November 23, 2017 – Approximately 12:00 noon
Passing through the Gilmerton Lift Bridge, which had very kindly been raised from thirty five to seventy three feet for us, we still seemed to have barely enough room to squeak under. This did not bode well for our overall blood pressure.
It had taken us only three hours to get here. On the up side, we had made great time and experienced no navigational issues along the way. On the down side, that efficiency had our arrival coinciding with the highest point of a very high tide.
We figured that we still had about ten minutes before reaching the I-64 Bridge, so we continued on, with the intention of at least sussing out what lie ahead before deciding how to proceed.
Our Perkins engine control panel, mounted just below the main hatch behind the first companionway step, has a buzzer that sounds when ignition key is in the “on” position just before hitting the start button and after shutting it down. If you are prepared for it, the sound is merely annoying. If the engine alarm suddenly triggers while you are underway, the the incessant buzzing immediately has a more pressing and more ominous overtone to it.
When the engine alarm buzzer sounded moments after we passed under the Gilmerton Lift Bridge, it was one of those WTF? moments.
A quick check revealed an engine temperature red light, which was confirmed by the position of the needle on the temperature gauge, just left of the light. We had no choice but to immediately shut down the engine rather than risk causing far more serious damage.
With the engine shut down, we were merely coasting along. Our speed hadn’t died immediately so we still had steering and there was no wind to speak of that could push us sideways. If there was any current at all in the water, it may have been helping us to continue forward momentum.
No boat traffic to be seen in front of or behind us meant we had some time to sort things out. However, our speed had already started dropping, so the first priority was getting up some sail so we could maintain helm control. The genoa is a huge sail but it is on a roller fuller, and far faster to deploy than the mainsail; so we decided to unfurl just enough of the genoa to keep us moving.
Immediately ahead of us was a decent sized area off to the side of the shipping channel. I suggested we temporarily drop the anchor there, but Kris noticed on the charts that it was actually a turning area for the tugs and barges. So we continued onward until we reached the last option… a space to the right of the channel just opposite a large industrial dock.
Only a thousand feet further ahead, loomed the Interstate 64 Bridge with its reported 65 foot clearance… we had no intention of sailing under that bridge. I hustled to the bow and dropped the anchor with only about ten meters of chain out – just enough to temporarily keep us safely in place so we could focus on the ailing Perkins.
Once the engine cooled off and both the oil and coolant levels checked out ok, we started the Perkins again. It fired up without any hesitation; but, we immediately noticed there was no water coming out of the exhaust port (a rookie mistake that we didn’t notice that immediately after hearing the temperature alarm, before shutting off the engine).
As is typical of many marine engines, our diesel has an internal freshwater coolant circuit which also utilizes a separate raw salt water circuit to assist in temperature control (instead of a standard radiator and fan like a car). Sea water is pumped into the engine and then spit out an exhaust port. It would be ok running our cool engine for a short period without the raw water system but the rubber impeller inside the pump which forces the salt water through can disintegrate in less than a minute if allowed to run dry. So, assuming that our impeller had no water getting to it, we had no choice but to shut down the engine again.
Then… began the process of troubleshooting.
The obvious suspect was the impeller itself. We had found a plethora of spare impellers in one of the lockers when we conducted our initial inventory of Exit while on the hard. But, I must confess, having hoped to gain the assistance of someone who knew exactly what they were doing the first time I tried a switchout, the impeller had not been changed since we climbed aboard.
So be it… no time like the present. Now would be the time to learn.
The process was rather straightforward, if not messy. With the guidance of the Perkins Diesel Shop Manual (graciously left on Exit) and my Nigel Calder mechanic’s bible (which explains how to fix nearly everything on a boat), I got the old impeller out and, sure enough, it was in pretty bad shape. Eventually, I emerged from the engine compartment cramped, sore, and aching… though, victorious. Exit had a brand new impeller and now we could get moving again.
Confidently, we turned the key and the old Perkins revved to life. But, alas… as hard as we looked and as much as we willed it, no water came out of that damn exhaust port… shitballs!
Back to the drawing board… now, on to find Problem #2.
A blockage preventing the raw water from flowing seemed like the next likely candidate. So, the next step was to start at the through hull (*see inset below) and work forward, disconnecting hoses to try to verify how far the water was getting. After wrestling with what seemed like endless double hose clamps and stubborn hose ends, I determined that raw water was getting to the pump (which housed the impeller) but not any further.
Through Hulls & Seacocks
A through hull is one of many intentional holes put in the side of the boat (literally through the hull) below the waterline. It is connected to a manually controlled open/close valve, or the seacock. This allows sea water, or raw water, to be plumbed to various places on the boat for different purposes including engine or generator cooling, water makers, raw water plumbing options for the sinks/toilet, deck hoses (for cleaning anchor chains or the decks), and even salt water showers for above or below deck.
