Fun With Diesels

Further’s engine compartment on a glorious Sunday afternoon. The primary fuel filter goes in that mount on the right side of the compartment.

What did you do this weekend? If you’re a sailor on the Chesapeake Bay, hopefully you spent yesterday — a truly glorious spring Sunday — on your boat in the gorgeous sunshine and steady, building breeze.

Me, I spent my Sunday with my head in Further‘s engine compartment.

Last Sunday, I took Further out but never left Back Creek. I backed the boat out of her slip, spun her around and motored a little way into the creek toward the Annapolis Landing Marina fuel dock. I didn’t stop, just asked the attendant how late they were open. I planned to fuel up at the end of my day.

Turns out the end of my day was about three minutes later. I revved up Further‘s diesel to pull away from the fuel dock but a few seconds later the RPMs just dropped inexplicable. I pulled the throttle back for a couple of seconds and then opened it up again. Motored along…okay, all fine. Nope, there’s that drop again.

So rather than run into a problem out on the bay, I returned to my slip and shut everything down. I then pulled the stairs out so I could get at the engine. And when I fired it up again, I found that the vacuum gauge on top of the primary fuel filter was way up into the red — and with it went my planned-for Sunday on the bay.

Now, I am not mechanically inclined. I’d like to be and I’ve tried, somewhat, to learn to be capable when it comes to engines. In the interest of sailing self-sufficiency, a couple of years ago I took a two-day course at the Annapolis School of Seamanship on diesel engines — you know, the kind of engine in a sailboat. In hindsight, I should have waited until after I’d bought Further, that way after each class I could have returned home and cross-referenced what I’d learned in the class to my engine.

Instead, a couple of years removed from the class, I have to dredge up memories of the class and pull out some reference books and see if I can figure out what’s what. I have to take on faith the dictum of Nigel Calder, author and guru of DIY yachties the world over, that diesel engines are eminently logical, and that if one just follows the logic one can solve any problem.

Thus far, I hadn’t had anything too pressing on my engine. I’ve checked the oil, I’ve changed the element in the fuel filter..that’s about it. But now we’re into something more.

Okay, so, the symptom is: the vacuum in the fuel line is high. That means the fuel pump is pulling too hard. That means something is obstructing the flow of fuel. That means something is clogging the fuel line. Logical, right?

On the Monday after my aborted sail, I replaced the element in the fuel filter — despite the fact that the element in there looked fine. It certainly didn’t look like it did in Block Island after my first ocean sail when the wave action stirred up all the gunk in my fuel tank and left the filter a clogged mess. So while I didn’t think that was it, I started there. When I ran the engine, the vacuum gauge showed lower pressure but still too high. Hmm…

After work on Wednesday, I dug into it some more. I disconnected the fuel line between the tank and the filter and made sure it was clear. How did I do that, you ask? I blew on the end of the line that connects to the tank. Mmm, that diesel sure is yummy! Meanwhile, back in the engine compartment, fuel flew all over the place, thereby proving the line wasn’t blocked. In the process, I got so stinky with diesel that when I walked into the locker room to play hockey that night, a friend turned to me and said, “Jesus! You smell like diesel!” I wasn’t high from the fumes but I sure wasn’t right.

Of course, in the process of getting the fuel line off the fittings on the fuel filter, I wound up damaging so end of the hose. So on Thursday I went to the local chandlery and got a new length of fuel line. Thursday evening I connected it up and tried the engine. Better still, but also still in the yellow. Not there yet.

So yesterday, on that glorious Sunday I referred to earlier, I dug in. I filled the fuel filter with clean diesel, right to the top, and ran the engine for a bit. The gauge was again in the yellow. And when I opened the filter again, the chamber was half-full of fuel. That tells me that yes, the fuel pump is sucking hard and fuel isn’t getting into the filter. So if it’s not the fuel line from the tank and it’s not beyond the filter, it must be the filter itself, right?

Here’s the Racor fuel filter, exploded onto the countertop in the galley. Fun!

Next step: I took apart the filter itself and cleaned all sorts of gunk out of the centrifuge that separates water and crap out of the fuel. That was a project but it was pretty straightforward, thanks to a good online resource. Filled the filter back up and started the engine. Even better: the gauge went up into the yellow and then came back down a bit. Still in the yellow but better, noticeably better.  And to be honest, I was pretty proud of myself for having given it a shot and having helped the cause in the process. But still not good enough.

All this started because on Tuesday I had stopped by a local marine-engine shop that a hockey-playing friend had recommended. “Chris eats Yanmars [my brand of engine] for breakfast,” Jay declared. In typical Annapolis fashion, Chris said he could take a look…in May. He did concur with my belief that it was something in the fuel line between the tank and the filter, especially when I said that there were some air bubbles visible in the filter. But May?! That’s six freakin’ weeks away! Oy.

