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Old 02-22-2002
Tom Wood Tom Wood is offline
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A Deep Sump

What advice can you give us for keeping the deep sump in our bilge problem-free?

Tom Wood responds:
I had to chuckle when I first sawy your question as it brought flashbacks of agonizing contortions aboard our Fuji 35 a decade ago. Because it was a full keeled vessel, the entire heel of the keel box behind the ballast block was empty bilge space. Great, right? Then the builder put an engine pan over the top of it, installed the bulkhead at the companionway forward of it, and put a diesel fuel tank smack up against the bulkhead. All of this left a space about 18 inches wide and a half-inch less than the size of my elbow fore and aft—and I can still feel the pain of working my elbow through there.

So what's my advice? Get a set of large, swivel-headed dental mirrors, a flashlight with a 90-degree angled head (preferably waterproof for when you drop it down there), a good strong magnet on a string, one of those little push-button grabbers on a flexible shaft, and a piece of one-inch dowel a little longer than the depth of the sump. The use of most of these tools is obvious—the dowel is for tying on oil-absorbing bilge pads, rags, sponges, or other instruments for periodic cleaning.

With a very deep and inaccessible sump, we found that we took more care with spills of diesel fluids and other liquids that would eventually find their way into the great black void down there. Certainly it is imperative that you keep gray water out of a deep, narrow sump or it will smell horribly. If your sinks, showers, air conditioners, or ice box currently drain into the bilge, install a sump box and separate sump pump, leading all the odor-makers to it as soon as possible. This helps solve a lot of common problems.

We accidentally found a solution to an odor problem that plagued our uncleanable bilge. On a two-day passage beating into a boisterous Caribbean trade wind, a gallon bottle of bargain shampoo chafed a hole through its plastic container, and spilled its entire contents into the bilge. Imagine my surprise when I lifted the floorboards at the end of the trip, only to be greeted with a flat sheet of foam as white as new-fallen snow. Actually, we always keep a little Joy dish soap in the bilge (it makes suds with salt water) and run a healthy dollop of white vinegar through once a week, although I have to admit that the herbal essence of the shampoo was a big improvement.

Since a standard submersible bilge pump is useless in a bilge of this design, the best option is to have a good manual pump and an electric pump of a diaphragm type intended for bilge evacuation. Both of these pumps need to have good strum boxes, or strainers, on the bilge end of their intake hoses. We found it useful to tie pieces of light line onto the strum boxes so that we could hoist them out of the deep abyss of the bilge and through the elbow-breaking slot. This allowed us to clean debris from the holes in the strainer. Good luck to you.