The First Rule of Sailing Is
16 February 2017 | Green Turtle Cay, Bahamas
Keep the water outside the boat. Every sailor is taught this simple rule of crisis triage, and now I was to be tested.
Yesterday while sailing from Great Sale Cay to Green Turtle Cay I became aware that our bilge pump was cycling on. I went below and discovered water pouring in. I tasted it. Seawater. The boat was basically sinking. Sailors call this "taking on water." You never want to hear those words. The only thing keeping us afloat was a single bilge pump, and it could barely keep up. Water was entering aggressively from somewhere. But where?
Every boat begins its life as a perfect, water tight vessel. The hull. Then we proceed to drill holes in it for important things like steering and engine shafts, and then for nice things like heads, sinks, showers, refrigerators, speed and depth sounders, generators, watermakers and so on. Any one of these holes can sink the boat, which is why it is essential to know exactly where every through-hull is located, for just such an emergency.
While Tammy steered through the 25kt winds howling above, I proceeded below to tear apart the boat. I checked and closed every seacock. I inspected the packing around the engine shaft and the steering post. All dry. And still water was pouring in. It seemed to be entering directly into the sump area of the bilge. How was that even possible? Smarter sailors than I may already have enough information to deduce the source.
As it happened, fate, providence, luck intervened. From above Tammy cried, "Hang on!" and we were struck by a large wave that threw the boat violently. Suddenly the water intrusion stopped. I tidied up belowdecks, and we went on with our sailing day, arriving in Green Turtle Cay some six hours later with a perfectly dry bilge.
So what happened? I have since deduced that a siphon had developed in the bilge hose. The very hose that was pumping out the water was also siphoning it right back in! I vaguely recalled reading about this effect. There should be an anti-siphon valve in that line. Island Packet did not see fit to install one. I will be remedying this situation at the first opportunity.
Meanwhile, we have enjoyed two days of fantastic sailing from West End to Green Turtle. Yesterday was particularly spirited with winds gusting to 32kts. My mainsail was reefed to nearly a trysail with just a handkerchief of jib. The boat was balanced - and flying.
We expect to be here for one more night till a front moves through, then we'll continue south to Eleuthera.