Blundering Around the Bilge

The sound of the filter screen hitting the water inside the bilge was barely audible.  What came from my mouth a half second later was clearly audible.  This was about to go from a minor project to a major project. Par for the course.

I live on a 43 year old Challenger 32 sailboat, Rubigale.  There is one big bilge in the center, mostly obscured from view by the diesel tank, and quite deep. I have been able to see the tops of the keel bolts on occasion, but I’ve never seen the bilge dry, nor do I ever expect to.  I would delight to see it scrubbed clean of oil and dry as a bone, but I doubt that’s in the realm of possibility.  A girl can dream.

No maintenance records were available when I purchased Rubigale over two years ago and the engine hour meter for the Perkins 4-108 had stopped at some time in the unknown past at almost 4000 hours.   I knew when I finally found someone to service the engine that the impeller should be replaced as well and naively went to a marine store with my type of engine and was handed an impeller. I could have done the replacement myself, but some cabinet disassembly is required so I waited for the engine inspection to save some work.

Things never go that smoothly and it wasn’t the correct impeller by a long shot.  Meanwhile, after taking the water pump plate off, a pint or so of sea water spilled into the bilge.  This was not fresh sea water, but the kind that smells of long dead sea creatures decomposing and creating a miasma of a magnitude that was surprising. Meanwhile, the inspection was completed, a list of parts made, and the spill rags and roll under the engine and in the bilge were changed.

The smell from the seawater lingered heavily and had to be dealt with.  I flipped the bilge pump to manual for a minute, then had the bright idea of pouring in a couple or three buckets of fresh water with a dash of bilge cleaner. It wasn’t necessarily a bad idea, but I should have paid more attention to the water level before pouring more in. The pump came on automatically and continued to run. After getting out my flashlight and peering into the deep dark hole I could see the water level wasn’t changing. I ran outside and found no water coming out.  Insert expletives here.

Seemed Like a Good Idea

Seemed Like a Good Idea

To get to the pump and the strainer I have to remove my dining table, pole that holds it, and the floor it sits on.  That done, I checked the hose clamp to the pump, which was still in place.  The strainer looked black so I decided to clean that. But try as I might I could not get it to budge and eventually needed to remove it with a strap wrench. The filter was indeed fouled with oil and cat hair and I scrubbed it with a brush it until it shone silver again.  I was having a little trouble getting the top screwed back on, and the filter wasn’t seated just right.  I pulled it out, bobbled it and watched it fall into the dark deep bilge under three buckets of water.

Strainer Screen

Strainer Screen

I called a nearby marine store to see if they had the part I needed and was told they did.  I rushed there on my lunch hour and bought the whole $30 strainer and housing, though I later learned that I could have just purchased the replacement screen separately for about $12.

WIth everything put back together, I turned the manual switch, and no water filled the strainer.  From the little I knew about plumbing, I figured that either the hose was blocked or had a hole, or the pump was bad.  I once saw a raw water intake hose cleared by blowing a fierce breath in to the hose, so I was emboldened. I detached the hose from the strainer and gave a healthy puff, creating a huge burp in the bilge water. If you were wondering, yes, it was gross as it sounds. Disheartened, I replaced the hose and clamp after scrubbing my face and brushing my teeth. It was time to move to the pump, right after work, which meant putting the floor and table back again.

New In-line Strainer

New In-line Strainer

I took up the table and floor for the fifth time in the last few days, sprawled across the top of the diesel tank and shown a light on the pump. I had done a little research the day before because I knew it didn’t look like the bilge pumps I had seen in the stores, or the water pump I had installed. I wasn’t actually expecting to find it. It was belt driven, sat in a higher, dryer section of the boat and looked practically medieval to me, or perhaps a steam punk prop. Research and a call to a friend told me this was probably a diaphragm pump and I found a few online that looked similar, so I had narrowed down my choices.  I was on the search for a model, or if I couldn’t find the pump, a rebuild kit.

