Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Diesel Repairs

Went down to the boat on Wednesday to see if I couldn't track down our 'overheating' problem with the diesel engine. Started with the obvious places, the water intake filter, and then opened up the impeller to take a look at it. The impeller showed a little bit of wear, but wasn't completely toast, so I don't think that was the problem. To be on the safe side, I took it down to the ship's store to get a new one (as long as I had it opened, I figured I might as well replace it and keep the old one as a spare). I seem to remember buying a replacement once before, but couldn't seem to find it anywhere.

The next step was the manifold and cooling system. I located the manifold and cooling tank thanks to the engine manual, and opened up the cap and stuck my finger inside to check the coolant level. It was bone dry. This could very well be the culprit. The overflow tank was full, but the manifold itself didn't seem to have any coolant in it. I checked with a few people at the ship's store, and they confirmed that, yes, it should have coolant in it. So, when I bought the impeller, I also picked up a bottle of engine coolant and a funnel ($65 bucks so far -- the impeller alone was $40).

I went back to the boat and put the impeller back together and then put some coolant in the manifold. At this time I noticed that the impeller cover was leaking (wonder if I should have bought some gasket seal while I was there), and took it apart once again to double check that I had put it together correctly. The second time I managed to tighten the bolts a little more snug and the leaking was much less, but still there. I decided to try running the engine for a bit to see if the overheating problem was still there.

I ran it for just a few minutes, and got spooked when the temperature gauge wasn't registering anything at all. It was possible that I didn't run it long enough, but I was worried that there was something wrong with the thermostat and I wouldn't know if the engine was overheating or not, if it stopped working. I figured I better wait and bring Terri out here to monitor the temperature gauge while I watched the coolant levels. In the meantime I thought maybe I'd try tightening those impeller cover bolts one more time to see if I couldn't stop that slow drop. Bad idea. The first bolt I tried tightening twisted off and broke off inside the impeller cover. At this point I threw in the towel and decided to schedule a maintenance visit from the boys at the marina.

If it was the coolant in the manifold being dry, though... why did it not get checked at our launch? Is this part of what we pay for winterizing the engine every year? I wonder how many of our 'problems' we've had since buying this boat have been caused by oversights by the marina crew at haul out and launch? Off the top of my head, I'm remembering the backwards furling gear on our first launch, the dip stick not in place on that first launch (which caused us a major oil spill cleanup that first summer), the bilge pumps not being wired to the batteries for the first few years (which led to our boat sinking in the slip when the propeller packing failed), cosmetic damage caused at one of the haulouts when one of the blocks got caught either between the wall and the boat, or one of the haulout straps and the boat, and this year, when they once again forgot to hook up our bilge pumps to the battery and then tried to charge us for the service call when we asked for it to be done.

Of course, we've been the cause of a few of the problems, ourselves. I'm remembering the 'dead battery' mystery of a few years back that ended up being our fault for not hooking them up properly (the one year we winterized our own batteries and reinstalled them ourselves). This boat ownership has certainly been a steep and expensive learning curve. I wish I was more confident at doing my own repairs. But I'm trying. At least this time I managed to become a little more familiar with the engine, and managed to locate the manifold and the thermostat housing (the thermostat was going to be my next item on the list, if the manifold wasn't the problem)

Steeling myself now for the engine repair bill.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Securite, Securite, Securite

Spent most of the day on Saturday out at the boat, doing some cosmetic maintenance. Sanding the brightwork, cleaning the floors and ceiling with bleach to combat the encroaching mildew, and washing her decks of the summer's accumulated birdshit. The weather on Saturday looked perfectly beautiful, but couldn't interest the rest of the crew to join me. As it turns out, I should have spent more time working on the engine, but I didn't know that at the time.

Sunday morning Terri suggested we go out, and invite Candy along (and I also suggested Fred, who has been wanting to go for 2 years now since the last time I asked him out). We left GR around 1, and arrived at the boat around 2. I was a bit doubtful of the weather, as the winds had been growing in intensity all morning, and the skies were looking a bit hazy and overcast.

(photo, left) Tim, Fred and Candy as we sail Lake Muskegon, before things went awry

There were other boats out on the water though, and most seemed to have only one sail out, so we thought we'd give it a try. The waves were a bit choppy on Lake Muskegon, and we sailed on a run towards the channel with only the headsail. The wind was pretty gusty, and we got up over 5 knots with headsail alone, although it was uncomfortable sailing with the wind constantly shifting directions and intensity.

Once in the channel, we switched to the motor, and along the way, witnessed the coast guard scramble for a rescue along the breakwater. The waves out on Lake Michigan were even higher than in the little lake, probably 2-4 feet which made for a bumpy ride out past the lighthouse. Terri was not interested in raising sails out here, so we turned back around and headed towards the channel (probably a prudent move, as we would discover later). Motored all the way back down the channel, and once back in the little lake, we raised the headsail again and tooled back and forth on a beam reach.

After a while, though, the wind started growing in intensity again, and it became harder to handle the sail, so we decided to call it a day, rolled up the sail, and started up the engine. Very shortly thereafter, though, the engine temperature alarm started going off. (this happened to us once before, earlier this year, so my first thought, was that we sucked up some gunk into our water intake again). We raised the headsail again, and contemplated either a) sailing as close as we could to the marina, and then, once the engine had cooled down, riding into the slip on a quick burst from the engine, or b) (less appealing) making our first ever attempt at sailing into our slip on sail power alone (how to stop we'd worry about once we got there).

The winds remained strong and gusty, and then started raining as we tacked back and forth as close as we dared to the wind direction (due south, and right where we wanted to go, of course), and at this point Terri is starting to near panic mode, probably from both the engine problem, and the amount of heel we were occasionally experiencing due to the wind gusts and our close hauled tack (the other passengers were faring better, although Terri claims she saw occasional looks of concern cross Fred's eyes). We eventually reached the mooring grounds at Torreson, so we rolled in our sail to cut our speed, but at this time the weather decided to cut out as well, and we found ourselves nearly becalmed about 50 feet from the marina entrance. Tried putting on the motor, but it overheated almost immediately, and at this time, another squall raced in over the trees and started pushing us around in circles, and here and there, dangerously close to the other boats in the mooring field. I managed to maneuver us out again into open water, away from the other boats, and by this time, the wind is really howling, and whitecaps are forming on the crests of the waves, and more telling than that - all the other boats on the lake had had the good sense to head for home.

We tried drifting for a while, and having Terri try to clear the water intake filter to see if that would help the engine overheating problem. We cleared it three times, and it seemed to help initially, but as soon as you tried to put the engine into gear, it would immediately overheat once again. With the weather conditions, and the condition of our engine, we felt it necessary to call out for help in getting back home. Terri called Securite on the VHF, and an outfit called TowUSA returned our call and advised us to drop anchor outside the mooring field and await them, as they were on another call, and wouldn't get to us for at least a half an hour. During this time it started raining in earnest, so we dropped anchor and went below. Tried once more to clear the filter and check the motor, but with no luck during our wait. And the tow boat came and got us after a while. At the same time, the coast guard came along side and asked us if we had called a 'Mayday' earlier, and we said no, just 'Securite' (apparently someone had called 'Mayday' at around 4:30, and they couldn't find them - we also noticed the helicopter circling the lake looking for them).

(photo, above) the good people from TowUSA take us toward the marina

We tied up to the tow boat, and were hauled the approximately 600 yards into our slip. A fairly painless operation, aside from the $87 fee. The rescue guy suggested we look at our impeller in the diesel, which might be the culprit. Luckily, I have a spare on hand, and will return to the boat sometime this week to give it a look see. (battery 2)