It Always Goes Sideways When Pat is Gone: Part 2

In this episode, what do a fire extinguisher, rice and a vase of flowers have in common?
Read on!

While I could be writing Part 287 of 'It Always Goes Sideways When Pat is Gone', I simply don't have time to write about all of the $h!t that goes off the rails while Pat is out of town. Don't get me wrong, things still fail, break, malfunction and act up while he's home, but it all seems compounded when my learning curve is so much greater. If you'd like to read part 1 that includes high water alarms, roach traps and razor blades, click HERE!

July 2nd was a doozy. It had rained all night and was still coming down in the morning. Pat was out of town and I was planning on going for my daily morning swim in the warm rain. I never made it. Between 8:00 and 9:30 in the morning, the following happened... 

Before heading out to swim laps, I tried to take the laundry from the washer and put it in the dryer. The door of the washer wouldn't open. Not a biggie, this happens once every couple of months when the drain clogs and water is stuck in the barrel. Fortunately I have a unique system involving a kitchen knife, cookie sheet and large bowl that I use to open the drain inches above the floorboards, drain it into a cookie sheet and dump the gallons of water that had been trapped into a big bowl. Once I finished that, the door popped open and I got everything to the dryer. Easy!

If anyone has devised a better system, let me know!

Now off to the pool. On my way out, I planned to check on the dinghy. The dinghy was tied up to the dock and it had rained a ton the night before. We have a bilge pump in it, but it is not automatic, so I knew I would need to pump some water out of the dinghy before swimming.

Not so fast.

As I was heading out the door, I smelled smoke. I ran up and turned off the only thing I had powered on...the water heater....and ran back to the back door where I still smelled smoke. It smelled electrical. I went out back and opened the lazarette. This is a spot where once we had a fuse melt and heat from that melted the plastic cover, resulting in some smoke. But that area was clear.

When I came back in, smoke was billowing from behind the sofa. That area has a cubby where a surge protector runs to connect the TV. It was the only thing I could think that might be burning. I reached through the smoke and unplugged the smoking surge protector (at this point I realized I should have turned off all of the ship's power, but momentary panic didn't put that idea in my head at the time). I tossed the surge cord on the dock and returned to see if there was anything still burning. 

The fried surge protector

The smoke was dispersing and I could see a black burned spot inside the cubby hole behind the sofa. The teak appeared to be still smoldering so I grabbed the closest water, a vase of flowers from the table, and doused the area. Then I went to get the fire extinguisher in case there was a flare up. Turns out I didn't need it. The smoldering stopped and crisis averted.

The storage space behind the sofa where the TV was plugged into the surge protector.

At this point, I texted Pat to see if he was awake. He was, so I tried to call. For once he wasn't in a plane when I needed him, but the phone connection was super bad.  He heard something about smoke...hold on talking to the dock guy....dinghy sinking....then the connection cut out. 

Yes, let's add a sinking dinghy to the mix. It's not even 8:30 am! While I was trying to get a good connection to talk to Pat, there was a knock on the boat. It was Francisco, one of our rockstars who work at the marina. I thought he was coming over to check on my boat, what with smoke escaping from my windows. But no, he was there to tell me there was water in my dinghy.

 "Thanks, yes, I will be out in a few minutes to empty it", I told him.
"No", he says, "there is MUCHA AGUA in your dinghy, like, it might sink!"

Great, so I hustle off the boat to see our dinghy mostly full of water, the back end frighteningly low to the water line and our cooler floating freely. Francisco had already brought over the giant pump they use to pump out holding tanks (yes, the poo pump). My little bilge pump wasn't going to be able to clear all the water without killing the battery. Francisco got to work clearing the dinghy and I went back in to try to call Pat again and assess the damage from the electrical fire.

Look towards the back, you can see that the water is just a few inches from the top 

This cooler normally sits upright - this morning it was floating around the dinghy

Francisco saving my dinghy. It continued to pour rain all day.
I had to run the bilge pump every hour that day.

When I got back in the boat, the first thing I noticed was that there was water all over the dining table. This wouldn't have been an issue, except that mine and Jack's laptops were now sitting in puddles of water. Apparently when I had grabbed the flower vase, some of the water had spilled on the table. I grabbed the laptops, dried them off and agonized as to whether they would turn back on. Jack's seemed to be ok, he sets his on a pad, so very little water got on his. My Mac wouldn't turn on or charge with the power cable. 

Much like one would do with a phone that was wet, I wanted to put the laptop in a ziplock with rice to draw out the moisture. I didn't have enough rice, so I texted my boater friends for help. The crew of Ruby Vi sent over a giant container with their son (in the rain), so I could start the dehumidifying process.

Not sure what was saved or backed up, I was super sad.

