The Dauntless Fuel System

After three days in Xtapa, I was getting ready to go again.

My Racor systems

The night before departure, I topped up all our fluids, both oil and coolant were down, since we had those repairs the days earlier. While they were topped up upon completion of those repairs, it takes running time for air to work out of the systems.

The rough seas and miserable pitching of the last few days seemed to really scour the fuel tank, so I ran the fuel polisher system (filtering fuel to take water and impurities out) on the starboard tank for 8 hours the day before. During the 8 hours, vacuum on the filter had increased from 4”, which is OK, but not great, to only 5”. Which is marginal. Since we were getting underway for another multiple day passage, I changed the fuel polisher filter, a Racor 900 filter system (Racor 2040 2-micron filters bought on Amazon for $12 each.

I usually don’t run the fuel polisher that often anymore.  Unless needing to really top up the tanks, like leaving the Canaries for the Caribbean, I only put new fuel in one tank. Thus, I can isolate any issues. I then run the fuel polisher on the new fuel to check it out. Usually an hour; If the vacuum doesn’t change significantly, I turn it off. Sometimes the vacuum will even go down, when the new batch of fuel is better than what was in the tank.

Underway, I also always set the return to the same tank it is feeding from. Once, in prehistoric times, I set the return to the other tank as a means to transfer fuel. Of course, I forgot and ran out of fuel while running. I didn’t do that again.

But I did. This second time, I had inadvertently left both feeds and returns open. For whatever reason, my system tends to return more fuel to the port tank and less to the starboard tank if both returns are open. Thus, I emptied one tank. But this time, the engine did notice because I had also left the sight tubes open on top and bottom. The result was that although the starboard tank was empty, enough fuel was being returned, keeping the sight tube full, which was then fed back to the engine.

Aux fuel pump

Had I closed the sight tube, the engine would suck air from the tank feed.

Lesson learned. Nowadays, besides feeding and returning to the same tank, I also keep the top of the sight tubes closed, so that fuel goes back to the tank. Otherwise, it defeats the purpose of using cooler fuel from the tank.

I like the Racor setup very much. Twin primary filters, Racor 500, in parallel, and a Racor 900 for fuel polishing and transfer. For a long-distance cruiser like Dauntless, it’s a mission critical system. Meaning don’t leave home without it. When underway, I don’t go into the engine room often, maybe only twice a day, once in the evening before my shower and bed and in the morning, after my early morning watch. (I usually wait until crew is awake, so I don’t wake them by opening engine room hatch, unless the night before I thought I may have an issue, then I check again as soon as I wake).

Racor filters

The parallel Racors really give me peace of mind. In the early days, when changing filters was more of an adventure than it should be, if I suspected a problem, I’d immediately switch filters to the new one and then monitor the new one for issues (water or clogging). But I didn’t have to deal with the filter just then.  If in a benign environment, I may shut down the engine, but that is rare. Nowadays, I can change a filter in less than two minutes and that includes priming engine if need be. I installed an electric fuel pump just for that purpose. It makes doing any fuel related work so easy. I used to hate changing the engine mounted filters. I still have the scar on the back of my hand from spending days trying to prime engine (turned out to be a failed O ring had clogged fuel line to Injector pump). Nowadays, if I do switch filters while underway, I will change the old filter, so I always have a new one ready to go at an instant.

Fuel from Colon Panama
Strange coincidence that the only place I got significant water in fuel was the only place that gave me a bottle of fuel to prove it was good. Ummm

Nowadays, I almost never have an issue. But when I do, I need the fuel polisher now.

Like when we fueled up in Colon, Panama, waiting to transit the Panama Canal. It was a fuel barge, made even sketchier because they spent some time transferring fuel from a tug to the barge and then to my boat. Once I returned to our slip and ran the fuel polisher, it picked up a lot of water. Another reason to never run from both tanks at once. I knew I had a problem, but it was isolated in the port fuel tank. I also installed those plastic drains that can be opened by hand on all three Racor filters. So, in a situation like this, it made it particularly easy to run fuel polisher a while, when bowl is full of water, empty, run, repeat, until I decide to also change filter. I’ll usually do that at the end.  Then give it a good run again to make sure it’s good to go.

I’ve had a few occasions, in which I just let the fuel polisher run and the vacuum gets to 22” to 24” of mercury (Hg).  When that happens, I am ever more grateful that none of that crap got to engine or even primary filters.

Because the Racors are doing their job so well, I don’t change the engine mounted fuel filters very often. Maybe even on the order of 500 to 1000 hours. This interval has gotten longer and longer because even in the past when I did have some water in the primary filter, the secondary engine mounted filters had none.

I like Fram

You may think that that’s excessive. What’s the harm in changing the primary filters? In my first year or two, the primary filters were the cause of all sorts of issues from blocked fuel lines to air in the system. They are hard to reach, which introduces a greater possibility of error in replacement or even affecting some other nearby engine component.

The Ford Lehman SP135 engine and I have an agreement. I don’t mess with it and it does its’ thing, which is to never stop until so commanded. So, I am particularly careful working near the engine.

A couple of weeks later, this system would again save my bacon. I had carelessly kept running from the starboard tank, even after it went below the sight tube. I did have a reason, I wanted to see if I had really needed the expensive fuel I had added in some expensive place.

I’m in the pilot house and suddenly, I hear the pitch of the engine change. Remember, the Ford Lehman and I have an agreement. The engine pitch never changes. So, in seconds I had the hatch open and was down in front of the engine by the Racors. I instantly switched filters, then took the time to look around. The engine was starting to surge now (up and down in rpms). I looked at the feed tank and saw no fuel in the sight tube. Now the sight tube is still about 20 gallons above the feed line. I open the port tank feed and return and close the starboard feed and return.

