Alarms at 1:15am

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I bolted awake at 1:15am to a shrieking alarm. We were 50 miles south of the Grand Banks, in large seas, on passage from Newport, RI to Kinsale, Ireland. I ran upstairs to the pilot house and Jennifer, at the helm, just said “high bilge water.” Yuck. Better than fire but far from good news. I ran back down stairs to get to the engine room and, yes, conditions there certainly do warrant a high bilge water alarm. I hadn’t even stopped to put clothes on yet but in the short time between the alarm firing and me arriving in the engine room, the water had come up above the bilge and the port side engine pan that forms the walkway around the engine was already awash.

We have never really enjoyed crossing oceans, but neither do we hate them or find them scary.  We mostly do it “to get to the other side” and to enjoy cruising different parts of the world, but never for the enjoyment of being as sea. Generally, crossing oceans is just work and rough conditions can be tiring but usually nothing more. This is the first time we’ve felt serious doubts and even felt a touch of fear, and considered turning back. The volume of water entering the boat was simply staggering. It’s amazing how alone you can feel when looking at the engine room floor awash, the water level climbing fast, while hundreds of miles from shore in difficult sea conditions.

We expected winds in the 20 kts ranges but we were seeing a steady 30 to 35 knots with the worst gust to 47 knots. This low was worse than predicted and sea state was unusually poor. The boat was just flying around as these large and very short period waves roll past. The boat was rolling over 20 degrees and sometimes got up over 25 degrees even with active stabilization. Pitch was ranging between 12 and 15 degrees and it is, by far, the worst of the two.

Still not dressed, I went back to the engine room looking for the leak.  I couldn’t find any fitting or through-hull leaking in the engine room so I continued to search the lazarette.  Water was pumping down the 2” Glendinning shore power cord retractor pipe at the aft starboard corner of the lazarette. As I watched I could actually see what appeared to be waves, where the flow was steady, but every few seconds, a massive amount gushed in with wave action or perhaps boat motion. It’s amazing how much water was getting in.

We turned the boat 180 degrees in an effort to reduce the waves boarding the cockpit. Surprisingly, it didn’t seem to help much, but we left it that way for about thirty minutes. I threw on some clothes and a life jacket and worked my way carefully outside to the back of the cockpit to find the leak at the starboard rear cockpit locker with Jennifer keeping an eye on me from the salon. It was dark, cold, and when standing outside at water line level, the waves towered above the pilot house. From outside, I suspect the waves looked much bigger than they actually were. I was standing in around 6” of water but, periodically, waves rolled slowly over the transom soaking me and filling the cockpit to more than 12” of water. With a deck fuel bladder strapped down on the floor of the cockpit, I could only open the locker door three to four inches. Even that small opening is plenty to be able to see the water level at least 6” inside the locker and roughly equal to the water height in the cockpit where I’m standing.

The cockpit has seven scuppers to dump water out of the cockpit and walkway but the waves were rolling over the transom few minutes. Each brought in hundreds of gallons of water and soaked me while I worked at the transom trying to understand how the water is getting in. The deck drains become geysers when the waves hit so, rather than serving as drains, they are acting as cockpit fillers. The scuppers are designed to let water out efficiently and to slam shut when the water is higher on the other side. They do this reasonably well but water still sprays in the 7 scuppers and there is always a lot of water on the cockpit floor when we are in rough seas. As long as the water doesn’t find a way into the boat, having water in the cockpit is not an issue. I’ve seen the cockpit filled to the top and, the more full it is, the faster it dewaters. From my perspective, it’s a perfectly safe design. What doesn’t work well is the cockpit storage lockers have drains which, like all drains in rough seas, both allows water in and, if the water ever gets down below the height of the drain, it can let water out. This design just about guarantees the cabinet will be full of water when operating in rough conditions. I would prefer it stay dry but it’s not a disaster to have water in the storage locker unless it starts flowing into the boat below.

The cockpit lights were on, I was wearing a headlamp, and had a flash light so light conditions were good. But, even with good light, the entire situation just feels more difficult at night.  Every 10th wave or so came over the transom and I’m soaked in cold North Atlantic water. I can see the water is going down the standpipe that feeds the shore power cord below. What prevents water ingress on this path is the collar around the hole. Until the water gets above the collar, nothing goes down into the lazarette. The problem is the water line in the locker is frequently above the height of the collar so it’s just pouring into the boat below. In fact, in these conditions, water is just about always above the collar and it’s an eye opener how much water can flow down that pipe. I understand the design point but, to work, the cupboard needs to keep water out and the header pipe inside the locker probably should be higher.

Thinking through the possible options for water getting into the storage locker the options that seemed possible were: 1) Glendinning power cord entry, 2) the right side grab rails, 3) the swim step attachment, 4) the storage cabinet drain hole, 5) the locker door, or the 6) the louvers in the locker door.  Hanging on as securely as I could, I looked out over the transom to the swim step using a head lamp and a bright flashlight. It looked solid.  Waves are still coming over the transom so a cold flood was hitting my chest every ½ minute or so. I checked the Glendinning power cord external cover and it’s also screwed on securely.  Everything outside of the cockpit looks great.

The storage cabinet drain hole is clearly a big part of the problem and it might be the entire problem. Jennifer went to get a 1” rubber plug from our spares to seal off the locker drain hole. I installed it and then we checked the rate of water leaking down below. It’s definitely a lot better but the water is still coming in pretty fast. Probably ½ of what saw before but still faster than the main bilge pump can keep up.

Every five to seven minutes, we need to get the emergency hydraulic pump back on.  Ironically, while the main bilge pump can’t keep up, the emergency pump is so incredibly fast that it evacuates the bilge in under 15 seconds. Because this pump will lose prime if the water is completely evacuated and the pump will fail quickly if run dry, it ends up being a bit difficult to deal with.  To operate the pump, I have to be down below ensuring it has prime while Jen is in the pilot house turning the pump of and on. Needing us both to be available to use the pump isn’t ideal, so I will put a switch near the pump in the engine room so this can become a one person job.

Between the difficult sea conditions tossing the boat around and having to go back to emergency bilge pumping frequently, all the work to investigate the leak took longer than it should. Water flowing into the boat at 3 to 5 gallons per minute is actually a bit scary. It was far less with the plug in, but we’d not feel good until the flow rate was way below the main bilge pump capacity and preferably stopped entirely.

I realized it’s partly I’m tired, partly working at night is a bit harder, partly being completely soaked cold water, and partly I realize some of the disorientation is sea sickness. Jennifer helped apply a Scopolamine patch to combat sea sickness. In my life I’ve only had two occurrences of sea sickness. The last time was in the Gulf of Alaska in 40 kt winds. This isn’t quite that bad, but the pitching is over 15 degrees and the roll is up over 20 degrees. Sea conditions slow everything and even slight sea sickness seems to suck energy.  Looking at my watch it’s just past 3am and we have now been at this for nearly 2 hours.

I went back up outside into the cockpit to understand why so much water is being forced down the Glendinning storage pipe. Having water in the cockpit is fairly normal for us in rougher seas. The leak from the cockpit boarding locker down into the laz is something we have seen before in rough conditions but only small amounts of water. It’s done that since the boat was new. Whenever the cockpit water gets much deeper than 6 to 8 inches of water we get a slight water leak. I have always found it annoying but I can’t see an easy solution and, in the past, very little water actually gets in. These conditions just seem perfect for filling the cockpit so we are suddenly getting massive amounts of water even though nothing has changed. It was clear that we needed to stop up the pipe the Glendinning shore power cord retractor uses to stow the 100’ of shore power cord below in the laz.  Further complicating the investigation, the fuel bladders on deck only allows the locker door to be open around 4” so I couldn’t get things in the storage cabinet out of the way nor reach this hole that needs to be plugged.

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The best approach to mitigate the inflow was to seal off the shore power cord to the standpipe and just ignore the fact that the locker is full of water. If it’s not getting into the boat in a big way, it’s not a problem. Since I couldn’t get the locker door open far enough with the fuel bladder in the way, I was not able to plug the pipe at the top. I decided to deal with the leak down below.

We still needed to stop work every 5 to 7 minutes to use the emergency bilge pump to get the bilge water back down to safe levels. It was distracting to have to stop working on mitigating the leak and run the emergency bilge pump and it was making everything take longer.

I jammed foam insulation rubber up into the Glendinning power cord entrance hole but the water pressure from the several inches of water above is sufficient that my foam blocks weren’t really have a dramatic positive effect. I then used a screw driver to force rags up into the hole to fill small gaps and this began to show some promise. Finally, I wrapped a towel around the entire assembly and compressed it on tightly using rope and a couple of heavy duty wire ties. This is essentially a marine version of what a trauma doctor would do to stem arterial blood flow to stabilize the patient to allow time for a proper solution.

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The inflow was now substantially improved, but it had been nearly 4 hours and it’s both distracting and nerve wracking to have keep stopping to operate the emergency bilge pump. The water ingress rate was now only what can soak through the towels – fairly minimal.

When 100s of miles from shore or safety, this still looked to me like a lot of water but it’s actually not that much.  The main bilge pump should be easily able to handle that level of flow. We now only need the emergency bilge pump every 15 minutes or so. Something must also be wrong with the main bilge pump.

Things were closer to under-control at this point so I took a short break to think things through a bit more. The water wasn’t flowing in fast at all and yet the main pump can’t catch up. Of course! The main bilge pump strainer must be plugged. Massive inflows can free up boat build debris and plug pump strainers. I was pretty confident that was most probably the problem. I went down the engine room and cleaned out the strainer. It had caught a lot of debris. The strainer wasn’t fully plugged but there was enough build debris mixed with blond hair and black cat fur to perhaps slightly reduce pump output. I cleaned the strainer and restarted the pump. It worked and it quickly filled up the strainer but we were still falling behind and needed to stop a few times per hour to run the emergency bilge pump. Something was wrong. The main pump should be able to easily manage this flow.

I decided to test the bilge pump with the thin mesh strainer removed entirely. After watching bilge levels for ten to fifteen minutes, it was clear that the main bilge pump was still falling behind even with the current small water inflow rate.

I took another break and Jen and I talked it over. Something must be restricting the output of the main bilge pump. We know that strainer is clear and we can see the pump drawing water so, for sure, it is working. This pump may not have been able to keep up with original flow but, at this point the rate of ingress isn’t that large and just about any cheap pump should be able to handle what we have coming in. We decided to change the pump.

Changing the pump involves moving six five gallon pails of oil, our waste oil container, and assorted other containers and spares.  We need to get all the oil out of the way to work but need to have the heavier items secured. In these conditions, these oil containers are like small 35 lb missiles. We played with putting them in different places and tying them down but just moving them to directly behind the engine had them stable enough that the rough seas weren’t launching them and seemed safe to work.

Once the oil containers and spares were stable, I lifted out the floor boards to expose the main bilge pump. I could see I needed a 7/16” ¼” drive socket but the tools were in the laz and much of the stores that needed to be removed to get access to the bilge pump were now in the laz. So, I climbed over top all of the spares to get to then back again. I then shut off the main pump and took it apart. With it no longer pumping, we need to stop more frequency to run the emergency bilge pump. And, even though know the emergency bilge pump hardly needs to run at all, it just feels “wrong” to have the main bilge pump apart while taking on water.  So I was working as fast as I could.

With the pump taken apart, I could easily see that the pump outlet check valve had corroded sufficiently that the rivet holding the valve in place has failed. Likely this happened about 5 minutes prior to the bilge high water alarm going off since it was previously cycling frequently but more than keeping up.  Jennifer went to get 2 pump valves from our spares inventory. Our plan is to replace them both.

