Taking on water….

I suppose that I’m a bit old-fashioned when it comes to some aspects of sailing. This is especially true in regards to matters related to navigation. While I appreciate the chartplotter and GPS, I do believe there is no substitute for the classic approach to navigating a sailing vessel with paper charts, a compass, dividers, a plotter, and a knotmeter/fathometer to glean information regarding depth, speed, and distance traveled. Another, somewhat old-fashioned approach would be my belief in the old adage that “the captain goes down with the ship” or, at the very least, is going to do everything possible to ensure that the ship doesn’t go down! These two beliefs became inextricably related yesterday afternoon.

We had taken Skiron out over the weekend for a bit of sailing, motoring, and a picnic on the Bay. While on our adventures I noted the fathometer was working, and seemed fairly accurate based on my knowledge of the SF Bay and Sausalito channel, yet, the knotmeter seemed to not work at all. The infamous chartplotter showed our SOG yet our boat speed was zero. I suspected marine growth of sorts.

A couple of days later, I returned to the vessel and began the process of removing the instrument from its through hull. I filled the through hull with the matching plug. The knotmeter was fairly clean. Yet, the wheel did not spin. I was able to locate and remove a gelatinous spongy bit of biological material that had decided to fill a gap in the upper recess of the paddle wheel of the knotmeter.

The marine life responsible for a nonfunctional knotmeter.

Normally, after cleaning I would pull the plug, replace the knotmeter, and then sponge out the liter or two of water from the forward portion of the bilge. This time, however, since there seemed to be more water than usual I sponged out the excess before changing the plug with the instrument. I left the site for a couple of minutes or so only to return and find that there was additional water in the bilge I had just cleared. That’s when I noticed a leak. Water was clearly tricking in from the through hull around the plug! That’s an easy fix….pull the plug and insert the instrument. Sponge. Dry. Not so fast!!

I tried with all my might. It didn’t matter how hard I pulled or from which direction. That plug wasn’t coming out. I decide to press it in more firmly. It didn’t budge. It seemed to be in all the way. Yet, it was leaking. Tightening the collar of the plug only made the leak worse.

The leaky plug with water in the bilge.

Fortunately, I harbor Skiron in Sausalito just a stones throw from KKMI. They had installed the through hull when I updated electronics over a year ago. I walked over and spoke with a project manager and requested his assistance. He was tied up but indicated he would be over in an hour or so. During the hour I had the opportunity to determine that the vessel was taking on about four liters of water per hour. The leak rate seemed to be increasing over time. The KKMI project lead finally arrived. He was unable to pull the plug nor stop the leak.

My vessel is a dry boat. In over two years of ownership there has never been a sufficient amount of water in the boat to challenge the bilge pump. It certainly seems to work when the switch is flipped but it’s never been tested. I simply didn’t wish to trust the security of the vessel to its bilge pump for service to be performed the next day. We agreed that the leak should be dealt with promptly. The kind folks at KKMI, though it was late and they were tidying up to close for the day, suggested I motor over, we lift the boat out of the water, try to to get the plug out with no risk of water intrusion, replace the knotmeter, put the boat back in the water. Done. What’s that old saying about the plans of mice and men?

Skiron at the KKMI dock awaiting a crane.

Well. As fate would have it, the KKMI crane was undergoing maintenance as it had a few telemetry issue. I did hear there was a recent solar storm. Perhaps this had something to do with the matter of the crane not accepting operator inputs via telemetry. The staff at KKMI were able to get the crane operational but were uncomfortable with the uncertainty about its function until able to perform a series of validations.

The KKMI crane lurking above Skiron.

Twelve to fourteen gallons of water wouldn’t be enough to sink the vessel. But, the leak seemed to have worsened. It might have continued to do so. I didn’t want to have to dry out the boat later. Further, who wants saltwater in a boat where it’s not supposed to be? I, basically, had no idea what would happen overnight. The fact remained that she was taking on water and the possibility of sinking was, simply, greater than zero. Thus, project manager arranged for a submersible portable bilge pump as I didn’t wish to trust the one in the vessel.

Portable bilge pump in place. It was tilted sideways due to the Vee configuration of the forward part of the bilge. There was not enough room to set it level due to an old through hull plug located just aft of the pump.
I ran the hose of the pump through the cabin, out the companionway, and so drained the effluent into a cockpit drain.

It was clear that yours truly would be sleeping on the boat! Alone. Without my lovely girlfriend and partner.

The pump was noisy. Variable. Smelly. Oily. It pumped all night. It did not rest. There was the sound of water in the drainage hose, and perhaps the cockpit drain. I noticed early on that the pump would have to be repositioned on occasion to maximize its effectiveness. On one occasion, more than a liter of water had accumulated in the forward bilge. Repositioning and bracing the pump took care of the excess water and prevented any significant accumulation.

I listened intently. I learned the rhythms and sounds of successful water removal. I checked on the situation with regularity. At 10 PM I noted the leak had significantly worsened but the pump was doing a great job. Finally I was able to sleep. I checked on the pump once or twice during the night. On many occasions I awakened and listened. All sounded well so I stayed in bed. I needed the rest. I’m sure the pump felt the same.

I felt comfortable departing the vessel at 6 AM to prepare for my day at work. Two hours later I received a call that Skiron had been hoisted, the plug was pulled, the knotmeter replaced, and she had been floated for leak testing. All is well now. I rest assured.

Somehow, the O ring on the plug was missing. I suspect that it had slid down into the through hull when it was inserted quickly and was the culprit causing the plug to be difficult to remove in the first place. There was no other explanation. The O ring has now been replaced and is, reportedly, functional. A simple rubberish O ring! It’s not much, really, between the extremes of smooth sailing and sinking!

The folks at KKMI are superb. They saved me a lot of time and trouble on this occasion. They cleaned and painted the bottom of Skiron nearly two years ago and will do same this spring. I highly recommend their services.

Finally, as we all know, almost anything can and will go wrong on a sailing vessel. This is but one example of an imponderable situation. Beware…. there are plenty more! The outcome in regards to this one was rather satisfactory. I count my blessings that I harbor near a boatyard such as KKMI and also by a superb rigger and sailmaker. What would I have done if harbored hours away from expert assistance? Ah yes. Motored. Sponged. Motored. Sponged all night. Or maybe entrusted the work to my onboard bilge pump!

I must relate that the aforementioned girlfriend sent me straight to the shower upon my arrival home. I smelled like the bilge pump, which had obviously been submerged before it was given to me, and I was quite grimy. The clothes I wore are going to need a second wash. Sigh.

Skiron out of the water in the KKMI boatyard for paint in 2019.

2 thoughts on “Taking on water….

  1. The captain willing to go down with the ship. That’s courage and commitment. So glad you were able to collaborate with KKMI to fix the leak. Remember it was a simple o ring problem that brought down the space shuttle.
    Well done!


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