Following Valkyrie as she sails about on the big blue...

Oh Crap.

So in preparation for the week aboard Valkryie at the end of May, I went to the boat this last weekend to figure out which systems would need some work, and generally verify everything was working smoothly. My list of things to check out included the engine, the generator, the batteries, the toilets, the refrigeration, the water pressure system, the sails, the instruments, etc.

Unfortunately, the first thing on my list, the engine, proved to be more time consuming than I had intended. Upon arrival Friday midday, my first check was the engine oil, prior to starting her up. The dipstick came out grey.

Oh Crap.

For those of you that don't know, this means there is water in the oil. Water in the oil is a Very Bad Thing. I have had experience with this before- in 1997, while sailing with Tom aboard Nightmoves (a Hylas 47), we managed to get oil in the water not once, but twice, due to a clueless owner and a bad exhaust system (and following seas). The first time, we were towed into Marigot Bay, on St. Lucia. The second time, we sailed into Falmouth, in Antigua (I would have fixed it at sea that time- as it took us three days to get to Antigua from Domenica, but the owner didn't have a spare filter or oil aboard).

My first thought was "How did it get there?". So to answer that, I had to figure out if it was cooling water, or raw water. The only way to do that is to taste it- not a very pleasant proposition. The email stream, below, is a conversation with my friend Jerry, who can fix anything on a boat, and served as a sounding board, a source of ideas, and finally, as moral support.

Oil with raw water in it!
This is not the color oil is supposed to be.

After tasting it, I detected a slight salt taste, and since antifreeze is very sweet, decided it was the brackish water of Carter's Creek, where Valkyrie berthed. This was a pro/con situation- raw water can only come into the engine in a few locations, whereas antifreeze could have come through a cracked block, or a broken cylinder sleeve, or any one of a number of other locations. Raw water either came from the oil cooler, up the exhaust, or possibly the raw water pump. Since this was also late April, and I hadn't been aboard since December, I was also concerned that it could have been antifreeze that froze, causing an internal rupture in the engine- but if it was raw water, that wouldn't have been the problem. Unfortunately, raw water has salt in it, which is very bad for an engine, and can rust the rings to the cylinders. Luckily for me, Carter Creek is very brackish, and the salt content is MUCH lower than in the Caribbean.

I was still trying to figure out how it got in. The first, most likely, candidate was the oil cooler, so I set out to remove that. It had three bolts connecting it to the engine- two came out simply, but the other did not- it was a steel bolt through an aluminum oil cooler, and the aluminum and steel had bonded, and it would not turn. I finally had to cut the bolt with a grinder to remove the oil cooler. Once it was removed, I put my hand over the outlet, and blew on the inlet, and it held pressure. Not a good sign, as it implied this was not the problem. Since I already had it off, I went ahead and acid washed her, and dug out a couple of impeller vanes from when the raw water impeller had failed in the past:

Oil Cooler for my Perkins 4.236M - now clean!

With the oil cooler not the problem, I was again confused as to what might have happened. Since I close the thruhulls whenever I leave, I couldn't figure out how water could have gotten into the exhaust except through either a backflow problem (which I've never had before, despite some large following seas), or someone starting the engine, and the engine not starting, so that eventually they filled up the muffler, and then up to the exhaust elbow and then into the cylinders.

This didn't make much sense to me because I close the thruhull whenever I leave, but I eventually decided that this must have been what happened, and since I have a suction break on my raw water supply line, it had sucked the raw water that feeds the heads and the refrigeration and the galley sink out of the lines and filled the engine. Since my engine start batteries are currently shot (replacing them soon), if someone had tried to start the engine, she wouldn't have started.

After working all day, and exchanging several phone calls with Jerry, I was relaxing for dinner, when calamity struck:

I spent the 26th, a Saturday, trying to find the bold that I cut, so I could reattach the oil cooler. Of course, it was a 5 1/2" 7/16" fine threaded bolt. Which is made of unobtainium- you can get up to 2 or 3 inches, or you can get long 1/2 or 3/8" bolts, but not a 7/16". Finally, in desperation, I cut fine threads on a piece of 7/16 all thread (rethreading it), and put that in the engine with two course threaded nuts to hold it on. I've got the proper bolt now for when I go back up. I also had to put the cooler into the oven, at 500 degrees, to get it hot enough to remove the steel bolt from the aluminum housing.

The next day, Sunday, I got everything put back together again, and at around 5:30 or so, I went to start the engine. I had put about 2.5 quarts of oil in the engine, to flush the system, and was planning on cranking it over a few times with the starter, then draining that oil and putting in more. I have a start button by the engine, so I can start it while I'm working on it, but with the start batteries dead, I had to do it in the cockpit, where I could use the battery parallel switch. I went on deck, pushed the parallel switch and the start button- it grinded for a few seconds, and then the entire boat went dark.


