Friday, April 01, 2016

The boater's worst nightmare - that sinking feeling

While I've been on the subject of my pre-Watery Ways era in the harbour, some more of the incidents that coloured the few months I was there with the aforementioned erstwhile have been coming back to me. And these are stories I don't think I've mentioned before. For instance, have I told you about the day I got up only to find I was walking on water? No? I thought not.

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.

20 comments:

  1. Val, back in the day, before the advent of Grp. The majority of private boats were made of wood and at the end of every season they would be brought ashore for their maintenance schedule. During that time quite a few of them would dry out fairly badly, to the point being in a submerged condition when put back in the water. Now for the small non cabin craft this did not matter very much, for they were easily bailed out. For the larger craft it was the question of having a couple of folk on board all of the time to man the pumps a job given to the youngest apprentice. So to your question yes, I have sat on board large yachts pumping like the very devil to keep them afloat and me dry.

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    1. Goodness, what a job, Mel. I have a cartoon image in my mind now of a small horned devil sitting in a boat bailing out with a runcible spoon :)

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  2. At least you found it when you did. Though that probably wasn't much consolation at the time.

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    1. I don't remember that either, Jo. I expect you're right. I just remember what happened and the rest has sunk to the sludge at the bottom of my memory pool.

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  3. Oh goodness me! Every time I read your barge blogs I am filled with admiration for you living upon the water...and fear that one day you will sink beneath the amount of maintanance you have to do. Please don't 'sink' literally on top of everything else!

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    1. Well at least if I sink on top of things, I won't go to the bottom... Sorry...

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  4. Hi Val - that must have been ghastly to find out about - and I bet you were pleased to go to work during that period! But I'm glad you weren't sinking ... not fun to think about - but fun ... and I'd go to work to in those circumstances! Cheers Hilary

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    1. Yes, Hilary, and in those days I didn't know much about plumbing either, so I felt no qualms about leaving it to the expert!

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  5. Another great, entertaining story. If any human could ever walk on water (After Peter's short success), it figures it would be you, Val! And I think your solution of going to work and leaving him with it was a real winner!

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    1. Nice one , Steph! Thank you so much, but I'm not ready for sainthood yet and I' definitely no martyr...which is why I probably left him to repair the damage.

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  6. I'm going to know so much about barges from reading your pieces, Val! How do you manage to get time to write?

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    1. All but one of my books started as blogs, Stephanie...that's how they happened!

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  7. Haha! I can just see it all! Your parrot imitation and the ensuing panic! Wonderful Val... erm... well wonderful re-telling. I am sure it was not a wonderful experience!

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    1. Thanks, dear Stevie. It was a bit alarming, I must confess but luckily a long time ago! xxx

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  8. It's a good thing it wasn't coming in from the outside and you didn't sleep in.

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    1. Well, Stu, yes, I am very grateful about that! It was enough of a mission cleaning up smelly drain water....but I'm also glad I didn't have to do it :)

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  9. Everyone's worse nightmare, water in the boat. We discovered water to the top of the bilges (which are 6ft deep) in the yacht. Trouble was we were half way across the North Sea, heading for Belgium! The RNLI came out and towed us back to Ramsgate (gotta love those men in rubber). It turned out to be a drain lid had popped off and was filling the boat with water. Soon fixed and we were Belgian bound the next day. Not an experience I would like to repeat though xxx

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    1. I had a feeling you would know the problem, Fran. How scary was that? You shoukd write a sailing memoir, you know! I'd love to read some more of your stories! Xxx

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  10. Given my great fear of water and inability to swim, I always think you are going to sink and be lost! However, clearly the barges are made of strong stuff, and a solution will be found. What a great source of good stories you have, Val.

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    1. Thank you, Patricia. I'm also afraid of drowning, but at least in a barge, you are never too far from the shore, and it's always wise to wear a lifejacket...not that I'm always wise :)

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