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Old 07-12-2011, 08:48   #1
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Fire Sinks Our Hans Christian

Hello friends,

Last spring, we crossed the Atlantic and into the Mediterranean. One beautiful evening we were anchored in a bay in Menorca when smoke started coming from the engine room. Within about fifteen minutes which included two attempts to extinguish the fire, we abandon ship with no more than the clothes on our body. From a neighboring boat, we watched in shock as our boat and everything we owned, burned practically to the waterline. Eventually she sank.

You can read the details at our blog, and about our ongoing challenge to rally ourselves and decide how to continue our adventure.

le grand voyage

Go back to September to read about the fire.

Several lessons learned:

1) I had only insured the boat for $75,000 since that is what I bought her for seven years before. I had put in about $30,000 in equipment and improvements. Before I departed my agent asked me if I wanted to increase the coverage amount. She had to change carriers for me, since my previous carrier didn't cover ocean voyages, so my premium had doubled to just over $2,000. So I told her "no." I said, "The only reason I need insurance is when I scratch some million dollar yacht. Or I bang into a dock and break something for five grand. The only time you need full coverave is for when the boat sinks. And when does that ever happen? Never!"

I wish the crow could have at least been plucked before I had to eat it.

I now have received full coverage. My agent was great because she fought the company to get me an additional two percent due to confusing language in their policy.

2) All that safety preparation that we do ... it's not wasted, or exaggerated. Go ahead, be a safety freak. I was. And from now on, I'll probably be even more so.

3) The required two one-pound extinguishers that are always a nuisance and ugly to mount and in the way ... get more. And replace the ones that you have with two-pounders. I emptied both and they felt like little squirt guns.

4) The boat was salvaged and inspected by an investigator. It was too far gone to determine what the cause was. The investigator told me that almost all boats that sink are lost to faulty or aging wiring which lead to fire. His best guess is that our fire started with the wires to the starter or alternator. Not just any old wiring, but something that uses a lot of juice. Someone else told me that old starters can get stuck in the open position and heat up the wires. From now on, I will be replacing my starter motor every five years.

5) I had some valuables in waterproof Pelikan boxes. Mostly just because I didn't want my documents to get wet when going ashore to clear in with officials. Next time, my back up drives for our computers will go in one too. Lost all my data for 12 years, because the backups were in a non-waterproof box.

6) We called a really fancy data-recovery operation in California and shipped them our drives from Germany. They said it was too bad we let our drives dry out. Next time: If your drive falls in the water -- especially salt water -- do not let them dry out. Keep them wet. For shipping, wrap them in celophane. Most damage to disks is done when the salt crystals dry on the hard disks. And especially if you try to start up the dried disk, the reading head scratches all the salt along the disk.

Well, that's all for now.
Take care and fair winds,
-Mathias
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Old 07-12-2011, 08:56   #2
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Re: Fire sinks our Hans Christian

I am sorry to hear about all your troubles. I am sure what you learned will help others.
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Old 07-12-2011, 09:42   #3
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Re: Fire sinks our Hans Christian

Hello, Mathias.

A warm welcome to CF, and my condolences to you and Jennifer. What a horrible experience to watch your boat burn down. I'm linking one of the photos from your blog so folks can see what you're taking about. Best wishes for getting back on the water again soon, if that's your desire.

So sad to see a beautiful boat die...



In happier times...

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Old 07-12-2011, 09:44   #4
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Re: Fire sinks our Hans Christian

As an HC owner, this thread just gave me shivers.
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Old 07-12-2011, 09:55   #5
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Re: Fire sinks our Hans Christian

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dolphins View Post
Hello friends,

Last spring, we crossed the Atlantic and into the Mediterranean. One beautiful evening we were anchored in a bay in Menorca when smoke started coming from the engine room. Within about fifteen minutes which included two attempts to extinguish the fire, we abandon ship with no more than the clothes on our body. From a neighboring boat, we watched in shock as our boat and everything we owned, burned practically to the waterline. Eventually she sank.

You can read the details at our blog, and about our ongoing challenge to rally ourselves and decide how to continue our adventure.

le grand voyage

Go back to September to read about the fire.

