25 April 2012

Engine Blues (almost)

old pipe with clamp & glue

OK, given the fact that we have currently guests we are a bit more relaxed and therefore lazy with writing blogs. Since I promised you to give you an update on our passage and the issues we had I will now take the time - of course while having a glass of Rum while Andi is preparing tonights dinner. Yes, having guests has some benefits, in particular if they are amazing chefs. But back to the story: When we prepared our longer journey from Puerto Rico to St. Maarten I checked the engine carefully in a remote anchorage, an usual task every 25 engine hours. And I was getting concerned when I discovered some dried salt in a hidden corner of the narrow engine compartment. A cooling water leak?? 

For the landlubbers among us: A boat engine is normally cooled with seawater, this is pumped from the sea and goes through a heat exchanger and then back into the sea. It's the same system as you know from your car, but due to the lack of air which runs through a normal car radiator under your car hood we pump sea water to get rid of the heat. And it pumps a lot of water. So if you have a leak in this system and you would not realize it on time it could be fatal. You overheat the precious engine until it's dead or worse you fill the boat with seawater not realizing it until you get wet feet. And before Rahel's Dad now gets more grey hairs: We have a lot of systems which should warn us before things get bad...but still it's a major issue.

So knowing I had saltwater where it didn't belong to I was searching for quite some time until I discovered a hidden drain valve that was leaking. Ha, easy task, just close it tight and things will go smooth again. WRONG! When I checked the valve I found some corrosion and even a small crack where the valve goes into the pipe. Guess it was once over tightened when Habibi was winterized from a previous specialist. I was confident I would just have to put a small hose clamp over the crack and then check it in St. Maarten. WRONG AGAIN! When I was fiddling with the clamp the whole thing broke just off. I had now a major hole in my cooling system! No way to use the engine with that.

For sure I did not have any particular spare pipe. And as I mentioned already we have been in a small anchorage far away from everything. Once again I had to made a fix with whatever Habibis spare stock was able to provide. First I was trying to place a piece of spare hose over the pipe. After one hour I gave up since the place was simply too tight to put two hose clamps in place. Finally I made a fix with some epoxy (cruisers most loved glue) and secured the whole patch with a single clamp. It worked out! After another hour drying it was not leaking one drop anymore. So after a 4 hour plus engine check and a few new bruises we were ready to go again. Of course I was checking the damn thing now every 30 minutes while underway....

Later I had the whole pipe and a new valve shipped from Miami to St. Maarten - one hour and 200 bucks later (for a piece of copper pipe and a small valve!) the thing is now hopefully better than new. Looking back I'm really happy I discovered the whole thing that early - if the valve broke while underway it could have been a little disaster...
new pipe plus valve


  1. We had this same pipe leak and similar fix. One thing you need to have onboard is http://RescueTape.com as you can fix hoses and pipes and fuel lines and exhaust pipe with it. Must have item.

  2. In afterthought such experiences are good stuff to remeber. We had at least three such cases:
    1. Heat Exchanger: Knocking off some white powder from the cast aluminium heat exchanger in a remote anchorage in the Tuamotus, just to realize that this powder was the ultimate sign of the electrolysis damage which was beyond repair is rather frustrating. I had juat about everything on board to repair the engine but who carries a very bulky spare heat exchanger worth of more then $1'000.-? Epoxy and everthing sticky on board helped us make the passage to Tahiti where the friendly guy DHL provided us with a brandnew replacement part flewn in from Holland as nothing was available locally in french polynesia despite it was a Peugeot engine And YES this was not on our budgetplan. Lessons learnt - there is a reason why one should have an anode in the seawater flow!
    2. Original Spare Parts: Replacing the timing belt (a routine act we had done several times before) in a remote anchorage (this time it was in the Maledivs - about the most remote place one can get in terms of engine spare parts or technichians) was not a good idea without checking that the new belt had exactly the same number of teeths... Result the engine went out of sync: injectionpump, cam axle and crankshaft were no longer moving together. Lucilly the engine just refused to start otherwise the valves might have touched the pistons which would have meant a complete engine breakdown in the middle of nowhere and just before entering the red sea where we really needed a reliable engine (which was the reason why i did this replavement exercise in the first place). Only due to the fact that we had the complete workshop manual on board and a fellow sailor was skillfull enough (Thanks Johan!!) we managed to re-sync the engine. BTW: the old beld was left on until we reached Europe again - and made no problems what so ever. Lessons learnt: try EVERY crucial replacement part on board before relying on it to fit - even if it is an original spare part from the manufacturer.

  3. 3. Water Intrusion underway: While the first two stories where not putting us in any acute danger this one really did! Beating up the red sea at 25-30 kn of headwind under engine and reefed main we sudelny heard a cracking sound from below and the salon started to fill with white smoke.
    As Marco wrote - we pump sea water into the boats cooling system where it goes through the heat exchanger and then get injected into the exhaust pipe to leave the boat through the exhaust toghetehr with the fumes from the engine. Well, the sound was the pipe between the the heat exchanger and the exhaust breaking whle we where running under full load - causing the cooling water and the exhaust gases to flow into the motor compartment instead of out of the boat! What Marco did no mention was the fact that the cooling water pump is the most powerfull pump on board and thus fills the boat with water faster then any bilg pump can handle. This and the fact that our two years old son was below sitting right next to the toxic gases made the situation really scaring.
    The next activites only worked out because we hat a LOT of luck with us: It was at day time, we had just passed a possible but VERY narrow anchorage about an hour before and we had radio contact with sailors laying in this "Marsa" knowing that they could support us to get in. So the next things happened very fast
    - immediately turning of the engine left us with a mainsail and the wind right on the nose - our boat obviously started turning to the side and could not make much headway due to the missing fore sail.
    - evacuate our son to the fresh air open all possible hatches to vent the interior form the gases
    - jump on the charts to look at the anchorage on how to enter - it was horrible as it was a typical red sea nachorage - deep all the way until the shore and a reef hitting the surface on both sides. The wind was blowing from NNW and the anchorage entrance was due west but the channel was only 50 m wide with bit diving boats lying on the windward side and the reef sticking out on the lee ward side. Given the strenght of the wind there was no way we could do this close manouvering under sails alone.
    And maybe the worst - we had to actually drive the boat up on the beach (it was very steep!) and throw the anchor on dry land since there was simply not enough space to anchor normally (a known practice in the red sea in some areas where the room is to narrow and deep to anchor normally but not a problem for a steel boat when the wind is low and the engine can press the boat against the shore)
    - It was"amazing" how fast the wind pushed the boat downwind back to the anchorage which we had beated past more than an hour ago. Now it only gave me app. 30 minutes to prepare us and the assistants catching us when entering until we where there. Over radio they where informed and prepared to support us - but controlling a 15 tons steel boat in strong winds is not easy with only 1-2 rubber inflatables available to help.
    - the engine was turned on again at the entrance of the "Marsa" and passing the diving boats in touching distance kept us free from the reef. Driving the boat on the "Beach/reef" and securing it alongside another sailing boat while two guys on land carried our 40 kg anchor plus chain up on the beach worked out but my adrenaline level was probably far beyond healthy levels
    Needless to say that a LOT of beer was offered to all helpers that night!
    The emergency repair was then accomplished with putty which hardens even under water and took us all the way to Hurgada some 3-400 nm further north with limited engine power.
    Lessons learned: One needs a lot of luck sometimes and alwasy carry putty material which even works under water on board - if you can't use it maybe someone else might be extremely happy if you have it available....

    Cheers Jan