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Old 24-07-2016, 08:07   #1
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floating bomb...close to extinction

On one of our Sailing Cub Catalina Island qualification training flotillas , I was skippering one of the instructor boats. Actually it was a Crealock 37 cutter rigged sailing vessel. The fleet numbered 8 other club boats.

All of the new members were assigned to certain boats. Having completed their sailing and navigation courses and pre requiste coastal day sails, they were ready for their Catalina Island qualification .

A couple who I had never met or had on lessons were assigned to my vessel along with four other students. The office had approved the two them to stay on board the night before the training fleet sailed the next morning.

I had no clue until I walked up and climbed on board and found them in the cockpit having coffee and donuts.( perfect start for mal de mere ). They had not been present for my pre cruise meeting the week before.

No worries, what kind of trouble could they cause. Plus, it was my job to
familiarize the members our boat with all of the vessel systems and making the several hour passage across the ocean to the island.

They would be standing watches, reefing down the mainsail, making sail changes ( before roller snarling sails became standard ), coastal piloting, and navigation ( No GPS), shipping lane traffic, mooring pick ups, etc.

We were about 3 miles out of Two Harbors, Catalina, when someone went down below to get their sailing jackets. Immediately the person was back standing in the companion way hatch.

" Captain, I can smell gas ! " This is a diesel engine vessel, how could that be happening. I sent another crew down below to verify the first persons findings. " Yep, it smells like gasoline fumes in the cabin. "

The two people who I had never met before just sat there and said

Speaking to everyone " This is a very dangerous situation, The vessel down below is filled with gasoline fumes. We have a diesel engine, how can we
be smelling gas ?" I look at everyone eye to eye. " Did any of you bring gasoline on board this boat ?"

Eventually, the two lubbers who stayed on board overnight fess up. They brought some gas on board for their dinghy. " Where is it ?"

They had stuffed two large drinking water plastic bottles filled with gasoline
deep down into the cockpit locker and covered them up with sail bags, exta line and their dink. The gas was for their dink outboard.

" Clear out the locker, get the gas out of there !

To the rest of the crew, " Turn off any and all electrical including the master batter switch. Open up all hatches, and port holes. Open all of the cabin sole bilge hatches and remove the engine room hatch. Air out the vessel. "

By now the two culprits had drug the two plastic one gallon water bottles full of gasoline. Add in 'more not smart' , the bottles only had those tiny snap on plastic bottle caps.

Not using an ounce of common sense, they arrived the night before, and stowed the gas and dink in the locker, and never advised me of what they had done

With our vessel reefed down, and small jib, we were beating into fairly rough seas, the bottles leaked and now gas fumes had permeated all throughout cabin, the galley, the bilges , heads, berth areas, and engine room. WE WERE A FLOATING BOMB !

" Get out the Manual bilge pump handle, and that bucket with a line attached. Dunk the bucket into the ocean water and dump it into empty cockpit locker. There is drain that flows into the bilges . Just keep doing that and change off duties to keep it easy.

The bilges are the lowest part of the vessel. We would wash down and clean the cockpit locker and the bilges at the same time. Plus ventilate the gas fumes from down below.

The crew had opened all of the cabin sole bilge hatches as well as the port
holes and over head hatches. Working diligently and as a team they
kept dunking that bucket and emptying into the cockpit locker, as well as continuing to sail the boat.

Sailing in to Two Harbors, they rigged bridles fore and aft for the mooring pick up under sail. No way that we could turn on any electrical or start the engine. 0ne spark and KA-BOOM.

When first finding the gas bottles I had the dink owners pour them out and toss the empties overboard. I know, but at the time I was more
interested in saving our human lives and the boat.

We did a great job of picking up the mooring undersail, and eventually the fumes dissipated. The two goofusus never made any attempt at saying
they were sorry, or did not admit they had made a mistake, nope none of that.

They were just concerned about getting fuel for the dink outboard. Pretty simple, row it over to the gas dock.s

I reminded everyone on board, Never stow any gasoline fuel, or diesel in an enclosed area. Have the extra diesel or gas in proper fuel containers lashed to life lines along the deck. Or a red, designated fuel tank in the dinghy that is towed astern.

