Monday, December 07, 2009

Water, Water Everywhere

“I think we are sinking!” is probably the last thing you want to hear from your partner when you live on a sailboat. Seb and I had been sitting quietly reading when he placed his foot down into a giant puddle that was the floor of our living room. We pulled up the floorboards to find an overflowing bilge. We rapidly began to pump out water and Seb calmly called for backup from the other boats “Would someone mind coming to help us as we seem to have a large quantity of salt water on board…” This call elicited the rapid response of Jan Bart and both Jeroens and while Jan Bart, Jeroen (Mjolner) and I busied ourselves with bailing, Seb and Jeroen (Zilvermeeuw) searched for the ‘leak.’ We were able to reduce the level of water very quickly but were still troubled by the cause. After much discussion in which the varied experience of everyone was shared we narrowed it down to a problem with the bilge pump itself. This pump is designed to automatically pump water out of the boat when the water level rises above its sensors. This system has an air release linked to the bathroom sink. Seb and I had showered Emma and Macsen using the solar shower (a large bag of water heated by the sun) and had left the bag to dry off in the sink, unknowingly shutting off the air outlet. The bilge had been acting strangely so Seb shut it off temporarily and, given that the air release was blocked and the bilge pump is located below the water line, the bilge system started siphoning water into the boat!!! A strange combination of events that we were able to recreate by replacing the bag in the sink, adding water to the bilge and turning off the automatic bilge pump. Although quite shaken, we were extremely relieved to have discovered the cause and to find that it was something very preventable. Seb called my brother immediately after clean-up and they concluded that it was an unlikely design flaw that could be remedied by installing a vented loop in the tube under the bathroom sink. Whew! I am also pleased to report that although inwardly quite unsettled, we were able to stay calm throughout the event.

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