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.


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.


Hole In The Boat, V. 2.0. Port Light Rebedding

“I’m so happy to have found a leak on my boat!” she says with a big smile. The expressions on others’ faces are astounded, confused, or horrified.

“OK, how about I finally LOCATED a leak on my boat!” The response is definitely more congratulatory, occasionally tinged with a little sadness or jealousy.  Rubigale’s starboard side has been plagued with leaks since I bought her in the summer of 2014.

Once the torrential downpours of the Seattle fall appeared, drips ran down the overhang in the salon and puddled on the shelf. One of the three screws that holds in my barometer would cry every time it rained. I started finding things in the starboard aft berth wet, requiring everything to live in a plastic bin.

I thought I had it solved when I replaced one of the larger windows in the salon after I spotted dampness at the corner, and although the leaking seemed to have lessened, it was definitely still there. I tried caulking the toe rail and honestly most anything that looked caulk-able. I had the rigging tuned, and the shroud plates were rebedded in the process.

Still, the insides of cabinets mildewed and were regularly vinegared and bleached. Every time it rained, a pile of boat rags came out to soak the puddles, and on a particularly hard pour, a few pots came out as well. The bilge pump would come on. The dehumidifier got a workout. The headliner remained mysteriously dry.

There was old water staining around the aft-most starboard port light, but all six of them were brand new when I purchased the boat and I assumed that the new ones were the fix for that problem. I began to blame the jib track and the bow hardware, and started to wrap my mind around how to do all of these things, or what it would cost to hire someone to do it.

Everyone knows it rains a lot in Seattle, but it is typically a persistent mist rather than the torrential downpours I remember in Mississippi. Recently, Seattle experienced one of those deluges and I caught the leak from the port light red-handed! I had already rebedded one window, and this was so much smaller and seemed easier. You can probably see where this is going.

Preparing to Wrestle This Port Light Out

Preparing to Wrestle

This Came off Much Too Easily

This Came off Much Too Easily

Since it was a different type of window, I watched a YouTube video on the process and felt I was ready to go. I unscrewed the inner portion of the port light with it’s spigot and removed it easily. I had expected it to be much more difficult because some veneer is torn away from a couple of the ones in the V-berth, suggesting it was going to be a bear. With the larger window, there had been screws attaching the inside frame to the outside frame to create compression for the sealant. None of that was here. The inside was screwed to the wood and the spigot extended to the outside of the fiberglass where a trim piece was simply adhered with some sort of sealant which was pressed into the gap. The trim piece was also easily (too easily) removed and staining on the underside and on the fiberglass showed where the leak was happening.

Staining Where Water Intrusion Was Occurring

Staining Where Water Intrusion Was Occurring

Area Where the Leak Was Damaging the Wood

Area Where the Leak Was Damaging the Wood

I’m fortunate to have solid fiberglass, so there was no soggy core. There is a small gap between the fiberglass and the wood walls which was where most of the water had been going. The side of the wood facing the fiberglass was soggy and spongy in the area of the leak. The uncharacteristic 90 degree weather helped it dry out over a day with the assistance of a fan. Meanwhile, I started looking for answers. Why didn’t the screws connect the inside to the outside? How could you achieve a seal without the compression?

It was time to phone a friend. John, who had helped me replace the larger window, came over and looked at it, and agreed that it just didn’t seem correct. We made a field trip to the marine store and described the problem and brought the port light. After tossing around some ideas, a solution was proffered to cut a larger hole in the wood so that the inside section of the window would be directly against the fiberglass! To say I was skeptical, and a little bit horrified was an understatement. I said I’d think about it and picked up the type of sealant that was recommended for plastic.

Through-bolting the Port Light

Through-bolting the Port Light

Sealant Used

Sealant Used

It was time for a glass of wine and more research. It’s amazing what you can discover when you read the instructions. There were very clear directions (with pictures) on how to through bolt the window for a solid wall as well as a multi-layered wall like mine. There is 1/4” of fiberglass, 1/4” of space, then 1/4” of veneered plywood on the inside.

The solution was to fill the gap as much as possible with closed cell spray foam to provide some structure for the gap under compression. I dreaded this part because I have had a few experiences with this stuff in old houses that were pretty messy. I made a part list of screws, barrel nuts, mineral spirits and the foam and went shopping.

Closed Cell Foam

Closed Cell Foam

Closed Cell Foam in the Gap

Closed Cell Foam in the Gap

The following day the wood seemed dry and I filled the gap with the spray foam. Every time I revisited the opening, more foam had expanded out and had to be cut away, but by the next morning it seemed pretty solid and ready to go. The wood felt dry. Now it was time to drill holes in my boat which scares the living daylights out of me, so I again phoned a friend.


