Morning Reflections January 24 2010
Living Aboard a Sailboat -- Creating Dirty Clothes Hampers

Cleaning the Bilge

Ugh. Yesterday I started cleaning the bilge. Since EW has been pulling up floor boards and fixing things we have noticed that the bilge is dirty. My job. I have decided to tackle it in stages -- much better than looking at a weekend of bilge cleaning -- and that way I can work around EW's projects. 

First of all -- our bilge. The year we purchased La Luna, we had 8 weeks on the hard at Robinhood Marina getting her ready. When you work on your boat in a yard you become friendly with the other boat owners - and you learn from them. (Looking at their boats is also great for developing a wish list and a project list - which can be a good thing or a bad thing.)

One day, one of the ladies said, "Today I clean my bilge. I do it every year, whether it needs it or not." (I later learned that last part was a joke. The bilge will always need cleaning once or twice a year. Sometimes more.) Anyway, I thought that sounded like a good idea so I said, "That's a good idea. I will clean our bilge as well." 

We split to get to work with promises of drinks at the marina bar. (I love a marina with a bar.) However, I did not complete my self-assigned task. Later that night as we three couples gathered for rum, the other sailor asked, "So did you clean the bilge?" At this point, EW looked up, very interested. "Really, you cleaned the bilge today?" he said with a big anticipatory smile. (He was so proud of me at that very moment.) Alas, pride descended quickly to laughter when I said, "I tried, but I couldn't find it!"

Not every bilge is like every other bilge. Some boats have what I now think of as A Bilge with a Capital B. Our neighbor's West Sail 42 has one so large they call it "The Garage". We have a series of little bilges. EW and the others laughed because every sailboat has a bilge and because I had certainly seen it many times as I lifted floor board after floor board looking for it. 

Dirty bilge

Our bilge is a series of compartments, often with limber holes to help water to drain to the compartments with the bilge pumps. To clean the bilge, one removes the floor boards and scrubs below. In our case, we also lift the mattress platform in our stateroom. That is where I started yesterday. 

I have learned that one cleans the bilge efficiently by starting at the highest points and working toward the center (low) point of the boat. That way you are following the flow of the water. So yesterday I cleaned under our bed and beside it. Later this week I'll do under the floor boards in the master stateroom and aft head. Next weekend I'll tackle the main saloon. Oh joy. 

I use organic cleaner, a stiff brush, and white vinegar and My favorite tool -- a wet vac to remove the standing water and to facilitate drying. Not fun -- but part of living aboard. 


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