The Trip that Went South: Dreadful News

Becalmed. It was sunny, warm, and both the sea and BMac’s stomach were at ease. Time to fire up the engine to continue making progress toward the Abacos, Bahamas. Brian went below to check the oil before starting the engine; this is common practice since the Perkins 4-108 leaks oil like a sieve. Brian had done an oil change and fuel filter change while we were anchored in the Cape Fear River. Since then, we had motored roughly 30 hours and everything was A-OK. “Oh, shit,” I heard Brian utter. You know, for a sailor he’s always had a rather clean mouth so I know when such strong words are chosen that something is amiss. Brian’s report from the engine room was that there was fuel in the oil. There was no mistaking as with our previous engine oil issues. The oil was black, thinned, and reeked of diesel. There was also an excess of oil dumping out of the oil pan. Brian emptied the oil pan which confirmed the fuel leak. He began pouring the oil into empty containers, containers from which I was dumping fresh water. So now we have an engine problem and I’m dumping fresh water, somehow that doesn’t seem like a good combo. All the while BMac took the tiller (the Cape Horn windvane was useless in the light wind).

I became a gopher for Brian, fetching tools and manuals, thankful that the sea was calm so that he could work efficiently. Thank goodness we had BMac along to keep everything stable in the cockpit! The main sail was flogging back and forth and repeatedly BMac had to secure the sheet.

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Brian proceeded to disassemble the fuel lift pump, one possible leakage area where fuel and oil both pass through. After inspecting the fuel lift pump, installed new just one year ago, neither of us found any cracks in the diaphragm and the pump seemed to be in good working order. The pump was pieced back together and reinstalled. Brian sealed the oil pan and waited several minutes before opening it once again to find approximately one cup of fuel had leaked through. The culprit could possibly be a bad injector or a bad fuel injector pump. These were not things Brian wanted to tinker with while underway. In the meantime, he primed the engine and made certain it would start. Within a few minutes after starting the oil pressure dropped significantly. The engine was turned off, the fuel was turned off, and we were unable to use the engine unless there was an emergency. Too much fuel in the oil could cause a runaway engine; we certainly did not want that to occur!

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The good news: we are on a SAIL-boat! We can continue to travel without an engine. The bad news: there was NO wind! This was the predicted forecast and we’d simply planned to motor. We bobbed atop the flat sea, disheartened with our present circumstances. Brian and I began plotting how we would repair the engine from the Bahamas. Our options were not ideal to say the least. We then predicted the very worst; what if the weather, the proximity of a passing ship, or the ability to enter a cut required the engine? We agreed that we could not rely on the engine while it had a clear, yet undiagnosed problem. We let all of this information simmer and played a few rounds of cards before dinner to boost the morale on the ship.

Brian did some figuring based on our weather forecast and current location. The reality of this situation was not good.
That evening, between watch shifts, we had a pow-wow. Brian and I had promised BMac and unforgettable ocean passage with a landing in the pristine waters of the Bahamian islands. Well, unforgettable we could do! However, to make the Abacos before a forecasted cold front breezed through, Rode Trip would have to maintain an average speed of five knots. Our current wind conditions were not even five knots! We were plodding along at 0.5-1.1 knots and that would likely continue well into the next day. A later arrival time, mid-frontal system, also meant that we may not be able to enter the cuts onto the banks of the Abacos. Those cuts are known for becoming impassable during bad weather. These were conditions that we could avoid. Nobody was happy about it, but the reality was that the safest option for us would be turning back toward the east coast. We should be able to make landfall prior to the cold front arriving and repair the engine. BMac was a trooper, “Whatever we need to do, I’m along for the adventure.” We changed course, destination unknown, and crossed our fingers hoping for more wind and a speedy engine repair.

6 thoughts on “The Trip that Went South: Dreadful News

  1. So sorry having engine trouble. Glad that you turned back and hope you got to US east coast before the front. We’re in St. Augustine with a cracked engine head being fixed. Good luck!
    Lorraine
    SV Changes

  2. The front was yet another factor in turning back and we were safely docked the day prior to the winds blowing through. So sorry to hear about your engine head – that’s a BIG fix! Hope work goes smoothly, at least you can enjoy St. Augustine while undergoing repairs. What a wonderful city!

  3. Hi, Tate! Brian had narrowed down the possibilities accurately – turns out the issue was a bad seal in the fuel injector pump and so we had the entire pump rebuilt (it was a mess besides the seal). I feel your pain on the water in the engine though! That happened to us last November (also in GA, go figure) but we were lucky that the engine did not hydrolock. Whoever installed the engine did not install the exhaust correctly and so Brian rebuilt our exhaust to solve the problem. Hope all goes well with the haul-out!

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