December 09 Cruising Tips

MAINTENANCE: Keeping Fuel Sludge-Proof

Four years ago our diesel engine died because of a blocked fuel line. We’ve known many other cruisers who have suffered the same problem. Whenever a boat is going to windward under power, as we were, the fuel in the tanks gets stirred up. If the tank contains dirty fuel or microbial growth, as ours did, there will often be trouble. To be fair, we were not adding biocide to our fuel at the time (we do now); had we been doing so the shutdown might not have occurred.

When we opened the elbow at the top of our fuel pick-up pipe we saw that thick sludge was blocking the line. No wonder the engine stopped. Because our fuel tank is under fixed floorboards and has no inspection plate, we knew cleaning it would be a huge job. But we also knew the problem could recur unless we found a solution. We thought the one we came up with would be only temporary, but it has worked well for four years and we’ve since passed it along to other cruisers. All have been happy with the results.

First, we shortened our fuel pick-up pipe by about 2in. We knew this would reduce our operative fuel capacity by 5 gallons, but we felt getting the pipe away from the bottom of the tank was worth it. Next we cut a circle of close–stranded copper mesh about 1in in diameter. (Make sure the mesh material you choose is compatible with your fuel tanks and pick-up pipes.) Then we drilled a small hole about 1/4in from the lower end of the pipe and secured the copper mesh to it with copper wire. However, after we had installed the mesh, we discovered the pipe and gauze wouldn’t fit through the hole on the top of the tank. To get the required clearance we changed to a slightly smaller-diameter pipe and then reattached it to the rest of the fuel system.

Periodically, we pull out the pick-up pipe and clean the bottom of the copper mesh. When the pick-up pipe is out we insert a tube that is long enough to reach the bottom of the tank and siphon out all the dirty fuel or water that may be down there. If you use a biocide regularly in your diesel fuel—we like Biobor JF —there shouldn’t be too much bad stuff that needs to be sucked out. – Rosie Burr

NAVIGATION: Nav Station Protocols

When thinking about where to install gear at your nav station, be sure you leave enough room to operate your laptop. Is there enough room to open up the screen? And be sure there is no chance that water will drip onto the screen, the keyboard, or the mouse from a portlight above.

Try to have at least 6in to 10in of open space above the table so you can work with paper charts and use a light to make log entries. Make sure the top of the chart table lifts up high enough so you can see everything inside.

To keep your shoulders from getting sore, place often-used electronic gear—radar, electronic charts and the HF radio, for example—down low. Mount units that don’t require a lot of dial twirling, like the VHF, GPS and windspeed indicators, higher up on the display panels.

As for outside displays, no matter whether they are LCD, TFT or just a basic unit with an analog readout, always keep them covered when not in use. The less they are exposed to the sun the longer they will work. And when buying new gear, make sure you can read the screen clearly while wearing polarized sunglasses. Displays vary from one manufacturer to another and though most are fine, there are a few that become invisible when you look at them with your sunglasses on. – Gordon West

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