Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Emergency Repair

Boot Key Harbor, Marathon, FL
34 42.54 N 081 05.58 W

It is an axiom of cruising that you must be self sufficient.  Of course, that's especially true when offshore, but it's mostly true all the time.   A major part of that is the ability to make repairs en route, to jury rig,  or to improvise to circumvent the need for broken equipment.

It's hard to write about enroute repairs, jury rigging, or make do strategies.  They are so diverse.  Instead I can only write about specific cases.  The story of one is below.

Last summer, in Vermont, I looked into the engine compartment one day and I was surprised to see the pan under the engine full of water.   Where did that water come from.  

I went up on deck and poured a bucket of water across the cockpit to see if any water leaked below.  No.

I started the engine and looked inside while it was running.  Bingo!  There was a little fountain of water squirting from somplace at the top of the engine.   Closer inspection showed that it was coming from the pipe that carries raw cooling water from the raw water pump to the heat exchanger.  The pipe runs over the top of the engine.  I damaged it with a kink the first time I opened the heat exchanger for inspection.  Now, several years later, the kink developed a pinhole that was squirting water.  There was no way to unkink the pipe.  I ordered a replacement by phone, but that would take a week or more to arrive.  Time for an emergency repair.

I carry some JB Weld brand Waterweld on board.  It is a two part expoxy putty.   When mixed, it can be molded into an opening, even under water.   It cures in five minutes.   To back that up, I used duck tape.  I wrapped tape around the pipe four times.  Then I used a hose clamp to put pressure on the tape and putty to make the repair water tight.  The hose clamp also added mechanical strength.  It worked fine, and would have lasted a long time.

I could also have chosen to use a length of hose to temporarily replace the broken pipe.  That means that you should have things like spare lengths of hose and hose clamps on board.

I also carry a product called emergency repair tape. It is a plastic material.  You stretch it to 4 times initial length, and wrap it around the broken part.  It cures, very strong and water tight.   It can withstand high pressures and high temperatures.  This stuff is very expensive so I reserve it for true emergencies.  In the case of the kinked pipe, I don't think it would have worked.

In the worst case, if we were desperate, we could have ignored the leak.  The leak did not compromise the engine cooling function, and we could pump the bilge frequently while running the engine.  Knowing when you can and can not ignore a problem is part of being self sufficient.  It requires understanding how how things work, and what the functions of various parts are. 

Knowledge, imagination, and rediness with spare parts and tools are your assets in emergency situations.

1 comment:

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