Why does Wanderlust have fuel coming into her forward cabin bilge?
It’s a good question. If we knew the reason why, it would be easier to resolve.
It is not impossible for a new boat to have a fuel leak. Indeed, we know of a fuel leak identified at launch on one of our builder’s boats. In this case, the leak was spotted and welded closed before the owners arrived.
Did Wanderlust also have fuel leaks at launch? We will never know for certain. Access to the bilge is minimal at best. Neither the builder’s personnel nor we had anyway of seeing what was happening below the hardwood floors. Short of ripping up brand new floors, there is no way to tell what’s happening in the bilge, at launch or years later.
Part of the concern stems from the method of construction. Wanderlust’s fuel tanks are constructed integral to her hull. This means is that the hull of the barge is the bottom of the tank and the tank is built up with the sides and top welded on to form a box. It is an acceptable method to construct a diesel tank and has numerous advantages. A downside is that each tank is necessarily custom. Every integral tank needs to be properly tested to assure that it does not leak.
Fuel systems, including the tank, should be, by rule, tested using air pressure. To do this the fuel system is sealed and a low pressure of air is applied. If the pressure holds, the tank is to a high level of certainty leak free.
Pressure testing is a regulatory requirement for good reason. According to a marine engineer we spoke to, leaks from properly pressure tested fuel system are extremely rare. If a tanks holds air pressure during the test it is very unlikely to leak fuel. That being said, the regulations aren’t always adhered to. Marine surveyors have told us that it is not unheard of to find out that a UK barge builder has skipped the pressure-testing step altogether. The test procedure is time consuming. And from the perspective of the builder, a carefully constructed tank is unlikely to leak, so why bother with the test?
So was Wanderlust’s fuel system constructed and pressure tested as legally required? It’s a good question. Indeed, if we knew with high confidence that Wanderlust’s fuel tanks were built and tested per the regulatory rules, our search for the source of the diesel appearing in her bilges might take a different course. Consequentially we have asked our builder, through our solicitor, for the supporting information for fuel tank tests. We expected that this information would be provided without issue as the sales brochure, current at the time of the signing of Wanderlust’s build contract stated, “Copies of notified body reports are available for inspection at our works.” As we understand things, the notified body report should have included at least a declaration that the fuel tanks were tested. Surely there would be some information relevant to Wanderlust’s fuel system in these reports. Yet despite repeated requests, the builder has steadfastly refused to provide any documentation relevant to Wanderlust’s build and certification.
As we have learned, a UK boat builder evidently has the right to withhold the certification files for a customer’s barge. It is a strange system. Shouldn’t a customer be able to see the documentation for a boat that he or she is buying? And why would a builder want to withhold this type of information? If you were an ethical boat builder faced with a customer’s request for certification documentation wouldn’t you want to clear up all possibilities that there was anything amiss about the build? What is the value of withholding the certification information that by rule must be in a file somewhere? What is the value of adding suspicion?