Thursday, October 14, 2010

Taking on Water is NOT Fun

"I'd rather be watching Modern Family"
I'm not sure what is worse, a hang-on-for-dear-life storm at sea or stepping into your boat.

I'm thinking stepping into water is the winner there.

That is what happened to us last night as we were approaching Buffalo Harbor, NY last night around 9pm.  We were motoring along without a care in the world when suddenly, Scott looked at our tachometer (the thing that reads the RPMs of the engine) and said, "Huh, the tachometer's not working".

Considering this is a brand new engine, I knew this wasn't good.  So I hopped online and a minute later I said, "When that goes out, usually it has something to do with the alternator...".


So Scott stepped down below to check out our battery meters and see if anything was amiss down there when he exclaims, "God, why are my socks all..." and before he could say wet, I knew.

"Check the bilge.  Right now...water!"

He did, and it was FULL and I mean OVERFLOWING FULL of water (like, floorboards floating).  If you are a boater, you know how awful this is, if you are not - just suffice it to say it brings your guts into your throat, adrenaline rushes through your veins and your heart, my god, it starts pounding.

The beautiful thing is this:  neither Scott or I went into panic mode.  We just sprung into action, as if this was something that happens all the time.  Like a well rehearsed ballet, if you will.
"Check the bilge pump, make sure it's on" I said.  It wasn't.  This was our first problem.  Scott turned it on, turned the engine off and I jumped on the manual bilge pump and started pumping almost as fast as my heart was pounding.

"Check every seacock!"  I said to Scott between desperate pumps.  He tore through the cabin and came back about a minute later. (Seacocks are valves that go through the boat, to the water).

"All dry.  Everything is fine."

This was good.  This meant water was not gushing into the boat.  Gushing would be bad.  Very bad. Phew. Bullet: Dodged.

Once we pumped out all the water and opened up the engine compartment - steam poured our everywhere.  Our cabin turned into sauna city.  The first instant the steam poured out of the engine room we were nervous.  But then we realized it was steam, not smoke.  Steam is okay.  It was just the bilge water being heated.  Sigh. Smoke would have been very bad.  We considered this another dodged bullet.

We tried to turn the engine. It started...and died.


Again.  Same thing.

And there we were - just bobbing around in the dark of night, with the bright lights of Buffalo teasing us in the distance, feeling just a teeny bit helpless.  "There is a solution" Scott thought out loud.

We have a water cooled engine, meaning every time you turn the engine, water is pulled into the boat.  If you turn and turn and turn the engine without getting it running you could flood your engine and do permanent damage.  Luckily, we remembered this.  Scott shut off the water intake seacock and we waited.  We took a deep breath and tried it again.

It worked! 

Hooray for us.  Our boat was full of water and sauna steamy, but by golly it was working and we were heading into port!  Happy days!

Once we got into the harbor - instead of cozying up with hot cocoa and an episode of “Modern Family” (Best. Show. Ever) - we sopped up our little water logged boat for over 2 hours.  Bonus?  We got to clean underneath every. single. floorboard. 5 full buckets later and we were dry.  (Remember that heater I mentioned in the last post - yeah.  Love it.) Plus, all our carpets got a little wash.  

We also determined our problem.  I won't go all into it here and I won't get all sailory-technical (because a lot of you are not sailors), but our bilge pump - the very thing that is supposed to take water OUT of our boat, is siphoning back into the boat (only when we are motoring and the butt of our boat goes down in the water) by some law of physics I care not to go into here.  Hence why we were unable to see it coming in during all our previous checks.  Point for super-sleuths with deductive reasoning: Brittany and Scott!

So here is what we learned:
  1. When things go wrong on a boat, they go wrong FAST.  One minute you can be dancing around in the cockpit singing, “In Neeew YoooOOOrk...Concrete jungle where dreams are maAAde of...there’s nothing you can’t doooo....” (annoyingly over-played song by Jay Z. and Alicia Keyes) and the next, you can be pumping your little heart out hoping your boat isn’t sinking.  Crazy dichotomy there.
  2. This little problem of ours could have totally been avoided had we been more diligent at checking our bilge.  If I or Scott had check even ONCE in the prior 4 hours, we would have seen that it was filling and would have noticed that our bilge pump wasn’t on and turned it on saving us a few hours of mopping up lake water and allowing us to enjoy more episodes of “Modern Family” (did I already mention that this is the best show ever?).  Even the tiniest, simplest SOP’s must be adhered to.  No questions. But then again, if we didn't flood- we never would have realized that our bilge pump was siphoning water back into the boat.  So, yeah. Moving along...
Thanks to my nifty label maker, we will not forget to check the bilge again! Have you checked your bilge today?
Regardless of all this, Scott and I think we are pretty dang lucky (even if we are sitting in a slip in Buffalo with an engine that might need a new transmission - but that is the next post! ).  First of all, the lake was calm and flat when this occurred.  That was nice.  Second, we took on FRESH water, not salt.  Salt water would have been a REEEEAAL pain in the ass to clean up.  Third, the flooding (as awful as it was) forced us to figure out where the water was coming from and helped us determine the root of the problem (which we didn't know we had) and fourth, we learned, again, that we both totally keep our cool and spring into action (and not panic) when things go wrong.  This can actually be the difference between life and death in a far more serious situation.  We were never in serious danger (once we realized water was only trickling into the boat, and not gushing) and we just kept cool and dealt with it.

