Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Oh the horror, filthy bilges , dirty jobs

I open the hatch, look down into the engine room, and reel back in dismay. Several inches of black oily water, intermingled with amorphous brown lumps sloshing at the keel. Every place you could put your on feet is covered with black slime. The once white engines are now grayish, and look like Jackson Pollock had painted them with a pallet that consisted of only used black engine oil. Old egg crate insulation foam crumbles into dust at the slightest touch. "You gotta be kidding. Is this a joke, you want me to work down there? Do I look like I own a Hazmat suit? I have one word for you, "Soap" and lots of it. Have you heard about this stuff? After seeing this, I know I don't want to see what the head looks like. Not a chance, hire someone to clean up this pigsty if you can't, and don't call me until it's looking better. Believe it or not even marine installers have some marginal  standards."

This is a true description, with the exception of some exaggeration of my comments to the owner. I was a little more circumspect in my dealings with him, which had more of the flavor of pedantic advice about good maintenance, and its importance. but I still wasn't about to work on the boat until the engine room was in a cleaner condition.

You can almost always tell the real condition of a vessel by the condition of its engine room. If it is immaculate, you know the owner really cares about the boat, and everything else will be that way. At the other extreme, if the engine room is "Horrific" you know the rest of the boat will be that way also. I'm not a marine surveyor, but I suspect the tone for every survey is set by one quick look at the engine room. 

Your engine room and bilges are truly the guts of your vessel, and you would be a very sick person if this is what your insides looked like. There are endless reasons why your bilges, and engine room should be kept clean, starting with you can immediately spot a problem in a clean environment. It's hard to spot a new oil leak, if the engine room is already coated with a cornucopia of mixed fluids, and has a miasma laden odor.

I know that there are many places in boats that are akin the the junk drawer in the kitchen, or that corner in the basement that you're afraid to look in. Access to the nether regions of the vessel is also rarely easy, but never the less, these areas should be inspected periodically, and cleaned if needed. Your house can't sink, but your boat can. This offers the benefit of being able to examine not oft looked at equipment, and through hull fittings. Out of sight can often be translated to corroding into oblivion.

Here are some of the benefits of having a nice clean bilge and engine room. They won't find your dirty body five days later after you slip on grease in the bilge, hit your head on the engine and expire. "Oh John, the boat smells so fresh, and you know how that makes me feel darling." You can check the oil in the white tux you're wearing for the party. Over a thousand dollars worth of spare parts were found because I cleaned up the engine room. Little Fifi didn't have a drop of oil on her after she snuck into the engine room and whizzed on the floor, here are the paper towels dear. The shareholders of Simple Green cleaner send you a thank you note for the huge purchase. A bad hose was found, and replaced, on the toilet outflow, saving you an ever bigger and malodorous clean up project downstream. Your mechanic will once again return your calls. Marina management says it's okay to remove the oil booms that surround your boat. The guests on the boat won't get oil behind their eyes like the aliens on the X Files. The marine surveyor comments on the great condition of the engine room. Rats packed up their suitcases, and left complaining the neighborhood was going uphill.

Look into your engine room, and decided what the "Engine Room Status" gauge would indicate. If it's pegged over hard, it's time to do something about it.

The two before and after photos of the remarkable bilge make over were borrowed from Steve and Lynn Steakley's cruising blog SV Wand'rin Star . It was a job well done.

The dirty bilge photo is courtesy of professional photographer Simon Atkins.

Oil sheen photograph is by the Installer.

The Engine Room Status gauge is the intellectual property of "The National Marine Entropy Association".

One of the concepts of entropy is that nature moves from order, to disorder in isolated systems.

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