Monday, January 26, 2009

Sinking, Part 1

Briongloid was always a wet boat; ever since I launched her, pumping her bilges has been a regular pre-sail ritual. On overnight stays, I got used to pumping out in the mornings. Every now and then, I would work my way around her deck, looking for weaknesses and blasting them with sealant. Bucket-testing proved I was making progress, although oddly, her bilges didn't get any drier.

After a couple of years of pretty regular sea-faring - and equally regular pumping - I selfishly left Briongloid entirely unvisited for two months or more , til an e-mail forwarded by a friend of a friend told me all was not well...

Briongloid - heavier by 2000+ litres

He was right. As my dinghy skipped across the inlet, my heart sank further and further. Boarding her felt very strange; although logic told me that another 70 kilos should not sink her, an older part of my brain took one look at her freeboard and engage "fight or flight". My first act was to - very gingerly - inch up to the foredeck to see what difference my weight would make to her attitude in the very worse-case scenario. A boat this length (just under 22ft) shifts slightly under her crew's weight, which never bothered me before - I trust my keel; this time, every tiny shift in balance seemed like an opener to a death-plunge.

Logic was right; so an immediate sinking was out. I pulled out the wash boards (a kind of door into the cabin, for non-sailors) and horrified - if not very surprised - to see that water had filled her as high as her bunks. It was my great luck, though, that although the sea had already claimed cushions, charts, tools, it had not reached - by about an inch - the battery that powers all things electrical aboard Briongloid. Very, very gingerly, I got the battery to a place of relative safety. Then, I rigged up the electrical bilge pump that I hadn't quite got around to permanently installing, and watched order return to the cabin. Fifty minutes and above 2000 litres of seawater later, the pump sucked dry - but not before I had gingerly tasted the flood. Salt water.
Oh dear.

In a fibreglass boat, sea water really doesn't have a lot of routes into the hull. Unlike, say, a wooden boat, the hull material itself is continuous - no seams. Typically, the hull will have a few piercings, though - in Briongloid's case, several bolts for her fin keel (with about 440 kg of ballast down there, having lots of bolts is nice), and also two thru-hulls for a loo I had installed. Now, one of these had nearly killed her - but which one?


I ran the electric pump till the remaining water was too low to reach; then, I got a little further with a manual pump. After that, I rigged up a pretty hair-raising contraption involving Briongloid's battery, an inverter, and a tiny water pump intended for a desk-based fountain. Finally, I actually sponged up every remaining puddle that could be reached. With the bilge as dry as I could make it, I retired to the cockpit, and spent an hour or so admiring the view - which, it has to be said, is pretty fine (house prices around here are - or were - just over the million euro mark - quite a few orders of magnitude above the price of Briongloid and her mooring). At the end of my hour. a puddle had collected in little fibreglass pocket below the loo's thru-hulls, and I was practically jumping for joy. There is a leak, yes - but it is fixable.


having had an automatic bilge pump rigged, my mind was at ease again; I put-putted across the inlet in perfect serenity an hour or so after sunset, and nature's mood matched mine, with the waters almost spooky-still, and just a hint of mist in the frosty air. The blackness around me was pierced only by warm windows of the cove's few houses, and the brighter heavenly bodies - like Capella, a bright beacon above the invisible slipway, and Venus, putting on a fine show high above the silent forest. The winter sky is a beautful thing.

Coming up next: off to the boatyard.

No comments: