Fred and I were taking two hour cat naps, trading off short watches through the night and I was sleeping heavily (air born every time the bow fell, it felt like) when Fred called my name. I opened my eyes to see him in the cabin, self steering wind vane working like a champ, and he was looking around the floor saying, “Where is this water coming from??” I checked the time to be 7 am, position 22°08.5′N 158°33.5′W, about 40 miles NW of the coast of Oahu, just north of the mid-point of the Kauai Channel, no land in sight.
There was a bit of water sloshing around the sole of the cabin and my first thought was we must have had a wave slosh some water through the companionway. I got up to investigate as Fred was opening up the bilge. He lifted the access panel and we both saw it plumb full of water, Fred just standing there looking down, the panel hanging from his hand with a look of complete disbelief on his face. After a few seconds he looks back at me and asks, “What do we do?” I said the first thing that popped in my head and said, “Manual pump?” He jumped out of the cabin to grab a pump handle from the cockpit, inserted it into the pump fitting in the cockpit and started pumping. He was pumping very quickly waiting for the water to start flowing but it wouldn’t prime. After pumping air for a few minutes we knew it was broken. “Shit!” He went below with the pump handle to try the only other manual bilge pump, both of us slipping all over the place on the wet, varnished floor of the cabin. It was like an ice-skating rink that would tilt randomly with a 40 degree swing. If this last pump doesn’t work, we’ll have to use the little bailer-pump to fill a 5 gallon bucket and dump that over the side. As Fred started pumping, though, he immediately felt it working and water started flowing. There was nothing really for me to do, so I started bailing water from above the floorboards until Fred got tired and we began switching off on the bilge pump. The water was getting lower, we were both feeling immense relief to know we could stay ahead of the leak, and after about an hour the four-foot deep bilge was completely empty.
The first thing we did after emptying the bilge was turn the boat around back to Oahu. The motion became easier with the wind behind our beam and we had a pow-wow. What should we do? Where is the leak coming from? Back-flow from the head? The anchor locker? Broken through-hull? We talked possibilities and scenarios for a bit and tried to come up with a game plan to find the issue and turn back north towards San Francisco. On my boat I would close all the through-hulls first off, but when I suggested that to Fred he said his through-hulls are too hard to access. Fred bought the boat a year ago and still didn’t know it nearly as well as his old boat. I would have explored his access panels to find the through-hulls, but sea-sickness was setting in after sponging and pumping and I was very un-motivated. We were still bouncing around a lot, so we decided to hold off and check the bilge again. It had been about an hour and looking down into the depths we could see just about an inch of water. We were hardly taking any water now! We decided to turn back north and do some more trouble-shooting.
So back San Francisco-bound with the idea to keep an eye on the water level, our plan was to continue on for a day. We were still fairly close to Oahu and could just turn down-wind and run home if needed. The winds were calming down as the sun came up, and if the seas would just calm down maybe we could start checking through-hulls.
We were making some water, but we would pump about a minute every hour, so the leak was slow enough to handle for now. 20 days of this wouldn’t work, but maybe we can find and fix the issue. Now that things were under control, Fred went below to get some rest. But after only a couple hours, at 2 pm, the next issue popped up.
I was in the cockpit and heard an alarm start, “Beep beep beep beep…” I went below thinking it was our AIS picking up some ship traffic, but the radar was clear. The beeping was in fact coming from the propane control. I couldn’t smell any propane and canceled the alarm. The frequency of the beeping was undetectable by Fred’s ears, so he continued sleeping soundly. I returned to the cockpit, but a few minutes later it started beeping again. I canceled it, returned, but on the third activation I woke Fred up.
He said it was his gas sniffer. The motor wasn’t running, there were no weird smells, so we had no idea why it would be activating. Maybe the water soaked some wires or the propane sensor or something? After testing, Fred was unable to get the propane to flow because the sniffer automatically shuts off the propane. There was no by-pass around the sniffer and no way to cook food. Dry rice and raw meat don’t taste very good, but the canned goods, fruit, veggies, and other random foods could get us to San Francisco. But it would seriously decrease our total food supply and in combination with the leak we agreed that this trip was not meant to be.
We sailed back averaging about 8 knots in perfect wind until we again hit the lee of Oahu, then put the sails away and motored as the sun went down.