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We were running our 30 foot tender from Cat Key to Bimini, using the inshore track. About a mile South of Bimini we saw the oil pressure needle drop to zero. We also noticed a smell of burning plastic. We throttled back and pulled into neutral while we saw black smoke emerging from the console. I went forward, dropped the anchor and got our fire extinguisher. Coming aft, I saw flames shooting from the Center Console, which houses electronics and diesel engine.
The radio was dead so we decided to activate our ACR personal locator beacon. Not knowing whether the fire would increase if the console was opened, we emptied the extinguisher into the console through small openings. This effectively extinguished the fire. We did not know what caused the fire and did not want to risk a flare-up so we stopped the engine by closing the fuel valves. We let out more anchor line, readied flares and waited for possible help. We saw several vessels and tried to draw their attention firing flares but no-one noticed.
BASRA Rescue BoatHelp came around 21:30, in the form of a twin engine Coast Guard Rescue Plane, obviously flying a search pattern. The Personal Locator Beacon was sending its homing signal on 121.5 and the flashing beacons were held in the direction of the aircraft as it continued to circle more and more to the South of us. When the airplane came towards us once again, we fired our camera flashlights and our last two flares. The plane dropped lighted locator buoys marking our location and kept circling overhead until we were in harbor.
We were towed in by the Bahamian Air Sea Rescue Association, who could reach us with a shallow draft vessel. They had been sent by the Coast Guard. A deep draft, US Coast Guard Cutter had been on standby further out to sea. Later we found that the fire was caused by a wire harness that had broken free and dropped on the drive shaft which ground trough the insulation and started the electric fire inside the console.
Additional news coverage: The Bahamas Weekly URL
When one experiences smoke and fire coming from your engine compartment and steering stand, a fire extinguisher, flares and above all an ACR Beacon connecting you with rescue units, are absolutely priceless.
Thank you to everyone at ACR that made such a quality product that saved us.
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