Small Stuff

Published: April 2014

Photo of fuel additive seals

Anchor symbol When it comes to potential problems while underway, most boaters are aware of the dangers of dirty fuel and clogged fuel lines. Many try to prevent the problem by using fuel additives to stabilize their gasoline or prevent bacterial growth in their diesel tanks. Michael Liebaert, who keeps his Gulfstar 50 in New Orleans, wrote in to warn others of a problem he experienced that came not from the additives themselves but from not being careful enough while pouring them into the tank.

Liebaert was taking his boat out for a sea trial and to program his new autopilot with Roy from Sintes Boatyard. The Gulfstar's engine died at the mouth of the harbor. "Roy is an experienced sailor, who held the wheel while I partially unfurled the jib," Liebaert wrote. "We maneuvered under sail into the outer harbor of the Municipal Marina and dropped anchor. After investigation, we discovered the fuel supply line was clogged. I eventually cut the bell off an air horn, taped it to the fuel line, and blew out the obstruction in the fuel tank. The experience exemplified the requirement of being able to get a sail out in a hurry, and to always have the anchor ready.

But Liebaert was not satisfied to leave it at that. "A couple of days later, we pumped out the fuel tank and discovered two small, round aluminum seals and two plastic seals from the top of fuel additive containers which also clogged the fuel pump-out tube," he said. "After 30 years of pouring additives in the fuel tank, four seals from the additive containers broke off and dislodged in the tank, and clogged my fuel pickup tube. That taught me to use a funnel with a strainer from now on, and not to let anything fall into the fuel filler or the fuel tank."

So whether you're putting additives into your tank or oil into your engine, make sure the entire aluminum or plastic seal has been removed from the neck of the bottle before pouring, and use a funnel with a strainer to make sure nothing finds its way into the tank that might eventually bring your engine to a sudden stop.

Anchor symbol So what's a guy to do when he's on the Seattle waterfront and needs to get to West Seattle? Take the ferry, right? Well that's just what Samuel McDonough did at 7:00 in the morning on December 1 of last year. But he didn't quite do it the way you or I would have. Instead of buying a ticket and boarding with a group of early morning commuters, McDonough climbed through a hole in a fence, found a way onto the berthed and empty Victoria Clipper IV, located the keys in the pilothouse, and managed to break away from the dock before realizing he didn't have the first idea of how to operate the 132-foot passenger ferry.

Photo of the Victoria Clipper

According to CBC News, when the Coast Guard spotted the high-speed catamaran drifting and apparently unmanned 300 yards off Pier 69, they sent a tugboat crew out to retrieve it. The discovery that someone was aboard prompted a major mobilization by law enforcement. "Knowing that no one had permission to be on the boat, we used our marine unit, our bomb squad, we used our SWAT team and hostage negotiators, all in partnership with the Port of Seattle and the United States Coast Guard, to pretty much isolate the incident, contain the ship, and bring it to a peaceful resolution," said Seattle Police Sgt. Sean Whitcomb.

After a brief negotiation, the SWAT team boarded the vessel and took McDonough into custody. "[He] apparently wanted to take it across Elliott Bay to West Seattle," Whitcomb said, "which is never recommended. There's plenty of other modes of transportation in order to meet those needs, and of course he's going to get booked into King County Jail after we're done questioning him."

McDonough subsequently told police that he had taken the boat as a "birthday present to himself," and that he was a pirate and wanted to go to Victoria, British Columbia. Whatever his reason, it's going to be quite some time before he gets out on the water again — he pleaded guilty to burglary and theft charges on January 10, and he was sentenced to 2-1/2 years in prison on January 24.

So when you take the ferry, we suggest you do it the conventional way and leave the driving to the captain. Oh, and please don't leave your keys in the pilothouse.

Anchor symbol Many readers wrote in to tell us that they enjoyed Capt. Frank Lanier's "Sea Chest of Horrors" in the January issue, and several included their own worst "horror." Winner of the most hair-raising story goes to David Nagorsen, who wants to make sure you check your fuel filler hoses. It seems that in 2001, he took his 1970 Cruisers Bonanza on its trailer to a local gas station to mix the winter fuel additive. "After putting in 20 or so gallons, I started on the trip home," he wrote. "After turning on a side street from the main highway, a vehicle passed me and slowed with its horn blaring. I pulled over and rolled down the window. The female passenger alerted me that the boat was leaking gasoline all over the highway. OMG!"

Upon investigating, Nagorsen found his 20 gallons of gasoline in the bilge draining out the partially blocked drain hole. After screwing in the drain fitting, he made his way home — very carefully.

(We have to interrupt this narrative to ask that if you ever find yourself in a similar situation, please call the claims department and ask them how best to proceed. This is what Fuel Spill Liability coverage is for ... We'd rather a professional dealt with it than risk the boat going boom while you're trying to get it home.)

A close inspection of the fuel system revealed that the filler hose had become detached from the filler opening on the deck. The "horrors" that led to Nagorsen leaking fuel all over the highway included:

  • When his boat was made (1970), only one hose clamp was installed on each end of the fuel filler hose.
  • The filler nozzle through the deck did not have any barbs to hold the hose.
  • The hose between tank and deck had dryrotted and cracked below the filler deck plate.
  • The steel gas tank had also rusted through at the lowest area of the tank well because there were no drain holes to keep water from accumulating under the tank.

He corrected these problems by doing the following:

  • Two hose clamps are now installed at each end of the fuel filler hose.
  • The new filler deck plate has hose barbs.
  • The hose is now replaced every 10 years, regardless of condition (twice since this happened).
  • An aluminum tank has replaced the original steel tank.
  • Drain holes were added to the tank well to allow rainwater to drain into the bilge.
  • The tank was raised using 1/4-inch high density polyethylene (HDPE) strips, allowing air to circulate around the tank and any moisture to evaporate.
  • A cowl vent was added on the deck to allow air to vent the tank well by means of the bilge blower.

Nagorsen ended by saying, "This was a clear example of ‘out of sight, out of mind.' I now check everything each and every spring. I use a mirror to see the hose/deck plate filler connection. Prior to every trip, I lift the floor cover and visually inspect the tank and its fittings. I lift the engine cover and smell for fumes. This will not happen again!"

Anchor symbol In the last issue, Seaworthy wrote about GPS spoofing, but it turns out that more than just your GPS can be misled by bogus signals. Researchers with the computer security company Trend Micro demonstrated that AIS (Automatic Information System) can also be easily fooled. AIS transmits a radio signal with the ship's location, course, speed, and other details, to be used by other vessels and port authorities to manage the traffic flow and prevent collisions. Passenger vessels and cargo ships over a certain size are required to carry AIS under international rules.

Photo of pwned spoof

In this version of spoofing, Trend Micro researchers were able to intercept signals from nearby vessels and send out modified versions to make it appear the vessel was somewhere else. Using cheap radio equipment, they made fake vessels appear, real ones disappear, and even spelled out "pwned" across the Indian Ocean with the track of one vessel.

[Sad to say, the editors of Seaworthy had to look up "pwned" in the Urban Dictionary. Apparently, it comes from a typo in World of Warcraft, a video game, and basically means that you have been "owned" — completely dominated or outclassed by some godlike or computer-like force.] If you don't know what World of Warcraft is, sorry, we don't either.

The researchers made their point to prove that AIS, as a legacy system designed when security was not an issue, is vulnerable to hacking and could be used to hide ships' locations or to make it appear a hostile fleet is coming when it isn't. Most recreational vessels don't carry AIS, but for those that do, this is a reminder never to rely solely on a screen for navigation or collision avoidance. Especially if it says, "Pwned."End of story marker

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