There’s nothing that embraces “back to basics” as cleaning your bilges out.
For those of you that are only hazy about the parts of a boat – say that you know the front and back are “bow” and “stern” but you are way off knowing your tumblehome from your baggywrinkle – the bilges are the bit at the bottom of the inside of your boat – above the keel but underneath the floor. They’re a bit like the back of your sofa, but with added diesel oil.
Tustler is alongside in the marina at the moment. She normally lives on a mid-river pontoon – one that you have to row out to (it’s way cheaper!) but in order to make it easy to sort her out, I bit the bullet and am paying the over winter rate at our local yard. Cowes has three marinas, but this is the one run by the harbour itself. It’s about five minutes from my front door (we have a joke in Cowes, which is built mainly on a hill – it’s five minutes down to the marina but at least ten minutes back up) and therefore gives me NO EXCUSE not to get down there and do things. I had planned to spend an hour fiddling with stuff and then an hour writing, but as with anything, it always takes more time than you’d thought.
There was a guy on the next pontoon, in shorts (it’s late NOVEMBER!!!), merrily washing his already pristine decks down. I made a note to polish the stainless steel pulpit – that’s note 37 on the To Do list by the way- and rooted around in the lazerette (the stern locker) for the bucket. Then – onto the key tools for the job:
- Rubber gloves (I loathe getting anything, let alone engine oil, inside my nails)
- Eco-friendly washing up liquid. This stuff is going to inevitably end up in the ocean, so the eco liquid is a must
- Knee pads.
I discovered knee pads about five years ago and really can’t fathom why on earth I’ve never used them before. Get some. For anything. Wear them while you’re walking down the street. They’re fantastic. I have a natty pair of red and black builders knee pads which mean that I walk like a drunken sailor but scrub like a victorian housemaid. Can’t do without them.
There’s a couple of reasons why cleaning out the bilges is one of the jobs that moves from the “decorative” list to the “health and safety” one. First is the obvious – if your bilges are filling up with water, then it’s a good idea to empty them; and if you’ve got grit and odd washers (there’s always an odd washer) and snips of electric wire and ends of tape in there, it’s likely that your bilge pump will get gummed up. The second is about the keel bolts. These are the things – bolts usually about 3/4″ wide that are fixing the large lump of lead that stops the boat falling over to the bottom of the boat. If they fail (and in tragedies they have done) then the keel falls off without any notice and the boat rolls over. Tustler is a little over-engineered with six keel bolts, but when you’ve cleaned out your bilges, not only can you clean them, you can also see how they’re doing. One of mine – the forward one – is looking a bit rusty for my liking, but the others are absolutely fine. Once the surveyor’s had a look in January, I’ll know what I need to do.
Cleaning out the bilges isn’t a nice task. I got through three pairs of latex gloves and half a bottle of washing up liquid. But it’s one of those things that brings you closer to the boat. There’s something about inanimate objects, particularly those you spend a lot of time with- boats, campervans (possibly vintage cars), that become more “animate” when you are living alongside, and in, them. It’s documented fact that single handed sailors not only talk to their boats incessantly (perhaps if the boats could talk back they’d tell us to “shut up already”) but long time single-handers have been known to unconsciously make two cups of tea.
Still, it’s done. And I’ve bonded again with my boat. And put a heater on board to tackle damp. I don’t think the next job will be quite so easy.