20 April 2009 | Mecharchar
We filled dive tanks this morning in preparation for Pepe's big push to complete his Open Water Scuba training. Julie from Whistler also joined us but Eric, feeling a bit rough from last night, stayed aboard.
The rest of us climbed on Shooting Star, which with 5 adults, four tanks and two sets of scuba gear, refused to get up on a plane. I like our 12 foot AB and I think it is just about a perfect size. The 2 stroke Yamaha 25hp is great also but if you want to plane with more than three skinny divers, you need a bigger motor.
We made the moorings over by Clam City around noon and proceeded to snorkel (the three girls) and dive (Pepe and I). There is a barbecue beach here and several tourist boats came and went while we enjoyed the surroundings. After two dives filled with skills practice and some humongous clams we retired to a nice rock islet halfway back to the anchorage. Here our tired snorkelers floated more than snorkeled while Pepe and I finished his last Open Water dive.
After a short stint of finish up work back at the big boat, Pepe was an Open Water certified diver. A celebration was in order so we planed a steak frites dinner on Swingin' on a Star at 7PM. After resting and washing up everyone arrived on time and the party got started.
Things were going great and I was just about to put the steaks on the grill when Hideko said, "turn off the music!" I did and she pointed out the lack of fire on the stove, which had until recently been warming the tomatoes and Bernaise, and cooking frites. Then I heard the propane alarm beeping. Living on a boat is a constant adventure (aggravation?).
Eric and I poured over the BEP manual and carefully inspected the bilge. Neither of us could track any note of propane. Several reboot attempts produced the same alarm condition even after fanning the shallow bilge and running a fan for a bit. The alarm was specified to go off at 20% of the ignition concentration so there was little risk of an explosion but we were still very interested in getting to the bottom of things.
We finally got a dive tank out and blew fresh air on the sensor and tried a reboot. Same alarm. At this point we were all 99.9% sure that the sensor was fried. After thoroughly ventilating the bilge and carefully checking all exposed propane lines we decided to take matters into our own hands. I pulled the BEP panel off of the wall and Eric and I figured out what was going on with the wiring. I then directly connected the propane solenoid to the power lines.
With Eric listening at the solenoid in the forward propane locker, I threw the DC panel breaker. Snap, on came the gas and nothing blew up. We then checked the grill and you could easily smell the propane when I turned it on before putting a spark to it. Knowing that we could smell the propane and having no indication of its presence in the boat, other than the sensor, we were left to wonder if we could smell down to the 20% the sensor could.
We carefully cooked dinner and (crepe suzzette for desert of course) and shut of the gas. We will certainly be following up with BEP and stand by on high alert until the matter is resolved. It makes me consider the fact that many boats have no propane sensor (and thus no false alarms). Also, however, many have no solenoid shut off and their crews routinely leave the propane on while cruising. Propane is heavier than air and nasty stuff. Ignition proof bilge equipment and controlling operating exposure (i.e. via a solenoid or manually shutting off the tank) are mandatory items. We'll see where the BEP story takes us.