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The Two Captains



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Volume VI - September 2001

Engine-Problems and The Spare Parts Issue

Since leaving the Virgins we have very little problem with the engine, a Perkins 4.154. When I bought the boat 11 years ago, it had 1500 hours. Currently we are just short of 6000.

Servicing the injectors, changing the oil and filter, changing the fuel filters and occasionally replacing the alternators has been the normal maintenance program. I was told by several people in St. Thomas not to worry about inventory of a lot of spare parts, because there are Perkins engines around the world, lots of places to get parts, and FedEx Worldwide to get it to you. So I curtailed my expenditures to mostly belts, filters, hose clamps and a few gaskets. In Trinidad, I replaced all hoses and clamps and did invest in few more minor parts. By the time we got to Panama I was getting nervous about the hassle some of our fellows cruisers were having getting parts in a timely manner along the way. So while in Panama I invested in several more major pieces, just for our own piece of mind.

As it happened, the first major problem occurred in the Galapagos Islands. As we just finished about a six-hour motor from Floreana to Villamil, Isabela and were in the process of finding a suitable spot to anchor amongst volcanic reefs and tightly packed cruisers, the high temperature alarm started to sound. Even though I was glad to hear that the alarm worked (never been tested in 10 years), this was not the ideal time for it.

In any case, once parked we quickly located the problem in the front seal of the fresh water pump which apparently decided it was tired of actually "sealing the water in". This pump had never been off, as far as I know, and all the bolt heads were in very bad shape. I had been watching this situation for several years and really dreading the thought of having to do anything with it. I had purchased a replacement pump and gasket but not had the opportunity to check it to even confirm it was the right pump! (There are two different engine blocks and many parts do not interchange. It took two days to make the decision to tear into it there. The problem was that if it was not the right pump and if I had to cut the old bolts off to get it out, then I would not be able to get it back together. This would mean no engine to move the boat anywhere where help could be obtained. On the other hand if we ran it the way it was, we had to add water every 15 minutes and stood a chance to doing some real damage if it did in fact overheat. Finally, I bit the bullet and started taking it apart. Several hours later, and half a bottle of propane later (I had to heat the blots to get them loose), I had the old pump off with only a minimum amount of skin left on various parts of the front of the engine. The spare was indeed the right one and within an hour of having the old one off, the new one was on and engine running.

Our next engine adventure took place about 2 weeks later, at 2 AM about 300 miles out from Galapagos and 200 miles short of Cocos Island. I awoke from a sound sleep to a huge and sudden increase in noise from the engine (we had been motoring for several hours). I leapt up from bed and arrived at the base of the steps in the companionway (not exactly dressed for company) even as Gwen reduced power on the engine. Upon entry to the engine room with the lights on, there was a tremendous amount of smoke/exhaust, louder noise, lots of heat (as always with several hours of running) and lots of water under the engine. It was very quickly apparent (no Dick Tracy needed here) that the exhaust flange had broken off right at the point the exhaust leaves the exhaust manifold. The water that is usually used to mix with the exhaust to cool it before traveling out the back of the boat, was now all running INTO the boat, under the engine and into the bilge. JUST GREAT!!!!

Fortunately, the wind had picked up enough to start sailing again (Gwen was just waiting for me to wake up to shut the engine off as she knows that a mere change of RPMs generally gives me a matching change in my heart rate!) In any case, we sailed into the morning and most of the rest of the trip. Meanwhile, once the engine had cooled down, the sun had come up and we'd had breakfast, I plunged into that spare parts locker and dug out all the pieces to put together an entire new assembly including the exhaust elbow, connecting pipes and mixing elbow. I had been worried about the exhaust for sometime and Gwen had located replacements on her last trip to Florida.

For these reasons my opinion on the spare parts question has changed, especially for the Perkins! While on the current visiting trip to the States, I will be purchasing every piece I can that I do not already have that could lead to us being stranded without an engine. A complete set of spares, of course, is not realistic. But everything that I feel I have the ability to replace myself, can find and afford will be acquired for storage in the famous "drawer". Fed EX does not deliver at sea!!!!!

Air Conditioner

We added a second-hand 16,000 BTU reverse-cycle unit in Trinidad, trading out our hard-working window (aka main hatch) portable unit. One of the main rationales was to be able to help load up the generator to achieve a better charging rate and longer life for the genset (operates better with load on). However, it appears we kind of outfoxed ourselves, as the draw is TOO much for both to run at the same time without cutting the power draw on the charger (NOT the desired effect). A 12,000 BTU system would have been better for us. Oh, well, it chilled us down pretty well in the hot marinas in Trinidad, Puerta La Cruz, Venezuela and Golfito, which are the only places we have felt the need for it and where, of course, we ran it off shore power.

