23 November 2015

The Case Of The Slowly Sinking Ship | Nancy Drew Investigates Pt 1

"Bess, where are you?" said Nancy Drew as she came alongside her friend Bess' boat, Tickety Boo. "The party's started. We came to see why you haven't shown up." Nancy glanced worriedly at her boyfriend, Ned Nickerson, "Do you think she's all right?" 

Ned smiled and said, "I'm sure she's fine. You know Bess. She's probably down below reading a mystery novel and lost track of time." He knocked on the hull of Bess's boat and shouted out, "Bess, are you there?"

Bess poked her head up through the companianway, wiping chocolate off of her face with one hand and engine grease off of her arm with the other. "Gee willickers, am I ever glad to see the two of you! My bilge is full of water and the bilge pump has been going off every two minutes. I don't know what to do! I called Dave hoping he could come over, but I forgot that's he's out of town. My cousin George came by and had a look and was a big help, but the bilge pump still keeps going off. I'm at my wit's end!"

She sighed and ran her fingers through her hair, which only made her frizzy curls even more unruly and streaked in chocolate and engine grease.  "Thank goodness, I remembered that I still had some of that chocolate cake leftover from my birthday. I know I'm supposed to be on a diet, but it just looked so delicious and this is all so stressful that I just couldn't help myself."

Nancy said, "Oh, Bess, don't worry. It will be okay. Don't forget, Ned is a whiz when it comes to figuring out problems with boats. Besides, it will be a fun mystery for us to solve! We can look for clues like we did in when we solved the Secret of the Old Clock.

Nancy and Ned climbed on board. While Ned went down below to have a look at the engine room and bilge, Nancy gave Bess a hug and said, "First, let's see if we can do something with that hair of yours."


Okay, so that's not exactly how the drama aboard Tickety Boo unfolded this weekend, but the version with Nancy Drew is a lot more fun than what really happened.  Does anyone else remember the Nancy Drew mysteries? Do girls even read them anymore? I had the complete set and loved reading about Nancy's adventures with her best friends Bess and George and her boyfriend Ned.

Nancy is much more calm and resourceful when it comes to mysteries than I can over hope to be. Bess was the pleasantly plump one with a weakness for sugary treats who always gets a bit nervous when she's in a dangerous situation. My kind of girl. She had a steady beau named Dave. I've got a steady beau named Scott. The similarities are eerie. 

So, here's how it really went down. Around 11:00 AM on Saturday, I heard the bilge pump go off. For those of you who don't know much about boats (like me), whenever the water level gets too high in the bottom of your boat (the bilge), then the bilge pump pumps the water out. Water inside your boat is never a good thing. Outside your boat is fine. Inside not fine.

This is what our bilge looks like. Imagine it with more water in it, the bilge pump going off and Bess panicking.

Some folks have wet bilges, but ours is usually dry, except when it rains. We hadn't had much rain lately, so imagine my surprise when I opened up the bilge and saw quite a bit of water down there. Enough that the bilge pump was automatically kicking on and offI yelled out for Scott, "Scott get over here. We've got  water in our bilge." And then I remembered that he's in Scotland and I'm here alone in Florida on a boat that might sink. So I called him instead and we did some troubleshooting over the phone.

There were so many possibilities as to what could be wrong. I channeled my inner Nancy and, along with my steady beau Scott, put together a list of suspects.


Suspect #1 - Thru-Hulls & Seacocks

We've got these things called thru-hulls. They're basically holes in our boat and they come with little doors called seacocks which close them up. Seems silly, doesn't it. Holes in your boat. Holes let water in. I think we already discussed this - water inside your boat is never a good thing

But, as Nancy would tell you, you need some holes in your boat. Some to let seawater in to flush the toilet or cool the engine. Others to let evil water and waste out - like the water in your bilge or the icky stuff in your PPB. (For those of you who weren't around when I figured out where to hide the dead bodies on our boat and are wondering what a PPB is, check this post out.)

You can have holes above the water line and below the water line. It's the holes below the water line that are of concern in this particular little mystery.

Suspect #2 - Fresh Water System

I have to say, I'm leaning towards thinking suspect #2 is the guilty party. If only because it would mean that the water inside our boat isn't coming from outside our boat. If the fresh water system is to blame it could be because one of our water tanks is leaking, our hot water tank is leaking, there's a problem with the water pump or one of the gazillion hoses connecting this system with the various faucets, drains etc. are leaking or burst. 

It's kind of like knowing that someone in a particular gang committed the crime, but you just can't figure out which one of them did it.

