Sunday, December 7, 2014

Fuel Polishing

The polishing machine
Clean fuel is important for all engines.  That is no different on boat.  Making sure you get clean fuel can be a challenging at times.  This is true even at marinas and fuel docks in the USA.  Worldwide it can be a interesting challenge as well.
The assistant keeping an eye on things
Tom is very careful to monitor our duel Racor fuel filters, especially after a bouncy passage.  To date, they have done their job well by keeping water and gunk out of the engine.  However, we know that we have water in both fuel tanks.  While changing the drinking water filter under the sink, water spilled and flowed on top of the fuel inspection ports and eventually some seeped in.  Additionally, we have been purchasing fuel from various places throughout the Caribbean and living in warm, humid conditions.  It seems crazy to me but microbes can actually grow and thrive in diesel fuel.  Many seasoned cruisers get their fuel polished professionally every so many years as a good practice.
Getting into all the nooks and crannies of our unusually shaped fuel tanks
So, for these various reasons, Tom decided to have our fuel tanks professionally cleaned while here in Trinidad.  There is only one company that does this here and as you can imagine he is swamped with requests as all the cruisers return to their boats and prep for departure.  After a week of back and forth contacts, Sean Boddean of Chute D,Eau Marine, Ltd showed up around 5:30 pm at our boat.  Tom had done all the prep work of filling the tanks to near fully, calculating the amount of fuel in each tank and opened the inspection ports for easy access.  *Those two bilges smelled of diesel fuel that day as we waited Sean's arrival- ugh!  Wisely Tom had covered each port with a bucket so nothing could be accidentally dropped into the fuel tanks.  Sean laughed and said he was impressed as he has too often dropped things into the tanks on his own boat.  He quickly measured out some FluidKleen (I think) and dumped it into each tank.  He said it needed to sit in the tanks for at least 24 to 48 hours and they would be back in  2 days.  The slight movement of the boat in the slip actually assisting in the mixing process. 

Dirty fuel out, clean fuel in
2 days later, Sean and an assistant showed up with the cleaning machine.  A long hose was run through a portlight down into the aft fuel tank.  On the end was a long tube that resembles a long vacuum cleaner hose attachment - the one for reaching corners and vacuuming drapes.  Sean Velcro'd a white cover over the hose to protect the interior of our boat.  Another tube ran out of their machine and back into the deck fill for the aft fuel take.  He switched on the machine and began polishing the fuel - basically sucking out all the fuel, running through the machine aka a big, giant, special filter and then back into our tank.  The long attachment allowed him to get into all the nooks and crannies of our odd shaped tanks.  After two mins, they took a sample of what was coming out of our tank.  The sample showed some water and gunk consisting of sludge / dead microbes.  Then he showed us a sample of the cleaned fuel going back into our tank.  He would only guarantee 95% but it looked darn clean to us.  The color made it look like the artificially bright colored pink grapefruit drink that we make with our Soda Stream.  After an hour, they finished the aft tank and switched to the front tank.  It showed a bit more water but less gunk.  However there were a few living microbes in that tank - which still blows my mind.  Have you smelled diesel fuel?  How can anything live in that!  Yeah, I skipped that day in science class.  
Close up of tank 1 dirty fuel, tank 2 in background
During the two hour process we chatted away with Sean learning all about fuel polishing and the many clever modifications he has made to the two machines he has.  Additionally we talked about the major boat rebuild his company is working on here in the yard, fishing, boating, his 3 boys and various other topics about life in Trinidad.
Clean fuel - looks like pink grapefruit drink
While this wasn't an inexpensive service, we feel it was well worth it.  Thanks Sean.  
Bonus - (a week later) Sean stopped by the boat yesterday afternoon.  He had taken a Saturday off to enjoy his own boat and went out fishing.  He had success and presented Tom with some Wahoo and Mahi, Mahi.  Yum!  Thank you very much Sean!  

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