Wednesday, 14 June 2017

15 Litres of Greasy Yellow Hell

No sooner had I posted the last blog saying something like “thoroughly enjoying ourselves in Denia” than Patrick says “let’s fill up the gas tank from the jerrycans to have a full tank for the trip to Ibiza.” It was almost 9 p.m., the sun was setting, the temperatures were cooling, and we had not yet had dinner. But it’s always good to get those jobs done with before settling down for the evening, right?

We added almost 15 litres to the tank before we heard that characteristic gurgling / burping noise that tells us the tank is full. I went to start dinner while Patrick cleaned up.

When Patrick entered the aft cabin, he says “I smell diesel.” Cue menacing 3-note musical passage of doom.

We immediately opened the sliding hatch that exposes the fuel gauge sensor, which was repositioned in Aguadulce a few weeks ago in an attempt to get more realistic readings from the gauge (it was always reading ¾ full). Diesel was weeping out in waves around the seal. Patrick began frantically tightening the screws and discovered that one of them turned in the void, digging into nothing at all. The other three screws were tight. I pulled back the mattresses and placed dishtowels everywhere to protect the bedding. Clearly, the gauge was badly seated.

This is when we had the bad idea to take out the screws to see what was going on. As Patrick unscrewed the loose screw, a geyser of diesel gushed up to a height of about 15 cm. He put his thumb over the spout and after much kerfuffle we managed to get the screw back in place and the leak reduced to a more manageable hemorage.

We realized we had a big job on our hands so we quickly washed the diesel off our hands and arms and began shifting all the bedding and mattresses to the forward cabin. We then unscrewed the wood planks that cover the gas tank to have a proper access to the problem. The boat started to look like a war zone.

We knew we needed to reduce the pressure on the tank by draining some of the fuel away. We decided to try to siphon off some of the diesel by using our new fuel pump given to us by new sailor friend Johannes in Aguadulce. We stuck the intake tube about 1 meter down into the tank fill hole, plugged the pump into the 12v socket and...(cue sound of crickets)...nothing. No, not nothing. A small click, then nothing. We soon realized we had blown the fuse of the 12 v socket. We reset the fuse and tried again. Same thing. When we pulled the pump tube out of the tank fill tube, it was dry. It wouldn’t have worked anyway. (But Johannes, any ideas of what to try now? It worked so well in Aguadulce !)

Our next trick was to drain off some of the diesel through the fuel filter assembly. This was messy and we probably only managed to capture about half of the diesel in the collection of bowls and cups placed under the filter in the small and irregular spaces available. After what felt like a very long time, the hemorage finally slowed then stopped. It was now 2 a.m. and we still hadn’t eaten dinner.

With the pressure off, we could finally remove the fuel gauge sensor to see what the problem was. The problem was evident: 5 screws, 7 holes. Apparently, the technician in Aguadulce, in repositioning the sensor, created new holes when he screwed it back in place. When the gauge was seated, it managed to cover one of the unused holes, but one was left open to the air. We took photos in disbelief, rescrewed it correctly, covered the patient, and left it for the morning. (What? It IS morning already…).

With 4 or 5 buckets full of diesel, paper towels, sponges, towels, and bowls hauled outside, I began the nasty job of cleaning the greasy diesel off the tank and bilges. The odor was too strong to leave it and just go to bed. I used my Spanish “Fairy” dishwashing liquid, which seems to have a good reputation among cruisers for cleaning up diesel. When I was in college, I worked summers at the Texas A&M Oil Spill Control School in Galveston, Texas, moving boats around to demonstration sites and cleaning up oil spill tanks after student exercises involving dumping a variety of oil into the tanks and trying to contain the spill with absorbent pads or chemical dispersants. What miracle product did we use to clean up crude oil spills? Dawn Dishwashing Liquid, of course. Best stuff ever. Fairy did an okay job, but I would have paid big money for a little Dawn that night.

Patrick limped off to the shower at 3 a.m. I took a rapid sponge bath in the cockpit and made dinner (ham and cheese for him, corn flakes for me). We re-shifted the aft-cabin mattresses to the saloon and dug out a place to sleep in the forward cabin.

The next morning, we went to see the Jeanneau dealer here in Denia and asked to have a technician come by to advise us on what kind of product we could use to fill in the two extra holes, something that works on plastic and doesn’t mind being soaked regularly in diesel. The tech said that Kent’s Assembly Adhesive MS Polymere Multi-usage silicone was the right way to go, and he resealed the gauge using the correct holes this time. He also helped us chase out the air bubble from the fuel lines caused by our using the fuel filter to drain off the diesel. (I am still keeping my fingers crossed that we don’t have some lingering air bubble waiting to choke the motor…). After 24-hours of drying time for the silicone, we timidly refilled the tank from the jerrycan and declared the leak fixed.

The diesel odor lingered. I looked under the floor boards in the bilges again and saw a new puddle of diesel where I had already cleaned ! I quickly realized that there was still much more diesel hiding UNDER the fuel tank and the water tank and in the labyrinth of bilges and drains around the motor compartment, and that it was slowly making itself known each time the boat rocked.

