Sunday, January 17, 2016

Diesel Tank Replacement - The Details, Ad Nauseam

The mastermind behind the scenes
Note:  This is a long, tedious post. Quit now while you are still awake. 

In a previous post you read how we started our Pacific crossing last year only to have our transit cut short by a leaking diesel tank 120 miles offshore.  We turned around and limped back into the Sea of Cortez. Then months later, in the yard, we removed those bad black iron tanks. Now, eight months later, we are in the process of replacing those two rusty, black iron fuel tanks with new HDPE plastic ones.

I was concerned that the old tanks would be difficult to extract from under the cockpit but after disconnecting the copper supply and return lines, the filler hoses, the vents, and the miscellaneous fasteners holding the tanks in place, I found that Stan Huntingford, the designer, had made it possible for the old tanks to slide, one at a time, through an access door into the aft cabin.  As described in that previous post, we did get them out without incident, and by "we", I mean Omar and his brother Arturo.    We felt pretty good. Here we were, one week in Mexico and the old tanks were out of the boat.
Albert Kelttke and Scott Voltz

A fellow sailor here in the yard went to a marina swap meet in San Carlos and came back telling me about this guy who was making HDPE plastic tanks.  Albert Kelttke is the guy's name and sure enough, he was willing to help me.  Using the old tanks as templates, Albert made up two new tanks out of plastic, making them two inches shorter to help ease the installation.  With two weekends and some holidays, it was eleven days to receive the new tanks.
See how the two tanks come together to fit the shape of the hull?

I visited Aldo at Hidraulicas del Pacifico who hooked me up with all the necessary hoses and valves.  I showed him an idea for creating the pickup tubes from copper pipe and a bronze plug.  After rummaging around in his shop, he came up with the necessary items, then said, "I can make these up here if you want."  A half hour later I had my pickup and return tubes created and in my hand.  I love Mexico.  Anything is possible.
Connie cutting the copper pickup tube to length

Day two after getting my new tanks delivered, Connie and I hoisted the two tanks up into the cockpit using the main halyard and a turning block.  Thinking about the orientation of the starboard tank, we dropped the skinny end down the companionway and stood the tank on its end.  Then with the aft cabin door removed we could just manage to squeeze it through the doorway and rotate it 90 degrees. 
When she wasn't busy sewing new glass in the dodger she wrangled tanks.
We lifted and pushed it through the access door and lowered it, leaving the front end protruding into the cabin.  This left me room to insert the 27 inch fuel pickup tubes before we pushed the whole thing into the empty space.  After wrestling it into the "under cockpit" I tied a few lines to it and hoisted it up and out to starboard, getting it out of the way so the second tank could come along side.
New HDPE tank / old black iron tank

Day two after getting my new tanks delivered, we brought the second tank in the same way but got it backwards so had to bring it back out into the cabin to turn it around.  After some swearing we got the second tank in, and spent some time shoving the two around; a little frustrated about how they fit in the space.  I called Albert as I was worried that the tanks would not be supported very well in the center and he suggested that I pull them out and create better support. I pulled out the port tank, crushing the fuel supply copper fitting in the process.  Darn!
Tanks in place. Note the copper fittings along the front edge.

Day three, I measured and cut some plywood and furring strips, making some supports that would lie in the deepest part of the vee in the hull, painting them with resin so they'd last. These also provided a channel for three control cables and one bilge pump hose to transit freely under the tanks.  When we put the port tank in again (with a repaired fuel supply fitting) and let the starboard tank come to the center, it all lined up and seemed to be supported pretty well.  Whew!  What a relief.
Blocking on the front prevents tanks from moving forward or to the side.

When you have 850 pounds of fuel aboard and the boat is leaping about like a bucking bronco you want that 850 pounds to stay in place.  My next job was to secure the tanks to the boat.  I spent the first day blocking in the front of the tanks.  I built up wood pads between the bulkhead and the front of the tanks so they could not move forward,  then added some blocking to prevent the front from moving to port or starboard and more blocking to prevent the front from moving vertically.  After all, we could be in a knockdown situation and not want 850 pounds of fuel busting loose when we were already dealing with being upside down, floorboards flying through the air, and frying pans crashing about like missiles.
Blocking in the rear.  Note the breather hose. The big hose is for the cockpit drain.

Day four, post tank insertion, I secured the rear of the two tanks in much the same way as the front.  By this time I was becoming "one with the bilge."  My legs got used to being curled under me.  My arms got used to being extended forward with little body support.  My abdominal muscles were getting a workout.  At the end of each day I was totally wasted.  For some reason I was gaining weight.  Hmmm.  Working hard... gaining weight.  Makes no sense.

Day five I secured the middle of the tank.  Day six I ran the vent hoses from the back of the tanks to the little vent inconveniently located behind the autopilot and engine controls and I connected the two 1.5 inch filler hoses to their deck filler caps labeled "Diesel Only."  To get the stiff hoses onto the nipples I boiled them in water so they'd slip on more easily.  Then I had a hose clamp party, double clamping everything and everybody in sight.

On a roll now, day seven... I ran  the supply hoses, drilling holes through bulkheads where needed and  using plastic fasteners to keep the four hoses from moving about.  On day eight I ran the return hoses. Running out of hose, I ran back to Hidraulicas del Pacifico to pick up more supplies.  Day nine I mounted the two way valves and the two water separator/fuel filters and connected whatever was not connected.