If our boat was in salt water, it would be easy to rule this in or out by taste. Salty water would mean it's coming from outside. Fresh water from inside. Unfortunately, we're docked in fresh water at Indiantown Marina. I guess that's good in a way, no one has to taste the icky water in the bilge.  
Suspect #3 - The Stern Tube & Stuffing Box

Suspect #3 is the hardest one for me to get my head around. All I know is that there is a tube which the propeller shaft goes through which connects somehow to the engine transmission through the stuffing box and the whole thing makes your boat move, as if by magic. The thing with the propeller shaft is that it goes out through yet another hole in our boat. So, it could be that something related to this contraption is leaking. 

Suspect #4 - Rudder Stuffing Box

Suspect #4 is where the rudder comes through the boat and connects to the steering system.

Suspect #5 - Knot Meter Impeller 

Yes, we have yet another hole in our boat. This one is for an impeller which rotates around in the water below our boat and tells us how fast we're going.  

Suspect #6 - Alligators 

Of course, we can't discount the possibility that one of the alligators hanging out at the marina chewed a hole in our boat. If could even be one of the turtles. 


Now that we had our list of suspects, it was time to start questioning them. 

I started off with the easiest one - the knot meter impeller. I opened up the cubby hole under the settee, had a look inside and it was completely dry. Suspect #4 was crossed off of the list.

Then I moved onto closing the easiest to access below-the-waterline seacock - the saltwater intake for our toilet. The area around it was dry and closing it didn't make any difference to the water flowing into the bilge. I checked the rudder stuffing box and everything was dry up there. At this point, I was starting to get cranky, so I popped over to Burger King and got a Junior Whopper meal. It's what Bess would have done. 

When I got back, there was no change. Water still coming into the bilge and the bilge pump still going off every two minutes. As I ate my Burger King, a torrential downpour started. This was bad news on so many levels. It's so much harder to figure out where a leak is coming from when it's raining. But, on the bright side, it helped clean off the little presents all the tree frogs leave on our boat at night. Those guys need their own PPB.

Feeling fortified by my greasy meal and iced tea, I then drained the water tanks to see if it might be Suspect #2 that was causing the problem. There wasn't any change, but I knew there would still be residual water in the tanks that could be leaking out. And of course it was still pouring down so who knew if the water coming into the bilge was due to the rain or something else at this point. I was really starting to wish I had gotten a hot fudge sundae along with my meal.

The water kept coming and coming and coming for a few hours. Never enough that it overwhelmed the bilge pump, but enough that I was starting to get a little worked up about the boat sinking. 

Earlier, I had looked in the engine room and seen a puddle of water underneath the stuffing box. I thought it was just pooling there and not going anywhere else as the area underneath the engine was dry. But I couldn't see very well in there with my flashlight. Bruce from Sailing Wind Spirit came over with his super sonic spotlight and had a look for me. He saw that there was an overflow hole bypassing the engine and flowing into the bilge. By this point, the water was steadily flowing through. But was it the rain or the original leak?

Clueless, I went to see if the Graham, the boat yard service manager, was around to come have a look. I tracked him down and he said he would be over in a few minutes. I went back to the boat, stared at my bilge helplessly and cursed myself for not having a giant chocolate bar on board.

Then, Matt and Jessica from MJ Sailing popped by to see why I wasn't at the party at the marina. After all, there was free food and beer - something I would never normally pass up. I popped my head up out of the companianway and said something about my boat sinking. They came on board and Matt started checking things out. 

Guess what happened the minute they showed up?  Yes, that's right. No more water and no more bilge pump going off. Graham came by not long after and had a look around. The general consensus was that it seemed unlikely it was related to the stern tube or stuffing box as our boat hasn't left the dock in months. 

It was dark, I was hungry and thirsty and we still didn't have a clue what was going on. But the leak had stopped. So, we headed over to the party. Matt was an absolute sweetheart and talked to Scott on the phone to explain the situation and talk through where to go from here. While he did that, I drank a beer and tried to forget all about Tickety Boo for a while. 

I went back and checked the boat after a while - no leak and a quiet bilge pump. I went back to the party and had another beer and some barbeque. Free is my favorite kind of drink and food. And they had corn bread. I love corn bread. Not as much as chocolate, but it's pretty high up on my list of food items I adore.

The rain started again, my hair kept getting frizzier and I called it a night. I slept on the settee in the saloon so I could hear if the bilge alarm went off during the night and dreamed about having our boat struck by icebergs and shipping containers and sinking into the alligator infested sea. Not the most restful night I've ever had.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of the Case of the Slowly Sinking Ship. Spoiler alert - I still don't know what the heck is going on and I need more chocolate.

Check out these other installments of the Nancy Drew Investigates series - Part 2 and Part 3.
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  1. I'm not a Nancy Drew fan but you don't have to be to LOVE this blog post (any Scoobie Dooer can relate and who doesn't love the phrase "gee willickers"? It ranks right up there with "zoinks!"). As far as the leak goes, I feel your pain. We had one on the boat that we couldn't place for over a year. We were in NZ at the time, and it rained a lot which really confused the issue (it was fresh water). We thought it was the radar arch (which was feeding water into the boat through holes drilled for cables) but in the end it turned out to be our hot water tank (it was over 10 years ago but I believe it was the pressure relief valve that went). Good luck and I'll look forward to reading Part 2!

