Saturday, January 9, 2021

Hilton Head Island: Back On the Boat, Diesel Cleanup

I returned to Intermezzo on Thursday, flying from San Francisco to Hilton Head and arriving late at night. 

Flying is probably my greatest COVID exposure risk, but I am pretty careful, double-masking, disinfecting surfaces, maximizing aircraft airflow from overhead to floor, washing my hands frequently and, most importantly not eating, which requires unmasking. I want to acknowledge Delta Airlines for continuing to keep middle seats unoccupied, unlike other airlines which fill all their seats if they can. It might not make that big a difference risk-wise, but it feels more comfortable to not be shoulder-to-shoulder with a stranger for six hours.

The boat was in good shape when I arrived. Lisa did a beautiful job cleaning before she departed. The only problem was a strong odor of diesel fuel. I attributed this to my overfilling the starboard fuel tank, which typically generates a slight, temporary odor in the past. I figured the stronger odor was from the boat sitting unventilated  for six weeks.

Yesterday I stocked the boat up with groceries, unpacked and got myself sorted. Despite having left all the hatches and the sliding door open for a good part of the day, the strong diesel odor remained. Bummer. The weather was damp, cold and grey which didn't help my mood. A dolphin swimming and feeding around the boat did, though.

The weather fortunately cleared up today and this morning I lifted the floorboards to inspect the bilge. To my dismay, there was quite a bit of diesel fuel puddled in the bilge. No wonder the boat stank.

The fuel tank is located under my berth, so I hauled the mattress outside to air out and then accessed the fuel tank compartment. Traces of diesel were present around the fuel gauge sender unit and a threaded plug at the top of the tank. Overfilling the tank pressurized it a bit and fuel seeped through the seals of the sender and plug, ran down the side of the tank and made its way into the bilge.

My first step was to relieve the pressure in the tank by draining some fuel from it. Fortunately, there is a drain valve at the bottom of the tank and it wasn't too difficult or messy to extract a few gallons of fuel. I then carefully removed the suspect plug to make sure that the fuel level was below the top of the tank. It was, barely. I figure that the fuel in the filler hose resulted in about two feet of static head pressure in the tank, or about 1 psi. Doesn't seem like much, but it was enough to push about two quarts of fuel through the leaking seals over six weeks.

I re-sealed the plug, tightened down the sender unit screws, and then set about to cleaning up the mess. I wanted to avoid discharging diesel into the water, so I used paper towels and a de-greaser solution to mop up the diesel, disposing of the used paper towels in an oily waste receptacle. It took most of the afternoon to decontaminate the bilges, but when I was done, the diesel stench in the boat was gone, thank goodness.

I'm going to stay here in Hilton Head until January 20 to tackle a long list of boat projects, including an upgrade to the engine charging system. That will be an interesting and challenging project, but I'm worried that I won't have enough time to tackle it, as shipping of two essential components has been delayed. It will be a disappointment if I don't get to it, but I have many, many other projects that I can choose to work on until the missing parts arrive.

On the 20th, I continue moving the boat south. I'm heading for Lake Worth, Florida (near Palm Beach), which will be the jumping off point for The Bahamas. I'm planning on cruising there for the month of February and then heading to Port Everglades (near Fort Lauderdale) to prepare Intermezzo for the return to La Paz, via ship, in mid-March. 

Diesel in the bilge