5/4/2010 – Fuel filtration

I may have written about some of this stuff before but I finalized the installation today so here’s a little reprise:

If you’ve read one of my earliest entries, telling about our trip down the Washington and Oregon coasts, you know about the hassles we had with fuel filters. At the time I wrote the whole thing off to crud in the fuel tank being stirred up. Since that time I have read quite a bit about fuel filtration. One thing that stands out is that you can find at least one “expert” to back up whatever filtration strategy you choose. Of course, that’s the story of nearly everything associated with sailing and cruising.

One of the jobs I did a few months ago was to cut an access hole into my fuel tank so that it could be opened up and cleaned by hand occasionally.

What I found when I dug in and started cleaning the tank was that it wasn’t really that dirty. Sure there was some crud down at the very bottom but it was pretty well stuck in place. This led me to rethink what our problem was when coming down the coast. After doing some more reading to find an “expert” to back up the theory that I chose to believe, I decided that we probably were WAY over-filtering the fuel. I had switched filter elements in our primary filter from 30 microns to 2 microns. This is the same size filter that is installed on my engine as the final filter. I figured that, rather than rely on my engine-mounted filter (which is pretty small and somewhat of a hassle to change) I would just filter out all that stuff at the beginning of the line and probably never have to change the engine-mounted filter as a result. And, the theory sort of worked.

What I hadn’t thought about was how often the 2 micron primary filter was going to plug up. On our trip down, I found out. It’s a lot.

So, my next move was to install a regular Racor filter with a 30 micron element as my primary filter. If I’d had that on the way down the coast we may have never had to swap filters en route. But, that’s not all. In the off chance that we do have to change filters while underway, I’d like to be able to do it on my schedule. Don’t want the filter plugging up and stopping the engine during some critical operation. So, I borrowed a trick from the big guys and installed twin filters with switchover valves between them so that, in the event of a plug-up, I can simply switch 2 valves and I’m once again operating with a clean filter. Now, I can change elements when it’s convenient.

And that was where things stood until today. The boat originally came to us equipped with a Racor canister filter unit. It’s kind of a nice unit but the elements are ridiculously expensive. I was going to shitcan the unit and just use the 30 micron filters and the engine-mounted filter. However, after finding out what the canister units cost, I decided it would be foolish not to find a use for it. So, I reinstalled it and installed a 2 micron element. This then will serve as the polishing filter, easing the load on the engine-mounted unit.

I managed to get it all back together without any leaks and without any spills. I’d like to say that my trusty little Westerbeke diesel, which is advertised as “self-bleeding” fired right up. However, because I didn’t pre-fill the new filter with clean fuel, there is a LOT of air to bleed off. I have always been amazed in the past at the level which the engine will self-bleed so I decided to put it to the big test while I’m still connected to shore power and therefore, unlimited battery-charging capability. By the time I decided to give things a rest, the new filter was full of fuel but the engine hadn’t fired yet. I’m letting it sit to see if the air will work its way up to the self-bleeding unit (wherever that is) and will then miraculously start next time I try. Hey, it’s happened before!

I was able to do all of this plumbing through the engine room door at the base of the companionway ladder. Lulu had been planning to do some sewing but was afraid she’d be in the way. But we decided that we really needed to learn to be able to work on 2 projects at the same time because we’re going to have to in the near future. The good news is, we both got our jobs done, no one got hurt, no one got mad, and we were never really in each other’s way.

Hey, take a look at this view of the engine room. It really is a room and the size is unprecedented for almost any sailboat, much less a 28 foot sailboat.

You’re looking aft through the door behind the companionway ladder. The engine room is also accessible from above through a hatch in the cockpit floor. Behind the engine is a huge Edson diaphragm pump mounted on a piece of plywood. It’s got a 2-1/2′ handle and will pump something like a gallon per stroke. We used it to great advantage when we got to our old boat late one Friday night and found the floorboards floating. The boat was not terribly raintight, it had rained a lot since our last visit and, at the time, it didn’t have an electric bilge pump. We’ve learned a lot since then. At any rate, the point is that this is one herkin’ big manual pump. Behind the pump base you’re looking into the lazerette.

To starboard of the engine is a shelf which houses our 2 group 27 starting batteries, our Honda 2000 generator (sporting a Lulu-made custom canvas cover), as well as a bunch of miscellaneous pieces of lumber. A Webasto diesel forced-air heater and a Whale gusher bilge pump are located above the Honda. Most boats seem to be built with the absolute smallest space for the engine that they can get away with. This is okay if, by removing some panels you can expose the beast. But I’ve read about boats where you had to lay down on the quarter berth, and then reach (one-armed) through an access hatch to change oil filters, etc. Those boats undoubtedly have more stowage space, but I’ll take my proper engine “room” anytime.

PS: a future blog will talk about the sewing project that Lulu is working on. But I want to wait until it’s done so you can get the big picture.


