“Worse things happen at sea,” my mom used to say. She was right. My
dad would say, “The damn fool who designed this should be hanged” and he’d have
been right too, especially if he’d said that about my fuel tank.
Whoever designed it arranged things with evil cunning. First, the
builders built the hull, then installed the fuel tank, then put the decks on,
then joined it all together, so that there was no way the tank could be removed
except by cutting a hole in the boat. Can you believe that’s exactly what I
To give them credit, they did install a little drainage tap underneath
the tank. This was accessible, IF you were a midget, via a trap door at the
back end of the quarter berth, which you first had to empty, then unscrew and
of course the screws roll into the bilge. Then you had to stretch some (and my
arms are short). Of course, you had to remember to wedge a container
underneath, before you opened the tap, which was very difficult because there was
nowhere flat to put it. Guess what happened to the fuel?
Eventually the little tap seized up. Then my fuel lines started clogging
up. Into the quarter berth again. This time I undo a joint in the pipe, between
the first filter (and I had no fewer than three!) and the tank. Nothing gushes
out. I use a bit of clothes-hanger wire to prod. A bit of thick stuff, like
purple slimy-looking porridge appears. Smells foul. Now what? The answer is
obvious. Being a Brit, I make myself a cup of tea. Then – back to work.
Eventually, I discover that a length of curtain wire will poke all the way
through to the tank, clearing the stinky stuff. Celebrate this discovery with a
drop of Scotch.
This whole scenario was repeated on many occasions. Of course, every
time the engine cut out because the fuel line was clogged, I was always just
about to enter a harbour with a dangerous rocky entrance. It wasn’t all doom
and gloom, though; I became quite brilliant at bleeding the engine, and always
gave myself a little golden reward.
In the end, stronger action was called for, like cutting a hole in my
boat – right above the fuel tank. GRP’s easy to cut. Next stage was to cut a
hole directly below this one, out of the top of the tank. Bit of planning
needed. The hole had to be big enough for me to get my hand through, so I could
clean out the bottom of the tank. I drew a circle on the tank, got out some
metal-cutting bits for my drill and started.
So, what happened? Well, the circle of holes I was drilling somehow
turned itself into a wobbly oval shape, and the tank didn’t like what I was
doing and became a bit sort of buckled. In the end though, I thought the
unintentionally oval shape was pretty good as it made it easy for me to fish
the “circle” of metal from the bottom of the tank. After that I had a great
time cleaning out that tank; it looked like new.
Inside, I could see where the fuel line entered the tank. It had a
hook-like shape and I thought it seemed too close to the bottom of the tank. No
wonder it kept sucking up muck. I tried to saw a bit off, to raise its entry
hole, but I found that impossible.
10.0pt;font-family:”Times New Roman”‘>’Ah-ha’, I said to myself. ‘I’ll raise it
by adding a bit to it.’ After hours of trying various ideas, I gave up on that
Next problem: how to seal the tank? This turned out to be a major
difficulty. Took me days. I tried various materials, other than metal, but as
soon as I put to sea, the diesel seeped out. In the end I made a sort of gasket
with some rubbery stuff, plus the deformed metal “circle”, put bolts in from
underneath with the nuts on top, to hold it in place, using some of the holes
I’d drilled already. I used masses of gunge, Sikkaflex, and sealant tape. Off
to sea again. Not bad, really, just a little seepage.
Attending to the hole in the boat was easy. I used one of those big
plastic covers they sell for holes in sailing dinghy buoyancy tanks. It went on
beautifully. But….. I found I could not unscrew it! Ah well, sort that another
day. Let’s go sailing. This time I was cautious. I only filled the diesel tank
half full. After all, Moon River is a sailing boat. Who needs an engine!
As soon as I work out how to open that plastic cover, and after that
discover if I can open the hole in the tank, I should not have any future
problems with the purple porridge!
The “purple porridge” turned out to be a dense colony of those bacteria
who, incredibly to us, thrive on the interface between diesel and water. I had
been dosing my fuel with anti-bacterial stuff, but to judge from the evidence,
the bacteria seemed to love it!