This pissed me off for two reasons:
  1. It meant that I had blown a fuse or a breaker, and it was just dark enough to be problematic to figure out which one, and
  2. It meant the engine was seized
Now, I should have thought to try turning the engine by hand before starting it, to make sure it would turn, but I didn't. I finally figured out which breaker had blown, and it cost $40 to replace, so that's what I get for not trying it by hand first. (And there's an 8 week lead time- so I've currently bypassed it, which isn't as bad as it sounds, as the same line has a 150 A breaker on it downwire)

So now I had to get the engine to turn, and break it free if it was truly seized. Since the Perkins 4.236 doesn't have a decompression lever, I removed all four injectors from the engine.

Two cylinders had water in them, which I had to get out:

Tool to remove the water from my cylinders!(That's two Bic pens, with their guts removed, taped together, and with tape over the small vent holes on their side)

Once all the cylinders where clear of water, I added two quarts of Marvel Mystery Oil in all the cylinders. This is what is often used to loosen a seized engine. After letting the cylinders soak for awhile, I put a breaker bar on the front, and tried to turn the engine:

At this point, I went to sleep Sunday night.

Monday morning rolled around, and I had a flight out at 1840. I try to leave the marina by around 1500 or so, as 64 can be tricky around rush hour. Also, it was raining all day, making the roads dangerous. So I didn't have a lot of time today, to sort this out, and I was going to be very unhappy if I didn't have some sort of revelation by the end of the day- even if it was just that I now had a 900 pound anchor in the middle of my boat where the engine used to be.

I scavenged a pipe from the dock, and try as I could, I couldn't get it to turn very far. Finally, running out of time, I risked a "bump" with the starter motor. Knowing the oil would shoot out the injector ports, I put a paper towel across the top of the engine. Then, in the cockpit, I pushed the starter button for a half second. It made a grumbling sound, like it was trying. I paused, said a little prayer, and pushed it again. It sounded like it didn't want to budge, but then i heard it turn. I waited a second, and pushed it again- and I could hear it spinning the engine over freely. This was a major victory- I could get it started now!

When I went back down below, I realized that in the game of Perkins vs. Paper, Perkins wins:

Marvel oil all over the walls and the Perkins!More engine mess

The Marvel oil was everywhere- on the ceiling, on the walls, etc. However, I had never been happier to make a mess of the boat- with the engine turning, I could win this battle.

I put the injectors back in, hooked up the return lines, and two of the four supply lines. I also filled her up with new oil. I went back to the cockpit, and ran the starter for a couple of seconds to prime the lines. I went back down and tightened up the third injector, then back the cockpit. The engine started right up, but was, of course, very rough, as it was only running on three of four cylinders, plus it had some air in the lines. After a few seconds, it got smoother, but I was still concerned what it was going to sound like once I got the fourth injector line tightened.

As I tightened it up, the engine smoothed out, until with the final torque of the wrench, she was purring like a kitten. Honestly, it was the smoothest I've ever heard her run- no vibration, very, very smooth.

I had left the drain open on the muffler, so I closed that, and noticed that it had a slow leak. After the engine heated up, I shut her down, and changed the oil and filter again, trying to get any remaining water out. I'll probably change it one more time later, when I get back. I also noticed that the transmission cooler hose had a small leak, and that the hose itself is too small on the ID. So after shutting the engine down, I checked the other end of that hose, and noticed the siphon break.

Hmmm... I hadn't actually checked that yet.

So I cracked it open (I have an unusual setup- the siphon break is a 1/4" of copper pipe, led high through the boat, then overboard). When I cracked the flare nut off the line, I heard a slight hiss.


The slight hiss meant that the siphon valve wasn't free. This explains what happened:

Last time I ran the engine, it was at the start of one of my weekends. After shutting it off, the siphon valve did not break. Slowly, over the next two days I was there, the water siphoned in past the raw water pump, filling up the exhaust muffler. Once that was full, it filled up the exhaust elbow, then into the two cylinders that were open, and thus down into the oil pan. When I left, I closed the thruhull, so no more water could come in.

So next time I go back to the boat, I will also bring hose for the transmission cooler, a new valve for the muffler, and a method to clean out the 1/4" copper tubing for my siphon break (it's a very complicated piece to replace, as it winds through a bunch of cabinets).

Unfortunately, I never did get to check on the other systems...

Proxima volta...

I'll leave you with two quotes found in one of my magazines, which I read this weekend. Both seemed somehow appropriate:

The use of traveling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are.
-- Samuel Johnson

If we wait for the moment when everything, absolutely everything, is ready we shall never begin.
-- Ivan Turgerev