Stupid Boat Tricks - Masters Edition
23 September 2009 | Vava'u
...Also known under its working title "Clusterf*** in Paradise". Where do I start. Well, loyal blog readers may remember a particularly ugly passage we made from Tongatapu to Vavau in late August... 26 hours of big wind driven beam seas that broke over the starboard bow for most of the journey. Little did we know that the seeds of our misery had been planted, without our knowledge, at that time.
After that passage, we just wanted to get into vacation mode with Phil and Josie, and that we did. Maintenance was deferred and we took off our critical thinking caps for awhile. It worked, and we had a great time until we decided it was time to shove off from our mooring ball in Neiafu Harbor to head for the one of the many anchorages in the Vava'u island group with Seth and Elizabeth from Honeymoon. We cast off our bow line and headed out of the mooring field until Rina yelled that the trusty Yanmar had stalled. She tried to re-start the engine but no joy... I hailed Seth who towed us back to the safety of our mooring ball in his dink while we figured out what was going on.
Earlier that day, Seth and I had transferred a bunch of diesel jerry jugs from the dock to our respective boats and we topped off our forward 67 gallon tank. Strangely, it did not take as much fuel as expected before venting a few drops, signaling full. Before doing so, I transferred what I thought was the remaining diesel to our aft tank, which feeds the Yanmar. As the fuel transferred, I noticed the fuel pump changing tone now and then, but assumed I was near the end of the tank and was getting some air. How wrong I was.
After mooring, I checked the engine, but saw nothing unusual. Then I noticed the cloudy liquid in the clear glass bowl of the Racor 500 fuel filter. I switched over to a parallel filter and it immediately filled with cloudy liquid....uh-oh. I then tried to drain some of the liquid into a baggy to investigate further and found that the liquid was 100% water. But where did it come from? The new fuel? Probably not...a little condensation? not likely... Then I thought back to my fuel transfer...double uh-oh. After draining almost a gallon from the racor filter, I realized I had a big problem on my hands.
I purged all the water from the aft tank, changed the primary and secondary filters, but the engine would still not start. Just then, Peter from Bagheera, an imminently friendly and helpful Brit stopped by, and after hearing my tales of woe, helped me pull the injector lines, cranked the engine and got nothing but water. After an hour of cranking the engine, (with the seacock closed) we got enough water out of the injector pump and injector lines to finally turn over the engine, which purred nicely. Bullet dodged...
One of our first investments on the boat was a Filter Boss, with dual Racor 500's, an auxiliary fuel pump and the ability to cycle fuel from the fuel tank through the filters and back into the tank via the return line. We cycled fuel for a couple of hours until the fuel was clear again.
It was at this point that we started to put together the puzzle pieces... 1) waves bashing the starboard bow, where the vent for the forward tank exits, 2) forward tank full before expected, LOTS of water expelled...3) strange noises emanating from the fuel pump... We deferred investigating the forward tank until Phil and Josie left... no use screwing up our time together any further. Denial could only carry us so far, however.
Yesterday Rina and I had our ugly day of reckoning with the forward tank. We spent 6 hours de-watering and filtering 67 gallons of diesel fuel. We manually separated 15 gallons of fuel from the forward tank, yielding 3 gallons of water. (gory details upon request) Once the fuel coming from the forward tank turned clear, we attached the forward tank hose directly into the Filter Boss and filtered it before passing 40 gallons into the main tank. Then we noticed the fuel pump tone change and again manually filtered the water out. This netted another 1-2 gallons of water. At the end of this process, both Rina and I and much of the salon sole (floor) had a smelly sheen of diesel. The boat was completely torn up, reeked of diesel and we were fed up.
After a lovely night of diesel fumes we cleaned up the boat and investigated how the water entered the tank. Sure enough, the aftermarket tank we had installed did NOT have a riser loop, instead, the vent hose came out of the fitting and went down to the tank... a recipe for disaster. We fixed that by pulling the slack up into a 10" riser and adjusted the angle of the vent to keep water from moving up the hull vertically into the vent.
It could have been a lot worse.... Salt water corrosion could have killed a very expensive fuel injector pump, or filled the cylinders with water and bent a rod....If there is a silver lining, it was that we quickly diagnosed and fixed the immediate problem, found the root cause and fixed that, and the diesel smell has gone away, except in our nightmares.
Lessons learned: Trust your instincts when you hear something unexpected... check the work of 3rd party installers closely... and trust in your Filter Boss!