The Jabsco 34600-0010 is a nice pump and moves good volume, but these valves are one of the two weak points of this otherwise excellent pump. The first of the two design weak points is corrosion-related valve failures as we saw here and the other being the Bakelite pump base can crack if over tightened or if tightened unevenly. The second is easy to avoid but the first can fail at any time. Testing the pump is a good practice but even doing that diligently, there is still no assurance it’ll be there when you need it – it could fail 5 minutes after the last successful test.  To be on the safe side, I think the valves just need to be replaced every year or, perhaps on the outside, every two. Not using corrosion-resistant rivets takes a good pump down to less-than-acceptable quality when it’s actually pretty good by most other dimensions. (Update 2017.06.10: After considering this situation carefully and reading numerous comments on it from others, we have concluded this pump has sufficient quality and volume problems that it should not be counted on for more than routine bilge dewatering).

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Technically we have a high water bilge pump backing up the primary bilge pump, but the high water bilge pump doesn’t even turn on until the main bilge is nearly full. It’s tough to just look at that much water in the bilge and feel like things are under control. We might not have needed the emergency hydraulic bilge pump. It’s possible the high water bilge pump could have controlled the flow and, for sure, it could control the flow after we had reduced the rate of water ingress. We’ll just need to test it out in a safe location and see the actual real world output volume for this pump. We’ll also want to do the calculations and convince ourselves that its’s safe to allow the water levels to get up to the height of that pump in rough seas.

I put the main pump back together and started it up. Man, it was nice to hear the pump start up and then take on load as the water was pulled into the pump. The weird thing is it didn’t solve the problem. In fact, it actually seemed that it might be making the problem worse. Unbelievable! I had somehow managed to put the valves in backwards. This is an unexplainable rookie mistake but it’s been more than 5 hours working on the problem and I had only had two hours of sleep in the last 36 and I guess I just screwed up.

We again used the emergency pump to clear the bilge yet again and I went back to putting the valves into the main pump correctly. I was annoyed with myself because this is a simple job and it’s weird that I made that kind of mistake.  The pump was now close to back together the second time and I was moving along quickly since I really hate not having that pump operating when we are taking on water. Wouldn’t you know it, that’s when I dropped one of the four pump bolts. Really? Even more annoying, the boat motion is such that it rolled to an impossible to reach location.

We wasted a ton of time trying to get to that dropped bolt but there was just no way to reach it. We then wasted tons of time searching through our bolts for one that would fit.  I really didn’t want to run the pump with only three bolts since uneven load on the fragile Bakelite case will almost certainly crack it. Reluctantly we decided to dig out the spare bilge pump.  It’s in the most difficult to access spares storage location on Dirona.  Making it considerably more difficult to get to the spare pump, we were still swinging side to side 20 degrees and pitching 15 degrees. Even easy jobs take longer than you might expect.

We got the bolt from the spare pump, I installed it, and put the pump back on line and seconds later the pump was humming away. It caught up with the leak in 5 minutes or so. I never would have thought the seeing the bilge pump light going off would be reason to celebrate but, wow, it sure was nice to see the main bilge pump catch up. We now feel like we are out of the danger zone but it’s been 7 hours.

The emergency pump was easily able to handle flow and could have easily handled as much as 10x more flow. We also have an additional high-volume gas-driven backup pump that we never even needed. Since we came nowhere near to using our full onboard pumping capacity, it really shouldn’t have been that big a deal. However, the last 7 hours felt far from relaxing.

At this point, we were basically done, so I just put everything back together and secured the boat again. I don’t remember exactly when, but while working to slow the flow of water into the boat, I noticed the main fuel filter was running excess vacuum. Likely this was caused by the seas being so rough and debris in the bottom of the tank getting stirred up. Since the rush is over, I now went back down to change the fuel filter since we always want one ready to go and, since the last one plugged in less than 150 hours, we want to be ready for another quick change if we need it. Fuel filter changes are easy even in rough water so that was done quickly.

We’re both pretty tired and Jennifer is particularly behind on sleep so she went below for a couple of hours while I watched the helm.  I was able to sleep for a couple of hours after Jennifer came back on the helm and we were then back on our normal watch schedule. Conditions were better than they were earlier but, even if conditions were identical, the boat handles them well and we have seen similar before. What really made this one different is we had a mechanical problem that needed immediate solution. We’ve never had that happen before in nearly 16 years of boating and nearly 13,000 hours underway.

Rough water is normally not a big deal – we actually don’t see much of it and, when we do, we are just doubly careful not to slip and fall. Otherwise, it’s not really a problem. Dealing with a serious water leak transforms what should only have been a bit of rough water to a much more dangerous situation. At sea it’s surprisingly easy to get nervous, stop thinking as clearly, and I found it was super easy to make small mistakes that cost precious time.

In thinking through why this water ingress problem was so bad, part of the problem is the fuel bladder has a slight diagonal twist to it on the cockpit floor. The two corners close off a small area in the aft stbd cockpit corner. This effectively dams a small amount of water in the after corner of the boat. There is a deck drain that that will allow water to run out but, whenever we get hit with big waves, water geysers up from that deck drain into that damned off area. When waves roll over the transom, almost the entire volume falls into this area with only a single scupper and deck drain. It’s not much water but it’s a small area so there is 12 to 18” of water just about constantly in these conditions. I suspect with bladders or without, these conditions would definitely be bring water into boat but the bladder placement might have made it slightly worse.

I decided to pump that single fuel bladder contents down below deck. We normally only pump the two bladders at the same time to keep boat trim level. But, I remember from filling them one bladder at a time, there wasn’t much of a list so we decided to pump that single fuel bladder below. It worked fine, there was only a degree and a half of list so that’s fine as well. I would prefer to pump off both tanks at the same time but don’t yet have room in the below deck tanks to be able to fit the contents of both fuel bladders below.

At this point the water ingress was almost completely stopped. Since new, if the cockpit fills with water, the storage cabinets in both sides bring in some water as does the cockpit shower at the hose area. It’s unusual to see the cockpit filled to the top but, when it does happen, the design of both cockpit lockers will always allow water into the laz. As soon as the water level in the cockpit is above 8 to 12”, there will always be some water brought into the laz.

When water inside the cabinet gets higher than the outer Glendinning pipe, it will flow unobstructed below. It’s rare, does no damage, and the main bilge pumps the water quickly. I still hate the fact that it does that and always have but it’s not that common to have massive amounts of water in the cockpit. What was different here is sea conditions were dumping water into the cockpit in higher than usual quantities. And normally, any water in the cockpit is spread all over the entire surface evenly so a given volume produces a lower average level. The fuel bladders take up ½ the volume of the cockpit so it takes less water to get a given cockpit depth. It appears to be that with the fuel bladders on deck a nuisance leak becomes a much larger problem under some wave conditions and boat directions.

We’ll give some thought on how to mitigate this issue.  But, had the main bilge pump valve not failed during the night, I wouldn’t have been up at 1:15am and this would have been nothing more than the bilge pump coming on periodically. Clearly you don’t want to see frequent bilge pump cycling, but it’s not an emergency situation. The biggest problem here appears to be that an inch or two of water in that locker flows below. And it’s almost impossible to prevent there being an inch or two of water in that locker. A good solution would be to have the Glendinning feeding through a pipe that would allow the water to get as deep as eight or ten inches without bringing any water in, instead of the current pipe that is less than an inch high.

I’ll need to come up with a better solution to seal off this large water ingress path. My first choice is getting the cabinet sealed well enough that it can have water above it and still not leak. That would be asking a lot from a weather strip so I’m skeptical that will work. Failing that, I’ll need to find some way to close off the Glendinning hose retraction opening down to the storage area below in the laz.

We have lots of backup pump capacity (see Fighting Water Ingress), but generally I don’t like any water inside the boat and never want the main pump on even once in a shift. Normally the bilge pump on Dirona only turns on periodically and briefly in rough seas and it often goes many months without cycling at all.

The weather models indicated that the sea conditions coming up in a couple of day after this event would actually be rougher. I didn’t expect it would be the slightest concern.  As long as water isn’t getting into the boat, expected conditions will rough but perfectly safe and hardly worthy of mention. Just like most of our ocean crossings.


2017.06.10 Update

In spending a half day fighting the water ingress, we learned several important things about our bilge dewatering systems. The first is the primary bilge pump is not that reliable and doesn’t pump that much volume. The second lesson is the high-water bilge pump, although it produces excellent volume, is mounted way too high in the bilge to serve as a primary high-volume dewatering system. The third lesson is a confirmation that the hydraulic bilge pump moves absolutely prodigious amounts of water, but ends up being a two-person job to operate. It pumps so fast it can easily run dry and/or lose prime so someone needs to be down in the engine room to monitor it while a second person operates the off/on switch in the pilot house.

These are the changes we plan:

  1. Don’t count on the low-volume and low-reliability Jabsco 34600-0010 for anything more than bilge drying.
  2. Install a Rule 4000 pump just above the main bilge-drying pump. This will be the new high-water bilge pump (primary bilge dewatering system). We will leave the Rule 3700 in place as the backup high-water bilge pump.
  3. Install an off/on switch for the hydraulic bilge pump in the engine room at the pump to allow single-person operation. We’ll leave the pilot house switch in place as well.
  4. Install a third high-water bilge alarm. We had no faults, but this experience underlined that catching these problems early could be the difference between success and failure so we want triple redundancy.

  2017.12.18 Update

It’s been six months since that morning with the alarms and we now have all the changes implemented. We wrote up what we decided to do at Alarms at 1:15am Follow up.

  2019.02.20 Update

The Jabsco 34600-0010 bilge pump has sufficient quality and volume problems that we replaced it with a Whale Gulper 320 High Capacity bilge pump. More ….


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129 comments on “Alarms at 1:15am
  1. Eric Patterson says:

    Just read this in full after the recent NOG post. What an incredible event. There are so many things to consider on our floating house, glad this came up and we plan on paying attention to this pump more closely.

  2. Nick Velado says:

    Hi James, what an ordeal!! We have a new product that could have saved you a lot of trouble that I wanted to mention, it’s called Nautic Alert. Basically, the bilge controller is designed to detect any issue with the pump, plumbing, or electrical. So, in your case, since it would have learned how often the pump cycles normally, it would have detected and notified you of the abnormal activity as soon as it developed, and solved your issue with the bilge pump switch too. It has an override on the controller, and on the MFD, which works two-ways wirelessly. Now, it wouldn’t have helped with the ingress issue, you’re on your own there:)

    Basically, Nevata is the controller that replaces a float (or works with a float) from above the waterline, it checks your pumps automatically every week, detects a developing leak, issue with the water level not receding, failed pump, and much more. It will even auto-switch pumps on a dual-pump controller, so in your case, when the impeller was jammed, a dual-pump Nevata would switch to a backup pump and let you know you have an issue with your primary, rather than sit there and run the pump extended periods of time.

    System does a lot more than just bilge management too. New product we’re just rolling out here in the US. Basically, the system is designed for early detection of critical issues using custom engineered next-gen solutions–Nick

    • That sounds like an excellent safety device Nick. It’s amazing how often I’ve read about commercial fishing boats lost because they took on water and the operator didn’t know about it until the boat was near to foundering. Thanks for the useful comment.

  3. Paul Wood says:

    Hello there,

    Blimey, what an ordeal. Your post brought back memories of an incident that happened to me, us in Morecambe Bay. I’d be aged about 16-17 at the time which I’ve just worked out as being almost forty years ago. The three of us were in a 18ft wooden sail boat about 4nm out from the shore and home. The weather was ideal with good sea conditions for a pleasurable day on the water.

