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DE 38 Fuel Tank Replacement

When we bought our Downeast Cutter 38’ in March 2014 we knew were in for a project. The boat had actually taken on a considerable amount of water partially submerging the engine, flooding the transmission, and fully flooding the aluminum fuel tank in seawater. The seawater had risen to about 18” into the salon between the two sofas. The owners agreed to get the engine running, pump out the water, and clean up the boat. I spent a few months doing various repairs, including a complete transmission removal/rebuild, as the salt water had gotten into some critical parts of the engine room. In the end, the damage seemed worse than it really was. However, after one particular day out, it became evident to us that the fuel tanks were in need of replacement.

The Downeaster 38 has a large Y-shaped fuel tank directly beneath the floor in the galley. The original tank appears to have been made from aluminum and was installed before the furniture was built in an effort to maximize the capacity. Beam-to-beam, the wings on the top of the tank extend as far as underneath the stove and part of the navigation station. Fore to aft, the tank is between the galley sink and the engine room. What’s particularly interesting is that the keel for the boat drops off abruptly into the deep sump under the engine, so the center of the tank is not flat on the bottom. Rather it follows a stair-stepped shape on the bottom to accommodate the keel which protrudes partially into the space below the galley.

Previous Owner's Sketch of Tank...

Previous Owner’s Sketch of Tank…

 

The first step was to get all of the fuel out of the tank. This was important not only to make it possible to work on the tank, but to prevent any potential fuel from leaking into the bilge as it would present quite an environmental hazard if the bilge pump were to kick on. To do this, I obtained a 55 gal. fuel storage drum and used a hand crank pump to extract all the fuel. We had about half a tank of fuel in there. The easiest way to do this was to pull out the fuel sensor in the tank, stick the tube from the extraction pump into the hole and pump it all into the drum. We just left the drum on the salon floor while we did the rest of the job, with our plan being to replace the fuel as soon as we finished.  I don’t know that I would do it this way again, as I’m not sure if the weight of the drum had done some damage to the salon floor.

One we were able to get all the fuel removed, and I was able to see what we were dealing with I decided that the project was bigger than me and it was time to get the help of a pro.  I found a mechanic who came highly recommended by some friends, and I gave him a call…

The perfect addition to any salon...

The perfect addition to any salon…

With the fuel out of the tank, we could sleep a little easier knowing that we weren’t keeping fuel in an aging tank.  We enlisted the help of a mechanic and boatwright to get us through the rest of the process.

The challenge we faced was removing the tank without having to cut apart the furniture or the cabinet beneath the galley sink, but we didn’t exactly know what we were dealing with until we were able to actually get a good look at the tanks. For those of you who haven’t had to do this yet, the floor of the galley is constructed from what appears to be a piece of ¾” marine plywood wrapped in fiberglass on both sides. The decorative finished floor is a piece of ¾” marine plywood with a teak and holly veneer screwed to the top of the solid fiberglass sole. Luckily this can be removed in almost one piece which gives you access to the fiberglass below. From there it was a matter of simply cutting a large rectangular hole so we could get a good look at the tank.

Upon closer inspection, we were able to see exactly large the tank is. We could also finally view the inspection sticker showing that the tank was built in 1979 (two years before the boat was built) and had a max capacity of 81 gallons. The decision was made to actually cut and remove the tank from the boat.  The tricky part was to keep the tank pieces in shape so the fabricator could make a new tank using the pieces as a reference. Cutting a tank in the boat can be very dangerous. In spite of the fact that diesel fuel is far safer than gasoline, it is still very possible to ignite the vapors while cutting. Because of this, it is necessary to purge the tank of any fumes as well as fill the tank with some inert or non-flammable gas in the tank while cutting. This is no joke, as many metalworkers have been killed accidentally igniting vapors in tanks they thought were safe to cut or weld. It was also important to make sure the fuel sludge did not spill into the bilge, as it would have created an oil spill hazard if it got into the bilge. This is without a doubt, the dirtiest part of the job.

Is that a

Is that a “7” or a “9”?

With the tank out in pieces, the it was off to the metal shop for the fabricators to assemble a new set of tanks. After review, the mechanic recommended building the new fuel system as three tanks that would be plumbed together as one.