One other small glitch of note regarding the air conditioner is that the unit itself will run off of either 50 or 60 cycle power, rather convenient EXCEPT that the standard and very essential 110v March water pump will only operate on 60 cycle. The solution will be either to wire in a separate 50 cycle pump or spring for the very expensive dual cycle model! Neither is high on the project list here on the astonishingly cool equator, however once we get to the Sea of Cortez... Hope we don't need to use the heating side for a long time.

Solar Panels

The six 75-watt Siemen panels that we have (4 on the hardtop and 2 on the stern arch) work perfectly… as long as there is sun, of course. The two panels on the arch suffer a little as the shadow from the radar antenna catches both corners most of the day till late afternoon. I have moved them back as far as possible and can now tilt them backwards about 20 degrees, but loss is still great part of the day. The only other way to improve the performance would be to raise the radome (a very costly and colossal hassle), or make the stern wider (an even more expense fix), OR just give up a few amps daily-which I think we have decided for now is the proper course of action. At certain anchorages I move the boom out to one side, and we really see a difference in the total amps produced. During our week-long trip inland in Ecuador, the batteries stayed almost at a float level with one Adler Barbour left on.

Wind Generator ---Windbugger

When the wind blows steady above 10 knots, this becomes a great piece of equipment. Unlike the obnoxious Air Marine wind generators, the Windbugger is very quiet until the wind hits about 25 or 30+ kts, and by that time there is plenty of noise from everything on the boat. At 10 kts we get about 3 to 4 amps, which from what other people tell me is better than most all the others, while at 25 kts it picks up to 20 amps or so. At a nice moderate 15 kts, which I personally like, it produces 8 to 10 amps and our ususal nightly drain is pretty much taken care of.

The only problem we've had with it so far has been a loose magnet in the motor. Can't really blame the magnet; the blades hit the radar antenna one night while we were slopping about putting the 3rd reef in the main. There is only one configuration that can get these two pieces of equipment together and it is a sailing impossibility for it to occur, but it did that night, so now the wind generator is "CAGED" whenever we move the boat.

Generally, if we anchor with sunshine and about 10 to 15 knots of wind, additional charging from any source is only needed about every 3rd day. That is with two frig units running and normal use of the lights, etc. However, most of the time the wind does not stay up at that level throughout the day and night, so we more often need to run the generator about an hour a day. That allows us to make hot water, drinking water, top up the batteries and maintain the voltage at 12.3 or above.

Liferaft & EPIRB Installation and Inspections

Just before leaving St. Thomas (2 years ago) we bought an Avon six-man life raft in a soft "valise" which has lived "loose" in the cockpit behind the helm seat and between the two rear hatches. This is a great spot for it as we can easily reach it in an emergency and don't run the risk of it being wiped off the deck by a rogue wave.

While in the Canal at Pedro Miguel Boat Club we had the liferaft's mandatory inspection done by an inspection and repacking station in Colon, and we took the opportunity to go to the shop while the raft was inflated and checked. As this was the first time we had actually seen our raft, Gwen and I crawled into it, taking the opportunity to inspect the light fixture, the position of the emergency knife (to cut the raft loose from the boat in the water), how the flaps are tied down and in general how everything is supposed to work (reviewing the manual in time of use is not a good idea!) We also saw our food and water supply, salt pills, sea sickness pills and fishing kit. (If I do not improve my fishing skills, that little kit will do us absolutely NO GOOD!)

With luck this will be the only time we will ever in our entire cruising life sit in this "vessel". I am perfectly happy to put the $300 to $500 in it each year for inspection and repacking, so it can sit in the cockpit and provide a nice back rest for the helm. However, after the inspection, we did take care of the one flaw in our set-up, i.e. the fact that the raft was in no way secured to the boat! In a knockdown, it was conceivable that the raft could be ejected right out of the cockpit. A tie down system with a hydrostatic release addressed the problem. With the hardtop, the chances of it floating free if the boat should sink out from under us is somewhat reduced, BUT there is NO chance at all if the tie down can not release under water in the event we don't get it launched ourselves. This is not the most popular line of thought in our adventures, but this is not the place for my famed "ostrich" approach.

At the liferaft inspection station, which was mostly oriented to big ships, we picked up an "overboard bottle". This is a large plastic rectangle with a screw-on sealed lid which we now use as our "bail-out bag." The attraction is protection and flotation.

The emergency plan also includes a 406 EBRIB that has been relocated to the port side of the boom gallows, just under the hardtop. Again, not absolutely the best place for the automatic hydrostatic release, but it puts it close enough for us to grab quickly (as opposed to belowdecks in the main salon) yet keeps it out of the weather for long term protection.

While in the Galapagos Islands we had the EPIRB's signal checked (a new procedure that we had just hear of from Baker on Lite-N-Up). Apparently you not only have to check the armed signal yourself manually once a month, but you have to have the actual broadcast signal checked once a year by the Coast Guard or an equipped & authorized dealer. Ours checked perfectly, and we had just the year before replaced the "hydrostatic" release module, so we are good to go for another year till the internal battery needs to be replaced.

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