We have been utilizing our boat as our floating home for over a year now. In addition to living aboard her, we have travelled approximately 3600 nautical miles since we left Florida. One of the constant and ongoing requirements for an active vessel at sea is a rigorous maintenance program. We have been utilizing the Vessel Vanguard program to track our ongoing maintenance and it has proven very helpful. We have access to an interactive website that follows all of the routine maintenance schedules for the Pilots’ Discretion. It provides us alerts to upcoming maintenance as well as maintaining a parts inventory and equipment utilization records for all of the various systems aboard. We have tried to be very proactive in anticipating the potential for equipment failure and it’s implications for our operational readiness.
Despite our diligent attention to the Pilots’ Discretion maintenance, occasionally we are confronted with an unanticipated requirement for technical support. Usually, it turns out that we need to find a part in an out of the way spot or get a second opinion on some minor equipment malfunction. A couple of days later we are on our way with the offending system back on line.
During our passage from St. Kitts to Antigua, we encountered a potentially catastrophic failure with our dinghy. We took the dinghy to shore in Majors Bay, St. Kitts for Patton’s morning walk and I noticed that the fuel gauge moved very quickly from full to nearly empty in the course of 20 minutes (we had just fueled the dinghy). In addition, the smell of gasoline was extremely strong and upon inspection, the bilge had two inches of raw gasoline floating in it. Anyone with any boating experience knows that gasoline in the bilge creates a very hazardous and potentially explosive situation. I checked all of the fuel lines throughout the boat and motor and could find no leaks. We elected to drain the bilge, clean it out as best we could and bring the dinghy aboard, not to be run again until we found some competent help to track down and repair our mysterious fuel leak.
We communicated with our cruising friends, John and Paulette Lee aboard M/V Seamantha (via our Delorme satellite communications system) and they volunteered to do some online research regarding options for us for our arrival in Antigua. Before we had Antigua on the radar, John had gotten back to us with the recommendation that we contact the folks at Seagull Inflatables (www.seagullinflatables.com) in Falmouth Harbor, Antigua.
As soon as we had the Pilots’ Discretion safely secured at Nelson’s Dockyard, I reached out to Seagull Inflatables owner, Mr. Dino Bruschi, and explained our issue. Dino told me he would be at our boat within an hour to evaluate and advise. True to his word, Dino was onboard Pilots’ Discretion and hard at work evaluating our fuel leak within the hour. The bad news was that he felt the integral aluminum fuel tank had failed. Ordinarily, that would not be a big deal but the engineering drawings of our dinghy showed that the tank had been put in place with no access points for maintenance. In fact, the tank had been installed and then fiber glassed in place. The net result to us was that the only way to access the tank was to literally cut it out of the boat. This was going to be major surgery for our dinghy with it’s still shiny new 40hp Yamaha outboard. I was having visions of the entire thing ending up on a scrap heap in Antigua. To his credit, Dino was not quite as pessimistic as I was. He assured me that he had a first rate shop and could complete the repair in a fashion that would meet our requirements and our budget.
Once the suspect fuel tank was removed, we found the source of our mysterious fuel leak. The fuel tank had been part of the boats electrical bonding system (a robust bonding system prevents a condition known as galvanic corrosion, a form of corrosion of metals that can present itself in the marine environment anytime salt water and electrical current are present) Somewhere along the way, the bonding strap that was attached to the fuel tank broke off.
Once that occurred, it was just a matter of time before galvanic corrosion would take its toll on the aluminum tank.
We found the corrosion holes, replaced the tank and installed a more robust bonding attachment to the new tank. After all of this, the magicians at Seagull Inflatables still had to reconstruct our tender in a way that was both cosmetically flawless and resulted in a stronger boat than we had arrived with. Throughout the process, Dino was diligent about communicating with me 3 or 4 times a day to make sure that I had the opportunity to participate fully in the development and implementation of the repair. Our dinghy is once again operational and if I do not show you the improved structure around the fuel tank, you would not be able to tell that there had ever been a problem. We cannot say enough good things about the way the folks at Seagull Inflatables go about their business. Thank you Dino and crew for an outstanding repair on short notice. For any fellow cruisers that require any attention to their tender or safety equipment while in Antigua, we would urge you to contact the folks at Seagull Inflatables. Dino can be reached on his cell at 1 (268) 725-4466. Thanks again Dino for a first rate repair.