So after all my efforts, today on the way into work I stopped by another engine shop. They’re making appointments in mid-April. In the meantime, I’ll keep trying to fix things on my own (including another bit of advice from that online resource) and hopefully get it sorted out before I need help from the pros. Because being able to DIY is not only a safer, cheaper way to live the boating life, it’s also really gratifying. Even if it does cost you a gorgeous day on the bay.

Spring Approaches

A lovely, chilly sunrise as seen from the cockpit of Further in her slip on Back Creek, Annapolis. Fortunately, there hasn’t been much ice this winter — unlike last winter.

I got taken to task in a recent email from a friend — leave it to a fellow hockey player to rip me a new one — for not keeping this site current. And you know what? He’s right. So let’s do a quick update.

For starters, Further and I are now winding down our second winter of living aboard in Annapolis, Maryland. And this winter, thankfully has been a LOT mellower than last winter. Last year, we were iced in for a solid month; this winter, I took down my Christmas lights on New Year’s Day while wearing a T-shirt in 60-degree weather. And where I planned to sail a bit last winter (but didn’t), this year, Further and I were out on the Chesapeake three times during January. No, it wasn’t always warm but it wasn’t bad. Sadly, February’s weekends were crappy enough that I didn’t get Further out at all.

But now we’re in March and the days are getting longer. We’ll spring our clocks ahead an hour next weekend, which will lengthen the evening’s daylight hours. And as the winter weather lessens its grip a bit, I’ll be able to put some things away — an extra tarp lashed over the dodger and bimini, the supplemental electric heater in the cabin, etc. — so that throwing off the lines doesn’t take longer than the sail itself.

Speaking of the dodger: I ordered a new one back in November and traded emails this week with the company that will be doing the work. They’re going to come out and take measurements on Wednesday or Thursday, so I’m hopeful not too long thereafter I’ll have a new, larger, better dodger than Further currently sports. That will make going out in inclement weather less of a drag and, therefore, more likely.

Otherwise, this winter has been pretty straightforward: the Patriots won another Super Bowl, I’ve been playing hockey a couple of days a week at the U.S. Naval Academy and I’ve been working at S&J Yachts, a yacht brokerage located across Back Creek from my marina.

Further has been out on Chesapeake Bay three times this winter. She’ll get out there more often as spring continues its push north.

That last part my shock many of you (even though I hinted at it in an earlier post), but the job has been fun if a bit herky-jerky. They hired me to deal with their new website — a process they began in spring 2018 by hiring a marketing firm in Charleston, S.C. When I got into things in November, nothing had really been done at all so I updated all the content on the site and gave folks at the brokerage agency something to look at. They all weighed in with their feedback since they now had something to tangible and visible to critique, and we went back to the developer (a subcontractor to the marketing firm) for some updates. Another round of building things out and another round of feedback — at which point the marketing firm and the subcontractor complained that they were already way more invested in the process than they’d been paid for. The principals and the firm argued a bit with the result being the developer has been doing final updates over the past three weeks to an API that will present various listings of brokerage boats on the site. Coding that API is above my skill level so the developer had to do it — and I’ve been sitting around waiting (i.e.: not getting paid) for this final dev stage so I can put the finishing touches on the site. We shall see…

At which point, I’m supposed to segue into being trained to be a broker. I’ve been both looking forward to that step, and also a little wary of it. My track record with sales is none too good. But as many of you know, I get really passionate about boats and sailing and the ocean, so I believe I could actually be pretty good at it. I have no interest in being a used-car salesman but I do have an interest in making a living in the marine industry.

The thing is: I’ve been hearing since I joined the brokerage that “next week, when X, Y, Z is finished, we’ll go over this, that and the other thing, and get you started on selling.” I joined the firm before Thanksgiving so it’s now been more than three months and not much has really happened. Yes, sales is all about initiative and I should show some. Or show some more is maybe more accurate: I’ve improved an existing listing here and done a couple of courtesy showings there, but beyond that…de nada. And none of the promised assistance (an email list of potential clients from an old boat show, for instance) has ever materialized.

And frankly, I’ve tried to stay more focused — and keep the team more focused — on the company’s website since that can help drive a lot more business than any one salesperson can by him or herself. And I’m pretty pleased with where I’ve gotten the website to, if I do say so myself. Go check it out: S&J Yachts. It’s no exaggeration whatsoever to point out that had I not joined the firm there would be no new site. So I’m proud of that. But it’s been a bit frustrating having to deal with so many cooks in the kitchen (EVERYONE fancies themselves an expert at what works on the web) while also not getting the promised training that will take me to the next step in the process, so I’ll say it again: we shall see…

Anyway, that’s been the winter of 2018-2019 for Further and me. I hope to have a lot more frequent updating in the coming weeks as we emerge from hibernation and get more active. In the meantime, follow us on Instagram where I post photos semi-frequently. Thanks for your support…and stay tuned!

