Our first few days living aboard the boat have been a lot like sailing: mostly delightful, mixed with occasional bouts of dread.
For the most part, we’ve been social butterflies, flitting from one social engagement to the next. It’s been lovely to catch up with so many friends and loved ones to get in one more visit before we set sail. But yesterday, we decided we should get some work done, and, as always, there were surprises.
Since a boat is basically a bowl, it’s an inviting environment for any heavier-than-air gas to congregate. Our boat uses propane (heavier than air) for the stove and water heater. So, we felt it was an important safety item to have propane detectors installed in the bilge (sailor speak for “sub-basement”). The installation involved some carpentry, some plumbing, some electrical work, the removal of basically all our sole (sailor speak for “floor”) and pretty much all the tools we could lay our hands on. But it’s done and now working 24/7 to guard our safety.
Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end there. While doing some of this work, we noticed a number of places that were unusually wet. We set about emptying a lazarette (sailor speak for “storage locker”) and crawling about in the boat’s nether regions, aft of the engine and the rudder. We discovered that one of our scuppers (sailor speak for “downspout”) was broken.
A scupper is basically a drain hole that lets water from the cockpit (sailor speak for, umm, “patio”) drain out of the boat. Modern boats have very few scuppers. Instead, on modern boats, the transom (sailor speak for “boat butt”) is open and water simply slides out the back. But on a boat like ours with a closed transom, scuppers are used to ensure the cockpit can drain when filled with water. Whether rainwater or a broaching wave, water enters the scupper through a hole in the deck, travels down a length of hose and then exits through a hole in the hull.
Our scupper problem was in the worst possible location: at the hole in the hull. I was able to lift the end of the hose right up, stick my finger through the hole in the hull and almost touch surface of the water! That’s a bad spot for two reasons: 1) it’s very hard to access; and, 2) IT’S A HOLE IN THE BOAT!!!
Okay, but it’s not like a hole deep under the boat from which water would spout wildly when given the chance. This one was above the waterline. In truth, we must have already gone sailing multiple times with the breakage undetected. Last time we were sailing, there was a moment where I noticed our bilge pump was staying on longer than normal. The pump normally cycles on very briefly once every couple minutes -just long enough to confirm that there’s no water to pump. But this time, it stayed on for about 20 seconds. We were healed over steeply at the time, so I figured that the last dregs of water that are normally not deep enough pump were now pooling in a way that finally gave the bilge pump something to do. In retrospect, it was an important clue.
We are very glad to have found this nasty surprise now and not while under sail two weeks from now. Though it’s unlikely to have caused much damage, it’s quite likely to have scared us silly. If we were sailing away and the bilge alarm suddenly went off we would have gone into freak out mode (sailor speak for “calmly applying emergency protocols”.)
We should be as good as new tomorrow. But our inspection list just gained another item. We’ll be keeping an eye on those scuppers from now on!