Our Latest Adventure - What You Don't Know Can Save You!
Sometimes, it's not what you know, but what you don't know that's important. Rockhopper's latest adventure proves this
After getting the cooling system reassembled from the Easter cruise, we took her out for a day-long run down the James
River. Frank wanted to test the engine repairs and Suzanne desperately wanted to be away from the pier. The day was
perfect, Abigail, the venerable Perkins engine ran cooler than she ever had and we pulled into the slip backwards as well
as ever. The day had been hot and it took most of the night for the air conditioning units to cool Rocky down to
comfortable, but it had been a small price to pay.
It wasn't until the next day that we discovered what had broken this trip (every trip breaks something - it's just a matter of
what). We had gotten into the habit of turning off the water pump while operating, since we've had the connections to the
water heater come loose twice before, pumping the contents of a water tank into the bilge. When we turned the pump on
that night, it seemed to run more than normal - but we were both too tired to investigate. As long as we don't have shore
water, we can't sink the boat (OK, we could, but not THIS way).
When Frank got up to shower the next morning, the line was dry. He went to switch over to the other tank and noticed that
the under sink area where the tank connections - and the water heater - were located was quite warm and muggy.
Switching to the other tank and restarting the pump showed that the outlet connection from the water heater - the one that
normally came loose - had not done so this time. This time, it had cracked in the fitting, itself.
Turning the pump off again, we headed off to work with the intention of fixing the problem that evening. It actually took two
days to get to the store to get the parts. Three hours and another trip to the store later, the parts were installed and the
new system, including shut off valves (missing before), was working (and only dripping a little). A much deserved and
much appreciated (by BOTH crewmembers) shower followed. While Frank showered, Suzanne filled the water tanks
The next morning, Frank checked the tank again and was shocked to see the tank had dropped from full to half - 60
gallons had disappeared over night. A few seconds checking found the water in the bilge. Listening to the water pump
indicated that it was still cycling much more frequently than normal. Off went the water pump, off went the water heater and
for the next three days, the pump was only turned on when needed.
It was not until Sunday morning that the next level of troubleshooting could be accomplished. Step one involved turning off
all electrical equipment (including the precious A/C) in order to listen for the sound of dripping water. Step two involved
turning the pump on and listening. Frank's calculations indicated that, for the tank to lose 60 gallons in 12 hours, the "leak"
must be pumping out nearly a pint of water a minute - this should be easily audible.
We pulled up all the bilge covers, opened up the engine room and proceeded to listen. At first, we could hear nothing, but
then, as we strained, we heard the sound of a steady and fast drip. We discussed where it could be and eventually
decided it might be two separate leaks, since we could hear it distinctly just forward of the engine room and just aft of the
freshwater pump, two locations separated by about five feet.
Suzanne had crawled onto the floor and stuck her head into the bilge pocket that held the water pump while Frank crawled
around and over Abigail, looking for a possible coolant leak. Suzanne yelled out "I see it" and described it to Frank as
being in the forward end of the engine room. From her description, Frank traced the freshwater lines backwards from the
aft head until they disappeared - UNDER the generator.
"Oh, no" Frank said (technically, he didn't say "no", but the curse words have been changed to protect the innocent).
Suzanne asked what was wrong and Frank explained that the problem was under the generator, meaning the line would
have to be removed and snaked out, with the replacement snaked in. Suzanne said she would try to see which line it
was. Frank came around from the engine room to find her, head and shoulders down, in the bilge, trying to see.
that appeared to be leaking. Frank looked at her questioningly, since he knew that the water system only had two gray
lines total - one hot and one cold. He had just looked at them as they appeared from under the generator. Suzanne
repeated that there were two gray lines, two small PVC lines and one large PVC, and it looked like one of the PVCs was
leaking. Frank knew she had to be confused, so he craweled into the bilge - at least as far as he could. He looked at the
spot where the two lines passed through the bulkhead and into the engine room. There was no sign of leakage there.
Frank reported this to Suzanne, but they both agreed they could still hear the water dripping. In fact, it was louder now that
before and more constant. Suzanne looked into the bilge again and reported that it was definitely dripping off one of the
PVC lines. She crawled out and Frank crawled in - no drips and no PVC. Finally, Suzanne said, it's a bundle of lines in
the starboard corner. Frank said "starboard?" Suzanne reiterated "starboard!" Frank questioned again
"STARBOARD?" Suzanne, through clenched teeth, "STARBOARD!" Frank looked to starboard.
There, in the very corner of the bilge pocket, was where the vent lines from the water tanks (gray plastic), the vent lines
from the fuel tanks (black PVC-like) and the electrical conduit (Schedule 20 PVC) passed from the galley to the engine
room. There, dripping merrily away, was the drip. There, where there was no pressurized fresh water piping, was the
leak. Except that it wasn't coming from any of the pipes themselves. It was coming from the top of the cutout.
Just then, Frank noticed that the bilge plate next to him had started to drip. This made no sense (OK, by this point
NOTHING made sense). Pulling out the supplies next to him, Frank cleared the top of that bilge cover, which was wet.
The only things in that area were paper goods and the refeer compressor. The compressor wasn't leaking, but the wall
behind it was! Frank jumped up and started pulling supplies out of the cabinet above the reefer. Damp boxes and plastic
bags soon littered the cabinet top.
Suzanne said, in a preternaturally calm voice, "I realize you are trying to find the leak, but do you realize you are tearing the
boat apart?" Frank spun on her, a wild look in his eyes. "I've got it," he said, laughing maniacally (there is some
disagreement among the crew as to the maniacal part). He pushed open the companionway doors and scurried up into
the cockpit. Suzanne heard his voice from off on the starboard side. "Turn off the water pump!" She hurried back to the
electrical panel and complied. "It's off, "she shouted. A moment later, as she pondered whether he had heard her, he
shouted "turn it on." Puzzled, she complied, only to hear him say "Yes! Yes! That's it!"
By the time she got back to the galley, Frank was headed down the companion way steps, grinning like an idiot.
"It was the hose connection on the main deck!" A previous owner had installed a freshwater wash down station on the
forward outboard edge of the cockpit, starboard side. The washdown system consisted of a coiled hose and a pistol
grip-type water valve, similar to that used for watering lawns. Frank had used the hose for a few minutes while they had
been on their cruise to clean up some mud dauber nests and apparently, when the hose had been restowed, the pistol
had been loosened just enough to leak. The resulting leak had run down inside the hull, along the starboard engine room
bulkhead and into the bilge. It was the only place where the freshwater system was higher that the cabinets over the