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Engine & Sail
No Name Key Sun Storm
~ No Name Key Sun Storm ~
Engine Maintenance
Tending the Herd in a Storm
A good diesel engine is a real workhorse – or 30 horses in our case. They can go and go and go, then spontaneously drop dead if not properly cared for. With so many other things on a boat to maintain on a weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual basis, it can be easy to ignore the things that are working without complaint. But we've heard of, read about, and observed enough horrifying events caused by the sudden death of an engine to know that it always occurs at the utmost inconvenient time. Don witnessed one such event which comprised of a 50' double masted schooner carried on a 10 knot current approaching a dock 20' away from a 10' high bridge. Multiply all those factors for an approximate cost of damages.

On occasion, Don will be hit with what I have come to refer to as a mechanical motivation storm. He is overcome with a desire to contort himself into impossible positions, squeeze into a dark, greasy, sweltering cubby and pound on some rusty bolts. Usually, these storms are foreshadowed by a low mumbling about a leaky hose, or the smell of oil, so I immediately take action by ordering engine parts. The important thing is that I am prepared to respond when these storms blow through because they often show up completely unexpectedly and will quickly weaken if not properly fueled by shiny, new valves and gaskets.

Original Yanmar 3QM30
~ Original Yanmar 3QM30 ~

The mixing elbow storm passed fairly quickly, and the fuel filter tempest brought only minor frustration. The horses galloped beautifully following the water pump squall, which required only 3 trips to the parts store and brought with it rust removal and a whole new paint job. But I'd feared we were not going to endure through the gale that hit when the gauges were to be replaced. Our panel of instruments never worked, leaving us to only guess at how our herd was doing and the rat's nest of wiring might as well have been a barbed wire fence to deter us from the task. Several sets of gauges and sending units were considered, bought and returned for one reason or another. Yanmar was not going to make saving money with non-OEM parts an option. After piles of research and hours of phone calls, Don tracked down a promise of compatible gauges with built in alarms. Once again the storm began to build.

The temperature gauge gave little pause and was the first to spring to life. But then, the tachometer refused to do its job and frustration threatened to stall the winds of change. After months of gaping holes in the panel while wires were metered, a marine engine mechanic was hired to identify the culprit. And as is appropriate for most well trained, highly paid professionals, he was quick to proclaim the mundane. "The tach you bought is broke." A replacement was swiftly acquired and soon we were enlightened to our RPMs. But alas, one more gauge remained to put up a fight – the oil pressure.

The design of our Yanmar did not leave room for an oil filter, sending unit and alarm, so a T pipe was used to accommodate for the limitations; however due to engine vibrations and corrosion, this design was prone to failure. The clouds of ideas would build and dissipate with concepts of remote filters, brackets and hoses.

At last, the sky cleared as two 58 cent elbows were screwed together to set the sending unit. The gauge gale ended with alarms buzzing, lights illuminating, and needles rising as our horses sprung to life. It was a sight to behold but alas, there is always another storm brewing on the horizon.

Original Gauges
~ Original Gauges ~

What was that I heard rumbling in the distance? Did he say fuel filters? Where did I put that Racor catalog?

Refit: 19 Jul 2016
Don kicked around the idea of re-powering prior to our leaving for an extended Caribbean cruise, but we'd already spent so much on new sails, provisions, safety gear … I really didn't want to extract so much money from the cruising kitty and beside, he'd kept up on the maintenance and our Yanmar kicked over without a hitch!

We hit some really rough weather along the way. Being the one at the helm during anchoring, I mentioned that I felt a lot more vibration was coming from the engine than I'd previously experienced. But I didn't push it because we were hooked onto a new shore and too excited to explore or too tired to care, depending on the crossing. That was until we attempted to anchor in the crowded cove off St. Thomas' Water Island.

Before I got a chance to back down on the plow, I lost propulsion. Don began to tear into the engine compartment while dove overboard to check on the anchor. What I saw was not good! Our anchor was laying on hard coral with the chain laying down a steep hill. And the forecasted storm didn't bode well for us staying put by shear weight alone.

New Yanmar 3JH5E
~ New Yanmar 3JH5E ~

Don discovered that the vibration I had reported was due to a screw working its way off one motor mount. The vibration stressed the other mounts to the point where another snapped. This caused our transmission to jerk and our flexible coupling to shred.

Fortunately, we were in a US territory and able to take advantage of our TowBoat policy, in order to get towed to the safety of a dock. From there we were able to dinghy over to a Yanmar vendor who ordered us a new coupling, and new motor mounts. In the process of checking everything over though, we discovered the transmission was leaking. So we ordered a $10 replacement seal.

Once everything arrived by ship, we got to work at putting it all back together. The motor mounts and coupling cooperated, but no matter what Don tried, he wasn't able to remove the big nut on the transmission. A special tool was needed and he believed if he could just get his hands on that tool, all would be well. So eventually, off we went with gallons of transmission fluid, in search of a yard with this tool.

We searched throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the British Virgin Islands to no avail. Finally, we headed to St. Martin – twice.

Gauges Don Installed
~ Gauges Don Installed ~

This is the eastern most island in the chain and a very tough sail directly into the trade winds. Our first attempt turned rough and after 18 hours of crabbing with the engine giving us some semblance of forward motion, Don, having such a difficult time filling the reservoir in the waves, determined that our store of transmission fluid wasn't going to get us through the other half of the trip. So we ran back to the BVIs for more.

Our second attempt was a beautiful, 24 hour trip fully under sail. We immediately found a mechanic with the tool, but no amount of effort could budge the nut! So rather than replace the $10 part, we determined we'd replace the whole engine. But that story, is for another blog.

The new engine came with an electronic gauge panel that tells us everything we need to know. We still have the gauges Don installed on the turtle, and occasionally I catch myself referring to them. But someday I'll replace the cover board and once again, technology will have given us space to fill. Maybe I can hang a picture there!

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