Before I launched Elizmor, I received lots of sage advice from well-wishing but concerned boaty folk.

Elizmor had been sat out of the water for 12+ years, which is a very long time for an old wooden boat to be dry. There is no question that she would take on a lot of moisture after being launched. There was also some curiosity surrounding the splining between the planks – the previous-previous owner had taken out all of the old caulking and replaced it with wooden splines. She hadn’t been in the water since this was done, so there was only one way to find out what would happen.

One chap in the boatyard was convinced that I shouldn’t even be thinking about a launch without first filling Elizmor’s bilges with concrete, to help guard against the inevitable torrents of incoming water. He was an old sea captain and had apparently skippered the UK’s biggest wooden fishing boat, back in the day.

But… CONCRETE?! What! Here we have one traditional, old, beautiful wooden boat, with larch planking on thick oak frames. And you want me to fill her with concrete?

Well, funnily enough, that was one suggestion I didn’t follow.

One suggestion I did take onboard, however, was to make sure I had a salvage pump ready for the big day.

In fact, we actually had no less than five bilge pumps all ready to jump into action should the worse happen when Elizmor dunked her bottom.

When I bought her, Elizmor had three bilge pumps:

  1. 220v electric sumbersible
  2. Engine-driven bilge pump
  3. Manual bilge pump

The 220v electric submersible pump was in the engine room bilge. The engine-driven bilge pump works via a venturi effect through the massive Jabsco seawater intake pump on the engine’s cooling system. Elizmor’s previous owners also pointed out the two antiquated-looking manual bilge pumps – I think I’ve already mentioned these – they hadn’t had them working as thought they must be defunct, but with some gasket rubber, we made up a new seal and got one of them working again.

By the time we’d finished with our launch preperations, Elizmor had the following bilge pumping systems:

  1. Huge 3700gph 24v bilge pump in mid compartment
  2. Huge 3700gph 24v bilge pump in engine compartment
  3. Engine-driven bilge pump
  4. Manual bilge pump
  5. 2″ petrol-driven water pump

Instead of having to rely on a mains pump & engine-driven pump, we now had options.

We had two awesome 24v bilge pumps, each with brand new through-hull fittings, one-way valves and associated 38mm discharge hoses. These things are bloody amazing – we filled the bilge up and tested them out, extremely impressed with a ~2m jet shooting out the side of the boat. I almost wouldn’t mind the boat filling up with water if pumping it out looks this impressive.

We also had the engine-driven bilge pump, which we’d worked out how to use, and tested the engine, so we could most likely rely on this.

As mentioned, the manual bilge pump had been overhauled and brought back to life. This is also huge and looks like it could shift a big capacity – I had to source 50mm suction hose to go on it. It was good fun trying to fit a couple of metres of that into my tiny MX5 when I went to pick it up from a hose supplier here in Preston.

I also followed the more sensible advice of the boatyard folk and made sure I hired a 2″ water pump from a local tool hire company. It cost me about £42 to hire it for a couple of days, and it was brand new, and came with a full tank of petrol. When they dropped it off to me, the guy made sure he gave us a demonstration and we checked it was working OK. The best bit about this was using the deck crane for the first time to haul it up onto the boat!

Finally, we made sure we would have power to run the electric pumps, as these would be our main pumps. Elizmor’s batteries really need replacing, and couldn’t be relied upon to sustain the pumps for a long time if needed – so we gave ourselves options here again. We checked that the shorepower cable would reach once she was in her new quayside berth, and also that the diesel generator on the aft deck was working OK and ready to start if we needed it. This is pretty huge and noisy – it’s a 4.5kw Honda, built into a big wooden box on the aft deck. That was all good to go, so if we couldn’t get shorepower for any reason, we could use the generator.

We also installed two high water bilge alarms – my dad managed to find some that did the job for about £15 each, from Conrad Electronic online, as opposed to the hundreds of pounds we were looking at for bilge alarms from the usual marine suppliers. Dad was super-keen to have these alarms installed – convinced we’d have sleepless nights after the launch, sitting up all night too scared to sleep without an alarm to alert us to impeding peril, the bilge pumps needing tending to 24/7 for weeks after the launch!

So… with all of those belts and braces… what actually happened when she went in?

Well…

As soon as Elizmor was sitting in the water, still in the slings, dad & I jumped aboard, leaving a crowd of watching onlookers anticipating our return with news, good or bad. We were armed with torches and had prepared a little ‘emergency kit’ on the boat already – a hammer, some nails, bits of wood, waterproof sealant etc. Dad dived straight down into the engine room, his favourite place, and I headed forward into the rest of the boat. We’d already lifted up all of the sole boards, so as soon as we came downstairs we could see the bilges straight away.

It was a nervous moment.

This was it.

My months of dreams, nightmares, hopes, wishes, all coming to a head. This very moment. For days, weeks, months before, I had run through every scenario possible. And as far as we could, we had prepared for each of them. The days before the launch, and the morning of the launch, had been frantic – no matter how much preparation we’d done, there was always something else we could think of that needed checking or adding or preparing for.

And then, as Dad & I both descended down separate hatches into the floating boat, there was silence.

My heart stopped, the gentle sound of water lapping against the hull – oh my god, we were actually in the water! – and I realised that, yes, I could hear nothing but silence. No gushing water. No trickling. Nothing. Just that gentle lapping, which I had never heard aboard Elizmor before.

But what about the engine room? Was the stern gland leaking? Seacocks looking OK? Oh god. It wasn’t over yet.

“Dad, how does your bit look?”, I nervously called out to Dad through the engine room bulkhead. I didn’t want to hear his reply.

“Fine… it’s fine! Just a few little trickles around some seacocks, which I’ve tightened… how about you?”

“Fine! Same – a couple of tiny trickles, but it’s fine!”

We both carried on examining – I worked my way back from the forepeak, exploring every seacock, every bit of bilge and all the planking I could see. It was all fine. Shaky and full of adrenaline, I realised I should probably poke my head up and let everybody on the shore know what was going on.

“Amazing! No leaks to speak of!”

And, that was it. The crane driver slowly let the last five tons of weight off the slings, me going back down to check at each stage. Still no leaks.

We tied ourselves against the quay, Elizmor’s shiny new black fenders courtesy of Boat Fenders Direct protecting her topsides against the wall, and that was it…

We were floating. After more than 12 years ashore, Elizmor was returned back to her natural habitat, and it seemed she was very, very pleased to be there.

A bottle of champagne appeared, and the owner of the other boat who we shared the launch with came over to check our launch had gone OK. I wetted Elizmor’s nose with the champagne, and we sat back and relaxed, for the first time in months, hardly believing that, yes, we were afloat.

Well done Elizmor. I am proud of you. We looked after you, so now you’re looking after us.

Here’s to many, many happy days ahead.

Cheers from me & Dad - to the happily floating Elizmor. (Yep, Dad went for a cup of tea over champagne!)

Cheers from me & Dad – to the happily floating Elizmor. (Yep, Dad went for a cup of tea over champagne!)

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