Adventure,  Boat & Home

That Time the Boat Flooded

“Skye should be up from her nap soon, and I’ll grab…GEOFF!!” I’d turned to climb down below only to discover several inches of water on the floor. It hadn’t been there a few minutes previously when I’d gotten us drinks.

We were 10 miles from Charleston, SC and the brand new, never-tested engine had been running flawlessly. We’d just passed a raft of powerboats and their wake had given us a serious shake-up.

“Something hit a thru-hull. Take the wheel.” There aren’t a lot of ways that much water could get into the boat that quickly and none of them are good. I take over steering while Geoff opens the lockers and starts pulling things out, trying to see which thru-hull is flooding. Skye chooses this moment to wake up and look down from her bed onto the water sloshing back and forth on the floor.

“Momeeeeee! It’s WET!” She’s decidedly dubious about the water on the floor and elects to stay in bed. Geoff goes below, grabs her, and puts her on deck with me where I snap her into her harness.

“The bilge pump was turned off again,” Geoff confirms before opening the engine hatch, still trying to locate the problem. I hear the bilge churn to life and the water starts flowing out of the boat. We’re not going to sink, at least.

We’d left late the night before and anchored out at the mouth of the river, ready to leave with the morning tide. Skye was sound asleep and Geoff and I sat on deck having a drink and congratulating ourselves on all our hard work and finally getting moving.

This past winter, we made a lot of improvements to the boat, from re-painting the bottom to significant glass work, replacing all the standing rigging (the cables that hold the mast up), putting in a new engine and retrofitting it to work in our boat, rebuilding the steering system, and completely re-writing the electrical. It was nice to finally be rewarded for all the hard work and begin traveling again. And as hard as it was to say goodbye to the friends we’d made in Beaufort, we were ready to go.

We’d greeted the sun heading down the river to cut over behind Edisto, keeping to the intercoastal waterway. Driving was a struggle. Last summer, when we’d rigged up our steering system, we’d incorrectly connected the cables, causing the steering to be connected backwards. I’d driven the boat from Myrtle Beach to Beaufort and around and my brain is still wired to turn the wheel the opposite direction of the way I want to go. Needless to say, we drove in lots of circles as we slowly forced our muscle memory to change.

The day was beautiful, only slightly overcast. Dolphins swam off our stern, putting on a show. Temperature in the mid-80s. As we approached Charleston, the boat traffic increased significantly. Power boaters mainly, out for the sun, never thinking to look behind them at how their wake caused a little sailboat to dip and roll.

Geoff crawled out of one of the cockpit lockers with grease on him, but looking calmer.

“There’s water coming up the rudder shaft when we go a certain speed,” he said. “We’ll have to shift some weight forward. We also probably need to call ComPac and see if they’ve seen this problem before.” A solution. Our boat wasn’t sinking.

We motor towards Charleston, keeping an eye on the bilge pump which appears to be on the fritz. Geoff has me drive the Wapoo Cut, a narrow channel between to rivers with docks on either side and a howling current. Powerboats raced on either side, causing significant rocking and drift. I was holding the wheel tightly, trying not to make a mistake in how I turned the boat while Geoff was down below being thrown around and trying to find the radio channel to call the draw bridge ahead. Skye, meanwhile, was totally unperturbed by this, but had pulled out her doctor’s kit to give the radio a “checkup.”

We pulled into the marina late afternoon, tied on dock lines. Elli ran off the boat towards some grass while I closed everything down and followed with Skye. I was ready for some supper and a good glass of wine.

We leave Charleston tomorrow. After a discussion with ComPac, we’re going to shift weight forward away from the rudder and keep an eye on the prop shaft. We may need to replace some of the fittings and once we get away from boat traffic, I’ll swim the rudder to make sure it’s clear of debris. Geoff has wired a back-up bilge system off the second battery so that it will take a double-failure for our bilge system to stop working.

One day of adventure down, a whole summer to go!