Starting the New Year (Sorta) Right

Further‘s first day in her new home, back in November

Long time, no write. That’s obviously on me, but the simple fact of the matter is that there hasn’t been much Further-related about which to write lately. I moved the boat over to a new marina, which I quite like but will have to vacate come April, and since the move Further has been firmly connected to the dock nonstop.

Further in her festive Christmas lights

That changed, somewhat, yesterday. For Christmas, I had hoisted lights to the masthead, but given the mild winter we’ve been having in Annapolis thus far (knock on wood), I knew I wanted to get the boat out onto the Chesapeake Bay. Why not, right? All you gotta do is wear warm clothes, right? So I took the lights down on a New Year’s Day that was so warm, I did the work while wearing a T-shirt. That day would have been a great day to go out — brisk winds and the aforementioned warm temps — but I wasn’t going to be able to raise a sail until I’d taken down the lights.

That done, I watched the weather forecast and yesterday was looking good: temps in the low 50s, sunny, wind in the low teens. I figured it would be a great day to get out on the bay, shake off some rust and play around for a short while. And at the same time, I could swing by the fuel dock to top off my diesel tank which is starting to get low since I’ve been using it to heat Further‘s cabin.

I awoke yesterday and got to it: stowed things down below that could get tossed around, removed the tarp I had rigged up over my ripped-up dodger, removed the two sail covers (I added a length of Sunbrella fabric as added protection over the now-very-holey original sail cover) and prepped to head out.

Further‘s engine fired up on first try and hummed for the first time since November. I dropped my dock lines and backed out of the slip with no problem. And then I motored over to Annapolis Landing Marina…where I found the fuel dock closed. Shit! Oh well, I could always head around Horn Point and into Spa Creek to Annapolis City Marina and their fuel dock, right?

Well, I made my way toward the mouth of eerily empty Back Creek. It was like a ’80s TV show about a nuclear apocalypse and everyone was gone. Where there would usually be a steady stream of traffic and anchored boats, there was now, literally, no one but me and Further.

When I got to the mouth of the creek and could see out onto the bay, I was stunned that there was NO ONE out there. I figured the racing boats would be out for their weekly Sunday event, but no. Four tankers were anchored out in the middle of the bay, but other than that, not a soul in sight.

And as I got out by the Back Creek marker I learned why when a couple of splashes were blown into Further‘s cockpit by the strong northwest wind. Whoa! Bracing, to say the least. I knew there was a small-craft advisory but that’s not that big a deal, especially on the bay where the waves can’t really get big — except I realized I didn’t feel like dealing with it solo. And motoring into said wind toward Spa Creek, and then trying to tie up for fuel with the wind blowing me onto the dock, was not something I really savored. So I did a big 180 and headed back to the marina, where the wind made it a sporty venture getting tied up again by myself. But I did it, at which point I replied to a friend’s text message asking me if I wanted to crew for her to take her boat out.

Lauren is a very experienced, badass sailor (I believe she’s done the Newport-to-Bermuda singlehanded race). We had traded text messages about taking our boats out and since I decided going solo sucked I gathered my warm clothes and headed over to her marina. Two other friends of Lauren’s were going and we all headed out onto the bay.

We tucked two reefs into the mainsail and proceeded toward the bridge aboard her 34-foot boat. And we had a grand time, just putting along. A couple of other boats came out behind us and screamed past, their full assortment of sails rigged and drawing on the strong wind. And the dinghy racers were finally out in full force, flying around the buoys in the harbor in front of the Naval Academy.

We were out and about for about four hours and it was wonderful. It was educational to see some of the systems Lauren has on her boat to enable her singlehanding, and I plan to steal some of those ideas. It was also a treat (and a bit chastening) to realize just how big the difference is in handling a 34-foot boat versus handling my 42-foot boat. For instance, when Lauren wanted to trim the main a bit to enable us to point a little higher, I was able to grab the boom and pull it inboard, thereby making it easier for her to winch the sheet tight. And when I lowered the sail at the end of the day, grabbing it and flaking it on the boom was easy compared to the wrestling match that is required to get Further‘s sail secured.

A foggy New Year’s Eve day on Back Creek

So…it was a good day — I got out on the water and learned some things — and it was a not-so-good day — I was humbled enough that I didn’t go out solo, and I couldn’t fill up my fuel tank. I guess that’s par for the course when it comes to sailing: good AND bad, all in good measures.

But it was a gloriously sunny day and I was sailing so…that’s a win.