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.


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!



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.


Our good old perkins is running even better with it’s new exhaust system. The installation went through without any real problems. I did have to borrow a bicycle from Anthyllide in order to get to the Ace Hardware to buy one last hose adapter.

Here is a picture of the new hot exhaust riser before it was insulated.


The system now runs without any leaks, and the engine is starting easier and running smoother!


We are very excited to be mobile again and are looking forward to motoring down the Intracoastal Waterway while keeping a close eye on the engine to make sure there are no surprises.

Engine Update

This blog post gives a summary of what was ACTUALLY wrong with our engine leading up to this point. It conveniently compresses two weeks of troubleshooting down into one post. If only I had read this post before starting the process…

When we suspected that our raw water pump was leaking into the engine the first step was to disconnect the pump from the engine so that no more water would get in. I continued to monitor the engine oil level even though we weren’t running the engine while waiting for the new pump. Even with raw water pump separated from the engine our oil level continued to rise! This meant that we must be getting water in through our exhaust system. As soon as I disconnected the exhaust hose leading to our muffler I found our “smoking gun”. I had finally found the real problem. The exhaust hose was full of water and it was at a level high enough to be running into our exhaust.

The short version of this problem is that the exhaust system was installed improperly, and has been allowing saltwater into our engine for a long time.

The long version is that three things were wrong at the same time which allowed water to backfill into the engine.
1. There was no anti-siphon loop on the water injection into the exhaust. This should have been installed with the engine.
2. The water lift muffler was mounted higher than the exhaust outlet. This is supposed to be at least a foot lower.
3. Our raw water pump was allowing a trickle of water to leak by when the engine was off.
The combination of these three items allowed the water into our engine.

This video shows these parts of our engine.

Once the problem was located we took steps to fix the situation. All of our resources indicated that with this much water coming in through the exhaust our engine should be at a high risk of “hydrolock”. Hydrolock is when one or more cylinders inside the engine are filled with water and since the water can’t be compressed the engine can’t turn over. Not wanting to do any damage to the engine trying to start it. I disconnected the exhaust system from the engine, and flushed the oil system. I moved the oil through the engine by turning the engine over by hand using a large wrench. After cleaning the lubrication system thoroughly we refilled the engine oil including a dose of Marvel Mystery Oil an oil additive designed to help clean the engine. I reconnected the muffler at a level lower than the engine exhaust and ran the engine long enough to get it up to temperature and drive out any residual moisture. The engine started much easier and ran smoothly!

An Endeavor 37 here in St. Mary’s also has a Perkins 4.108 and we went over and listened to his engine to make sure ours wasn’t make any highly unusual noises. The owner Josh was nice enough to start his engine up for us and let us listen at a variety of RPM’s. Josh’s engine was just as loud as ours, and sounded nearly the same!

After I setup a proper exhaust system our engine will be running better than ever. Hopefully having saltwater in the system hasn’t added too much wear to the engine.