Wednesday, April 27, 2011

IN THE TANK: Part One, Scene of the grime!

If you've got a diesel engine on your boat you've probably got a fuel tank somewhere. It's probably tucked away in some out of the way place on your boat. If your are lucky you have an inspection port already installed. But, many if not most production boats do not. Why? Because it cost extra money and time for the builders to install it. But, if I were buying a new boat or even just buying a new fuel tank I would have one installed knowing what I know now. Follow Capt. Mike as he goes into the tank and you'll see why.

I stopped using and carrying diesel fuel on BIANKA three years ago. I drained the fuel tank as part of the conversion to electric propulsion. My ASMO MARINE electric propulsion system has no need of diesel fuel so the tank has been  empty since the spring of 2008. This year I decided to start converting the empty unused diesel fuel tank on board into a fresh water rinse tank so that I could use the water to clean and rinse down the cockpit on extended days at anchor. That is if I can get it cleaned out enough.

Fuel tanks look like they have to meet some particular standards by the authorities if the label on BIANKA's is any indication:

For good reasons. The authorities really would rather not deal with too many boat fires and explosions. Rescues on the water are hard enough with boats that are not on fire or scattered into a thousand pieces all over the harbor. So these standards are a good thing.
The first step in the conversion process on BIANKA was to use an inspection camera to see if the tank had a baffle installed. This was important to know because I wanted to have an inspection port on the converted tank to inspect and be able to clean the inside of the tank easily. If there was a baffle in the tank it would limit my choices of where to install the inspection port. Happily,  there was no baffle so that meant I could install the port where ever I wanted. I choose to place it roughly in the center of the tank. Since I would not be using the old diesel fuel sender anymore either I made sure that the hole cut for the inspection port would encompass the cutout for the defunct fuel sender port too. CAPT. MIKE NOTE: I will be posting about installing the inspection port in a later post. You can see the location I chose in the photo below:

After cutting the hole I was able to get a better look and more importantly better access to the inside of the tank. What I found was not pretty. The fuel tank on BIANKA is the original fuel tank built in May of 1986. I had always used a biocide since I purchased the boat in 1995 in order to keep the conditions inside the tank so the organisms that can grow in the tank would not become a filter clogging issue. Likewise I always changed the primary and secondary fuel filters every 50 hours or once a season which ever came first. So I was surprised to see when I opened up the tank how coated the bottom of the tank was:

It is kind of hard to tell  in this photo but, this is one of the upper corners of the tank which slopes downward. The whole bottom of the tank was covered with this grime. The white specks are particles of sand that entered the tank over the twenty two years the tank was in use. This is the stuff that you hear about that gets stirred up in rough seas causing fuel filters to clog and the engines to stop just when you might need them most. The entire bottom of the tank was coated with this grime. The sides however looked relatively clean as you can see below:

 Below is a photo of where I used my glove to smear the grime a little:

Remember this is three years after the tank was drained of diesel. It's sticking pretty good but, can be wiped off pretty easily, IF you have access to the tank. Which I now do thanks to the hole for the inspection port I cut. Below is a photo of the lower forward corner of the fuel tank. You can see the fuel pickup tube quite easily and the little bit of sludge that the tube failed to pick up when I drained the tank as well as the grime coating the bottom of the tank in the foreground:

This grime surprise greeted me and I'm sure many others if only they could see what has accumulated in their boats fuel tanks over the years. Happily, for me once this is cleaned up I won't have to worry about it again thanks to my electric propulsion system.

Where to start? I decided that the best course of action is to try and use some heavy duty paper towels to try and clean as much of this grime as possible first. So I bought a box of Scott Rags in a Box for this phase. I like use the Rags in a Box because it is easier to pull a clean towel out of the box with dirty gloved hands than deal with a loose roll of paper towels. So I started to scrub the bottom of the tank with the paper towels and made some good progress. I then found the saturating the towels with some full strength Simple Green cleanser helped things move along much faster. You can see the difference between in the photo below:

Having cut the eight inch access port really helped in cleaning this stuff up. Though even with the eight inch hole there was still one corner that was just barely out of reach:

But, I think  if I just use a small brush as an extension even this area can be cleaned up easily. Below is a photo of the fuel pickup area. You can compare it with an earlier view two photos above

Well not bad for the first pass. But, it is still a Dirty Job as you can see here from the paper towels I'm holding:

I'll post more about cleaning out the fuel tank as the project progresses.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Years ago I read a book called SOUL OF A NEW MACHINE  . It chronicled the story of a company and the people who were building a new computer back in the late seventies. In the book one overworked burnt out engineer after dealing with digital signals moving around and circuits switching in nanosecond time frames decided he had had enough. He quit and left a note on the computer screen in his cubicle. The note read something like: 'I refuse to deal with any time frame shorter than a season from now on.'  Seems like a good idea to me.

