A Gathering of Old Birds … or the story of our attempt to leave La Paz
On Saturday, February 1, we slipped away from the docks at Marina La Paz quietly, and headed off to La Cruz. The intent was to repeat the earlier sail to Bahia San Gabriel on Espiritus Santos Island, then down to Los Muertos, and Los Frailles before heading east to the mainland of Mexico.
As we left the docks, unbeknownst to us, the water for our raw water cooled diesel, stopped squirting out of the water exhaust. A couple of people tried to hail us on the radio but we did not hear them. So as we were leaving the harbor, about 3 and a half miles from the marina, we were overtaken by another sailboat on engines who hailed us and relayed the concerns.
Sure enough, no water from exhaust, We were sailing at this point so we just turned around to sail back several miles to the docks. But no, the wind almost immediately died. OK, turn on engines again, into the red in minutes. We were idling along at 800 rpm and about 4 knots, then 3.5 knots, then 3 knots, then 2.8. Looked over and the harbor buoys were leaning against the way we were moving. That is right, tide is now running out.
It doesn’t get much better than this. So, we are now a mile from the docks with a red hot engine, answer the Mogote entrance is closer. Go there!
Speed now 1 knot per hour. 700 yards to go … do the math … 30 minutes more and slowing. Carolyn is down stairs monitoring the engine temperature an shouting it up the stairs.
We have to get thru the boats anchored in the Mogote and under power without a engine failure which would put us adrift amongst them. Not good!
I slip the engine to perhaps 1000 rpm … temp climbs … look at wife’s eyes and tell here .. we have to get to an anchorage.
A huge sigh of relief as we back down on anchor and cut engines. We will wait ’till Monday when the office at Marina La Paz is back to get a slip if they have one.
We were both concerned that the heat had already done damage. Still, we will have to get to a dock to work on it.
Monday rolls around and we call the marina and appraise them of our need for a dock and our engine problem. They tell us to call and let them know when we start in and they will have a crew to catch us and tow if necessary.
10:00 am Monday. Start engines for first time in two days. Hard start! Not good but finally, engine catches and off we go. We decide not to warm it for obvious reasons. We are concerned that it will die on wan back thru boats but no choice.
By the time we get back to the docks, the engine is hot again. All way to top of red-line hot. But, we bring her in on her own power.
Monday, everyone sleeps in and rests.
Tuesday and Wednesday. With a mechanic, we start working to identify what is wrong. It was squirting when we pulled away from the dock on Saturday and not squirting at all by the entrance to the bay. We start at impellers even though it was only 6 months old. Nope, it is good. Look at pump, nope it is working! Hmmm .. scratch heads and start at front of system.
We opened the sea water strainer. It had been cleaned the week before. It is clear. Check water to pump. Yep. Water from pump, yep. Water from exhaust, nope!
Water leaves pump goes thru hot water lines … to water block. Does not come out!
OK? Check thermostat. Mechanic and I wince as we remove it and it makes a sound like a Frito being eaten and falls apart in his hands from rust. Not good! It is a truly sick sound.
It is a 40 year old diesel. He is rubbing his head thinking of where in Mexico we can find another. Hahaha … I have two in spares.
Then we look at the thermostat housing. No sea water is by passing the thermostat. This is evidently not a new problem as it takes three separate drill bits, small, little bigger, and as big as fits to cleat the thermostat bypass sea water in. Kind of sounds like a dentist drilling.
We check the thermostat. It works. The bypass is open. No water from the water muffler. Head scratching again.
Another related fact, three weeks ago I had replaced the exhaust elbow with a ‘new’ one because it was nearly rusted thru. The new one was less thana year old from a boat that had pulled its MD 17 Volvo, same engine we use. I tested it before installation to make sure that the water bath was open and exhaust indeed mixed.
Our eyes turn slowly to the new part. We decide to take it off. Sure enough it too is blocked by what is almost concrete. You make this substance from scale, calcium, a little sand, and heat. Yep, they plugged the exhaust, then we heated it really well and you get a very nice cement in your exhaust line. Took a coat hanger and a Mikita drill and snaked the passage.
Once open, took to dock and ran fresh water … what came out looked like a Pelican attack on the dock. But, when reinstalled (after drilling another hole in the inside tube as a safety), we started having full water exhaust again. The engine now stays in the green between the E and the M on the word TEMP in the gauge.
We also decided to replace all the hot water lines as when you squeezed them plaque fell out. Like the boat was having a hear attack from narrowing of its coronary arteries. Now … no more chest pain. Go little engine!
Then we started on the fuel lines to see why we had such a hard time starting it. Short version. Torn diaphragm on the fuel pump. Had a spare. Had what looked like tobacco juice in bottom of Racor. Removed entire unit and cleaned and replaced the filter.
Then, we looked at the primary fuel filter in the engine. It was water logged. Seems that when the Racor gets that dirty, pressure goes up and water is passed thru to the primary.
We have just cleaned the fuel in the primary tank. Removing about an inch of fuel in the bottom that has water and ‘dust’ in it. It had settled out over the year we have been at the docks and was around the intake tube in the tank.
Added a squeeze ball to the fuel line so you can pressurize it when clearing air from lines for bleeding the lines after work. Nice trick from the mechanic.
Took time away from working on boat to go to the monthly ‘swap meet’. Another gathering, this time of ‘old sailors’.
We hear this morning from the rumor mill that the story is spreading that we were sinking as we returned to the docks. Turns out that I had left the sea cocks open and the boat was taking on water. This is in spite of our ‘thank you’ a few days ago on the morning radio net to the people who tried to contact us and to the boat that hailed us. We thanked everyone for ‘probably’ saving our engine. This is in spite of staying for a day and a half in the Mogote at anchor. And, this is in spite of Spiritus being brought to the docks under her own power.
Sometimes, you have to just scratch your head and ask, where do these stories come from?
Tomorrow, we are adding a dedicated starting battery to the lazarette. We currently have two 200 amp gel cells that do everything. But, we have added solar and vastly reduced the boats dependence on engine alternator charging. But, the usage we put them to cam sometimes deplete them below a safe starting voltage. Hence, perhaps, our hard start to get to the docks.
So after talking it over, Lady Spiritus, demanded a back up plan for starting. A new AGM Optima starter battery. And, we are separating the now house bank off so that the starter battery cannot accidentally be drawn down.
Day after tomorrow, Wednesday, February 12, 2014, in the early morning, we leave for La Cruz again to catch up with Senta II. Maybe the third time will be the charm.
In retrospect, the near disaster was probably a blessing in disguise as we had other issues that could have jeopardized a safe crossing of the Sea of Cortez to the mainland. But, over the last five days, Spiritus has had the best maintenance and upgrades she has had in years.
It will take us about 6 days to get to La Cruz. We will have a full moon to sail by at night and the winds are shaping up nicely. As always, safety first, A boat was lost on this passage just a few days ago.
Wish us luck! It is Carolyn’s first big sail. And, the first big sail for Spiritus since last year’s (2012) Baja ha ha !
Maybe I better go check the sea cocks.