Just like we are now dealing with a (possibly) failed transmission. 

But that is for the next post.

Stick with us, kids, never a dull moment!


Erick said...

Glad you got it all worked out! I've had the engine spew steam out a few times before. Definitely the most terrifying feeling when you think it is smoke, but very relieving when you realize it is steam.

Windsong only became full of water a few times because the bilge pumps were accidentally turned off. But it was nerve wracking the whole time it was in water due to the leaking stuffing box and knowing the bilge pumps have to work every day. Thank goodness I can get that fixed on the hard now.

GalleySwap said...

hahaha. Our pump does the same thing on a port tack! The first time it happened we were in salt water so when we got back home to the mighty Columbia we flooded the bilge on purpose with good ole' river water and got her all sparkly clean and salt free...
Sorry about your transmission. Total bummer!
And thanks for all your great posts. It gets me through the (work)day. ;-)

Neophyte Cruiser said...

I'm sure this will become one of the stories about your cruise that you will have fun with in the months and years to come. Good job keeping cool and finding the source of your problem. I'll be interested in hearing how you resolve the bilge pump back-flow issue and find out more about your transmission problem. We, too, had some transmission problems with our Yanmar and had it rebuilt over the summer. Enjoy your cruise and keep the blog alive.

Lara Kercinik said...

This is the best blog on my list these days. Sorry AlwaysJacked and Hannemaniacs - Windtraveler has you both beat. I love being a little sea mouse in your sail. Keep em' coming. Happy Sailing... xoxo

Anonymous said...

If you keep this up (the writing, not the water in the bilge), you are going to have the best written, most interesting sailing blog on line. Good luck.

Windtraveler said...

Awww...thanks Anonymous! And everyone else! Right of passage perhaps!?

Kev said...

Im glad you guys are getting this all out of the way before I come for out there.

Brett Anderson said...

Hi guys,

My last boat did the same thing when squatting under power and I was able to solve the problem by re-plumbing the hose coming from the through hull and running it up into a locker above the waterline and adding and anti-siphon loop. Just be careful to test it and make sure the bilge pump has enough power to still pump the water through the loop and overboard. Good luck with all!

Anonymous said...

Brett has the correct idea - a high loop like a garbage disposal has to eliminate the backflow. Also, does the trans have a slinger seal to allow ventilation? If water gets into the gear box you could have something called hydrolock. btw, your write very well - Loyola Education.

Windtraveler said...

Thanks every one!! Brett - we will try what you suggest...thanks!!
@ Lara - awww....thanks hon!! Hope all is well back in Chi!! xoxoxo
@anonymous - hmm...not sure, we'll check - but looking at the trans it is hard to imagine water getting in there...we'll look at this though, thank you so much for the suggestion!

Windtraveler said...

Oh an @ the other anonymous - thank you for the compliment! Very very flattering for sure! I will be sure to keep on writing!

Anonymous said...

one way check valve is the fix

Aaron Schutzer said...

I've actually experienced a similar back-flow problem on my boat as well. Only, instead of happening with the bilge pump, it was just the shower sump pump. Thankfully, because the water was localized under the shower grate, this made the problem extremely easy to identify. My solution was to pump the water out and then pull off and cork the outlet hose. Since then, just so I have the option, I've put an in-line stop valve on the hose.

I'll be sure to keep your story in mind if I ever see something similar happen with my bilge! Thanks.

Chasm said...

I'm backtracking through your blog.
By now you probably have heard it a few times in but it has not been commented on as reference for others: Have more than one floating switch / water alert in your bilge. A "low" one to switch on the usual pump, a "high" one to give an audible alert and switch one another pump (if you have one). If you have separated bilges do it for all of them.
Switches will fail, pumps will fail. More than simple redundancy, a switch that usually stays dry is less likely to fail.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...