Those two, who I had never had on a lesson, never sailed with me again. In fact I never saw them again. The sad thing is that it never dawned on them that they had put all of us , as well as the vessel, in danger of
blowing up, becoming a fire ball, sinking the boat, and possibly killing or badly burning all of us.

Now as to skippers responsibility. I was the instructor /captain. If that boat would have exploded, it comes down to the skipper being the responsible person. Also, it takes a cool head, and firm commands to overcome emergencies at sea.

Also , my sailing students, basic begins on 30 foot vessels, I always taught my students that some day, that engine or an electrical system will fail, and you will have to dock the vessel undersail.

And, when it was time for their check outs, on any vessel on up to 55 footers they had to dock under sail into our dead end slip.

Then under power also docking stern first, and also using backing and filling stern first.

In the instance above, picking up that mooring at catalina under sail was no big deal. They worked calmly as pros, and it was their first mooring pick up, ever.

Also in the sailing clubs training, was a required systems, and emergencies class, including fire fighting A, B, and C class fires.

Everything comes down to skippers responsibility to crew, passengers and the vessel. The buck stops with the skipper.

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Old 24-07-2016, 08:42   #2
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Re: floating bomb...close to extinction

Why did you continue with them on board? If this was a certification cruise I would've failed them and would not go any further with them on board, turned around and disembarked them at the nearest landfall. Period. End of story.

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Old 24-07-2016, 10:36   #3
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Re: floating bomb...close to extinction

First of all....I am a USCG licensed master 500 tons ( fifth issue }. To sit for my original 100 ton master I had to have 720 days at sea documented time. That took seven years. Taught sailing and motor vessel safety at sea class, did boat deliveries, charters world wide, and fleet leader for flotillas in the south pacific and Caribbean.

This was Catalina flotilla was a training cruise, they were there to learn. You may have turned around and sailed 33 miles and several hours back to our depature point, Newport Harbor, but I do not think that would have been real bright. Nor fair to the other four were doing just fine and I certified them.

1. We were part of a flotilla, and the other four people on board were getting their certification and did not even know these two dink owners. . None of us did. The two lubbers never continued on with any training or
check outs.

When I returned to the Sailing Club on Monday morning for work, I reported the incident and advised the office that the those two unsafe people were not qualified for catalina, or to take any of our vessels out for any harbor or daysails. The other four were certified. I recommended that the two dink owners be sent back for more training, or cancel their memberships. That is last that I heard about them.

The other four I had instructed and knew their capabilities.

Each had been thru 9 hours of basic sailing lessons, passed that written exam, then 9 hrs of intermediate lessons, passed that very long written exam, then the 3 hr, systems and emergency class, and then 4 advance lessons at sea 6 hrs each on 37 to 45 foot sailing vessels, passed that exam.

And then took their 3 hr 30 foot check out sail, single handed with the instructor grading them and sailed the boat out of the docks no engine, proved their vessel handling and sail trimming abilities,

They then returned docked under sail single handing the sail , wheel and docklines. and also attended my 16 hrs of coastal navigation piloting classes, and passed that written exam.

And you want to fail them because to other people messed up. Nope.

As to the Catalina cruise. Note also, we were only 3 miles out of Two Harbors, Catalina, and you may want to turn around and sail back to Newport beach with more than six hours and 30 plus miles to get there . but I would not.

3. You would fail the other four people and also stop their training. That is unacceptable for a professional.

The catalina flotilla was more than just the training cruise, there also were
good times ashore the next couple of days with their fellow sailing club
members. Remember also, that they were not finished with their certification , they had to sail back, and navigate many miles from catalina to the mainland.

4. The other four students of mine did just fine. They proved to become good and long time sailors and skippered various vessels on international trips bare boating.

They passed, and I was not going to be so arrogant nor dumb to turn a vessel around when I only had 3 miles , maybe 30 minutes of sailing to my destination.

