A32 Fuel Tank “Removal” & Cleaning Project

I was having trouble with my engine quitting on me after several hours of operation in rough seas – the exact time you don’t want to have to think about engine failure. This first happened to me while crossing from Wilson to Toronto on a rough afternoon, taking 20 knot winds over the bow. I was running fine for about 3 hours and then came the dreaded RPM drop we all hate to hear. I thought it would be my primary fuel filter and would make a quick change underway and be done with it. That was not the case. I removed the filter to find it was quite clean. I was finally able to make it to Ashbridges Bay and was towed in by a fellow yacht club member. After enjoying the evening there I was able to start the engine and run it for 6 hours back to Wilson on a calm afternoon day. My thinking is this: When the fuel in the tank becomes disturbed or unsettled the intake from the fuel tank must become clogged. I am guessing that the clog would occur where the fuel intake line makes the 90 degree turn to be pumped to the electric fuel pump. It becomes narrow there and after settling down for a couple of hours it must clear itself.

Removing the fuel was quite easy. I only had half a tank to begin with and I used my oil changing pump to remove all  the fuel. Just as I suspected there was large hunks of “stuff” floating in the tank. There was not a lot of gunk adhered to the walls of the tank, but rather this free floating debris. I also noted in the 90 degree angle from  the tank to the electric fuel pump that the ball valve was full of debris. I also pulled out a piece of silicon that was used during installation that was caught in this position.

Once the tank dried out I placed my shop vac on blow and stuck the hose in the inlet. I was afraid of fumes while I was cutting. So as a precaution I ran the blower on my shop vac while I was cutting. I cut a 6″ hole in the top of the tank and this allowed me to reach in and wipe the tank clean with acetone. I used a small amount on a rag just to pick up loose debris that was not siphoned out. I also was very thorough to ensure I did not leave any metal shavings from my jigsaw in the tank. It worked quite well.

After cleaning I secured the flange with the rubber gasket (it’s not actually rubber, but I had a hard time finding something that could handle contact with diesel fuel. If anyone needs any of this material let me know. I had to by a square yard and only used and 8″ square piece.) I secured it to the tank by using self-tapping sheet meal screws. I pre-screwed the holes so I was able to clean up any metal shavings before my access was gone.

The true test will come when I have the tank filled and heel the boat over to check for leaks. I feel confident that the gasket material and the dozen screws will provide the necessary and appropriate seal, although I will certainly verify it visually.

I wanted to have my fuel tank steam cleaned. My original plan was was to simply remove the tank through the sail locker, but the opening was about 3/4″ to narrow.  The “traditional” design Aloha 32’s do not have this locker and I have no idea how I would have done this job in that situation. I believe the only way to get to the fuel tank on the other designs is to remove the engine. I plan on doing this job on CELEBRATION (A32 – #58).

Written by Bill Fleming