That Sinking Feeling

I have three particular items of equipment without which it’s a case of “No Sailing Today”.

So important are they that I tie them together with lanyards each time I leave the boat. This way if I am going to forget anything I forget all three, together. The first is the mast chock, as I call it. A wedge that secured the mast in position in the “gate”. You can see why this is important. The second is the pump handle. This secures to the pump hose ready to operate the manual diaphragm bilge pump, obvious safety item this. The third item is a bung which fits into a drain hole at the rear of the keel. I leave it out so that rain can escape when ashore on the trailer. When I arrive for a day’s sailing the first thing I do is fit the bung, followed by securing the handle, followed by making ready the chock, always – nearly always.

I’ve often wondered just how good the pump really is and how quickly it would evacuate the water in a real situation? I determined that one day I would flood the boat and practice – where no-one was watching.

One glorious day at Beccles Yacht Station on the River Waveney in Suffolk I prepared to launch the Lune Pilot following the above routine. This is a lovely place to launch. The slipway is alongside the harbour wall and there is a fine but small cafe with tables and chairs on the wall. Therefore, plenty of spectators. I don’t mind being the subject of people’ photographs and part of the scenery or indeed being watched generally because it is interesting watching a traditional boat like the Lune Pilot being launched. I do try just that little bit harder to make it look good though – pride being what it is. So after making ready, a perfect reverse with the car, boat away and secured to the wall, and off to the car park with car and trailer. This short journey takes 5 to 10 mins including the walk back to the boat. It was halfway back that I felt something in my pocket that resembled a champagne cork. Of course it wasn’t – it was the bung. So what was keeping the water from flooding the boat? Nothing.

The walk became a run. As I passed over the bridge and looked down on the Lune Pilot I could see she was filling nicely. The floorboards were already afloat. I quickly pulled the boat back to the slipway. She was very heavy by now with the weight of the water. I pulled it as far onto the slipway as I could, which wasn’t far, in order to slow the rate of fill. No hesitation I was into the water to place the bung which by now involve immersion up to my neck and shoulder. So now she was secure and the dockside spectacle was gaining even more interest than usual! I re-floated the boat still half full of water and my opportunity to test the “Whale-Pump” had now arrived.

The pump is actually rather spectacular in itself. It works on both up and down strokes and the force and volume is very impressive. The water shoots out of the side of the boat for a distance of about 6 feet and the volume of water on each stroke was very satisfying given the effort required. There was however, quite a lot of water in the boat and so this process took about 10 mins until that rather welcome sound of the air breaking the suction in the bilge of the boat indicated she was empty. I was by now covered in sweat and spent a short while recovering from the effort before I gracefully pulled away to enjoy my afternoon of sailing no worse for wear.

All I can say is “They might have applauded”!

Lune Pilot Thumb

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