Monday, September 25, 2006

Kent Narrows

Kent Narrows, Maryland, N 38 57.762 W 76 15.189

If only every day could be like this one. The winds were just the right speed and from just the right direction. We zoomed down the bay doing 6.8 knots made good against the current, and we never heeled more than 20 degrees. There were only scattered clouds and the temperature was in the mid 70s. Ah what a glorious day.

Our target for today was Saint Michaels. We're stopped for the night 11 miles short of that goal. If we had gotten up earlier this morning we could have made it.

Kent Narrows is at the west end of the Bay Bridge that goes over to Annapolis. It is also the site of a motel where Libby and I stayed during our shopping trip to look at 14 Westsails in early 2005. I can see the motel from here.

Coming in to the Kent Narrows we had a minor emergency. The channel in here is very narrow and it is bordered by two foot depth on either side. We approached the channel under sail, and just before we got there I went to start the engine so we could drop sails. It wouldn't start. Diesel engines are not like gas engines. They don't cough and sputter. They either start or they don't. This time it wouldn't. I was completely surprised. I had run the engine some just an hour ago. It was still warm. Fortunately we hadn't entered the channel. We swung off to the side of the entrance and hastily dropped the anchor.

While anchored, I tried to diagnose the problem. It sounded like no fuel. I suspected that we ran out of fuel on the starboard tank. The piece of plastic pipe I have in there for a sight gauge is becoming opaque and stained fuel color. It looked to me like the sight gauge was full of fuel, meaning more than 10 gallons left. I suspected that instead it might be totally empty instead and sucking air into the fuel lines.

To remedy that I would have to switch to the port fuel tank, and bleed the fuel lines. I switched tanks, loosened the bleed screw, and worked the manual fuel lift pump. Fuel came out. Next step was to loosen the fuel line at one of the injecors, then work the lift pump some more. No fuel came out. That's odd. What next? I replaced the fuel filter, but when I opened the top, I could see that it was full of fuel. It had not been sucking air from an empty tank.

I worked the lift pump more. No fuel to the injector. I cranked the engine. No fuel to the injector. What the heck? Where could the fuel go? It acted like the fuel flow was cut off at the throttle. What could cut off the fuel, how about the fuel cutoff valve? I traced the fuel cutoff control cable from the lever down to the throttle on the engine. Then I lied down flat on top of the engine and got Libby to work the fuel cutoff lever in and out until I could see motion. Sure enough, the cable would pull a lever to cut off fuel, but it would not push that lever back. Somehow, the cable had become detached from the lever. I couldn't fix it very easily. To see it I need my face four inches from the throttle and with my glasses I can't focus on anything that close. I'm blind.

Anyhow, we jury rigged it. We tied a string to the cutoff lever and ran the string forward to the cabin. Now we can stop the engine by pulling on the handle in the cockpit, and we can reset the cutoff by pulling on the string in the cabin. It worked; the engine started right up and we were able to continue our passage. Next time we have a whole day down I'll see if somehow I can to a proper repair.

I'm tempted to pat ourselves on the backs for being such clever diesel mechanics. On the other hand, my common sense tells me that this engine really needs to be pulled out of the boat and overhauled. It needs a new head gasket, and it needs new studs on the exhaust manifold, and it needs a persistent fuel leak on the anti-stall device fixed. An overhaul typically takes a couple of months. We don't have a time or a place in our cruising plans to be down for a couple of months. What to do?

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