Using the Trim Piece as a Template for the Fiberglass

Trim Piece as Template

That Side Whole was a PAIN

That Side Hole was a PAIN

Following the recommendations on the company website, we drilled holes through the trim piece and the fiberglass to match those in the wood where the spigot was attached. Due to the placement of one of the shrouds, lining up one of the holes was next to impossible which was remedied by making a slightly bigger hole (giving me slightly more anxiety). The edges of the holes and the main opening were chamfered so they could accommodate more sealant. The product recommended to stick to both plastic and fiberglass was Sudbury Elastomeric Marine Sealant.

Installation Complete!

Installation Complete!

Once the fiberglass dust was cleaned up and a dry fit done, it was a fairly simple job with two people to get it sealed and the bolts threaded into the barrel head nuts on the inside. I used plenty of sealant, resigning myself to a big clean up, but erring on the side of too much.

I’m very happy to report that after a couple of pretty hard rains, the window, the barometer and the shelf remain dry! There’s still the leak somewhere behind the oven, and I still have 5 more port lights to rebed, but for now, Rubi is drier than she has been in the last two years.


Update August 30, 2016- I am deliriously happy to say that after two crossings of the Strait of Georgia, the starboard side is DRY!

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.

Learning to Live Aboard (Drips, Cat Nip, and Heeling in Slips

I never had a clear intention of living board. I heard about those people, and I even met one occasionally, but I always wondered what kind of person would do that? Are they like the people that live in old VW vans or yurts? Are they crazy minimalists with no social skills? Where do they put their shoes?

After learning to sail about six years ago, the idea of having my own boat was always present. I perused boat porn regularly, only to talk myself out of it because it wasn’t financially responsible. A sailing club afforded me the opportunity to sail without the hassles of ownership. Despite this logic, I still squirreled money away each month into a fund named ‘boat money’. Eventually the desire to own my own boat overwhelmed my logic and I decided to start searching.

In order to afford rent and moorage I decided to downsize and find a smaller place while I looked. I found a 350 sq. ft. studio, the smallest place I have lived in since college. I started to wonder how I would feel in such a small space, and if I didn’t mind it, did that mean I might be able to live on a boat. I wasn’t actually planning on doing that, of course; it was just an experiment to see if I could. My boat search criteria changed to include amenities that I thought were necessary for living aboard instead of just weekend cruises – just in case.

I found my boat shortly after the move to the studio. I had been on dozens of different boats over the last few years but most were relatively new. The boat that captured my heart was just over 40 years old, a Challenger 32. There was nothing about the exterior that grabbed my attention, but as soon as I looked inside I knew it was the right boat. She was beamier and had more headroom than any other 32’ boat I had sailed. The head was relatively roomy the boat’s size, and there was a full galley which included a brand new refrigerator. The seating around the table made visions of parties dance through my head and the windows were quite large, letting the summer sunlight light up the interior. This would be my first boat.


At first it was a novelty to stay on board for the weekend, even if I didn’t leave the marina. Before long I started dreading going back to the apartment and I started spending week nights aboard. The dilemma was that I had a 7 year old diabetic cat that had already been recently traumatized by a move. If he stayed at the apartment, I had to drive back twice a day. If I brought him to the boat, how would he fare? Would he try to escape and fall in the water? What would I do with the litter box? If I couldn’t acclimate him to the boat, then I couldn’t live there. I decided I would just use the boat as an office and a weekend escape. Gradually tools and shoes and toiletries were quietly moved to the office. That lasted about a month.

It was time to try bringing the cat aboard for a long weekend. He stayed in the back of the quarter berth for two days before finding that under the blankets in the V berth was a more desirable place to hide. Somehow I let myself get talked into sailing on the third day and I decided it would be a great test to see how he would handle it. I feared yowling and projectile vomit but was pleasantly surprised to find neither. I bought a lot of cat nip and administered it liberally. Maybe this could actually work.


Gradually the cat became more accustomed to his new surroundings and came out from under the covers. I went to the apartment once or twice a week to check mail, but I never slept there. I was able to take a trip to the San Juans without worrying about hiring a cat sitter. It was like one big extended vacation! Eventually, the actual realities of living aboard, even with the amenities of a marina, started to appear.

I had to remember to get quarters for the shower, haul my toiletries and towel in the rain, and set a timer on my phone so I didn’t run out of water while soap was still in inconvenient places. I sometimes carried bags of laundry up the dock only to find all the machines were full or the quarter machine was empty. These were then stuffed into the car to wait for another day with the hope things didn’t get smelly.

