Leaving Antigua, W. I.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Tuna Trouble: The Smallest One We Ever Caught

Rainy days are hard on our energy conservation program, especially the kind of windless, rainy days we've had lately.  The solar panels and the wind generator can't keep up with our electrical consumption in this kind of weather, so yesterday, we had to run the diesel to charge our house battery bank.  What does that have to do with catching fish?  Well, read on. 

The last few times we've run the engine, we noticed the exhaust sounded a little throatier than usual.  For any non-boaters, the exhaust on most sailboats is cooled by injecting the seawater, which has already passed through the engine cooling system into the exhaust hose before it reaches the muffler.  Normal exhaust noise is a soft spluttering, splashing sound, as opposed to the throaty rumble we were hearing.  Our thoughts were that the cooling water flow was restricted, somehow, but we had cleaned the intake filter and checked for obvious obstructions.  Everything was as it should be.  Maybe the engine's voice is changing, now that it's broken in? 

At the end of the charging cycle yesterday, the exhaust discharge was clearly much drier than it had been at the start.  Something had changed, and the problem was getting progressively more serious.  I cleaned the filter again, washing the strainer basket in the galley sink.  It had a little crud in it, but wasn't dirty enough, to my thinking, to have caused our problem.  I replaced it in the strainer, and as I was about to start the engine to test everything, Leslie exclaimed, "There's a fish eye in the sink!" 

"What?  Are you sure?"  I asked. 

"You know how I like fish eyes.  I know a fish eye when I see one!"  She quipped, referring to all of the times she had been a guest at one of my business dinners in the days when I traveled in Asia.  She was often the only woman around, and so was treated as the guest of honor, which meant she was served with the choicest morsels.  She did acquire some odd tastes, and she does know her fish eyes better than most. 

"Wonder how that got there?"  I muttered, as I started the engine.  There was no change in the exhaust discharge, so I shut it down.  I took the top off the strainer and opened the inlet valve, cautiously, expecting a flood of seawater, as this is below the waterline.  Nothing happened, indicating an obstruction between the intake and the strainer.  I began methodically removing the hose connections between the seawater intake and the strainer, finding no obstructions until I reached the inlet valve at the sea strainer.  When I took the hose off the valve, I found about four inches of the back end of a little yellow fin tuna, hanging down out of the valve body.  Should have made a picture, but I was in too big a hurry.  I grasped the tail and gently tugged the fish out.  It was about six inches long, and the head would not quite fit into the valve, which is slightly narrower than the hose.  The suction had mangled the head end of the fish where it stuck in the valve entrance, and, yes, Leslie, it was missing an eye, but was otherwise in good shape.  Given that we weren't hungry, we tossed the fish over the side and put everything back together. 

The engine sounds normal, but we do wonder how long the little rascal was in there.  There is a good-sized chamber just where the hose attaches to the through-hull intake seacock.  The fish could have been living there for a while, and only occasionally causing an intermittent problem in our cooling water flow, until it finally got sucked into a narrower part of the system,  Hope it wasn't a claustrophobic tuna.