Surge continues. I ask Larry to give it some throttle. No change. Throttle back to just above idle. I turn on the electric fuel pump used to prime filters. Add throttle. In about 5 seconds that seems like 5 minutes, the engine smooths out. I wait another minute and turn off electric fuel pump and carefully adjust valves that put electric fuel pump into main fuel line. (otherwise, when first installed, the fuel pump just pump fuel around in a circle, with out the need to go to the engine. Under normal setting this fuel pump is isolated in a parallel loop and the engine uses gravity feed and it’s lift pump).

From first change of engine pitch to running normally again took less than 60 seconds.

My Sp135 was good to go again.

 

 

 

Crossing Oceans in a Calm & Assertive Manner – Most of the Time!

Be aware, but not paranoid.

Another Night on the Atlantic

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

The Bilge Pump hose with newly made connection. Yes, I will replace that non-stainless steel clamp

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

 

 

 

 

 

The Smell of Nothing

Was never so sweet.

How do I know it will be better tomorrow?  The weatherman told me of course.
How do I know it will be better tomorrow? The weatherman told me of course.

Just picked up 2411 liters, 637 gallons, of gas oil, a.k.a diesel.  That’s 4533 pounds of fuel, added to the 400 pounds she already had.  Dauntless now sits a few inches lower than before, but looks ready to go.

And the engine room smells as sweet as ever, with no fuel smell, just the smell of new batteries and cables.

Now you wonder why all the fuss?  Isn’t re-fueling supposed to be easy and routine?  Well, if you are driving a car I suppose it is.  I’ve filled cars with fuel thousands of times. But on Dauntless it’s been less than 30 times and on Dauntless, nothing is ever routine.

A few of the shenanigans that have taken place while fueling:

  • Being showered by a volcano of fuel at the Portsmouth, NH fish dock.  Luckily, no fishing boat was waiting as I showered and got out of my fuel soaked clothes.
  • Succumbing to the fear expressed by my friends about running out of fuel, I purposely overfilled the tanks by about 10 gallons before leaving Rhode Island.  This was soon followed by the little fuel runoff coming from the port side tank, a few of those extra gallons soon were in the bilge.
  • The most recent leak last summer that lead to the New Ross Experience.  Much like the Jimi Hendrix Experience in Seattle, but more expensive.

And after each debacle, the next fueling are filled with dread; what will happen next?

So, as you can see, I have every reason to be elated about smelling nothing in the engine room.

Best of all, the 637 gallons cost half of what I paid to fill the tanks two years ago in the fall of 2014.

Tomorrow, with a full fuel and water load, Dauntless is ready to take care of business as we head south for France, Spain & Portugal.

Dauntless faces south; Brian Boru north.
Dauntless faces the Brian Boru. Tomorrow they say goodbye for a long time; hopefully not forever.

 

 

 

Two Inside Projects on Dauntless, Part 1

This winter has been the first real refit since we bought Dauntless three years ago.  When we bought this Krogen 42, she was in great shape, in fact the best shape of the 8 KK 42’s I looked at.  She had the lowest engine hours, only 1650, and some features we wanted: dual heads, four windows in the rear salon and no built-in furniture in the salon.  The Flexsteel leather furniture that the previous owner had gotten for the boat was like new.  The nicest leather we had ever felt.  We talked about that leather for two years before we actually were in a position to get D.

Middle top is fuel intake. behind it with the rust pattern underneath is the fuel vent.
Middle top is fuel intake. behind it with the rust pattern underneath is the fuel vent.

But with this little use, comes issues that are a result of that little use.

The port side fuel tank started leaking this past summer.  It was coming from the forward inboard seam. On opening up the inspection port, it had a lot of rust.  More rust than I had seen in the starboard tank.

Now since I had had the boat, I’d had problems with water getting into the tank.  During the last days of my Atlantic Passage, this became a critical problem that had me changing or emptying fuel filters every few hours.  You can read those details here: Dauntless-crosses-the-north-atlantic-the-post-mortem

Last summer in Holland, with the help of Marinus, another Krogen owner, I finally figured out the source of the water was the stink’in fuel vent.  In one of the few poor decisions Kadey Krogen made in the design of this boat, the fuel vent was under the rub rail.  As the Krogen rolls its way across the Atlantic this became an issue when I was in very big seas and the stabilizers were not working as well as they should for reasons related to operator (ME) error.

To fix the tank issues, we decided to add three more larger inspection ports. This will allow the two-part epoxy sealant to be applied.

the rust pattern underneath is the fuel vent.
the rust pattern underneath is the fuel vent.

Looking at the pictures of the opened tank, one can see the rust pattern from the water getting into the vent.

Also, when I had purposely overfilled this tank by about 10 gallons, in part to see what would happen, I had the unpleasant surprise to see fuel leaking out of the tank into the bilge.  It was not apparent where this fuel was coming from. This picture shows the fitting itself was poorly installed and the screws used rusted and basically left small holes for fuel to get out or even rain water that was on top of the tank to get in.

From the amount of rust, this tank was not sued for quite some time, years, but left with some water.  Once I got the boat, this tank had been the problem child, therefore I had a tendency not to use it as much, which ended up exacerbating the problem.

Fuel tank today after cleaning
Fuel tank today after cleaning

Here are some before pictures.  The after pictures will come when done.