Monthly Archives: August 2019

Diesel in the bilge? Isn’t it always something?

There are a few things that particularly stress me out when I am underway and one is when fuel and that is exactly what happened on my way home from the NYYC cruise last week.

I had been noticing some time now, that occasionally noticed a small amount of diesel was somehow accumulating in the bilge.

In the “olden days”, it was said that “all roads lead to Rome” and in a boat, well, just about everything ultimately ends up in the bilge and that’s exactly what happened aboard Pandora last week.

The last two days of my participation in the New York Yacht Club cruise and run home meant motor-sailing into snotty conditions and Pandora did a good deal of pounding.   That was particularly the case when I headed into the wind on my way home on Sunday with waves that were pretty choppy with west wind opposing a flooding current.

That day I noticed, as I had the prior day, that there was an increasing amount of diesel in the bilge combined with a really strong fuel odor.

I sopped up the residue in the bottom of the bilge with some absorbent pads and spent time tearing up hatch lockers and areas where I could access the bilge, trying to locate the source of the leak.  After several hours I still could not find the source except that it was probably coming from somewhere aft.

By the time I got Pandora to a mooring at the Essex Yacht Club, where she would be staying for a week or two, there was what appeared to be a few cups of diesel in the bilge.   I again mopped up the fuel with some “diapers”, buttoned up the boat and went home.

The next morning I returned and was alarmed that there was quite a bit of fuel, more than a few inches that had accumulated.  What a mess.

The only thing that I could think of was that one of the three 50 gallon fuel tanks, most likely the one under the cabin sole, had somehow sprung a leak.  I decided that the only option was to take all the remaining fuel out of the tank, almost 30 gallons, and put it into temporary Jerry cans.

I also pumped out all the fuel from the bilge and was alarmed that there turned out to be more than I expected, nearly seven gallons, all having leaked into the bilge overnight.  I am so glad that it didn’t pump overboard via the bilge pump which it didn’t do because I had packed a number of absorbent pads in the bilge, which held down the float switch on the pump.

Pulling up the floor boards was simpler than I had expected, exposing the entire tank.  It looked huge to me.  I could not find any obvious source that would lead to the loss of all that fuel.  I wondered if it was a loose hose or perhaps that there was an abrasion in a fuel line that was hidden somewhere out of sight.  A loose hose clamp?  What about the inspection port with all those screws?  None of the above. So, out came the tank.  Removing it took several hours but it wasn’t all that difficult and all the hoses came off fairly easily, lubricated by fuel, I guess.

Here’s what I found under the tank.  Yuck!  Clearly there had been a leak for some time. There was a nasty corroded spot on the bottom of the tank, located directly over the mess of fuel and crud on the hull.  It seems that someone had left a stainless screw under the tank when the boat was built and after 12 years electrolysis did it’s work and “ate” a hole in the aluminum tank.   Stainless screws, being a “noble metal” always wins over aluminum which is less noble and easily corroded.  Something as simple as a dropped screw in 2007, when Pandora was built, was all that it took. That combined with the fact that the tank was resting directly on the hull itself caused the problem.   The proper installation of the tank would be to have it resting on neoprene strips or something else to isolate it from direct contact with the fiberglass hull.  This way it would have been isolated from any abrasion, salt or errant fastenings that might be left under the tank.

I called around and only found one company that would consider welding a repair to the hole in the tank and that would have required me doing exhaustive cleaning to remove every trace of fuel and vapors from the tank.   Welding and fuel vapors are a dangerous combination, as you might imagine.

Finally, I settled on a body shop that does a lot of work with special adhesives, in this case, an epoxy made by 3M that is used to glue aluminum auto components together, something that is becoming more common in car assembly.   This material/glue is made specifically for aluminum and is also fuel resistant.   I neglected to take a shot of the finished repair but it involved grinding the surface, removing all oxidation, fitting an aluminum patch and liberally attaching it with epoxy.   Let’s hope it holds.

After the new patch was secured, the fixer guy, and he was a really big Russian fixer guy had at it.  I’ll call him Ivan as he looks exactly like you might imagine an Ivan to look, fixed the leak and after the epoxy to set, pressure tested the tank to be sure that there weren’t any pinhole leaks that might get bigger over time.  Unfortunately, in the process of pressurizing the tank,  he put in so much pressure that the tank bulged in a way that made me wonder if it would even fit back in the bilge.  At least we can be sure that it doesn’t leak.