Originally the boat was equipped with two separate fuel supply lines that led to one Racor filter.  However, the two fuel tanks were also connected together with a big 1.5 inch hose so why the two separate supply lines?  Didn't make sense.  This time I kept the two tanks totally separate.  They both have their own pickup tubes and water separator/filters.  From there the fuel goes to a two way valve so I can switch from one tank to another.  Also, the fuel return from the engine has a two way valve so I can direct the returning fuel to the tank I'm drawing from.  You don't want to draw fuel from one tank and return to another.  I read somewhere that the volume of fuel being returned to the tank can be up to five times more than the fuel being used by the engine. So if you pull from one tank and return to another you just might find out you are flooding one tank to the extreme.  Who'd a thought that?  Experienced mariners no doubt.
These are the parts we bought at Hidraulicas del Pacifico. 
On the fuel return I have a tube so that the fuel exits at the bottom of the tank instead of just falling in from a fitting on the top.  I read somewhere that splashing diesel introduces air into the fuel.  Maybe this is bunk.  But a handy option here is that if I have a problem with the pickup tube I can easily reroute that supply line to the return and it will work as well.

The good thing about all this fuel running about is that it is going through a filter each time.  It's kinda like having aboard a fuel polishing system, removing any moisture and all that little grit.  Don't you want shiny fuel?  I do.

Day ten, I took my diesel jugs to the Pemex station.  I started with four jugs and twenty gallons.  My neighbor Ken on Island Wind gave me a tip on how to get diesel from the jug to the tank.  Usually I use a pour spout and a funnel and make a big mess.  This time I took a three foot hose and put one end in the jug and one end down into the tank.  Then I took a second short hose and put it into the jug alongside the other.  I wrapped a rag around the hoses, sealing the opening pretty well air tight.  Then I blew into hose #2.  This created pressure in the jug, forcing fuel up and out of hose #1, which started the siphon action.  I kicked back and watched the diesel siphon into the tank.
Scott blows

Of course, I had to make a little mess.  I set the jug cap on the raw teak cockpit seat and made a diesel stain.  The Admiral admonished me... in a sweet way.

Day eleven, having assembled 15 meters of hose, two water separators and two valves, I realized that there was a lot of air in those lines.  I figured that by using the little finger triggered pump thing on the Beta engine, it would take about ten hours for me to hand prime the system.   My fingers aren't what they used to be so I started thinking about adding a priming pump.

Bill (a guy who is parting out his boat) had an old electric fuel pump.  Better yet, the pump was plumbed with a bypass hose so you could turn it on to get her going, then once the engine started to draw on her own, you can bypass the pump then turn it off.  I struck a deal to buy Bill's pump then set about finding a place to mount it.  This entailed another trip on day twelve to Hidraulicas del Pacifico for more hose and fittings.  While I was there I showed Aldo a rusted seacock handle I was trying to replace.  He could sell me the handle but it came with a brand new seacock :), so I declined.  "Let me have that thing." he said.  Ten minutes later he handed me the seacock handle, the rust ground off and a layer of Rust-Oleum paint applied.  No charge.  "Go, my friend, and next time you can  buy a new seacock."  I'll still be looking for a new handle but I thought that was very nice of Aldo, and typical of the way people do things in Mexico.  If you can make it work, do so.
Connie has a love/hate relationship with the sewing machine

Now my improved system is such:  Each tank has a pickup tube connecting to a hose leading to a dedicated fuel/water separator.  From there it goes to a Y valve so I can select which tank to draw from.  From the Y valve we go to an electric fuel pump that can we switched on or off with a bypass to use when switched off.  From there we go to the engine pre-filter, the mechanical fuel pump, then the main injector pump.  

Day thirteen, after wiring the fuel priming pump with an easily accessed switch in the engine compartment, I opened the valve for the starboard tank, turned on the fuel pump,  and started pumping diesel through the lines  and filter.  I had disconnected the hose to the engine and took it to a jerry can so as to contain the mess.  As I waited expectantly for fuel to come out of the open hose, the fuel pump stopped.
Oil filter, port side water separator, lift pump, Y valve for return, Y valve for supply, starboard side water separator

I checked power to the pump: 13.3 volts.  I disconnected the fuel In line and the fuel Out line.  No dice.  I removed the pump, carried it back to a battery, and wired it directly.  No go.  Dead pump.

Two days later I had a brand new fuel pump wired and plumbed.  Bill got his old pump back. 
Wonderful, new Isinglass for the dodger

Day fifteen now, this time the pump did its job filling the starboard lines then the port lines.  I let the pump run for a while, moving a couple of gallons of diesel through the system.  After connecting the engine supply hose, I got out the Beta manual to see how to prime the engine.  Loosening the fuel bleed screw on top of the engine fuel filter I heard a little sputter and watched fuel slowly run down the side of the filter.  After re-tightening the bleed screw, I opened up the bleed knob on the injector pump and let the electric fuel pump run for another half minute. 

It's go time!

Clear view!
We brought the garden hose into the engine compartment and shoved it into the salt water strainer.  Connie went up top and hit the starter.  Nothing.  I switched the battery switch from Off to Starter Battery.  Connie hit the starter again and the engine jumped instantly to life.  We ran her at various RPMs, moving the fuel selector from the starboard tank to the port tank.  No fuel leaks visible. Engine running fine.  High fives ensued.

Connie had just finished the dodger Isinglass replacement project from hell and I had finished the iron tank replacement project from hell.  Man, oh  man, it feels good to have these two difficult tasks completed.  The end is in sight.  We'll see water again soon!

On day sixteen I put this blog entry together.  That's a week to get the tanks out, eleven days to new tank delivery, and fifteen days installing.  That's thirty three days.  How is it that six weeks have gone by since I started this project?  All I can say is TIM-This Is Mexico!
This is how many beer cans it takes to do a diesel tank replacement.

Next post.... find out what Connie made from this triangle mess of foam pieces.