Fun With Diesels — An Update

And just like that…all better! Mostly.

Sitting in the office today, about to grab some lunch, when my phone rings. It’s Bay Shore Marine, the engine folks here in Annapolis from whom, on my lunch break, I was going to buy a seal rebuild kit I mentioned in my most recent post. They had some parts issue on a job they had scheduled for today so one of their techs was freed up and was going to get sent to check my boat. Woohoo!

Instead of grabbing lunch I drove home and met the guy at Further. I explained what the problem was and what I’d done to try to fix it. Short version: He said I was on the right track. He then proceeded to do basically everything I had done, only better (but he did remark that I’d done a good job cleaning the centrifuge assembly in the fuel filter). And when we started up the engine…voila! The vacuum gauge was in the green.

Now, he did point out that he blew out the fuel line back TOWARD the tank, which I hadn’t done, and that it was entirely possible there was something in the tank blocking the fitting where the line came out. If so, it’s also entirely possible it will once again find its way to the line and block things up again. Then again, it’s possible that it won’t. Either way, the engine is running soundly again.

The tech also showed me a couple of other points to keep an eye on, and helped with a couple of other minor things. In the long run, I’ll be better with the engine for having watched what he was doing. And that’s good.

There was one issue he noticed, however, that is going to have to be dealt with. He noticed (as I’ve known) that there’s still a trickle of water coming in via the propeller shaft. He had me take a look at the new-in-October shaft seal and pointed out some divots in the flange and, perplexingly, a hose clamp on the shaft itself. When I asked him what would cause those divots he replied, “Someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing.” The presence of the hose clamp sealed the deal (but not the shaft): someone couldn’t get the flange secured properly so they put a hose clamp on the shaft to try to hold the flange in place. What the ever-lovin’ f…?! So in the next day or so I’ll be having a chat with the boat yard that did the work in October…

But in the meantime, Further is ambulatory once again, and that makes me happy. It is, as the tech said when I’d said I hadn’t expected to hear from Bay Shore Marine for a couple of weeks, my “lucky day.” So much so that I went right out and bought a ticket for Wednesday’s Powerball drawing. Cross your fingers…

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!