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Old 09-03-2021, 11:39 AM   #1
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New LaBelle 44 - wet keel???

We took our new to us Marine Trader LaBelle 44 out for a shakedown cruise to Squamish from our berth in Vancouver Harbour last weekend. The vessel runs well and is extremely comfortable cruising and sleeping on board. We also successfully toured Northern Howe Sound with 10 family members on board and the vessel is a hit with the family.

As I had expected, had some trouble docking in strong cross wind due to the large wind area. Decided then to advance our plan to add a bow thruster.

As expected, some glitches showed up and embarrassingly drove home the need to add an engine room check after shut down on every watch.

After about 4.5 hrs running on Saturday we shut down, attended a family members BBQ and then reboarded Saturday night. Early Sunday, my wife asked what is that sound, sounds like water dripping?. I said, just small waves slapping the hull, as we were broadside to wind and tidal action. When I eventually crawled into the engine room for a pre-start check, much to my surprise and horror, the engine room bilge was filled over the high water alarm with no sound, and we had a good leak on the port shaft seal.

The starboard shaft seal had leaked after the sea trial and I was told to fiddle with the bellows and it would stop and did. I did the same thing and temporarily stopped the port leak. We put the manual pump to work, taking about 25 gallons out. No power to the engine room bilge pump or the aft bilge pump, also none to the high water alarm.

Eventually started motoring back to Vancouver, checked engine room on the way and saw water spraying from the port shaft seal. Put the port engine into neutral idle, and the spray stopped. I motored about 2.5 hours more with the port engine idling in neutral (later learned that this can burn the clutch plate, although in theory the transmission would still have been cooled by the engine in idle). Eventually tested the port in gear at 1000, 1500 and 2000 with no more leaks.

Decided to advance our refit work to address the 16 recommendations of the inspection mechanic, plus invest in a bow thruster. Had our new mechanic on board to help immediately troubleshoot issues with seals, pumps, alarms, etc.

Findings: both engine room bilge pump and aft bilge pumps were fried, probably corrosion. I will check with the surveyor to see if he checked these during the hull survey. Regardless, I should have checked all of these myself. Also, the high water alarm is wired to the boat horn. I had been turning DC circuits off when I thought they are not needed upon shut down. Need to leave the horn on!

Finally to the title of my thread. When we went to install new bilge pumps and loosened the base plate screws, water came up from below the bilge floor through the screw holes. The question is, does this vessel have a wet keel for ballast, or is a supposedly dry keel filled with water? No exterior hull issues were noted upon haulout, so is this just accumulated bilge water from over the years?

We have added this to the list of work when we go onto the hard next week.

Any similar experience with wet keels/dry keels would be highly appreciated!
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Old 09-03-2021, 11:57 AM   #2
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Nice boat and congratulations on her ownership. I would change out that bilge alarm from the horn to something like this:


https://www.amazon.com/Skippers-Bilg.../dp/B07CPN9LQ6


Any good fire alarm bell would work.
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Old 09-03-2021, 12:11 PM   #3
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Welcome aboard and congrats on your new boat. Like any boat there are always things to fix. First I would get an alarm system that will give you a high water alarm, coolant flow alarm. I like Borel Manufacturing system. Simple to install and uses no power unless it is actively alarming. You can get any combination of high water, high exhaust temperature and WIF (water in fuel) alarms.

As to the wet keel, it probably has water collected over the years. The water may smell horrible, it did on a previous boat we owned. The fix it to gain access and either suck it out with a shop vac or some type of pump. Then close up the access with some type of plate but donít permanently seal it up because you will probably need to pump it out again in the future. Check the keel when it is hauled for cracks as that may be how the water got in it. Or more likely water has slowly seeped in from things like the bilge pump screws. Not a huge concern IMO but something that needs to be fixed. If the boat is located where it is freezing in the winter then the priority moves way up before this winter.

