Dodging Bullets

Well, I can say this: after last weekend’s triple play smack down, it was hard for this weekend to be anything but better. And it WAS better. The good news is we GET TO KEEP OUR ENGINE! Oh happy day! You can believe that we are ecstatic that the engine is fine, that we don’t have to haul out again, that all the work we’ve accomplished in the last few months won’t have to be done over again. Although I would not say that it was exactly a ‘blessing’ to have to hit another boat during a docking, I would say that it is a good thing the transmission lever was giving us enough trouble to cause us to turn around and go back because had we not come back to the dock when we did, we would have had much worse problems.

Here's hoping for more views like this soon.

Here’s hoping for more views like this soon.

If we’d stayed out longer we would have quickly lost all the rest of the bolts on our shaft coupling. The locking washers, sold to our mechanic by the local marine store, completely failed. There was no way to predict this failure. They were stainless steel lock washers and should have worked. Let that be a caution to all of you using this type of lock washer in a critical area. Check them frequently. Why did they fail? Who knows? Maybe cheap steel. PROBABLY cheap steel.  And they failed magnificently. They were almost completely flat so the vibration of the engine worked the bolts loose easily. Had they all fallen out while we were under way, we would have had a true emergency.

So this weekend, after a week of worry, we met our mechanic down at the boat on Saturday to attend to this problem of water in the oil in our new baby Beta. We knew, because of Tate and Dani at Sundowner Sails Again, that we’d have to do several oil changes to remove all the water from our engine.  What we didn’t yet know was what had caused the trouble to begin with.

It’s not supposed to look like that. I apologize for any heart palpitations this photo may cause sailboat owners.

Shawn began by draining the engine completely and then filling it with 1/2 oil, 1/2 diesel.  Mike, acting as the wrench monkey, turned the engine over a few times to move the solution through. This was drained and a solution of 1/3 diesel and 2/3 oil was run through the same way.  He then did two complete oil changes the usual way, running the engine for about 30 minutes between each one. Then today, on Easter Sunday, Mike did another oil change and ran the engine for another 30 minutes.  She starts right up and runs like a dream. After running the engine today, the oil looked like new oil. Whew! Dodged that bullet! To be double dog sure, we’ll be doing another 2 oil changes next weekend. Can’t be too careful with this baby.

This short video shows the engine running and how Shawn rigged it so that the water would exit the exhaust system rather than get back into the engine. 

So what caused this water problem? The engine never hydro-locked. In fact it ran really well the whole time, pushing the boat at a cool 9.5 knots without even breaking a sweat. Well here’s the lesson for anyone who is installing a new engine in an old boat: You can install the engine exactly to the specs in the manual, you can order the tall exhaust elbow because you want to be extra careful and learn from others, but if your exhaust hose is long, and if it rises above the highest level of the exhaust elbow, you’re going to get back flow. And if you have a large amount of water in the hose, the pressure might be enough to backflow past that exhaust elbow, even if you DID get the higher one from Beta to avoid just this kind of problem.  So basically just because you follow directions doesn’t mean you are safe and don’t you forget it!

Nicely wrapped high rise exhaust elbow from Beta Marine. Didn’t do us a bit of good.

When Shawn originally went down to the boat to figure out the problem, he checked the exhaust elbow first thing and it was completely dry. This led him to believe something might be amiss inside the engine, requiring us to have the actual engine repaired. Our operating assumption this week was based on this finding, hence the fear we would be back on the hard during sailing season. However, when he went down to the boat yesterday, after it had been sitting all week being tossed around a bit by wind and waves, he found water in the exhaust. This caused him to look more critically at why that might be.

The exhaust hose from the engine runs out the back of the engine room,  under the sole of the aft cabin, then rises along the hull under the berth before dipping down a bit to the exhaust pipe on the starboard side of the boat. It’s almost impossible to ascertain with any precision where the top of the hose is in relation to the top of the exhaust elbow in the engine room. So even while Mike painstakingly ordered, and paid for, the extra tall exhaust elbow from Beta Marine, and even while he and Shawn measured the required distance above the water line to be sure the installation was correct, that did not guarantee this problem would not occur. We’ll be sure to remember that when we do our next engine installation. Right. Pardon me while I run screaming.

Coming from the muffler and running along the hull, then up and under the berth before going out of the boat.

