I figured I would share our tank cleaning experience in case anyone else is planning on having it done.
When I decided to have it done, I called a local boatyard I was interested in using for the first time. Kenny Bock at Bock Marine basically said, "Just call Craig Shrek. He's who I would call to do it anyway." So, while curious why Kenny wanted out of the chance to take my money, I called Craig Shrek with Eastern Marine Diesel (or EMD Fuels... EMD Fuel System Service NC - Diesel Fuel Polishing North Carolina
). Even over the phone, Craig was a wealth of information and very patient as I learned what I needed to know and asked questions. He was equally accommodating while we attempted to get the work scheduled at a time that worked well for both of us.
After a few back and forth attempts, we (well Bess, really) decided that it would be best for us to try and get it done in Beaufort, NC and incorporate it into our first summer cruising vacation. You see, he needs to be within 80' of the boat for his trucks hoses to reach us. He has an "agreement" with the Beaufort Town Docks where they will hold a spot on the bulkhead at the parking lot should he need it. Bess loves Beaufort and on Monday morning, after a few passing showers ended, Craig and Jed (his able-bodied assistant) arrived in Craig's custom designed fuel filtering and pumping truck and got to work.
Job one was for me to transfer all my fuel to one side. I carefully planned this process at a point when we were down to just about 15-20 gallons onboard. The truth is that we were low enough on fuel that I felt it would be best for me to move it all over to one tank before we left our home port and closed of the other to prevent gulping air. So honestly, step one was over before it started.
Step two was pull the access panel covers. Something that I was fearful to do alone as they are vertical. I mean, it's one thing to feel good about pulling and reinstalling a plate that holds back fresh water. It's a whole different thing to do it with a panel that hold back fuel. I didn't want to accept that liability.
It was a big moment with the panel came off. Was it going to be a complete mess? Would there be rust? Would this be a colossal waste of money? My heart was going 200 BPM when we finally pulled the plate off. Well, it was not as bad as I thought, but it was certainly time to get it done. There was a thick (3") layer of sludge in the tank's bottom. The tank is form-fitted to the hull (saddle tanks) with a gate valve at the lower-most and aft-most point. Every bit of that could find its way to the filter eventually.
One more note about the access plates: The gaskets were apparently a flat piece of rubber that covered the entire opening, however, the whole center section had deteriorated and was actually broken off and was sunk in the fuel tank. When Jed grabbed it, it practically turned to goo instantly. I'd bet that wasn't too good for the motor.
Step three was to start soaking up the muck. Jed did all the dirty work while Craig setup the truck. Jed used nothing but the oil pads you buy at West Marine. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it was a surprise to see him use them. It didn't take long to see why. They worked very well. He got as much as he could reach. The two baffles were a bit of a problem, but the scrubbing process would get any remaining residue.
It took a few hours. I helped where I could, but there isn't room for more than one person at a time in my "engine room"
, so I would hand him tools, get him all setup, and then leave him to his work. He liked to talk and I know that if I stayed, I would extend the job by HOURS while he spilled his life story. Not that it wasn't interesting, I just feel bad about slowing people's work by fertilizing the conversation. Besides, talking to Craig outside was teaching me a LOT about fuel science.
The final step was to give the tanks a final cleaning with the scrubbing rig. two 2" hoses went into each baffled section of the tanks. My remaining fuel was scrubbed at 60 GPM. Craig manned the complex controls and closely watched the vacuum gauges to insure that there was actually progress being made. It took a couple of Racor 1000 filters and circulating fuel for over an hour per tank for Craig to feel they got it all.
After it was all said and done, the job's total time was about 6 hours. We felt that the fuel we used to scrub was really in no shape to keep. All it took was seeing it side by side with new. So he removed the remaining few gallons I had onboard and I bought 100 brand new gallons from the marina pumps. Not forgetting to mark exactly where 50 gallons in each tank comes up to on the sight tubes.
Final thoughts are this: It was the best $500 I have spent on the boat to date. It was needed and was not too far gone to have it be a 100% success. I also now have a much higher level of confidence in the boat beneath us and have reduced the chances of being stranded by this to nearly zero. Our steel tanks showed some VERY LIGHT pitting. Nothing to worry about and age appropriate. The quality time I spent with Craig went a long way in helping me better understand the fuel industry and I will highly recommend him to anyone in the area that needs fuel services. I paid in cash to help him keep more of it and Jed got a $20 tip for having to do all the sweaty work...
I hope this will help you should you need to same job in the future.
Here are a few pics of the process:
1) Starboard tank (before)
2) Port tank (before)
3) Jed "in the hole"
4) Bucket of gunk soaked oil rags
5) Distance from boat to truck
6) Scrubbing hoses
7) Scrubbing hoses II
8) Craig monitoring the truck