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

 

April, Sun, Repairs and Upgrades!

 

Logan enjoying the weather, April 2016

Logan enjoying the weather, April 2016

The worst of the long days of winter in the PNW have passed, we are getting teasers of summer sun in April, and things are looking up.   November to March is a hard time in this part of the country…made better by cruising, friends and cocktails, but we all look forward to later sunsets and weather that beckons the windows to stay open. Logan has been venturing outside to watch the ducks and seagulls and catch a few rays of sun. Although our organizational projects aren’t quite getting to where they should be, some upgrades and repairs have been happening!

Shiny new Dickinson Newport to keep us WARM!

Shiny new Dickinson Newport to keep us WARM!

We have a new Dickinson Newport bulkhead diesel heater to replace the 40+ year old non-functional heater that came with the boat and was attempting to set us on fire.  As upgrades go, this is a big one! Logan and I can now hang out on a mooring ball or at anchor in comfort!  The one down side is that for there to be enough draft the chimney needs to be 4 ft tall from the top of the heater.  Technically that worked out to about 10″ above deck, but the reality was, that for the fuel to not burn too rich I still needed more draft so the chimney is about 33″ above deck.  We obviously can’t sail with this in place, so it needs to be detached and capped while sailing. Aesthetically…looks awkward. Fortunately it’s pretty easy to remove and cap, and the cabin is a nice 70 degrees on the first setting, burning very little diesel. This definitely puts us back to a more mobile situation in the colder months.  The Caframo eco fan is an extra bonus!  I had noticed these on other people’s boats and was amazed at how powerful and quiet they were, using only the heat generated by the stove – what a great idea! http://www.amazon.com/Caframo-800CAXBX-Limited-Original-Ecofan/dp/B00P8E14K8/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1460955116&sr=8-1&keywords=caframo+ecofan+original    Another new trick I learned from S/V Cambria was to use Sterno to get the initial fire going which heats the cup. This was something I would never have thought of and it made my life so much better!

Rubigale upgraded to two new house batteries due to the fact that the old ones were 1. old, 2. I wrecked them because I didn’t know what I was doing.  Thank you JM for helping me with that. We decided on some lower maintenance sealed batteries, which are a bit more expensive, but in the long run it will likely benefit both myself and the batteries. The engine battery still appears to be in good shape despite my ownership.

New scupper in the toe rail. Ignore the brightwork (or lack thereof - work in progress).

New scupper in the toe rail. Ignore the brightwork (or lack thereof – work in progress).

Two new scuppers were carved into the toe rail (thank you AS) and you should see the water flow!  Rubi may sit differently now than originally designed due to her water tanks and anchor chain, and the water doesn’t drain well to the back of the cockpit and quite a bit sits at the beam rather than going further aft where the two original scuppers are located.  We are still battling leak issues (from above, not below!) so anywhere I can avoid water accumulating is a good thing.  The scuppers are a rough cut that need a little sanding to make them look like the others, but I have a feeling deck drainage will improve right away and hopefully less green will collect there.

 

Typical way for me to start a job

Typical way for me to start a job

I finally replaced the manual pump for the head and changed the joker valve a couple of weeks ago.  I had dreaded and procrastinated doing this job for a year.  The situation was dire.  It took forever to get anything to go down and the pump was very stiff.  Wait 5 seconds and some of what you pumped came back for an encore and brought along its own applause.

Finally, frustration won out over fear and dread.  It turns out that the re-build kit for a Jabsco pump is almost the same price as a new pump.  Buying the whole pump saved me some disassembly and replacing of rubber bits.  There’s a great Jabsco youtube video online https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p0wxX2789F8 that I watched twice and went to work.

Joker valve after 1 year

Joker valve after 1 year

I had to replace the joker valve and the flapper which were not functioning properly due to a calcified toothpaste consistency goo that was present after only a year ( I had all the sanitation replaced before I moved aboard). The edges of the valve weren’t making contact which was allowing all of those encores and burps.  I’ve done the vinegar overnight trick, and I wonder what would happen if I hadn’t. There was more in the start of the tube just past the joker valve but it was still soft enough to wipe away. I’m happy to say that with the exception of a little blood (which happens if I even look at a hose clamp) everything went well.  (Yes, I wore gloves) The worst part was actually disconnecting the hoses, and the Jabsco video give a recommendation to save you from doing one of them. In the end I did need to use a few seconds of butane torch to soften the hose.  For something I put off for so long – it was actually quite easy and makes life on board just a little bit better. Joker valve is on 6 mo list.

I scrubbed the layer of fur off the rudder last weekend, and the whole bottom is due for an inspection and wipe down next week.  I’m sure we won’t notice that 0.01 knots we gain in speed (mostly because my knot meter died a slow death of condensation over the last two winters), but it’s always nice to have a clean bottom!

Next up – a power wash to get the wintergreen off (I will never chew that flavor of gum again), recaulking of the toe rail, and with some help, rebedding all the bow hardware.  Then some clean up and reorganizing in the leaky quarterberth.

Spring isn’t all chores….we had a great sunny sail last Saturday and I got to try out my new hammock on the bow on Sunday.  This weekend Logan and I sailed to Blake Island and caught the last mooring ball.  A little later our neighbors came around the corner and rafted to us and it was a nice relaxing night and a great sail today.   Thank you April for taking pity on we poor Seattleites.  Please put in a good word for us with May.