We’re Taking On Water!

Fog in Rosario Strait

Fog in Rosario Strait

The day dawned glorious and bright, with the densely wooded hillside of Cypress Island for a backdrop, and good friends rafted to either side of Solace. But as so often happens this time of year, Rosario Strait, a mere quarter mile away, was completely socked in with fog.

My friends and I had met up the night before for an impromptu rendezvous at Cypress Island. I planned to head back to the mainland this morning to get some work done on Solace in preparation for September. Three friends (with two dogs) had somewhere they needed to be, so I offered them a ride back to the mainland.

We lazed, drank coffee, and cooked breakfast, hoping the hot July sun would burn off the fog, but it stubbornly clung to the water. There was no choice but to go through it, which I was not dreading due to my recently installed compass and fog horn. I raised the radar reflector, fired up my chart plotter, and loaded the AIS smartphone app. I may not have radar, but I have just about everything else. Between all the toys, we navigated the fog without any hitch. We had no problem dodging the commercial boats and signalling the recreational ones.

Mopping up the last of the water.

Mopping up the last of the knee-high water.

About a mile from the marina, one of my friends looked down into the cabin and declared with some alarm that there was water in the cabin. I have been chasing down a mystery leak for the last month. Every time I go sailing, I notice a small pool on the starboard aft. My bilge pump has no problem keeping up with the water and every time I search for the leak, I come up empty handed. I had even left on this trip with the bilge hatch open so that I could try and see when I was taking on water, but was no closer to the answer. As I began to explain how the bilge pump would have no problem keeping up with the water, I casually leaned through the hatch to see for myself. My eyes opened wide as I realized the water was ankle deep in the cabin, deeper than I’d ever seen before.

I immediately handed the tiller to a friend, climbed down into the ankle deep water and opened the bilge hatch. I focused on steady breaths to try an calm the adrenalin flowing through my veins, as I quickly debugged the bilge pump. At first I assumed it was malfunctioning from an electrical problem. I couldn’t see anything obviously wrong and I poked my head up to see it pumping a steady stream of water out of the boat. By this time the water was up to my shins and a pit formed in my stomach as I realized we were taking on way more water than the bilge pump could handle!

Drying my tools.

Drying out my tools and hardware after dowsing in fresh water. I’ll oil the tools before putting them back in their lockers.

I quickly strapped on my headlamp and practically tore out the stairs leading out of the hatch as I tried to make my way into the engine compartment. I had a suspicion that something had gone wrong with the defunct inboard. I have a small tub of emergency epoxy that I can wad up and stuff into a hole. It will harden in two minutes, even under water. If I could just find the hole, I knew I could plug it up. The question was: Can I find it before the boat sinks?

Peering around the engine I could see water flowing around it, but not coming from any particular source. I was getting closer, but still couldn’t tell where it was coming from. I hoisted myself into the cockpit and dove into the aft locker as the friend who was driving dodged out of my way. Tucking my head as deep as I could into a hatch that wasn’t even as wide as my shoulders, I spotted it: a broken inch-and-a-half hose from my cockpit drain had fallen below the water line and was dumping seawater into my engine compartment!

Pumping water out of the lockers

Pumping water out the lockers.

As soon as I grabbed the hose and pulled it up, the water stopped and I took a sigh of relief. The tension and adrenalin left my body shaking as I focused on slowing my rapid heart beat. The water in the cabin was almost knee high and we all bailed water along with the bilge pump as we slowly made our way back to the dock. The bilge pump made its final squirt as we touched the dock and tied off the boats mooring lines.

After a close inspection, the explanation seems to be that the reasonably stiff hose had appeared to be vertical and out of sight from previous inspections. Furthermore, I never suspected that through-hull of treason because it sits above the water line. Though a comedy of errors, all those people on my boat pushed the thru-hull below the water line. As the broken tube filled up with water, it started to sag from the weight until it finally bent below the water line and started a non-stop gravity feed, dumping the ocean into the engine compartment. Once the water stopped, it would pop back up, nice and stiff, which is why I hadn’t identified it as the culprit in previous inspections.

Within hours of hitting the dock, I had the problem fixed. However it took me two days to dry out the boat and everything in the lockers.

Taking on a massive amount of water like that while in the middle of a fog bank is probably the worst case situation I can think of. This is why I have been taking Solace out as much as possible before September, because like my friend Ken says: “If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen out there“.

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Comments
8 Responses to “We’re Taking On Water!”
  1. Gary hall says:

    Chris,

    Your quick thinking really saved the day! I know very well how tense that island fog can make a skipper. Then rising water in the boat? My hat is off to you my friend for bringing your crew and vessel safely home.
    Thought I’d send a picture of our Solstice at the dock on Sucia. She is a Devlin design Black Crown, 30 ft, 100000 lb displacement, 30” draft. My wife & I built her here in Bellingham over a few years and we are moored in Squalicum Harbor, also in Bham. We love her and get out every chance we have.
    Been reading through your blog and enjoying every bit. Thanks.

    Gary

  2. Oh, well done! One might almost be thankful for that crew full of folks who allowed this problem to happen during a hot, dry July. Your boat should be dry in a jiffy in this heat. Really, very well done! And very glad it was an easy fix for you.

  3. Adam Nash says:

    DAAAAANG BROTHA!!!

    Thats makin me sweat! I’m gonna start going through my systems now. I gotta be ready. I gotta a stuck cockpit drain seacock actually. Woowo!

    • Chris says:

      Thanks Adam! I saw that sweet picture of the old tire you pulled up with your anchor. Sounds like you had a good story there too! I can’t wait to rendezvous with you and hear about it.

  4. Viki Moore says:

    Phew lucky escape! Thank goodness you found it and could stop it and save the boat! Happy sailing

  5. JackC says:

    I remember years ago that a boat almost sank this way in Swiftsure during a big gale. They kept bailing water with buckets into the cockpit and it just kept coming back into the boat! These types of drains are hard to inspect and no many people look at them, but they are generally below the waterline while you’re underway, Good thinking and you made all the right moves…

  6. Robert Davison says:

    That’s not the way you want find a leak but at least it all ended well after the drying out.

    That same bank of fog was there Friday the 22nd from Sinclair Island to past Boat Harbor on Guems Island when I returned from Sucia to Anacortes that morning. My gps/fishfinder that I had just installed did it’s job quite well and the as old as the boat cockpit drain hoses still work but your story serves as a reminder that they need to be replaced.

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