    The boat had a dropped keel, and to this day we’ve no idea why (obviously a mechanical failure of some sort) but the keel decided to fail catastrophically. I’ll never forget the sight of water coming into the boat at a steadily increasing rate. It was terrifying seeing the floor in the salon lifting along with the boats polystyrene buoyancy – the mechanical bilge pump and bucket bailing had no impact whatsoever on the volume that was coming in, despite jamming towels and rags into the gap. We were up to our knees in seawater in the cockpit when help arrived.

    The boat was lost that day but we all lived to tell the tale.

    I’m an early retired engineer who has had to come up with alternative solutions to design flaws and associated problems on more than one occasion.

    Anyhow, regarding the water ingress into that compartment hatch on Dirona which is going down the Glendinning tube – I’d forget the fill and fix foam idea mentioned up-thread as it’s too messy and would render the Glendinning cable from being serviceable.

    Looking at your photo it appears to be a rather awkward location to actually carry out an effective repair. I have a couple of thoughts on how to slow down the ingress of water and maybe even stop it from becoming an issue.

    My first option involves you having to fashion a gaiter out of neoprene, a bit like the lower leg of a wet suit split up its length and resealable with marine grade hook and loop (Velcro) then secure the lower section of the gaiter to the flange/bracket via a zip tie.

    I’ve done a bit of Googling on mountain boot gaiters and found this purchasing something like that which would perhaps save you the hassle of making one.

    This method would allow full access to the Glendinning and be fully serviceable when needed, with the added benefit of keeping the vast amount of sea water out whilst underway.

    Another option would be to seal around the cable, bracket, and flange with self-amalgamating tape. I’ve used this stuff in a work environment and it’s a great product that is worth having in the tool box. It is used in the aerospace industry, the military uses it too. You stretch it while applying it and by overlapping the wrap by 50% it being rubber which is self-vulcanizing means it bonds to itself forming a flexible waterproof seal. It would take a couple of rolls to encase the whole lot like bandaging an arm or a leg.

    The beauty of this tape is that it’s cheap, very clean to use, and comes off in minutes leaving no trace once cut with a knife, so in effect could be a semi permanent or temporary repair applied before undertaking a passage.

    See here to listen to a little video on it marvelous stuff which is in my toolbox.

    Amazon sells it as does Screwfix

    Nearly forgot to mention…I’m thoroughly enjoying reading your blog. Sailing round the world is probably the closest one can get to nature. With a constant learning challenge, its sense of adventure and the fear and adrenaline of that profound solitude one must experience due to the infinite expanse of the ocean.

    Here’s wishing the cat and his staff continue to enjoy good health and a safe voyage :)

    Best Wishes,

    Paul Wood

    • Hey, thanks for all the ideas Paul. When I next do an Amazon order, I will pick up the Gaitors. My current plan is a three level defense: 1) a small boat transom valve that allows water out but not in, 2) Gaiter on the house run down as you suggest, and 3) a additional 3,700 GPM pump in the lower bilge.

      On the foam seal, I agree that it’s not a good solution for this problem but I got some anyway as an additional tool to help me seal underwater holes in an emergency. Messy but effective if you need something temporary done fast.

      Your boat loss story is a scary one. Not all of those end well.

      Thanks for the ideas.

    • Jamie W says:

      Thinking back on this post: how would you have used the Honda pump in this situation? It seems to me that you’d have a poisonous gas problem using it inside, and possibly water-induced electrical problems or hydrolocking if you used it outside?

      • The crash pump is a line of last defense for water leaks. Prior to using the Honda we have a lot of other pumps. We found the primary bilge pump too small so will be adding another yielding this line up: 1) bilge drying pump (automatic), 2) primary bilge pump (automatic Rule 3700), 3) high water bilge pump (automatic Rule 3700), 4) hydraulic bilge pump (manual but very high volume).

        There are an unusual number of capable pumps prior to the Honda. The reason we bought the Honda is this pump is often dropped in on sinking boats to save them. Ours actually has two potentential uses: 1) last line of defense in sinking, and 2) fire fighting. On fire fighting, we have a lot of fire gear that we would use first. I would never want to fight an on-board fire with salt water but it is a last line of defense. Destructive but potentially life saving.

        Your question on how to use the pump without having the dangerous gas problems that follow from the use of gas engines indoors is a good one. The pump requires some openings to outside the boat above deck to run hoses and for ventilation. Not ideal in all situations but it’ll very valuable in some situations. The US coast guard does use these pumps successfully fairly frequently so it still seems worth bringing along for the trip.

  4. Steve Coleman says:

    Hello James,

    I just had a thought since you are installing switch in the engine room to run a pump, you could consider installing a level indicator so if for some reason you needed to run it from the pilot house.

    I sincerely hope you are never in a situation where there is only one of you available however, a more likely situation could be there are other serious issues someone in the engine room needs to be dealing with at the same time.

    The ability for someone to cycle the pump and have some indication to shut it down before losing prime from the pilot house would be a nice feature if it was ever needed.

    Just a thought.

    • Steve Coleman says:

      I’d bet if you really thought about it you could come up with a way to automatically cycle the pump on floats or sensors once enabled too. If there was that much going on I’m sure the automation would be more than welcome.

      • Yes, I agree. The design is the pump should never be needed so I’m OK with having this last line of defense manual and, in some ways, I like the last line of defense to be super simple and not prone to any automation failures. As you know, I love automation and redundancy and have a lot of it but, on the last line of defense, my preferred approach is simple.

        Since it wouldn’t have any potential impact on the operation of the pump, I’m thinking of plumbing in pressure water to allow it to be quickly primed. What I do right now is keep it full of RV anti-freeze since it won’t evaporate and it ensures the pump will be primed and ready to go. Both work but the former will allow quick correction of lost prime. Again, not sure it’s worth the hassle but I’m thinking about it.

        • Steve Coleman says:

          What “type” of pump is it? I’ve been assuming a diaphram since they tend to handle “trash” better and that’s what your other two are however, since you are impressed with it’s volume, driven by the hydraulics and being prone to loss of prime, I got to wondering if it was a centrifugal.

          Loss of prime on a centrifugal is simply a matter of starting with a closed discharge valve (if there is one) and slowly opening it once the pump is running.

          I like the anti-freeze method of making sure it’s always primed

          • Hi Steve. The hydraulic bilge pump is a Pacer and, as you guessed, it is a centrifugal pump. Thanks for the tip on restricting the flow to get it to restart after it has sucked air.

  5. Bob Wilson says:

    What is it about Kinsale that you are making your Irish landfall?

    • We were initially planning to go to Cork which is the more common check in point and a larger center. A reader of this blog from that area recommended Kinsale and the more we looked at it, the more we liked it. The dock is closer to town and there are restaurants within walking distance. We are always happier closer to town and Kinsale looks great.

      • richard bost says:

        Kinsdale is really small with a very difficult entrance. Very difficult.
        I got Dauntless in and out this past July, but I had been thoroughly warned and briefed by the guys in New Ross.

        I still touched on the way out and my draft is only 4’8″

        The town is really small and will get boring after about three days. However they do have a great marine store that has everything at very good prices.

        I would check in at Castletownbere, a big fishing port. very easy in and check -in was 5 minutes.
        I then went from there to Waterford for long term dockage.
        Incredibly convenient, right downtown at 100 Euros a month!!!

  6. Tim Talbott says:

    Hi James:

    Like is never boring as we know with these boats. I was wondering if you could elaborate on how the boat was being operated while you and Jennifer tackled the situation. A couple of times you mention that Jennifer was assisting you by watching out the saloon while you were working in the cockpit and she was also hunting down spares on the boat. Did you just throttle down and leave the boat on autopilot when she was unavailable, or what did you do?

    • Tim, the boat continued underway on autopilot through this event. We never run it in any mode other than autopilot unless near other boats, land, etc. We have a watch alarm in the PH. If you do not manually press a button after 8 min, it shows a yellow indicator, after 9 min it show a red indicator, after 10 min it sounds a PH alarm, and after 11 min it sounds a wake-the-dead-full-boat alarm. The primary purpose of this to avoid human error. One of us falling asleep or becoming engrossed in something and forgetting to check the area around the boat. Another use is to detect someone falling overboard in, on average 6 min and no more than 11 min. If the watch alarm gets to a later alarm stage, it sends us both email as well and everything is recorded in a database. This way we both get feedback if we are getting sloppy.

      The reason it’s strongly preferred to stay underway even in rough weather is the active stabilizers only work when underway and their effectiveness is functionally related to speed of boat. More boat speed provides better stabilization.

  7. Tim H says:

    James – of the installed pumps you have, were they stock Nordhavn items, did you upgrade them during the build or did you change anything after you commissioned Dirona? I know you purchased a portable emergency dewatering pump, but I’m just curious what is stock or what you changed and when. Thanks.

    • No bilge pump changes were requested by us. Nordhavn takes dewatering fairly seriously and the boat ship standard with a high capacity main bilge pump, a medium capacity high water pump, and as recommended options, they also offer an Edson manual pump and a pacer hydraulic pump. We purchased them all and the only change we made was to lower the Ultra float switch on the main bilge to trigger earlier. We also added a 150GPM Honda dewatering pump.

      I generally like the system. The only two things that came up while dealing with this situation are:

      1) The hydraulic bilge pump needs an additional off/on switch to allow it to be run by a single person from the engine room;

      2) The high water bilge pump is surprisingly high and there needs to be a lot of water in the boat before it triggers. I’m going to consult with Nordhavn on the weight of this volume and figure out if the high water pump is the backup automatic pump or we need to add another;

      2) The hydraulic bilge pump evacuates water so fast that it dump a full bilge in 15 seconds and run dry. Speed is wonderful and it is a sight to behold but, because of the pump speed, it easy to let it suck down to air and lose it’s prime. You need to have the same person running the pump as watching it. It’s cumbersome to use a radio and take two crew members when you already have problems elsewhere that urgently need attention.

      • Jamey says:

        With all due respect to your time 13k hours and experience, I humbly submit: One thought, seeing that it took longer to retrieve backup bilge (or otherwise any dewatering) spares, one take away is to relocate dewatering spares to access quickly and by one person. Also, make a water ingress kit for stopping water ingress such as you did with the pipe. Also, humbly, I would call the design of the locker and the pipe a multiplier; after a certain point, the design would multiply the amount of water ingress and half the amount of time to disaster.

        • I agree the spare should be easier to get. Several have made that recommendation and we will make the change. We do have provisions to block water ingress easily available. I don’t think that was an issue. Two features of the locker design need to change: 1) the 2 louvers in the door need to be permanently closed, and 2) the 1″ diameter opening to aid draining the locker needs to be closed or a check valve installed. I’m leaning towards the latter. The locker design has a couple of flaws but I don’t see the multiplier you reference. I think what is going on is water is free to flow into the locker and all the water that enters the locker flows below.

  8. Rob Waggoner says:

    Thanks for the great read of an intense situation. Your many miles and knowledge of the vessel I believe helped you prioritize and solve the situation in the most efficient path to keep everyone safe. Is your glendinning a single 50 amp cord? Since the water intrusion followed the path of the cable master system, do you feel the convenience of the powered cord is worth the extra hole created through the deck into the laz? For a Nordhavn that’s built “to cross oceans”, would it be worth the extra effort to just man handle a 50amp cord when it’s time to plug in and forgo another path of water intrusion?

    • That’s a good point Rob. Given the choice of going through that situation again or having to lug around 100′ of 50A cable, I would go for the latter. But it seems reasonable we can avoid both. Our first effort will be coming up with an approach that allows us to both use the retractor and not take on water. If that fails, I agree with your prioritization.

  9. Murray France says:

    James – thanks for all the detail. Would not the old trusted ” spray foam (polyeurothene) in a can” be a suitable method of closing off the glendenning pipe during sea voyages? We find it the most effective method of closing off the spurling pipe. A rag or paper in the pipe to give the foam a bed then foam the top and the whole plug comes out easily when anchor chain run out or even power cable from glendenning system. Easier and more foolproof than other elaborate methods of closure. I wouldn’t go to sea without several cans of spray foam.

