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Is that boat sinking?!

Posted on Friday Dec 19, 2008

Words (793)

On our way to do some internet and find a cold beer with Nakia, John points out a boat and says, "Is that boat taking on water?" It was sure low in the water and moving a little funny. Thinking only about cold beer John kept going. I said, "Shouldn't we go over and take a look? Maybe we can get inside one of the hatches."

I jumped aboard and started trying hatches. I got one open and looked inside to see my own reflection sloshing around. The boat was probably 1/3 full of water and filling fast. John took off with everyone else to get more help. I found a switch for "bilge pump" which did nothing. Some others arrived and I asked them to bring some tools and buckets. Someone else arrived with manual bilge pump handle and a big grin. I told them there isn't a manual pump that I can find.

The boat was taking on water fast so I decided to try to climb inside and try to locate the hole. It wasn't easy getting in because there was a door in the way of the hatch, but I squirmed inside and opened the other hatches. The water inside was up to my waist, full of diesel, oil, plastic, paper and god knows what else. The water was so murky I realized there's no way I'm going to find the leak from inside. I can't even find the through-hull fittings without a scuba mask and a waterproof light.

I slowly waded around the murky water on the boat checking the usual spots, hoping to see a rush of current or something. Then I heard a gurgle sound. I followed it to the galley. It was louder and there seemed to be a little current in that area. I felt under the sink and found a detached pipe that was gushing water. Please let this be it, I thought. I could feel the water rising it was rushing in so fast. My guess was 30 to 40 minutes before the boat went down.

I knelt down in the mucky water and tried to find the seacock, but it was under about 3 feet of water in a dark recess. So I set to work trying to plug it. With some effort I reattached the fitting that went to the sink and the flow appeared to stop. If the water level had risen another foot, it would have continued to siphon into the boat, but for now the sink was high enough that it stopped the water flow.

In the meantime a group outside had started working on getting the main companionway hatch open. I would feel safer if I had an easy exit from this boat. Everything was sloshing around. I made a mental note of the water level in case I hadn't found the main leak. As soon as the hatch was open we started a bucket brigade passing up gallons of nasty water. Someone dropped in to the main salon hatch and they started their own brigade. Soon we had people with generators and electric pumps to help remove water. It appeared the level was going down slowly.

Nearby, a ferry was anchored with a Panamanian crew who saw what was going on. They came over and offered use of their diesel powered pump. After some work (they are tough beasts to prime) we got that baby going and sucked the boat dry in about an hour.

The owner showed up in a complete daze. There were probably 15 people, 2 generators, 2 electric pumps, 1 big diesel pump and buckets of water flying all over his boat. I found out later he was a young Argentinian who was planning to use the boat to do charters. Everyone felt bad for him because his boat was a big mess. At least we saved it from going down as it was sinking fast.

The Panamanians it turned out were crew for the big ferry in the anchorage and one of them told us he surrvied a sinking ship once in 20 foot waves. He spent 4 hours in the water and when he saw the sailboat sinking he had to help. It was amazing how fast everyone pulled together and saved that boat.

This is the second boat I've helped bail out now. This boat ended up in a lot better shape than IVY ROSE from San Juan del Sur Nicaragua (if you remember that story). The fast work of everyone involved kept the boat from getting too damaged, but it's going to be a big mess to clean up and restore.

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