Several lessons learned:

1) I had only insured the boat for $75,000 since that is what I bought her for seven years before. I had put in about $30,000 in equipment and improvements. Before I departed my agent asked me if I wanted to increase the coverage amount. She had to change carriers for me, since my previous carrier didn't cover ocean voyages, so my premium had doubled to just over $2,000. So I told her "no." I said, "The only reason I need insurance is when I scratch some million dollar yacht. Or I bang into a dock and break something for five grand. The only time you need full coverave is for when the boat sinks. And when does that ever happen? Never!"

I wish the crow could have at least been plucked before I had to eat it.

I now have received full coverage. My agent was great because she fought the company to get me an additional two percent due to confusing language in their policy.

2) All that safety preparation that we do ... it's not wasted, or exaggerated. Go ahead, be a safety freak. I was. And from now on, I'll probably be even more so.

3) The required two one-pound extinguishers that are always a nuisance and ugly to mount and in the way ... get more. And replace the ones that you have with two-pounders. I emptied both and they felt like little squirt guns.

4) The boat was salvaged and inspected by an investigator. It was too far gone to determine what the cause was. The investigator told me that almost all boats that sink are lost to faulty or aging wiring which lead to fire. His best guess is that our fire started with the wires to the starter or alternator. Not just any old wiring, but something that uses a lot of juice. Someone else told me that old starters can get stuck in the open position and heat up the wires. From now on, I will be replacing my starter motor every five years.

5) I had some valuables in waterproof Pelikan boxes. Mostly just because I didn't want my documents to get wet when going ashore to clear in with officials. Next time, my back up drives for our computers will go in one too. Lost all my data for 12 years, because the backups were in a non-waterproof box.

6) We called a really fancy data-recovery operation in California and shipped them our drives from Germany. They said it was too bad we let our drives dry out. Next time: If your drive falls in the water -- especially salt water -- do not let them dry out. Keep them wet. For shipping, wrap them in celophane. Most damage to disks is done when the salt crystals dry on the hard disks. And especially if you try to start up the dried disk, the reading head scratches all the salt along the disk.

Well, that's all for now.
Take care and fair winds,
-Mathias

I am so sorry you had to go through that.
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Old 07-12-2011, 09:58   #6
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Re: Fire sinks our Hans Christian

Welcome to the forum and I'm so sorry to here of the loss.
Thanks for taking the time to educate us.
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Old 07-12-2011, 10:18   #7
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Re: Fire sinks our Hans Christian

Very helpful post. Thanks Dolphins!

On data, times are changing and we are now starting to back things up on the cloud. This is a new concept and we are just now doing it and I am sure you would have too. There's a fair amount of free space on Dropbox and Google, but we are using Livedrive.
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Old 07-12-2011, 10:23   #8
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Re: Fire sinks our Hans Christian

Ghastly story. We are all extremely sorry about your loss.

Your story will be helpful to a lot of people -- including me, who have been deliberately underinsuring my boat applying exactly the same logic you talked about. Now I'm thinking twice.

Another point -- how does an engine room fire start on a diesel boat? I thought this was considered to be extremely unlikely? Do you know what happened? Electrical fault which melted as fuel line? But how does that happen? I have an automatic Halon fire extinguishing system in my engine room -- always thought it was way overkill.
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Old 07-12-2011, 10:35   #9
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Re: Fire sinks our Hans Christian

A friend of mine had a fire on a Moorings charter in the BVI. The engine's wiring harness had a meltdown. They expended all the fire extinguishers on board, and were able to (barely) put it out.

I always kept a 10 lb foam extinguisher by one of the access doors to the engine compartment, a 5 lb dry at the companionway across from the galley, and three more 1 lb dry extinguishers at other locations. Thankfully, never used.
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Old 07-12-2011, 10:38   #10
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Re: Fire sinks our Hans Christian

I am sorry for your loss as well.