 The Basics of My Diaphragm Pump

The Basics of My Diaphragm Pump

The label on the motor had long since deteriorated and I couldn’t make out one word on it.  Much of the pump was hidden under the diesel tank intake line, but I eventually found a metal label near the base.  Much of the label was gone and the serial number was illegible, but most of the model number was there and was enough for a search. I found that it was an old Jabsco 6680J which was now the 36680 series and readily available. It looked exactly like my pump, just 40 years younger, and the specs matched what I could read on the old label for GPM and amperage. Replacement parts were also readily available.

Last Identifying Marks

Last Identifying Marks from Old Bilge Pump

The question now was whether to buy the rebuild kit or get a new one. The rebuild was at best $115, compared to $350 or more for a new pump. I had friends that could help me do the rebuild, found instructions online, and it would be a good learning experience. A year ago I might have done that, but it seems as though Rubi has hit the magic boat age where things are falling apart at the same time-diesel heater pump, fresh water pump, accumulator, fresh water hoses, etc, so my gut told me to get the new pump and use the old one to learn on some day in my retirement.

My New Jabsco 36680 Pump

My New Jabsco 36680 Pump

The new pump arrived, the table and floor came up again, and a throw pillow was laid on the diesel tank. I find it frustrating and at the same time hilarious that screws of every type and size were used everywhere on this boat, often on the same item.  I have learned to prepare for all types before contorting myself into an uncomfortable position. Only two of the four legs of this pump were attached- one with a Phillips head, one with a square drive (P.O.s loved square drives), one had rusted off and left a flathead behind, and one just had nothing. I removed the pump and also a variety of screws attached to nothing in particular.

I had replaced my fresh water pump not long ago, so thought this should be straight forward. No. Both the old and the new pumps had two black wires coming out of one opening with no discernible differentiation. This baffled me. I had been expecting a red and a white wire like the water pump. I looked at the diagram…no explanation. L

This is the Phone a Friend part of the story, and I left a hectic message in TinySpeak that may have sounded like this: “I am trying to put the bilge pump in, and I have the fancy butt connectors with the stuff you squirt in there to protect it (Dielectric Silicone Compound), but there is a brown wire and a black wire coming from the boat, and the pump has two black wires coming from the same hole with no identifying marks on either wire, and nothing on the diagram to tell me what goes where and this is nothing like the water pump!” Insert foot stamp here.

J called me back within 10 minutes, and the explanation took less than 2 minutes because he speaks Tiny. “That is a series pump, hook it up this way, and it spins this way, hook it up that way, it spins that way. You have a diaphragm pump with a piston and valves, and it doesn’t matter which way it spins. Just don’t put the male connector on the brown wire”.

“I can do that!” I thought. And did.

The physical attachments to the boat took awhile because it was a tight space, and I needed to remove more random, useless screws. Fortunately the legs of the pump pivoted so I could get around some obstacles. Once the hoses were attached, everything worked like a dream, a dream of getting smelly dead sea creatures back into their natural burial place, and to finally moving on to the engine service that had started this whole mess to begin with.

The happy ending to this was that I could now see the filter screen that I had dropped. It was definitely out of my reach, so I taped a fork to a pole and was able to fish it out, clean it up, and have a perfectly good spare strainer on standby.

As seen in Three Sheets Northwest

 

Starting the Boat with a Paperclip – Neutral Switch Woes


imageAbout a month after buying Rubigale, and with a boat full of crew, we were ready to leave the fuel dock after a day of sailing. After pumping out I went to start the engine, turned the key, and nothing. Not even a click. I knew nothing about engines-zero, zip. I could find the alternator and the dipstick. My knowledge of cars surpassed that of boats only because I knew where to put in windsheild wiper fluid.   I didn’t know how I was going to get back to my slip and had a half dozen people that needed to go home. My boat mentor J had his own boat full of crew and couldn’t help at the moment. Fortunately, T lives aboard a few docks away, and after I fished out a mystery set of wires with clips that I had found in the bowels of weird boat storage (had this happened before?), he jumpstarted the boat by connecting the battery to the start switch. Success!

