Yesterday began as another damp day with little wind. It was pretty uneventful until I spotted the bilge pump light on.
The bilges are the underneath area below the floor in the cabin. Our previous boat had very shallow bilges just a few hundred mm deep and they were dry. They were designed to be dry and unless something had got spilt, or some rain or spray had got in they were always dry. However this boat is very different. The bilges extend over a metre and a half down inside the keel and they always have some water in them. The water comes from various places: it can be from the fridge and freezer, which drain into them, from the aircon units which drain into them, from round the mast, which on this boat comes all the way down through a hole in the deck and rests on the keel, or from many other sources of water ingress around the boat. We have an automatic bilge pump, which sits in the bottom of the bilges and is controlled by a float switch – a switch where the activator arm is actually a float, which floats on top of the bilge water. If the water rises the switch closes and a light comes on on the panel and the pump starts. The water drops and the switch opens, stopping the pump and extinguishing the light. And so it goes on, 24 hours a day until yesterday…
Actually it was probably until the day before, because in the last post I mentioned about the navigation lights needing some attention. Whilst tracing the fault in those I noticed the bilge pump circuit breaker had tripped. I reset it and it stayed set and I thought nothing more about it after a quick check of everything. So with the light on on the panel the pump should have been running but it wasn’t. The water level wasn’t worryingly high but just high enough to trigger the switch. A gentle tap to the top of the pump with a long stick did nothing, nor did a slightly harder tap – it seemed that the pump had broken.
The marine environment is very harsh, especially on anything electric, so manual backup systems are generally employed for anything critical. Hence we have a manual bilge pump in the engine room, operated from under the table in the cockpit. It never gets used because we have the electric one, but we serviced it when we got the boat and we cycle the handle every now and again to make sure it works. So finally yesterday the manual one was to get to earn its keep. Unfortunately after 5 minutes pumping ,the water level was still the same. Lesley at this point decides to make lunch and I decide that it’s time to remove and investigate the problem with the manual pump. It’s easy to remove so should only take a couple of minutes. Three bolts, four jubilee clips and out it comes in theory.
The engine had been on pretty much all the time for the last 12 hours so the engine room temperature was about 40 degrees. The two minutes stretched to half an hour before the pump came free and this is where Lesley’s sense of humour came to the fore. Emerging victoriously with pump in hand looking like I had been in a sauna for far too long, I said to Lesley ‘do start your lunch as I just need to get cleaned up before I can eat’. Her response was a very calm ‘oh don’t worry I’ve eaten mine. I figured with two broken pumps we would be sinking soon so I certainly wasn’t going to let my lunch go down with the boat’! (Before anyone gets too concerned, we have various methods of emptying bilges should it be required including a very high capacity portable submersible pump that we put onboard prior to the Atlantic crossing, so sinking was never a real issue)!
A quick pause for lunch then a cleanup in hot water removed all the salt crystals and the very primitive manual pump was as good as new. It worked like a charm, however I have concluded after lifting probably less than 20 litres of water from the bottom of the bilges all the way up to cockpit level and over the side with a manual pump contorted under the cockpit table, electricity is so underrated!
The wind came up in the afternoon and remained throughout last night, so we have been sailing for the last 15 hours. We haven’t seen any ships for 36 hours, we have seen a couple of birds and ended up with a few flying fish on deck, but other that all has been very quiet. The sky cleared last night and the moon didn’t rise until about 1 am so the stars were amazing. Each night has got cooler as we head north, so we are now having to wrap up more overnight, but when the sun comes up it quickly warms up.
We have 193 miles to go, so should arrive somewhere around lunchtime tomorrow. As we close in on the island we expect to start seeing a few other boats because we know several left different parts of the Caribbean at a similar time to us. Other than that, time will tell what will emerge to amuse us over the next 24 hours.