“No problem” replied Ivan, who clearly subscribed to the “if it doesn’t work, get a bigger hammer” approach to life.  He proceeded to get a 2×6 plank, lay it on the tank and pound on it alarmingly and repetitively with a huge cinder block.  The sound was deafening and the violence startling.  It was pretty clear that Ivan wasn’t someone you’d want to mess with and I’ll admit that I found myself wondering, seeing how easily he seemed to feel slamming the block on the tank,  if that block has ever come into play if someone tried to leave his shop without paying.

Massive crashing sounds aside, the tank was only bulging a little bit after Ivan was finished.  However, I decided that I needed to find a “kinder and gentler” way to reshape things and did so with some big clamps and boards at home.  After a while, the tank looked pretty flat so I was happy.

In order to be sure that there aren’t future corrosion problems with the tank laying directly on the hull, I ordered some neoprene strips from McMaster Carr, the industrial supply company, and installed four strips on the bottom of the tank as well as anywhere that the tank was going to touch something. After putting all the hoses back in place, I reinstalled the floor braces, fiberglass “I” beams across the tank.  These are pressed down on additional neoprene gaskets to ensure that the tank was not going to move around in rough conditions.

I reattached all the hoses and, well, all done. After putting the cabin sole back in place, I siphoned all the fuel back into the tank, less the 7 gallons, mixed with nasty bilge water, that I took from the bilge and voila, good as new.   Actually, I am hoping better than new.

I’ll admit that I am now wondering if a similar fate awaits the two other tanks, located under the port and starboard settees but I really hate the idea of pulling them out right now.  We will see if I live to regret that decision.  I expect that I will be thinking of possible leaks when I am 500 miles offshore on my way to Antigua in a few months.

So there you have it, disaster avoided.  Thank goodness that I wasn’t in the middle of nowhere and loosing a full tank of fuel.  That would not have been a good thing.

Next, the watermaker.  With parts coming in the next few days, I can tackle this and hopefully get it running again.

Diesel in the bilge, watermaker on the fritz.  Yes, when it comes to boats, it is indeed, always something.

The NYYC cruise, 163rd edition. Been there done that…

Well, it’s over, the 163rd cruise of the New York Yacht Club, my first, and I’m back home.  No, I haven’t joined the club as my involvement in the cruise was as a “hanger on” or tender to one of the race boats, Alix.  Here’s Alix before one of the races below.  Not much of an action shot, you say?  Perhaps not as I had to skedaddle to the next anchorage each day to be sure that I was able to get a good spot so they could tie up with me at the end of racing each day.Along with a good supply of moral and anchoring support, I also supplied water for the crew to shower aboard Pandora, well, at least until my water-maker stopped functioning about midway through the week.  Of course, that was in addition to an occasional rum punch and Klondike ice cream bar for the crew.  However, expect that the showers trumped everything else.  Nothing like a shower for the crew after a day of racing on the water but somehow ice cream aboard Pandora seemed to be a close second.

The whole experience was a lot of fun but, I’ll admit that it sometimes felt a bit like a “forced march” as the fleet made it’s way from harbor to harbor on a tight schedule and ALWAYS into the wind.  Isn’t that always the way, the wind on the nose?  To me, cruising on a tight schedule always feels like “you can’t get there from here”.

In only one week we covered a lot of ground, moving every day but one, beginning and ending at their clubhouse, Harbor Court in Newport, the NYYC “summer home” overlooking Newport Harbor.  It’s a spectacular venue.  Day one took us to Cuttyhunk Harbor, a place that holds a very special history for me as I have have visited it with every one of our boats, beginning way back in the early 80s on our 20′ catboat Tao.  It was also a spot I visited with my boys and dad a few years before he died. It was the last time he was aboard and a very special time for us all.  Here’s Dad,  Rob and Chris photographed with me at the highest point on the island.  This photo always makes me feel a bit teary.The crew of Pandora and Alix shared some of the famous Cuttyhunk oysters on in the harbor washed down by some “Pandora imported” Caribbean rum fueled rum punch. Our next stop was New Bedford, a somewhat gritty, but in a nice way, fishing port.  This is the view from the observation deck of the New Bedford Whaling Museum, where we had a terrific cocktail party. The food and drink flowed liberally.
As I entered the harbor earlier in the day, I was passed by Columbia, the reproduction of a Grand Banks fishing schooner built in Panama City FL.  I was aboard her for a tour in Antigua two winters ago.  She’s a wonderful yacht.  I wrote about her in this post. She’s even more impressive up close after her most recent refit. I particularly love this angle.  What beautiful lines. The next day, and yes, we were only there for one day, was to head to Edgartown on Martha’s Vineyard.  Happily, we spent two days there, our only “lay day”.