In the case of engine and generator cooling, sea water is used to cool the freshwater cooling system and is an integral part of the system. Without the raw water flow, the engine overheats.
In the case of plumbing, typically the idea is to utilize the endless supply of water outside your boat as much as possible and, in turn, minimize the use of your very limited and precious fresh water supply aboard.
I recently saw a statistic that the average American uses approximately one hundred gallons of water per day!!! We have the benefit of a pair of one-hundred gallon water tanks aboard Exit, which is actually a quite a lot of water to carry on a sailboat of this size. Obviously, we have modified our water habits substantially enough that we don’t have to fill the tanks every day. However, I doubt we will acheive the Spartan level of consumption reached by some liveaboard cruisers of less than one gallon of freshwater used per day per person… at least any time in the near future.
I was 100% certain that I had installed the impeller correctly… but I had also just yesterday read that the hardest error to recognize is when your memory of how to do something correctly is faulty, because you’re sure you’re doing it right (words spoken by the guru himself, Nigel Calder). So, certain I had done it right, I began to second-guess whether or not I had actually done it right.
But, when I removed the hose connected to the pump’s output and had Kris turn over the engine, it became apparent that the impeller wasn’t even turning!
Off came the impeller cover again. Everything looked ok… which meant the pump was going to have to come off.
Removing the raw water pump revealed the end of the camshaft which, thankfully, did turn freely when the engine was turned over. But, it also revealed the end of the pump’s drive shaft and the metal drive coupling bolted to the end of the camshaft – both of which were completely trashed. The rectangular metal tab on the coupling had basically been lathed into a round post over ten or more years use by the slotted, and now very damaged, pump drive shaft… shit!
A brief rummaging through the parts lockers uncovered Exit’s original raw water pump, which had exactly the same damage to it; but no spare pump we could use was to be found. Had this been an emergency, we may have been able to “McGyver” a temporary solution, allowing us to get out of a tight spot and limp into a marina, by re-routing our raw water deck/anchor wash pump to supply the raw water for the engine.
As it was, the situation certainly wasn’t ideal but it was far from an emergency.
At our location, the river was only about 800 feet wide, and probably 500 feet of that was taken up by the shipping channel and the docking area for the barges directly across from us, which left us with about 300 feet of space between the buoy, beyond which barges would be passing, and the shoreline.
Seems like quite a bit of space, initially. But, at anchor, we have to leave room to swing potentially 360 degrees around. Exit’s length creates a one hundred foot circle, not including the length of anchor chain that has been paid out. Considering our proximity to a busy shipping lane, and the unknown effects changing currents or wind would have funneling through, we thought it prudent to have at least sixty feet of chain out. This made the perimeter of our anchor circle now 220 feet, potentially putting us within about forty feet of the shore or forty feet of the shipping channel, depending on the wind. Just enough room to squeeze in… it seemed.
The one absolute certainty we faced was that there was no way in Hell we would be locating a replacement raw water pump and drive coupler on Thanksgiving Day. Progress on the engine would be at a standstill until parts could be located. This was going to be our Thanksgiving anchorage.
So we put out sixty six feet of chain, or twenty meters, confident that our scope was sufficient. At the same time, we cringed at the fact that, without an engine, we could not back down on the anchor to properly set it. For the first time, we’d have to have faith that our trusty 55 pound Rocna anchor would set itelf. No worries… we were outside the shipping channel, on a secure anchor not going anywhere, and relatively protected from any wind or weather caused wave action.
Sitting in the cockpit, having post-anchor beers, the scene was truly surreal.
On the opposite side of the channel, industrial docks stretched all the way around the bend to our left.
Just across from us, gigantic barges and stout tugboats were tied up to a huge ten foot tall dock. Sections of steel piping that had to be fifty feet across were offloaded from one barge by a massive crane.
The I-64 bridge, a thousand feet to the south, buzzed and hummed like an angry beehive with non-stop traffic.
And, every so often, a barge that could probably fit fifty Exits side by side on its’ deck, would pass by, propelled through the water by a stocky four deck tall tugboat.
It was our first Thanksgiving aboard Exit; and, despite the current situation, we certainly felt we had a lot to be thankful for. Kris’ experimental holiday dinner was a smashing success – “fake duck”(a soy based product), or F-uck as we were introduced to it as by James and Dena, really did have the texture and taste of duck.
So, there we were – at anchor on our sailboat enjoying a “Thanksgiving F-uck in the industrial park”. People keep saying it’s livin’ the dream… well it’s a pretty fucking weird dream!