Sometimes we do things that are completely stupid. Sometimes less completely stupid. And once in a while, we make something good out of something abysmally dumb.
The filler for the fuel is in a low-spot on the starboard side of the deck, almost as low as the scupper drain. That means that fueling when there's anything like rain in the air will introduce water into the fuel tank. Of course, we don't fill the starboard water tank while fueling; this should prevent getting water into the fuel.
These precautions — of course — don't prevent all the stupid ways to get water into the fuel.
Today's job was to siphon the 25 gallons of fuel we carry on deck into the main tank. We'll refill the deck jugs prior to going north. The on-deck fuel dates from last August, more-or-less. It's not that diesel goes bad as quickly as gasoline. But there's no reason to let it degrade by storing it for too long.
So the procedure is this.
Move the jug from the storage position lashed to the lifelines into the cockpit. (They're 40 pounds; some care is required.)
Drop the siphon hose into the jug. Put the other end of the siphon into the fuel filler on deck.
Squeeze the pump bulb a few times to get fuel flowing.
Go do something else for 5 minutes while it siphons.
However. (And this is a big however.)
Salt and dirt collect under the fuel jugs.
What to do while waiting for fuel to transfer?
I've got a brilliant idea. Brilliant. (Really. Brilliant.)
I'll wash down the space under the fuel jugs.
Where does that wash-water go? It flows down the deck to the scupper drains. The scupper drain which is just a few inches from the fuel filler hole.
After a few buckets, I look at the water is cascading down the deck.
And — I realize with a shock — the fuel tank cover is open. (Ahem. I was transferring fuel, right?)
Water. In. The. Fuel. Tank.
Water in the fuel is the first thing that's Immediately Fatal to diesel engines.
The second thing that's fatal is particulate crud; that usually gets caught in the filters. Water is a bit more pernicious than particulate crud and can wind up going through both sets of filters and killing an injector. The Racor filters we have should do enough water separation, but… Prevention beats cure. Every time.
Diesel = Air + Fuel + Compression. Air is difficult to cut off. Compression can be compromised through blown rings or valves: the kind of serious mechanical problem that is rare except when you take the damn thing apart. Fuel is the biggest concern. Water and Particulates in the fuel being very important considerations.
And I've put water into the fuel tank.
Breathe: Stop Screaming
Okay. I'm breathing. What do I do?
It turns out, I've already solved this problem.
When we first got Red Ranger, I needed to see what was at the bottom of the fuel tank. So I bought some fuel hose and a fuel pump squeeze bulb, and a big old brass bushing that was heavy enough to pull the fuel hose out straight.
That's the exact hose I'm currently using to siphon fuel from the jerry jugs on deck into the fuel tank. I can use this hose to sample the bottom of the fuel tank.
Once the siphoning was done, I did this: take the inspection port off the tank, drop the siphon hose to the bottom, and use the squeeze bulb to see if there's water in there!
Well. Let's not be too hasty.
Pumping up fluids from the tank into a handy clear glass jar, I got 20 oz. of water decorated with two oz. of fuel. And it's mighty clear-looking water.
Clear water is what I just slopped down there. Perhaps this is to be expected. The real test is to taste it to see if it's as salty as Biscayne Bay. Thanks no. Not doing that.
Checking the fuel is something I should be doing annually. Or, more accurately, something I should have been doing annually. I'm doing it today. So that's an improvement, right?
The second jar turned up about 10 oz. of water and 10 oz. of fuel. Less water is good.
Also, this water seems to be somewhat darker. More crud coming up, maybe?
Getting all the water out is challenging because I can't reliably toss this piece of hose into the tank and have it actually find the deep spot. I have to assume that there's always some residual water below my sampling hose. The trick is to keep the water level below the actual fuel pickup.
The third jar turned up about 4 oz. of water. The rest of the jar filled with fuel. I watched the meniscus between fuel and water stay down at the 4 oz. line on the jar as I pumped up 16 oz. of additional liquid, which was almost entirely fuel.
Maybe it's just the light in the picture, but that water looks even darker still. Is this the last of the crud?
Some part of this stupidity may have actually been good.
Let's pretend that there was already some water in the fuel. I certainly splashed some water in. But maybe there was already some water there.
Dialing down the panic (and the cursing,) maybe this was simply a maintainance chore that was on the annual schedule. Maybe I was just doing what needed to be done.
That's the ticket. I was just doing the needful: removing water from the fuel tank.
The Prop and Zinc Inspection
Another semi-annual task is checking the prop and zinc. CA tracked down my snorkel gear and I dove the prop to check on the zinc.
Here's the unretouched photograph of the prop shaft. (Go Pro Hero3 video frame capture. Very handy to document this sort of thing.)
Notice anything wrong?
More accurately, you don't see it, roight?
There's no sacrificial zinc in that picture.
Not a corroded zinc, barely hanging on by a few threads. Not a ball of zinc that's half gone, but should still be replaced.
No zinc. Nada. Nothing. Zilch. Zero Zinkage!
That means that Red Ranger's below-the-waterline metal bits are all slowly doing their little galvanic dance and leaching important metals into the seawater.
I called Fredy at A1 Boat Care (786-985-7361) Tuesday morning. He called back Tuesday noonish. At 13:00, he was at the Dinner Key Mooring dock with his tank, tools and zinc. By 14:00 Red Ranger had a zinc on the shaft doing what sacrificial zinc anodes are supposed to do — giving up metals more quickly than the other metals exposed to salt water.
The normal schedule is to check the zincs every six months. Previous zincs lasted more than six months. Last year, for example, I changed the zinc myself while we were at Staniel Cay in the Bahamas; it was just over six months old and perhaps only half gone.
No idea what went wrong with this one. We put it on in the boatyard in Deltaville. "Amazing Progress, How Sweet the Sound".
The good news is that the propellor is very clean. Not a lot of barnacle growth there. The paint seems to be holding up well. We could use a scrub. Perhaps I should have employed Fredy to give the hull a good scrub. But I was too panicked about the zinc issue to think the whole thing through.