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The replica square-rigger Bounty sank just before Halloween of last year, filling with water and floundering after sailing into the path of hurricane Sandy:

Bounty Sinking


It’s clear to me that the Bounty sinking, as with most marine disasters, started with the Captain putting his ego ahead of the capabilities of his ship and his crew.  It’s easy to second-guess knowing what we know now, but as Captains we must constantly evaluate crew and boat safety against schedule and travel considerations.  It’s important that we learn from others and ruthlessly apply what we learn to our own decisions.  Schedules are especially dangerous for the small boat, making it more likely that we sail in poor weather or defer maintenance to meet obligations.

But a secondary cause of the sinking is one Nancy and I have taken very seriously for many years.  The bilge pumps on the Bounty clogged with both accumulated debris and with construction debris from their recent refit.  It is vital to keep the bilge clean.

On earlier boats we fought a constant battle to keep dog hair out of the bilge.  Usually we vacuumed the boat after every trip.  We won’t let dogs on Bright Water.

Bright Water had one bilge from stem to stern.  Everything drained into a single sump in the engine room.  We blocked off the anchor locker and provided separate drains to keep mud and chain muck out of the boat, then we spent several days clearing the bilge of all material (including cutting holes in the structure to get a clear view of the limber holes and drain path.)  The bilges under the tanks were full of hair and oil and slime and forty years of mess.  They would have been difficult to clean if we hadn’t pulled the tanks.

We inspect the bilges monthly, as much as we can, but most of the bilge is again hidden under the tanks, so our best defense is to keep the hair, lint, sand and debris cleaned up before it can find its way to the bilge.