Making Bombs In Marsh Harbour

June 10, 2018

    One of the things you don’t like hearing aboard a sailboat while you are relaxing in the cockpit, or any time for that matter, are the words I smell propane…

     Kris has a superhuman sense of smell.  Oftentimes, this is a source of great annoyance for me.  Occasionally, it saves my life.

    Four days ago we dropped anchor at this spot, having found a suitable space amongst all the boats in Marsh Harbour, Great Abacos Island.  It was just eighteen miles north of Sandy Cay, where we had finally gone for our first boat-based fun diving excursion, on a boat that was actually our own.

     Our time in Marsh Harbour had been largely uneventful.  A good opportunity for re-provisioning, laundry, even a drama-free fuel and water top up at the dock of the Marsh Harbour Marina.

My 52nd birthday, on June 9, was quiet by choice.  Kris was kind enough to disregard her general vegetarian disgust for raw pig flesh and cooked up bacon… yes BACON… for my breakfast… an odoriferous treat that must have had the occupants of every boat in the area salivating.

     For lunch was lionfish.  Yes, I finally got to taste lionfish.  Tami had gone spearfishing, a couple of days after taking me out, and speared a number of lionfish, which she then gave to me as a birthday gift to try.   I would have to admit that, for a fish sandwich, something a bit more solid and flakey would be preferable.   However, prepared raw in a ceviche, the lionfish was delicious.

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     The rest of the day was quietly spent drinking with Kris in the cockpit… a not-at-all unpleasant afternoon by even the highest standards.

     The day before we planned on picking up anchor, while we were in the cockpit, Kris asked me if I smelled propane.  I sniffed and, as I often do when asked by Kris if I smell something, shook my head, shrugged my shoulders, and replied Nope… I don’t smell anything.

     The second time, she was adamant that there was no doubt she smelled propane, but concluded that it must be from one of the other boats anchored nearby.

     The third time, Kris was done fucking around.  She stood up and, obviously having decided this was a mystery she was going to get to the bottom of immediately, walked straight up to the bow.

     She opened one of the two bow lockers on deck, where our two propane tanks (used for the propane stove) are securely stored, looked back with wide eyes and firmly announced… It’s definitely coming from here… and it’s hissing!

     Shit… Visions of a mushroom cloud forming above the just detonated forty six foot long aluminum cased propane bomb…

     Step one… turn off the damn propane.   

     Step two… apparently never test for propane leaks with a lit flame.  Hmmm… not sure about the necessity of that warning.  Kind of seems to me right up there with “don’t test to see if a lake is frozen by walking on it” or “don’t hold a gun to your head and pull the trigger to verify it’s not loaded”.  

     I guess it’s extra protection offered for the benefit of people you’d find on a long list entitled Darwin’s Survival of the Fittest – Top Evolutionary Longshots.

     Step three… after heeding step two and not blowing yourself up, get a squirt bottle filled with a liberal amount of dish soap and water.   Squirt the soapy water on every fitting, hose and connection and watch closely.  Any leak in the propane line will begin to bubble up, immediately revealing it’s location.

     Surprisingly, there were two separate leaks.  One was a hose…leaking at the factory seam where the metal fitting joins the rubber hose.  The other was a threaded brass fitting that was leaking at the connection.

     The hose was toast.  No spares aboard.  But the fitting could be readily repaired. 

     Unfortunately, I lacked both a supply of propane fitting tape as well as the self-confidence needed to assess, undertake, and safely resolve propane repair issues, a potentially lethal outcome of which I was fully aware.

    Fortunately, S/V Avigna was anchored only two boats away.  Of course,  Jay had both the proper materials and self-confidence to show me what needed to be done. 

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Sealant and teflon tape specifically for propane/fuel applications

     In the end, after the fitting had been repaired, everything tested, and the belowdecks rooms fully aired out, our propane system was back in action.  Without a spare, the leaking hose could only be disconnected, leaving one hookup that could be switched between the two tanks as necessary… sweet.

     Jay also expressed confidence that:  Exit was probably not in any real danger of becoming a bomb… 

     Whew…

     Sure… any instance during which movement of a hose or fitting causes propane to hiss out needs instant attention.  

     However, Exit’s aluminum bulkhead behind the propane tanks provides substantial protection, and the bow locker in which the tanks are stored is integrated as part of the aluminum hull, isolated, and well vented.

     In Jay’s humble opinion, the worst that could happen is you blow the aluminum locker hatches clean off the deck.

     …Reassuring… I think.

At that very moment, it was not lost upon me that I am occasionally reminded of the misunderstanding which occurred when I was in the fourth grade resulting in my parents being summoned to the principal’s office amid reports of their son being involved in the attempted building of a bomb on school grounds… exaggerations and misrepresentations… Fake News, if you will… certainly outside the scope of this blog…

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