This was where we had a reception, overlooking the harbor.  It seems that this “double lot” is owned by a NYYC member.  When Walter Cronkite was alive, he was his next door neighbor.   Nice digs. Really, really nice digs.   How about that double nice boat house?Pandora was on a mooring directly out in front of the place, tied up with Brilliant, another boat on the cruise.  Her owners also happen to be members of the Essex Yacht Club.   There family has deep ties to Edgartown, deep enough to snag a mooring in the most perfect spot imaginable it seems. We took a Edgartown Yacht Club launch to the reception.  There’s Pandora rafted with Brilliant on a mooring directly beyond the boathouse and to the right. Perfect location, right?It was a lovely summer evening and a perfect spot to survey the harbor.  Jacket and “Nantucket red” slacks required.   I now have both shorts and slacks in that particular color. The next day was a “lay day” so we could enjoy Edgartown, one of my favorite spots to visit before the “march” got underway again.  Interestingly, Pandora’s “sistership”, hull #2 of three, has a slip there for part of the summer.  She is owned by two attorneys from PA, one keeps a home in Edgartown and the other near three mile harbor, in the Hamptons.   She’s the same design as Pandora but different in many ways, including a much smaller hard dodger and none of the cruising gear that is so important on Pandora.  She is perfectly maintained.  I wish my decks were as perfect as hers.

I understand that she will be in 3 mile harbor later this season and I hope to raft up to her for an evening.  I expect that will be the very first time that two of the three boats will ever have been together.  I wonder if I can arrange for #1 to be there too?  That would be amazing.   Hmm…Craig and I took a walking tour of some of the historic homes in Edgartown, arranged through the Carnegie library, the headquarters of the Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust that oversees a number of historic sites on the island.  They do wonderful work.  The background of the Carnegie is quite interesting as the building was one of thousands of libraries funded by the philanthropists in the early 20th century.

We visited a number of spots on our 90 min walking tour.  I have always admired this particular one, once owned by a prominent physician and now part of the trust.   I can not think of any porch that I’d rather spend time on than this one.  I took a long walk around town on my own.  There are so many lovely homes and beautiful gardens to admire.How about this ivy covered garage.   The gardens at many of the homes make it clear that they are not managed by their owners, who probably get plenty of “exercise” writing checks. Our next stop was Tarpaulin Cove on the west side of Naushon.   This cove, more of an “indent” on the eastern side of the island, was once a popular spot for schooners to anchor and wait for the tides around West Chop, Martha’s Vineyard, a place where the tide runs hard.    It is very secluded and while it’s private, as part of the Forbes Family Trust that controls the island, you can enjoy the long sandy beaches that rim the cove for nearly a mile.

There is only one home visible from the cove, and it is a lovely one at that.
And, of course, a charming lighthouse. Many of the boats on the cruise stopped in the cove for the night.Some of the yachts on the cruise were remarkable including this lovely yawl, Bolero.  She was built at the Nevins Yard in City Island, launched in 1949 for the Brown family.  The same Brown University family and once owners of the NYYC clubhouse, Harbor Court, in Newport.  This is indeed a famous yacht.  I met her current owner Ed, at a cocktail party the night we were in Tarpaulin Cove aboard Enticer, this beautiful 1935 Trumpy.    We spoke about Bolero and he offered me a tour which I enjoyed when we returned to Newport.  I’ll write about that visit in a subsequent post.  Man, what a boat. Anyway, back to Enticer.  Notice that there is a boat rafted up to her.  That’s Onawa, one of six identical boats built at the Abeking & Rasmussen yard in Germany.  The design was the original model for the America’s Cup 12 meter rule for members of the NYYC.    Onawa was launched in 1928 for Cameron Forbes of Boston, once an owner of the island where we were anchored.  The island is still in the Forbes family.

Both of these boats, Enticer and Onawa, are part of a “timeshare” program that you can “buy” for $200,000 and use them for a prescribed amount of time each year.  Interested?  Check out this link and she could be yours, sort of.

I was aboard Enticer a few years ago at the Wooden Boat Show and wrote about her in this post.