In order to avoid doing demolition and fiberglass repair work on the various furniture pieces in the galley and navigation station. The three tanks would be inserted in the boat in pieces, then plumbed together using large diameter fuel hose such that they behave as a single tank. This design may seem counterintuitive at first, but keep in mind that tanks are built with baffles to avoid sloshing of fuel while underway. In effect the separate tanks with fuel hoses acted as additional baffling; though each of the three tanks did have internal baffling on their own.  I do believe baffles are required per ABYC, but I could be wrong. In total, we sacrificed 10 – 15 gallons of fuel capacity to save some money and headache during installation. The original tank sticker showed 81 gallons of capacity, and the new tanks showed 75. Unfortunately, the new tanks tanks did not fit properly, so we had to have them cut and re-welded for extra wiggle room. We estimate perhaps a total 5 – 12 gallons of capacity was lost from the original 81 on the tank sticker, but it really is anybody’s guess.

Staring down in the abyss...

Staring down in the abyss…

 

The final installation of the tanks was to replace the fiberglass sole and the flooring on top. Once installed, it took the mechanic a day or so to fit the newly modified tanks, plumb them together, prime the fuel pump, and get the engine running. We were almost ready to go!

However, at this time we had a bit of a problem. We had terminated our lease at the marina because the waiting list for a better location had popped up.  For those of you who know San Diego, the South Bay is nice but it is far from the ocean. We like to do most of our sailing on the open ocean, and it would take and hour or two of motoring, sailing through dirty wind, and dodging other boats to get to blue water. So we actually had to sail the boat out of San Diego Bay, around Point Loma, and back into Mission Bay while the floor had a huge hole in it. To do this, we quickly dropped the floor back in with nothing attached and set out.

The final steps were completed in the new marina. The boatwright attached large plastic tabs to the hole in the fiberglass sole rather than to re-glass, or use the aluminum repair studs. I requested this just in case I needed to get to the tanks for maintenance later. It’s nice that the galley floor simply pops out in one large singular piece and is only held in by some screws. I opted to leave the teak plugs out of the floor, again, just in case. I have thought about drilling the holes wider and putting some sort of bronze plug or something in there to allow for easy access to the fasteners but so far nobody has really noticed the holes in the floor.

A job well done.

A job well done.

Well…that’s it. This brings this saga to a close. I’ve included pictures along the way, in case anybody is curious or wants to see the process.  Having been caught up in it so much, all the pictures you see are the ones we have.  Next time (which I hope isn’t for a while) I ‘ll try to get a better shot on how the three-tank plumbing system works.  It was rather quite clever on behalf of the fabricator.

Have fun out there, and be safe!

Web server issues over last couple days

If you have been trying to use the website over the last couple days you might have gotten messages saying there were to many connections or various other error messages involving the sql server, and have been unable to actually use the website. I have been troubleshooting it for the last two days and with a bit of troubleshooting help we found that someone in Russia was using a standard ping back feature of the xmlrpc.php file in wordpress on a couple of the other websites on this server to reflect an attack on a couple of servers here in the US. It was a bit of a conundrum for us as we were not hacked as I had initially believed, they were taking advantage of a supported feature of wordpress, but it ended up creating a denial of service for us as the attackers were opening as many ports with their spoofed pingback request as the server would support. This blocked other users such as you from using the website. Our options were to remove the xmlrpc.php file in the root of all the wordpress sites on the server. This would fix the issue but also break some functionality inside wordpress. IT would have been livable but still not optimal. Luckily we found a plugin for wordpress that addresses this exact situation and allows us to turn off pingbacks while not breaking other functionality.

Everything should be back to normal. As of a few minutes ago we weren’t seeing any more connections being opened up for these pingback DOS attack packets.

 

If anyone is having any issues please let me know. I don’t think that implementing this fix should affect your usage of the website but you can never tell.

 

Thank you,

Scott Carle

Webmaster and general server dogsbody :)

Major website upgrade

As everyone will be noticing the website has had some significant changes. I have done a long overdue upgrade to both the basic website software and the forum software. I guarantee that we will have some teething issues. Please let me know if you find any bugs or stuff not working. I am actually working through stuff just like you guys as this is such a major version jump that I am learning to use it now also.

Right now I am trying a new layout for the forums. Let me know if you like this or not.. It is a minor matter to change it back to a standard layout. Also this upgrade is problematical in that the developers removed some features according to them as part of the free download forum. Those features I will need to purchase to re-implement them.. I’m not to worried about that but I’m not sure what functionality is missing in this new version. Let me know if you run across stuff we could do before and now can’t..