I would address the bilge pumps first. Then the shaft logs to stop the bleeding. I like Duramax packing. You can gradually tighten it up to where it doesnít leak at all.
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Old 09-03-2021, 12:32 PM   #4
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I have a Labelle 40. It has a hollow keel. I have an automatic bilge pump to pump and keep the keel empty. I am not the first owner but I believe the arrangement is original. If my keel fills with water and then some then the rest of the bilge pumps and high water alarms will operate. The only entry to my hollow keel is a 4 inch hole in the middle of the boat in the engine room. The keel bilge pump drafts from this hole. The atmospheric keel bilge pump switch is also in this hole
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Old 09-03-2021, 01:04 PM   #5
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Thanks for this good information on the keel. I agree that non-sealed bilge screw holes are a likely candidate for water entering the keel over the years.

Regarding the shaft seals, my mechanic recommends going with Tides Marine SureSeals. Anyone have experience with these?
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Old 09-03-2021, 01:10 PM   #6
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Following... I have the same issue with our 1983 MT Labelle 43. I replaced all of the bilge/sump pumps the first week after taking possesion. Water cam up from the screw holes in the forward and engine room bilge. Yes, it smelled terrible. Freaked me out to begin with, but now I just live with it. Looking for fixes.

obthomas, I'm curious about the keel pump. Is the access to the keel pump visible? Where is it located?

Comodave, where would you recommend an access be located? A hole? What size?
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Old 09-05-2021, 09:27 AM   #7
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Check where the shaft(s) exits the hull, an improperly aligned shaft can result in the aft coupling getting out of whack and leaking.

When she is hauled out ask the yard to lift it out and wait a minute, and inspect that area very closely.
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Old 09-05-2021, 09:45 AM   #8
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The boat that we had with a hollow keel that was full of water was a Trojan. I ended up just opening it all up so that I could clean it out. The smell was incredible. Our last boat had a hollow keel so I drilled a 1/4Ē hole to see how deep it was and to see if there was water in it. As soon as I pulled the drill bit out there was a hissing noise so it was either under pressure or a bit of vacuum. So it obviously didnít leak so I glassed the hole closed.

If I were to do your boat I would start with a 1/4Ē bit to make sure I didnít drill through the hull. Then stick something in the hole to see how deep it is. Then use a hole saw to open up a hole that you can get a shop vac hose down into the keel. You will probably want to flush out the keel multiple times to help get rid of the small. Then when you are done put an access plate over the hole so you can get in there in the next time you need to clean out the keel.
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Old 09-05-2021, 12:41 PM   #9
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I have every reason to believe my boat keel access and pump arrangement are original. I have twin engines. In the middle of the engine room right over the keel between the center fuel tank and center toilet holding tank I have a 4 inch portal somewhat like a deck plate. This deck plate has some small holes making it like a shower drain. There are also two tubes through this deck plate, one for bilge pump suction and one for an altitude switch. The bilge pump sits on a nearby shelf and drafts water from the keel. By my estimation, the keel holds more than 10 and less than 50 gallons of water. The keel pump has a on/off/automatic switch on the engine room wall nearby. As long as the keel is kept empty my forward, stern and engine room bilges remain dry and dusty.
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Old 09-05-2021, 12:43 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by obthomas View Post
I have every reason to believe my boat keel access and pump arrangement are original. I have twin engines. In the middle of the engine room right over the keel between the center fuel tank and center toilet holding tank I have a 4 inch portal somewhat like a deck plate. This deck plate has some small holes making it like a shower drain. There are also two tubes through this deck plate, one for bilge pump suction and one for an altitude switch. The bilge pump sits on a nearby shelf and drafts water from the keel. By my estimation, the keel holds more than 10 and less than 50 gallons of water. The keel pump has a on/off/automatic switch on the engine room wall nearby. As long as the keel is kept empty my forward, stern and engine room bilges remain dry and dusty.
Interesting way to do it. Also nice that the water in the hollow keel get changed out regularly so it doesnít get stinky.
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