That sinking feeling

We have a boat, we have done our apprenticeship – successfully sailing over 8,600 nautical miles over four years through 16 countries.  Does this mean we don’t make mistakes?  Nope, it certainly does not!

We made a big one, so big that Red Roo was taking on water, a lot of water, one could say she was on her way down to the bottom.

It was a mistake of our own making. A very regrettable lapse in process when in a rush to leave the boat resulted in the toilet intake valve being left open, allowing water to flow in without the accompanying pump out operating. Normally a few hours of this would present no real problems BUT we had left the boat for a few days to travel to Madrid and explore the Spanish capital.  

The result was Red Roo taking on water for 18 hours.  From what we can gather, the water overflowed out of the toilet bowl and into the bilge (as expected), and the bilge pump pumped the water out for hours before eventually failing. The water then continued flowing in without being pumped out, resulting in water inside the boat to a depth of 40cm of water above the floorboards before the diligent staff at the marina noticed that Red Roo was sitting low in the water, ultimately beginning to sink.

Water inside Red Roo about 40cm above the floorboards. Some of our wiring is down low, a lot of our pumps are submerged as well as all our batteries. A lot of our personal affects were also ruined.

After receiving the phone call from the marina that morning while we were sitting in a hire car on the side of the road 6 hours north of the boat, we were stunned, shocked, and devastated.  Our main concern was where was the water coming in?  Was there a hole? Had something failed? What could it be?  Our minds eventually came to question: in a rush to leave, did the last user of the toilet close the valve? It took only seconds for those at the marina who accessed Red Roo to check and confirm. The valve was open; two seconds later they had shut it off, and the flow stopped.

It took 20 minutes to pump all the water out but took weeks to discover the resulting damage.  Electrical wiring and components, mechanical parts, and personal items were destroyed or had begun to corrode due to their saltwater immersion.  It has taken over a year to replace everything following a frustratingly slow insurance process as well as repairers and parts availability. 

Pumping the water out of Red Roo

We cannot thank the Alcaidesa Marina staff enough for noticing Red Roo was low in the water, contacting us, and pumping her out. Also a HUGE THANKS to Jean & Yolene (SV Caffee Latte) for helping on the day and in the week following. Each day they assisted in emptying the boat, washing and cleaning everything in freshwater, and providing the much needed emotional support during the clean up.

For the 16 months following, we dealt with the insurance company (very frustrating) and organised contractors for the boat repairs.  The significant works included total replacement of all immersed electrical wiring and equipment, replacement of pumps, and eventually a new engine and gearbox. Delays occurred with being in Spain and the repair companies being in Gibraltar (UK territory). Then, of course, when almost complete, we had further delays from COVID shutdowns.

This is a very short account of what has been a very long, tiring, expensive & regrettable event (March 2019 – November 2020), and the most challenging blog we have had to write – admitting to our own mistake. 

It can happen to anyone, even Sir Francis Chichester writes about it happening to him on his circumnavigation

The good news is we are now ready to continue on our journey (as the world health pandemic allows).

Thanks again to the staff at the Alcaidesa Marina, Jean & Yolene from SV Caffe Latte, and also recognition and thanks go to our main repair contractors, Dylan & George from Electrical Marine Services and James from Pritchard’s Marine (both based in Gibraltar).

Further thank you’s also go out to our neighbours in the Marina – Brenda & Alistair, Ian, and Peter for their smiles, friendship and assistance especially in looking out for each other and keeping us all sane during the 3-4 months we were locked down and confined to our boats.

Sharing a drink with Brenda & Al (SV Melody) whilst socially distancing and staying on our own boats

20 Comments on “That sinking feeling

  1. Oh we are so pleased you are up n running again. Miss you both and really miss your wonderful blogs. Shit happens. Sorry it happened to you. If it makes you feel better. We “sank” a boat once. Shallow marina saved it going too far when an engine inlet fitting failed. We were asleep in the cockpit. The water was just inches below the top of the batteries and the boat had very few electrics and the engine was already toast so really not much damage. But!! We know these things happen. Toilets like those are very common cause xxxx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Kris. We have since modified the toilet and it no longer has the valve – we don’t plan on making the same mistake twice! Miss you both also. Fair winds for your eventual journey back to Australia.


