Q: What the heck is that?
A: That's the gunk from the previously inaccessible center fuel tank. It's not fuel. It's water with a little fuel floating on top.
Q: How much was in there?
A: I'd guess that it was about 30-35 gallons of fluid. The picture looks like 5¼ gallons of water to ¾ gallon of fuel. So there was probably about 30 gallons of gunk and 5 gallons of fuel in the tank.
Q: Aren't you supposed to sample each fuel tank each season to check for water?
Q: Why didn't you?
A: The center fuel tank was difficult to access, making it intimidating. The boatyard folks advised us to (a) remove the fridge compressor and (b) pull up the floor board. We moved the compressor, but couldn't pull up the floor. However, that appeared to be sufficient for a skilled mechanic to get the access plate off, take a few pictures, and determine that the tank wasn't worth a lot of labor.
The view aft in the tank is a bit hard to interpret. Mostly, the things you see are the back of the tank, the baffle and a seriously corroded place. The corrosion is from bilge water pooling on the top of the tank.
Q: What are you going to do about it?
A: That's a complex question, I'm glad you asked.
Q: Seriously. Is this a repair or a replace job?
Q: If you don't repair or replace, what's the alternative?
A: The Whitby 42 design called for 210 gallons of fuel storage, spread among three tanks. Red Ranger was built with only two of the three available tanks.
Mr. Lehman uses about 1 gph to move at a minimum of 7 kn; 210 gallons of fuel would give a cruising range of 1,470 nautical miles (1,700 statue miles.) It's 631 nm to Bermuda. As designed, you could drive a Whitby to Bermuda and back on the available fuel.
Red Ranger (in principle) appeared to hold 130 gallons of fuel with a motoring range of 910 miles. What she actually holds is 75 gallons of fuel with a motoring range of 525 nm. Not quite enough to motor all the way to Bermuda. We'd be forced to sail for part of the trip.
In short, our best strategy for the short term is to drain the center tank, fix the gasket on the cover to limit moisture intrusion to the extent possible, and otherwise ignore it for the next few years.
Q: What about longer trips? How will you cope?
A: Folks have circumnavigated on boats with no engine at all. Mr. Lehman is—no offense intended—a diesel auxiliary. Red Ranger is a sail boat with an engine to help in tight situations. We could (and probably should) tow her around with the dinghy to manage tight places.
The ICW trip to the Florida keys is 1,243 statute miles. We'd have to fill up at marinas to motor down to Florida.
Q: How could you replace or repair?
A: There are two versions of the Sawzall™ Strategy open to us. One choice is to take a Sawzall to the hull and remove the tank, replacing it with a polyethylene tank of approximately the same size and a more intelligently designed bilge drain to avoid water running into the tank. Re-glassing that giant patch on a 30-year old hull was discouraged by our boatyard.
A better choice is to do the following. (1) Remove the binnacle (and steering). (2) Remove the entire cockpit. (3) Remove Mr. Lehman and his posse (Warner and The PL.) (4) Take the Sawzall to the top of the tank. (5) Remove the tank's interior baffles. (6) Fabricate a polyethylene tank that fits inside the existing aluminum tank structure. (7) Reassemble the boat.
The second approach would have to be paired up with something like replacing the hydraulics in the steering or changing the engine mounts or some other, similar refit work to justify the cost and complexity of removing the engine.
Q: How will you work around the devastating loss of the center tank?
A: Motor less. Fill up more. That seems easy.
More sensibly, however, there's plenty of room for adding two smallish tanks on the port side. A low-slung 30 gallon aluminum or polyethylene tank could be added to the bottom of the lazarette without giving up too much storage. Since the lazarette floor has a complex slope, a custom-made tank might be better than a stock tank. The lazarette tank would need a sturdy frame to prevent damage. A 20-gallon "side tank" or "wedge tank" could fit inside the engine room.
An in-the-engine-room tank would require replacing the gigantic Crosby refrigeration system with something smaller like a Cool Blue system. In addition to being large, the Crosby is also complex and dated. It includes both 110V AC and engine-driven compressors. Almost any newer 12V DC system will be more efficient. A pure 12V system can be coupled with a solar panel to provide compact, efficient and simpler refrigeration.
We already have 3-way fuel tank selectors, so we can have a total of three permanent tanks without adding any complex plumbing. We already have fuel level gauges in the cockpit for three tanks.
Further, adding a nice Reverso 311 pump and two ⅜" three-way selector valves would create a tank transfer/fuel polishing system that would improve engine reliability. We could put new fuel into the port and starboard tanks. Then we could use use the transfer pump to move fuel through the 30 micron filter into the 20-gallon "day tank" in the engine room. Older salts have suggested wiring in a momentary switch just for the purpose of pushing a little fuel through the system to make it easier to bleed air out.
Q: How did you feel about this?
A: At first, we were in Denial: "Red Ranger is fine". When the fuel filters gunked up (Gang aft agley) we moved to Bargaining: "Another filter change, and we'll be fine." When the fuel likes cracked (Hubris? Or a Sharedown Cruise?) and we moved into Anger: "Stupid fuel system". When when the fuel tank feed lines jammed up totally (Easter and Rebirth, Fuel System Hacks) we arrived at Depression: "Red Ranger is too much boat." Now that the center tank is dead, we're at Acceptance.
That leads us to the boaters prayer