A curious thing happens near Joinville. The waters of the Canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne turn crystal clear. You can literally see every rock and pebble on the bottom. After years of floating over the typically murky canal water never knowing how much water is below us it was odd to suddenly be able to see everything below.
The clear water also explained why we’ve seen so many people fishing in the canals. There were quite a few fish, including some very big fish, swimming below Wanderlust’s hull as she passed. Of course the fish were always where the fisherman weren’t. It explained something else: Why did we so rarely see the fishermen catching fish?
With the clear water came an explosion of the under water vegetation. The weeds were literally choking the canal. Was the under water vegetation there because the water was clear? Or did the abundance of water plants keep the water clear? It is a question I could not answer. But the correlation between weeds and clear water is strong. Later, on the Canal de la Marne au Rhin, we saw the same thing, clear water and a canal choked with water plants.
Many boats struggled with the weeds. It is not uncommon for boats to pull in canal water to cool their engines. These raw water cooled boats struggled mightily with the weeds near Joinville stopping every lock or so to clear out their inlet sieve filters.
Fortunately the weeds did not present a serious problem for Wanderlust. Wanderlust’s main engine is keel cooled. A closed loop cooling system routes coolant through a skin tank welded on the inside of the hull. No water needs to be sucked through the system; clogs are not possible.
That’s not to say that there weren’t problems on board Wanderlust. We had just become skillful at ignoring the issues that remained from our build. It was probably a survival skill. The diesel fuel that was leaking to forward cabin bilge could only be seen if we looked into a hole cut through the floor of our guest room closet. It is easy enough to not look and see how the leak was doing. The exhaust manifold leaks fumes into the engine compartment; we could ignore it by not going down into the engine compartment when the engine was running. Our generator, which never worked properly from launch, continued to have to be finessed to function; we just avoided using it. The foaming blowback that came when we filled Wanderlust’s fuel tanks was periodic as we rarely added fuel; it very troublesome at the time but forgotten when the first glass of wine was poured at dinner. Benign neglect of the problems on board made for a happier boat crew. With interesting towns and French countryside it was easy to keep the problems out of mind. Cruising through France is a very pleasant distraction. And with no new serious problems appearing for nearly two months, perhaps Wanderlust was trending the right direction?
And then we saw it. We opened the storage hatch in the salon to take a bottle of wine. The water in the bilge was back. Ugh.
This time the fluid was coming forward from the stern. The direction of encroach ruled out another leak from our twice-repaired salon radiator plumbing or our once repaired forward bathroom radiator leak. It also ruled out a leak from our forward water tank. That would come later.
Now we feared the worst. Did another dry fit joint in our guest room sewer plumbing work its way loose? The water was coming up the port side as it was before.
Quickly we flushed the guest bath toilet several dozen times. No more water appeared in the bilge. This time the toilet did not seem to be the source of the water. Now the question was where was the water coming from?
Frustratingly, we couldn’t tell what was going on. Before signing the build contract we had specifically requested good inspection access to bilge. We had done this on the recommendation of a person who knew of under floor plumbing issues on a Piper barge. But despite the pre-contract signing assurances, when we took delivery of Wanderlust under floor access was limited to a single hatch in the salon. This omission came with lasting challenges. We had almost no way to practically inspect the bilge. The lack of access was now a serious issue. We spent the rest of the season wondering where the water we kept seeing in the bilge was coming from. No longer could we compartmentalize Wanderlust’s problems in our brains.
Unable to determine the source of the current bilge flood, we developed theories. Indeed we became very good at explaining away the water we kept seeing. This time we used what soon became a popular idea: The water was coming forward merely water sloshing around from the prior flood. After all, we had taken out over 60 liters of sewer water from the bilge two months prior. There had to be more sewage in the bilge that we couldn’t see. Perhaps the barge had tilted on the mooring and the water had come forward. Perhaps this water would go away with time. Perhaps.
(Wanderlust reached Joinville on the 30th of June 2015 and stayed for two nights. Joinville is 48 kilometers and 19 locks from Chaumont. In between we spent nights in Viéville and Froncles.)