With me watching the bilges, Patrick began rocking the boat outside by leaning in then out from the shrouds, like a kid on a swingset (or seesaw?). The small puddle turned into sloshing waves, and I realized there was more than could be simply wiped up with a sponge.

Patrick pulled out his trusty hand pump that we use for oil changes and we fit a small plastic tube into the larger existing tube to give us a long and flexible intake to snake under the tanks and into the bilge drains. Thus armed, we sucked out a mind-boggling 5 litres more ! After getting out all of the diesel, we decided it was best to flood the area with Fairy liquid in hot water, followed by more rocking the boat. (I’m sure we amused the spectators but no one asked any stupid questions). The odor was still fairly strong, so I attacked again with Don Limpio (Mr. Clean). This time, we were sure, we had pumped out all of the diesel and the odor had disappeared. We slept in the forward cabin again to give the aft cabin time to air out with all of the boards up.

This morning, everything was fresh and dry. As I prepared for a big shopping trip, I pulled up one of the floor boards in the galley to make an inventory of our cans and bottles stored there and… you can guess...DIESEL EVERYWHERE. How could that be??? I already checked that compartment earlier and there was nothing !!! I took everything out, one can at a time, dripping diesel and threw everything onto old newspapers in the cockpit (note: a collection of old newspapers is mandatory cruising kit.) I opened up all of the floorboards in the area and found diesel in 3 other compartments. I called Patrick and his pump back into action and we drained off another 2 litres of a frothy panaché of diesel and Don Limpio. Re-fairy liquid, re-Don Limpio, re-dry, wash the cans and bottles one by one, replace.

But wait… this story just keeps getting better !

A six-pack of coke in its plastic wrapper was thoroughly soaked in diesel. I took a kitchen knife to cut away the plastic and, with the greasy diesel everywhere, the knife slipped and pierced one of the cans. A coke geyser sprayed out but I managed to get my thumb on it fairly quickly. I moved the can into the kitchen sink (bad idea) and it slipped out of my hand. Now the can was REALLY angry and spewed everywhere, like a backyard water toy, spinning and spraying. I took it full in the face first, and groping half-blind, finally managed to grab it and crack it open to release the rest of the pressure. When the battle was over, the sight was truly impressive: small droplets of coke over ½ the saloon ceiling, the curtains, the aft cabin door and wall, the companion ways walls and stairs, and the bathroom door. Did I really need this? I’m just sorry Patrick wasn’t around to see the spectacle.

We are exhausted but we THINK we have finally sopped up the most of the 15 litres we lost. Three days later, I am still finding little coffee-spoon sized puddles here and there and I suspect the battle will continue for quite awhile. We both look like we’ve been in a fight with angry cats with our arms scratched from the wooden compartment hatches into the bilges around the tank and those bloody cut-off tie wraps (why do we insist on cutting them off? Why not just leave those soft dangly bits as they are?) Patrick had a migraine last night from the diesel fumes and I felt like vomiting this morning.

Of course we are complaining to Jeanneau about the technician in Aguadulce who made two extra holes for us. The technician created the problem when the boat was still under warranty, but now the boat is no longer under warranty as the Denia technician tries to repair the mistakes of his colleague. We are arguing with Jeanneau to take this into account, as well as the 2 extra nights we had to spend in port to fix the problem.

Bright side? I have the cleanest bilges ever. Lessons learned? Watch technicians like a hawk, even if it makes them uncomfortable.

Addendum: Bright side Number 2 !! The email written to Jeanneau France got immediate results !! They are going to pay for the work here in Denia, even though the boat in officially no longer under warranty, AND they are going to reimburse us for our extra 2 nights here in the port. Woo Hoo !!

Patrick says we need a vacation.

Just checked the weather for tomorrow. No wind, or light wind in the nose. Oh well – we’ll have to motor most of the way. We have too much diesel on our hands anyway.


ENG-Châlons-59 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
The Cynical Sailor said...

Wow, just wow. I don't even know what to say. What an absolute nightmare. I think I would have burned down the boat by Day 2 if it had been mine. And people think cruising is so glamorous.

BTW, I thought it was just people who owned old boats who had to listen for that gurgle because they don't have a fuel gauge that works.

Sailing Mareda said...

The warm turquoise water is taking the sting out of the diesel. But post coming with new problem (sort of resolved I hope.)

Sailing Mareda said...

Merci Mo Mo ! Stay tuned... bout autour la helice pour la prochaine blog ! (pas tres grave mais chiant quand meme.)

Astrolabe Sailing said...

I somehow missed this post originally. I can totally relate. Had my diesel hose on the engine spring a leak and ended up with diesel EVERYWHERE... didn't have the coke though... I can only begin to imagine. If you didn't laugh you'd cry!
I remember one night on a passage - about 4am, I was about to go to bed with Andrew going on his watch. I suggested we top up the tank seeing as we had been motoring for a very long time since our last re-fuel. Anyway I was holding the jerry can in the hole, we went over a big wave and I slipped - ripped the funnel off the top of the can, spilt diesel all over me, the boat, everywhere... Andrew was NOT impressed... took ages to clean it up. I wasn't tired after that.
Slippery smelly disgusting stuff!!!