Trying to leave…. Hotel California

JoAnne and I have been here in Southport going on Three years.

Don’t get me wrong, we really LOVE this town. We love the people, we’ve made a million friends. We know almost everyone.

But, we also spend last winter in Colorado. And the winter before here on the docks. And this winter is upon us now….and… we’re still here.

Every time we try to leave, something weird happens.

Engine issues. Cancer. Engine issues. Fuel issues. Fire extinguishers. Engine issues. Did I mention ENGINE ISSUES?

Last Tuesday we were supposed to leave. JoAnne woke up coughing, sneezing and feeling like crap. Ok, she has a weakened immune system from the two separate chemos (each lasting 6 months) she’s had to go through.

I cancelled the trip.

The week before we found out the cleaning on the boat bottom wasn’t really as well done as it could have been. And the prop was severely fouled. I dived the boat myself and the prop was clumped. It had been cleaned a couple months before. Should NOT have had LARGE barnacles, but it did. Ok, I didn’t clean it, but someone else did. They came out, checked it and said it was “VERY FOULED”.

Company said “Oh, in two weeks it can get that way….”

I don’t believe that. I have sat in these waters for over two years and WATCHED the accumulation, so I know the amounts. Beside the point though.

This time, after cancelling the trip, I started the engine in the afternoon to run the prop (to keep it clean). The boat moves fine under power, still tied to dock, I could move her forward and back.

Ten minutes in, the engine ran away.

I ran below, tried to kill with the kill cable, no luck. I removed the side panel to engine, grabbed a tupperware lid, ripped the air filter off, was immediately splattered with black, hot oil, and slapped the lid over the mouth of the air intake, shutting the engine down.

After cleaning up the oil and checking the oil levels I found the oil was WAY over the amount it was supposed to be.

Now… let’s go back exactly one year, in September 2018. One of the reasons we didn’t leave then was… you guessed it, an “Engine runaway”, then a hurricane which gave us pause, and finally, JoAnne having to go back to Colorado for her Chemo after her recurrence of cancer.

I’d called in a mechanic that I knew. Charged me quite a bit of money, told me the “lift pump” was shoving diesel into the crank case. Removed it, and “rebuilt it” supposedly. ALSO, removed and pressure tested the injectors (supposedly).

Back to a year later, in the here and now. The oil levels were at TWO GALLONS. And it was full of diesel. Not good.

I immediately suspected the lift pump. You know, the “rebuilt one”. In checking I found it is difficult to get the parts to rebuild one (and why, because they cost 25 US dollars!!!!)

Ok…..two gallons of oil, mixed with diesel means I literally have about 3.5 quarts of diesel in the crankcase. I pumped it all out, and disposed of it (properly, at an Autozone near by). I ordered a new lift pump, which came yesterday.

I installed it today. I’ve since changed oil. Run the engine up to temperature. Put it into forward, reverse and left it under stress for 1/2 hour while engine came up to temperature of 160 degrees.

I check the oil levels and they are normal. Before heating, after heating, and I’m about to check them again after cool down to ensure its not collecting diesel.

There are a few places the diesel can come in. 1) Lift Pump, 2) Injection/Governor pump, 3) clogged fuel return line, 4) injectors themselves, 5) a ‘ball valve’ in the heater unit.

I have replaced the lift pump, because the more I look at the old one, the more I do NOT believe it was touched, repaired, replaced (it’s the original one) or refurbished.

The injectors were removed, cleaned and pressure tested (supposedly, did I mention that?) a year ago. Shouldn’t be leaking.

During my study of this engine – remember, I am NOT a mechanic by any stretch of the imagination – I found the stuff above. I also think I have found I do NOT have a pre-heating unit, not anywhere I can see it. AND while I do NOT think I have a clogged return fuel line, I’m remembering a certain mechanic asking me where my “return lines go, and where’s the valve” at one point. I do NOT believe I’ve checked that….

Since the TIME BEFORE LAST when he visited. So, to morrow I will be checking all of that.

It occurred to me, if the return line valve was closed before, it would explain why the engine ran away, not once, but TWICE now.

So, I learned a lot. Never trust anyone else on your engine. Always know everything about it yourself, even if you pay someone else to do the work. Always CHECK everything yourself (which I KNEW, but was too lazy to do). ALWAYS know your own stuff better than anyone else.

Also learned a lot about diesel engines. Actually, pretty simple creatures. They need air, and fuel to work, along with compression. Not much else. Ok, oil in the sump and coolant in the tanks, working, moving parts and all that stuff, but it all works together so neatly!

Two books I’ll recommend though, “Troubleshooting Marine Diesels” and “Marine Diesel Engines” by Nigel Calder and Peter Compton, respectively, if you want to know how diesel engines work.

There’s no book to tell you to do things a certain way in life. How to deal with mechanics or riggers. There’s no book out there to tell you how to know in what order to do everything you need to know how to do on a boat.

Oh, there’s LOTS OF BOOKS on various subjects, but there is only ONE thing that is going to teach you the right way to do something. To prevent screwing up, you need experience. You get experience by screwing up a few times.

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