So, cocktails aboard Enticer… What an experience and quite different than when I saw her at the Wooden Boat Show.   On this visit my tender was “valet parked” by one of her crew.  They held my painter when I pulled up to her boarding platform and then she was whisked away only to be returned when I was ready to depart.   “Welcome aboard Enticer, would you care for a drink?”  Indeed, what an experience. Some of the crew of Alix, including my friend Craig  David, the owner and skipper of Alix, David, to the left. Onawa, rafted alongside, was open for tours.  I met her captain Barb and we talked about the history of the yacht.   She was headed to Nantucket for a charter the next week and there was some discussion about my helping out as crew.  I would have loved that but my schedule was too tight.  Alas, the busy life of a retired guy.  So much for the lazy days of summer.   Had I been available, would I have been invited?  I guess I’ll never know.   I really hope to visit Onawa again and take some proper photos for a post.   Until then, follow this link for some background about this amazing boat.The next morning the sun rose, framing one of the beautiful carbon cats that were on the cruise.  This one had passed me a few days earlier doing nearly 20kts.
A short while later Bolero sailed majestically out of the harbor, headed back to Newport.  Now, that’s another boat I hope to sail on someday.  Her captain, Casey, told me that she will be in the Caribbean this winter.   I will too.   Hmm…
Unlike Bolero, my run back to Newport wasn’t all that great, motorsailing into the wind.  The wrap-up dinner for the cruise was held, as was the opening night, at Harbor Court.  A cocktail party followed by a lobster dinner with all the trimmings.  Dinner was brought out family style by a line of waiters holding platters dramatically high over their heads, marching along in a line.  It was quite a spectacle and plenty tasty. Of course, each place had a printed menu in the unlikely event that you did not know what you were eating or perhaps forgot why you were there.  The Key Lime Tartlet, complete with some sort of crunchy green thing on top, “how dey do dat?”  lived up to it’s name.  Unfortunately, I was limited to only one piece.  Never the less, yum!!!So, there you have it a blow by blow, or as my father used to say “perhaps more than you want to know about penguins”, of the 163rd edition of the New York Yacht Club cruise and I was there.  There of course, largely due to the generous support of my “sponsor” David, surely helped along by the fact that he and his crew needed a shower.   Happy to oblige David.  Thanks for having me along.

Oh, just so you don’t think that the week was all fun and games, as I made my way back to Newport one of my fuel tanks started to leak and ended up spilling nearly 10 gallons of diesel into the bilge.  After hours of searching I was able to trace the leak to my aft 50 gallon fuel tank ripped up much of the cabin sole and removed it a few days ago.    It seems that someone left a stainless screw loose under the aluminum tank when Pandora was built in 2007.  Well, over the years the stainless screw,  a more “nobel” metal than the aluminum tank it was touching, ate a small hole in the bottom of the tank as a result of electrolysis.

Well, the tank is now out for repair  and I’ll put it back in tomorrow followed by  all the fuel I siphoned out of the tank into jugs.  Hopefully, the tank will be ok and not leak.  I will say that I did notice a small amount of fuel in the bilge from time to time and never thought much of it but I guess that the bouncy ride back to Newport and home must have jostled the tank enough to shift the screw and open up the hole just enough to substantially increase the leak.   What a mess.  The good news is that I wasn’t 500 miles from shore when it happened.

More to come on that project.  Oh yeah, and the repair of the watermaker.  It’s always something.  As they say, BOAT.  Break Out Another Thousand.

So, to close on a more serene note, well more serene than 10 gallons of diesel in the bilge, here’s the evening scene that greeted me as I headed up the CT River and Essex, where Pandora will be for about a week until she heads to Stamford for some paint work.  Once moored, Brenda joined me for cocktails as we enjoyed the growing twilight over the marshes.

A good week, except, of course, 10 gallons of diesel…

Nope, all good.

Tender too…but not that tender.

I headed back to Newport on Saturday to participate in the week long New York Yacht Club cruise with some friends.   My friend Craig has been crewing for David aboard Alix on the cruise for a number of years and this year, knowing that Brenda was away this week at a workshop, suggested to David that I might come along and help out, perhaps as tender.

David’s boat is 40′ and pretty tight quarters for 5 guys racing every day and bunking together each night.  I doubt that they have a whole lot of water as David works hard to keep weight down so make that 5 sweaty, unwashed guys.

A benefit of having me along is that I can go ahead and secure a mooring or good anchoring spot so that he can just tie up to me as I’ll already be secured.   The first test of my value was yesterday when I arrived in Cuttyhunk early enough to get a mooring and all that David had to do was to catch my lines and tie up.  The mooring field in the inner harbor there is impossibly tight and picking up the mooring alone was a bit challenging.  Having a large audience ready to applaud any mistakes made it that much more fun.  Picking up the mooring proved to be as exciting as I had feared as the boats are moored very closer together and Pandora is on the larger size of boats in that area.  There isn’t much more than 15′ to port and perhaps 20 to starboard with only a boat length behind me.  Picking it up alone was  a real case of threading the needle.

