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That Sinking Feeling...(or A Crash Course in Gate Valves)

Hi, Cheryl and I have recently joined the ranks of Hoo Ness Yacht Club. We thought it would be a good way to get to know people by trying to sink our boat… Well it worked because we have certainly met a lot of new people after recent events.

For your entertainment and information I would like to relate details of our recent “sailing” experience at Hoo Ness Yacht Club. May this be a warning to you all but then I’m sure none of you are as daft as us anyway.

Being new to sea sailing Cheryl and I recently bought a cheap 22 foot yacht off ebay. It was moored at HNYC and we joined what seemed a very friendly club. We realised the boat needed work and would be a bit of a project but it seemed sailable and what better way to get into sailing than get your own boat and join a sailing club?

We decided to use our annual holiday to come down to the club and sort the boat out and take it for a sail. The dinghy had been made serviceable, the outboard had been serviced, the ropes and rigging were all present, the boat was afloat on its mooring and water and supplies on board. We decided to tidy the boat up then go back ashore and do our first little sail the next day.

Cheryl used the sea head before we left the boat and I manfully showed her how to flush it before we locked up and went ashore.

The next day we returned to the boat and on opening up, shock, horror! There was 2 foot of water in the bottom of the cabin reaching just up to the seats. I quickly realised the problem and to be honest there had been a niggling doubt in my mind that I had operated the sea cocks properly. Obviously I hadn’t. But with a bit of tinkering and some frantic bailing and bilge pumping we soon had most of the water out.

The last bit of water in the top of the keel however was not being sucked out so I crawled into the space under the cockpit to find the end of the bilge pump tube. I found it and some other tubes. On moving one of the other tubes to see what it was attached to there was a sudden gushing of water and I could see water pouring into the boat from an open pipe 6 inches in front of my nose.

With the help of a few swear words and contortionism I managed to block the hole with the whole palm of my hand and give myself time to think……. Cheryl was up on deck manning the bilge pump. I calmly explained the situation to her; “ Sh** Shoot, Baby. We’re sinking !”

Three immediate options presented themselves; I could lay there all night with my hand over the hole, I could try to find some other way to plug it, or I could take my hand off the hole and we could both jump in the dinghy and let the boat sink.

Stay calm. Think clearly. Keep Cheryl informed. “Sh** Baby, what are we gonna do?” I lay there with cramp setting in my arm and hand. Cheryl remained calm and collected . Every swear word from me was accompanied by a sudden frantic bilge pumping from Cheryl. “I need to plug this hole. Can you find me a cloth?“. Never one to miss an opportunity Cheryl dutifully whipped off her T shirt for the cause. But fortunately for her (though not so fortunate for the rescue team that later came to help us) she also found me a piece of towel and she was able to put her shirt back on.

Using a wedge of towel and a one handed slip knot and lots of stokers dhobie hitch knots I was finally able to plug the hole. But what to do next ....? ...Call Bryan.

After explaining the situation over the phone to Bryan Wright he made some phone calls and very shortly International Rescue arrived in the form of Peter... and 3 other kind souls who’s names I never did catch, Steaming full ahead in Heather, out of the marina towards us. A very welcome sight. Pete took control and they were soon towing our boat into the marina with expert judgement of the ebbing tide and the sill height at the marina. The full wheels of Hoo Ness Yacht Club Crisis Management Team were put in motion. Tony Cottis and Rod Laws organised the loan of a trolley from Ron Morgan and the boat was pulled out of the water the next day. My towel and string damage control lasted the night and I was able to fit new valves the next day. Disaster averted.

And so I have written this piece to pass on the lessons learned by me from this incident but really just to say a very big thank you to everyone at Hoo Ness Yacht Club for their help and advice. This really could have ended up very differently and Cheryl and I have been very lucky. The way everyone has come to our aid with help and advice has been amazing. No-one has made us feel stupid and advice has been abounding. What a great club!

Technical info;-
This was a corroded starboard cockpit drain valve which I must have knocked off while scrabbling around in the bilge. I found it later (see picture). You can see from the photo how the thread has completely corroded away. Following advice from club members I have replaced them both with bronze ball valves and checked all other valves with a hammer.

What have I learnt?
Well lots of things really;-

  1. Gate valves are not everyone’s favourite choice, ball valves are better. Brass corrodes, bronze doesn’t and DZT bronze doesn’t and is cheaper than real bronze.
  2. It would be handy to have a damage control kit with some various size bungs on board.
  3. I now know what a cockpit drain valve looks like and how quickly water can come in through one.
  4. Listen to advice and get as much of it as possible.
  5. Join a good sailing club.

Keith and Cheryl

Date Published 22nd Jul 2012