It’s the morning of day 2 on a 7 day sailing trip in the San Juan Islands of Puget Sound. We are 43 nautical miles from our homeport, and I’m sitting at the table watching a diesel mechanic take apart the little engine on our boat.
Over the 4th of July weekend, we spent nearly 3 full days getting the boat ready for this trip. Washed inside and out, installed new convenience items, changed the oil, checked the transmission fluid, batteries, electrical systems, etc. We taken several short and long trips with our Cal 2-29 over the past 5 years and there hasn’t been a single trip over 24 hours that didn’t require a repair of some kind. Once, the bilge pump sucked water INTO the boat and we had to re-plumb the bilge pump system with makeshift hoses available at the nearby port. Another time, while docking in Friday Harbor, my wife leaned too hard on a stanchion, causing it to break off and sending her into the cold Puget Sound water. Twice, an over-zealous helmsperson switched from reverse to forward gear while the engine was at speed and tore the flex coupling on the prop shaft in half. Both times we were close to docking so we just drifted into port and made repairs. After that we thought we had finally seen the last of the major issues for a while.
On Tuesday morning, we left too early to fuel up so I brought a 5-gallon can of Diesel on board. 35 nautical miles later that proved to be a good idea, when we almost ran out of fuel, while navigating the tight and dangerous Deception Pass. We refueled without stopping using a makeshift funnel made out of a plastic water bottle. Afterwards, the engine was clearly turning more than 2000 rpm based on sound and boat speed but the tachometer was showing 600-800 and bouncing wildly. Something to look at later since the engine seemed okay.
An hour later, on the west side of Fidalgo Island, entering the Strait of Juan de Fuca, we were planning our final destination for the day when the engine began to lose power for an unknown reason. Finally, we saw what seemed to be unusual black smoke from the exhaust. At that point we shut down the engine to check on things. We were a few hundred yards from a rock wall, which was cause for some concern, but we had a little time to assess the situation.
At first glance, the alternator belt was very loose but it didn’t make sense because the bolt that allows for adjustment had clearly not moved. It turned out that the bolt on the other end of the mounting arm, the one that secures the arm to the engine block, had sheared off and the arm was free of the engine. Since the engine is an old diesel, which does not require any power or electronic systems to run, we decided we’d try and remove the belt and go without the alternator until we can repair it. We also found a few random bolts and screws in the engine compartment.
While working to secure the belt out of the way with zip-ties we noticed the starter solenoid had pretty much fallen off of the starter, the spring was visible even. The bolts had come loose and one was missing, plus reattaching would require a lot of work due to the location of the bolts. Well, being a single cylinder small diesel, the Farymann A30M can be started with a hand crank when warm, so we secured the solenoid out of the way and figured we’d fire it up with the crank and get to a nearby marina.
Hand cranking failed to produce a running engine, and we really don’t know why, we may have needed the glow plug on which we forgot about until a long time after giving up. It was looking like we were going to have to call Vessel Assist, when I remembered a story I heard about someone pushing their sailboat with their dinghy lashed to the side of the boat near the stern. So we secured the dinghy, fired up the Yamaha 2.5hp motor, and amazingly we were moving along at 4knots just in time to move away from the rock wall that was now only about 100 yards away. An hour later we dinghy-motored our little 35 year old Cal into Flounder Bay on the northwest corner of Fidalgo Island. Some steaks, corn on the cob, and a healthy dose of Captain Morgan over the next few hours helped the mood and the day was done!
At this point we’ve found that not only was the alternator and starter solenoid loose from the engine, one of the two engine mounts was about 30 minutes of running from falling off also. It’s likely the loose engine mount added vibration, which caused the other bolts to loosen, causing more bolts to fail completely–a multi-stage failure of sorts. Today, our goal is to work with the marine service tech to get the engine put back together and tightened up, then see if the engine will run, and assess anything we find there. At $92.50 per hour, this could be a costly day.
This experience, and the previous ones we’ve had as well, reminded me that you need to be prepared for anything, especially when your life depends on it. When your customers (internal or external) depend on your IT systems, you should be prepared for anything to go wrong, and you might have to patch things together to get it going until you can fix it the right way. And that’s okay. Remember, duct tape and zip-ties can pretty much fix anything! 😉
And it’s only been 24 hours since the trip started.
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