Learning Every Day

August 18, 2016 in TearAway

Over the summer, we’ve been sailing TearAway around the island, going here and there, overnighting at times. We’ve slept on board in our own bay on the evenings when the wind shifts around to come from the north, the only direction from which we’re unprotected. Actually, to say “slept” is a euphemism. In reality, we lay awake, wondering with each creak and groan, with each crash down a wave, if it’s the last one before we need to leap into action to save her from going into the rocks. So far, so good. Not a drag of the anchor(s), not a break of the line.
Brakey's Bay
However, it seems that with just about every sail, we find a new situation and have to work the problem and figure out the solution. We had moored the boat in the village for part of the summer because there was a mooring. However, with the low water due to this year’s drought, one night we learned that we were bumping the bottom when hitting the extreme low of the trough of some waves. So, Ezra and I took an afternoon to sail her around to our bay at the end of the island, about a 5 mile sail. The wind, though, was a bit more than would be good for us to hang full sails in, so we had to learn the reefing mechanism. We did, and had a pleasant 5+ knot sail home. We have learned to anchor in rough water, and to anchor in calm surrounded by twenty other boats. We have learned to navigate marinas, push through rough water to get to a marina to pump out the holding tank. And, not least in the list of learning experiences, find a way to make said holding tank not cause the whole boat to smell like a Port-o-let at the county fair.

Last week, we had a new learning experience

We had a couple of bicycle tourists stay the night with us. They are interested in getting a boat as a way to travel and see the world, and are wending their way toward a boat-building school in pursuit of that dream. So, I offered an extra night spent on TearAway. The next afternoon, Elisha and I head out with our guests Linda and Chris. They were excellent guests, and good crew members. We had a lovely sail, heading toward Cedar Island to spend the evening. However, as we got on it became apparent we were not going to quite make that destination before time to settle in and get some dinner. So, let’s fire up the engine and get in and anchored for the night.

Chris and Linda
I fired up the little diesel and let it warm up a while while we started preparations for lowering the sails. Then, I noticed the smoke. Normally, there’s a little exhaust that come out the back of the boat. Not much, but it is a thirty year old diesel engine, there’s going to be some smoke. But, this smoke was in the cabin! A quick look inside and I see a small stream of water on the floor! A few expletives and less time than it took to utter those expletives and the engine was shut down so we could have a look at what the source of the problem was. I had a pretty good idea.

I have come to the conclusion that the reason “cursing like a sailor” became a phrase is because sailors tend to have so many valid and appropriate opportunities for uttering expletives that it simply becomes second nature.

A quick lift of the floorboards revealed a bilge full to the top. First order of business? Start pumping the bilge. The bilge pump works perfectly (moderately tested earlier). The bilge pump handle is stowed handy to the pump (always good to know where your emergency-related tools are stowed). A couple minutes after the incident and the pump is sucking air and the rest of the water needs to be cleaned up by sponge. Pulling off the engine cover reveals the source of the water. Just as I’d suspected, the exhaust pipe broke through, so the cooling water from the engine and the exhaust gasses were being pumped right into the boat.

Here’s a quick primer about small diesels as it relates to this problem. There’s cool water pumped in from outside through a hole in the bottom of the boat (a through-hull). It goes around the inside of the engine keeping everything running nice. It then exits the engine into the exhaust pipe. This is done to cool the exhaust so the rest of the exhaust system can be pliable rubber pipe all the way to the end, not hard, hot metal like on a car. There’s a small canister the water collects, which provides a bit of back-pressure and effectively quiets the exhaust noise before getting pumped uphill by the exhaust pressure and overboard out the back of the boat.

Where the water meets the hot exhaust in a metal pipe, there’s corrosion. It can hardly be avoided. The exhaust elbow on TearAway is, I think, cast steel. While going over the boat, learning more and more about the systems, I saw this pipe and a small crack in it, and knew I’d need to replace it soon. In fact, I had a haul-out scheduled for several things that need to be done before we go south, and had been arranging a mechanic to replace this elbow and do a general check to see what I’d missed. So, when it went, I had a good idea that’s what had burst. No reason to panic… just get to work on the next thing.

Exhaust elbow
So, we anchored. I spent time crunched down into one of the cockpit lockers while Chris helped from the other side to get the pipe covered over with a temporary fix I’d read about in the excellent book Marine Diesel Engines by Nigel Calder. It should hold in the event of an emergency. Until it’s an emergency, the engine is offline. Linda spent time with a sponge getting the bilge as dry and clean as it’s been. Elisha worked on making dinner.

I’ve ordered a replacement part… it’s not easy to find replacement parts for 30 year old engines! Ben at ExhaustElbow.com custom builds them, and we’ve been corresponding for a couple days. The new one will be stainless steel, so it’s likely going to be the last exhaust elbow I’ll need for a long time! So, I’ll be learning more before it’s over, because now I’m going to be the guy that has to replace the exhaust elbow, while the boat’s floating in our bay, and I’m afraid I might have to drop the fuel tank in order to do it. If things go well, we may be able to make it without a big change on our scheduled departure.

The take-away messages for this week: Read lots… the more knowledge you can have stored away, the more you’ll be able to pull from when the time comes. Know your systems… you can narrow your focus to likely problem areas and not waste time on worrying about things that are less likely. Preventative maintenance is preferred… if I’d already replaced the elbow I knew was getting bad, it wouldn’t have suffered a catastrophic failure.