Polluting the water: Diesel spill

To memorialize the past week we’ve spent here in Cambridge trying to track down the fuel line problem that keeps killing our engine whever we try to leave, today’s post consists of a witness report filed yesterday with the United States Coast Guard regarding the incident that capped it off.


Nothing funny here. . .

I own a documented 1990 Pacific Seacraft 34, official number [number redacted], named Meander. We filed paperwork a few weeks ago to change her hailing port from Fairport, VA to Cambridge, MD, but have not received a new certificate yet.

On Monday, October 26, 2015, I was doing engine work on Meander in slip G-1 in the southwest corner of the Cambridge Municipal Yacht Basin off the Choptank River. Intending to test our fuel line for leaks by pressurizing the fuel tank through its vent port, I disconnected the tank’s vent line from the port.

. . . unless stupidity is funny. . .

However, in a moment of distraction, I connected the pressurizing equipment, a hose from the exhaust port of a ShopVac, not to the tank’s vent port but rather to the interior end of the tank’s vent line.

. . . but it isn’t.

When I turned the vacuum on, residual diesel fuel in the vent line blew out its exterior end. On my boat, the vent line’s exterior port is located below the companionway and over the cockpit. By the time I realized that I had set the job up wrong, the residual fuel had already collected in the cockpit’s gutters, and some unknown quantity entered the waterway through its drains.

[Editor’s note: Just one cup of an oily product dropped into a body of water is enough to create a slick the size of an American football field. ]

This happened between 1:00 PM and 2:00 PM, and checking overboard, I did not see any slicks forming on the water surface. So I left the boat to run some errands. When I returned after 5:00 PM, however, I observed that a slick had formed around my boat and had migrated down the south wall of the marina into the next two slips. I then notified first the Coast Guard, and then Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources.

At the suggestion of the latter, I also called the Cambridge Rescue Fire Department, who responded sometime around or after 6:00 PM. While I took a follow-up phone call from USCG Petty Officer [name redacted] in the cabin of the boat, the fire department apparently deployed oil-absorbent socks.

After Officer [name redacted] and I finished up, I went above to talk with the fire department’s incident commander. I didn’t get all the details of our conversation, but did hear his suggestion that I call in the morning if it looked as if the spill had spread. The fire department left the site around 7:00 PM.

Just bad enough.

On the following morning, Tuesday, October 27, 2015, it appeared to me that the slick had extended itself along the entire south wall of the marina, so I called the fire department again. The incident commander from the previous evening responded, and we walked the length of the south wall. He concluded that much of what was on the south wall was probably attributable to other boats along it; that the slick attributable to my boat did not appear to have changed; and that there was not enough diesel left in the water to warrant further action.

Officer [name redacted] also followed up with me. At his request, I took the following nineteen (19) photos. The first photo looks east from the marina’s west end; the next seventeen proceed along its south wall from the southwest corner to the southeast corner; and the last photo looks west from the east end.


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I solemnly swear (to sell this @#$% boat)

I have read my statement as documented above (and, if applicable, on continuation pages), and to the best of my knowledge and belief, it is true and correct.

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