The Great Leak Hunt

Posted by Darrell Nicholson at 01:00PM - Comments: (7)

The split began just above where the hose attached to the through hull.

We were motoring in calm seas about 40 miles off the coast of Fort Myers, Fla. when the bilge alarm on the Endeavour 42 went off. The boat was a loaner, borrowed from a friend who figured I’d be a good person to help him work out all the kinks of his refit. As it turned out, the boat had very few kinks; the holes, however, proved troublesome.

I was pretty sure what had set off the alarm. The boat’s icebox drained into the bilge; precious ice was melting faster than I’d expected. I gave the helm to my sailing partner, Andrew Tanner, and went below.

I peered into the bilge. A steady stream of water flowed from the aft cabin, under the engine and spilled into the sump. I dabbed my finger in it—salt. Definitely not the icebox. The electric bilge pump was keeping up with the flow, but the water was troubling. Maybe the stuffing box, I thought.

It was nearly sunset, and my 12-year-old son Ben, worn out from a day of sailing, was napping in the aft cabin, sprawled sideways across the queen berth where he could catch some breeze from the hatch above.

I flicked on my headlamp and lifted the floorboard over the stuffing box. The dripless shaft seal was doing its job, but a stream of the clear water snaked along the port side, following low spots in the shallow bilge. I was mystified.

I opened drawers and lockers and followed the stream aft. I checked a compartment below the air conditioner compressor. Water pulsed through a gap in the joinery.

I rolled Ben (still snoozing) over to the other side of the bunk and tried to pry open a shelf further aft to find the source of the water. No dice. The coffin-sized compartment was sealed off, completely inaccessible. Somewhere beneath the furniture, water was pumping into the boat.

I returned my attention to the area under the AC compressor. I poked a screwdriver at the gap where the water flowed. Water spurted out, as if I’d punched a hole in the side of fish tank. This was worse than I thought.

The inside of the hose was crumbling with rot. The wire reinforcement had turned to powder.

Enter the Hammer

A few years back, I reflected upon the dangers of hammers on boats. During our years in the islands, our 18-ounce framing hammer had caused untold harm to some of the more delicate gear (flimsy pieces of $#%&, was the phrase I used at the time) aboard our ketch Tosca. I advised readers to keep the tool far out of reach, especially when engaged in repairs that called for a jeweler’s patience. I was grateful that the boat’s owner hadn’t read that particular piece. His ash-handled hammer sat in the top of his toolbox, along with a half-dozen loose sockets.

The thin plywood easily gave way to blows from claw-side of the hammer. Varnished veneer and long fractured bits of wood sailed through the cabin. Ben, always a sound sleeper, didn’t even stir.

After three blows, I’d ripped open an armhole. I blindly reached in and felt a pool of water, a through-hull with no ball valve . . . and then a hose. Water pumped through a long crack in the hose. I pried and whacked some more until I could shine a light on the leak.

Technically, this was an “above the waterline” through-hull. It drained the propane locker. But with the Endeavour underway, the through-hull was immersed; the above-the-waterline drain had become a below-the-waterline hole in the boat.

Using self-amalgamating tape and duct tape, I was able to stem the flow, but the sponginess of the wire-reinforced rubber hose convinced me to seal the through-hull altogether. The sun was setting as I slipped overboard. Trying not to think about the shark-shredded tuna head that I’d reeled in an hour earlier, I quickly bunged the through-hull with a tapered plug — using again the handy hammer.

With the hole plugged, I let loose with a string of curses. I ranted about poor access, I ranted about shoddy workmanship, I ranted about negligent boat builders. I also cursed my own poor judgment. Although I’d carefully noted every below-the-waterline through hull (the Endeavour 42 is riddled with them) and had tapered plugs for each of these, I hadn’t bothered to track the ones above the waterline. When I launched a new volley of curses, Tanner wisely took the hammer from my hand.

Two hours later, the bilge was dry, and I was back at the helm, practicing deep breathing, and sipping on a hot cup of tea. Ben, who had awoken briefly to serve as a spotter when I went into the water, was back in his bunk. I peered back through the hatch into the aft cabin, where light from the full moon was flooding in. He was fast asleep.  

The photos above tell the rest of the tale: Check your hoses, mates. Inside and out.

Comments (6)

The specs indicate the liner was EPDM,a synthetic rubber with horrible oil resistance, nearly as poor as natural rubber. That being the case, and having seen EPDM coolant hoses on cars last 20+ years in much more severe circumstances, yes, the leak may have been a factor.

Though EPDM has superior oxygen and hot water resistance, it is so poor around oil that it should not be used in most applications where exposure to petroleum products is significant. A fuel hose would be better for this application.

The engine room makes tough demands. EPDM can make the best hot water hose, but it must have a nitrile cover if fuel or oil contact is a risk. I've seen a few drips from the dip stick ruin EPDM coolant hoses in months.

Posted by: Unknown | August 30, 2014 11:47 PM    Report this comment

As a life long marine mechanic and towboat operator, inaccessible areas of a boat are the bane of my existence. He is lucky to have Han a hammer!

Posted by: William J C | August 28, 2014 11:23 AM    Report this comment

Although I'm still curious if a past propane leak might have accelerated failure here, I don't think it is fair to expect any rubber hose to last 24 years. Service techs I spoke with recommended annual inspection and suggested six to eight-year life expectancy, 10 years max. (This is just for thick-walled marine-grade, SAE J2006 rubber hose; PVC is another animal.) Reinforced exhaust hose was recommended for replacement in this case, although multi-purpose reinforced hose is another option. Here's what Shields product manager Jim Lombardi offered.

"At 24 years I would say this hose far exceeded its expected lifetime. Hoses are made from compounds that over extended periods of time will leech materials that give it its properties. The aging of hose can be accelerated by outside factors such as, exposure to petroleum products, ozone, excessive heat, chemical exposure. Because we do not know the levels of exposure in each individual application we cannot accurately give an expected lifetime for a hose. If you follow the link below it will give you the recommendations we have for annual inspections of non-mission critical hoses. Failure to allow easy access to drain lines is a design issue and is not recommended by us."

Posted by: DARRELL N | August 27, 2014 1:01 PM    Report this comment

great product from Forespar solves the damage control problem - STA-PLUG. Foam plug designed to fit holes from 3/4" to 4" and will conform to irregular shapes. Just shove it in the offending leak - twist and get that leak slowed down. Water comes into a boat in large volume, but at very low pressure so it is pretty easy to stem the flow!

Posted by: Bruce B | August 27, 2014 10:54 AM    Report this comment

interesting indeed. The water hose was built for marine and salted water or not ? Did you address to the manufacturer in Italy ? If you have more data printed on the hose maybe I can help you, from Italy.

Posted by: Franco L | August 27, 2014 9:33 AM    Report this comment

If you don't have a hammer or bungs, a wad of rags and plastic bags can be stuffed by hand into a failed through hull or hole in the vessel.

Posted by: Georgia W | August 27, 2014 9:10 AM    Report this comment

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