5. To fail the other four, wipe out their long passage to catalina, and deflate their willingness to learn after going thru all of their training would be incomprehensibly selfish and arrogant .

6. My job was to put everything that I had, all of my knowledge, as much
as possible into each and everyone of my students. Do my absolute best.
And I was so very proud of those who responded to those efforts.

Personally, I am still learning, love it. About the time a person thinks they know everything, the ocean is going to jump up and smack you silly.

7. It has been over 36 years, some of those wonderful people remain friends to this day. Some have gone on to get their own U.S.C.G Captains licenses, some have their own marine / charter businesses, and some are boat owners and cruising the world....some still at it after all these years.

So, your suggesting about turning around, and failing all of them is not what I chose to do. Plus, my good students learned how to handle problem situations, as well as pass their catalina certification.
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Old 24-07-2016, 10:49   #4
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Re: floating bomb...close to extinction

What a hell of an adventure. Sure lessons to be learned. THX for sharing.

I may be wrong, but I think if there are fumes switching anything OFF can be as dangerous as switching anything on. Switches make sparks both ways.

Take care. THX for sharing.

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Old 24-07-2016, 12:14   #5
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Re: floating bomb...close to extinction

wow fun times.
i am surprised you didnt screen all stuff brought on board the boat you were controlling.
that can make a huge difference. always check everything and direct as to where to stow. if there is confusion, stow it yourself.
safety begins with me. each and every time. it also ends with me. i check everything coming on and off my boat.l yes i learned, now i make use of my education
you were lucky this time.
hope you remain lucky.
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Old 24-07-2016, 12:49   #6
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Re: floating bomb...close to extinction

bvisailing32, thanks for sharing your experience. It sounds as though you handled that dangerous situation in a most seaman like fashion. Your students were fortunate to be learning under someone with your knowledge and good sense.

S/V B'Shert
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Old 24-07-2016, 13:01   #7
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Re: floating bomb...close to extinction

What a remarkable story. I just read that to the wife and we're both sitting here in stunned amazement.
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Old 24-07-2016, 13:30   #8
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Re: floating bomb...close to extinction

A few thoughts, since I spent most of my life in refineries, where real explosions are possible.

  1. Turning off switches. Maybe. When a switch is turned off it also makes a spark. Better to see if there are fumes in the area of the main switch and turn off that. But not just willy-nilly kill switches unless the panel is in a low-fume area (it does sound as though it was at the time).
  2. Flush to the bilge. Can't agree with that action without more details. Plugging the drain and holding it in one location might have been smarter. Changing the status quo by moving the gasoline around might be very bad, both in terms of safety and later clean-up. Cleaning up spills with water is NEVER done haphazardly, as it often makes things much worse. IF you decide to use water, add a LOT of dish washing liquid. This will emulsify the gasoline, lowering the volatility and significantly reducing fumes. Not good for the environment, but this is why foam is used to fight petrol fires (the soap in the formula emulsifies the gasoline). Emulsify, emulsify, emulsify. Otherwise you are just spreading the problem, creating MORE surface to create fumes.
  3. I would not send people below unsupervised. First, if the fumes are strong enough to explode (about 12000 ppm) is about the same level that knocks people unconscious. Second, it is hard to tell how strong it is by smell, because it anesthetizes the nose. Third, they may cause a spark. Finally, if it does go, people in the cockpit may survive, those below will not.
A slower, more reasoned response could be smarter. Rushing can be bad. Go through the locker, remove the gasoline containers (pitch them if leaking), and limit the spread. Open all windows. Sponge up the spilled gas with blankets and throw them over board, along with any heavily contaminated ropes etc.; safety is more important than the environment in this case.

It's hard to cure stupid. Really hard. Milk bottles. For goodness sake, the signs on the gas pump inform any adult that ONLY gasoline containers may be filled. They knew better. They had been told. Thus, their stupidity was in no way forgivable or excusable, and I would have made that very clear.
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Old 24-07-2016, 14:45   #9
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Re: floating bomb...close to extinction

" 5. To fail the other four, wipe out their long passage to catalina, and deflate their willingness to learn after going thru all of their training would be incomprehensibly selfish and arrogant .