It turns out, the rice that Ruby Vi found in a back cupboard from Panama was full of bugs. It was rice they hadn't used since coming up from the Panama Canal, but any rice was good for this purpose. So I got to watch them crawl all over my laptop while the rice did its work. That was a nice touch.

Video of the weevils enjoying my laptop - pretty gross. 

The saloon was a mess, cushions everywhere, water-soaked cabinets, flowers that needed new water all surrounded by the scent of smoke. 

Once I dried out the cubby hole, I found the singed part of the teak to just be a little bigger than a quarter. It didn't burn all the way through, just the top, so damage was minimal.  After picking up some cushions, I went back to the cubby and was surprised to find it wet again. Upon closer inspection, I found that water was leaking from the ceiling, down the wall and into the cubby from the heavy rains we had been having. Ah ha! That's what sent the surge protector into frying mode. 

Burnt teak where the surge protector had been sitting.

Leak from above that started the whole incident.

Another concern was the fact that once the surge protector started sizzling, the power breaker should have been tripped, turning off the power. It didn't. When looking at what the surge protector had been plugged into, it was an aftermarket plug that a previous owner had installed. The plug was simply a brown extension cord with a plug at the end that didn't have a GFCI circuit breaker. A ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) is a specialized outlet with a built-in breaker. These devices are designed to prevent shock in the event an electrical device comes in contact with water. We will be removing that plug.

Previous owner install - A plug without a GFCI 

Now that I had solved the mystery of why we almost burned down the boat, I decided to do some dishes. Do something 'normal' to bring my heart rate down. I washed just one glass, and the sink water stopped flowing. I checked the water level on the boat, we were over half-way full. I switched the breaker off and back on, hoping it would cycle. It didn't. I checked for a bleed valve on the pump to bleed any trapped air out, it didn't have one. 

Pat suggested I check to see that the water pump was getting power. I took apart the wires to check for power with a multi meter. It was getting full power, but when I separated the wires, I had stripped the connector. While I had watched Pat put connectors on dozens of times, I hadn't ever done it myself. So I watched a Youtube video on how to put new connectors on. Remember, this is after I had saved Noeta from burning and our dinghy from sinking. I definitely wasn't going to be swimming today. I reconnected the pump and still no running water.

Stripped off the connector when disconnecting the water pump.

Since I couldn't get pump to run again, I put buckets of water by the toilets to help with the flushing and bought a large 5 gallon jug of drinking water. While we had a spare water pump, the technical skill of installing it was beyond my level, and I was done for the day.  Well, at least laundry was done! Back to the dishes. 

Pat would be home in 3 more days.

How one does dishes when there is no running water...with a hose!

Then I tackled the problem of finding the leak. We had a few thoughts about where the water was coming from, so we just needed to isolate it. 

We looked real classy while we covered areas that might have been the culprits.

Diagram I made for Pat to try to describe where the leak came into the boat, where it puddled and where the drain was that might have been the issue.

The drain that may have a crack in it.

At least Pat was having a great day while he was helping me troubleshoot....
suspicious packages and crappy phone service...
there were a few strong words used that day.

But wait, there's more! 

While I was troubleshooting our leak, Jack woke up. He had missed all of the morning's adventures. He grumpily told me his AC had dripped on him much of the night and soaked his blankets and mattress. 
"Did you switch beds?" (Hailey's room is available)

"No - I just shifted to sleep around it" 😳

Jack's floor, soaked from an AC pan above his head that had dripped on his bed and down his wall much of the night.

So over the past couple of weeks, we have been working to isolate the leak that lead to the electrical fire. It may be somewhere in a fiberglass drain that the boat was apparently built around. Or it could be in the stanchion mounts that hold the railing and kayaks. Or somewhere else all together. We have hoisted the dinghy onto the upper deck so it doesn't sink, Pat has installed a new water pump that appears to be working, and we have cleared Jack's AC drain pan and tubing with denture tabs and vinegar. My laptop never did come to life, but a few hundred dollars at the Apple Genius Bar in the states and I have some new components WITH all of my data restored! We have also consumed a few adult beverages and said some bad words.

Boat life, while it is a simpler way of living, isn't always simple. I am always learning, sometimes in a crisis, and at times it's exhausting. When events like these are over and I am looking at what I might have done differently and how I would react in the future, I find that there is also a slight pride in having 'made it through', it wasn't pretty, but I made it. It frustrates Pat that he isn't home for events like these, he feels useless through text and phone calls. But this is one way for me to learn. Of course it helps having a band of boater friends around that I can call on for things like rice (SV Ruby Vi), electrical advice (SV LeeAnn) and jello shots.

This was 2 days later on the 4th of July.
Fortunately I have good boat friends Molly & John, who share bug-filled rice AND make really strong jello shots!



Popular Posts