Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Summer Sailing

Mr Perkins with head removed and gasket scraped.

 It's fun to dream about the future. It seems like only yesterday when Maggie and I were living in an old Airstream camper in the Mohave desert, dreaming of someday having a boat that we could live aboard. Of course in that dream the weather was always perfect, and nothing ever needed repair or maintenance. Over time this dream of boating grew and was refined to the reality that we now enjoy. But, along with all of the good, there is an equal amount of trial and difficulties that could easily pull us both into regret and despair. We had imagined ourselves spending limitless amounts of time learning to sail Me Voy together this Summer, finding all of the local anchorages, and having loads of fun on the Chesapeake. But, I have found, the future rarely lives up to our expectations. In reality, there is never an end of work to do, and just when you get close, something breaks and it is time for another costly repair.
The scope of the project fully engulfs Me Voy's interior
 We managed to get two days of sailing in before the blown head gasket was discovered. On our last trip, I was alarmed by difficult starting, and devastated by rising oil level. I knew what it meant. I would need to replace the head gasket. I immediately consulted Nigel Calder's book "Marine Diesel Engines" to see if this might be something I could tackle. Nigel was very encouraging and wrote concise, easy reading instructions for me to follow. Now I just needed to get parts.
Neatness is essential to be sure no parts are lost
 I usually order Perkins parts from Torrensen Marine. They have a great selection for the 4.108 and they ship quickly. They also have a terrific web site. Their price for the head gasket was $274. Kind of pricey but you've got to do what you've got to do, so I placed the order. They let me know immediately, that this gasket was on back order and they didn't expect it for 4 to 6 weeks. Not good. So, I went web surfing. After searching all of the marine suppliers, and getting the same answer, I tried a tractor supply site. I was shocked to find the same gasket in stock, for $25. I went ahead and got a top gasket set $40, a bottom gasket set $40, a new thermostat $15, and a single head gasket. All for less than half the price of just the head gasket from the marine suppliers. I had the parts in a couple of days. I have discovered that parts for the 4.108 are not hard to get, they are just hard to get from marine suppliers. Everything is still made by Perkins and is readily available from any tractor supplier that supports Perkins.

While disassembling the engine, I discovered the cause of the blown head gasket. It seems a failed Vetus Waterlock was letting raw water drain back into the engine filling the combustion chambers with sea water. Water doesn't compress so the head gasket gave out when the engine turned over. The oil level was more than a gallon high, almost fifty percent sea water. Why did the muffler fail? I forgot to drain it when winterizing. It's a real bummer to realize that my own mistake was the cause of a major problem. Live and learn I guess. I promptly ordered a new waterlock I found on ebay and decided to never again forget to drain the muffler when winterizing. It is important, evidently.

First try plumbing the new fuel system, leaked from every connection

 Since the fuel system had to be disconnected to repair the engine, I decided to add a second Racor filter, so that we could switch from one to the other without stopping the engine, in the event that the filter clogs while we are under way. For my first attempt at this, I used flexible copper tubing and mechanical connectors. This took almost all day to create, and leaked at every connection. I now know that mechanical connections only work on rigid copper pipe and should not be used on the flexible type. Too bad I had to waste so much time and money to find that out.

Final fuel system installed and not leaking.

After another day of gathering fittings, cutting tubing, and soldering all connections, the system is finished and leak free. This time I added an additional line off of the delivery pipe so that I can add a little fuel pump that will circulate our fuel through the filter and back into the tank to polish the fuel. This way, if we ever make it to the islands, we will be able to clean the dirty fuel before using it. This system was explained to me, years ago, by the genius, Peter Lawford, of Annapolis. He is also the architect of our charging system, currently under construction. He eagerly avoided work one day to explain the tricks of clean fuel and fully charged batteries to me. Thanks again Peter.

Two absolutely essential books for a wannabe Perkins mechani
Even more thanks to Nigel Calder, who wrote the book on marine diesel. There is not much I would not feel comfortable doing with Nigel's book as my guide. If you have a diesel and think you may ever want/need to work on it, get this book! The factory service manual is also very handy, but if it is not available, Nigel's book will still get you through. He is also the author of "The Boatowner's Mechanical and Electrical Manual" which gives an in depth explanation of every system aboard your boat.

Mr Perkins reassembled and ready for action
Another long standing problem was the saildrive. It knocked in higher gears. We have pretty much decided it would need to be replaced. However after looking into the problem, it turned out the knocking was not being caused by a worn gear, but was rather a transmission cable that was not adjusted properly. After tightening up the cable, it hums along with no knock at all. So, now it seems we may indeed be ready for some Summer sailing. Maggie's birthday is Sunday and we are planning a cruise. It looks like it might actually happen, unless something else breaks down.

I guess that's just the way life works. Good times and bad times are just the two sides of the same coin. You can't have one without the other. I am slowly learning to enjoy the good times without getting too attached to them, and accept the bad times as part of the process of living and growing. I know we can't always have fair winds and following seas, and that it is often the struggles that define us. So the only thing we can do is try and be thankful for whatever comes, knowing there are greater forces at work, pushing and pulling each of us along our individual evolutionary path. That way, maybe we can become free to enjoy the good times without fear of bad times coming, and appreciate the bad times as the great life teachers that they are. Then everything that comes can bring happiness. It sounds pretty impossible to be happy in all circumstances. But so did living aboard a boat while we were baking in the hot desert sun just a few years ago. It all starts as a dream, and then ...


Samantha said...

i love your candor. i'm always trying to convince ben to start blogging so he can explain all the projects in detail. things get lost in translation when the writing is left up to me!

jomamma said...

I love it when a guy is mechanical, and I bet your wife does too.

rental mobil said...

Nice article, thanks for the information.

Mid-Life Cruising! said...

We can really relate to this post! It's already August and we haven't made the progress we'd thought we would have by now ... on sailing and eliminating the mortgage! Glad you found a tractor part for your diesel. We have a Universal diesel and found a water pump from a tractor dealer for a couple of hundred dollars cheaper! Wishing Maggie a great birthday Sunday and hope that ya'll get to celebrate it by sailing!

Anonymous said...
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Travis and Maggie said...

Thanks Samantha. I empathize with Ben , its hard to type with greasy fingers.

Hehehe Jomamma, if only Maggie was so easy to impress.

MLC, its not about the destination its about the journey, right?

Mid-Life Cruising! said...

Exactly!! =)

Overboard said...

Excellent and informative post. Very brave to take it all apart.
One thing I learned, of many, many things, from the great love of my life that I just destroyed, is to always drain the muffler before winterising. The problem you had is so common and yet could have been prevented so easily. I very nearly didn't drain mine last season - too lazy to crawl into the cave - but then imagined the pain in the ass such laziness might spawn, and went crawling.

sailing florida said...

Wow, you're pretty knowledgeable about symptoms of malfunction in boats. I'm looking forward to seeing more posts about these. Thanks.