Friday, March 26, 2010

When things go BOOM! and nope, that was not us…

This morning started as usual, slow wake up, coffee,  breakfast - pancakes this time.  I did some final patching on the floor panels in the garage, and we were off to the boat around 10ish.  After  a Starbucks stop I got a call from a slip mate of mine ‘Do you know what is going on?’  No, we did not.  But when we got there we knew it must be biggish.

There were 3 police cars (marked ones), 2 Fire command vehicles, and 2 news trucks.  Plus about 5-6 other vehicles I did not recognize.  Long story short:  Folks are OK, and a new (to them) boat is at the bottom of the river.

Seems after fueling and while starting one of the engines the boat exploded.

Exploded big time.

Like, people in the water, windows broken everywhere, siding ripped off, boat a fiery hulk drifting down the river.

Some news links:

Only guessing now, but suspect while fueling fumes from the gas accumulated in the bottom of the boat – and when they went to start the motor BOOM!

Now, for those not of the Marine experience, this is one of the big fears of boaters.  See, in  a car if there is a gas leak, it leaks to the ground.  And given that gasoline vapors are heavier than air, in a car those vapors also fall out the bottom of the car onto the ground.  A boat however is by design closed on the bottom (err, kind of helps keep the water out), so gas vapors just accumulate in the bottom of the boat.

There are three basic things done to reduce the change of BOOM. 
  •          Special parts:  Carb, starter, distributer, alternator, etc.  All are designed specially to reduce fuel leaks / fumes into the boat, but also  with special flash screens to contain any spark to inside the device – idea is to try and keep any spark to a small boom, instead of getting out into the boats itself and become a Big BOOM.  However, it is not unknown for someone to just go to their local auto parts store to get a new starter for $45 instead of paying $245 for the ‘marine’ starter.  The Auto one will not have the special flash screens….
  •          Ventilation and blowers.  Boats will have fans that are to be run before starting the motor, specifically to remove any vapors.
  •          The operator’s nose!  In the USPS we teach to ‘pull the hatch’ and sniff the bilge, esp after fueling.

Now it is too early to know exactly what went wrong, but something did and the results could have been much worse than they were. 

Viking Star does not have a gas motor, it uses Diesel.  Diesel will not go BOOM.   In fact, if you drop a lit match into a pool of diesel, it will snuff out the match (I have done this several times while lighting the diesel stove).  So, we have a little less to worry about.  However, we do use Propane for the cooktop, and that gas will go BOOM, so we are not totally out of the woods.

It is hard to see something like this happen to someone.  And harder to know they are hurting this evening.  And we already have the talk about ‘I am luck to be alive’ as shown on the videos.  What is not shown is Gary had been doing this for many years now, and has a pattern.  Had he done his normal pattern, he would have been at the bow of the boat and likely hit in such a way as to not be talking this evening.  For some reason THIS time he did not follow his normal habit, was in a different place relative to the boat, and seems it saved his life.  I know my thought on that, will leave you to draw your own conclusions.

Here is a photo of one of the folks on the boat,  I understand he fared the best.  Also on the left side is our pickup claiming its 30 seconds of fame.

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