When Alix and crew arrived a few hours later they were plenty happy to take showers, using some of my RO water.  Speaking of that, I had a major leak yesterday on the fresh water “product” side with perhaps 5 gallons or more spraying all over the workshop area, soaking the rug, tools and spare parts as well as filling some of the lockers with water.  I noticed it when  I realized that the tank wasn’t filling as expected.  I checked and was stunned by the mess.  Fortunately, the water was fresh and  I was able to put a lot of wet stuff on deck where the intense sun dried things up in a few hours.   That certainly made for a more sweaty run than I had expected.  No harm done and the tanks are full.

Anyway, it’s going to be interesting to be a part of a cruise with over 100 boats that has been held for over 160 years.

Saturday evening’s kickoff event was cocktails on the lawn at Harbor Court, the Newport clubhouse of the NYYC.   It’s quite a building, once the private home of the Brown family, founders of Brown University.   Not a bad spot to have a G&T on the lawn.  Sorry, no photos of the event.  I expect that the group would have frowned on  paparazzi.  I was surprised to find that I knew quite a few folks that were attending.  As an aside, I approached one woman that I knew pretty well from Essex Yacht Club and when she saw me, probably out of shock, said “what are you doing here?”, seeming to suggest that I had somehow just showed up and crashed the party, knowing that I was not a NYYC member.  Unfazed, I chirped “Pandora will be acting as tender to a club member’s boat”.  Not sure she was convinced.

I arranged for a mooring near the clubhouse from the Ida Lewis Yacht Club.  I’ve never stopped there and had heard very nice things about the club.  It’s very charming.  The club is named for a famous lighthouse keeper that manned a lighthouse on the same pile of rocks in Newport Harbor.  She was revered for her bravery in rescuing sailors that came to ill in the harbor.    She received many awards from the USCG including their highest honor.

In the upstairs of the clubhouse is a light in an alcove, I expect honoring her.  The clubhouse is approached via a long walkway from shore that seems endless.It is a charming clubhouse and perfectly maintained. Brenda would love this image and would probably agree that it would make a great subject for a tapestry. What a view of Newport from their deck. And what better place to watch all the action from.  This Trumpy is Enticer, sistership to the once presidential yacht Sequoia.  And, of course, a perfect view of Pandora, not far away from the Ida Lewis clubhouse. How about this beautiful S boat.  She’s perfect. On my way into the harbor I passed this classic 12 meter America’s Cup boat out on a day charter. And this super modern cat. As I left the Newport Harbor yesterday this monster arrived.  It’s only two years old and is over 250′ long.  She was built in Germany for Joe Lewis, not the boxer and cost $250,000,000.  And, she takes 25 crew to run her and take car of up to 16 guests.  This yacht is in addition to his private jet, chopper and a few homes, including a huge spread in Argentina.  I guess that’s what you can buy if you’ve amassed a fortune of nearly $6,000,000,000.

When I wrote my last post, Brenda and I had just returned from our cruise with our friends and left Pandora at a mooring in Wickford.  We rented a car and I did a whirlwind run home to cut the lawn, water the plants and provision for this week’s cruise.  It was a real rush as we didn’t arrive home until dinner time and I had to return the car before 4 the next day.

I spent Friday night back aboard in Wickford, perhaps one of my favorite spots anywhere.  Very friendly and homey. I expect that the Lab on this paddle board feels the same, probably thinking, “this is my BEST DAY EVER!”  Well, either that or “I wonder when I’ll get another cookie?  that would make today my BEST DAY EVER”This home at the entrance of  Wickford harbor is particularly charming.  Before I close, a bit of housekeeping.  Pandora sports a stainless steel anchor and a galvanized steel anchor chain.  The problem is that when stainless and galvanized chain are linked there is a tendency to have the first few chain links loose their galvanizing due to electrolysis because stainless is a much more “noble” metal.   Each year I have to cut off a few links to remove the ones that have become rusted.   It’s not hard to see that this isn’t a good thing.   What to do?I borrowed a bolt cutter from the yard and clipped them off.  It was alarmingly easy.  What a scary pair of scissors. So, an experiment.  I secured two small sacrificial zincs, designed to corrode easily and save the more important metals from damage.   It’s not a perfect solution but I hope it will help.  I’ll report back on that.
So, here I am getting ready to hang out with the “big boys”, and I wonder how many of them will look at me and say “what are you doing here?”.   Not to worry, I know, I am acting as tender and know my place.  Wish me luck.   Good thing my ego isn’t all that tender.