Listen up: your boat is talking to you

It was not one of our sunnier mornings.

Oh, the sun was up and blazing, but the utter lack of sleep the night before- when Totem sat beam onto a swell rolling in over a long stretch of the Indian Ocean- left us feeling a little dim.

Help was surely on the way, I thought, catching a whiff of propane as Jamie turned on the stove to make coffee. I turned a bleary eye and rolled over, and a few minutes later, caught the same odor again. This time it didn’t feel right, and snapped me to a consciousness. Any hint of propane only comes with lighting the stove, and it doesn’t stick around. Worse, this wasn’t really smelling like propane, and the stove wasn’t even on.

I poked up into the cockpit to tell Jamie, who came down to see if he could pick up the smell too. On instinct, he opened up access to the engine room, and found an immediate answer. Water was spraying everywhere! The smell was suddenly intense, and obvious: as water fell on and around the engine, oils inside the compartment were lifted in the steam and carried into the cabin.

The source was a ruptured hose to the tap for the galley sink, which sits on top of the engine. A brand new faucet assembly was installed just a few months ago, ironically enough because we worried about a catastrophic failure of the old tap it replaced.

The initial fix: easy. Turn off the water pressure pump, and the flows tops with the flick of a switch.
The bigger issue is that in the precious few minutes that it took us to identify the problem, our starboard water tank was effectively drained. We have a second tank, and it was isolated (as it should be, but realistically, it isn’t always), so we weren’t entirely SOL- but that was still sixty gallons of water gone that would take us up to twelve hours of runtime (and a lot of power) for our watermaker to replace. Ouch.

The more complete fix: this, it turns out, will take a little longer. The break happened on the way to Chalong, a busy anchorage at the south end of Phuket, with a bustling little town. The best supplied hardware store in the area (which honestly made me feel like Dorothy clicking my heels together three times and transported back in the middle of Home Depot) said it would take at least two weeks for delivery to source the part that would match the somewhat unique (who knew?!) fitting on our blown out hose.

That’s not really an option, because our Thai visas expire in just a few days. It suddenly becomes very obvious that we have exactly one source of water available via the footpump, and using that pump (and the awkward mini-tap) is an unfortunate way to handle all our freshwater needs for drinking, dishes, and bathing.

Fortunately, Jamie is Mr McGuyver, so we have a jury rig that lets us put the freshwater system back on line and even use the galley sink until we can get a replacement hose. It should be easy to do in Langkawi, since that’s where the faucet was purchased back in November.

What a reminder to pay attention to your boat: to listen, to be alert to anything that might feel different than the norm. Your boat is talking to you all the time, and sometimes it’s pretty important to listen closely! All for a smell that struck a little differently. For power that felt slightly different relative to the RPMs.

What if this had happened in the middle of the ocean? What if it were coupled with watermaker issues and those sixty gallons were eve more precious than their power cost? What if this had happened where we couldn’t get the bits for a temporary fix, much less a permanent one? This is the third time we’ve had a significant failure that caused us to lose our water.

So we go back to more important things, like interpreting the menu in Thai restaurants. Completely perplexing but it’s really a no-lose situation, since everything is delicious (disclaimer: I did not try Pound Salted).

Readers feeling especially parched can get watered up by reading this on the Sailfeed website.

3 Responses

  1. Although they are probably in your prior blogs….. Just curious what your other two water system failures were? – Turbulence

    1. Hi Turbulence! The other two were both breaks- the first was an elbow joint that split, the other was an inline filter that decided to explode. In both of those cases, the kids heard them first, while we were in the cockpit. Doesn’t take long to drain our 60 gal primary tank.

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