I thought the crew would disappear as soon as we were back to the slip, but J and T started troubleshooting the starter and half of the people stayed, rapt with the process. I didn’t understand much of what I was hearing, but I was mesmerized by the problem solving. I photographed where to connect the wife to the starter just in case. Final diagnosis, probably a bad starter switch because there were loose connections and a little corrosion. J showed up with a new starter the next day and showed me how to put it in. It was much easier than I had expected and I photographed that as well. As a bonus, he connected a new engine hour meter to the  switch so I could keep track of hours since the previous meter had died at just under 4000 hours at some unknown point in the past. Everything seemed to work great and I put it away in my mind as a solved issue.

Shiny New Starter

Engine Hour Meter

Engine Hour Meter

A few months later I took Chilly and her friend on a day sail to Kingston to have lunch at one of our favorite pubs. When we returned to the boat, I turned the key, and again, nothing. Fortunately for them the marina was next to a ferry dock so I sent them on their way home. Fortunately for me, J hopped the same ferry in the opposite direction to find out what was wrong with the starter switch he just installed.  I tried not to think about the fact that I was going to be doing my very first solo sail the following morning out of necessity.

We checked the wire (happily labeled starter) from the battery to the starter switch – 12V. There was also current coming out of the starter switch wire which we traced to a bundle that took a dive under the sole and was lost to view. Next we went to the starter solenoid and again found the white wire which here had zero voltage. The wire which powered the solenoid had 12v. What I learned was that meant something was between the starter and the solenoid that was bad, but there was a lot of mystery territory in between.

Tracing that particular white wire was a bit more difficult because it disapppeared into a Chinese fingertrap holding a bundle of wires together. J thought perhaps there was a bad fuse or a loose connection. After an hour and a half of carefully slicing the webbing, and avoiding the wires, we hadn’t gotten very far.

Bundled Wires

Bundled Wires

Frustrated and tired, we took a break, and by a stroke of luck saw another white wire lower on the aft portion of the engine. Actually, there were two white wires terminating on separate screws. Based on the multimeter readings, one had current, one didn’t. Fortunately, J recognized this was a neutral switch, and suspected it was going bad. I had chartered at least two dozen charter boats but had never encountered a neutral switch. The current was getting to the neutral switch, but it wasn’t getting from the neutral switch to the solenoid, so the starter thought the boat wasn’t in neutral. J bridged the two screws with a screwdriver and Shazam! with a spark, she started!

Faulty Neutral Switch

Faulty Neutral Switch

There were plans to bypass this, but the problem didn’t recur so other projects took precedence. Didn’t recur that is, until a year later, just minutes before the start of the Leukemia Cup Regatta. We had done really well fundraising, had a blast decorating ourselves and the boat, and were sipping champagne from pink flamingo straws while preparing for a no-wind beer can race. I turned the key, and yet again, nothing, and my heart sank. Why did this always happen away from my dock? I jiggled the gear lever, nothing. I jiggled the wires at the neutral switch, nothing. I phoned J-these 5 ladies in grass skirts (one his wife) and flowers in their hair needed to get out there on the course ASAP and celebrate our hard won victory.

I went through what I tried already with J, and he told me to find something to bridge the two screws. I found a paperclip and put it on the two screws while Chilly turned the key. There was something about having my face next to a 50HP Perkins when it roars to life while holding a sparking paperclip in my hand that made me scream like a little girl. I yelled over the engine noise and cheers to L, “I LOVE your husband!” With a big smile she yelled back, “me too!” J was laughing over the speaker phone. We were off the dock in a hot second, and although DFL as usual, we had a great time being “spirited” and tossing candy packets that L had made with a tag saying “Kick Leukemia’s Ass! Team Rubigale”.

As usual, I procrastinated  again because the problem stopped happening. Then two months later, and also away from home it happened again. Remembering the big spark led me to be a little timid with the paperclip so I decided to tape it onto the end of the wooden dowel I found nearby, the other end of which held a pirate flag. My hastily created invention lent me more bravery and the engine started as soon as M turned the key.

Quick Fix Switch Bypass

Quick Fix Switch Bypass

My habit for procrastination had to stop here because I was leaving for an extended trip alone to Canada the following weekend.  Based on J’s instructions I moved both wire terminals to one screw and of course dropped the other into the bilge. Fortunately I had forseen this problem and placed a cloth underneath the area I was working on so the screw was easily retrieved. I was feeling quite proud of myself for this tiny little project, until I turned the key and heard a thunk and then silence.  I put the wire terminals back onto their original screws but the engine still would not start.