    • Great idea for an emergency fix Murray. I should get some. I have used it in the past to seal up bulkhead wire runs to limit water flow in an emergency situation. My experience with the foam is it’s very effective but just about impossible to clean off. In this case, we need to be able to clean it back off the cord and again free up the small rotating anti-friction balls the code runs in. This picture shows where the cord goes below and shows more clearly why it might be hard to clear the foam back out: //

      But I might just be using the wrong product. If you think what you are thinking of might work, can you send me the URL? Thanks,

      • Murray France says:

        Back to James. Must admit I haven’t used foam on the glendenning upstand pipe and can appreciate it would be difficult to remove. The foam I have used and carry is just the standard stuff from local hardware store. Might be worth contacting freezer panel fabricators or Frig people who spray insulation in fishing vessel freezer holds to see if there is a polyeurohene that does not laminate itself so permanently to the walls etc. the trick is not to use excess amounts of foam and allow it to expand up or out somewhere. Maybe a bit of experimentation is called for. Would spraying the tube with a silicone prior to foaming facilitate removal and still provide watertight integrity.??? Food for thought.

        • Jonathan says:

          Could you use a backing surface that is disposable so that removal of foam is easier? I’m thinking of something like plastic wrap that could be pushed by the foam into tight corners and get a seal, but which could later be sacrificed instead of cleaned.

          • Walt N says:

            Rubber balloon on the end of the applicator. The balloon should contain the adhesive foam allowing it to expand within the pipe. I would suggest the 3M ‘fire block’ foam. A drywall saw cut it out quickly. Just a thought.

            • Creative and effective but we want to prevent water from getting into the laz whether working offshore or coastal and we want the shore power cord available to use. I think the right answer is to keep large volumes out of the locker rather than letting it in and trying to prevent it from getting into the laz. I can think of applications of your idea Walt and I like it.

            • Stuart Warren says:

              An easier way to use foam is INSTAPAK QUICK®

              They are sealed packs of two part foam, you break the inner pack and shove the bag in the box (or cracks in your case) and let it expand and harden. That way it would have easy cleanup afterward. The bag would protect the foam from the elements. You might have to hold the bag in the gap while it expands to keep sea water from pushing it back in the boat.

          • Our goal is to have designs such that the boat “just works” — we like the act of preparing for sea to be less than a 1/2 day and we like the boat safe all the time since coastal conditions are as likely to cause problems as open ocean. There are exceptions like the storm plates that we put on only when travelling longer distances than accurate weather reporting. But our goal is to have the boat always safe and ready to go. On this one, my leaning is towards sealing the louvers and putting a small boat self-bailing check valve in the drain.

            • Jonathan says:

              Could you have a small sealable enclosure that holds the end of the power cord and seals the pipe for rough weather/ ocean crossings? For example, a weather tight or submersion rated box that you can put the gasket and cover on for severe weather?
              I think that in many conditions you will like having the louvers on the door for ventilation and to prevent smell from dampness, so it would be better to leave them for ‘normal’ use and have a seal/ cover you can use internally when necessary.

              • What you are describing would be difficult to construct with a Glendinning CM-7 The opening to the outside on this product is well sealed with a screw on rubber seal stainless cap. It’s not a problem. All the Glendinning machinery including electric motors and limits switches are designed to be inside out of the weather. The “inside” components are in the cabinet that is flooding. The more I think about this, the more unwilling I have to allow cabinet to fill. It’s not good for what is in the cabinet and it’s very difficult to keep that water from flowing into the boat.

        • Murray, I’m not convinced the foam is a good solution to temporary problems where you need to remove the foam quickly when done. But I like your idea of having some on board for emergency fixes. I think I will do that.

          On this specific problem, my current thinking aligns with yours Murray. It’s likely most efficient to keep water out of the locker rather than than allowing water in and preventing it from getting down below. After thinking through all the suggestions so far, my leaning is towards covering the locker vents to prevent intrusion and putting 1-way valve on the drain so that it can drain water but isn’t bringing on gallons per minute when there is water in the cockpit.

  10. Greg Ireland says:

    Hi James, I am glad to hear that all ended well with this emergency, we all know that prevention is better than the cure so resolving the water ingress source is always priority 1, with back up pumps great for future peace of mind. You have mentioned pump monitoring in a previous post, should that run monitoring have given you earlier warning than the 1:15am BHW alarm? I have mine configured so that if they cycle more than 3 times in a given period or run longer than a certain time they alert me, which I have never tested in real world conditions like you just did. I will now be investigating a back up pump solution, perhaps automatically triggered by the BHW alert.

    Also, is your fresh water pump run monitored? If so, perhaps it could help with the loss of fresh water you experienced by alarming after a certain run time? Or even disconnect pump power, handy if you are away from the boat at dock and a similar event occurred.

    I do this with my FW and SW pumps just in case a similar situation occurs when the boat is not occupied. The trick is to not have a long shower without disabling the alert!

    You can see a bit about my boat at if you have some spare time (and connectivity).

    • The pump monitoring does collect cycle count and there is a warning light on the N2kview display when either pump runs. Action should have been initiated when the pump began cycling frequently. It went from cycling to full on to bilge alarm in minutes. There was some human error on this and it underlines the importance of warnings and alerts to signal “this really is a problem”. I will add a red alert with email when the pump starts signaling and I’ll add an audible alarm wiht the visual warnings as well for long run times.

      The fresh water pump is not monitored but I do raise alert level lights on the indicator display starting at 50 gallons. I’ve changed to alert at 150 gallons just so were are aware of the issue.

      Your choices sound good Greg and we’ll make the changes described above. Thanks,

      • Jonathan says:

        Some people with wells have a switch that runs the pump for a maximum time before shutting off to avoid pulling mud up with the pump (dirty tap water). If you want an independent control on freshwater, you could use that. It would also prevent overheating if that pump is prone to it when running for a prolonged time.

  11. Jim Meader says:

    Since the the rubberized fuel bladder was a part of the problem. what if you put a piece of plywood with 4 inch PVC pipe attached under the bladder, which would allow water to flow back and for freely versus acting like a dam.

    this would not solve the overall issue but may have reduced the severity. ????

    • Jim, it’s possible that would reduce the issue by some amount but, in the end, if there is a 1″ opening between the lower corner of the cockpit and inside the boat, it seems like it’s always going to be a problem that ranges from leaking a bit to being a risk to the boat. I think I’ll need either prevent the water from going from the locker to below decks or stop the water from getting into the locker.

  12. Greg Moore says:

    Hi James- so glad you guys made it through this ordeal. Sounds way more exciting than it should have been!!

    You mentioned the 1″ drain hole to your cockpit storage lockers as being a potential source of water entry. I couldnt help but think of the one way check valves that many small fishing boats use for cockpit drains as a possible solution to keeping the water out. The ones I’m thinking of mount over the outside of the drain hole and have a ball inside that seats against the hole to plug it when water try’s to come in but still allows water to drain. I’ll dig around online to see if I can find a link if that sounds like it would help.

    Stay safe – and dry!


    • It’s not a bad idea Greg. If you do find something, I would appreciate you sending me a pointer to it.

      • Dave Berliner says:

        As a long time reader and fellow engineer, I am thrilled to be making my first contribution to your magnificent blog! I think this is what Greg is talking about (link below). It would certainly help mitigate water ingress in the storage locker through the drain, and would be an easy install if you find the right size. Although, I cannot comment on how well it would work in the conditions Dirona has been exposed to; everything in the cockpit I’m sure gets some abuse. Of course, this doesn’t solve the issue of water draining into the lazarette if it still manages to get into the locker. Glad everyone is alright!

        • Greg Moore says:

          The version Dave found looks like a much more robust version than what I have seen installed on smaller boats. I knew there had to be a more suitable one out there! In function, I was imagining something like this:

          The brass version obviously looks far better and much more durable. It may be a bit more involved to install but I think something along these lines could really help keep the majority of the water that enters through your drain holes from coming in.

          • I like what you and Dave are suggesting. To work we need the locker door to not leak much and we would have to stop the louvers from leaking at all but, if the uncontrolled water ingress through alternative paths were reduced, then this would work unless the check valve is always under water. As long as the deck if flooding and unflooding which would be the normal state in rough weather, I think this could work very well. Thanks!

        • Dave and Greg, I really appreciate your contribution. Dave specifically that part from Overtons looks solid, it isn’t ugly, and it might just solve the problem in a simple way. It’s even inexpensive. I’m super interested in that one. Now the trick will be getting a couple to Ireland. Thanks!

  13. Timothy Daleo says:

    I really liked your post and the additional comments you made to the replies. Good point about multiple things compounding to one big issue. Were there any other systems in the laz that were damaged by the water?

    I do have a favor to ask once you arrive: Could you post a picture (or mast cam video) of the cockpit area filled with water during the rough seas? As a fair weather coastal guy I cannot even imagine that much water on Dirona!

    • The water leak is over top of the glendinning drum so most of it runs out of there and makes the rest of the trip through the bilges to the main bilge. Some will land on the water maker booster pump which is covered but I did see some rust on it. I may find some problems but so far, nothing obvious.

      I don’t have a picture of the cockpit full but it would be cool to get one. Unfotunately, the outside cameras I have are all up on the stack and the cockpit is not visible from stack. It’s a cool idea though. I’ve been thinking about putting a security camera on the aft door. Because the only places that can see the cockpit aren’t far away from the cockpit, I’ll need a fairly wide angle lens to make it work but that’s not unusual for the security camera world. I’ll give it a try.

      • Timothy Daleo says:

        Is there any way to add a cap to the pvc pipe and pack it like a prop shaft?
        Maybe what if you got, lets say, the rubber center part of 4 cylindrical gripper plugs (same ID) and cut them to the center for the cord (like the Uber logo). Drill a hole in each one at a different location so they line up but not at the same cut location. Then run a small metal cable up through the holes (washer and bolt on laz end, with a loop at the other end to zip tie off in the cabinet. The laz rubber end, a scupper plug, would be tapered and keep it water tight with the pressure from the cable pulling it upwards. The four plugs would be to keep the weight of standing water out reducing pressure on the plugs, with plugs going up to the top of the pipe inside the cabinet. When you are at dock you just cut the wire tie and pull the whole contraption back inside the laz. In my head this looks great :-) and would only cost about $30 on Amazon for parts.

        • Thanks for your thoughts Timothy. What makes this a bit harder to easily plug up is we have the shore power cable but circling the shore power cable is an anti friction device. The anti-friction device is a spiraling set of balls to allow the cord to move freely. It’s kind of a complex part to wrap around. I’m sure something could be done but, if you study this picture showing the cord going below deck, you’ll see what I mean: //

          • Timothy Daleo says:

            I did not know the anti-friction device went all the way down the hole. Too bad there is no way to make a tall rubber boot/cover for the hole and cord assembly or an even use an oversized radiator hose. With no way to plug the hole I guess it is back to stopping water from getting in the locker? A custom locker storm cover would have to be so tight it would leave marks and would require hardware to secure it. Vents that can be closed as needed plumbers putty :-)
            oh and…
            Could you put a ball valve on the cockpit drain pipes (inside the laz) that you can turn off when in bad weather?

  14. Rod Sumner says:

    James and Jennifer:

    Trying times indeed! This may be the understatement of the year!!! Glad your superior skills and abilities rectified the problem.

    Have been given some thought to your problems and while not fully able to picture your exact setup with the power cord maybe this will work:

    Suggestion is based on the need to stop water ingress at its source

    Construct a boot/gaiter from Sunbrella like material able to fit around the various assemblies with the entire boot being cut open along its length and then resealed with 1″ wide velcro after it is wrapped around the cable. Each end of the boot would neatly wrap around the pipe and cable. Compressible foam/rubber gasketing on the ends would help seal the boot, which then could be held in place by hose clamps.

