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Plan for a Happy Bart

Jay and Anita Bigland

Karina C
Spencer 35 Sloop
October 29th, 2017

When we bought Karina C, we knew nothing about diesels, having been used to gas engines. Jay bought a diesel repair book, and hired a mechanic to brief him on the motor. Going off shore to Mexico, Jay had a steep learning curve. The motor was something we didn’t trust or understand. As it was black, we called the motor “Black Bart.” Thankfully, Jay has the gift of the gab, and learned a lot from other boaters. Mexico was a great place to gather knowledge from other boaters as we were all in troubles from time to time, and helping each other was critical in a foreign land where the words “good” and “mechanic” seldom or never occurred in the same context. All us boaters had to be MacGyvers.

Karina C, ( a “barely out of the mold” 1963 Spencer) with a barely broken in 1985 Yanmar 3 GM diesel motor, came to us in 2001. Clean fuel, no air in the line and no water in the fuel and these Diesel engines  will purr. We thought the system it came with to be pretty good. It had two spin-on Racor 2 micron filters  for primary and a 10 micron on the engine. The reason for two micron on the primary was because the filter on the engine is difficult to access. The two primaries were on a system that you could shut off the valve to the first one when it plugged up and change it on the fly. We wondered why the former owners had such a large supply of these filters, but soon found out on one of our maiden voyages when both plugged up faster than we could change them. The trouble was these filters are very small and plug up very quickly. Added to that, a sail boat generally spends it’s time sailing, and not motoring.  We had no idea of how long Karina C sat with stale fuel before we got her.

Karina C in Agua Verde, Mexico

These expensive little filters were soon replaced with one Racor 500MA fuel/water separator element filter. These, being much larger, didn’t plug up as often, and since one only needed to buy the element and not it’s housing, it worked out to be much cheaper. We were, however, still plagued  by the engine conking out at inconvenient times (bar crossings, narrow passes, docks). The critters in our fuel, even after getting a professional polishing, continued to bedevil us. So, next we bought an Algae-X system that busts up the algae. We built a fuel recirculating system to literally “polish” our fuel before starting any cruises. We continued to be bedeviled with fuel problems on our way down to Mexico. Traveling under motor so much going down the coast, trying to make the correct time for the bar crossings, and while in Mexico where harbours are so far apart, one often needs to hank on the iron jib. This did a great job of ridding us of the stale fuel problems.

We diligently used a Baha filter every time we took on fuel. Fuel in Mexico was pretty clean for the most part. However, when in out-back areas, where you had to deal with the middle man instead of directly with Pemex (their  government run fuel stations) the story could be quite different. There have been episodes of questionable fuel from 3rd party suppliers. We never put fuel in our tank without first filtering it through a Baha filter. Mexico was very dry in the areas we travelled, and our critter problem went away. The story will probably be a lot different now that we have returned to a fairly wet, and, at times, cold climate. One of the things you can do to help minimize  the moisture that gathers in any tank that sits too long, is to fill the tank totally at the end of each season. As well, we add a biocide at the end of the season. A partially-filled tank is an invitation to condensation in the tank, leading to critters. We make a point of taking our Jerry cans up to the car fuel stations, because marina fueling stations can have condensation in their tanks, giving you unwanted water. It’s generally cheaper, too. They figure they’ve got you stuck out on the water, so they can jack the price. Occasionally we have needed to take on marine fuel, but the Baha filters do help. We no longer need to worry about bar crossings now that we are back in Canada, but we worry about plugged filters or air in the line if we are in an area like the middle of Dodd Narrows. The smallest little bit of air, possibly getting in from some rusted hose clamp, or one that has loosened, unnoticed, can stop an engine in it’s tracks.

The lift tank.

A compounding factor was that the fuel pump wasn’t designed to lift fuel from three feet below the engine. So the latest protection that we have added is a “day tank” of sorts. We added a much more robust fuel pump as part of the Algae-X system, so we used that pump to lift the fuel up, through the Algae-X and through one of the filters. A small, two liter tank that we located at the top of the motor compartment then received this polished, water separated fuel. This tank has an in port for receiving fuel on one side, and an overflow port to return any fuel to the tank that is excess. At the bottom, a gravity feed system gently feeds the fuel to the engine. A clear additional tiny fuel filter (to act as an inspection port) was placed in line in both the feed and return lines. Before we enter any areas where the engine is important, I open the engine compartment and look to see if the overflow from the tank is running. This system assures that we have a good 45 minutes of trouble free running. We know the fuel feeding the engine is clean, water free and air free. As well, the fuel that returns to our tank has been de-watered and de-algaed, which keeps the tank a lot cleaner.

Since getting back from Mexico, we have renamed Bart “Bartholomew” (a name of respect rather than of former blame). The only other fuel related problem we have had is due to our vintage of engine, requiring sulfur. Due to environmental reasons, Canada and the States have decided to reduce the sulfur that used to be in diesel. Older diesels like ours need that sulfur to keep the injectors running clean. This led to having to take out and clean up our injectors (a job not to be taken lightly). Bent (an old mechanic who is too old to leave the shop, but will clean up the parts if brought to him, and has spent time educating Jay on how to do the job of removal and re-installation ) told us to add Stanadyne Diesel Fuel Additive Extra Strength Lubrication Formula with every fill. I’m sure there are other products out there that do the same job.  This additive has something in it that keeps the injectors from getting sooty. So far so good. Others of you may have insights we haven’t thought of, and we hope you might share any info so that we can help each other out. We boaters have to keep our diesel engines happy and smelling sweet. OK, they never smell sweet, but we sure rely on them to keep faithfully ticking along.

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