About sryoder

Steve & Lulu... retired. Had enough of the cold wet dreary fall/winter/spring in the Pacific Northwest. Bought a boat, fixed it up, sold our home and sailed to Mexico in November, 2010. Been here ever since except for occasional forays to the States (summer only, thank you) to visit the kids, parents and siblings. If you're looking for a sailing blog, this is the wrong place. This is a traveling, hunkering in, eating blog. Sailing is just how we get from place to place when we can't walk.
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6 Responses to 5/4/2010 – Fuel filtration

  1. 2ndreef says:

    Hi Steve. Like your engine "room." Reminds me of the old days and my 57 Chev pu when you could work on an engine. My wife and I are excited about the new adventure coming up for you and Lulu. We live in Reno, but berth the boat in Alameda. Until tomorrow, have a good day. Bill.

  2. Steve & Lulu says:

    Thanks Bill. We plan to spend a month or so in the Bay Area, probably in August. Maybe we'll cross paths.-Steve

  3. Anonymous says:

    Hi Steve, this is Voytek (a W28 Namaste).I have made a similar setup for fuel filtration. I have removed the single big racor primary and installed twin OZ made filters with a switch. I use 10 micron elements. I have also cleaned the tank as you had with similar results. I have not had to flick the switch in 2 years after running around 150/200 hours. But I am using 2 extra tricks that you haven't mentioned so I share them with you.First, I try to top the fuel up in the tank as full as possible to prevent water condensation. Second trick is HOW you add the fuel to the tank. I have not disposed of the old racor. Instead, I have rigged it with a small electric pump and couple of fuel lines. Any fuel that goes to my tank has to go through the racor. I have few elements left. At the moment using 2 micron but just use what I've got. I think this is THE KEY to worry free fuel system. At the moment I'm keeping this in a bucket in the lazarette but the plan is to make it a permanent feature. OK… it takes 20 minutes to pump in 5 galons of fuel but I don't need to sit and watch plus the benefits are far outweighing the effort spent refuelling. Something to consider.Btw, I enjoy your writing, especially that I can relate anything you say about Siempre Sabado back to Namaste. My next project is to move 2 out of my 4 Trojans under the companionway ladder as you did. I also plan to install a furler on the staysail as well as replace the wooden sprit with a pipe ss one…Wish you smooth sailing South…Cheers,Voytek, s/v Namaste

  4. Hi Voytek,We followed Alex's blogs across the Pacific in Namaste. Matter of fact, his video of cleaning his fuel tank is what inspired me to have the courage to do the same.I like your idea about pre-filtering the fuel going to your tank. We have a Racor funnel filter with a (I think) 70 micron element. Also known as a "Baja filter". I haven't used it in the states except when transferring fuel from my jerry jugs to my tank as I did after cleaning the fuel tank. Suspect I might use it quite a bit down south.One of the side benefits of moving your batteries under the ladder is that you get a step at the bottom (the top of the box) which is just right for sitting on to put on your shoes. I think you'll like the modification. And, if you also make the ladder steeper in the process, you'll be amazed how much easier it is to get in and out of the nav station.Pipe bowsprit, eh? Is the one Alex made worn out already or do you just want something more worry-free?Keep in touch. We little 28s have to stick together. Thanks for reading.-Steve

  5. Wojtek says:

    Steve,I have a Baja filter as well. It is a very good filter but can be messy in hi seas. My idea is such that I will drag a jerry can to the cockpit, tie it off, stick a fuel line into it and flick a switch. The fuel will be sucked through a racor by a small (Facet) electric pump directly to the tank, without having to open the cockpit filler cup. And I can do other things while this is done. I think it's a good theory. Will let you know how this has worked out in real life ;-)The bowsprit that Alex made of 4 teak boards has delaminated and I can see few cracks around the knots. I could re-glue and brace it with strong ss braces but after doing all that it would still be a wooden sprit that will eventually rot and break.The pipe bowsprit allows it to be mounted much lower, such that it lines up with the deck level. It allows for wider platform and opens up the foredeck into a much bigger and safer working space. This is my second theory, will also let you know how that has panned out.My other upcoming project is to "furl" the staysail. I know I'll be missing the boom for its other practical uses like lifting the dink from the water but the benefit of not having to go forward in bad weather is far greater. I know that you have furled both of your headsails. Any worthwhile experiences worth sharing? From memory, you have reused your sails… I'm going to make it strong so that it can also work as storm jib so will probably have to get a new one made.And yes, you are right, we W28s are both small in length as well as in our number (only 60 or so originally) and have to keep together. Hopefully you and Lulu will cross the Big Water by the time I go cruising (in a year or so) and our path will cross somewhere in the South Pacific.In the meantime, keep warm! (I know you have summer right now but it's probably not much warmer than my South Australian winter).Voytek

  6. Thanks again, Voytek. I'm going to contact you by direct e-mail about some of this stuff. I think I have your address from the WOA forum.-Steve

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