So, your suggesting about turning around, and failing all of them is not what I chose to do. "

But, there is a ferry from Catalina to the mainland that they could have been put on, is there not?
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Old 24-07-2016, 16:12   #10
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Re: floating bomb...close to extinction

Wow! Scares me to think about. Thank you for sharing it, and thanks are given for your happy ending. Ever heard the Navy term "Deck Slap?" It's the injuries expected when a deck a person is standing on lifts from an explosion underneath. I had the dubious honor of doing first aid on two commercial fishermen who got deck slap from a situation similar to yours, except it did explode. One, both ankles shattered, with little bits of bone coming out. Two, shattered femur (two places) and lacerated femoral artery, going into shock. Wide-spred superficial burns on both. Fortunately, the USCG sent two helicopters to the beach where we had them, and took them to a trauma center very quickly. They both survived.

No inboard gasoline engines for me. No gasoline below deck. My school actually replaced a 20 year-old outboard with an enclosed tank against the possibility that the tank might develop a leak in the future. If it leaked, the only answer would be abandon ship. Who wants to stand on top of a bomb?
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Old 25-07-2016, 13:17   #11
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Re: floating bomb...close to extinction

Great points, and interesting experiences. Thank You.

1. As to the electrical, I had them very carefully turn off the master battery switch. One slow click to OFF. Then the rest of the electrical.
We used the manual bilge pump, and sure did not want the electric pump to kick in.

2. Also, I wanted any of the dinghy fuel that was in the cockpit locker and the fuel that had run from the locker down a line into the bilge totally cleaned up.

3. The four good crew, took care of all of that and continued to sail the vessel, no engine , and due to their training of docking vessels under sail, were very professional in assisting with picking up the mooring under sail.

4. I was an employee of the sailing club, and one of the flotilla leaders.
These two dink owners were members, and paid the membership fees and dues, and for the catalina trip.

5. That time of year, there were no ferrys from Two Harbors. Avalon, which is some distance away, may have them, but I had to temper my actions, and take several things into account. I did.

On Monday morning, when going to work, I reported that the two did not pass their certification, and that they should not be allowed to take any of our vessels out for harbor or day sails until they returned for additional
lessons. Or to cancel their memberships. That was a management decision. Never heard a word from or ever saw them again. Problem solved.

6. Also we picked up mooring at two harbors that was a long distance away from other boats, and we did not chose to tie up to the pier dock.

7. After picking up the mooring in about an hour the fumes were long gone, vessel was clean, bilges clean, and all was well. So, we dropped off the mooring, and motored over to where the rest of the fleet was moored, and breaking out the Mt. Gay, the party was on.

8. The certification for the 4 good members continued, as they sailed, and navigated across the catalina, san pedro channel, back to Newport.

So, all ended well. Again, thanks for all of your inputs, and I learned from the experiences of all of you.

Gotta go, the Admiral Erica says it is time to hike down to the harbor. Yep, I have also learned when to follow orders.
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Old 25-07-2016, 13:35   #12
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Re: floating bomb...close to extinction

bvisailing32, I don't think you need to defend for a moment the decisions you made in that situation. You did the job based on the best available evidence, and are here to tell about it. We all owe you thanks for the distance learning experience and the opportunity to air (ouch) the issue.
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Old 25-07-2016, 13:38   #13
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Re: floating bomb...close to extinction

Why would someone bring their own dinghy?
Notes on a Circumnavigation.

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Old 25-07-2016, 13:48   #14
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Re: floating bomb...close to extinction

Shore boat pricing, per person, each way.

Hours ›

Service is available 24 hours a day in the summer,

and from 7 am to 5 pm in the winter.

Pricing ›

Isthmus Cove: $3.00

Fourth of July, Cherry Cove and the anchorage: $6.00

Fourth of July and Cherry Cove dock: $12.00

Big Fisherman's Cove: $10.00

Big Fisherman's Cove dock: $20.00

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