So what’s the solution? Well if you own a sailboat you’ve probably already determined that the solution is to have a part especially made for this. Oh yes, we will have a ‘custom’ boat for sure. Shawn got a piece of spring steel (because we have no wire hangers on board) and crafted the shape of a new exhaust elbow which will be made just for this boat. No other boat will have one like it! Isn’t that exciting? No it is not. But it is a relief to know that it’s not quite as expensive as it all sounds. This elbow will go really, really high. Frankly, I’d be happier if it went all the way to the ceiling of the engine room, but Shawn thinks this will fix the problem so what do I know?

Mike is holding the steel wire shaped like our soon-to-be made exhaust elbow.

One question we are batting around has to do with the laws of physics in this system.  The exhaust elbow connection is 50mm on this engine. This is connected to the existing muffler, which is a 60mm connection. Since we had two brand new Vetus mufflers, we decided to use one of those, right? No problem there. But the exhaust hose coming out the back of the muffler and traveling to the tailpipe is also 60mm, which means it holds a greater volume of water than the 50mm exhaust elbow on the engine side of the system.  My question for the physics teachers out there is this: is this greater volume of water, especially given the long run and steep incline up the hull of this exhaust hose, likely to overwhelm the system? A bigger hose and longer run means more water building up in the system before it actually leaves the boat via the exhaust pipe. Maybe this doesn’t make any difference. But I’d like to be sure of it. Of course, our new exhaust elbow that reaches to the sky should be able to handle this. But we want this system as bullet proof as possible, so the question needs asking. I foresee deep discussions with the mechanic about this.

The engine finally filled with clean oil, we turned our attention to the transmission. To fix the issue with the transmission cables, Mike had ordered a new system from Edson, the manufacturer of the steering pedestal. The new system has a groovy piece that actually holds both cables in place so they can’t get all jammed up against things in the pedestal. This should fix our ability to move either forward or reverse as the situation requires.

Old vs.new.

I got to help with this project! Reading the directions on how to install the thing made it sound pretty difficult and Mike was dreading the frustration that seemed his destiny. So we thought up a better way.  Mike hung a string over the steering wheel shaft and down into the engine room. He then attached the string to the clevis of each cable and attached the cables to the cable retainer. The retainer has a bolt that comes through a hole Mike had to drill in the pedestal. The issue was going to be getting that bolt situated in the hole.

You can see the little hole Mike drilled for the bolt just there below the spoke on the wheel.

I pulled on the string, pulling the cables and retainer up into the pedestal. Mike watched from below and when I got the thing positioned just so, he used a long, thin piece of teak to just lightly nudge the bolt home. A slight shove from the teak and ‘Bob’s your uncle’! The bolt came through the hole and I had it capped off with the nut in a twinkle. No frustration, no drama.

Next we had to attach the shift levers to each clevis. A little trial and error helped us decide which hole was best, but the nut beneath the clevis on the throttle cable kept snagging on lip inside the pedestal no matter what adjustments we made. Mike’s contribution to the solution for this was to remove the nut, as he said it was redundant, unnecessary.  That made the rubbing a little better but I couldn’t leave it like that, knowing that metal was going to rub on metal and eventually that was going to cause problems. I took a round metal file and filed off some material in that area, just enough to give a hair more clearance for the cable. That’s all it took and the cables were both free to move as they needed to without rubbing up against the chain or the inside of the pedestal.

Nice and tidy! These clearances are so small you can barely see them.

Next we began to put the pedestal guard back on and here’s where we hit a snag. You knew things were going along too easy, didn’t you? The housing for the new control system is actually about an inch higher than the old one. That gives us a little more room inside the pedestal, which is good. But it also means that the top plate that the compass rests on is now too high off the floor of the cockpit. So when we put the top plate on and screw it down, the legs of the pedestal guard hang loose rather than going into their nice housing like good children.

Here’s the difference in size. Just enough to make it difficult.

Whanging on it didn’t do much good.

Those feet just barely touch their receivers.

So this is our first world problem for this week: how to raise that top plate because we do not want to buy a whole new pedestal guard. We’ve already tried banging on it. We squirted it with Kroil Penetrating Oil, and Mike got out his butane torch. But he can’t afford to use too much heat because there are electrical wires running inside the thing. We buttoned it up and left it for next weekend. We’re trying to avoid having him take the wires out, because he’s already hooked up the radio and that’s just, well, it’s just a kick in the pants to have to cut a perfectly done installation. So we’ll see if whanging on it will help next weekend. I mean, what else are we going to do at the dock?

In other news this weekend, I fixed the hole in the cockpit enclosure. Recall Mike put his foot through it during the docking fiasco. I stitched the zipper, and repaired the tears with sail tape. It isn’t pretty, but I don’t care. We’ll have to have a new one before we go on the long trip anyway. It will do.

