Elton Sinks

In November of 2003 Elton suddenly sank in Portland basin

This was a particular blow as both generators and most of our power tools were on board at the time. Chris Leah describes the struggle to refloat her.


A couple of years ago we were given a 3″ Honda pump on a recycling trip. The engine started first time but it had no suction pipe with it. This machine was brought down from Knowl Street and the search for a suitable pipe began. Penny Judson already had the oddball size outlet pipe to hawk round her various industrial contacts in the hope of finding a match. After a phone call she redoubled her efforts and came up trumps with a length of suction pipe, but no joy on the strange Japanese thread of the pipe couplings. Instead, she presented me with some copper pipe that roughly fitted inside the couplings, some tape and some big jubilee clips. I carefully assembled these items, started the pump and hoped for the best.

The little engine screamed its heart out but the pump would not prime. At first I assumed that I had failed to make an airtight seal with the tape etc. I stopped the engine and was about to put it away when I noticed a drip of water from the inlet flange. I unbolted it and found it to be broken. This was probably the reason that the pump had been thrown out.

Enquiries revealed that a replacement part would have to come from America and would take at least a week. A temporary repair was effected with the aid of a tube of superglue. The engine was started and water gushed from the pump.

Bravely though the little machine pumped it was never going to be enough to raise the boat all by itself. Some years ago we bought a Coventry Climax fire pump in an auction. Last time Elton sank we tried it but, though the engine ran magnificently, it refused to prime. Andy McKitterick took it home and managed to get the seized up priming mechanism working properly. Since then it had stood under a tarpaulin in his garden.

The pump was fetched from Failsworth and a frustrating day was spent trying to get it started. The problem lay in the carburettor, which was gummed up with petrol residue. All that we achieved was to get the engine to blow three brief rasberries by the expedient of tipping petrol directly into the carb.

Next day I called at Ashton Canal Carriers to request the loan of their Coventry Climax pump. This was granted and soon it was being hauled across Lilith and positioned atop Elton’s back cabin.

I started the 3″ pump on the foredeck then went to the back cabin and cranked the fire pump. It fired up after a couple of turns. I depressed the priming lever which made the engine labour until a trickle of water from one of the outlets turned to a gush. With the engine screaming at full revs and two solid jets of water shooting across the basin I watched anxiously to see if the level was dropping inside the boat. It went down painfully slowly and I went round stuffing plastic bags into holes in the sides that were letting water in.

It was quite a while before I was sure that she was coming up. At last I noticed that some of the leaks that I had stuffed bags into were no longer running at all. Elton had lifted off the bottom. As she slowly rose higher so more leaks ceased to run and her upward progress was thus speeded until eventually the big pump ran out of water and the small one was left to finish the job.

With the boat afloat again the first job was to get the electric bilge pumps working again as soon as possible. The dead batteries were removed, the battery box baled out and fresh units installed. The wiring was mostly in good order, except for the back up pump circuit which mysteriously had a wire missing.

Over the next few days we sorted out the slimy mess inside the boat and started getting the sunken equipment dried out and working again.

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