    As this setup would be easily(?)installed before ocean crossings it should not impede the use of the power cable when sightseeing!

    Another thought is were you tied on when you had to go outside into the cockpit on a very rough and dark night? If not should you have some tie down points and/or lifelines rigged for rough weather?

    Glad to see that your nice weather has arrived and smooth sailing to Kinsdale

    • I appreciate your thoughts Rod. Starting with your second idea, that of having me attached when working on dangerous parts of the boat in rough weather. It’s a good idea. We basically just never go out in rough weather so this is a first for me and it just doesn’t feel great to be up against the transom only wearing a life jacket. If I swept out, it would be close to impossible to recover me in those conditions. We definitely will come up with some sort of jack line system and then I’ll hope I don’t ever have to use it :-). Good advice.

      On your thinking through ways to stop the inrush of water, there isn’t much space. Your idea might work but it’ll be tight and we would need a reasonably good seal to hold out a few inches of water pressure head. As you think it through, here a picture of where the water enters the laz: //

      What happens is the locker floods and then it flows down the hole you can see central in the picture above.

  15. Cedric Rhoads says:

    Hi, James. Happy things have settled down and the analysis is continuing toward a longer-term, more effective solution. Happy too that you’ll be having that Irish beer by Sunday! Two questions: 1) Why did you drain the forward bladder before the cockpit bladders? I would have thought that weight and balance would suggest to keep the more central bladder to be emptied last. Then again, the forward bladder does sit higher for roll impact. And 2) When you find something like this problem, do you work it closely with Nordhavn? Albeit rare given your 8,900 hours without the problem, it seems that this one needs to be addressed from a design perspective.

    • I like your idea of Irish beer by Sunday but there is not much of a chance that we’ll be able to continue to run over 9 kts. Our short water line length reality will eventually set in. But, for now, we’re enjoying it. And looking forward to that Irish pint in our near future.

      You asked why drain the forward bladder first? It’s a good question since the forward bladder is super well secured up there. The problem is it weights 2,200 lbs full so we aim to get that fuel down below decks absolutely as soon as possible and we make an effort to not head out into rough water unless we are confident the forward bladder will be drained. The aft bladders are only inches above the water line so less of a concern. Even with them, I’m always happy to have the fuel drained below decks and the bladders put back away. Getting the aft bladders folded up and stowed was today’s project.

      Cedric also asked if we pass on what we learn to Nordhavn. They are better boat designers than I am but I hope we find the odd thing of value and I appreciate the help when I call with a question.

  16. Jim Frantz says:

    James & Jennifer,
    Thanks for sharing your and Jennifer’s adventures. You two remind us of a couple we met in BC, Miles and Beryl Smeeton, who wrote Once is Enough, and were well know cruising sailors and explorers. They were awarded the Blue Water Metal.

    Perhaps you’re too kind to Jabsco. Their bilge pump has failed us in three different mechanical ways including the pressed on pulley separating from the electric motor’s shaft.
    Safe travels – Jim and Lynda Frantz – ALBEDOS

    • I hear you on the pump reliability issues. We really need a primary pump that is there when you call for it. I like the output volume of this pump and it’s ability to prime from several feet up but the failures are hard to live with. Let me know if you come up with something that might better serve us.

  17. John Philippson says:

    A very harrowing situation you and Jennifer were in. I too had to operate the emergency hydraulic bilge pump with two people due to the switch being in the pilot house. I moved the switch to the engine room. We also had our Jabsco fail due to the rivet rusting out. On Sockeye Blue we added bilge counters to monitor the activity on the bilge pumps. It helps to give you an early warning that a problem maybe developing. On the Glendinning power cord locker we had the pipe opening closed off with screw on caps that close off the pipe where the cord would exit the boat. We too have had water issues coming in from the cockpit area. Laz air vents were the problem and we had special covers made that we put on when going to sea. Happy to see that you both were not hurt and we all enjoy your open and honest explanation of the events.

    • Hiya John. We too have bilge counters and I will have the hydraulic bilge pump switch down below as well as soon as I can. On the Glendinning we have the screw on cover you do and it works great. Behind the cover is a locker. The locker has a drain. I’m sure the drain is very effective at getting water out of the locker but, when the cockpit is awash, the drain becomes very effective at getting water into that locker. Once water is in the locker, it follows the Glendinning cord down into the laz.

      I think I will need to either find a way to keep water out of the locker or let it in but find a way to ensure it can get from there down into the laz. Since my control systems see all bilge pump operations, I’ll probably alarm if I see more than a couple in an hour or some fairly long periods. Thanks for passing along some of the step you have taken on Sockeye Blue.

  18. David Andrews says:

    That was a most alarming experience. I am relieved that you both survived it and have been able to provide such a cogent account of your experience. Kinsale, which is I believe your intended port of call, is a lovely town and will provide welcome relief.

    In the different environment of extreme overlanding, you might find this video of interest when you have the time and internet access to watch it. It is an interview with Mac Mackenny who specialises in planning and running trips in extreme environments. I think you will appreciate his rule of three – three minutes, three hours, three days and three weeks. Link:

  19. Alex Goodwin says:

    Hi James,

    That sounds like a case where the fun very definitely had you, instead of other way around.

    How’s everyone recovering from the Not-So-Great Soggy Adventure?

    • All good here Alex. As long as the water stays outside the boat rough weather, up to point, becomes only a hassle that slows you down a bit and makes moving around the boat require more care. Conditions right now are wonderful and we’re running at 9.9 kts through relatively calm water.

  20. Adam Block says:

    Hi James. This was a harrowing story. I read it out loud to Eve over dinner last night and we both felt a lot of sympathetic anxiety but were impressed though not at all surprised at how methodically you both handled the cascading challenges. First and foremost though, we are glad you two came through safely.

    A few thoughts:

    1. We found that the laz hatch always leaked badly so before crossings we would tape the seams all the way around with 2″ 3M plastic tape. This worked well and kept the laz completely dry but we never had following/flooding sea conditions as extreme as those you describe. Do you think that taping the locker seams would have helped to limit ingress?

    2. Since the glendinning does not need to be used underway, it seems that you could fashion a “bottle stopper” to plug the feed tube: a split rubber bing cored to fit the power cable. I see these split gaskets commonly in watertight outdoor network cable assemblies and assume they could be scaled up.

    3. Eve and I took special note of the fact that spares and tools can be very hard to reach when you are rigged for sea, especially in rough conditions. What do you think about the possibility of storing duplicates of critical tools/parts within reach of the relevant mechanical system? I’m thinking of something like zip tying to critical pumps or valves a watertight box containing sockets/bolts/etc.

    4. Has this experience changed your opinion on stowage strategies for spares, I.e. ways to store critical spares closer to the item they are backing up?

    Thanks again for posting this after-action report. All of us have much to learn from your example.

    – adam and eve

    • Good hearing from you Adam and thanks for your questions and suggestions. Our thinking is evolving but where we are right now is:

      1) There has to be a second installed automatic bilge pump. You can’t change pumps fast enough for that to be a good strategy. I’m convinced there needs to be a second pump ready to roll with no operator intervention. In Nordhavn’s including ours, there is this second high volume automatic pump. It’s a good approach but this pump is mounted in the bilge in front of the engine and, by the time the water is high enough that this pump can come into play, the water would only be a few inches below the engine. That’s a lot of water and, in rough seas, the free surface effect and that much weight makes me nervous so I went to the emergency hydraulic pump to clear it out before the high water bilge pump can come into play. I need to either convince myself that we can trust this pump to be the automatic backup or we need to install a second pump in the main bilge.

      2) We need to either exclude water from entering the locker or, perhaps, let it in but insure it can’t get down into the laz.

      3) I may install a third high bilge water alarm. The difference between saving a boat and not making it, is getting their early. We already have two alarms so are well covered by I may add a third.

      Adam’s questions/observations:

      1. We found that the laz hatch always leaked badly so before crossings we would tape the seams all the way around with 2″ 3M plastic tape. This worked well and kept the laz completely dry but we never had following/flooding sea conditions as extreme as those you describe. Do you think that taping the locker seams would have helped to limit ingress?

      [jrh]We fixed the laz hatch leak using a different weather strip design so haven’t had to tape it to excluded water since 2012. Looking at this hatch, I’m pretty sure that most of the water is getting through the drain hole. The door louvers will bring in even water but I previously sealed them up. I need to inspect and ensure that the louvers are fully sealed. The door weather strip is at least a contributor and, if it is, taping would certainly work. I’m pretty sure the bulk of the water is coming in the 1” diameter drain hole. Clearly I’ll need to inspect carefully to ensure my understanding is correct.

      2. Since the glendinning does not need to be used underway, it seems that you could fashion a “bottle stopper” to plug the feed tube: a split rubber bing cored to fit the power cable. I see these split gaskets commonly in watertight outdoor network cable assemblies and assume they could be scaled up.

      [jrh] The Glendinning cord path includes both cord and spiral wrap of anti-friction balls and, as a consequence, it’s super hard to seal up. I ended up forcing rags up between the balls. You can see more in this picture: //

      3. Eve and I took special note of the fact that spares and tools can be very hard to reach when you are rigged for sea, especially in rough conditions. What do you think about the possibility of storing duplicates of critical tools/parts within reach of the relevant mechanical system? I’m thinking of something like zip tying to critical pumps or valves a watertight box containing sockets/bolts/etc.

      [jrh]I grouped your 3 and 4.

      4. Has this experience changed your opinion on stowage strategies for spares, I.e. ways to store critical spares closer to the item they are backing up?

      [jrh]We are always trying to improve the overall boat storage and access configuration. Certainly Eve has a point on making sure I always have easy access to tools. On making the pump spare instantly accessible, I would prefer that but there are limitations on what you can do in a small boat. My current thinking is we should have enough automatic bilge pump capacity installed such that we don’t need the emergency or manual pumps. Still I agree with Eve – we’ll find a better location for that one.

      Adam, thanks for your thoughts and Eve’s.

      • Eric Poulsen says:

        Regarding the failure of the Jabsco bilge pump, why not just parallel the pump with a spare already wired and plumbed so that with just the flip of a breaker and the turning of a Y valve you’re back in service.

        • The pump and hoses are fairly big so I would struggle a bit to find a place for a second pump but I do like the ideas of having a second pump ready to go.

          • Eric Poulsen says:

            I’ve had to change one on a 47″ in tied to to dock conditions and remember that it was a knuckle bruising process, the hard part was getting those hoses off. If I remember correctly I just swapped the top end for the top end of the spare and left the base alone, possibly because I’d had enough abuse for the day.
            Safe travels, and try a Murphy’s after the Kilkenny for a real local stout.

  21. Milt Baker says:

    Your breath-taking narrative underscores something that everyone with your sea miles knows, James: trouble-shooting is extremely hard when the pressure is on–especially when the water is rising, it’s rough as hell, and you’re sleep-deprived and seasick. Hard do stay focused in such circumstances. You kept your cool, found the problem and solved with a very cool head. Bravo!

    One simple fix for the main bilge pump valves you and I have in our Nordhavns is this: drill out the corrosion-prone rivet and replace it with #6 stainless hardware, a machine screw, nyloc nut and two flat washers. They’ll outlast the rivet probably 10:1 or more. I’d like to say I do that every time, but . . . My approach is just what you recommended: replacing the pump’s valves every year. But I always keep a few with the #6 hardware fix among my spares, just in case!

    Safe passage.

    • Hi Milt! Your years in the navy and all your cruising in Bluewater means you have a fairly precise read on what this situation was like. Your 100% right.