    1. I don't know why, but it makes me feel better to know that others have had similar mysterious leaks.

  2. A dry bilge is a good thing, a wet one is not. I can so relate to this story as I'm sitting our the back of our boat right now enjoying my morning coffee.

    Very good trouble shooting. No, excellent trouble shooting.

    Have a terrific day and I'll be back for part II when you post. :)

    1. I'm glad you're having a relaxing morning on your boat with a dry bilge :-)

  3. Step one in the questioning process: Is the water salt or fresh? Do you taste/smell anything in it? When you have a leak into the bilge, a good first step is always to taste a drop to see if it's salt or fresh -- that really narrows down the list of suspects!

    1. Unfortunately, we're in fresh water so the taste test won't work for us :-(

  4. Love Nancy Drew and love this post! I, too, could always relate to Bess, but wanted to be Nancy in my heart of hearts. She had that great hair, was wealthy, had a housekeeper (swoon!) and drove a powder blue convertible. Who wouldn't want to be her? As an adult I have replaced Nancy Drew with the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters. Anytime I am in need of easy hilarity without worrying about things like feminism and how abusive the English Empire was toward other cultures, I get involved in Amelia's mysteries of ancient Egypt again. Pure swashbuckling fun. Good luck solving your mystery. Sounds like you have a lot of good help.

    1. I haven't read Amelia Peabody - seems like I'll need to get that on my Kindle to distract me from the leak. I also wanted to be Nancy Drew. She was my role model growing up.

  5. Good to hear the leak stopped, but wow, what a harrowing experience!

    1. It was a heck of an experience, that's for sure. It was okay during the day, but as it started to get dark and showed no sign of ending, I did start to get more than a little nervous.

  6. I can see that we're going to have to get together some time. Chocolate and cornbread are my top two as well. I do draw the line at the Whopper though!

    SV Kintala

    1. I wonder if they make cornbread with chocolate chips in it?

  7. Sorry to hear about your bilge puzzle. I guess it is good that it stopped, but I hope you can find the cause so it doesn't recur. If it does restart, can you tell what direction the water enters the bilge from? Don't know how your bilge is designed, but it might help give you a general direction in which to search. Other than the usual rain/wash leaking issues, you sound like you have a good list of the possible culprits. Good luck!


    1. I thought I had a handle on the path of the water (from the lazarette into the aft cabin and then into the engine room and onwards to the bilge), but now I'm not sure. Sigh. More troubleshooting tomorrow. On one hand, I'm happy it isn't happening anymore, but on the other hand when a problem solves itself, you still always worry it's going to happen again.

    2. Exactly. In my experience most problems don't tend to fix themselves. I tend to be very suspicious when a problem just stops. Of course, trying to figure out a cause can sometimes drive you crazy so don't worry too much about it as long as the bilge pump is easily keeping up (I'm not advocating ignoring it...just not to worry excessively about it).

      I think at one point you mentioned your fresh water tank. Assuming you regularly use your water system, a disappearing problem might be some sort of leak near the top of the tank (fitting or crack) and once the water level gets low enough...well, you get the idea. Just a wild guess though. Water leak issues are always a pain since where you notice a leak can be a long way from where the leak occurs. I've still got a few fresh water (rain related) leaks I need to hunt down.

      Good luck and hope you figure it out soon.

    3. Oh, and I used to read and enjoy the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books as a kid.

  8. Great post, Nancy Drew is still popular and is now avialible in graphic novel format so you will need to add some illustrations and dialog balloons on the next post.
    As far as the leak, you can always think of it as a late fall cleaning of the bilge.

  9. My daugter loved the Nancy Drew books, I let her read this and she was very entertained. Hope you find the culprit!

    1. I was wondering if younger folks had read Nancy Drew - interesting to know your daughter did.

  10. I suspect that many of my existing problems stem from the Nancy Drew period. I always liked the Hardy Boys better and just couldn't get into Nancy. When I take those silly quizzes "What sort of reader are you?" the answer always comes back as "Boys Adventure Classics." Anyway, your writing skills are in great shape ! I was left screaming "Arg!" when you told us to stay tuned ! Next chapter please? (I'm sure you're eager to find out how this one ends, too !

    1. My sister didn't like Nancy Drew. She read the Three Investigators instead. Let's hope Part 2 is the concluding chapter in this story and that it has a happy ending.

  11. Once I was old enough to discover mysteries at all, I went Sherlock Holmes all the way. And speaking of classics, your "taking on water" post is destined to be a classic among boat bloggers!

    1. I love Sherlock Holmes as well. I had all of those books in my collection too.


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