And you may have noticed that we are referring to ‘the boat’ rather than calling her by name. That’s because at the end of last weekend we did the de-naming ceremony. We did it properly, all solemn and prayerful and dedicated our last beer to the gods of the sea. I don’t know if I wanted a clean slate after that weekend or what, but I wanted this done so we did it. Now we are struggling to name her. But at least she is not working under a false identity. Hoping we would come up with a name this week, I bought two bottles of nice champagne for the honors but we’re still working on it. I thought Easter Sunday would be the perfect day for a christening. I was to be thwarted in that. Oh well. We’re ready with the champagne whenever.

Our sacrifice to the gods. I hope they appreciated it.

We leave you with a photo of a boat we saw at the boat yard today. File this under ‘you think WE have problems?’.  It puts everything in perspective.

She’s really kind of cute, although I’m not sure what she is.

But this:

Ouch.

 

 

29 thoughts on “Dodging Bullets

    • I found myself getting a little teary over being so ‘boat bound’ this Easter. Of course the symbolism of an engine raised almost from the dead isn’t lost on us, but it’s not the same as family celebrations of a symbolic day. I sure missed the kids yesterday. Next year will be a different story!

  1. Phew! I think fixable is my very favorite word. So glad you are feeling better about things this week. It will all be okay. You have some help. You are moving forward. WIN!

  2. Wow. Reminds me of our first years of owning Rocking B. We were told that a boat will test you, test your commitment to her, before giving you her trust. Boy, did she! But then, ah then, when she knew she could trust us to stick it out through the tough times, she rode us through some tremendous conditions holding us safe while she took the seas on her bow for us. I feel her spirit now, and it is content and strong.

    • Such an interesting way of putting that. We are certainly earning our stripes in terms of committment to this girl. And we are still waiting for her to show us her spirit. I guess that’s because we’ve been tied to the dock for so long. I believe this is why we’re having trouble finding a name for her. I look forward to the day when she feels contented and strong, and safe and happy. I know the day will come. She is really an excellent vessel.

  3. Sounds like you’ve got some dissimilar metal corrosion between the sleeves of the aluminum top plate and the stainless pedestal guard. One possible solution is to cut a slot in each sleeve down to the stainless (but not into it) to allow you to get it loose, then slide it up to the desired location and then drill a hole or two into each sleeve at the new location and use countersunk ss sheet metal screws to fix it in place. If the tubing below is buggered up from the corrosion, you could put a couple 1″ railing sleeves over those sections to hide them.

    • Yes, we think that is the problem because this is a simple friction fit. That is a good suggestion and we may try that next if more whanging on it doesn’t work. Letting it sit in the Kroil for a week and keeping fingers firmly crossed. If we can salvage the part our pocket books would sure appreciate it.

  4. Breathed a big sigh of relief for you guys! Nice to hear that the cause was found, although, not being a physicist, I can’t answer the fluid dynamics question you posed. Also, be aware to not whang on it too hard…. I have found out that Cast aluminum can be fairly brittle and break in two…. Don’t ask how I know…. but the dissimilar metal theory is very plausible…

  5. You know, you really have been exceptionally lucky with everything to do with your new boat. Maybe SHE is your Lucky Star….or is it horribly bad luck to name a boat something like that?

  6. “If we’d stayed out longer we would have quickly lost all the rest of the bolts on our shaft coupling. The locking washers, sold to our mechanic by the local marine store, completely failed. There was no way to predict this failure. They were stainless steel lock washers and should have worked. Let that be a caution to all of you using this type of lock washer in a critical area. Check them frequently. Why did they fail? Who knows? Maybe cheap steel. PROBABLY cheap steel. And they failed magnificently. They were almost completely flat so the vibration of the engine worked the bolts loose easily. Had they all fallen out while we were under way, we would have had a true emergency.”

    FWIW, split ring lock washers are basically worthless for critical applications that depend on proper preload on the bolts. Once the bolt has full compressed the washer it is no different than a plain washer (just two flat discs under compression), and nothing is stopping the nut from backing off until enough preload is lost that the washer starts to open up and its tang starts to grab. It might keep the nut from falling off the threads, but your preload is gone. Better locking options are nyloc nuts, nordlock washers, star washers (though they create FOD), castle nuts and a locking feature, drilled bolt heads and safety wire in pairs, deformed thread nuts (though these are uncommon and can be single use) or thread lockers like loctite.

