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Ever have a little project that “just growed,” as we say in the sunny South? The kind that starts out as a weekend thing and, before you know it, you’re into a month of weekends? Well, I was on the verge of concluding just such a lollapalooza the other day, getting ready to varnish a phalanx of teak-louvered cabinet doors I’d spent hours installing in the Betty Jane II’s forward cabin, when the sense of accomplishment I was starting to enjoy got hellishly sidetracked, all due to a perfectly reasonable idea.

“Before you start varnishing,” I mused, “you should visit the engine room and make sure the pencil zincs in the prime mover are okay. That way, you’ll be able to fully concentrate on your brushwork without having to fight off visions of a lube-oil cooler, or some other pricey component, corroding into the machine equivalent of Swiss cheese.”

Mountain or Mohill Art

See what I mean? A perfectly reasonable idea. But then, as I was examining the last of the five zincs that inhabit my Yanmar, something down in the shadows, along the engine bearer on the port side, caught my eye. It looked like a small, reddish pool about the size of a silver dollar. And what’s more, it looked like there was a faint trail of reddish liquid leading into the pool. Gulp! Did the trail emanate from the vicinity of the port-side fuel tank? I dang near dropped a healthy pencil zinc into the bilge in my haste to grab a flashlight.

“Lordy, lordy, lordy,” I whispered, as I aimed the beam into the abysmal gloom. Then I checked the viscosity and bouquet with an index finger. Yup, the red stuff was diesel fuel alright, and it certainly looked like it was coming from the port-side fuel tank or, more particularly, from either the outlet at the bottom of the tank or the ball valve affixed to the outlet. As I studied the situation, an interlude of total mesmerization kicked in, obliterating my frontal lobes with leapfrogging catastrophes that bypassed all benign explanations and possibilities.

Here’s how the leapfrogging went. For starters, although it was only about 10 years old, I figured there had to be at least a pin hole in the tank, especially when factoring in the melancholy nature of Murphy’s Law. Then, I further theorized that removal and replacement of the tank would therefore be necessary, an exercise that could only be accomplished via the complete extraction of the engine, a job that would entail a passel of mechanics, a haulout, an A-frame and/or crane, four new engine mounts, a drive-train realignment and, undoubtedly, other entanglements too numerous and dispiriting to even contemplate. And finally, the cost of it all arose before me in a nightmarish vision that featured whole bales of hundred-dollar bills being thrown from Betty’s cockpit into the depths of the nearby St. Johns River.

But hope springs eternal, right? And for reasons that are admittedly unreasonable, most boaters, me included, are at least daylight optimists. So, with little more than a mote of hope in the eye, I hit the whole area—tank, outlet and ball-valve—with degreaser; wiped up the residue with paper towels; strategically positioned a clean, absorbent pad on the underlying surface to accurately pinpoint the origin of the leak; and, with true fatalistic grit, switched back to the varnish work I’d wanted to do in the first place.

Time passed fitfully, of course. But after several hours of wielding a trusty badger-hair brush, I discovered, thanks to a quick peek at the absorbent pad in the ER, that the valve—or more specifically, the valve stem—was leaking, not the tank. Indeed, to transform catastrophe into mere inconvenience all I had to do was tighten a compression nut! Which was a cheery process, by the way, and helps me, at this juncture, to offer the following cheery conclusion: If you must make mountains out of marinized molehills, why not do a little hopeful, optimistic investigation first? Just for the heck of it.

This article originally appeared in the June/July 2022 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.