February 8-13, 2018
It was mutually agreed that this was another one of those times when bringing in an outside expert would be money wisely spent, despite the fact that we seem to have difficulty ever stopping the hemorrhaging flow of outgoing cash.
We have been told many times that BOAT is an acronym for Break Out Another Thousand. While one would be hard pressed to dispute this, it seems to me that just about any home (especially one recently purchased and moved into within the last six months) more often than not qualifies, in similar fashion, as a vacuum cleaner of funds.
In fact, I would go so far as to hazard a guess that anyone who moves into a home requiring no additional expenditures for a year either isn’t paying attention to their home, or must have spent such a ridiculous amount of money up front that they are – number one: obviously working with a budget that is far outside of even my imagination, and number two: still probably spending ridiculous amounts of money on things their home may not actually need but is getting anyway.
But, anyway… I digress. Where was this going? Oh ya… money wisely spent on an outside expert.
Sometimes the outside expert needs to be a big gun: a full blown company complete with impressive name, high training credentials, specialized tools and equipment, and an accounting department to sort through all the money they are billing out for.
Other times the outside expert needs to be a guy with a tool box who has been turning a wrench for fifty years and simply knows what the hell they are talking about and doing. He, or she, is the company and they don’t need an accounting department because they don’t charge nearly as much money and spend it all on more tools anyway.
In this case, it turns out we would require both.
First we brought in the one man show… a diesel mechanic named Butch. In his late sixties (I’d guess), Butch had the tool box, 50+ years of diesel engine experience, and definitely knew what the hell he was doing. He even had an apprentice of sorts with him. Looking to be twenty-something, the nameless apprentice’s job seemed to be watch, listen, get shit for Butch, and stay silent… he was pretty good.
Butch poked around for a bit. We started the Perkins. Butch listened for a bit. Then he said I’d done about all I could as far as troubleshooting and on-the-fly repair (I took that as a compliment). He added another copper washer to the makeshift rubber washer I had put on the lifting pump cap and then recognized that the entire lifting pump mount was loose – definitely a bigger air leak source and one that I had missed.
He then went on to say he could spend the entire day charging us for work; but, in the end, we would be haunted by this ghost continually until we had our fuel tank cleaned out.
Butch’s explanation went something like this:
Dirt is obviously a potential problem in diesel; but water can cause just as much grief. Water can be removed with the Racor filters our Perkins is equipped with; however, inside the fuel tank that water fosters the growth of algae and bacteria which then collects at the bottom of the tank as sediment. The sediment is made up of live and dead organisms as well as their waste. Especially, in rough seas, the sediment gets stirred up potentially clogging filters or blocking fuel lines. This becomes a bigger problem as the tank is less full and the concentration increases. A fuel tank only partially filled also allows more condensation to happen inside the tank which propagates the growth further. Diesel additives only partially solve the problem as they don’t actually remove the material already built up; physically removing the particles from the tank is the only way to get ahead of the issue. Keeping the tank full helps slow the growth process as well.
Exit had been sitting on the hard with less than half tank of fuel for over a year. Plus, her aluminum fuel tanks are already more susceptible to condensation. Both times we experienced engine problems were in rough seas where the tank would have certainly been stirred up. The concentration of sediment in the bottom of the Racor and the speed at which the replacement filter had already begun to discolor all seemed to fall exactly in line with what Butch was describing. Furthermore, he said the fuel starvation would have become much more problematic as the engine was put under a load, which was probably why we were able to limp in just over idle speed but couldn’t run at 2000rpm.
So, viola! It seemed by cleaning out all the built-up crap inside the fuel tank we had our solution. Only Butch said we’d want to bring in the big guns for that. With an integrated aluminum tank, we couldn’t remove it for cleaning which left two options: either pump out and dispose of one hundred gallons of diesel followed by getting inside the tank and scrubbing it out (a messy and arduous nightmarish task by all stretches of the imagination) or hire someone with equipment capable of doing it all in place (less cheap but also less mess).
