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Meet Mrs Fixit - That's Me!

“Worse things happen at sea,” my mom used to say. She was right. My dad would say, “The damn fool who designed this should be hanged” and he’d have been right too, especially if he’d said that about my fuel tank.

Whoever designed it arranged things with evil cunning. First, the builders built the hull, then installed the fuel tank, then put the decks on, then joined it all together, so that there was no way the tank could be removed except by cutting a hole in the boat. Can you believe that’s exactly what I did?

To give them credit, they did install a little drainage tap underneath the tank. This was accessible, IF you were a midget, via a trap door at the back end of the quarter berth, which you first had to empty, then unscrew and of course the screws roll into the bilge. Then you had to stretch some (and my arms are short). Of course, you had to remember to wedge a container underneath, before you opened the tap, which was very difficult because there was nowhere flat to put it. Guess what happened to the fuel?

Eventually the little tap seized up. Then my fuel lines started clogging up. Into the quarter berth again. This time I undo a joint in the pipe, between the first filter (and I had no fewer than three!) and the tank. Nothing gushes out. I use a bit of clothes-hanger wire to prod. A bit of thick stuff, like purple slimy-looking porridge appears. Smells foul. Now what? The answer is obvious. Being a Brit, I make myself a cup of tea. Then - back to work. Eventually, I discover that a length of curtain wire will poke all the way through to the tank, clearing the stinky stuff. Celebrate this discovery with a drop of Scotch.

This whole scenario was repeated on many occasions. Of course, every time the engine cut out because the fuel line was clogged, I was always just about to enter a harbour with a dangerous rocky entrance. It wasn’t all doom and gloom, though; I became quite brilliant at bleeding the engine, and always gave myself a little golden reward.

In the end, stronger action was called for, like cutting a hole in my boat - right above the fuel tank. GRP’s easy to cut. Next stage was to cut a hole directly below this one, out of the top of the tank. Bit of planning needed. The hole had to be big enough for me to get my hand through, so I could clean out the bottom of the tank. I drew a circle on the tank, got out some metal-cutting bits for my drill and started.

So, what happened? Well, the circle of holes I was drilling somehow turned itself into a wobbly oval shape, and the tank didn’t like what I was doing and became a bit sort of buckled. In the end though, I thought the unintentionally oval shape was pretty good as it made it easy for me to fish the “circle” of metal from the bottom of the tank. After that I had a great time cleaning out that tank; it looked like new.

Inside, I could see where the fuel line entered the tank. It had a hook-like shape and I thought it seemed too close to the bottom of the tank. No wonder it kept sucking up muck. I tried to saw a bit off, to raise its entry hole, but I found that impossible.

10.0pt;font-family:"Times New Roman"'>‘Ah-ha’, I said to myself. ‘I’ll raise it by adding a bit to it.’ After hours of trying various ideas, I gave up on that one.

Next problem: how to seal the tank? This turned out to be a major difficulty. Took me days. I tried various materials, other than metal, but as soon as I put to sea, the diesel seeped out. In the end I made a sort of gasket with some rubbery stuff, plus the deformed metal “circle”, put bolts in from underneath with the nuts on top, to hold it in place, using some of the holes I’d drilled already. I used masses of gunge, Sikkaflex, and sealant tape. Off to sea again. Not bad, really, just a little seepage.

Attending to the hole in the boat was easy. I used one of those big plastic covers they sell for holes in sailing dinghy buoyancy tanks. It went on beautifully. But….. I found I could not unscrew it! Ah well, sort that another day. Let’s go sailing. This time I was cautious. I only filled the diesel tank half full. After all, Moon River is a sailing boat. Who needs an engine!

As soon as I work out how to open that plastic cover, and after that discover if I can open the hole in the tank, I should not have any future problems with the purple porridge!

The “purple porridge” turned out to be a dense colony of those bacteria who, incredibly to us, thrive on the interface between diesel and water. I had been dosing my fuel with anti-bacterial stuff, but to judge from the evidence, the bacteria seemed to love it!

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