First Attempt to Bypass

First Attempt to Bypass

J came by the following day with Waterproof Heat Shrink Butt Connectors and made the two wires into one. No big surprise, but the engine started with the first turn of the key. A quick online search of neutral switches on boats leads to a large number of results of “why won’t my boat start?”.  Apparently this is a rather common problem and one I really hope I’m finished with. I learned a good deal about my engine as well as a little on troubleshooting wiring. I am very grateful to have patient friends helping me with the process along the way.

The Hopefully Permanent Fix

The Hopefully Permanent Fix

After the Flood Part II

Plumber's Little Helper

A few weeks ago I had to do a little emergency plumbing when an old hose came off of a T-piece and my water pump emptied my tanks into the bilge.  http://www.tinysails.com/rubigale-antediluvian/ I still heard the water pump come on occasionally, although it was less frequent.  Dreading what I might find, I stuck my head into the hatch by the hot water heater once again and shone a flashlight into 2 or 3 inches of water that had collected again.  The hose I had re-connected was still connected, but there hadn’t been enough slack in the hose for me to trim a fresh end last time. Once they’ve been in place for awhile, they don’t always like to conform to a new shape, so that could still be my leak. However, another branch of that T-piece was showing a few barbs suggesting that hose was about to come off and I suspected the hose clamp was more of a fashion accessory than a compression device at this point. It was time to move on to the next step of this project.

Please note that I am not a plumber, just a newish boat owner learning things as I go.

Barbs on T-Piece Showing

Barbs on T-Piece Showing

I took a trip to the marine store and came home with 15′ each of 1/2″ clear polyester reinforced PVC tubing for the cold water side and rubber heavy-duty water hose good for temperatures of up to 190 degrees F for the hot side, new 1/2″ T-pieces, and stainless steel hose clamps. The same access problems still existed from the last temporary repair and that needed to be addressed as well.

Shiny New T's and Clamps

Shiny New T’s and Clamps

Again I stripped the contents and shelves from under the galley sink, and again I pushed my settee cushions out of the companionway door into the cockpit, pulled up the settee hatch and unbolted the hot water heater from the hatch that sat beneath it.

Finished Helping

Finished Helping

Since the lines were fed through holes that had been cut in the wall between the settee and the galley, I started by detaching the cold water line from the galley sink.  I moved it back and forth to identify it from the other side, then pushed it through the hole to make room for the new hose.  Once that was done and I was able to reach it from the hatch I gave myself ample length and attached it to a new T piece.

So Pretty!

So Nice and Clean!

I then connected a new cold water hose to the hot water heater and attached it to the same T-piece so I could now reach the connection just by grabbing the hose on the heater.  The same process was repeated on the hot water side of things, leaving plenty of extra hose for future changes or rearrangements. I left the old brass T-piece in place.  The photo shows the old hoses (yellow and red) and the new (white and black).

Brass T-Piece for Hot Water Connections

Brass T-Piece for Hot Water Connections

New hose with extra length and easy to reach

New hose with extra length and easy to reach

Next I trimmed the ends of the hose coming from the water tanks and replaced the T-piece that connected that to the strainer.  New hose also went from the strainer to the pump.  I was about to replace the hose from the pump to the accumulator, and when I tried removing the old hose, the outlet arm of the accumulator came off instead! I was glad to have found that now rather later when it started to leak.  I checked the specs on the Sureflo water pump I recently installed and it stated no accumulator was needed – so in the trash it went.  Note from the photos the state of the old hoses.

This is what happened when I tried to replace the hoses on the accumulator. The plastic tore as easily as a trash bag and was likely going to be my next problem.

Not a healthy accumulator

Last but not least, I cut the hatch board that the hot water heater partially covered so that a portion was alway free to be moved without unbolting the heater.

New Hatch Opening

New Hatch Opening

After all that was completed I made a diagram of what had been replaced for future reference when I get ready to replace the hoses that lead to the head sink and shower.  There will be a new set of access problems and even smaller spaces to work in, so I’m not looking forward to it, but I’m very happy to have this part done.  When I finished, I had to pump out the bilge under the galley again, and I’m estimating there were probably 10 gallons or more based on the time it took the pump to empty it.

