UW News

March 9, 2006

UW ship to the rescue: Fuel filters help boaters in distress

News and Information

Still hundreds of miles from Hawaii, the Wright family was getting into trouble at sea after their fuel filters were fouled by poorly refined diesel they’d taken on in the Marquesas Islands.

“Presently we don’t have any 2 micron filters left,” they e-mailed from their off-shore trawler Shorleave. “We have blown the used ones out, washed them and they have been hanging to dry in the engine room the last two days.

“Hopefully this works.”

They contacted the Coast Guard in Honolulu, which broadcast their distress call for fuel filters.

Among the vessels receiving the alert Feb. 28 was the UW’s Thomas G. Thompson. Fuel filters from the 274-foot Thompson were of no help; however, the fuel filters for the Thompson’s small rescue vessel were just what the Shorleave needed.

“There are thousands of different fuel filters and it was just incredible luck that the Thompson had the right fuel filters on board,” says Daniel Schwartz, manager of marine operations for the UW School of Oceanography.

Engines that become clogged with particles of rust, sediment or tiny droplets of water begin to run slower and slower and can eventually stop, he explained. Not a good thing with the weather growing rough and the trade winds blowing at 26 to 28 knots.

Captain Al McClenaghan corresponded with the Wright family by e-mail about a rendezvous to provide them with the five filters the Thompson had on board. The Thompson was being used for an expedition, led by scientists with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, that is investigating carbon and climate variables and involves stopping and taking ocean measurements every 30 miles between Tahiti and Kodiak, Alaska. It was determined the two ships should meet at one of the Thompson’s planned stops some 500 miles southeast of Honolulu.

The Wright family — Dave, Sheila and four kids 13 and younger out of Vancouver, B.C. — have been traveling the Pacific visiting such places as Australia, New Zealand and Tonga. Along with the needed fuel filters, the Thompson’s crew sent along cookies during the drop off.

“Just wanted to let you know how much we appreciated you changing your course and plans to come and assist us. It is an ancient mariner’s code to help those in distress, but it takes special people like you and your crew to continue the tradition,” Dave Wright e-mailed Captain McClenaghan.

“You should have seen the looks on the kids’ faces. They were so excited. Let’s just say we are low on fresh food and treats of any type. They are happily down below watching a movie and munching on their snacks.

“Not to be outdone, the captain had a look of great relief and excitement on his face when he received his treats!”  You can read more about the Wright family’s adventures at http://www.shorleave.com