Endryment: A Liveaboard’s Quixotic Quest to Keep Water In Its Place

Image of sailboat hatch with water drops keeping boat moisture outside

An important part of our liveaboard life is the occasional pilgrimage to Warren River Boat Works, the Rhode Island headquarters of Paul Dennis, our Freedom guru. He provides the parts, guidance and information we seek as we ease Sunshine toward perfection.

On one such visit, Paul sent us on a field trip to Cove Haven Marina in nearby Barrington. Several of the boats he has worked on live there and he suggested that Brio’s davit system might give us ideas for toting our own dink, and Owl Too’s windlass installation could work for us.

As we’d never before seen more than one Freedom at a time, we were slightly overwhelmed at Cove Haven, where at least ten of Sunshine’s sister ships reside. After fulfilling our assigned task, we wandered the docks to inspect all the other Freedoms. We were reviewing a lovely 36 footer when a guy came through her companionway carrying a laptop bag and some dry cleaning. Awkward!

Jeremy was very nice about our gawking at his boat. He said he and his girlfriend lived aboard half the year and he was friendly and open to talking about living aboard and sailing a Freedom. He even invited us to take a look below.

Tom easily kicked off his new boat shoes and followed Jeremy down the ladder, but I had hiking boots on, so sat in the companionway and watched. The 36 is a bigger boat, to be sure. Still, the family resemblance between the two was strong. They are substantially the same in layout and finish. The main salon is almost identical, the galley of the 36 is far bigger.

Perched in the companionway, coveting that galley, I wasn’t really paying attention until I heard Jeremy mention that they keep a dry bilge. Boy did I like the sound of that.

Dry.

In my life that word has taken on the quality of a mantra. It speaks of an unreachable, unattainable, but highly prized and continually sought after state. Sort of like enlightenment.

Endryment, I suddenly realized, had been my unspoken aim from the day we took possession of Sunshine. But that day at Cove Haven I began my quest for it in earnest.

Things That Keep Us Slightly Damp: AKA The Endless List of Boat Improvement Projects

WEATHER

At the very least water comes in on the shoulders of your raincoat when it’s misting outside. When it rains we have to come in with wet shoes, wet coats, wet hats as we have no place to shake them off outside. Rain also falls inside when we open the companionway hatch. This can eventually lead to a bag full of squelchy towels to take to the laundromat. Here in Boston we haven’t had much rain, so wet coats and boots haven’t been a huge problem for us.

If we were in the Northwest where rain is almost constant, the lack of a dodger in the winter would be a deal breaker. We’d have a dodger if I had to steal one off a neighboring boat. But Boston’s winter precipitation, snow, we can brush off. So instead of planning a midnight raid, I’ve simply put a dodger on the wish list.

INTRUSION

From the topsides

Rain, snow or rogue waves, water that collects topsides can worm its way down into the boat by various means. When we started Sunshine’s restoration there were many paths for water. We eliminated most when we reinstalled the deck hardware. We intend to eliminate all eventually. Here’s the list we’ve been dealing with:

  • Three leaky port lights. Formerly there were four, but Tom installed one new one before the weather turned. Three are sealed with a temporary weatherproofing caulk. Not pretty, but effective. The new ports are in storage awaiting warm weather.
  • Two leaky hatches. There were three, I fixed one with a new gasket. Tom made solid hatch covers to serve until the others can be installed when the weather warms.
  • The opening in the hawse pipe cover. During heavy rains a tiny bit of water can get through this hole and drip into the forepeak chain locker, then to the bilge. This is   actually functioning as designed. Unfortunately, on its way to the bilge the water passes through and dampens a space I’d like to use for storage. The ultimate solution may be creating a new chain locker with a different drain scheme. In the meantime, dry bags.
  • The mast to deck joint allows a small trickle of water to come down the mast during rain storms. It makes the teak sole right at the mast base a little damp on its way to the bilge. If Sunshine were a standard sailboat with an oval mast, we’d go out and buy a mast boot, a rubber collar that seals the area and sheds water. Freedoms have round masts, and they’re no longer in production, so no one makes a boot to fit them. At this point we’d have to have one custom made. I checked with Paul Dennis and even he doesn’t have one. I’ve learned by now that If he doesn’t have something, we should probably just give up the search and devise our own. So my next task is to find a piece of inner tube and create a custom fit gasket. I picked up a package of mast sealing tape to wrap over the gasket once it’s in place.
  • Leaky bolt at starboard cabin top pad eye – fixed during the deck hardware re-installation project.
  • Leaky bolt at starboard line clutch – fixed during deck hardware project.
  • Extraneous holes in the sugar scoop swim platform. Along with an old inspection port and a bad caulk job at the joint between the swim platform and the hull. Water that collects here can spill into the bilge if we don’t pump it out in time. Sealing the sugar scoop is another warm weather project.
  • Holes in the steering pedestal from old electronics that are no longer used. Tom fixed these when he rebuilt the steering system.
  • Something going on at the companionway. Rain and snow melt sometimes get in at one corner. Tom tried building up a ridge of caulk, but that didn’t help. Needs further investigation as to the path the water is taking.