Some people use the sighting of birds to signal the start of a new season. This sailor uses other signs. The cockpit of BIANKA becomes my personal crows nest when the boat is on land for the winter season. From there I can look out over the harbor and see the signs. The town requires that all boats (except the commercial fisherman) vacate the harbor and all moorings have to be pulled and inspected before next season. So the harbor takes on a rather stark look in mid winter from my vantage point:

Then one day I go to the boat look out over the harbor and there it is. The first boat of the season tied up to it's mooring. To me it's like seeing the first Robin returning in the spring. 

Then a few days later another one mysteriously appears to keep the first arrival company:


Sunday, April 17, 2011


While an inspection camera may not be as used on board as often as say an Irwin 9 in 1 Multi Tool Screwdriver. It does work where other tools will not. There are many areas on a boat that once it is put together make it very difficult to get to and inspect. An  Inspection camera (borescope) is just the thing to use get to those places on board and without injury as you attempt to contort the body to look at places you can't normally easily get to for a visual inspection.

When I converted BIANKA to Electric Propulsion back in 2008 I drained the 30 gallon on board fuel tank of it's diesel fuel. I always had it in the back of my mind to convert the now empty tank into a freshwater wash down tank. So that on an extended cruise I might from time to time use it to rinse off after a swim or clean  and rinse the cockpit with fresh water without heading to a dock.  One of the things I wanted to do in making the conversion was to install an inspection/clean out port in the tank. But where to locate it? I was concerned that the fuel tank might have a baffle in it. If that was the case the location of the inspection port would be dictated by location and construction of the baffle. By using an  Inspection camera
I would be able to quickly find this information out. Below is a picture of the assembled camera:

The video monitor just slides onto the handle. Though on some models it can be used in a wireless mode detached from handle. I prefer to operate on the handle. 

The fuel tank had only one opening that was big enough to get a look inside. That was where the fuel sender unit was located:

But, even that was not that big of an opening. I might have been able to use a small inspection mirror. But, I'd also have to get some light in through the hole too with the chance of dropping either or both of the tools into the tank. With  the  inspection camera I used had none of these issues as it easily fit through the fuel sender opening and I could inspect the tank in a comfortable position:

By adjusting the camera snake and moving the handle I was able to quickly see there was no baffle in the fuel tank. [CAPT. MIKE NOTE: The images shown below are much clearer and have less glare when looking at LCD monitor screen directly as these images using an external camera.]
 I was also able to inspect various areas inside the tank such as the air vent fitting and the pickup point for my on board Espar diesel furnace which I will also remove when I convert the tank to freshwater:

I was also able to easily inspect the welds inside the tank too:

In short an inspection camera can be very useful on board to inspect water and fuel tanks and other areas of your boat that are not easily accessible. Besides the hand held typeof Inspection camera
 that I use there are other  types available like a USB model that connect to your laptop computer. Whichever you choose I think you will find that it is a helpful addition to the tools you have on board one that can help make difficult jobs in areas with limited access much easier. 

Friday, April 15, 2011


Since it's "tax day" here in the states it's time to "scribble away and balance the books" and sing an accountancy shanty:

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


 It's been a while since Capt. Mike has smelled the salt air. So when the first mate suggested we take a little early spring three day trip out to Chincoteague Island in Virginia it seemed like a excellent idea. It's sure been a cold, cold winter up here on the Isle of Long. But, a nice weather window opened up recently so we jumped at it.
Just before we drove the new over water causeway we crossed Wallops Island. A fairly big NASA facility where they actually do from time to time launch rockets:

"In 1889, Wallops Island was bought and converted into a vacation destination for a handful of wealthy families from Pennsylvania, who, in turn, sold the island to the federal government in the 1940s. Once in the hands of NASA the island was transformed into a center for the high-tech development of rockets, missiles, and the means for space travel. From weather balloons and Tiamat missiles to aerodynamics and hurricane research, the Wallops Island Flight Facility and its predecessors have been instrumental in the evolution and success of the American space program."

But, what interested Capt. Mike is that there is also a NOAA facility here that keeps track of and recieves data/images from the weather satellites that we sailors  now access via the Internet. So the satellite images I see on my computer screen first come through this facility here on Wallops Island. Who knew?

After checking into the hotel on Chincoteague it was a quick ten minute ride to Assateague Island and a walk on the beach which is part of the National Park system. While I doubt if I would try to come here during the height of the summer. During these early spring days we had the beach to ourselves:

Looking down one is reminded of the local cash crop in the surrounding waters and can make one hunger for a nice bowl or Oyster or Clam chowder to counter any chill in the air:

 Those signs are everywhere:

I never did get the story on this misplaced can from the Island of Long. Perhaps it was obtained by those here on Chinoteague to do research on the compettion a long time ago.

The old swing bridge from the 1940's that ran into the center of Main Street is being torn down now that a new causeway and bridge opened last fall.

It will make it easier for the local fishing fleet to come and go as they will no longer have deal with the swing bridge and will also not hold up hundreds of beach goers in cars when they do. Looks like a win win situation.

Of course one can not visit Chincoteague Island without getting a little misty eyed now and then thinking about Misty of Chincoteague. Who is gone now.

But, some of her relations are alive and well over on Assteague Island:

While it felt good to be near the sea once again after the long cold winter. Capt. Mike is looking forward to being on the water and not just near it as soon as possible.