T30 MAKEOVER
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FUEL TANK REPLACEMENT: A T-30 MOLOTOV COCKTAIL

It would be soon before the first launch of the Tartan under our ownership. After repainting and lettering the transom and two days before the insurance survey was scheduled, the PO (previous owner) offered to show me the ropes for getting the engine running while on land. The Atomic 4 cranked mightily but refused to kick over. A quick diagnosis revealed that no fuel was getting to the cylinders. Why? The tank was absolutely empty. Of course you’d think that would have been a red flag all by itself, but neither of us picked up on it. My thought was, cheap so-and-so, selling me a boat without a drop of gas! Well, no problem, it’ll take but a minute to throw 5 gallons into the tank.

Within moments the inside of the boat reeked of gas as the bilge was filling up with it. Now the reason the tank was empty became blatantly clear. I hoped that the battery switch was truly spark-proof, ‘cuz here goes. A mad scramble ensued as the PO and his wife attempted to siphon gas out through the fill pipe, and I rushed to disassemble the counter to get the friggin’ tank, located under the galley counter between the main bulkhead and the hanging locker, out of the boat. I got the tank out in about 20 minutes without a whole lot of regard for the boat’s interior finish. It was still trailing a stream of gas as I carried it out into the cockpit and heaved it as far as I could from the boat.

The compartment the tank was in turned out to be a real mess, and I’d blame the boat’s manufacturer for the most part. The tank had been sitting on pieces of carpet samples – wet carpet samples. For 28 years there had been no ventilation around the tank and this was right under the chainplates, where there are bound to be leaks at some point. Actually I was surprised the tank lasted that long. But the real horror was what happened to the bulkhead that separated the tank compartment from the rest of the galley, and was the main structure that supported the deck and held the chainplates. It had rotted and severed completely about 5 or 6 inches beneath the countertop. No wonder there was a bulge in the deck! It took the entire load of the shrouds – for years!

I hadn’t planned to do anything to the boat until after the first sailing season, but that changed quickly. The PO offered to give back my money. No, but I did accept a reduction in price. The first order of business was to cancel the survey Ayacucho would have surely flunked.

In three weeks I had a new tank custom made, and by that time I had managed to cut and chop out the remains of the old bulkhead and put in a new one of spiral-laminated Okume plywood. It was a bit tricky tabbing in the new bulkhead because of the icebox. The original bulkhead appeared to have been tabbed to the hull with fiberglass tabs both fore and aft, and then the icebox was foamed in place up against the bulkhead, covering the aft-facing tabs. Since I was not about to rip out the icebox I removed some foam close to the hull so I could grind away the remains of the old tabs. I carefully wet with epoxy resin the sections of glass that would adhere to the hull, but I kept the fiberglass that would adhere to the bulkhead dry – not an easy thing to do. I let the glass cure to the hull, then wet the remaining glass and pressed the bulkhead against the wet tab sections. The foam worked in my favor now as it held the glass against the bulkhead. How well those tabs stuck to the bulkhead is an unknown. I let it cure and then did the much easier front-side tabs.

The new tank sits on four thick strips of dense closed-cell polyethylene foam adhered to the tank bottom with 3M 5200 so there would be no gaps between foam and tank. The strips are spaced so air can flow to the back of the tank. I put air vents in the tank compartment front panel – one near the bottom and one near the top. I had the tank made of the same T-6061, 1/8-inch aluminum as the old tank. I reasoned that if the old tank lasted 28 years under such bad conditions, the new one should last certainly that long.

(Unfortunately there are no pictures of this project in progress.  The decision to take a lot of pictures and make this Website was made after the boat was gutted in the fall of '01, and then didn't really get rolling until we got a digital camera the following year.)