Floods …. and discovering bilges

A few days back we decided to take a day out and go on a shopping trip into Slovenia and to Trieste in Italy with a rental car – we had a great day, found a lot of parts we needed and stocked up on supplies – and even had a McDonalds (long time ago!).  We came back to the boat late in the evening at around 9pm and we discovered the fresh water pump running, but it was running dry.  Ed was convinced I had left the tap on (no idea why I would have done that – am I REALLY that stupid????!!!!!) and I was getting a lot of stick before he realised that the taps were closed … we switched off the water pump and tried to work out what was going on – the water tanks were empty.

We started to fill the aft tank again but when we switched the water pump back on to check if it still worked, I could hear water gushing from the aft cabin and went searching for the source.  I then realised that the saloon cabin floor was floating and there was water everywhere!  The source of the water leak was a high pressure hose from the water maker fresh water flush – the hose had just split and was spurting water all over the exhaust compartment underneath the aft bed, behind the engine.

We had no idea how long this had been running – but it had emptied the entire water tank of 210 litres into the bilges – plus the additional water we had just replaced before we discovered what was going on!  We were shocked … the boat could have sunk …. but surely that’s what you have a bilge pump for?  The whole purpose of a bilge pump is to pump out any water which manages to find it’s way inside the boat – the most basic of safety equipment on board, surely.  

Of course the first thing we did is check the bilge pump … and it wasn’t working.  Or that’s what we thought.  On further investigation, we discovered that this was one of the things Bavaria had skimped on … the pump is MANUAL … so when you’re sinking you have to remember to go to the power panel and turn the pump on …. It does say that in the specifications – but it never crossed our minds that a bilge pump would be anything other than automatic.

The design of a boat is such that all water should run to the compartment where the pump is as this is the lowest point on the boat.  We turned the pump on and it started emptying …. as fast as it emptied more water overflowed from other compartments in the boat which is what it’s supposed to do – and eventually the bilge pump compartment was empty.  Phew .. job done … or so we thought.

We cleaned up and then replaced the length of hose from our spare stock and went to bed with the plan of buying a new bilge pump first thing in the morning and sending a stinking email to Bavaria to tell them what we thought!

The following day, one of the first things we noticed was a sloshing sound coming from under the saloon floor – this was when we realised that there were numerous stringer compartments which were not joined to the main bilge compartment – or were joined only at the floor level – the water had overflowed as it should but only until it had reached the level of the top hole, all the water in the compartment below that level was trapped.  We started to look for how we could reach these places and discovered that there were NO inspection holes in the floor other than the ones on the main stern to bow central stringer which we had already accessed.  Somehow or other, we had to reach this water so we proceeded to try to lift floor panels – but then how to get the water out?

It was time for the design and engineering of a very simple but useful tool – we purchased a small bilge pump, a long length of clear hosepipe, a long length of 12v cable and a 12v plug.  The hose was connected permanently to the pump output and the pump was wired with the long length of cable and the 12v socket on the end.  We now had a portable bilge pump that we could poke into holes – the long hosepipe could be put into the sink or a bowl (or overboard – or wherever necessary) to get rid of the water and the unit could be powered by plugging it in to any of the 12v sockets we had in the boat.  The kit was supplemented by a “super sponge” which we had purchased in Slovenia – we have never found these sponges anywhere else and they are amazing – they absorb large quantities of water, but don’t drip very much.  The sponge was fixed with a cable tie to our sail batten tool which enabled us to poke it into small places as well.

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Systematically, we went through the boat and tried to work out where every compartment was, and what was joined to what.  Amazingly, nobody at Bavaria could help when we asked for the blueprint of the stringer layouts.  We have now worked this out for ourselves having taken up every floor panel in the boat – with the exception of the ones which were impossible to reach – for example under the galley.   We managed eventually to empty out every compartment – along with large quantities of build debris and now we have clean and dry bilges.

The job of refitting the floor panels was not easy – many were under walls or had furniture built on top of them.  We have also worked out the places where we need inspection holes made to avoid the problem occurring in the future and this has gone on to our “warranty jobs” list … which I’m sure will get longer as the summer progresses!

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