It’s been one hell of a week on Coastal Drifter. Having arrived in Papeete, we had planned to enjoy a week of rejuvenation, sightseeing, exploring new restaurants, getting reacquainted with old friends, and catching up with the world after spending the last 6 months incommunicado. The only reason I’m telling you about my week is because it may help prepare someone else, or make you rethink your strategies based on what happened to us. This is true, and can happen.
They say bad things happen in three’s and I hope to heaven that is true! First, our second freezer packed it in. I know, I’m whining especially because we know lots of cruisers who don’t have any refrigerators at all. But it was full! We had to gash everything. Second incident was misplacing our passports; scary, but all turned out well in the end.
The third, and hopefully the final event happened only two nights ago. We almost lost Coastal Drifter.
We were out on a mooring ball in Marina Taina. We had just swapped out our bilge pump for a larger one, and a new float switch. Well, guess what? It failed! Yes, folks, it did!
Here’s what happened. Phil and I were out all day and when we returned we didn’t notice anything amiss. Everything was normal, I was busy making dinner while Phil was on the Net. Suddenly Phil says “my feet are wet!” I checked the hatches and portholes because we have had a lot of rain lately, but found nothing leaking. I pulled up the cover for the bilge and to my horror it was full! Our bilge is very deep! Phil can stand up in it so let’s say 5-6 ft? Our engine and batteries were submerged in sea water.
I immediately switched off the electricity, while Phil attached our emergency pump. Nothing!
For some reason, I’d been soaking clothes in the two galley sinks so I unplugged them to let the water drain, so we could start bailing water from the bilge to the sinks, which are next to each other but independent drains. Phil said the water level hadn’t changed. We closed all the through hulls, and Phil told me to prepare the ditch bag and declare a Pan Pan.
I tried to raise the Marina but no luck; they were closed for the day. I requested help on three other stations that I knew were in use by cruisers: 74, 16 and 09 the airport control. I got one reply from Fandango. Out of 70 boats in the anchorage, only one had its radio on! Thankfully, Ian and his wife, Leslie immediately jumped into their dingy, bringing with them another pump. Phil wired in the new pump from the battery, hoping it was still viable, while Ian and Leslie bailed water from the bilge into the cockpit using 5 gallon buckets. I finally got the JRCC on the radio, declared a Pan Pan and started a dialogue with them; describing our problem, our location, and what assistance we required.
I found that my and their language skills were a barrier, not strong enough to clearly get the information across. They sent a fire truck to the dock – we were on a mooring ball! They didn’t have a boat to send another pump to us. I knew then help was not coming. So I asked them to keep in contact with us every 10 minutes, while we would try to get the situation under control as best we could. Phil and Ian found the cause: sea water had siphoned into the bilge and the pump failed. The sink has been acting as a vent all this time, and in the past, the force of the old pump would pop the plug out of the sink and allow the water to drain, but not so with the new one.
After a long hour and a half, we had enough water bailed out that we could assess our situation better. I then realized we were not going to sink that night. Even though we thought we knew what the problem was, we set an hourly alarm to check the bilge. No more water came in.
In the morning, Ian and Leslie returned at the crack of dawn to help where they could, and it was decided to ask the Marina to tow us into a dock so we could try and get the engine running and see what we could salvage after this whole ordeal. The Marina was very good; within the hour they had a crew to us, and we were under tow to the safety of a sturdy dock. Another friend, Vasili, on Olgalou heard us request a tow and offered to help us with the engine, as he is a diesel mechanic. We gratefully accepted.
In the last two long days, Phil and Vasili have been working and have successfully got the engine running again after three oil changes, some rewiring of the starter and glow plugs. Thankfully, we are OK, we only lost a few things that we can replace.
- Be self reliant when the emergency happens, there might not be help when needed
- Even though there are lots of boats around, don’t assume that they will have their VHFs on, because they have to conserve electricity, a common practice.
- No one on neighboring boats responded to my bell ringing, yelling, and whistling?
- Install two independent float switches with a bilge alarm
- When installing your emergency pump, ensure that the pumping mechanism, at least, is installed lower than the water level of your boat. Physics is a bitch!
- Install a vented air loop
Things That Were Good
- Because we had to turn off our power, our many solar lights worked very well to give enough light to work in and light up the boat
- The two hand-held radios worked well to communicate with other parties, as there was no power for our main VHS
I will always be thankful to Fandango and Olgalou for their quick response in our time of need, and have a little surprise for each of them when we have them over for a “Thank you” spaghetti dinner. Without their help, we would not have had a good outcome and I would probably be sitting in some hotel room waiting to fly home while writing this, instead of being in the comfort of our cockpit on our beloved Coastal Drifter. I don’t think either couple knows how much they mean to us. To them it was just helping out, but to us it meant everything! Another case of another’s unselfish, generous act of helping others help. May the Universe smile upon them forever!