Friday, August 26, 2011

Yikes, No Bilge Pump!
By Michael

The unpainted wood in this pic are my new supports for the
plywood floor supporting the batteries under Frances's berth.
Note the two longitudinal members stradling the tabbed
hanger for the old support.
Tonight, if our boat begins to sink, neither of the two automatic bilge pumps will do us any good, as there are no batteries aboard to power them. As the countdown to moving aboard seems to accelerate (five days!), I am focused on the jobs that have to get done prior. Because replacing all five of the ship’s batteries has proven so disruptive, this job is at the top of the list.
I have long been suspect of the four Mexican LTH six-volt, wet-cell batteries that comprised our house bank. They spit, they hiss, they are swollen, and they are well past their 12-month warranty period. For this reason I brought four larger Lifeline AGM batteries down with us. These guys are 20-hour rated at 300 amps, which will give us a house bank of 600 amps. (For perspective, the two group-27, 12-volt batteries on our last boat served as both the house bank and starting battery, and totaled roughly 170AH. Of course, we deep discharged them so often we probably were not getting close to that capacity. I recall many times waiting for the 75-watt solar panel to do its thing so we could start the engine.)
The four batteries are divided into two banks: a pair under the nav station and a pair under Frances’s berth. Yesterday I removed the pair under Frances’s berth and found the batteries were sitting in about an inch of acid that accumulated at the bottom of the single box. When I removed the plywood on which the box was mounted, I found the acid had, over time, destroyed the solid teak support just beneath where the batteries were mounted. I gutted the area, washed and scrubbed with tons of baking soda, rebuilt the supports, and painted everything with Interlux's Bilgekote (I really like that stuff).
The plan is to combine all four batteries into a single bank and locate them all under Frances’s berth. I thought I could do this job while leaving the existing nav station bank in service for lights and fans and such.
I noticed today that the windlass cable from the switch to the battery bank was in terrible shape, stiff as a board and badly corroded at the terminals. To remove and replace this cable, I had to first remove the batteries under the nav station, leaving me to work by flashlight and to sweat even more than normal. These batteries were worse. There were only a few tablespoons of battery acid accumulated because the rest had leaked out through holes at the bottom of the box, where screws (now just rusted, corroded shards) were used to anchor the box. The plywood underneath is shot and everything around was contaminated and had to be neutralized.
Windy wondered if there was a correlation between the blisters we found on our haul out and the acid on the inside of the hull in these spots. I sure hope not. The fiberglass appears sound and Google says it shouldn’t be affected.
Tommorow I’ll get the new batteries in and avoid another night at risk. It ain’t easy being self-insured.


  1. The best metaphor I can think of for "boat projects" is crocheting.
    Crochet might not be your thing, but if you can picture a beautifully made scarf with one loose string on the end... you pull on that string, and you can watch row after row after row of stitches just dissolve into a bigger and bigger project... just like "fix the shower" becomes "replace hoses" which becomes "track down every wayward hose on the boat and replace" which becomes... 8 weeks of your life :) Thanks for the continued tips by the way! - Leah

  2. Please update about the bilge pump. Are the batteries in? Is it working again? The anticipation is killing me!


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