Why the holdup?

To answer the question that I am sure all of you blog readers are asking…no we have not moved in to St. Mary’s, GA permanently. Very soon we plan on getting underway again and heading for the Bahamian islands.

Our engine has been continuing to exhibit some strange behavior with very inconsistent oil levels. It would go up for a little while and then it would go back down, and we decided to take a little bit of time to get it completely sorted out before we leave the country. The engine troubleshooting indicated that our oil level would go up while the engine was not running, so we found a good secure anchorage next to our friends on Anthyllide and proceeded to not run the engine. After about a week the oil level had risen very significantly, so it was time to drain the oil and see what was in our oil pan other than oil.

We managed to pull out this liquid

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This is water that was sitting in the bottom of our engine oil pan! YIKES! Thankfully we didn’t run the engine with this much water in there, but it indicated that we have been collecting saltwater and then evaporating it out of the oil for a while now.

The good news about having water in the oil is that there are very very few options for how it can get there. The mostly likely cause is our cooling water pump. It bolts on to the front of the engine and has the possibility that if seals fail then it can leak into the timing case on the engine.

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We had a problem with this pump dripping previously and a rebuild had appeared to fix the problem, however now it looks like the rebuild just changed the location of the drip to a location where we couldn’t see it. We currently have a disabled engine, but have a brand new raw water pump in the mail. While it is shipping we are going to continue to monitor our engine oil level to make sure that disconnecting this pump actually fixed the problem.

After identifying the fact that we had salt water in our oil we changed the oil and oil filter twice to try and remove any salt from the system. After we reinstall the new pump we will run the engine for about 25 hours ( not continuously) and then change the oil one more time. Hopefully this will end our engine excitement for a long time!

Meanwhile we are enjoying the reasonably warm weather here in St. Mary’s. The town is full of very friendly people who have made us feel very welcome here. We even met another boat registered out of Portsmouth. The owner Ron has sailed his 33ft steel boat around the world in the high latitudes around Cape Horn. He has amazing stories and is giving up cruising (at least temporarily) to bike around the United States. If anyone is looking to join us we can check out his boat for you…I’m sure we could delay another week before we get under way.

Our Golden Goose

After motoring back to our mooring ball in Weems creek with BMac the other day we noticed an unusual smell inside Rode Trip’s cabin. It smelled a little like exhaust but that wasn’t it exactly. Upon opening the door to the engine room we discovered that our trusty diesel engine was leaking hot oil from somewhere, and it smelled…like hot oil. Since the mechanic looked at our engine back in Point Judith, we haven’t been having any problems with the engine so it was quite a surprise to have oil on the floor of the engine room. A quick check of the oil level showed that we had too much oil. This is starting to sound very familiar, but with one major difference. We closely monitor our oil pressure while motoring and it has been holding steady right where we expect it to be.

It looks like our engine is actually making oil for real this time. It doesn’t seem to be thinned at all, and has a healthy black color to it. After pumping the extra oil out of the engine pan it appears that we “created” a gallon of oil since our visit to the mechanic. The engine is now being monitored even more closely than usual, but in the mean time…does anyone want to buy some oil?

Report from the Diesel Doc

While Stephanie and I were enjoying the dockside life last night Rode Trip was nervously awaiting her first check up by a real professional since 2009. This morning Gary our mechanic arrived right on time at 7:30 and asked for all the details. I gave him all the information that my equipment troubleshooting had enabled me to collect.

1. After we had been running the engine for a while the oil pressure would drop slowly
2. When the oil pressure dropped the oil level in the tank would go up.
3. We were collecting approximately 3/4 pint of additional volume every 3 weeks/20 engine hours
4. The engine seems to still start and run normally other than the fact that we were “making” oil
5. The tachometer fluctuates slightly (50 rpm) for the first 30 seconds to a minute after starting the engine.

Gary listened carefully to all the details that I gave and started asking questions. He still wasn’t sure, but we moved on to looking at the engine. His first reaction was ” this engine looks like it is in great shape”. After taking a quick look around he had me start the engine, he looked for a smoky exhaust, or a hard start. Our good old perkins started up right away, just like usual. He made another comment that most Perkins require quite a bit more cranking than that to get going. He reassured me about the fluctuation in the tachometer. Apparently our tachometer reads off of our alternator and if the engine belt slips at all then the tachometer will fluctuate, but the engine is really running fine. I suggested that I would tighten the belt later, and he said that it would be better to leave it the way it is, better for the alternator.

After gathering all this information his opinion was…that it almost had to be a bad fuel lift pump. We talked about how that had recently been replaced with a new unit. He suggested that with the symptoms that we were having it seemed most likely that we had been sold a bad fuel lift pump. We made a plan that he would check the new fuel lift pump first, and then move on to the injectors. While he was starting the fuel lift pump check he found that we had a glow plug (fuel preheater for starting the engine in cold weather) that he missed on his initial inspection. He decided to check this first as it was very easy to pull and check. His check indicated that the valve inside was most likely leaking past! Whew! Talk about relief, it seems that our problem was caused by one small valve that we don’t need and weren’t using. Ten minutes later the glow plug was replaced with a bolt, and I have instructions on how to install a new glow plug if we decide to do some cold weather sailing.

I was ecstatic! I had been convinced that we were going to be stuck at the marina here at Point Judith while we waited for parts and had to have major engine work done. Instead the mechanic was done in about 1 1/2 hours, we didn’t have to order any parts, and I got some of my lingering engine questions answered.

1. There are no pencil zincs on our engine or raw water cooler
2. The prop will always spin slowly even when we are in neutral.
3. The transmission fluid should be changed every 1000 hours approx

I also asked about what usually breaks on a perkins, and he told me “nothing, these engines are just about bulletproof”

Thanks to Rich and Carol for recommending Point Judith Marine. We were very happy that our problem was solved so easily, although I imagine that the marina was probably hoping we would at least have to buy some parts after we stayed at their dock and used their showers!