One of the major bugs I was trying to fix with this upgrade was the posting of links in forum posts being broken. This is now fixed. I have tested it and it works.. If you still have an issue with it let let me know. But as of right now I am considering it fixed.

There seems to be an issue with the TinyMCE editing controls for creating posts. I am working at resolving that. Normal posting with basic options still works. Also there is a totally new image and media uploading subsystem. The controls for that are under the text area when you are creating a new post.

Just let me know what issues you run into if any and we will work through them.

 

Update… I have fixed the editing menu issues. It was a bit of brutal work to figure out what the issue was.. An incompatible wordpress plug-in. i will have to create a new contact page on the main website as it was the form generation plug-in used there that was causing the issue.

Portlight Replacement “A Quick Story of S/V Argyle”

I replaced all six opening ports with NFM stainless steel opening ports. They have been excellent. I believe the 17″ ports were very close to a drop in fit. The only extra cutting required was for the ‘half-moon’ cutouts required for the two drains in each port and the countersinks on the back side of the outside plate. The exact cabin trunk thickness was not required. The outer plate connects to the body of the window using female threaded ‘slugs’ molded to the plate. You screw the window and outer plate together from the inside. Here is a picture showing how the outer plate sits in a spot where the factory cut the window hole a little too square. (I ended up filling in that gap with thickened epoxy.)

The rest of that folder has a few other other pictures of the install, it should be an open directory.

I used the template from NFM, but it did not line up all the holes perfectly. The moldings from each window differ slightly. If I were doing it again, I would start the drill holes, marking the location of each hole, from the inside using the port itself. I would then use the template to make sure the drill went in at 90 degrees to the surface for each hole. You need to keep each port ‘married’ to each hole until you complete the install, otherwise the drill holes might not line up. These are well built, but they are not tight tolerance parts.

I used polysulfide to seal up the port against the cabin trunk and 4000UV to seal up the outside plate. If doing it again I would just use the factory butyl. Can’t complain though. It’s been six years and they haven’t leaked a drop.  :)

 

Mast Treatment with Hammerite Smooth by Charles McGrory

Mr Charles McGrory of Glasgow Scotland recently contacted me to comment on the site and offered up some projects he has done on his boat. He has an Ohlson 38 he has restored and this was one of his projects to brighten up his mast by painting it. Over the next week or so I will try and put up a nice project he has for a watch standing seat in the companionway.

From Mr. McGrory:
When I bought my boat in Oct 2010 ,the mast was very badly weathered. I considered having the
mast stripped and then painted with Awlgrip. I thought about a new mast but Sailspar in England
kindly told me that the original mast would be of much thicker section than the masts of today. And a
new mast of thinner section would be approx £5000 without the tangs etc.
I did not strip the mast at all. I had this tip from another Ohlson 38 owner who is near Ipswich; he
guards his privacy so I can’t mention his name. He touches up his 30 yr old mast with a Hammerite
Smooth spray can. My mast was ghastly as you can see.
I tried the Hammerite Smooth spray can just for the hell of it; could not look any worse, and could see
a big improvement but the paint was showing weeping run marks from too heavy a shot of aerosol; I
quickly changed to a normal can £20 and a hair brush. I had so little faith that it would work, it was all
just an experiment, anything would look better. However, in one warm sunny afternoon I did the
whole mast which was down for the boat going into the paint shed. What a difference!
It just took a wee bit care to not paint over ropes, shrouds etc. I painted all the way to the masthead
crane.
The professionals in the paint shop who had quoted me ££££ for undressing the mast, Awlgrip etc
later said it was fine (well almost) and next time to use a foam brush to avoid any texture from the
hair brush. I was so satisfied that it was so quick and cheap. To be sure I can see the brush texture in
some places – invisible at any distance. The coating without any primer – just a light prior washing off
of any grit – has stayed on and seems tough enough. I expect that with ropes etc slapping it will thin
out where the ropes rub but the foam brush touch up will be fine. I still have half the can of
Hammerite Smooth.

 

Mast before painting.

Mast before painting.

Mast After Painting

Mast After Painting

 

I want to thank Mr. Charles McGrory for submitting his write up of this project. It is a nice product and idea for an inexpensive but durable update to an old mast to make it look better and give it some additional protection.

 

You can find Hammerite Paint here.