      As an engineer, I’m slightly annoyed with the bilge pump. If Jabsco used a more durable base material and better rivet material that didn’t rust, it would be an incredible pumping system. In fact, even with these flaws, I can find none better so I can’t criticize them too much. But it seems so inexpensive and easy for Jabsco to address these two weak points in what is otherwise a stellar design. Thanks for passing on your suggestion on getting better longevity from this pump.

      I’m still thinking about my unwillingness to let the bilge water get high enough for the high water bilge pump to take over. It might be the case that the right tactic is to let the high water bilge pump backup the main pump in the event that the main pump isn’t there when we need it. However, its super hard to see that much water in the boat and not want to get the emergency manual bilge pump operating. I’ve given it a ton of thought and I’m convinced there has to be a backup automatic bilge pump before falling back to the big manual pumps. My choice is to either let the water rise up to start to fill the forward bilge in front of the engine or find a way to install a second automatic bilge pump in the main bilge.

      You’ll love the conditions in which we are currently operating. This was the blocking high caused us to want to cross at this point. We are in fairly flat water with weather models saying we should get the nice conditions afforded by this high very nearly all the way to Ireland. Further improving things, we have lots of fuel and very favorable currents so we’ve been running over 8 kts for the last 12 hours and are currently doing 9.4 kts.

      • Jamie says:

        “It might be the case that the right tactic is to let the high water bilge pump backup the main pump in the event that the main pump isn’t there when we need it.”

        Is it not possible to lower the intake of the second high water pump? I do like the idea a lot of a second automatic pump lower. Also the 3rd alarm great idea. As you mentioned, very bad things happen many times when not just one, but multiple things happen at once. A rivet, and two failed alarms would have been very bad. I’m with you 100% on whatever bilge pump improvements you make.

        Glad you are all safe and that spitfire, at least, stayed on schedule with his meals.

        • The main bilge behind the engine is tight for space with 3 very large water intakes, a float switch, and 5 through hulls for water intake so the second automatic bilge pump is in front of the engine and that bilge is about 3′ above the other. The pump with integral float switch is mounted right on the bottom of the engine room bilge in front of the engine so lower isn’t an option.

          • Scott Bailey says:

            James, I was thinking about your bilge pump issue.
            I notice the extraction rate on the Jabsco 34600 is approx. 48L/mim (10.8g/min)
            Whilst the Jabsco pump certainly looks a higher quality, as an option could you consider this type of pump:

            The idea being that not only is its stated extraction volume far higher than your current pump, it’s also much cheaper, and as it sits on it’s own plastic strainer assembly, the pump unit itself can be removed easily for cleaning/swapping out etc. So if you can rig up the wiring connection to the ‘in use’ pump with say a two-part plug like this:
            and at the same time carry a spare pump unit with the same connector plug already installed, then swapping out quickly in case of a pump failure should be achievable, would you agree?

            In addition to the above, and to add some redundancy, I notice you mentioned there was no free space to ‘add’ an additional bilge pump.
            What about the idea of fitting a high quality, self priming, pump to the engine room wall, and merely having the inlet hose positioned in the bilge, the pump could be either operated manually or via a float switch (or both). Here’s an idea of the pump I had in mind:

            I hope you don’t mind me throwing some ideas into the pot!

            • Sorry for for the delay on this one Scott. I have been thinking through options. Perhaps the quickest answer is I think you have a good point. The current design has a Jabsco 34600-0010 that is rated at 648 GPH in the bottom of the main bilge. In the bottom of the bilge in front of the main engine, we have a Rule 3700 rated at 3,700 GPH.

              I think the design of having a good quality, automatic positive displacement pump to evacuate the bilge and, when it falls behind, a high capacity automatic bilge pump to move as much water as possible is an overall good design. Where I think we have a problem here is the second pump is about 3′ above the first and, before the high capacity pump turns on, there is a huge amount of water in the bilge.

              My take is that the the bilge is dangerously full prior to the second pump even starting to work. Dangerously full is subjective but 2 or 3′ of water is way too much from my perspective. If we took exactly the same design but mounted the second bilge pump say 6″ above the first, I think we would have a truly excellent design. For sure the design I want has two have two high capacity automatic bilge pumps such that I only go to the two emergency bilge pumps when both these fail or the flow is so high they are overwhelmed.

              Having concluded we need to make a change, we can move the the Rule 3700 from the front of the engine bilge to the main bilge or we can leave it there and install a Rule 4000 in the main bilge. I’m leaning towards doing the second.

              The challenge is I need a 2″ hose to for the Rule 4000. For emergency use, I have a Hydraulic bilge pump and a honda emergency pump. The Honda will do 150 GPM (9,000 GPH) and the hydraulic is about the same. On top of all these pumps I have a Edson hand pump. Since the Edson hand pump has a 2″ hose all the way and I’m skeptical that, if all 5 pumps prior to the hand operated pump can’t stem the flow, I’m skeptical I’m going to save the boat with the hand pump. For sure I plan to install a Rule 3700 or Rule 4000 in the main bilge.

              Thanks for the suggestions Scott. I think you are on 100% the right path.

              • Scott Bailey says:

                James, I appreciate the reply.
                I can tell you that I was purposely dismissing the bilge pump in front of the main engine, with a height difference of 3 feet there is no way I (or seemingly you) would be comfortable waiting for that volume of water to be ‘on board’ before you discovered the effectiveness of its water extraction. My focus was purely on improving the design for extraction of the lower bilge. I see you approve of the current design of having the good quality, lower extraction rate pump as first wave of defence, but I agree with your preferred design of having the two seemingly lower quality pumps, with much higher extraction rates working in tandem, perhaps the rule 3700 at base level with the rule 4000 mouted 6″ higher on say a stainless angle bracket. I appreciate routing the 2″ Dia extraction hoses will require some thought. Alternatively, if you haven’t the space to fit two pumps in the main bilge, could you adopt the idea of having the CEM 030 self priming pump fixed to the engine room wall with just the inlet (suction) hose routed into the lower bilge area, this second pump could then have a small float switch positioned 6″ above whichever main bilge pump you decided to use. (As well as manual switch option)
                Of course this is all academic, because I’m positive you will design a way to stop the water getting on board in the first place after the incident!!

                • Well, there is no question you are right that the first line of defense is don’t allow large quantities of water inside the boat. But, I do plan to add a Rule 3700 or 4000 to the main bilge just barely above the current pump. I think that will improve overall safety margin of the system greatly.

  22. JOHN S HARDY says:

    Add an extension to the shore power pipe in this extension will be a ring that allows the cord to pass but holds the plug from falling back . The top of the extension will be threaded to take cap . The extension needs to be long enough to handle the plug and allow for the screw cap and a lanyard to help .

    • Thanks for passing on your thoughts John. I’m not picturing how your approach will address the leak. The Glendinning where it exits the transom is well sealed and ont a problem. Where we have the issue is at the back of the glendining. The actual motor and winder mechanism are in a locker and, if water enters that locker, it can just flow below into the boat. This picture shows the problem spot fairly well: //

      I need to either keep water out of that locker or not allow it to get below and into the boat.

  23. Tim H says:

    I’m glad everything is OK now, but it is because of your planning and thought process of mitigating ‘what if?’ scenarios that prepared you two for this event.

    I’ve been slowly introducing my wife to the thought of criusing when we retire. But I think I’m going to keep her away from this post.

    • Tim, I understand why you might think that this situation may not be the ideal introduction to cruising. I’m inclined to agree with you. However, it’s worth noting we put on 4,100 hours underway in our previous boat and now have 8,938 hours in our current boat. That’s over 13,000 hours and with those hours we have been to South East Alaska, Prince William Sound, up the Columbia and Snake river systems to Idaho, spent months in Hawaii, cruised the South Pacific, visited Fiordland and Stewart Island in New Zealand, done a lap around Tasmania, enjoyed the Great Barrier Reef, visited Australia’s incredible Kimberly region, crossed the Indian Ocean, been to South Africa, St. Helena, Barbados, and we’re now off to Europe. We wrote a cruising book on the wild coast of Canada’s west coast. We have stood on the edge of a live volcano shooting red hot lava way above and taken pictures of this amazing site at night fall. We have been diving in Toumotus where the underwater visibility can rival what you are used to above water. We have drift dived through 30 to 50 sharks in the entrance channel into Fakurava. We’ve seen a lot in that 13,000 engine hours.

      Yes, there have been a couple of frustrating moments. Checking out of South Africa makes a dental appointment seem like entertainment. We’ve seen some weather in the Gulf of Alaska, in the Aguhulas current on South Africa’s east coast, and here in the North Atlantic. And, we had a bar crossing in Australia that was a bit more memorable than it should have been. The vast majority of our 13,000 hours underway has been relaxing and even the extreme events I listed above, only a couple were actually frightening.

      The night after this situation under discussion was actually even rougher from a weather perspective. If everything is running right and there is no water coming into the boat, it’s not scary or even notable. For much of it, I was dressed in a T-shirt, tucked away in the PH, and making respectable progress in difficult conditions. For the rest, I was sound asleep down below.The scariest thing we get from most of our rough weather experiences is moving around the boat. It’s super easy to get injured when the boat movement ramps up and so you need to be slow and careful.

      13,000 amazing hours underway. Some sights and experiences were truly remarkable. A couple of scary events. This last one looks like one where we can engineer a good solution. Even with that situation we just described front of mind, the 13,000 hours of amazing sights and experiences would be tough for us to give up. It’s been pretty amazing.

      • Tim H says:

        Thanks James. First, when I suggested we retire on a trawler and go cruising after we retire, my wife thought I was quite crazy. But we’ve been following this blog since you left San Francisco and it has been your travels and photos that have changed her mind. She has several of your photos on her revolving screen saver. Dirona anchored in the South Pacific, Jennifer swimming under the keel and the photo of your dinghy floating seemingly on air are three that come to mind. She does have a fear of doing a crossing, and this post has the potential to set her back a bit. But as I’ve explained to her, our first trip won’t be an ocean crossing. It will be a couple of years of coastal cruising until we know the boat well enough and our training is such that we can make the trip. And when we are both comfortable with the plan.

        But yes, for all the cruising you’ve done, this and the bar crossing seems to have been the worst. But I’m not going to show her this until she’s ready to put it all in context.

        Safe travels to Ireland.

        • To be 100% honest, right now I’m feeling 100% the same way as your wife. I still love the idea of seeing the things we have seen. It continues to be really incredible but this trip has been much more difficult than any we have seen in the past. We are used to very rarely seeing mechanical problems and never seeing challenging weather at sea. This has been challenging and we are again working a mechanical issue.

          If there was ever a problem with excess confidence, I think we have it solved now :-).

          The thing your wife should keep in mind (and I should as well) is world cruising opens up some sights and experiences you are unlikely to see traveling other ways.

  24. Paige says:

    Thank you for the detailed insight, your explanations are worth their weight in gold. I wonder if putting a tall’ish tube with a “U” bend on the Glendinning cord inlet would help. I don’t know if there is room in the locker to fit the radius and height you’d need but it may be a possible solution

    • You are on the right track Paige in my opinion Paige. The two choices are to seal up the locker such that almost no water can get in or let it get in and ensure that none of it gets below. I’m currently leaning towards the latter as you are as well. We can’t put a U into the Glendinning but we could take a flanged pipe that mounts to the deck and seals. The top of this tube would need to be as close to the Glendinning outlet as practical. Even 8″ would probably prevent any water ingress.

      The challenges to this approach:
      *The pipe would need to be on an angle rather than 90 degrees,
      *I would love to use stainless but would need a good fabricator and it would require taking the Glendinning down, removing the shore power plug, etc.

      A fabrication that was on the right angle and came in two parts would be ideal. The two halves would have flanges to seal up the two halves. And there would be a flange to seal onto the deck.’