  7. “If we’d stayed out longer we would have quickly lost all the rest of the bolts on our shaft coupling. The locking washers, sold to our mechanic by the local marine store, completely failed. There was no way to predict this failure. They were stainless steel lock washers and should have worked. Let that be a caution to all of you using this type of lock washer in a critical area. Check them frequently. Why did they fail? Who knows? Maybe cheap steel. PROBABLY cheap steel. And they failed magnificently. They were almost completely flat so the vibration of the engine worked the bolts loose easily. Had they all fallen out while we were under way, we would have had a true emergency.”

    FWIW, split ring lock washers are basically worthless for critical applications that depend on proper preload on the bolts. Once the bolt has full compressed the washer it is no different than a plain washer (just two flat discs under compression), and nothing is stopping the nut from backing off until enough preload is lost that the washer starts to open up and its tang starts to grab. It might keep the nut from falling off the threads, but your preload is gone. Better locking options are nyloc nuts, nordlock washers, star washers (though they create FOD), castle nuts and a locking feature, drilled bolt heads and safety wire in pairs, deformed thread nuts (though these are uncommon and can be single use) or thread lockers like loctite.

    • We (the mechanic) will be putting NyLocks on the coupling. We may add some locktite in there for good measure. I have read that Nylocks in such applications should be considered a one time use item. In other words, once they are loosened, for a critical application they should be replaced. That seems like a sensible precaution and one that can be easily accommodated. Realistically, once the alignment is complete I should think it will be years before we would need to take the coupling off.

      Until I have more comfort around all of these systems, you can bet I will be touching just about every bolt on this engine on a weekly basis. I have already made one checklist to secure the boat but I have already started another checklist that will focus purely on engine room mechanics. Bolts, hose clamps, cables, and hydraulic hoses could all benefit from a simple check.

  8. Loose the Vetus and get a top in side out fiberglass aqua lift. Make your standpipe as high as space allows. You will probably have to fabricate a tripod support for the standpipe attached to the engine so all moves together. Somewhere near where the exaust hose attaches to the exaust thru hull(a seacock there isn’t a bad idea to keep water out in the event of large following seas), have the exaust hose go as high as you can before going down again to the seacock/thru hull. It sounds like a lot of work but you saw what a improperly designed exaust sysyem can do. It will be money well spent.

    • We had a top in side out on the Cal 34 and it worked well. The Vetus should work well too after we add the super hi-rise exhaust elbow. When you use the term Standpipe, are you in fact referring to the portion of the exhaust elbow that descends to the water muffler? If so, That section will now be about two feet long.

      I have been reading Nigel Calder’s excellent

        Boat Owner’s Mechanical and Electrical Manual

      and he shows a system that uses a standpipe that runs into the muffler from the bottom. Is this the kind of system you are referring to?

      I have read about installing a valve just before the exhaust through hull to prevent water being forced up the exhaust by a following sea and it seems like a good idea. What would happen if you forgot to open that valve before starting the engine? Would the excessive back pressure kill the engine before too much water filled the exhaust line, potentially forcing it into the exhaust manifold?

      • From the exaust manifold, the “standpipe” should go vertical as high as it can in your engine space. At the top, the mixing elbow lives. (don’t forget the siphon break,vented loop, in the water line from the engine to the mixing elbow). The exaust hose goes to the aqua lift (the vetus will melt in seconds if there is an interruption in exaust water) From the aqua lift, the hose goes to the exaust thru hull with a loop in there close to the exit as high as you can get it. You want to avoid gradual rises as the water can climb, fill the muffler and then climb its way into your engine as you now know. I have never started an engine with the exaust thru hull closed but I would think either the engine would shut down since it couldn’t breathe or a hose would blow.

  9. Farmers and ranchers employ self-starting siphons that (unfortunately) sound like they have some vague resemblance to your exhaust arrangement. They depend on air, water and a change of pipe diameter.

    Might google “self-starting siphon.”

    • Melissa has brought up the point that the larger diameter exahust hose exiting the Vetus muffler might contribute to increased back pressure and water volume that could cause back filling once the engine is shut off. I hesitate to use the world siphon because we are not pulling water from outside the boat. Rather, the water that is standing in the exhaust hose seems to have sufficient volume to cause the problem.

      The exhaust elbow on the new engine is 2 inches (50mm) the Vetus muffler and the hose that exits the boat is 2 3/8 inches (60mm) It may be that we should reduce the size of that hose to match the engine exhaust thereby reducing the amount of available water that could travel back. Because this is a center cockpit boat, the exhaust hose is quite long, travelling through the aft cabin before exiting the boat about a foot above the resting waterline. that length of hose represents a considerable volume that may simply be too much for the Vetus muffler to hold back.

  10. Pingback: Flies in the Ointment | Little Cunning Plan

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.