Ethanol Hell

Soon after taking possession of our boat, and delivering her to our home port, we wanted to get the RIB up and running.  Starting with the basics, I replaced the battery and filled the integrated fuel tank with fresh fuel. Sure enough, with those two updates, we were soon zooming around Commencement Bay, checking out potential fishing locations, timing how long it takes to get to certain places, and learning how she handles in different conditions.

One evening I took Tay and two of her friends out for a quick ride, showing off the seals and sea lions. Once clear of the marina, I throttled up, and we were soon on a plane, heading towards Brown’s Point.

And that’s when the trouble started.

The boat simply slowed down, and came off of plane. No bang. No smoke. Not much change in how the engine sounded. Just no power.

Not sure what had happened, I slowly motored everyone back to the dock to safety, and I spent a few minutes seeing if I could debug the issue. Later that weekend, after googling the symptoms, I was worried that maybe the “fresh fuel” that I put in caused the problem, since I simply filled a jug full of gas from a local gas station, which had at least 10% ethanol (I didn’t bother to look). But I am sure there was ethanol in the fuel, as EPA regulations make non-ethanol, or E0, gasoline extremely rare.

We share a dock with Doctor D, an outboard mechanic; we had already chatted about having the dinghy serviced since we had no documentation on how it was maintained, but now I also needed to have him diagnose my problem. In a few minutes he was able to determine that one of the three cylinders was not producing any power, and the suspect (later confirmed) was a clogged carburetor due to ethanol fuel.

Ethanol, I now know, is a serious problem for older outboard motors. I’m not going to pretend to be a mechanic, so I won’t go into details as to how or why, but BoatUS and other sources have some very good reading material to explain it if you care to understand. If not, suffice it to say, avoid ethanol-fuel like the plague on your outboard powered boat. There are websites available that map out where you can find pure gas in case you have a classic vehicle, or boat, that is incompatible with the new fuels.

Oh, but my anger with the EPA wasn’t over yet.

I still had 7 gallons of fresh, ethanol-blended fuel in my RIB’s tank. And I didn’t want to spend all the time, energy, and money fixing the problem, only to have it come back as soon as I started burning that gas. I needed to siphon it all out. After failing to get the siphon tube into the tank via the inlet, Dr. D let me borrow an attachment that allowed the fuel line from the engine to be used. After a few minutes I had a fuel tank full of E-10 fuel.

Modern cars can burn E10+ fuel just fine. You would think that putting the fuel I just siphoned out into a truck tank would be easy. But you would be wrong.

The new “clean air” nozzles, designed to prevent fuel vapors from leeching into the atmosphere, also don’t fit into the fuel port of a truck. I am not sure how long it takes to leech a few cups of gasoline into the atmosphere using the old-style gas cans, but I know exactly how long it takes to pour a few cups of liquid gasoline straight onto the ground using the new-style cans: about 4 seconds. Once again, Dr. D. came to the rescue, this time with a long funnel. We unscrewed the cap, and simply poured it into the tanks of our trucks.

I’m someone that likes clean air and water, so I want to support the EPA. I also want to keep this blog non-political. But this situation has really soured my opinion of the agency, and this meme (not mine) says it all:

To finish up this chapter, though, the dinghy is in Dr. D’s shop, and we will soon have her back in the water, this time filled with E0 gasoline.

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