Diagram for Maintenance Log

Diagram for Maintenance Log

Emptying the Water Tanks into the Boat

It was a curious thing when I came home to find my water pump running, but no water coming out of the faucets. I thought the water tanks must be empty, but the flow was good before I left a few hours earlier.  There’s usually a tell tale sputtering as they are about to run dry. It was late and I was tired, so I turned off the water pump and went to bed.

The next morning I filled the two 50 gallon tanks and turned the pump back on.  No water came out of the faucet, but it was coming out somewhere because I could hear it, and the bilge pump started. I had to start work in 10 minutes.

Unreachable Problem

I decided to check the water pump first since it was the most recent change, and my first pump installation. To get to the pump I have to take off the salon table (where I work) and then the whole heavy floor piece.  Everything was bone dry.  Hose connections to and from pump were good as well as the T going fore and aft.  I turned the pump back on…no water I could see, other than some draining into the bilge farther aft.  AFT is a really hard place to access because it is all under the galley. It was time to start work, so I turned off the pump and waited until my lunch hour.

The second the clock was at 1pm I was stripping all the shelves out from under the galley sink.  Tinfoil, boat rags, cleaning products, and boxes of ziplock piled up on the nav table.  My flashlight was dying so I used my phone and could see a light blue T piece missing a hose several feet from me, and several inches under water.  There was no possibility of reaching this from the galley cabinet.

IMG_4366

Not The Best Access

My next option was to go in under the settee. Oh, and moving a 5 gallon hot water heater (HWH). I had 45 minutes left. I detached the screws holding the HWH to the floor of that compartment (stewing over why they bolted this over two access ports to a half dozen water hoses) and lifted it with one hand while I got one panel up from under it.  Otherwise, I would have had to disconnect four very stuck hoses that looked like they were heat shrunk into place.  As I pulled up the access board, I found the fresh water feed to the HWH dangling down into the dark wet cavern with the hose clamp still on.  Further inspection showed that this was what was disconnected from the T piece, which I could now see better, but still couldn’t reach it. I also got a better view of how much water was standing in this section of the boat, apparently blocked off by the engine stringers. Thirty minutes. I cleaned and inspected the hose clamp – I couldn’t seem to find another at the moment.  It was grimy, but intact.

Hose To Nowhere

Hose To Nowhere

I ended up lying on top of the HWH and hanging from the waist upside down into the bilge, just far enough to grasp the T piece. Unfortunately, it really had no mobility to bring it up to an easier working position (why wasn’t there more hose??!!).  I put a folded towel on the edge of the HWH and inched farther forward, now hanging from my hips, to get the hose on and clamped. I sat up and caught my breath that I was apparently holding.  10 minutes.

There remained quite a bit of water that wasn’t going into the bilge. I rushed to the dock box and dug out the borrowed pump that’s for changing the oil, and pumped out 10 gallons of water. I have no idea how many gallons the bilge pump threw overboard beforehand.

Water Heater Intake

Water Heater Intake

Sweating and panting, I went back to work after I got the table back up, and started putting my home back together during breaks.  One hour, 15 minutes.  The following morning I realized I’d left my drill down by the HWH and had to pull up some cushions and hatches again. I also found two screws in my jacket and don’t know where they came from. Oy!  I went to the chiropractor and iced my back, but otherwise I felt pretty good about my troubleshooting and learning more about my plumbing. I had always avoided plumbing in the past – but it wasn’t an option this time.

The next week I had an engine inspection, and with the cabinet pulled apart I could still see a good deal of water still there, so either I didn’t get it all the first time, or there is still a leak. I believe it’s the latter as the water pump goes on for a half second here and there, so there is more work to be done in this area. I pumped out a few more gallons and put things back together.

My current plan is to have someone help me move the HWH to the port side, allowing better access to all of those hoses that go to and from the HWH and to the galley sink. I would like to replace all the hoses (with some slack!), T pieces and clamps and start fresh. I suppose that will morph into changing the water hoses to the head as well, but I’d rather not think about that just now – at least it will be more accessible.