It all started when I decided to take down my burgees. I was sitting on my boat anchored in my favorite cove and finally got around to removing my Staff Commodore flag. I know, this is starting to sound snooty and Yacht Clubby, but hang on. I belong to a couple of small yacht clubs and have served as commodore for both of them. One club, twice, actually. No Blue Blazers. The SC flag for the Women’s Sailing Association had beaten itself to death, and was looking real tacky. In fact, it was so shreaded, it had tied itself in a knot and the whole flag halyard was so fouled, it took some doing to get it to come down. Some friends on another boat were watching and offered a spare Staff Commodore flag they had onboard. Gee, really? Sure, I’ll row over and get it.
I had been running my engine to charge the batteries and once off my boat and in the dinghy, I could see that my exhaust was very steamy and looking pretty scarey. I grabbed the flag, rowed quickly back to my boat, clamored aboard and shut down the engine. Oh great.
Ok self, be calm. Start with the simple stuff first. Maybe the water strainer is fouled. Go slow. Put your shoes on. Get your glasses on and take the engine cover off. Close the thru hull valve and unscrew the strainer… Well, there are some odds and ends in there but it’s been worse. Clean it out and put it back together. Don’t loose the gasket like you did that other time, digging around in the 5 foot deep bilge with a wire taped to a mop handle and with a flashlight in your mouth. Open the valve. Hmmm, no water is coming in. Unscrew it a little and let the air out. Nada. Take it apart again and see how much water is coming out. Don’t loose the gasket. Drip, drip, drip. This should be like a flood! Maybe the thru hull is fouled… wiggle the handle a few times. Nada. Ok, maybe the hose sucked some kelp or something in it… hmmmmm. How am I going to blow it out? THE DINGHY PUMP!
I love old school Avon dinghys because they are bullet proof, and they come with the world’s greatest pumps. We actually still own (and use regularly) a dinghy my parents bought in 1968. It’s had a few makeovers, but it’s still going strong. So is the pump. And the pumps really are awesome. They have plywood top and bottom, dinghy fabric sides, with a ¾” hose that pumps lots of air fast. I never appreciated them until I helped some friends put together a new dinghy using the toy pump it came with. What a joke. No wonder people buy those electric pumps. I could never figure out why you would waste all that electricity when you can pump up a good sized dinghy in a few minutes with an Avon pump. But back to my engine…
Things like this rarely happen, but the dinghy pump hose was the perfect size to fit into the end of the intake hose, which happily came off the strainer once I removed the hose clamp. Clean living pays. While holding the connection together with one hand, I sort of stood up and pumped the pump with my foot. Nothing happened. Whatever was stuck in there, was really stuck. Try again, nada again. Yes, the thru hull is open. Ok, I mean it, blow out of there dangit! With lots of force on my part, there was a loud whoosh and the sound of bubbles outside the hull. I pumped a few more times and then pulled the hoses apart quickly before any water could get into the dinghy pump. The water was flowing now! Yeah Buddy! Shut the valve, hook it all back together, open the valve and fire up the engine. All happy and back to normal. I’m sure glad I didn’t tear into the water pump or something. There was a suspicious kelp leaf lingering under the boat when I looked.
I suggested this trick to one of my sailing students who called when he couldn’t get his fresh water pump to prime after switching tanks. He pulled the tank vent hose off and pressurized the water tank with his dinghy pump, forcing the water to the water pump. Another time, a cruiser I knew pressurized his fuel tank the same way to force fuel thru a line to prime an electric fuel pump. I suppose the same trick would work to start a siphon instead of sucking on a hose, by pressurizing the jerry can, but I have yet to try that.
A little more time charging the batteries, and then back to the burgees. They look much better now, no damage to the engine, and I think I’ll toast my dinghy pump this evening at happy hour.
Another lesson here is not to leave your boat unattended while charging the batteries. It doesn’t take much to suck up a piece of plastic or kelp in the raw water intake of either your engine or your generator and mess things up in a hurry. My overheat alarm hadn’t come on yet, but it was close.
ODE TO MY DINGHY PUMP
You’ve inflated the dinghy over the years,
Without complaint, without any tears.
Most people think you’re there for the dinghy
You saved the engine, you’ve blown out the sink,
You helped start a beach fire, on a nite dark as ink.
Remember the time you unclogged the head?
Without your devotion, we would have been dead.
You’ll be my shipmate on every cruise,
You never complain, and don’t drink my booze.