One of my least favorite reminders of how little I know about boats is having the bilge pump engage, and then seeing an artsy, paisley or tye-dyed looking sheen spread across the water on account of a bit of petroleum being where it shouldn't. Culprits include engine oil, hydraulic fluid, transmission fluid and, most recently, diesel fuel, which creates a particularly vibrant, rainbow colored patch of shame.
The shame is on account of me often not feeling confident about diagnosing these things. The whole nether side of both my vessels are dark, cramped greasy messes, so why shouldn't there be oily discharge when the pump kicks on?
To make matters worse, yesterday's embarrassment occurred at the lobster car, which could have contaminated lobsters floating there awaiting a trip to town. Fortunately, there weren't any crates and I took off pretty much as soon as I realized what was happening.
Unlike some hazmat spills, this one looked fresh. Sometimes, it's just a nasty bit of broth that looks as though it's been marinading some while. Yesterday, it looked brandy new and alarming.
Back on the mooring, I started with what, to me were the obvious possible culprits, the injection pump and fuel lines that cross under the motor to the filter. Wiping things down showed nothing. Rubber fuel lines running aft into terra incognito looked dry and in perfect condition.
Already exhausted and knowing I still had an hour of hard labor trucking traps home, I gave up, promising myself I'd stew about it overnight. Promise kept.
I found the problem by accident. The day was chilly and gray and the very last place I wanted to be was under the deck in a tiny cramped space with the enhanced feature of a significant puddle of cold and filthy liquid. I chose to treat myself to pumping and sponging out the puddles before laying down in them. The starboard side gave up nothing but dirty water.
As soon as the first chuff came out of the hand pump into my bucket on the port side, I was onto something. The sponge agreed with the pump that we were definitely on the right track.
The problem was that the right track led into an impenetrable appearing space blocked by frame pieces, a large exhaust elbow, raw water hoses and other dubious nubs and protrusions.
I decided to try the easier way first. Into the big hatch on the deck, sit/lay down on the propeller shaft and shine a light toward the spare fuel tank. Nothing obvious presented itself, so, still nips-up, I wiggled and twisted my head and shoulders partway through an opening aft and learned no more, except to not try to go in there again.
On to the less easy way. The forward hatch where I discovered the diesel infused water is too small to just get into. It's square and one my size needs to go legs first, then sort of corkscrew in enough to pull upper body and head in in order to lay down. Then it's a matter of twisting, pushing and pulling around the various obstacles and taking a break now and again to ponder whether I can get out again to reach the spare fuel tank.
When I reached the spare tank, I had the sweet rush of 'yes, that's it,' when seeing the fresh fuel pooling underneath. The top was shiny as was the side below. With some confidence, I came up with a plan to empty the tank and clean up the mess. I never use it, it makes the boat list and any repair to the inaccessible fixture would require ripping up the deck. After I got out, the sweet rush of 'yes that's it' faded into a 'what if it isn't?' born of misdiagnosing things in the past. I repeated the journey, this time much more quickly and pretty sure if I got out once, I could again. 'Yes that's it' and 'what if it isn't?' then agreed to a stalemate where 'it's what I can come up with and seems pretty likely.'
I've pumped fuel into tanks many times, but not out, so some equipment would be necessary. After showering off most of the accumulated petroleum residue, sludge and fiberglass fragments picked up in my burrowing, I grabbed a couple of 55 gallon barrels Jeb had rigged up so they could be hoisted, my hand operated fuel pump and a good slug of detergent.
A couple more hours of pumping, hoisting, trucking and general jackassery and I have an empty-ish spare tank which hopefully, sooner or later, will stop leaking, the boat isn't listing any more and we have fuel for the hot water heater for the foreseeable future. And soreness.