Be aware, but not paranoid.
If you are worried about everything, you will drive yourself and crew crazy. You need to be able to separate the likely from the remote. Be vigilant, but you can’t watch everything. An hour from home, you can afford in indulge your paranoia, in the middle of the Atlantic, indulgences are not allowed. it’s “Calm & Assertive” as Caesar Milan would say.
When I would hear a noise in the middle of the night. Perhaps I was being sleeping? Did the noise wake me or was it a dream? I stay in bed in listen. Sometimes I may even open my cabin door to listen and more importantly sniff the wind! Your sense of smell may well be your most reliable tool on a boat.
Admittedly, the first year on Dauntless I was not his way. Unless she was firmly tied to a dock, I was up at every little noise or movement. I hated anchoring out because I got so little sleep. What changed? Mostly me understanding that the boat was fine, the anchor was fine, and the only problem was me.
A couple days out of New England, on the way to the Azores, on my first Atlantic Passage, a mast cleat that secured the port paravane pole let go with a sound like a pistol shot. I stopped the boat, put on a PFD (probably the last time I used it too) and went to the fly bridge to see what happened.
The quarter inch steel bolts had sheared off. I realized that it was too much tension for a cleat, but a simple clove hitch around the mast a few times would secure the two paravane pole lines with much less stress at any particular point, then ending on the cleat. I made that change in minutes and three years later, it’s still the same.
Later, Julie told me that having a problem like that and me being able to come up with a different and even better solution, gave her all the confidence to not worry about anything. And she didn’t. She had been on the boat less than I, but was more experienced. She understood right away what it took to be successful.
It took me a couple of years.
During my second Atlantic Passage, westbound from Europe, North Africa to North America, I had noticed fuel in the bilge on the first day out of the Canaries. I kept it to myself. It didn’t seem like much, probably less than a gallon, of the 700 we had onboard. To get to the Caribbean we would probably need 600 of those gallons. If push came to shove and I needed to conserve, I could probably get there on 500, even 450. In fact, at idle and in gear, 900 rpms, fuel consumption is probably 0.5gal/hr. at 3.8 knots, making the range above 5,000 nm. With these conditions, with a 20-knot wind behind us, our range would be above 6,000 nm. (at idle and in neutral, with no load on the engine, the fuel consumption is probably 0.1 gal/hr.)
Since I could see no leak on any of the connections or hoses between the fuel tanks and the engine, including the 4 fuel filters, there was not much I could do until it became obvious. It was clearly coming from the tank, but not the bottom of the tank.
I continued to run the numbers in my head, often, during those days and nights.
But I continued to say nothing. Certainly, Micah could do nothing and he worries, a lot. My job as Captain is to do the worrying and to keep my crew fat and happy.
By Day 4, Calm & Assertive was slipping away. I was getting nervous.
The big problem was that the bilge pump was pumping water out that had gotten into the bilge from the lazzerette. With large following seas, the stern deck is awash plenty of time, enough that water gets into the lazzerette. It is then dutifully pumped out. When I would look into the bilge, fuel being lighter than water, it floats on top. So, when I look in the bilge and see a gallon of liquid, which the bilge pump will pump out, it’s unclear if I’m looking at a gallon of fuel or a quarter of a cup, the rest being water. Under these conditions, the bilge pump was turning on about once an hour. So, in 24 hours, that’s about 24 gallons. If it’s mostly water no problem, but if mostly fuel I needed to know.
It was possible that I was looking at the same inch of fuel floating on top of water. So, when the pump would pump out, it was just pumping water leaving the last inch of liquid every time. I had to know what was going on.
initially on Day 4, I did the following:
- I used the shop vac to vacuum out the bilge. Now if I saw fuel again, I knew it was new fuel. I turned off the bilge pump and left it off for 6 hours.
- I reduced our engine rpms to 1450. Now this change would only reduce our consumption by about 0.1 gallons/hour, but we had 16 days at 24 hr./day = 384 hours. So, to save a tenth of a gallon, that’s 40 gallons over that time. I had estimated worst case scenario if it was all fuel with a little water, we were losing about 12 gallons a day, that would be 200 gallons lost. That would be a problem. Better to reduce speed now and figure it out just in case.
Six hours later, I checked the bilge hoping to see only water.
I saw water and fuel!
Wherever the fuel was coming from, it was still coming. But of the approximately 5 gallons I pulled out, there was at most an inch of fuel on top of the water. That’s less than half a gallon.
From the first time I noticed the fuel, it never seemed that much to me. From dipping the oil soak cloth (very effective in absorbing fuel and oil, but not water) to collecting the 6 gallons, all signs were a minor fuel loss, which was even decreasing. But,
The mind is its own place and can make a heaven of hell or a hell of heaven. (thanks Milton & Star Trek).
But this is why I say, worry is very destructive. Even with those facts, by the next day, that worry drove me off the deep end. By constantly checking for fuel, all it did was make me lose any objective sense of reason. I cracked.
So, I came up with another radical plan.
We needed a way to recover significant amounts of fuel:
I cut the hose (pictured) that leads from the bilge pump to the thru hull and stuck another hose onto it. This hose I now led out of the engine room, out the salon door to a large bucket on the stern deck.
We would collect everything the bilge pump pumped out of the bilge for the next 12 hours.
We would then take the fuel that standing on top of the water, and pour it into another bucket. Then filter it and pour it back into the fuel tank, as needed. Thus, even if losing 20 gallons of fuel a day, we would probably recover 75% of that. To lose 5 gallons a day was tolerable.
Now the boat is rolling all the time as we have 10 to 16 foot waves off both stern quarters, so it was no easy task to pour one bucket into a larger bucket.
We, really Micah, did just that for 6 hours.
When I relieved Micah, he thought it was mostly water. I checked the “fuel” bucket, the one into which we were pouring the obvious fuel from the bigger bucket. After 6 hours, we had about a quarter of a gallon if that.
I looked at that, I looked at Micah and I came to my senses.
I quickly put an end to this process. It was a 5-minute job to re-connect the now two sections of bilge hose and we were back to normal.
On Day 6, all fuel stopped getting into the bilge
Did I scare it away?
The only explanation is also the most obvious explanation. Last year, in Ireland, when we opened up the port tank to seal it, it was obvious that water had dripped down from the screw holes in which the poorly installed fuel vent fitting had been placed. Now since this is one of the few design, construction issues I have ever found on the Kadey Krogen, it’s hard to complain.
I figured that what had happened is that since the tanks was totally full, the pitching movement in particular meant fuel was being pushed hard against the upper back of the tank. Just where the fuel vent is poorly installed. A few drops every dozen second will easily add up to a couple of gallons a day.
Lesson Learned: If I had to do it all over. I should have been more patient. I could have slowed a bit before doing anything else and waited a few more days. I let myself get too nervous even after I had come up with multiple estimates that the amount of fuel we were losing was not significant.
After arrival in Martinique, Dauntless still had 125 gallons of fuel. I determined that we had lost probably 5 to 1o gallons at most. I was meticulous in feeding from each tank every other day, thus the tanks should have been the same, but instead there was a 5 to 10-gallon difference.
Lastly, don’t beat yourself up too much.
All’s Well that Ends Well