After explaining to me how to go about completely tearing apart, cleaning, and reassembling the Racor filter housing (which, with a smile, he said I would be learning how to do today) he tightened the lifting pump, recommended we keep the diesel tank topped up and change fuel filters more often as preventative maintenance, charged us a couple hundred dollars and went on his way.
A few phone calls later we learned that the only big gun with equipment capable of cleaning our two hundred gallon fuel tank, Universal Fuel Systems (at least it had the impressive name), was based a couple of hours away in Tampa. However, we also learned that they just happened to already be at our very marina and could stop by later.
When Stacy, the UFS guy, arrived, he explained that their equipment allowed them to draw the fuel out of our tank at high pressure, send it through two high capacity filters, then return the clean fuel to the tank. All the while, the tube drawing out the fuel is being stirred around the bottom of the tank by the tech, helping to churn things up and suck the sediment from the bottom.
The up-side was, since he was already at the marina, he could wave the travel charge and only charge us $400 instead of the usual $750… sweet.
The down-side was, with the way Exit was positioned and the layout of the dock, we were just short of the hose length needed to get between the fuel tank on the boat and the equipment on the dock. Despite trying, we just couldn’t get Exit in close enough to the dock to make the stretch feasible. Furthermore, choppy water and fifteen to twenty knot winds prevented us from moving to a better spot (especially with an engine we couldn’t rely on) at that time… shit.
Unwilling to attempt moving the boat based upon current conditions, or risk a high volume fuel mishap from heavy equipment on the dock being dragged around by a boat in choppy water, we had to forego an immediate fix that day.
What really sucked, not only was the job now going to cost us $750, but we would have to wait a week to get back on their schedule… arrrrgh!
Fortunately, the way the marina rates were structured, the weekly rate for a slip was the same as three single days. After three, we got four free; so we really didn’t pay any more for the marina slip during the wait.
One of the nights, a five million dollar yacht tied up on the T-dock right next to us. They stayed for only about five hours, apparently just long enough for the crew to give the boat a good freshwater cleaning and the captain to get thoroughly trashed during an extended happy hour. Then they untied and motored away into the night… oh, Florida.
The real silver lining of the whole situation came with the realization that, during our entire week’s stay at the marina slip, not once did we have to plug into shore power, run the engine, or start the generator to keep our batteries charged. The solar panels delivered one hundred percent of what we needed. In fact, during the first two weeks of running our new solar system, we had generated nearly 20,000 watt-hours of power – the equivalent battery charging of about 60 hours of generator run time. With every day that passes, we become more and more vehemently certain that going solar was the best investment we’ve made regarding increased self-sufficiency and getting off the grid.
With the better part of a week to work with, we managed to get a substantial amount of stuff accomplished while tied in the slip. I became exceptionally familiar with the Perkins fuel system; by the end of the week primary, backup, secondary and generator fuel filters had all been disassembled and reassembled a multitude of times. There was time to catch up on other general engine maintenance as well, like oil and belt changes.
During that time, Kris broke out a duffle bag which held sail repair materials and absolutely went to town – she repaired our genoa sail right out on the deck (some of the stitching needed serious attention), as well as made fender covers from the legs of cheap XXXL sweat pants we had acquired at a Walmart earlier. Pretty damn creative… and probably a hundred or couple hundred bucks cheaper… ka-ching!
Plus another sixty five foot vertical trip for mast top maintenance.
By the end of the week, we were chomping at the bit to get moving again. We had only been off the boat one day on an Uber run into town for a few provisions, some knickknacks, and definitely more spare filters. The day Universal Fuel Systems returned, the sky was clear with no wind, and we eased Exit over to the fuel dock without any difficulty. Stacy and his assistant Mike hooked up their high pressure filter system and got to work.
No doubt, there was stuff coming out. At least two, big, softball-sized dark masses of muck passed through the opaque rubber hose into the filter system. Smaller bits and chunks could be seen as well.
Eventually, the fuel tank was sealed back up and the algae exorcism was deemed complete. At $750.00, it was no drop in the bucket. However, just replacing the diesel in the tank would have cost us at least half that. And, in the end, if it means the trusty Perkins can function in rough seas without being choked by algae, then that’s money well spent.