Life aboard a sailboat…. and other misadventures.

Rain in the Afternoon

…is a better title than “A Morning in the Bilge,” I think.

Here’s how the day began:

I had the full intention of attempting to replace the alternator bracket on my diesel engine.  A couple of months ago, when looking to order spare alternator belts to have on board, I discovered an issue.

Which is pretty much how it goes for any seemingly simple boat repair or maintenance job.

Apparently on my engine, a Universal Diesel M25, there is a history of the alternator mounts giving way, dropping the alternator and rupturing other parts of the engine.  The alternator on a boat’s engine is important for charging your DC system (batteries) so you can have power to run lights, fans, refrigeration, etc.  Since my engine is from 1986, and they discovered this problem by 1991, most boats and boat owners have had this issue fixed.

Not mine.  (Surprise)

So, this morning, after folding up the dinette table and removing settee cushions, I had arrived at my engine.  But before I can start wondering how the hell am I going to access the alternator area, I notice there is water at the bottom of engine.  Kind of a lot of water.

Just below my engine is the aft end of the bilge.  The bilge is the lowest part of the boat, and where the water that inevitably invades a boat is supposed to end up.  Within the bilge is… a bilge pump.  Most are attached to a float switch, which automatically kicks on the pump when the water rises to a certain level, say maybe an inch.  The water is then pumped out and routed overboard via a hose to the outside of the hull.

I open up my bilge access panel, and my bilge is full of water.  Kind of a lot of water.  Let’s say around 6 inches.  The float switch is completely submerged.  Hmmm.  Not exactly how it’s supposed to work….

I check the control switch for the pump.  Conveniently, the toggle is positioned squarely under the label “Off.”  Apparently somebody must have knocked it throwing their work bag in beside the nav desk.  Somebody.

I would immediately switch it on and let it drain out the bilge, BUT there happens to be a sheen to the water, and the water is blackish, and smells strongly of oil.  Can’t pump it overboard – oily discharge would be illegal.  Instead I’ve gotta use a bilge cleaner with oil surfactants and a hand pump to pump it into a bucket.  Then more scrubbing and pumping. Then more soaking up oily water and sludge with baby diapers.  Yes.  Baby diapers.  So wonderfully absorbent.  And using something covered with cute little Elmos makes this job just the tiniest bit more amusing.

Now.  The other piece of this puzzle is…..

Where did all that water come from??  A little water in the bilge is not unusual.  But 6 inches??

Unfortunately I have a hunch.

Water is somehow coming down my mast and getting inside my boat.  I have seen it coming out of the bottom of the compression post before.  I had wondered if it leaked into the bilge as well (the forward portion of the bilge ends at the bottom of the compression post; the compression post is what the mast sits on inside the boat).

We had a very intense rainstorm yesterday, and several other days this week.  If the bilge pump had been off for some time, it could have been accumulating little by little…

In a stroke of rare luck, I hear the rumble of thunder close by, and shortly after the rain starts pouring.  And me with my just newly dried bilge!

I sat with great suspense and my flashlight, and watched as water dripped off of the electrical wires that pass through the top of the bilge.  The wires originate in the mast, and then travel down through the compression post.  So either water is coming in through the top of the mast and traveling down the wires, or perhaps coming in through the deck step and traveling down the wires, or…..  sigh.

At this point, I hope I am slowly convincing you that living aboard a boat is not always romantic and smelling of roses.  Sometimes it smells like oil.  Or the smell of money going up in smoke.

I have no idea how to fix a leaky mast.

And there are wayyyy too many things on the list before it.

Like replacing that damn alternator bracket.

P.S.  And yes, again, despite it all, I still love this crazy, sometimes frustrating life aboard a boat.  Even though I occasionally am tempted to include the tag “stupidity” on every post.

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One response

  1. Pingback: DIY Electronic Bilge Pump Switch - Boats building and DIY Boat Plans For Boat Fans - DIY Boats Blog

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