Well, the way it went was that when we first had the barge, which we named the Kaapse Draai - a South African expression meaning a kind of life U-turn, which in our case it was - there were many technical aspects of living on board that we weren't familiar with. The barge, a motor zeilkast was well-equipped with the necessities of a standard sort of life (if any kind of onboard living can be called standard), but what went on behind that was still part of our learning curve. To put it simply, we had a kitchen with a normal gas stove and sink. We also had a shower and toilet. The latter used outboard water, meaning water from whichever canal or river we happened to be moored in. The former, the shower, took water from the water tanks, but how it drained out was not something I ever thought about - that was Bill, the erstwhile's area. I suppose he had thought about it and even knew how it worked, but I don't suppose it had gone much further than that; there was still so much to discover.
|The Verwisseling - a similar barge to the Kaapse Draai|
With thanks to the LVBHB photo gallery
Anyway, on this one memorable morning, I crawled out of bed to go and put the kettle on. The bedroom was in the bows of the barge, so it was a bit of a walk to reach the kitchen, which was closer to the stern (back end for those not familiar with boating terms - the bows are the front end). As I walked, still foggy with sleep, I became aware of a curious sensation beneath my feet. The floor was still covered with the linoleum the previous owners had favoured, and my emerging consciousness was aware that where it was usually quite firm, this particular morning, it wasn't. It had developed an odd sort of spongy feel. Of course I thought it was me at first. How much wine had I drunk the night before? I couldn't remember. Not a good sign. Was I going down with something? I liked that idea better. But as I progressed towards the kitchen, the spongy feeling was accompanied by squelching noises. All of a sudden, my brain's gears engaged and I put two and two together. The fact that I came up with a hundred and plenty is an indication of the violence of the alarm bells that started clanging in my head.
Water. Yes. That's what that squelching meant. Water inside the barge. This was not good. In instant panic mode, I rushed back to the bedroom to squawk at Bill. Needless to say, my imitation of a frantic parrot worked, and he leapt out of bed. Somewhere in my screeching, he had managed to understand that we were in the process of sinking, so man action was needed. He was good at that, I must admit; the man action stuff.
Together, we pulled up the lino and and then a few very soggy floorboards and found the evidence of what we were dreading. Seeping up between the sheets of under floor insulation in some profusion was water of the very wettest kind. It also had a distinct pong as if it had been there for some time.
But where was it coming from? We'd recently had a full inspection and the bottom was completely sound; there'd also been no water in the bilges either. The former owner had replaced the entire under water hull with new steel, so we knew it couldn't have developed any rot within the space of a few weeks. With our heads screwed back in place again, we started to eliminate the possibilities. It didn't take long.
While the previous owner of the barge had been a technician of some note, he must have had one spell of madness when he fitted the drainage system from the shower and the kitchen sink as these two together just emptied into a large bucket into which a pump was submersed. This switched on automatically - or at least it was supposed to -when the water in the bucket reached a point close to its rim. The shower and sink water were then pumped out into the harbour. However, what he hadn't done was install any kind of alarm system in the event the pump stopped working. Which it had.
We didn't know how long the water in the bucket had merrily been overflowing into the bottom of the barge, but it must have been for most of the weeks we'd been in the harbour as there was an awful lot of it, which also explained why it was more than a bit smelly. Luckily or unluckily, I'm not quite sure which, the linoleum prevented the smell becoming noticeable until it started seeping up through the floorboards.
As you can imagine, my relief was great when I was reassured that we weren't heading inexorably down to the bottom of the harbour and I cheered up immediately. In contrast, Bill's grump factor went through the roof as he realised how much time and work it would take to dry everything out and repair the pump. But there I will leave the story, not because of my sensitivity about personal conflicts, but because I honestly can't remember what happened next, how we solved the problem or how long it took to put things back together. Life, as they say, took over. Since at the time I was the one going to work while he was fixing the barge, I suppose that's what happened. I probably, and quite cheerfully, left him to it.