We once had a Saab Turbo 900 which after about ten years, had the starter motor stick in the running mode by overheated wires.
The insulation finally cracked and fell off, shorting the cranking lead which engaged the starter solenoid.
The car's design didn't leave enough space or shielding from exhaust heat.
Fortunately, there was no fire, but I had no choice but to let the starter run until I could get home.
I immediately disconnected the battery when I got there, but it was too late for the motor.
The worst part was that I KNEW those wires were getting crispy, but it seemed like too much work to replace them.
Lesson learned. Check wiring often even if it means having to dig into difficult to see areas, especially when it's near a heat source.
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Old 07-12-2011, 10:47   #11
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Re: Fire sinks our Hans Christian

Part of being a safety freak would be to take some shipboard fire training. One of the first things to do is to cut all power to the area affected (the battery switches) then deal with the fire.

Preparation is part of that training, classes of fires and the equipment to extinguish the different classes of fires. Fire drills are just as important as MOB drills. What the USCG recommends is never enough! It's just to give one a chance to escape.

Sorry for your loss!!! HC's are beautiful boats!
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Old 07-12-2011, 10:53   #12
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Re: Fire sinks our Hans Christian

Thank you for sharing this.

I was quite worried about electrical fires on my last boat, and installed three automatic fire extinguishers (one in the engine room, and then two more over major pieces of electrical equipment), and smoke alarms in these enclosed spaces. But I did not think that the electrical fire would keep going even after a fire extinguisher fills the area. It makes sense, since the wires will stay red hot and can just start the fire again when the chemicals dissipate.

It seems like there should be a way to rig a master battery disconnect to a smoke alarm, though I dislike coming up with some 'equipment solution' to every last problem.

Without that, I think it's important to make sure the battery disconnect switch turns off absolutely everything, and to program yourself to turn it off if you smell smoke.
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Old 07-12-2011, 11:13   #13
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Re: Fire sinks our Hans Christian

Engine room fires due to electrical faults are all too common. One of my clients almost lost their 42 footer while offshore.

What can be done to avoid them?

IMHO, there are three things every boat should seriously consider and implement:

1. A dedicated ON-OFF battery switch for the starting circuit. This should include cutoff for both the solenoid/starter and for the wiring harness. This switch should be left in the OFF position when the engine is not in use.

2. A slow-blow fuse in the heavy positive cable for the starting circuit, located near the start battery. For most small diesels 300A or 400A is enough. Although ABYC doesn't require such a fuse, it's a very good idea. Nigel Calder, among others, recommends and installs one for all his clients. So do I.

3. A fuse in the B+ (pos) cable from the alternator to the battery bank, located near the battery bank. This fuse should be sized at approximately 150% of the maximum amperage output of the alternator.

FWIW,

Bill
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Old 07-12-2011, 12:29   #14
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Re: Fire sinks our Hans Christian

I can think of nothing worse than watching your home along with all your possesions and dreams burning to the ground or waterline and sinking, absolutely devistating, I feel for for you both. I hope you can both get back some sort of a normal life after this settles and get back to enjoying yourselves.

Very good advice Bill, I would have thought these type fuses http://http://bluesea.com/productline/specs/379#td would have been manditory in ocean going boats. A lead acid battery can go short circuit and up in flames in seconds, the sudden high load puts the alternator into max output and rapidly overheats both it and the wiring. Often hard to tell which went first.
A friend of ours is a fire investigator for the Qld govt and has shown us pictures of a pleasure fishing boat that went up in flames. The investigation found a failed battery being charged had both exploded and burst into flame rupturing the diesel tank positioned the other side of a plywood wall. The whole area was flooded with diesel and believe it or not it was actually the diesel that put the fire out. When they started the investigation they found still live batteries with the terminals melted off floating in the diesel. The fire created a dead short causing wires to melt in the wiring harness and this cause a fire in the upper decks as the wiring tunnel acted as a funnel for the original fire. If each battery had been fused the other batteries could not have fed the dead short in the failed battery so the whole situation would never have happened, just a dead battery and a few blown fuses.

T1 Terry
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Old 07-12-2011, 12:41   #15
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Re: Fire sinks our Hans Christian

As they say in Canada, "bummer eh?"
Lack of a good fire extinguisher is a horrible feeling, when you know that you could end the fire; if you had one. Was there a point that the fire seemed to be contained, and if so, could the fire been put out if you had more extinguisher fire power in your hands?
We have 4-3lbers, 2-10lbers (ABC) and one 10lb CO2 and sometime feel that's not enough. Any thoughts?
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