Through the hull

  • Stuffing box – a slow drip at this seal between the hull and the propeller shaft is expected and normal, but since our move to the new marina ours is dripping faster and needs replacing.
  • The head – ours is a Raritan, a quality unit, but it’s not brand new and some of its rubber bits leak. It started as a very tiny drip, an annoyance rather than a problem, but progressively got worse. We bought a rebuild kit and have begun replacing various gaskets and o-rings and the drips are disappearing one by one.

CONDENSATION

Since the weather dropped below 50 degrees, everywhere warm interior air touches something cold, i.e. the hull, we get a sheen of moisture. There’s not much insulation in a fiberglass hull. Just as a cold glass of wine sweats in the desert heat, so does the inside of a heated fiberglass boat sweat in a snowy Boston winter. The ultimate fix would be to remove the interior woodwork, install insulation and replace it. That’s not happening this year, and if we make it south like we intend, condensation should be less of an issue. When we refinish the ceiling we’ll definitely insulate that.

The Human Factor

If we weren’t heating, breathing, sweating, washing, brewing coffee, preparing food and spilling things there would be a lot less condensation aboard Sunshine. But here we are, and we’re here to stay.

So I’m trying various ways to deal with condensation issues. One way, my current default method, is to live with it. It’s not really that bad. Our little floating home is comfortable and warm. The bilge pump faithfully removes the water that comes in. Like any good manager, I trust but verify.

The pockets of moisture in cupboards etc. are small annoyances, not real problems. On clear days I can haul everything out on deck for a good air drying. I found some great little clamps at Harbor Freight that I use to attach linens, coats etc to the lifelines and rigging. On airing out days Sunshine resembles a large clothesline.

We’ve considered trying a dehumidifier, though there are mixed reviews on whether those are worth the space they take up, and whether they dry out the people as well as the surfaces. I bought a couple of those passive dehumidifying packets of water absorbing crystals and am trying them in a couple of lockers. The jury is still out on those. One thing I know we need is a mesh spacer under the mattress to encourage air flow. It’s on the Defender shopping list.

The kitchen galley is the site of my biggest changes with regard to reducing condensation. Boiling is problematic, so I’ve modified my pasta and rice cooking methods to require as little boiling water as possible. Soup a favorite winter dish requires leaving the companionway open. But even just searing a steak generates steam.

One of my favorite galley tools now is a microfiber cloth. It hangs on the grab bar alongside the dish towel and is used exclusively for wiping condensation off of ports – notably the port above the stove, the companionway door and the roof slider, all of which are made of Lexan and serve as great water collectors. The MF cloth I favor is from Shaklee and came in a cleaning kit I got as a gift. It was labeled as specifically for washing windows. It’s not one of those fluffy ones that snag on everything. This one has no nap. It’s more like swimming suit fabric and it sucks up condensation from the window and the surrounding aluminum frame in one go, then dries fast. Since I discovered this trick I’ve had the cleanest windows of my life, whether living in boat or house.

The Final Step Toward Endryment

Sometime in the distant future I hope to achieve what Jeremy has on his boat to keep his bilge dry – routing all the water into the shower sump, a small container with its own electric pump. The refrigerator drain and all overflows would go there instead of to the bilge. Then the only water that would collect in the bilge would be condensation from the hull. Which won’t be a problem once we get to warmer waters, right?

The bilge might never be utterly dry, but vastly more so. And when it came time to clean the bilge, instead of crawling on my belly to swab out a ten foot long by three foot deep ditch, I could simply remove a small container and rinse it overboard. That’s my idea of liveaboard nirvana.

Patience Grasshopper.

5 comments

  1. Great post, as usual Nancy!

    We’ve never had a dry bilge on Smitty either. The stuffing box is our major culprit (I think). Although I think we also have some deck hardware leaks. And I know I still haven’t fixed the leaking hinge on the hatch above our vee-birth.

    A dry boat would be a truly great thing.

    You know Stacey’s motto…Warm and dry!

    Fair Winds

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