      • Paige says:

        Stainless sounds good. I’m absolutely certain that the Harbour Master at Kinsale could point you towards a skilled welder/fabricator. The harbour serves a commercial fleet, a fishing fleet and a quite dynamic yachting fraternity. The Kinsale yacht club serves a fine pint and good food.

  25. Ed stead says:

    We are thankful you both got through the crisis unscathed, handled it so well and were so generous, as always, to share the experience and learnings.
    In my case I have gone one further, or some might say stopped short, and will be crusing a N CP59 and shipping it across oceans rather than piloting it.

    • Ed, I like Passagemaker and would never want to see a single picture dry up the entire readership :-).

      Congratulations on getting a CP59. Nordhavn builds them strong and 90% of the bigger beatings we have taken over the years were coastal rather than at open ocean. Our weather stories come from coastal cruising the Australian east coast, coastal cruising the South African East coast, coastal cruising the Gulf of Alaska in a gale, and coast cruising in Australia across the gulf of Carpenteria. Before this incident a couple nights back, we had almost zero examples of challenging weather at sea. For me the lesson in this observation is the best coastal cruisers are boats built strong enough for sea even if you don’t intend to use it that way. When do you take delivery on your new boat?

      • Ed Stead says:

        We will take delivery of our CP59 late this summer and are hoping to show the boat in Newport, Annapolis and Ft. Lauderdale this fall. We plan to operate out of The Bluffs Marina and the Bahamas for the first year and hope to explore from Newfoundland to the Gulf of Alaska thereafter. As you well know, one cannot predict the future, but I do know we are in for some fun.
        By the way, I fully agree with your observations about coastal crusing. Perhaps unlike you I do take more comfort in my ability to reach a beach than in my mechanical skills. I do learn something each time I read your blog. Thanks again.

  26. Tom Felt says:

    James Naked in the engine room !! That will surely be front page of Passage Maker.

    When you first created the post. But then indicated you would follow up with details. We were so anxious for details. We waited for the email.

    Deana and I are so happy your ok.

    Thank you for such a detailed explanation.

  27. Ben says:

    Man, it seems like ship designers aren’t concerned enough with keeping out water ingress from above! It’s especially concerning because of the feedback loop, the more water pours in the lower that side of the ship sinks! Reminds me of the story of MV Derbyshire.

    I would say you are very right to make sure you have TWO automatic pumps you know will keep the bilge alarms from screeching if there’s a small-scale leak – hippety hopping outside the boat in the middle of the night in rough conditions is a thing to be avoided if at all possible! That’s definitely where your biggest chance of dying was in this incident.

    A first-line backup pump that rapidly loses its prime if it isn’t babysat seems frankly inadequate – who knows what other stuff you’ll have to contend with at the same time. It’s nice that it clears the bilge ridiculously fast, but distraction is itself dangerous.

    Any reason not to have that stupid pipe stuffed with compressed rags all the time? Reminds me of a stuffing box, an apparently sound long-term solution for when you NEED to have a hole with water on the other side in your boat.

    • Ben, I hear you on the design seeming to be not good enough but boats are complicated designs forcing compromise. Engines consume vast amounts of air so you need “holes” into the boat to feed the engines. Engine rooms get hot so you need more holes for cooling intake and exhaust. There needs to be ventilation. Wire runs may need to be outside the boat in some cases. Some designs that look incredibly smart, work out poorly in sea conditions.

      One of my favorite examples is wet exhaust outlets. Our wing engine like most recreational boat designs, brings in sea water, runs it through a heat exchanger and then dumps the waste water in the exhaust to cool it. It’s a perfectly reasonable approach and most recreational boats are configured to operate that way. It a wet exhaust system, it’s vital that the exhaust hose go up over the water line and then back down to near the water line to dump the exhaust and cooling water outside the boat. The issues are well understood so manufactures have specs on exact hose placement such that sea water can never get back into the engine. Gravity always works the same so this approach is very effective (at the dock). But consider rough sea conditions. What happens when the boat is healed over 30 degrees or more. Suddenly that well though through exhaust design is now channeling sea water into the diesel engine. Every engineering problem has numerous solutions and wet exhaust is perfectly safe if executed properly. On our main engine, it’s a dry exhaust system so it simply can’t happen. On the generator, there is GenSep muffer way up above the engine room such that the engine wouldn’t take water until at or past 90 degrees of heal (gen water ingress would not be your primary concern at that point :-)). Our wing engine has a check valve. All three designs are great but something needs to be done or bad things will happen.

      The challenge and foresight required to get exhaust off the boat without engine down flood risk is an example that the engineering challenge of making a boat operate properly under arbitrarily difficult conditions is hard and requires experience. Nordhavn has a lot of boats coving a lot of miles so they have deep experience base to draw on and do better job of avoiding these potential issues than most boats. Walk around marinas and you see engine room intakes a couple of feet above the waterline in the hull of the boat. Yikes! It’s actually a super common design in some well respected, high volume boats.

      This particular 1” drain hole into the storage locker coupled with the Glenndinning cord path is a design mistake. We’re just glad we’ve only found one in our 8,900 hours at sea. I’m pretty happy overall but need to come up with a solution to this one where water is excluded from this path.

  28. Gary says:

    Wow, just wow. Awesome action, thinking and handling of one of those things that go bump (or shriek) in the night. I get the feeling, sitting in the cockpit of our modern highly developed jet, 5 miles above the earth, there is always, not far away, that unsettling feeling that Mr Murphy is plotting something to test you. I was on the edge of my seat reading your article, looking for the possible holes in the Hudson Reason Risk Management model that we live by and the extreme lengths to which you guys have prepared for almost any eventuality.
    The sum of all of your excellent articles represent the most awesome field test for Nordhavn, I suspect unequalled, for any other manufacturer. Notwithstanding their unparalleled experience there is always the “geez how did that happen” moment.
    Aircraft manufacturers when designing a new type, to gain certification, build 4 or 5 test articles and one tested to destruction, which are then flown thousands of hours in as many required conditions and configurations as they can possibly imagine and they still get surprises, like yours, in regular service, the fix for which become mandatory Aeronautical Directives for all other types in the fleet.
    I must admit, having spent a lifetime ensuring the payload , weight of fuel and centre of gravity does not exceed the certified design weight and envelope, when have I read about the amount of bladder fuel added by trawlers a little voice says I wonder what the consequences for the design stability and handling of that may be?
    Well done in trying circumstances I love reading your brilliant travelogue and seeing the pictures but would rather not this particular type of adventure. Roll on some sleep and Ireland.

    • Gary, points out that airplanes go through extensive testing with new types to ensure flight characteristics are as designed and there is engineering safety margin in the structural design. I remember living on our boat in Bell Harbor Marina and watching the 787 Dreamliner flying every day overhead to get the hours they needed on the new plane. Those deeply flexed carbon fiber wings sure look different from previous generation aircraft designs.

      Gary’s point is essentially, aren’t boats the same and couldn’t bladders change the center of gravity enough to negatively impact the safety of the design. You are 100% correct. An example that backs up your point well is the loss of both boats of a two boat fleet. The A-boats sailed out of Anacortes Washington and were built by the excellent Dakota Creek yard. They look well maintained (picture and story here: The two boats and their crews were both lost entirely. Speculation has the modifications rendered the boats unsafe and they both capsized and sunk. Pretty alarming.

      With that backdrop, why would we carry fuel bladders. The short answer is range and speed. More fuel gives you more options and, by doing that, increases safety. More fuel gives less time at sea and, again, more safety. Here’s an article with more of our thinking on the fuel bladders: //

      Boats at upwards of 60 to 70 feet don’t have the space constraints of a 52′ vessel and carrying sufficient fuel is not close to as difficult. As boats get smaller, the water line length goes down which slows the boat. At the same time, the space on board to store the fuel below decks force increasingly difficult compromises. In our article above, I show what our internal fuel capacity looks like and you can see that 1,750 gallons is physically massive.

      So the choice for small boat operators is allocate the internal volume for fuel and pay that price all the time. The space is fuel space even when you are at the dock. Or allocate sufficient space for most trips and the carry deck fuel for the few times in the life of a boat where greater distances are required. One of the first things you will notice when operating in open ocean sea conditions is the fuel burn is much higher than any calculation that you might have done by doing two-way speed and fuel burn tests. You burn more in the ocean but, even understanding that, the 1,750 gallon capacity of Dirona gives respectable range. Take our longest run of 3,700 nm, we ran at 6 kts to get more range — we prefer to go faster and usually do but the boat is vastly more efficient at 6 kts. Using the fuel economy we got on that long run gives us a good real world read on range. Using that fuel burn, reserving 200 gallons for safety margin, and using just our internal tanks, we have a range of 2,173. Perfectly reasonable and, for coastal cruising, simply wonderful. We like going months between fuel fills. For long distance ocean crossing 2,173 is short and 6 kts is slow. We love our boat but many of trip legs would be difficult to do at 2,173 nm range. Clearly we could slow down more and make it work but when you start to spend upwards of a month at sea, you have to start to ask what your time is worth. We only live so many years. We cross oceans to get to the other side and see the world. Our goal is not to spend our lives mid-ocean. So we want to go faster, we want to go further, and we don’t want to have to do multiple legs due to boat range constraints.

      This logic makes fuel bladders look like a good choice. To make them work, you need to make sure they are sized and shaped such that they can’t shift even in terrible seas. You want the weight absolutely as low in the boat as possible. In our case, a pair of low tanks that fill the cockpit is a nice design in that they are very stable and there is nowhere outside the boat closer to the boats center of gravity. The forward bladder is much higher and, consequently, we drain it the first instant we can and it’s our responsibility to never sail into a weather forecast that isn’t fairly calm until sometime after the forward bladder can be emptied.
      Overall the question on bladders and safety is a worthy one. However, in this we are looking at a 1” “drain” hole from the cockpit into the living area of the boat. Over the years we have owned the boat we have seen the cockpit filled to the top twice and I’m sure it’s happened many more times. When that happens, water rushes in through the 1” drain hole. I knew it leaked a bit of water but, likely because the condition came and went fast, I didn’t understand the actual volume flowing in. What was unusual two nights back was the quantity of water coming on deck.

      The seas were within 10 to 20% of the largest we have operated in but nowhere close to the worst. What was unusual in this case, is rather than having the odd boarding wave, they were coming over the top every minute or so. The waves were also slamming into the aft corner and forcing the deck drains to become geysers rather than drains. There was simply massive amounts of water on deck. The bladders take up some volume so they will make the average depth worse. And one bladder partially blocks waves coming over the stbd quarter from spreading over the entire cockpit space. However, the key problem is there is a 1” drain hole from the bottom of the cockpit directly into the laz which is inside the boat. I hate nuisance leaks but, much more importantly, there exist many conditions that have 6 to 12” of water in the cockpit all the time and the volume that will produce is far from a nuisance.

      I need to come up with a design that either excludes water from the locker or allows it in but prevents it from getting below.

  29. Douglas Potts says:

    James and Jennifer,

    Great job on overcoming this challenging part of the trip. I am grateful you are all safe. My fiance asked how Spitfire handled the whole crisis?

    I found your honest, detailed description riveting. I know it will help us in the future when we need it.

    Congrats on keeping your head in a tough situation and working as a TEAM to solve the problem. I admire you both.

    I would love to hear later how you solve the problems and what modifications you make and what advice you would funnel back to Nordhavn on how to make the boats even more safe.

    Best of luck and we are following you daily!

    Doug and Olga

    • Douglas asked “My fiance asked how Spitfire handled the whole crisis?” I didn’t notice during the heat of the battle how Spitfire was doing but he seemed fine and wasn’t under foot so he was probably sleeping. After the event was under control, he was howling a bit and seemed agitated. I said to Jennifer the weather is scaring him. Jen smiled and put some food down. He gobbled it up and seemed perfectly happy after that.

