my autopilot mode it took a few seconds more to dawn on me, that she had left behind a total of four eggs.
Automatically continuing my activities directed at taking my ship to the pump-out station the unoccupied part of my mind mused over the new possibilities offered up by the eggs. Should I simply pitch them? I had heard that duck eggs made fine omelets and knew that my good friend Russ Nelson, who came to sailing from a farm background, would approve of such a choice.
The sight of the two ducks in the water, the female to starboard, the male to port, both displaying some anxiety, made me slow my preparations for departure. O.K. - I wasn't all THAT anxious to mess around the component parts of a used MSD... maybe I could let nature take it's course... The female was swimming closer and closer to the starboard quarter displaying every intention of boarding...
Without knowing quite why, I found myself switching off the engine, turning off the water, etc., locking up the boat and abandoning it to a couple of ducks for what was still an unknown period of time. The female was back on board, sitting on the eggs, before I cast off the dink.
On the 10 - 15 minute row to the dingy dock I wondered about the incubation time of duck eggs. No doubt it was at least a couple of weeks... My decision looked less and less rational in view of the time ratio between the known length of the Chicago sailing season and the as yet unknown but suspectedly substantial incubation time of my guests eggs.
I spent some time that afternoon watching the ducks from my living room window through binoculars. They had apparently settled in. The female remained immobile on the eggs next to the lazarette hatch. The male, when "in residence" tended to strike heroic poses on the main hatch, like some admiral un the flying bridge of a ship of war. He was absent some of the time.
Time went by. I called the Field Museum of Natural History and spoke to the head of the ornithology department, who informed me that the incubation time for duck eggs is 28 days ( 4 weeks !!! ), that ducks could leave their nest for relatively substantial periods of time without endangering the eggs, that ducklings were hatched ready to do their thing, whatever that was, without much further care being needed. He predicted that I would face a brood of ducklings in a couple of weeks or so.
More time went by. I marked my calendar. I made several trips out to the "nest", during which I observed the number of eggs grow from 4 to 7. (More time !!!) I put a mooring line loop around the eggs to keep them close and prevent them from rolling into the scuppers. Mama duck appeared to accept this improvement. Life went on.
On a Sunday, about a week before the expected first hatchings I failed to see the ducks through the binoculars. On Monday I rowed out and found the ducks gone. The yolk of one egg had run in the scupper and the rest were gone. No broken egg shells could be found. Who knows...
The demise of the ducks allowed me to proceed with my marine plumbing project. In the end I replaced a $700 marine toilet (cast bronze piping, pump & fittings) with a $150 marine toilet by the same manufacturer (plastic piping, pump & fittings) only to discover that the flushing problem most likely could have been solved by replacing a defective "Y" valve with a $1.00 straight through fitting. I have been informed by others of our kind that this sort of thing is not uncommon when "messing about in boats".
Well, the $700 toilet was original equipment, some 30 years old; the porcelain was chipped and cracked and the finish was loosing its grip on the seat surfaces - it was probably time to replace it anyway...