Diesel Repair

Having recently taken a marine diesel repair course, I figured it was about time to do some much needed maintenance on our backup propulsion source.  The class I took was great, if only because the teacher, Hans, drilled into us the knowledge that diesels are incredibly difficult to break, giving me the confidence to poke around and get my hands dirty.

In preparation for a weekend sail to Half Moon Bay, I put some time into the engine; replacing fuel and oil filters, bleeding the fuel lines, pumping out a contaminated diesel sample, changing the oil, and replacing the impeller in the raw water pump.

There are two ways to access our engine, which is underneath the cockpit.  One way is to remove the stairs leading into the cabin, making it easy to work on the fuel and oil systems.  The other way is through a hatch in the floor of the cockpit, opening up access to the alternator and raw water pump.  The problem with this second method is that in order to get your hands down inside the engine room, you need to balance awkwardly with your ribs on the cockpit seats and your head on the floor.  It’s hard to see anything but the engine like this, but I’m convinced that whenever I’m working in this crazy yoga position, there’s a crowd of tourists at Pier 39 pointing and laughing at my legs flailing in the air.

After approximately 200 of these manouvers (lasting only as long as I can hold my breath) I actually got pretty good at taking the raw water pump apart… since I had to do it 4 times to get it right.  My bruised ribs recently healed, but the pride in hearing the water course through that engine and out the exhaust will last forever.  Actually, maybe not forever.  More like 36 hours.

We left Pier 39 around 10 at night on a Friday and motored against the current out into the open ocean where we were finally able to raise sail and turn off the diesel.  The feeling you get when turning off the engine is one of the greatest ever.  Lowering the throttle, the engine slows from a rapid hum to a lazy thumping until it cuts out completely and suddenly the only sound you hear is the wind in the sails and the lapping of the ocean against the hull.

Living on the steadily rocking boat for the past few months has made me more or less immune to seasickness, so I pulled first watch from midnight to 4 am.  Being alone in the cockpit out of sight of land is indescribable.  The movement of the boat through the water disturbs phosphorescent algea which glow in intensely green patches in the wake.  If that’s not enough to keep you awake, the lights of tankers on the horizon present enough danger to keep you on your toes.  At 5 o’clock, I turned over the watch to DG and went to bed.

I woke around 11 to find Alex on watch and the boat buried in fog.  Approaching Half Moon Bay means rounding several buoys which mark the presence of shallow waters and breaking waves.  In the fog, the slow ringing of the buoy bell rocking in the swells could be heard long before it ominously came into sight.  Above us, we could see some crazy pilot doing flips in his single prop plane through holes in the fog.  What a strange way to wake up.

In the harbor, we tied up to one mooring ball but then decided we’d like to moor a bit closer to shore.  Turning the key on the engine, nothing happened.  Nothing at all.  The reason turned out to be simple, but of course we spent two hours dismantling the glow plug switch and checking every other system before finding a wire which had disconnected from the starter.  All we needed to do was plug it back in.  Problem fixed.

Our stint in Half Moon Bay was limited to a dinghy ride to shore, a quick dinner, and a walk, after which we headed back to the boat to get a good nights sleep so we could leave super early the next morning.  Turns out going to bed at 5 am one night and waking up at 5 am the next can really take its toll on a person.  As we motored out of the harbor, my newly installed impeller shredded itself, causing the engine to overheat just as we approached the bouy and shallows.  The engine was quickly shut off and the sails pulled up.  Alex and Dave maneuvered us deftly from danger as I tried to see if there was an easy fix for the engine.  There wasn’t.

Digging up a spare and doing some more acrobatics in the cockpit (this time while the boat was moving) I installed the new impeller and pulled some pieces of the old one out of the heat exchanger.  Fixed.

Just when I thought all was in order, we started to hear an odd clanking coming from the propellor shaft.  Feeling around under the engine, we found that two of the 3 bolts holding the prop shaft to the gear box had sheared off.

I tried to figure out a solution to this new problem, but then I woke up 2 hours later on the cabin floor surrounded by tools.  I guess sometimes you just really need to go to sleep.  We managed to make it back home with our one remaining bolt, and a few days later I was able to disassemble the gear box and drill out the old sheared off bolt nubs.

Though we had a decent amount of problems, we were able to fix them all with parts and tools we had on board.  For our first shakedown cruise, I consider that a success.

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4 Responses to Diesel Repair

  1. Dave Ladner says:

    Wow! Following this trip will, hopefully, not always be QUITE this exciting and eventful… Congrats on your successful shakedown!

  2. Judi Delgado says:

    Well, now I feel better. I think.

  3. Marcos Orfila says:

    Good job! :-)
    How near will you get from Uruguay? Hope we meet somewhere!

  4. Lisa Kleeman says:

    Oh my, job well done. I typically dont like the wording shredded or sheared off but you keep it interesting!
    Get some sleep dear, you’ve erned it!

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