Nick joined me at the open hatch above the lazarette where the 20 KW aft generator is housed. Seeing the water covering the deck below, he quickly sprang into action and bolted down the ladder to the compartment. I was right behind him with my trusty wet/dry vac in hand, not sure of exactly where I would be using it.
Nick placed his hand in the water and tasted it. “Salty,” he said. “Your problem might be a bad seal in the Jasco water pump.” Then he checked the through hull (sea strainer) to be sure it had not failed. All was good there. As Nick removed the sound shield panel from the generator for a better look, I vacuumed up the water and oil off the deck. After that we fired up the engine to check its operation.
Sure enough, Nick’s hunch was correct. There was a steady stream of sea water spraying out from the pump. The water was still doing its job cooling the engine as it was designed to do, but the leak had filled the catch pan under the engine and the pan had overflowed. As a result there was now enough water on the deck to come within an inch of the float that controlled the emergency bilge pump. Not good at all. When that float rises it trips an emergency alarm – not a sound any sailor likes to hear – and the bilge pump kicks in big time to pump the water out of the compartment.
With the remaining sound shields removed, Nick twisted, grunted and contorted his body almost into a pretzel so that he could wedge himself between the front of the engine, the hull of the vessel and a forward bulk head in order to gain access to the pump. After carefully climbing over the rudder cables, he was somehow able to squeeze himself into a space measuring fifteen inches wide and thirty six inches deep. It was so tight that you couldn’t even hang a drop light in it.
Thankful that it wasn’t me wedged into the space, I slid a milk crate in for Nick to sit on, wondering at the time if we might have to call the fire department to get him out.
With Nick securely wedged within reach of the pump my job was to hold a flash light in between the various pulleys and to focus it on the bolts that secured the pump to the engine. This would make it easier for Nick to remove them. I was also the “tool runner,” an apprentice who fetches needed tools for the job, which meant climbing up the ladder, going forward to the engine room to get the necessary tools and deliver them to Nick.
As the pump removal progressed I made several trips to retrieve open end wrenches, sockets, drivers, socket extensions, a pry bar and even a propane torch. One bolt, because of its awkward location, required a special off-set wrench to even get to it. Normally this would require at least one trip to Lowes or Home Depot, or maybe even an Amazon special order, but we were in luck. Nick had one on his truck.
It was my job to retrieve it. So, off I went to the parking lot, confident of finding the wrench but not having a clue as to what, exactly, it looked like. After two trips and more than a few frustrating moments for Nick who could hardly move, I finally came back with what I thought was the correct tool.
“Is this it?” I asked, holding it out for Nick to see. He nodded as best he could and I slipped it in to him. All was well. We could keep going.
Even though I had vacuumed up most of the water, this was still a wet, oily job, the most mechanically challenging that I had ever witnessed. Nick’s hands were raw and nicked with open cuts that bled. There were red spots on top of the oil, and I noticed that a pink sheen had formed on the patches of water still on the deck. We didn’t talk much. And honestly, I didn’t know what to say.
As Nick continued to work and endure increasingly painful body cramps, from time to time tools would slip from his hand and clank to the deck. By lying flat on the deck, I found that I could retrieve them (and get them back to him) by crawling under the generator stand. Not an earth shaking discovery, but at least I wasn’t just sitting there.
When you’ve got a lot of space to work in, removing a pump isn’t that great of a task. But because of the confined space we had to work in, getting this particular pump out was a bitch. And this was just the start! We had to get Nick out from behind the engine, repair the pump, and then reinstall it. MORE GREAT FUN WAS IN STORE FOR US.
Watching the hands of a skilled mechanic through the beam of a flashlight, I realized just how fortunate I was to be learning from him and how grateful I was for the opportunity. You can learn a lot from books, but absolutely nothing can compete with the hands-on experience of actually getting in and doing it.
I usually mention an inspirational quote in all of my posts, so I’ll pass along what Thomas Edison said:
“Most people miss Opportunity because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”
That day Nick and I worked. Really worked. Hard. And, we were victorious. We had successfully removed the Jasco pump. As a result, our clothing was rank enough to foil the Oxi clean challenge as seen on TV. I changed clothes and tossed my salty, oily jeans and T shirt into the dumpster on my way home. LIFE IS GOOD!
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