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Messing About with Boats... The Saga Continues

Don Chandler

Martin 32
November 23rd, 2017

If you remember where we left off last time, we made it to the August Rendezvous after many attempts to deal with engine/fuel problems, always learning lessons along the way. So, let me now conclude the story of Saracen, as we headed back home.

After the Rendezvous, we checked the battery again and it had dropped to 10.5 V.  We charged with the outboard, which puts out 5 Amps for a half hour and it rose to 13.5 V.  These are the signs of a sulphated battery.  We headed back to Vancouver motor sailing. Soon we noticed the diesel running hot, while using our trusty digital oven thermometer. 188 F to 192 F is too high for an old diesel.  The oil pressure also dropped to 5 psi at idle, so we quickly shut down the diesel and finished the home run on the backup outboard.

Over the next few days we changed the oil and checked the sensor for leaks.  Again it started out with 50-45 PSI and dropped to 35 PSI after 5 minutes, as the engine warmed up.  We changed the oil and filter again to be sure we got any dirt out that might be plugging the filter.  I picked up a de-sulphator for the battery as well, just to be sure.  The following day we found a time for a quick haul out at Granville Island next door, so we changed the sail drive oil and cleaned the bottom barnacles off.  The rest of the day we cleaned up the boat and checked oil and all seemed good again,  so we provisioned and went back to Plan A:  Leave when the boat is ready, sail north, turn around before the weather turns.

As we approached Powell River, the engine died again.  Same story: check fuel shut off valve and restart.  Five minutes later the oil pressure dropped to 25 PSI.  Top up oil level to no avail.  Shut down, start the outboard, call for moorage at Powell River.  Guess Nancy’s Bakery in Lund will have to wait (best bakery cafe in the world).  The schoolmaster is haunting us for sure.

BCA buddy off Comox

We visited the local mechanic, who cut the filter in half to be sure it is not dirty (after just 8 hours), which involves another oil change.  Looks clean. So we feel it’s resolved; the first filter likely clogged after the oil sat in the rusty engine all winter.  The mechanic is off for the week-end so after joining the big summer street party in Powell River, we headed out early for Nancy’s Bakery, feeling we’ve finally licked it, pending exam final marks.

After some quality time in Nancy’s Bakery, I stroll up the hill and find the local outboard shop has a couple of new batteries.  I can’t resist and make the purchase replacing our 3 year old batteries that sat all winter on solar at 13.5 V.  Perhaps that was not high enough to do a monthly de-sulphating charge.  We hang out in Desolation Sound for a couple of days before heading over to Cortez for the 3rd Rendezvous with BCA.  It was great to get there finally with problems solved and no more boat work on the critical list.

Weynton pass on backup power

The next few days found us heading north as per plan A, stopping in at our favourite stops on the slow route.  Shoal Bay was hosting a party for Mark’s birthday; Octopus Islands were wonderful as usual, with good cell / internet signal with amp near the park in Wyatt Bay.  We made good time up the rest of the route, in fog and winds coming from the south in Johnston Strait.  However, as we were whale watching at the top of Johnston Strait, the schoolmaster came back.  Oil pressure dropped again.  We quickly switched to the outboard and headed to Port McNeill.  We had noticed some water building up in the bilge under the engine also.  We checked with the local Volvo Dealership, who  connected us with the highly reputed, 70 year old mechanic.  He came by and placed his hand on the engine and said: “start her up”.  I did and he quietly moved his hand over the engine as it warmed up, whispering to it, I think.  A minute later he said: “shut her down”.  I did, as he shared the news (relayed from the schoolmaster, I’m sure).  “It’s the water heater you installed,” he said, “the exhaust elbow needs colder water and after a few 6 or 8 hours of running, the water coming into it is hot and when reconnecting with the exhaust manifold / elbow joint, it overheats the back of the engine.”  It all fit.  Magic solution.  I disconnect the heater a few days later in Sointula.

There we visited a good friend who had just bought a farm, and helped him feed the chickens, explore the local coffee shop, haul some logs with the lawnmower for the wood fireplace and generally hang out, seeing another BCA boat at the dock who also had just bought property on Sointula.

We ran the outboard back to Port McNeill where we connected with the old mechanic, Graham, once again to review the water leak.  Turns out the pump has a rusty bolt and likely a worn seal.  It would take a couple of days to order the parts, but Graham assured us we would make it back home OK.  We changed to plan B and took the fast route south.  Johnstone Strait was reliable as ever and gave us 30 knots of wind from the north, best and longest day’s sail of the season.  We babied the engine on the way home, bailing 4 liters or so of water for every hour we ran her,  monitoring the engine temperature actively and adjusting the engine speed to low to keep it cool.  We ran the outboard slow also to get us up to 5 knots as the wind died, and to save gas as we had only 20 liters of gas in tankage. Every time we throttled the diesel up a fraction, the temperature rises and the pressure drops.  Riding the tides gets us up before sunrise each day.

Morning before Johnstone Strait

We are now off the Sunshine Coast, with just enough gas to get home by midnight, before the SE winds set in tomorrow morning.  Next we will pay our dues to the schoolmaster, crawl into the tight engine bay and tear off the exhaust elbow and manifold to clear out any buildup.  A winter project to give us many days of just messing about with boats.

School is never out in sailing and even after 27 years, I’m still learning, but feel I’ve just about enough experience to head offshore again, schoolmaster in tow. The Pacific calls, but perhaps a new engine comes first.


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