The water tanks had to be filled regularly and I didn’t actually know how long a tank would last. I had to keep track of when I’d last gone to the pump out and I feared boat smells. I read an entire book on marine sanitation which served mostly to totally freak me out. .  I spent a lot of time sniffing compartments and peering into my bilge and other creepy places looking for potential problems. I stuck flashlights in dark crevices looking for mildew. I dreamed about calcification building up in my sanitation hoses while I slept. I bought white vinegar by the gallon jug.

I found kitty litter everywhere – in the bed, in the head, and between my toes. It occurred to me that the most inconvenient parts of living aboard were hygiene related – poop, showers and laundry. Cooking was also becoming more difficult because the alcohol stove was giving me a splitting headache. This was going to be harder than I thought.

After about 6 weeks of living aboard full time, the cat and I started to settle in. I found a new litter box system that eliminated the litter tracking issue. My learning curve started. I did my first oil change and discovered batteries had water in them that needed to be checked (who knew?). I learned that Perkins’ engines leak oil, and if they don’t, you forgot to put oil in. I created a bilge tampon from spill wipes and changing it became a habit.

I mapped my thru hulls and pumps and started a maintenance log. I learned that mistaking the diesel heater switch for the water heater switch results in a big mess if you don’t catch it quickly. I gave my holding tank a high colonic every time I pumped out. The alcohol stove was replaced with propane. I was feeling more confident and more comfortable. Then winter came.

Thru Hull Diagram

Thru Hull Diagram

During the first really big rain, I discovered that my wonderful, dry old boat was not so dry. I found one, then two, then four leaks from mysterious sources along the walls. I found water dripping down the mast into the head and the bilge pump came on more regularly. The aft water tank leaked if filled all the way. A cockpit drain came loose and I could hear the waterfall into the bilge. I could barely reach the hose clamp to fix it and looked as if I had lost a cat fight once it was fixed.

A new leak sprang from a window that’s normally protected by the dodger – except in 40 knot winds during a December storm. The hatch started to drip onto the galley counter. The boat rocked and jerked and heeled in the slip despite multiple spring line variations. I performed midnight halyard management in the rain and wore earplugs to sleep. At the pinnacle of the storm I awoke to a seasick cat anointing the bed, a sweater, a shoe, a cushion, a rug and then another cushion with half digested cat food. Thank goodness he spared the easily cleaned hardwood. I administered more cat nip and wrung out sponges and towels that were catching the drips.

When the storm subsided the big chill replaced it, with docks and decks covered in a thin layer of ice. My dinghy was an ice cube tray. I shivered despite two pair of long johns, and electric heater, a diesel heater, and a cat for warmth. I lied to my mother – “Oh, it’s a little chilly, but the boat is fine….toasty, even”. There was only one thing to do…a big roaring rant, a tantrum, a fit, complete with tears, and I did it. But, I did not go back to the apartment. I had too much mopping up to do.

Suddenly, other live aboard friends, and even friends of friends started calling, texting and emailing to check on me and give advice or offer assistance. “Get snubbers for your lines”, “Get this dehumidifier”, “Get an electric throw blanket”, “Drape a towel over the companionway hatch to keep out drafts”, “Get a tarp, but get a white or grey one so you don’t look cheap”. “Have you tried catnip?” There was even an offer of a couch in someone’s home. I was overwhelmed with gratitude at this small community that reached out to help me through my first big tough spot; perhaps they heard the rant.

I still have leaks, and it’s still cold, but I’ve found some short term ways to winterize. The boat motion is much improved with snubbers and I have a toasty electric throw blanket for my feet. I’m back to the inconveniences of hygiene with a side dish of cold rain and wind. I’ll always be on the search for mildew and smells, and I’ll always be changing the bilge tampon. I will always have to fill the water tanks and pump out.

But the other side, the side that keeps me here, is being able to take my home sailing, visiting different ports and anchorages. My office has a great view and no fluorescent lights. My porch has the best sunsets and it’s pretty easy to find a place to chill your wine without using the refrigerator (even indoors!). There’s still a lot of catnip being dispensed, but the big guy is settling in nicely. He is probably more social than he ever was in a house where it was easier to hide from visitors. I still go to the apartment once a week to check mail and to look at the shoes I never wear, and wonder where they will go when the lease runs out in a few months.


My Office



As seen in Pacific Northwest Boating News: Learning to live aboard: drips, catnip and heeling in slips | Three Sheets Northwest.