      It didn’t seem to bother him at all. When underway, rather than feed him twice a day we feed him a little bit all the time. We were busy for a long time on this one and he just was getting hungry.

  30. John Borkowski says:

    Wow!! What a story! Thank you for taking the time to write it all. I only recently found you guys and I am looking forward to reading more.

    I hope you are back in sync with some solid sleep!

    Fair seas to y’all

    • All is great. The boat is nice and dry except for a small leak at the PH door that is almost dry. The power of high winds is simply staggering. Our port side PH door was latched and dogged at top and bottom. The wind pressure coupled with intense rain somehow pushed through a couple of cups of water. No big deal but it’s weird to see a compressed and well formed weather strip actually bubbling.

      Everything continues to run well — there are no mechanical problems on board so the boat is ready for rough weather if needed. The good news is we are now running in the blocking high that caused us to take this trip window. The swell is low and conditions are super enjoyable. For this trip, we have a ton of fuel available and the currents are helping us so we are smoking along at 7.9 kts in great conditions.

  31. Mark Nowlan says:

    Well, I was sitting on the edge of my seat reading that one! hats off to you both for keeping it cool (no pun intended) and solving the problem. Just goes to prove that chance favours the prepared, and prepared mind! Even if that mind is a bit on the exhausted side!

    Thanks again for sharing the ordeal and the education. I’m sure the emerald isle will be a beautiful site!

    Slainte chugat!

  32. Calvin David/ New Fidelity says:

    All ended well because of both of your skills. I gather that the underlying cause of the problem was the placement of the fuel bladders. Is that your takeaway?

    • In an event like this there are numerous take aways but the primary issue is there is a 1″ hole from outside the boat to inside the boat in the corner of the cockpit. If there is water in the cockpit, it will enter the locker through the “drain” hole and flow directly down into the laz. The bladders take up something approaching 1/2 the volume on deck so, for a given amount of water, they will raise the water line in the cockpit somewhat. The bladder in this case was corner to corner leaving a triangular area in the locker area. It’s not really a water tight seal but when water is comming over the transom and up the drains in such high quantities, the water level at the locker is running a pretty stead 6″ to 8″. That sounds like nothing but 6 to 8″ of water driving through a 1″ hole brings in an astounding amount of water. Several times I’ve seen boarding waves completely fill the cockpit and, when in rough water, we’ll normally see 3 to 4″ of water in the cockpit most of the time.

      The situation has been the same for 8,900 engine hours and it leaks whenever we are in rough conditions but the water ingress has been moderate so, I find it annoying but didn’t view it as unsafe. What was different in this situation is there were waves rolling over the transom every minutes or two. The wave frequency was short and slamming the side of the boat hard enough that the cockpit drains are forming geysers. The peak level of water in the cockpit was probably lower than many other times. I never saw more than about 18″ of water in the cockpit. But I think the average level was wildly higher. I just about never saw it less than 6″ to 8″ and it would maintain 12 to 18″ for surprisingly long periods.

      The bladders were a factor in higher water levels but unless the average water level dropped down to only an inch or so. Essentially this is a 1″ hole from the cockpit to the bilge. At the very best of times, it’s a source of nuisance leaks. But, there are many scenarios that higher than usual water back there. The storm we saw three nights back was one. Another one that I don’t like is what if we ran into problems and were taking on water due to other issues and the boat started to wallow to the stern. Very quickly that 1″ hole is underwater and the boat will not stay afloat long with a 1″ opening to the sea.

  33. filo says:

    James, Jennifer,
    Take it easy

  34. Steve Coleman says:

    Seems like you’ve got a new list of “what if” scenarios to think about.

    I was going to send a link to a line of parts retrieval tools until I realized you are probably working more with stainless or brass.

    I have used a shop vac to suck up parts I couldn’t get at otherwise.

    • I like your tool recommendations. In fact, I’m just loving the Klien crimpers. The require way less force and the quality of the crimps is much more uniform. In this case, yes it’s a stainless part and it’s slid into mass of hydraulic hoses. These hoses hold 3800 PSI so they are very stiff. Using a pry bar, I can see between them but the boat is swinging back and forth 20 degrees every 7 or 8 seconds so it could have ended up a ways away.

      The shop vac is my go to tool when I have dropped something into our main bilges. It’s so deep I can’t reach the bottom but the vac will get grab it quickly whether, plastic, stainless, or whatever.

      The three things on my mind:
      1) figure out if the boat is safe with the volume of water that reaches the high water bilge pump. If it is, then it’s a good backup and I’m happy If not, I’ll want to come up with an automatic backup bilge pump solution. I have lots pumping capacity on board but I want to have two automatic pumps that I can trust to do the job and I’ll so some real world testing by filing the boat with freshwater at the dock.

      2) Need to come up with a way to exclude water from the locker or let it in but prevent it from being able to get down the Glendinning shore power retraction hole. I’m thinking of a flanged pipe where the flange seals to the deck and the cord runs down the inside of the pipe so that water can’t get down until it’s at least 12″ high in the locker.

      3) I’ll install a parallel switch for the emergency bilge pump, right at the pump so I can turn it one without having to radio Jennifer in the PH when it’s needed

  35. fred kordalewski says:

    James and Jennifer, what a story. Glad you survived it. Murphy and all his relatives were visiting you and you managed to get rid of them, wow. In reading your story, I was struck that if at any time, you had given up, it would have ended in disaster. Well done, you are both very brave. Good luck the rest of the way.

  36. James Ellingford (PENDANA) says:

    Well done guys, there are no words for the horror I felt in reading this story so can only imagine what it would have been like to have been in your shoes. All that can be said is CONGRATS in dealing with what would have been an truly horrific ordeal. Great idea about locating switch near pump itself.

    • You are totally right James. Just about nothing wakes you up faster and more completely than seeing water in the engine room :-).

      Given the drain hole is only 1″, it’s amazing ow much water a small opening will bring in when it’s under water. I’ll have to come up with a way to seal that locker or the shore power cord entry to the laz below.

  37. Rob says:

    Thank God you and Jennifer are fine!

    True perfectionist’s like your self will always second guess a decision made under duress, but you and Jennifer did a stellar job of analyzing and proceeding with a solution.

    I can only imaging what it was like centuries ago when small wooden ships traveled the same path as you.

    Please keep us posted………………….Rob

    • Yeah, you are right. Every time I feel like “wow, that was really hard” — I remember celebrating our arrival into Barbados. We had been at sea for 28 days and covered 3,700 nautical miles. Shortly after our arrival, a single row boat came in. He too had crossed the Atlantic. It’s a good reminder that there are bigger challenges out there.

  38. Tim Kaine says:

    Don’t beat yourself up about committing the little mistakes. I know they say little ones add to big ones but your only goal at that point in time is to stop the water as quickly and safely as possible. Then render any repairs to either keep going on course as planned or divert. You all accomplished what we all hope that we never see but had better be prepared for and to keep our wits no matter the conditions.

    Awesome seamanship and hope the the rest of your trip bores the hell out of you. You all deserve a rest.

    I do have questions about this but will wait till you all reach Ireland and have had some downtime. Your experience is now a learning tool for the rest of us.

    • I’m definitly going to need to come up with a means to either exclude water from that locker or put a 8 to 12″ stand pipe around the Glendinning cord such that water can’t get in until is nearly a foot deep in the Laz.

      If you have questions, ask away and I’ll my best.

      • Rolando Menendez says:

        Stupid question but my Glendinning has a screw-on lid which should be water tight. I have a similar issue that cannot close the lid since I put on European connectors – do’t know if that is part of your issue. Marinas in Europe have different size shore power connector and for that I use a short converter cable. If this is your problem, perhaps making a different connector that fits inside the Glendinning housing would help make it water tight.

        Enjoy a lot reading about your travels, must be great fun except for moments like you just experienced.

        • Rolando, we have the same screw on lid for the Glendinning shore power cable and it seals up very well and it’s strong. No problem there. The retraction mechanism is tucked away and dry behind that screw on lid in a storage locker. The storage locker has a front door that might leak and it also has a louvers in the door that will leak and the “drain” hole at the bottom of the locker that will drain out any water that gets in. 90% of the time, this works fine. In about 10% of the time there is 3 to 6″ of water flowing constantly on the boat deck and this locker drain becomes a filler rather than a drain. Under these conditions, a few gallons get down into the laz over the course of a day. This is annoying but not unsafe. In some tiny fraction of the, wave conditions are such that there is a lot more water in the cockpit. This is caused by waves hitting the side of boat hard enough to force geysers up the deck drains. The scuppers have nicely design covers that allow water off the deck easily but, even restricting the amount that comes in, waves pounding the side of the boat bring on a lot of water. In some conditions, waves just gently roll over the top of the transom and these can completely fill the cockpit. No big deal in that it drains quickly. But, a small problem and a big problem follow from these not particularly common water levels in the cockpit. The small problem is that it will leak small amounts of water in whenever weather conditions get tough. Even a tiny bilge pump can handle the inflow but it’s annoying to have any water getting in. The big problem is when conditions come together to have more water on deck. Upwards of 20’ waves and the angle we were taking them was likely a factor. The fact that we have never see the big problem before with over 8,900 hours underway suggests it’s not common.

          But as rare as it might be, we need to find a solution. Imagine a situation where something else goes wrong and we have taken water. The stern is wallowing as we fight the problem and that 1” hole ends up below the water line for a period. That could easily be the fact that causes the boat to be lost. We’ll need to find a way to exclude water from that locker or prevent it from flowing below.

          On your other point of having an European plug end on the Glendinning cord. The approach we use is never remove the North America plug on the end of our shore power cable. Separate we have an assortment of pigtails (small power cords) that have a North American power socket on one end and foreign plugs on the other end. It works great, avoids wear and tear and the inevitable shortening on your built in power plug and allows us to re-use old pigtails as we find the same thing connector in different locals. We used the same plug in Tahiti, Fiji, New Zealand, and South Africa even though the voltage and frequencies in those countries are not all the same.

  39. N40 Coracle says:

    Bless you both, and Spitfire too.
    ‘And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over’

  40. Marc Onetto says:

    Good to read that you are safe now. I admire the way you dealt with this crisis. I can imagine how it must have felt drenched with cold sea water in the middle of the night. The way you diagnosed what was happening and resolved it is superb. Thanks a lot for finding the time and the clarity of mind to write such a great analysis of what happened. It, of course, lead me to check how my boat is designed and what are the ways water could penetrate into the lazarette. Hopefully the weather is going to improve and you will be able to rest and relax a bit. I am sure arriving safely in Ireland will feel great. Be safe.

    • Thanks Marc. Yes, the weather is improving although yesterdays weather was perhaps the worst we have ever seen in our boating. Big, short frequency seas. But, when the boat isn’t leaking, you just need hold your coffee cup tighter and be super careful when moving around in the boat. This evening we are heading out towards a high pressure area that is predicted to give us an unusually relaxing remainder of the trip. As long we keep the speed up, we’ll likely not seen another low pressure system on this trip.

      • Ed Stead says:

        James, Your open communication is certainly providing a wealth of information to us all. If Jennifer is inclined, I would be very interested in her perspective on the events as they unfolded . It appears the teamwork there could not have been better. Thanks.

        • Ed, most things we write (other than the comments) are written by both of us and all of them are reviewed by both of us so you mostly get our collective perspective. And, with only two on the boat, we both work on anything that comes up. Last night we ran into a steering issue but, if we can get things to settle down to normal, I think it would be fun to do retrospective by Jennifer. Might be useful to have us both do one. Good suggestion.

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