  2. So happy for you you are back sailing again…and selfishly that we will likely be navigating alongside red roo. Jean and Yolène s/v Caffe Latte XOXO

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Dear Marie, and Phil, Reading this, in disbelief, shock, just doesn’t equate with how I know you, and Red Roo, the details I noticed, rigorously prepared, along witty with the discipline, systematic approach you both seemed to bring. But, I can believe it, I’ve had a couple of moments, stupid lapses, caught out, off guard. Soon after purchase, before fully moving onboard, the winter before I met you, I’d left a little 400w heater running, keep damp off,  between visits.Normally hung on bracket, I put it on floor, for security.When I returned, day later, wasn’t smelling good! Turns out, had, started to char the cabin sole, was missing some pads, on feet. Could have lost the boat. Then, river Orwell, just left Haven Marina, anchored below Pinmill, awaiting weather window. Had just reinstalled windlass, after welding lots new metal, building up after severe corrosion. Went ashore, dinghy, then cycle to Ipswich to scrap my car. Returned to find… no Zingara!!! Nearby, on a mooring, explained she’d dragged, and they’d seen her,  and got a line to a mooring down river. I couldn’t believe it … decent gear,  Rocna Vulcan, 10mm chain,  just regalvanized, on a snubber, well secured,  and a good scope, at least 3 to 1, nearer 4, I’d checked the counter, on windlass …. err, oops  … penny dropped! Obviously, it needed resetting to zero, after decommissioning!!! Ok,  never had a windlass before, never mind counter,  and its invaluable, sailing solo. I’m used to roughly estimating by the arm length,  and markers, coloured cable ties, by feel too, dark,  groups of 1, 2 or 3 cable ties. I was just so focused on last minute preps, passage planning, and apprehension… I lost sight of the most crucial thing … keeping the boat safe! Now, like the engine, the chart plotter, I try to never implicitly trust them. But also … myself, I am the most critical point of failure, and its always, always,  going to be a risk, possibility… no, a probability, certainty…  of being too casual, oversight, poor estimation, flawed calculation and decision. But my lifelong track record is better than many, and… when it’s really counted, yep, safe hands. I immediately recognised your ways, as a good example, something to benchmark. You’ve achieved SO much with a modest craft, a type that is very close to my ideal, scaled up of my previous 26footer.For you, this incident, just a 1/4 turn lever … its really pulled you up short hey. Of course. I think sometimes, this is fate, taking charge,  putting you on hold,  keeping you safe from some other more dangerous threat. Maybe it was COVID, or these very volatile unprecedented storms that break traditional seasonal patterns?What I immediately felt, when we chatted,  Ipswich … you both were just no bull, or bigging up, no tales of extreme survival moments,  heroics … just plain, modest even,  ‘as is’! That’s so refreshing, not that common, and a pleasure. Anyway.. I’m just very very glad to know you’re safe, and … able and keen,  to get under way again.For me, I explore French Atlantic coast, really getting to know the nooks and crannies, little havens, anchoring, for a variety of sea, wind configurations … but mainly establishing as French resident, as Brexit otherwise closes freedoms. Seems a wise move, now 2yrs in. Was hoping to venture to Portugal this past summer, but, got too complicated, lockdowns, uncertainties, and being solo, limited language skills … I stayed France, plenty to discover anyway.Fair winds to you both (ideally,  just forward of the beam I imagine!🙏😉)Phil 👍Wysłano z telefonu Samsung

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Phil for your lovely words and sincerity. We are touched by the comments received from all. Yes, we are all human and mistakes are made. We really enjoyed the French Atlantic Coast, pop onto the web site to see our map of anchorages (and blog posts) and drop us a line if you have any questions.


  4. Thank goodness for diligent marina staff.
    It is a pity some of our mistakes are so expensive but they do always provide good lessons. But glad to hear everything is back to the way it should be and now waiting for the starters gun to get back out and sailing.
    Take care

    Liked by 1 person

    • Certainly thankful for the marina staff. From our experience there are not many as diligent as La Linea, very lucky and lesson learnt. We have set off already and are currently anchored off Ibiza (Spain).


  5. Shocked to read your story, glad the insurance came through in the end. Hopefully you can get on with your trip. I’m a bit confused as to why the toilet overflowed, we have never had to shut our seacocks or had any similar issues
    John and Brenda SY Bunny Bee

    Liked by 1 person

  6. A very trying experience for you both! It´s just as well that you are both young enough to survive such problems! Keep well and safe.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. oohhhh I cannot believe you have been thru these tough times. Now I understand why your blog has been so silent for so long. I wish you will continue enjoying sailing nicely and quietly… All the best! and thanks for sharing your adventure…


  8. SO pleased you are now under sail again – know how frustrating it all was, and then there was Covid! What a year. Take care and stay safe now you are back on the move, Tunisia should be warm for a winter stopover! Sending our love as always – Wendy & Mike and all your Cornish family. xx


    • THANK YOU Wendy & Mike, although you are not with us on the boat you supported us throughout the ordeal. Once again your assistance was invaluable, being our address in the UK, sending parts onto us in Spain, we couldn’t have done it without you! 🙏😘 We hope winter is kind and you get to spend Christmas and New Year with the family, much love to you all Phil & Maree xx


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