The blood in my veins ran cold. We had some rough weather all night and were finally just 20 miles off San Diego when something told me to go check the bilge. When I opened a floorboard the shock of seeing water sloshing against the bottom of it gripped me by the throat. I knew Charisma has a four foot deep bilge, so water within an inch of the top was a LOT of water. Instantly I pulled off the rest of the floorboards exposing the manual bilge pump and started pumping like hell. Almost right away it jammed. A problem I was having as I tested it two months ago before leaving, but I thought it was solved. There had been a lot of shavings and junk in the bilge and the filter kept jamming. I had cleaned it six times while in Berkeley and it seemed to have cleaned the bilge out, but now the same problem again. Probably two months of sailing and some small sloshing had dislodged more “gunk”. I ran to the electric bilge pump and turned it on. It started running, but watching the bilge, there seemed to be no reduction in water. I could hear that it was primed and pumping, but not fast enough!! That possibly meant a BIG leak.
Quickly now, my only alternative was to tear down the filter to the big pump and clean it. Jumped to it, cleaned, put back together, pump more. Air was leaking through the filter so the pump wasn’t working. Broke down the filter again, cleaned the gaskets and back together. Some air still leaking, but pump working to about half capacity. Now I’m pumping for all I’m worth and envisioning evacuating the boat into the liferaft I had bought but never intended to actually use. Thinking my arm is now getting really tired and sore and I’m not sure how much arm strength I’m going to have left, and then I noticed that the water was slowly decreasing. Yes, definitely getting lower. I’m making progress! Another couple minutes and I finally heard that awesome (at this point) sound of the pump pulling only air. The bilge had emptied. For now. Watching deep into the bilge for more water coming in I saw none. Hmmm. A mystery. Looks like we’re not sinking, at least for now.
With a reprieve, I took apart the filter in the large manual pump more thoroughly, especially the gaskets which seal it from air being sucked in and put that back together for the fourth time. Another look in the bilge, still no more water, so I can finally relax a bit and really start looking around inside the boat to see what the water damage might be. Turned out we had been on starboard tack all the time so it was the port side that received the water (not the starboard side where my clothes drawer is!) Unfortunately the port side is where a lot of the food is stored near the floor. Oops. Pulled up the cushions looked under the seat into the big bins and…oh yeah, water got in here big time. Soaked all the vegetables and other stuff, but fortunately most of it was sealed in plastic. Tortillas, crackers, cereal, rice, pasta and other such “long term” stuff were all protected. In fact the only casualty was a box of macaroni that had soaked through and “sloshed” its way through the food locker with some no doubt making it to the bilge. OK, clean the locker, dry the veggies (turned out this didn’t matter too much as most of the citrus, miscellaneous vegetables and apples were confiscated by customs in San Diego a little later that day).
OK, clean up done, still no water in the bilge, time to find out how the heck somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 or so gallons of water made it into the boat. Boats are supposed to keep this much water OUTSIDE. Started the mental checklist; chainplates, toe rail, deckplates…too small… anchor hawsepipes… (!!!) Ah ha, maybe the little holes where the chain went through the caps were sucking down water when we were burying the bow in the big waves all night. I went forward to have a look and found it big time. The port anchor chain hawsepipe had been knocked completely off leaving a gaping four inch hole right down into the chain locker with subsequent draining into the bilge. Yipes. How did that happen? Every wave must have dumped a couple gallons of water as the bow went under. A closer look revealed that the foot or so of chain running along the deck from anchor into the pipe had been getting knocked around by the big waves (I saw chafe on the deck) and finally one wave must have bumped it so hard it knocked the cover up and off. Actually a big relief to discover the problem. Now I can fix it and not worry about some invisible leak in the boat. I have now put a clip on the cover and attached it to a couple feet of chain hanging into the locker, so it’s now weighed down pretty well. I might yet also put a pin on it when I get back, but that should work for now, especially if I check it periodically if we get into some big seas again.
I think I’ve just found out what they say; “you can never have enough bilge pumps”.